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Minor leaguers need to look out for themselves

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Former Cubs minor leaguer Andrew Ely learned a lesson about sacrificing for the team.

Andrew Ely
Andrew Ely
Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans

If you’re a regular follower of the Minor League Wrap, you probably remember former Cubs minor league infielder Andrew Ely. He was the Cubs’ 32nd-round pick out of the University of Washington in 2014 and he had an unremarkable career in the minor leagues. He wasn’t terrible and he wasn’t great. He had a bad first half in South Bend in 2015 and that got him demoted to Eugene, where he actually hit pretty well. He repeated South Bend in 2016 and continued to play well, got named to the Midwest League All-Star team and he earned a promotion to Myrtle Beach at mid-season. With the Pelicans, he began to struggle again. In 2017, Ely spent the entire season with Tennessee as a utility infielder, hitting .259/.356/.355. That’s not bad, especially for a 32nd-round pick, but as a 24-year-old utility infielder, that’s certainly not a performance that would make anyone think he had a major league future in front of him. The Cubs didn’t think so and placed him on waivers in December where he was claimed by the Mets.

Things with the Mets did not go great. Playing for Binghamton in the Eastern League, Ely hit a terrible .162/.309/.229 in 60 games as a utility infielder. The Mets understandably released him at the end of the year.

If that’s all there was to the story, then there really wouldn’t be a story. A 32nd-round pick stalls out in Double-A and gets released. That happens all the time. But Ely revealed that there was more to the story than that.

So the Mets told Ely to take one for the team and play through his torn labrum. Ely did that but he couldn’t hit with a torn labrum. So they released him.

I don’t blame the Mets for releasing Ely. Once a organizational player like Ely has a torn labrum, then it’s hard to justify keeping him around. What I do blame the Mets for is encouraging him to postpone surgery until after the season, thus pretty much ruining any chance he has of playing in 2019, and then releasing him.

Bill Baer over at Hardball Talk took up Ely’s case and I completely agree with what Baer wrote. Baer also makes the case that this is why minor league players deserve a reasonable wage. Because they make sacrifices for the team every day, but the organization won’t make any sacrifices for them. The least they could do is fairly compensate them for the time they do put in.

I don’t know Andrew Ely, but it’s clear that he loves to play baseball. He was likely never destined to set foot on a major league diamond, but he was a living embodiment of the idea that you should keep playing until the universe taps you on shoulder and tells you that you can’t play anymore.

Ely didn’t indicate how serious the tear was, but for most position players it seems that the recovery time from labrum surgery is around six months. It is longer and can be career-ending for pitchers. Had Ely had the surgery when he was first diagnosed, he would have missed the rest of the season and the Mets still would have released him. But at least he would have been healthy for Spring Training in 2019. Coming off a bad season and a torn labrum, it would have been hard for him to find a new team. But it would have been at least possible. If not, there is always the option of the independent leagues or maybe a foreign league like Australia or Italy. (Korea and Japan have become too competitive for a Double-A player to succeed there nowadays.)

But by doing what the Mets asked him to do, they took away his chance. Now he’s still going to be recovering when Spring Training starts. No one is going to say “You hit .162 last year in Double-A and are still recovering from a torn labrum? Welcome to the team!” Maybe he still has a chance to catch on with a late-starting independent league team, but by that time he’ll have been out of the game for almost a year.

Ely doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him, but he certainly thinks that his time in the game may be up now. Maybe it would have been up anyway. But his earlier decision to follow the Mets advice has pretty much made that decision for him.

Again, this is not to attack the Mets for releasing him. It would be hard to justify giving Ely playing time over a lot of other players. Whenever he had the surgery, he was going to get released by the Mets at the end of the year.

But the lesson here is that minor league players (and even major league ones) need to realize that the teams that they play for don’t have their back. The only one really looking out for you in this game is you. If Ely wanted to play baseball in 2019, he needed to have that surgery immediately against the advice of the Mets.

Ely tried to do something right by his team and the reward he got was the likely end of his baseball career. He knew it’s a cruel sport and that something like this could have happened. But if he wanted his baseball career to continue past 2018, he needed to put himself and not his team first. Because every team in the majors will put their needs over the needs of one of their players.