Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Being #41

In the course of roster decisions for a MLB team, certain players ultimately find themselves on the outside looking in through no fault of their own, simply caught up in the “numbers game” or in an organization full of players who play their position. Such an occurrence took place last Thursday as Indians’ minor-league 1B Jordan Brown was left off the Indians’ 40-man roster, leaving him exposed for the Rule 5 Draft that takes place at the end of next month’s Winter Meetings.

While many thought that Brown would ultimately find his way onto the 40-man, he was passed over as the Indians made the decision to roster 5 players to bring the 40-man to 39 players, leaving one spot open in case of an addition to the team that would immediately have to be rostered. The exclusion of Brown from the 40-man came as a surprise to some as he had won MVP awards in consecutive seasons in Kinston and Akron in 2006 and 2007 and spent all of 2008 in Buffalo, seemingly on the cusp of being able to help the parent club at 1B.

Brown joined Tony Lastoria and I on Tuesday night to discuss his career in the Indians’ farm system, the knock on him regarding a lack of power and his 2008 season in Buffalo, what transpired over the course of him not being added to the 40-man, how the decision was explained to him, and how he plans on going forward with this decision made by the Indians. The full podcast can be found here (Brown calls in right at the halfway mark), but the conversation was both animated and telling as Brown was candid in his thoughts on being passed over for the 40-man and what factors may have determined his exclusion.

From the beginning of the conversation, Brown made no secret of the fact that he had thoughts on the decision made by the Indians and took the opportunity to seemingly get a number of things off his chest, from the perception that he lacked the power necessary to play a corner position in MLB to how he “understood” the Indians’ decision while “not personally agreeing with it”. Certainly, that’s nothing surprising as no player wants to find himself in the no-man’s land that is being in an organization but not on the 40-man, but Brown’s comments enlightened as to how the process works, how a decision is made known to a player, and the limbo that a player lives in after such a decision is made.

According to Brown, he was informed by his agent (who had been informed by the Indians, because Brown was personally unreachable on a plane at the time the decision was made) that he would not be added to the roster, a decision explained to him later by the litany of Tribe Front Office personnel. The decision was made, according to Brown, by the Indians because of the depth that the organization had at 1B, with Garko, LaPorta, Martinez, and Aubrey being options already on the 40-man and with Hafner ensconced at DH. He was further told that 1B are not often taken in the Rule 5 Draft, meaning that the Indians felt more comfortable exposing him (opposed to a more versatile player like Gimenez) with the idea that the likelihood of him getting drafted strictly as a 1B was slim, given the rules pertaining to Rule 5 draftees having to stay on the selecting club’s 25-man roster for a certain amount of games.

While the rationale is certainly there for the Indians to leave Brown exposed, one has to wonder if the tendonitis in his knee that Brown discussed playing a role in the dip that his numbers took in 2008 in Buffalo, meaning that Brown’s 2008 was simply a result of injury issues and that it will ultimately represent simply a blip on the radar of his career arc. Conversely, it’s possible that the Indians thought that any concerns about lingering issues with the knee would prevent teams from taking him in the Rule 5.

It’s hard to say whether Brown will find himself in a new organization after the Winter Meetings, though there’s little doubt that Brown will use the experience as motivation for the perceived slight by the organization, given his animated comments in the interview. While he certainly could find a taker in the Rule 5, neither he nor his agent are allowed to contact other teams by rule and will find out information only as it is made public as to whether he’ll find himself in a place like Pittsburgh or Oakland next year or in Columbus, back in the Indians’ pecking order at 1B.

All told, the interview is an interesting glimpse into the effect that a decision that is reported as a simple transaction by most media outlets that “these 5 players were added to the Indians’ 40-man roster” has far-reaching ramifications not just for the players added, but for the players not added. It will be an interesting storyline to follow as Brown will certainly garner interest from other teams in the Rule 5 and the motivation for him to show that he belongs in MLB and not in AAA in Columbus exists.

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