The Expendables: The Non-Roster Invitees of the Toronto Blue Jays
I have an unnatural infatuation with baseball non-roster invitees. The offseason hot-stove rumors and mega-signings do not interest me as much as seeing each team’s list of players who have been signed to minor league deals with invites to spring training.
I love the melting-pot aspect of it all. The players range from young prospects getting their first taste of major league camp to grizzled veterans trying to hang on for one more year.
I can spend hours reviewing each team’s list of non-roster invitees and researching about the players. This year I figured that I would write down some of my thoughts. So, I did.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of the non-roster invitees who caught my eye. It should be noted that I am not profiling any of the young prospects who have been invited to spring training. Instead, I am focusing on players with major league experience who find themselves in the unenviable position of being a non-roster invitee.
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Chris Getz: With John McDonald no longer on the team, the Blue Jays needed to bring in an alternative slick-fielding, light-hitting middle infielder, and Chris Getz clearly fits the bill. Despite playing six seasons with the White Sox and the Royals, Getz is probably most known for being the subject of Gordon Beckham’s “joke” when the White Sox second baseman wrote “GETZ IS GAY” in the infield dirt in between innings. Unless Ryan Goins falters in spring training, the presence (and versatility) of Maicer Izturis likely prevents Getz from making the roster out of spring training.
Dan Johnson: Way back when (2005), Johnson was hailed as the Oakland A’s first baseman of the future, but he ended up losing the job to power-starved, bunt-loving Daric Barton. A career .236 hitter, Johnson’s most memorable year was 2011, when he batted .119 in 84 at-bats with the Rays. However, Johnson had a fairy-tale moment when he slammed a pinch-hit home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to cap a furious seven-run comeback by the Rays, who eventually won in extra innings. He is not going to make the roster.
Andy LaRoche: LaRoche has become the perpetual non-roster invitee. Brother of Nationals’ first-baseman Adam, LaRoche – who received a $1 million bonus after being drafted in the 39th round – was once considered a “can’t miss” prospect in the Dodgers farm system. Unfortunately, his minor league success never translated to the majors and, barring a miraculous post-30 resurgence, LaRoche appears destined to be a Triple-A player for the rest of his career.
Tomo Ohka: Since debuting in 1999, Ohka enjoyed sporadic success in the major leagues, having his best season in 2002 with the Montreal Expos (13-8, 192.2 IP, 3.18 ERA, 1.24 WHIP). However, he has not pitched in the major leagues since 2009 when he threw 71 completely ineffective innings for the Indians. After injuring his arm, Ohka is attempting to reinvent himself as a knuckleballer, which could explain the Blue Jays’ attraction to him. In addition to Ohka, the Blue Jays also signed former prospect Josh Banks, who also throws a knuckleball. With R.A. Dickey as the team’s de facto ace, the Blue Jays desperately need prospect A.J. Jimenez or new signee Erik Kratz to be able to handle receiving pitches from a knuckleballer. Otherwise, they will be stuck using Josh Thole and his career .645 OPS in the lineup when Dickey is on the mound.
Ricky Romero: The former first-round pick and ace of the staff has fallen on hard times. After showing promise as a 24-year-old rookie in 2009, Romero won 29 games over the next two season while compiling very impressive statistics: 3.31 ERA, 1.211 WHIP, 7.3 K/9. The Blue Jays clearly viewed Romero as a building block for the future as they signed him to a five-year $30.1 million contract extension in 2010. In 2012, however, Romero inexplicably lost it as he pitched to a 5.77 ERA in 32 starts with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.18. He led the league in walks with 105 in only 181 innings pitched. Last year treated Romero no better as he managed to throw only 7.1 innings in the majors (posting an ERA of 11.05), and he spent the majority of the season unsuccessfully trying to regain his form in the minors.
Nothing shows how far Romero has fallen in the eyes of the Blue Jays than to realize that he was out-righted from the 40-man roster last season to make room for 40-year-old Ramon Ortiz, who has a lifetime ERA of 4.95. (The last – and only – time Ortiz posted an ERA under 4.00 was in 2002.) Romero was invited to major league camp this year, but, based on the lack of buzz, it does not appear that the team considers him a legitimate challenger for the last spot in the rotation. Drew Hutchison, Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers, Dustin McGowan, and prospect Marcus Stroman all appear to have a better chance at the final rotation spot than Romero.