Jason Giambi was placed on the disabled list yesterday, but to call him disabled is an injustice, instead, maybe he should be referred to as “differently abled.” Giambi hurt his calf a few days ago during an at bat against the White Sox (he couldn’t have hurt it running as he is yet to reach base this season) and was pulled out of the game in his next at bat for a pinch hitter. The very next day, the Indians announced that the calf wasn’t bothering him much and he would be able to pinch hit. Today, the injury is all of a sudden so severe, he will not be able to play in the next 15 games. What could have changed since yesterday morning?
The answer to that, is George Kottaras. The veteran catcher joined the team on Saturday when Yan Gomes took some time off for paternity leave. The plan originally was to have Gomes leave for two days with Kottaras as the back-up catcher, then to release the veteran once Gomes came back. His record breaking, two home run game changed that. With Gomes returning, the Indians needed a roster spot freed, but didn’t want to put Kottaras on waivers, so the most simple solution was to place Giambi on the DL. This isn’t the first time the Indians have abused the DL rules with Giambi to make room on the 25 man roster.
To begin the 2013 season, the Indians needed an extra roster space to keep six starting pitchers on the team, because of Carlos Carrasco’s suspension. Conveniently, Giambi strained his back while making room for the pitcher. This is not to say these aches and pains don’t exist and are not detrimental to his playing ability. These things are to be expected with a 43 year old and that is largely the reason you rarely see a 43 year old attempting to play professional baseball. All this discussion should be unnecessary as Giambi was never really brought in to play in the first place.
From the first day he was signed, the emphasis on Giambi being with the team was that he would be an extra batting coach. He would be a team leader that could relate better to players because he was still one of them; a modern version of the player manager the Indians had used so successfully in the distant past. This is why Giambi should not be considered disabled. His role on the team has nothing to do with pain in his calf or stiffness in his back. He is meant to be a strong clubhouse influence and anything he could do on the field would be a bonus.
A month into the season, it is obvious that there are no bonuses left in Giambi’s bat. The aging lefty has still yet to reach base via a hit in 2014, including Spring Training, his AA rehab stint and his ten at bats with the Tribe. His bat speed has diminished and his eye is no longer as selective as it once was. Further proof of this occurred in the series with the Angels when Giambi came up with two runners on, two outs and the Indians down one. Kevin Jepson threw a pitch right down the middle of the plate and Giambi hit it perfectly, as hard as he is able to and he flew out to mid right. If he couldn’t come through there, it is unlikely he will be able to against anyone.
This puts the Indians in a tough situation. Like with Kottaras, the Indians don’t want to release Giambi as they would like to retain his veteran leadership, but unlike Kottaras, he is essentially useless in the field. For now, he will stay in the dugout as a member of the disabled list, where he can focus on coaching and not have to think about hitting. If he was ready to play on Sunday, he certainly didn’t need 15 days off to get ready, but he will get it either way. The real question will be what the Indians do when that time is up. The best option would be to release Giambi, then re-sign him as an assist bench coach or a special assistant to the manager as Buck Showalter once was for the Indians. More likely, however, he will get at least one more chance to hit for the Indians where he can waste more precious outs for the already light hitting team.