The Most-Teams-Ever-Played-For Record Is Under Attack!

You may not care about Marlon Byrd. Or Edwin Jackson. Or Dana Eveland. Or Josh Wilson. That’s a reasonable position to take, as none are remarkable players at this stage of their careers. And yet here we are, not one paragraph into this piece and I’ve mentioned all of them. But wait! Don’t click on that other article you saved, the one about the rise in butt implants quite yet! There’s a very real and interesting (maybe!) reason I’ve mentioned all of these players, but you have to read the next paragraph to find out. Ooo! This is like a mystery.

So what binds these guys together? Byrd may yet manage to find a team on which to dump his age-38 season, but to date he’s an old free agent with maybe one skill to offer. Eveland is a 32-year-old pitcher who has averaged 15 appearances a season over the past decade. His specialty seems to be riding the shuttle back and forth between Triple-A and the majors. Wilson is a backup middle infielder/defensive specialist, which is a nice way of saying he can’t hit, as his career OPS+ of 64 attests. And Jackson is a once-promising fireballer who seems resigned to scooping up innings wherever he can until his clock runs out. So they’re all varying degrees of bad, but “here are a bunch of lousy baseball players” is not really a driving theme for an article. There is something that holds these players’ careers together though, and that is this: each of them has played for nine different teams in their careers.

[Pause while you read your piece on butt implants.]

I know! I can’t believe they do that either. So where were we? Oh yeah. What makes this significant is that nine is the highest number of franchises for which any active player has played — and Jackson, Eveland, Wilson, and Byrd are the leaders of that list. Actually, LaTroy Hawkins has played for 11 different teams, but he’s retiring, so as soon as this season begins the aforementioned group will be the active leaders.

The second thing that makes this (hopefully!) interesting is that the record for the most teams any player has ever played for is 13. You’ll never guess who did it, so I’ll just tell you. The record is held by Octavio Dotel. Dotel played for Houston, Oakland, Detroit, the White Sox, Kansas City, the Mets, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, St. Louis, the Dodgers, Yankees, and Toronto.

[Pause to re-read piece on butt implants.]

Humorously enough — though not as humorous as butt implants (I know!!) — Dotel was once traded in a deal that included Edwin Jackson. Because of course he was. Baseball is a closed circle and now I’m sad I’ve already reached the quota for butt-implant jokes this paragraph.

So the obvious question now: can any of these players exceed Dotel’s total of 13 teams played for?

Eveland signed a minor-league deal with the Rays that includes an invitation to spring training, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility he could make it to Tampa this season. If he does, that would be 10 franchises for him, but considering where he is in his career, it’s pretty unlikely he gets to play for three more major-league franchises before his career ends, because at any given moment in the future it’s unlikely he’ll be in the major leagues at all. The same goes for Wilson, only more so. Byrd may get another shot with a team this season yet, but at 38 years young, three more teams after that sounds impossible.

So we move on to Jackson, who appears to represent our only hope. But actually he seems like quite a hope! Once the season begins, Jackson will throw a pitch for his 10th franchise, the Marlins — after Tampa, the Dodgers, the Cubs, the White Sox, Arizona, Atlanta, St. Louis, Washington, and Detroit. Most importantly, he’ll be only 32 years old. Also he’s currently on the Marlins, so if he pitches well — or even not abominably — there’s a real chance he could pitch for his 11th franchise this season!

And after the season ends Jackson, will be a free agent, as he’s only signed to a one-year deal. In fact, single-year contracts seem to be the likely outcome for Jackson over the remainder of his career. This is maybe not so great for him, but wonderful for us, because it decreases the likeliness that he remains on the same team for multiple years and at the same time increases the likeliness that he gets traded in-season. The in-season trade is the straight flush of playing for different teams.

The situation is fertile for Jackson to continue switching to different franchises. The trick, it appears, will be for him to continue his playing career long enough where he is allowed to break the record. Jackson is 32, so he will need to remain a viable major leaguer for, one would think, at least three seasons — and likely a few more than that. Can Jackson pitch through his age-35 season let alone further? Eh… maybe. Jackson wasn’t able to get any kind of starting gig this offseason and will have to ply his trade in the bullpen. Moving to the bullpen often gives pitchers new life, but that wasn’t exactly the case for Jackson last season, his first working out of the pen. Jackson’s strikeout percentage (17.5%) was well below average for a reliever, and his walk rate rose as well, so you’d be hard pressed to say things looking promising.

Then there’s the fact that, by signing with the Marlins, he has already started scraping the bottom of the barrel of major-league organizations. And then there’s the second fact that, as he’s already pitched for 10 teams (counting the Marlins), there’s a 30% chance that even if he switches teams, the new team will be one for which he’s already played. If you assume Jackson can stick around on infinite one-year contracts, and he never re-signs with the same organization the following season, and you assume there is a 33% chance of him signing with a team for which he’s already played each season, he would have to keep playing for four more years to tie Dotel. When you think of him as a 32-year-old starting pitcher, that seems like it’s within reach. But when you consider the downward trajectory of his career, his declining stats, and the fact that at this point he’s unlikely to last three more seasons let alone four, the math starts to look daunting.

Looking further down the list, the group of players who have played for eight different teams is even less promising. Players like Cody Ross, Dan Haren, David Aardsma, Emilio Bonifacio, Aaron Harang, and Jason Grilli don’t seem very likely to get to 10 teams, let alone 13. Perhaps Octavio Dotel’s seemingly tenuous grasp on baseball history is, for the immediate future at least, not so tenuous.

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Shirtless Bartolo Colon
6 years ago

Dotel’s still young enough to make a comeback. One of the other 17 teams has to need a good righty arm.