In baseball, the title of bench coach is relatively new. Typically, a coach in this role is seen as second in command of a club house, something of a right hand man to the manager, or an intercessor between players and their skipper. He will set up the practices for the team, organize stretching before games and fill in for the manager in other areas when necessary. It’s far from merely an “atta-boy” position, but the job is most often held by someone familiar with how a club house operates and with a reputation for having a positive influence on others.
I’m not privy to the day to day operations of the Toronto Blue Jays club house, but I wonder if the description above doesn’t describe veteran shortstop Omar Vizquel more accurately than the suggestion that he’s a Major League Baseball player.
Consider this: After the first month of the regular season, Vizquel has had fewer plate appearances than any position player in the league who has been on an MLB active roster since the beginning of the schedule. He has made three starts this season, plus four other appearances as a substitute for the Blue Jays, putting together a paltry 16 plate appearances and minuscule 30 and two third innings of defense.
This is to say absolutely nothing bad about Vizquel, who has stated his desire for more playing time. It’s questioning the purpose of the Blue Jays signing the veteran shortstop to a Minor League contract and then breaking camp with a player that ultimately serves only the most limited of roles on the team outside of merely being there.
We heard all about hispresence during Spring Training, and we continue to hear all about it on the team’s television broadcasts. I understand that there are intangible elements that contribute to a baseball team finding success. I understand that not everything can be measured or be made apparent through data. However, I also feel that as much as we might like to believe leadership and guidance is important, it’s not worth the cost of an active roster spot.
In other words, a usable bench player is of more worth than anything intangible that might be imparted.
As far as on field action goes, this has been Vizquel’s biggest contribution to the team:
Complaining about an umpire’s strike zone from the bench is not the normal territory of the 25th man on a roster. It’s the type of stuff a manager is supposed to do. If Vizquel’s presence is so vital to the team, why not give him a role to which he’s suitable instead of wasting a spot that could instead be filled by an extra bullpen arm or a bat off the bench that’s actually useful?
I can’t think of a situation so far this season in which the Blue Jays might have suffered from having what amounts to a 24 man roster, but if yesterday’s seventeen inning affair between the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox teaches us anything, it’s that every roster spot can become important during a game … and that Chris Davis of all players has a really nice two seamer.
Thanks to our injury database, we can tell you that AL East teams have averaged 442.8 days lost to injury, 30% more than any other division.
— Baseball Prospectus (@baseballpro) May 7, 2012
Playing Major League Baseball is taxing on one’s body. This is especially true in the American League East where the Blue Jays play. Wouldn’t it be better to mitigate the risks of injury to a starting lineup by having a player on the roster who the manager has enough faith in to fill in for a starter from time to time?
Again, it’s not Omar Vizquel’s fault that the Blue Jays have put him on their roster not to play. It’s the shortsightedness of the team to over value his presence as what’s essentially one more member of the coaching staff.
If the team didn’t want to use a player who hasn’t produced a single win above replacement in a season since 2007, they should have never offered him a contract in the first place, or stooped to the level of allowing him to make the team. The claim is that his contributions can’t be measured in terms of statistics, but I’d suggest that if this is the case, such contributions should come from the coaching staff, and not the roster.
After all, no other team in baseball uses their 25th man as little as the Blue Jays use Vizquel. And in the race for first place in the American League East, a race that is traditionally very close, every win matters and every player should be one that can contribute to a win in ways that can be counted and measured.