A Look at the Winter’s Replacements

It still feels like the holiday season, and the holiday season is a time for sharing. To be honest, every time is a time for sharing, but around the holiday season it seems a lot more important. With friends and family and sometimes perfect strangers, you share gifts and pleasantries and the warmth of your company. Baseball teams, too, can get into the sharing spirit. I don’t know how else to explain what’s been going on with Eli Whiteside, Sandy Rosario, and Scott Cousins.

For these three players, it’s already been an incredibly active offseason, and it’s barely January. For players who are hitting the market, the offseason is a time to find a new home. Whiteside, Rosario, and Cousins have cycled through several potential new homes. In case you haven’t been paying close attention — and I don’t know why you would be — I’ll try to go over the details as quickly as possible.

In early November, the Yankees claimed Whiteside off waivers from the Giants. Then they designated him for assignment, and he was grabbed off waivers by the Blue Jays. Then he was claimed off waivers by the Rangers, and then the Rangers designated him for assignment. Whiteside, needless to say, still isn’t settled.

In October, the Red Sox claimed Rosario off waivers from the Marlins. Then they designated him for assignment, and re-signed him to a minor-league contract. Then they traded him to the A’s, and then the A’s designated him for assignment. He was claimed back by the Red Sox, then he was claimed off waivers by the Cubs. Most recently, Rosario was claimed off waivers by the Giants, from the Cubs. Maybe Rosario knows where he’s going to be, now. Maybe he doesn’t.

And finally, Cousins. In October, the Blue Jays claimed Cousins off waivers from the Marlins. Then they designated him for assignment, and he was claimed by the Mariners. Then he was designated for assignment, and claimed by the Angels. That was at the end of November — Cousins might now be starting to feel secure. He probably shouldn’t.

These three players have shuttled between organizations, too talented to ignore, but too flawed to keep at the expense of somebody else. They’ve basically served as the 40th men on various 40-man rosters, meaning for all intents and purposes they represent a crucial principle: Eli Whiteside, Sandy Rosario, and Scott Cousins are perceived to be just about replacement-level players. This is something we’re all familiar with in theory, and here we can actually put real names to it.

Maybe they’re a small step above replacement-level, since they aren’t in the minors on minor-league contracts. But let’s not split hairs. These are the guys who are freely-available depth, which is why they keep moving around. Teams like their strengths, but they’re balanced out by the flaws.

It’s worth it, I think, to quickly review each of the three players, to see what they are and to make them feel more familiar. A replacement-level player isn’t going to have a certain talent level across the board. He’ll have certain things he’s good at and certain things he’s less good at, with the result being something in the neighborhood of a 0 WAR. Let’s stop with these words and get to more words.

Eli Whiteside

Why he’s worth having around

This isn’t going to surprise you, but Whiteside is a backstop with a strong defensive reputation. From a Joe Lemire column:

“He was a pitchers’ favorite,” San Francisco vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans said. “He was relatively quiet and unassuming in the clubhouse, but he has a great reputation with our pitching staff. And I think that’s probably true of places that he’ll go in the future as well.” Indeed, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels cited that defensive reputation as the primary reason for claiming Whiteside.

Whiteside hasn’t excelled at blocking pitches in the dirt, and he’s thrown out a barely above-average rate of would-be base-stealers. But evidence suggests that he’s one of the good pitch-framers. Between 2009-2012, Whiteside caught more than 11,000 pitches, and according to research by Matthew Carruth, he was 202 strikes above average, or more than one a game. This research is still in its infancy, but it does look like receiving is maybe Whiteside’s best skill.

Whiteside1.gif.opt

Why he’s not worth having around

Whiteside is 33 years old. He’s 33 years old! He debuted in 2005! And over a full season’s worth of plate appearances, he’s batted .215 with a .273 OBP. Last year he posted a .600 OPS in triple-A, with one home run in 60 games. Whiteside is one of those catchers. You know the ones I mean.

Sandy Rosario

Why he’s worth having around

Rosario has thrown all of 7.2 big-league innings, over three years. Nothing. His fastball has averaged 95, and he’s thrown a slider and a changeup, too. Here’s a .gif from last summer:

Rosario2.gif.opt

Said the announcer immediately afterward:

You see the stuff that allowed Rosario to close successfully at triple-A. If he can throw that consistently in the big leagues, he can find a spot in somebody’s bullpen.

It’s the usual story. Reliever has good stuff, but not enough consistency with it. Jesus Colome syndrome, if you like. Still, Rosario’s only 27, so he has time to figure it out, and last year in limited time in triple-A he had 24 strikeouts and two walks, with both walks being intentional. He’s always averaged a strikeout an inning, and last year he missed time with a quad injury that might’ve cost him a chance to establish himself.

Why he’s not worth having around

Rosario is a 27-year-old reliever without a big-league track record. He’s thrown very few innings above double-A, and in double-A, he’s been only all right. He has a fastball and inconsistent secondary pitches, and there are just so many of these guys. Not that they aren’t all individually unique, but as a sample pool, few of them will go on to have sustainable major-league success, and few of the successful ones will actually be of significant value. Fastball velocity can get you attention and a number of chances, but it can’t make you good on its own.

Scott Cousins

Why he’s worth having around

Like Rosario, Cousins is 27, although he’s approaching 28, like most 27-year-olds. But he’s a left-handed outfielder who’s capable of playing in the middle. He doesn’t have much in the way of big-league success, but he hasn’t had much in the way of big-league playing time, and his triple-A OPS is .802. Last year he OPS’d .823 for New Orleans, with a fourth-outfielder skillset. He can run a little, he can defend a little, and he can do this a little.

Cousins3.gif.opt

That’s a home run by the way. Worse outfielders than Cousins will play in the majors in 2013. This guy was a third-round draft pick, and he’s capable of things. On a hot streak, he could even look like a regular.

Why he’s not worth having around

Cousins is a nearly-28-year-old could-be fourth outfielder. He can play center field, but he can’t play it all that well, and one can’t ignore that his limited major-league track record is lousy. Just because he has some power doesn’t mean he has a lot of it, and his walk-to-strikeout ratios have never been particularly eye-opening. Stop what you’re doing and look out the nearest window. Is there a man? Does he look to be between the ages of 20 and 35? Is he fit? He’s probably not as good a baseball player as Scott Cousins, but he’s a lot closer to being as good as Scott Cousins than he is to being as good as Torii Hunter. Now you should probably stop looking at that man.

This offseason has shown us three specific replacement-level players, and they might be on the move again yet. That’s sort of what happens with them. And a thing about replacement-level players is that, if you squint, or if you get a break or two, they can look adequate. More than acceptable, even. All of them have their strengths — all of them have reasons for still being professional baseball players at a high level. But they also have offsetting weaknesses, and that’s what leaves them as being essentially freely available. They’re not bad. They’re just not special. I mean, they’re special. But they’re not baseball-special. Some of them could be with improvements, but that’s like saying 0 could be 2, with 2. It sure could be. But right now, it isn’t.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Andre the Angels Fan
Guest
Andre the Angels Fan
3 years 5 months ago

Great piece. Very good job of illuminating an accepted concept and providing it with real depth and human faces to boot.

scotman144
Member
Member
scotman144
3 years 5 months ago

It would be nice for Scott Cousins to have a decent MLB run with someone who has a need (‘stros? Rays?) the way Daniel Nava has found a home in Boston as a useful 5th OF who’s just happy to be there. It’d suck to just be the guy that almost ruined Buster Posey’s career.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
3 years 5 months ago

Buster Posey almost ruined Buster Posey’s career, along with the stupid, ancient concept of blocking the plate.

brendan
Guest
brendan
3 years 5 months ago

he wasn’t blocking it though! He was out in front and was going to swipe tag cousins. I still don’t blame cousins for it — that’s what the team expects from a fringey player like him.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
3 years 5 months ago

He was in the position catchers are in to block the plate. Cousins can’t literally decide in the last fraction of a second whether he’s going to block the plate or leave a slither of room. If posey received the ball half a second earlier, he would have blocked the plate. To not block the plate or look like you’re going to block the plate, the catcher should be on the right side and in front. The Posey-wasn’t-blocking crowd either doesn’t understand common sense as it applies to baseball or is just letting their fandom get the best of them.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 5 months ago

I’m surprised the Giants didn’t pick him up, just to keep him off the basepaths against Posey.

marlinswin12
Member
marlinswin12
3 years 5 months ago

Nava is a much better hitter than Cousins. Also, this story needs Mickey Storey.

MikeS
Guest
MikeS
3 years 5 months ago

In a few years, Jordan Danks (who hit one of the most dramatic home runs I’ve ever seen live and his only major league long ball) will be in this piece replacing Scott Cousins.

TheHoustonian
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TheHoustonian
3 years 5 months ago

Not sure why the Astros wouldn’t take a flier on Whiteside. He’s an upgrade to Corporan, and the price should be right.

(And I was also thinking of Mickey Storey while reading this article.)

Brad
Guest
Brad
3 years 5 months ago

Yeah, Mikey Storey is another replacement guy. Astros – Yankees – Astros – Blue Jays

DrEasy
Guest
DrEasy
3 years 5 months ago

And before you ask:

– Whiteside’s total WAR: 0.9
– Cousins’: 0.0 on the nose
– Rosario’s: -0.1 (albeit in very limited IP)

Samuel Deduno
Guest
Samuel Deduno
3 years 5 months ago

This happens all the time. I’ve never understood why teams continually snatch up players they have no intention of keeping, much less any intention of playing in the majors.

guesswork
Guest
guesswork
3 years 5 months ago

Pretty simple actually. The teams are hoping they can outright these players off the 40 man roster and sneak them through waivers. They are pretty good examples of useful spare parts worth storing at AAA in case of emergency. But if they lose them, it’s not a significant loss.

TerryMc
Guest
TerryMc
3 years 5 months ago

Yeah, the music stops at some point and they end up on some team’s AAA roster.

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.
3 years 5 months ago

Terrific article. Guy out the window loved it too. (Had to show it to him to explain why I was staring.)

Rosin Bag
Guest
Rosin Bag
3 years 5 months ago

Feel bad for the players involved. Its not their fault this is happening. Simple rule change could solve it. If you claim a player off another teams 40-man roster, you have to keep him on your 40-man for at least 2 or 3 months.

Joe F.
Guest
Joe F.
3 years 5 months ago

I thought of this too. I think it would have some unintended consequences though, “clogging” some rosters as they are suddenly not taking fliers on borderline guys or even making some minor trades harder because you don’t have room for that PTBNL.

Perhaps it’s an even simpler function like “can’t move a player between more than 3 teams in a 2-year span, and that number goes down to 2 with 5 years’ ML experience and 1 with 7 years’ experience”. Or something like that.

Cory
Guest
Cory
3 years 5 months ago

Cousins’ home run swing remind me of Carlos Pena’s.

Cory
Guest
Cory
3 years 5 months ago

reminds*

maqman
Guest
maqman
3 years 5 months ago

Not to worry, the Language Police didn’t see it and I’ll never tell.

walt526
Guest
walt526
3 years 5 months ago

Giving Rosario to Righetti as a spring training project seems like a worthwhile gamble to me. It probably won’t amount to anything, but Righetti’s been able to work magic with other relievers with impressive stuff and no idea how to harness it.

Speaking of the Giants, Cousins might have made for a nice pickup for a 5th outfielder to spell Blanco in LF. Except for that whole history with Posey (not saying it was a dirty play, but I can’t imagine that Cousins would ever be welcomed into that clubhouse).

Joe F.
Guest
Joe F.
3 years 5 months ago

Wouldn’t be surprised to see Eli Whiteside picked up by the Mariners by spring training. They need some catching depth, have no true defensive catcher in the majors or AAA at the moment, and he’d be an expendable piece when Zunino is ready. Plus hey, his bat fits in perfectly with the Mariners’ offense right now.

fjtorres
Guest
fjtorres
3 years 5 months ago

Add Russ Canzler to the list.
The Yankees claimed him on waivers from Cleveland so he’s now been with 4 teams in the last month or so. He started with Cleveland, got claimed by Toronto, again by Cleveland, and now the Yankees.
And he’s probably not done bouncing around since he’s not really a Yankees kind of bench player.

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