Does Cleveland Indians DH Jason Giambi Have One More Year Left in the Tank?

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Updated: January 16, 2014

At the end of the 2012 regular season, Jason Giambi was interviewing to become the next manager of the Colorado Rockies. Now, there is a chance that Giambi (at the age of 43) could be on the Cleveland Indians Opening Day roster for the second straight season.

If one just looked at Giambi’s raw stat line in 2013, it would be reasonable to conclude that having a part-time designated hitter that only hit .183 with 31 RBI was a complete waste of a roster spot. But, anyone who followed the Indians closely last year knows that Giambi’s veteran leadership was a huge factor in preventing the team from having yet another second-half collapse.

While Giambi’s leadership was the main reason he remained on the roster the entire season, Giambi proved that he could still be an effective hitter when it counted most. With runners in scoring position, he hit .271 with 25 RBI in 48 at-bats. He also was a part of arguably the most memorable moment of the 2013 season, with his walk-off home run against the White Sox on September 24 to give the Indians their fifth straight win – at a time where every win was needed down the stretch to clinch their playoff berth.

Manager Terry Francona hasn’t been bashful in declaring how much he respects Giambi as a person and player. He even went so far to admit that he has a “man crush” on him. So if Giambi comes to spring training with the same bat speed and patient eye at the plate, there is no reason to think that he won’t make the Opening Day roster once again.

One might ask: Couldn’t Francona just add Giambi on as a bench coach if his leadership and great vibe he brings to the clubhouse is so important?

While it would be nice to get the best of both worlds in keeping Giambi’s veteran presence and adding a more productive and flexible position player to the bench, Francona would probably argue that while you would still have Giambi around, his leadership is much more valuable as a peer than as a coach.

Plus, the ability of players like Ryan Raburn, David Murphy, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher and Mike Aviles to play multiple positions, allows Francona the ability to carry a part-time DH on the roster where most other teams couldn’t justify doing because they don’t have the flexibility on their rosters like the Indians.

Even with a limited player like Giambi on their bench, the Indians still had one of the better (if not the best) benches in all of baseball in 2013.

Now how likely is it that Giambi can improve or keep up relatively the same numbers he put up last year?

Giambi is only the 23rd player in the expansion era (1961-present) to get 100-plus plate appearances at the age of 42. Only three of the 22 players matched or improved their OPS at age 43. Giambi obviously takes great care of his body, so this writer wouldn’t bet against him putting up similar numbers to a year ago when his only physical responsibility will be to put up around 12 quality at-bats a week.

It would be great for the Tribe if Giambi was able to have a similar year to 2013. But if not,  they have enough other veterans to lead when times get tough. At this point in their career, their young core should have also soaked up enough knowledge from Giambi by now to start being vocal leaders themselves in 2014.

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