Andy Green was an infielder drafted 729th overall by the Diamondbacks in 2000, then beat extreme odds to reach the majors and wound up released by three big-league organizations before he turned 33 — at one point playing in Japan between big-league appearances.
“There’s a beauty in being cast aside and people start to doubt you,” said Green, the Cubs’ bench coach and acting manager during David Ross’ 10-day COVID-19 absence.
Not that he thought so at the time. Or even that he was talking about himself when he said that before Tuesday night’s game against the Reds.
But there might not be anybody on the Cubs’ coaching staff better equipped to see the value in, if not identify at least a little bit with, this second-chance core of first-time, 30-ish Cubs playing for their baseball lives down the stretch this season.
Frank Schwindel. Patrick Wisdom. Rafael Ortega. Adrian Sampson. Even Matt Duffy.
If there’s beauty in being cast aside, the Cubs roster is gorgeous.
“It triggers inside some guys this really competitive nature that helps them become what people thought they could once become,” Green said. “You look across our roster, and it’s littered with guys in that category.”
Just ask Schwindel, who was named National League Player of the Week on Tuesday. on the heels of his NL Rookie of the Month award in August — those awards spanning the entirety of his Cubs career after having been claimed off waivers from Oakland in July.
Or ask Wisdom, whose 25 home runs leads the team and is one short of the franchise rookie record — eight months after signing with the Cubs for the second time as a minor-league free agent.
Or Sampson, who continued his “Game of Thrones-esque” quest for a place on next year’s roster with five more innings of survival against the Reds on Tuesday night — allowing solo home runs by Jonathan India and Nick Castellanos in the first but retiring 13 of the final 17 he faced to survive another episode.
“I think there’s something that triggers in highly competitive people, and I think we’re seeing that with him right now,” Green said. “He knows he’s kind of in an eat-what-you-kill situation. You don’t get to continue to pitch at the big-league level unless you pitch really well.”
Is it sustainable? Sampson, who turns 30 in a month, didn’t pitch this well in the minors for the Cubs, and until May had last pitched in Korea (in 2020).
But he has a 2.20 ERA in six appearances for the Cubs, including two effective starts against a good Reds team.
And who’s going to tell him — or Wisdom, Ortega. Schwindel or anyone else — he won’t be part of the next Cubs team that plays in the postseason?
It’s not like ownership or the front office is going to dump a wheelbarrow full of cash into the free agent market to fill every potential opening on a wide-open roster by next spring.
So call them cast-offs. Call them late bloomers, no-names, and rejects.
It doesn’t seem to be stopping them so far.
“They should take it personally,” said All-Star catcher Willson Contreras, who hit his first homer since July in the third inning Tuesday.
“I know that a few guys have been in different organizations, and right now they have an opportunity to be an everyday player for the Cubs,” he said. “And they’re doing amazing. I don’t think anybody expected them to be as good as they are right now.
Contreras, who said he wants to know this not-a-rebuild thing is going to be a short fix before he signs any contract extension, also said he likes the actual talent, if not staying power, from this bunch even beyond the energy and apparent “personal” incentive.
“The way they’re playing right now is nothing but amazing. The way they make adjustments in the game,” he said. “And the energy is there.
“I haven’t felt this energy in a really long time, and I like what I see. I really love the energy that we have right now, and the chemistry is getting a lot better.”
Regardless of what that might say about the energy and chemistry before the trade-deadline purge that led top this slew of second chances, “I think the future’s bright,” Contreras said.
It’s at least something arguably worth watching on a team headed nowhere down the stretch — for its Frank-the-Tank entertainment value if not for whatever it might mean for next year.
“Some of the most successful guys I was fortunate to have in San Diego were guys like Brad Hand and Kirby Yates, who turned into borderline National League relievers of the year,” said Green, who managed the Padres from 2016 through 2019.
“In both their cases, they were waiver claims that other organizations had given up on and cast aside and thought, ‘these guys don’t really have anything,’ “ Green added. “Craig Stammen over there in San Diego signed a minor-league deal. He’s about six years into that minor-league deal now, pitching pivotal innings for them.
“Those were guys that were much like these guys: cast aside, thought little of, at one point in time had high ceilings that people thought could turn into something, and [then] people gave up on them.”
Contreras said he sees the “hunger,” too.
“They’re ready to fight,” he said. “they’re ready to win a lot of baseball games.
“I know that next year they’re probably going to make some moves, but there’s a lot of talent in this lineup.”