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Why Jason Giambi?

Why Jason Giambi?
March 8, 2013
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 What is Jason Giambi doing here? Why would the Indians sign the aging first baseman/designated hitter to a minor league deal this offseason?

It’s hard not to be reminded of Billy Beane’s acquisition of veteran outfielder David Justice back in 2002. In fact, many Tribe faithful have reacted to the Giambi signing similarly to the fans in Oakland at this point eleven years ago. This is kind of ironic since Giambi was once the high profile free agent that no one but the large market teams could afford, which is what happened when the Yankees signed Giambi as a free agent in 2002. 

Since leaving Oakland in 2002 for the spotlight in New York, Giambi has appeared in three all-star games (five career all-star appearances) and won his second Silver Slugger award (2002). Giambi also found himself part of a steroid scandal in 2003. In 2004, Giambi admitted to using several performance enhancing drugs between the years of 2001 and 2003. Later in 2007, Giambi publicly apologized for using steroids and urged other players to avoid going down that road.

In 2009, Giambi had another brief stint with the A’s, but was eventually picked up later in the season by the Colorado Rockies where he remained until last season. This offseason, Giambi signed a minor league deal with Cleveland with a spring training invite to compete for a spot on the bench as a backup first baseman and DH.

I’ll be the first to admit I, too, was one of the skeptics when the announcement came down the pike that Giambi would be donning a Tribe uniform this spring wondering why the Indians, after so many quality moves and acquisitions this offseason, would consider wasting a roster spot on a has-been like Giambi. After all, the Tribe in addition to their offseason acquisitions did clear the roster of all the has-been’s and never-will-be’s. So why would they seemingly take a step back and run the risk of clogging up a bench spot that would be better off being occupied by a younger, more versatile utility player?

Well, then came the signing of free agent center fielder Michael Bourn, a move that to this day is still shocking to Tribe nation. Aside from the offensive and defensive benefits Bourn has to offer, there’s also a newfound versatility with the roster, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the world of Indians baseball very often.

Not only has the Tribe entered spring training this year with every spot in the starting lineup filled, they also have three legitimate center fielders in the outfield capable of playing each outfield position. Plus, with Bourn in the outfield, Drew Stubbs will be moved to right field, which in turn moves Nick Swisher, whom the Indians originally signed as their right fielder, to first base, thus giving the Indians four legitimate outfield options in the starting lineup.

With that dynamic, the Tribe can, in theory, enter the season without the need of a fourth outfielder spot on the bench, not to mention that Ryan Raburn, a versatile utility option with a very good shot at making the bench, can play the outfield in a pinch as well. This roster flexibility would allow the team to offer Giambi a spot on the bench without handicapping their depth options in any serious fashion. Now whether the Indians choose to go that route with Giambi remains to be seen, but manager Terry Francona has spoken highly of him and would love to have him on the team leading the younger hitters.

Now, why am I endorsing Giambi for a bench spot when I was so against signing the likes of Jim Thome or re-signing Travis Hafner? One simple reason: Giambi can still play the field.

Giambi has had playing time at first base every season of his career all the way up to last year, where he played 13 games at first as a utility player for the Rockies. With Thome and Hafner, neither can play the field anymore, which would have been a problem for the Indians with interleague play being year-round starting this season. Giambi can pinch-hit in interleague play and easily move to first base in the next inning whereas Hafner or Thome would have to be immediately substituted for defensively.

Also, don’t underestimate the value of veteran leadership as it can do wonders for a young team. Among other things, it was a key element missing from the Indians’ clubhouse last year, guys who have been there, done that and know how to do it again. Cleveland didn’t have that last season, which explains partly why the team couldn’t pick themselves up when they spiraled out of control in August.

This offseason, the Indians have not only brought in one, but several players with playoff and even World Series experience. Nick Swisher and Brett Myers have World Series rings. Drew Stubbs, Mark Reynolds and Michael Bourn went to the playoffs with their respective teams last season. Matt Capps has pitched in the postseason. The list goes on, and I guarantee that was no coincidence.

With Giambi, the Indians get a guy who has been to the playoffs eight….yes eight….times over his career with three different teams. Colorado signed him in 2009 to help with their playoff push. His clutch hits and veteran presence in the clubhouse helped lead the Rockies to clinch a wild card spot and appear in the division series. Between 2010 and 2011, Giambi hit a walkoff home run against the Diamondbacks and hit three home runs in a single game against the Phillies. Giambi saw his power decline last season as he only hit one home run in 60 games; however, his .372 on-base percentage was still admirable, something that has always been one of his strengths.

So why would the Indians sign a washed-up old has-been like Jason Giambi, as many fans have referred to him?

While Giambi is far from being the MVP-caliber player he once was, he’s not completely inept as a player. Not so long ago in 2011, he hit 13 home runs as a utility player, plus he still gets on base a ton. And as I said before, he can still play the field. So far this spring, Giambi has a home run and three RBI in eight games.

As a veteran, Giambi is loved and respected by both the management and players in the Tribe organization. As a player, I don’t think he’s ready to hang up the bat and glove yet. A flexible roster offers him a shot at a utility role and one last chance in the show. I don’t know whether he’ll be able to take advantage of it, but I’ll be rooting for him.

Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.

User Comments

March 10, 2013 - 3:02 AM EDT
How is Giambi protection? The guy can't get around a fastball anymore and has warning track power. Trust me on this - if the Indians are in the hunt in September - Giambi will have been long gone. He simply has proven that he's got nothing left.

And why are people ignoring the veteran presence of Reynolds? I'd far rather have leadership from someone that actually plays than someone from the bench. We have a manager and coaches that can do the same thing.

If Giambi was such a leader, why did he whine about ARod not being their team leader? Why didn't he take the role?
March 8, 2013 - 11:42 PM EST
I should add.

Swisher has pressed in Sept. The team needs him to be the consisent veteran hitter in the middle of the lineup he has been for so many years. Giambi is also protection for that whole dynamic is what I am trying to say.
March 8, 2013 - 11:38 PM EST
I think you guys are missing one important reason.

Along with everything above, I don't think Tito and the FO want a guy like Swisher to press feeling like he has the be the team leader both on and off the field. He is used to being around other vets and just doing his thing. Thats where I think he will shine as a leader, if he feels comfortable and has others to help. With Tito as his manager and Giambi as the (Nixon/Winfield) role he should be able to relax and lead in his own way.

Its also kismet since he started his career on may 8th 1995. Lets hope his final year is another magical year for our Tribe
March 8, 2013 - 10:37 PM EST
Here is the way I look at it. The Indians are not going to carry 13 pitchers. And without the need for a full-time DH in Hafner, they now have a bench spot to play with. They have so many regulars that can play multiple positions, and they have the super versatile Raburn and Aviles on the bench, that WHOEVER is the last bench guy is barely ever going to play. So why have a young kid rot on the bench that probably could be better served by playing everyday in AAA, and instead just have a veteran with a good presence to round out the team. I'm not a favor of Giambi the player on the field at this point in his career.....but to me....he's kind of like that Dave Winfield kind of guy like back in 1995 who had no business being on the team but really helped with the youth of the team.
March 8, 2013 - 9:33 PM EST
At the beginning of Spring Training I thought it was a long shot that Giambi would make the team. I also thought it was a bad idea, especially when they could or should be able to get the same or nearly the same production from a younger candidate like Gomes, McGuiness, or McDade. But the more I read Francona's comments about Giambi, and realizing the 3 younger guys are really fringe prospects anyway, the more I think Giambi might be a good idea. I think I'll be on board with whatever the two time World Series winning manager decides.
March 8, 2013 - 7:51 PM EST
I apologize for being so terse but seemingly every season the Indians sign an ancient, washed up veteran thinking that somehow, Cleveland has the fountain of youth and every single time they do it, they end up regretting it.

Giambi will be no different and no he really can't play 1st base - not very well. And even if he could, that's not really a legitmate reason to keep him since we have Swisher, Reynolds and Santana that all can play 1st.

His only asset is that he can draw a walk, but how long will that go on before pitchers realize he only has warning track power and is no longer a threat to take a good pitch long.

The only way Giambi has a good season is if he reverts back to oonly reason he became a star to begin with - injections.
chris in oregon
March 8, 2013 - 4:47 PM EST
At first I too was puzzled by the signing. Then I thought back to the role Trot Nixon played on the '07 team that almost made the World Series.

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