A's DFA Jack Cust And Other News

Tom DubberkeCorrespondent IApril 4, 2010

In a move that surprises me, mainly because of the salary issues, the A’s have designated Jack Cust for assignment.  He didn’t hit this Spring (.216 batting average, .706 OPS), but he’s set to make $2.65 million this year, which is a helluva lot to pay a guy relegated to AAA.

As you may recall, the A’s non-tendered Cust this past off-season, because they didn’t want to risk a big arbitration award, and still ended up signing him for $2.65 million, which was probably a lot more than any other team would have given him had he remained on the market.

Now, I was initially surprised that the Rangers claimed Ryan Garko and his guaranteed $550,000 2010 salary.  Clearly, I was in error and had over-estimated teams’ unwillingness to take on any guaranteed salaries in the current market.  Really, a veteran player like Garko at $550,000 is a reasonable risk for the Rangers to take in light of their need for a right-handed hitting 1Bman.

That said, I will be absolutely shocked if anyone claims Cust off waivers and assumes his $2.65 million.  In fact, it’s also virtually certain that Cust will accept an assignment to AAA Sacramento once he clears waivers, because nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to come within $2 million of what the A’s are on the hook for if Cust hits the open market.

I’m a big fan of Jack Cust, a classic 4-A player, who didn’t get a chance sooner only because all the major league teams except the A’s saw his obvious weaknesses (bad D, too many strikeouts) instead of his equally obvious strengths (big power, lots of walks).  However, there is a very real possibility his major league days could be over for good.

Cust clearly peaked as a hitter at age 27 (2006 for the AAA Portland Beavers) and 28 (2007 for the A’s).  His OPS dropped more than 70 points in each of 2008 and 2009 at age 29 and 30.  He’s 31 this year, and while he might have one big year left with the bat, he just as well may not.

Actually, I think that Cust will hit well enough in AAA this year to get a call-up at some time from the A’s.  However, the odds are probably better than 50% that he’ll never be an every-day player in the major leagues again.

The Reds have decided that their first-round pick in last year’s Draft (8th overall), Mike Leake, has pitched so well this Spring that he will be their fifth starter going into the 2010 season.  Leake will thus skip the minor leagues entirely, making him only the 20th player since the Draft was instituted in 1965 to do so.  Here’s an article listing the others who did it.  (Ariel Prieto doesn’t really count: he’d been a big star in Cuba for a long time before he defected, and was only drafted because he came straight to the U.S. rather than declaring residency in another country, thus costing himself millions).

Leake had a 3.00 ERA in 18 Spring innings pitched, allowing 16 hits and four walks and striking out 10.

I don’t have a problem with Leake starting the season in Cincinnati, but I think the Reds are making a mistake making him the fifth starter.  The best place for any rookie pitcher is middle relief, at least until the rookie has gotten his feet wet and proven he can get major league hitters out, both to the team and to himself.

The Reds will reportedly be sending Aroldis Chapman to AAA Louisville to start 2010.  I also think this is a mistake.  If Chapman is going to start the season in the minors, I think that AA ball would be the best place for him to begin.

I just don’t see a down-side to letting Chapman beat up on AA hitters for five or six starts before promoting him to AAA, even if he’s really as good as he looked in Spring Training.  Chapman is having to deal with major culture shock and all the pressure of a $30 million contract.  Better to take it slow, and let him pitch at a level where he has the best chance of immediate success.

Chapman’s going to have to make a lot of adjustments to the American game before he’s ready to be a major league star, and AA-ball, where the players are highly talented but young and inexperienced like Chapman himself, is the best place to start.  AAA players are major league replacement level players who will be much better at exploiting the command issues Chapman is likely to have at this stage of his career.

The Dodgers just released Doug Mientkiewicz, which may well mean the end of his professional career, since he turns 36 in June.  Mientkiewicz had a surprisingly long career for a 1Bman with no power, but he was actually an extremely useful bench player to have around, because of his career .360 on-base percentage and his excellent glove.

Unfortunately, I’ll always remember Mientkiewicz for his unwillingness to give up the ball that he caught for the final out of the 2004 World Series.  Since it broke the Curse of the Bambino, the Red Sox wanted it desperately for posterity’s sake but Mientkiewicz didn’t want to give it up.

Given that Mientkiewicz made $2.8 million (according to espn.com) that year, plus at least a one-half World Series share (he joined the BoSox at the July 31 trade deadline) amounting to over $100,000 (a full share that year was $223,619,79), I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for Mientkiewicz’s initial reluctance to turn the ball over.

Finally, Adam Lind signed a four-year contract extension with the Blue Jays that guarantees him a surprisingly small $18 million.  Lind is a true DH with no defensive value, and his 2009 season, in which he slugged 46 doubles and 35 homeruns at age 25, may well be his career year, since he’d never come close to those kind of numbers before.

However, it’s awfully hard to believe that a player could hit 81 extra base hits in a major league season solely as a fluke.  Even if he never reaches that number again, you have to figure he will reach 60+ extra base hits a year in multiple seasons going forward if he remains reasonably healthy.  If he does that, the Jays will get well more than their money’s worth on this contract.

Finally, the Indians purchased Jamie Wright’s minor league contract and will pay Wright $900,000 to pitch out of the Tribe’s bullpen.  I’m frankly amazed that Wright is still around.

Wright is 36 this year, and he’s really never been much of a pitcher.  His career record now stands at 82-115 with a 5.03 ERA.  Granted, he spent much of his career pitching for Colorado.  Still, the numbers that really get me are that in 1702 career major league innings, he’s allowed 843 walks and recorded only 940 Ks.  It’s hard to believe there weren’t a few pitchers toiling in the minors each year more deserving of his major league roster spot for much of the last decade.

I suspect that Wright was able to keep pitching in the major leagues for so long because he was just good enough to be a fifth starter for a bad team and because once he had established himself as a major league pitcher, he had a reputation as a major league pitcher, which was enough for him to get the nod over some perhaps more deserving minor leaguer who didn’t have that reputation.


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