Last week, the Cubs designated catcher Chris Gimenez for assignment. To no one’s surprise, Gimenez went unclaimed and was outrighted to Iowa.
Let me make one thing clear: Gimenez’s DFA was completely justified. He shouldn’t be playing in Chicago. That’s not what this is about.
Gimenez backed up All-Star Willson Contreras for a little over a month and didn’t produce much. No matter what he brought to the table in defense and veteran knowledge, it doesn’t make up for hitting .143/.219/.143 in 32 plate appearances. Small sample size sure, but it was clear that the much-younger Victor Caratini was going to help the team win more than Gimenez possibly could. A move had to be made and Caratini came back to Chicago and Gimenez headed down to Iowa.
Now some Cubs “fans” took to Twitter to taunt Gimenez about his DFA, and Gimenez got into it with them. It seems clear to me that these taunts don’t bother Gimenez much. He’s probably heard them over much of his ten-year career as a backup catcher. But seriously, taunting a ballplayer about his DFA is probably the most douchebaggery thing that someone could do. I’m going to assume that no one reading this is one of those trolls. First of all, I’m not sure that they can read anything longer than 280 characters. Second, this isn’t the type of site that encourages that kind of behavior. Yelling at Gimenez in a game thread is one thing. Calling him out by his handle on Twitter is another.
I watch a lot of baseball at a lot of different levels. I regularly watch games from the majors down to short-season A ball. I don’t watch as much as I used to and I don’t watch much amateur baseball anymore. I have a family now and I’ve realized that on my deathbed, I’d regret not spending more time with my wife and daughter much more than not having watched that Cal-State Fullerton/Fresno State non-conference game. But most nights I start my day watching something on the MLB Network (or the Cubs if they’re playing a day game) and then start watching a Cubs minor league game late in the afternoon. I finish up my nights watching the Emeralds play on the West Coast, often with the Giants, Dodgers or Angels on the TV in the background.
So I speak from experience when I say what Craig Calcaterra wrote on Twitter last week is absolutely correct;
I want to put this in a way that does not insult green 18-year-old A-ball guys, but I'll take the risk: I don't think most of us appreciate how damn good major league baseball players are. Even the sucky ones. They're really, really good, you guys.— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) June 30, 2018
You just take a lot of things for granted when you watch MLB and Triple-A a lot. Like the fact that there aren't multiple guys reaching base on dropped third strikes a game. And that a tailor-made double play is easy.— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) June 30, 2018
Go hug your team's utility infielder and the guy you think is only on the big league roster because he has incriminating photos of the GM. Know that, for as much as they frustrate you, my lord, they are good at baseball.— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) June 30, 2018
Too many fans simply don’t realize this. They only watch the major leaguers, who make everything look so easy. They don’t understand that it only looks that easy because they have worked hard close to every day since they were probably 13 to make it look easy.
There are 750 or so major league ballplayers at any one time. Below that, each team has around 150 to 200 minor leaguers under contract. So even to make the majors, a player has to be among the best 15% or so of players in organized baseball. That doesn’t even count the eight independent minor league teams of various states of financial solvency.
Then we get to the amateur levels. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of all these figures, but they seem right to me. There are approximately 299 NCAA Division I baseball programs, 274 Division II, 387 at the Division III level, 184 NAIA schools and about 512 junior college programs. Not all of those programs field full rosters, but you can tell that there are tens of thousands of young men playing baseball at the college level every year. This website puts the number of boys playing high school baseball at close to half a million every year.
We’re not even getting into all the players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, Aruba, Puerto Rico, Canada, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and even Australia. There are even major leaguers from Europe now.
Every year, all 30 teams draft 40 players. That’s 1200 players from the United States (including Puerto Rico) and Canada. From around 1000 college programs and all those high schools. Just to get noticed by a scout, you’d better be good enough to stand out.
Chris Gimenez was drafted by the 19th round of the 2004 draft by the Indians out of Nevada-Reno. He was an outfielder and third baseman. So out of those thousands of eligible players, he was in the top 1% that got an offer to play professional baseball.
The draft was 50 rounds long back then and of the other 49 players that the Indians took that year, only Tony Sipp is still active and he was taken in the 45th round. The Indians first-round pick, Jeremy Sowers, has been out of the game since 2010.
There were 30 selections in the 19th round when Gimenez was taken. Only one other player who signed made the majors, and he only played ten games. (David Price and Micah Owings were both taken in the 19th round of that draft, but they were first-round talents who dropped because they told everyone they wouldn’t sign.)
Gimenez went on to convert to catching and made the majors in 2009. He’s had a ten-year career in the majors and played 373 games. As those numbers make clear, he’s been a backup and a guy who has bounced back and forth with whatever Triple-A affiliate the team that was paying his salary had.
Do you now realize how good a player you have to be to play 373 games in the major leagues? Better than you can possibly imagine.
But getting back to Calcaterra’s point. Those guys in Triple-A are terrific ballplayers. If you ever watch Triple-A baseball, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between it and the majors from what happens on the field. (You can tell easily by looking at the stadiums and the fans in the seats, but that’s a different story.) That’s not true in the lower minor leagues. You’ll see a lot of talent there, but they’ll make dumb split-second decisions. You’ll see pitchers who throw hard but simply can’t throw a strike. There will be three or four errors a game on a regular basis
Triple-A is filled with guys who are almost the best players in the world. There are guys who throw 95 mph, but there isn’t enough movement on their fastball. Or they leave their slider up in the zone too often. Maybe they’re just a step too slow on defense. Or maybe they’re terrific hitters but they can’t play a defensive position well and they’re not in the David Ortiz/Nelson Cruz/Edgar Martinez level of hitter that can make a career as a DH. (Hi, Daniel Vogelbach.)
How did those guys go from their first years of minor league ball to being good enough to play in Triple-A or even MLB? Because those minor leaguers spend day after day doing not much else other than learning to be better baseball players seven days a week for at least six months a year. Often more than that. And they do so at what should be illegally-meager wages.
I’m not crying for Chris Gimenez. He knows his career is much closer to the end than the beginning. He knows he wasn’t helping the team in his six-week stint with the Cubs. Gimenez clearly isn’t bothered by the trolls. He’s made more money in his ten-year career than I’m likely to in my entire life, even at the major league minimum. But he’s also worked harder and made more sacrifices than I have as well.
Yes, it is true. In the context of the Chicago Cubs of 2018, Chris Gimenez was awful. He stunk. He was not helping the team win. All those things are true. You’re not being a bad fan or a person by pointing that out. (Although there is really no need to taunt ballplayers on social media.) But when you do, remember that in the larger sense of the word, Chris Gimenez has been one of the best baseball players in the world for a very long time. Maybe one of the best 0.001%