This is not the first time I’ve raised the topic of Daniel Descalso — I posted about this one month ago, and that was before he became the completely forgotten man on the Cubs’ 25-man roster. Since July 1, when he played the last three innings of the Cubs’ 18-5 loss to the Pirates, Descalso has appeared in four games, none as a starter. He pinch-hit three times, made outs and left the game, and in the fourth, he drew a pinch-walk and remained in the Cubs’ 13-inning loss to the Giants Tuesday.
That’s four appearances in 16 team games. Maybe ballclubs could afford to do this with a veteran back in the day of 10-man pitching staffs and seven bench players, but now? How can any team afford to continue to carry a player who essentially doesn’t play?
Part of the answer can be found in this Sahadev Sharma article in The Athletic:
In the clubhouse, Descalso provides some intangible value that’s difficult for outsiders to appreciate.
“Last year I felt like fans were like, ‘Okay, we don’t have veterans on this club with a lot of young guys. Where’s the veteran leadership?’” Jason Heyward said. “That’s one thing he brings first and foremost. He leads by example, going about his work every day and being ready to do what the team asks of him. But at the same time, just being here, being a voice for multiple people. We need winners around. Winners. He gives us more diversity as far as, just going back to last year, you need guys who know how to win and bring that experience.”
“I don’t think people understand, but you can try to explain it,” Almora said. “He’s a guy that when he’s in here, it’s a completely different clubhouse. It’s one of those things that people don’t know because they’re not a part of this. Baseball aside, he’s a leader on this team. He’s someone that I lean on, that I talk to a lot about baseball, about life, about being a professional. That can go a long way.”
You certainly know that I put value on intangibles. There is meaning to having a veteran player on the roster, especially one with significant postseason experience. Descalso has played in 48 postseason games over five playoff years, and has been around the National League. The Cubs are his fourth team. I have no doubt that Jason Heyward and Albert Almora Jr. believe exactly what they told Sharma in terms of what Descalso means to them in the clubhouse.
But at a certain point, I’d think the Cubs have to balance that with performance on the field. With just four appearances in a 16-game span for Descalso, Joe Maddon is essentially playing with a 24-man roster. Descalso is the last pinch hitter off the bench (or first, if the Cubs are well behind or ahead) and he’s the third-string second baseman behind Robel Garcia and David Bote.
We are about two-thirds of the way through the 2019 season. The Cubs owe Descalso about $500,000 for the rest of this year, $2.5 million for 2020 (with plate-appearance bonuses that he won’t make) and a $1 million buyout for 2021.
I cannot imagine that the intangibles and $4 million mean more to the Cubs than having someone on the roster who can actually hit.
Or, to note another team need now that Addison Russell has been sent down, a true backup shortstop. Bote is now the backup shortstop, and you really don’t want him playing there unless there’s an emergency. (He’s played three games there in his MLB career.) It’s possible that Theo & Co. are (among other things) looking for such a player in the trade market; they have six days remaining.
Or, as Josh suggested here last week, perhaps it’s time to call up Ian Happ. Happ can’t play shortstop, to be sure, but he can play a couple of outfield positions and second base and he is, at last, hitting Triple-A pitching well. This month Happ is hitting .324/.451/.608 at Iowa (24-for-74) with four doubles, a triple, five home runs, 12 RBI and 16 runs scored.
I’m glad that the players think Daniel Descalso is such a good guy that they can talk about life, winning, baseball, etc. And yes, that’s meaningful — if the player is also producing. Descalso isn’t. Release him, keep him on as a “special assistant” who can talk with players. But seriously, Theo, get him off the 25-man roster.