The biggest stars get all of the attention. That’s why we’re all waiting with anticipation to see where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will play baseball for the next decade, and how much money they’ll make doing it.
In doing that though, we tend to lose sight of the players whose futures are anything but stable or certain. The players who are always one phone call from being forced to pick up and move on.
One such player is veteran pitcher and now certified journeyman Oliver Drake.
If you haven’t heard of Drake, that’s understandable. He’s only appeared in 135 MLB games spread out over the last four seasons. That’s hardly enough to become a household name. But to see him in any one place, you had to look quickly. That’s because Drake has been changing uniforms faster than Patrick Mahomes has been throwing touchdown passes.
OK, that might be an exaggeration. But not by much. After being traded from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday, Drake has changed uniforms seven different times since May, while representing six different MLB teams.
To put that in perspective, Drake has represented 20 percent of MLB’s 30 teams in a span of eight months.
Drake’s career actually started with some stability. He was drafted in the 43rd round of the 2008 MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles and remained in the organization until 2017. He made his MLB debut on May 23, 2015, and ended up making 30 appearances for the Orioles over the next three seasons.
• On April 13, 2017, Drake was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. He appeared in 11 games for Milwaukee during the 2018 season, posting a 6.39 ERA over 12 2/3 innings.
• On May 5, Drake was purchased by the Cleveland Indians in what basically amounts to a trade. He allowed six runs over four innings for Cleveland before being placed on waivers.
• On May 31, Drake was selected off waivers by the Los Angeles Angels. He made five appearances for the Angels, allowing five runs in 8 2/3 innings, before being placed on waivers again.
• On July 26, Drake was selected off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays. In two games for Toronto, he allowed three runs in 1 2/3 innings. You guessed it, Drake was again placed on waivers when Toronto needed space on its 40-man roster.
• On Aug. 3, Drake was selected off waivers by the Minnesota Twins. This would be Drake’s final stop during the regular season. It seemed to be an encouraging stop too. Not only did Minnesota give him an extended look with 18 appearances over the final two months, Drake was very effective there. He allowed just five earned runs in 20 1/3 innings, good for a 2.19 ERA.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough to convince Minnesota to keep him around. Drake would be placed on waivers again and claimed by the Tampa Bay Rays on Nov. 1. Drake would end up with the Blue Jays again three weeks later on a waiver, before being traded back to the Rays on Friday.
Seriously, if you thought your holiday travels were stressful, you had nothing on Oliver Drake.
How do we define journeyman?
In baseball and sports in general, the term journeyman is typically applied to players who change teams frequently. If you play for six teams during your career, you’re basically considered a journeyman from that point on.
Sometimes it’s just that simple. Sometimes it’s a little more complicated. And some players take it another level. Pitchers Octavio Dotel and Edwin Jackson share the record for the most MLB franchise’s played for in a career at 13. Jackson is still active too, so it’s possible he’ll have that record to himself soon.
Technically, Drake falls into the journeyman category based on the last eight months alone. But we’d all have to agree both Dotel and Jackson have attained enough success during their careers to be considered at a level higher. Heck, even Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson changed teams nine times during his career. He also played 25 seasons, which changes the guidelines for how he’s viewed.
There’s probably a better term to describe where Oliver Drake finds himself.
When you’re changing addresses as often as Drake has this past year, we’d call that baseball purgatory as opposed to actual journeyman status.
How would we define baseball purgatory? It means a player is just good enough to be wanted, but not valuable enough to be needed.
Along the way, Drake has obviously shown scouts enough ability to get teams intrigued by his potential. It just seems he’s lacked the opportunity to entrench himself. When that becomes the norm, you instead get firmly entrenched in purgatory. A place where every pitch and every at-bat means everything, and every phone call could lead a player’s career in an entirely new direction.
It’s the not-so-glamorous part of sports that we rarely pay attention to. Sure, it’s good to be that close to living the dream, but the constant reminder that it can be taken away sounds more like a nightmare. Here’s hoping the Rays finally give Oliver Drake a real opportunity to escape that position and prove he belongs in 2019.
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