A’s DFA Jack Cust
One of the more surprising roster moves at the end of spring training was made by Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland Athletics. The A’s designated Jack Cust for assignment, meaning they had to place him on waivers, trade him, or give him his outright release. Cust went on waivers and had no takers; given his veteran status, he had the option to decline going to the minor leagues, but headed to Sacramento anyway (if he didn’t he wouldn’t get paid). Cust wasn’t happy about it though:
“I think it’s messed up,” Cust said in a phone interview with The Chronicle after leaving the stadium. “They’re going to go on 50 at-bats after three years of what I’ve done here? It’s ridiculous. A lot of other guys have had bad springs. This is a joke.
“The fact is, this team has no power and they’ve just released a guy who (averaged 28 homers) the last three years. That’s amazing.”
The A’s chose to keep 12 pitchers on the roster, giving them only 13 spots for position players. Kurt Suzuki, Mark Ellis, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Cliff Pennington, Daric Barton, and Adam Rosales all had infield spots claimed, and outfield spots were guaranteed to go to Rajai Davis, Ryan Sweeney, Travis Buck, and Coco Crisp. Needing a backup catcher still, we’re at two open spots. One of them went to Eric Chavez, who’s on the roster because he’s making 12 million dollars this year. One went to Jake Fox, who (while doing a terrible job wherever he played defensively the last few years) will be the backup catcher, despite not playing the position much for a couple of seasons. When Crisp broke a finger, another spot went to Gabe Gross, and the last outfield spot went to Eric Patterson.
A lot of the guys mentioned in the previous paragraph could not be sent back to the minor leagues, as they were out of options; they also will make the league minimum this season, almost guaranteeing that another team would claim them on waivers. In my opinion, Cust was DFA’ed because with a 2.65 million dollar contract, not too many teams had budget left to claim him and give him a roster spot (he really can only be a DH at this point). Those 14 jobs had been filled, so Billy Beane gambled that no one would claim him, Cust would understand there would be no jobs for him right now, and he would accept the demotion. At some point, an Athletic will get hurt (maybe this guy) and they’ll need another hitter (or 6) and Jack Cust will come up and hit home runs, walk a lot, and strike out even more. He’s still a good hitter, and will earn that 2.65 million even in limited time with the A’s.
Two things this points out to me: one, in years past I feel like some team would have claimed Cust and stuck him in their outfield, and he would have given back as many runs as he created. This shows me that teams understand now that good hitter does not equal good player. For several offseasons now, players who profile as a designated hitter have done poorly in free agency. Secondly, it shows how some flexibility at the end of spring training can be a great asset to a team. Most teams and their fans clamor to have a complete 25-man roster from day 1, as though those guys will be healthy all year long; at various points of the year, the roster will have holes. All the teams (Yankees, Rays, Twins, White Sox, Indians, Rangers, Angels, Mariners) that filled their DH spots during the past few offseasons and spent every dollar could have had a left-handed power bat for under 3 million dollars. In the end, Billy Beane is the one who gets to have a 26-man major league roster.