I happened upon a Boston Red Sox game the other night and found myself watching Abraham Almonte hit. This happens to me every so often, where a guy I’d assumed was long gone from any MLB roster turns out to still be around.
I remembered Almonte because he played a fairly significant role on some good Cleveland teams, including the 2016 and 2017 playoff teams, but I honestly had no idea he was still around. So I looked him up, and it turns out that Almonte has appeared in an MLB game in 10 consecutive seasons, which makes him eligible for the Hall of Fame, I guess.
Your first thought when you see someone like Abraham Almonte playing in September is something like, don’t the Boston Red Sox have any prospects that should be getting playing time right now? Boston was playing out the string, and even if Almonte is in next season’s plans, they don’t exactly need to see what he can do. Shouldn’t these at-bats go to someone who needs the experience?
Your next thought (or mine, anyway) is to wonder how a guy like Abraham Almonte keeps finding a spot on an MLB roster
There is a pool of what used to be called “4-A guys,” players who just hang out in the minors and wait for a phone call. Some guys, like Almonte, always get a call.
In looking at Almonte’s stats, there is nothing that distinguishes him from dozens of guys who made brief MLB appearances over the past decade and faded into oblivion. But you could build a roster of guys like Almonte who just keep showing up. Guys like Rene Rivera, who made his major league debut in 2004, who surpassed 70 games played just twice in his career, but who got some playing time with Cleveland and Washington in 2021 at the age of 38.
At any given point, the talent level between the last two guys on a major league roster and anyone on a Triple-A roster is minuscule or nonexistent. But guys like Phil Gosselin keep getting a chance. This is nothing against Gosselin, who has spent some time on an MLB roster every year since 2013, has posted a career OPS of .654, and exceeded 200 at-bats twice. But I bet there is someone who played in the minors with Gosselin back in 2012 who posted better numbers and is sitting at home this season thinking, “I’m better than that guy.” And he might be right.
There’s more than egos at stake here. Almonte has made more than $4 million in his career, Gosselin about $3.5 million. Beyond that, the MLB pension system is structured in such a way that a player who logs 10 full seasons on a major league roster is eligible for a pension of up to $100,000 per year. So, every time Gosselin or Almonte gets picked up, their eventual pension gets a little closer to that $100,000 max.
So, what sets these guys apart? Well, being versatile helps. Almonte has played all three outfield positions and, at age 33, logged five games in center field for the Red Sox this season. Gosselin has played every position except catcher, and even pitched a hitless inning for the Los Angeles Angels this season. Beyond that, I wonder if the fact that these guys were never hyped prospects made it simpler for them to adapt to limited roles. Almonte spent over eight years in the minors before he made his major league debut. Gosselin was a fifth-round draft pick by the Braves, but when you look at Atlanta’s top 20 prospects lists from 2011-2013, the years that Gosselin was making his way through the minors, you never see his name.
It’s probably more random than any of that. Managers want guys who show up on time, don’t cause drama, and make basic plays when they are called on. Once a guy gets that reputation, it feels safer to keep going back to the same well, even if the results are mediocre, than to give a chance to a guy you’ve never seen before.
Gosselin was released by the Angels at the end of August, and Almonte will be a free agent. Odds are they will both end up on a major league roster at some point in 2023.