At this point in the offseason, it’s fun to examine the different paths of player movement. We see all the non-roster invitees, the big-ticket free agents, the DFAs and trades–and at some point I’m always caught off guard when I research a player’s particular path through the league. Some players, like Joaquin Benoit, jump out as me as guys who’ve played for nearly a dozen teams; in truth, Benoit has only racked up big league seasons for four franchises, with Seattle to be the fifth. I could’ve sworn he was working on seven or eight. Brad Penny is looking to break camp with the Blue Jays, which would be his seventh MLB ballclub … though he also spent a hot moment in the Sox and Royals systems recently, not to mention Arizona before reaching the bigs.
One of the most interesting tracks a player’s career can take is when they complete some sort of set: for example, playing for a series of playoff teams (hey, Jonny Gomes!), going to multiple professional leagues in multiple countries, or one of my personal favorites: playing games that count for every team in a particular division.
So that’s what I decided to find out today–what MLB players have logged time in big-league games for each of the teams in a division … as they’re currently constructed. Though the divisions have changed over the history of MLB, I think it’s fair to imagine that until expansion crops up again (soon, I hope!), we’ll be sticking with the alignment we current have for a while.
Using help from Baseball-Reference’s Multi-Franchise or Multi-Team Players page, I was able to identify the six major leaguers who completed the circuit–they played for all five teams in one of today’s six divisions. I was actually shocked to find that only six players have completed the feat, and I was even more surprised to find that one of the players who completed the feat did so before player movement was as common as it is now.
So let’s get to it!
NL East / AL Central: No players
The National League East is one of the two divisions where I wasn’t really expecting to find any players that matched my criteria. The advent of the Florida Marlins was back in 1993, which only leaves 24 years to log time as a member of the Fish. (I did this by franchise, so former Expos count on behalf of the Nationals.) Expansion mucks with things a little bit. If you remove the Marlins from the equation, you end up with just two former players who served time with the other four: Willie Montanez and the immortal Bruce Chen. Chen’s run actually just took him between 1998 and 2002 to hit all four of those NL East teams.
As for the AL Central … that one’s a little more surprising. Each of the five franchises in the division predates the expansion era, save those pesky Kansas City Royals. In addition, during those recent seasons where player movement seems a bit more common, some of those teams have been pretty awful. And for whatever it’s worth, I always seem to imagine that bad teams cycle through more players than good ones. (Let’s file that thought away for a future article.) Without the Royals in play, 10 players hit the other four teams, so perhaps this is just dumb luck.
AL East: Kelly Johnson
You may actually already know this one! Johnson hit all five American League East teams in the span of just four seasons, from 2011 to 2014. In just 2014, Johnson went from the Yankees to the Red Sox to the Orioles in two separate trades, completing his tour of the East. Unlike some journeymen, Johnson actually flashed All-Star abilities early in his career with the Braves, long before he hit his spots in the AL. He posted a 5.4 fWAR in 2010 with his only non-Eastern team–the Diamondbacks–and was a thorn in Mets fans sides as the second baseman for the Braves before that.
Johnson re-signed with the Atlanta Braves this offseason in a bit of a homecoming. Personally, I was hoping he’d latch on with the Phillies, Marlins, or Nationals … he only needs those three teams to complete a super-set of every team in both East divisions.
AL West: Mark McLemore
There’s only one Mark McLemore.* One of the signature players of the late-80s and 90s (especially if you were a card collector … the dude was everywhere), McLemore had a solid career as a middle infielder and utility guy for seven teams over his 19-year career. That’s not a typo! He really played for that many seasons! Mostly a second baseman early on, he actually had his best years during his early 30s at the end of the 1990s. The switch-hitter became a sneaky-good on-base option (.349 career OBP) at this point after dramatically changing his walk rate mid-career.
Just as he was about to wrap things up and call it a career, he made one last move at the end of his run. By making the 2004 Athletics’ roster, he completed his tour of the AL West. The introductory part of his career came with the Angels, and in 1990 he was the player to be named later going to the Indians as part of the Ron Tingley deal. (You remember that, right?) After that, McLemore was never traded again–he was signed 10 free agent contracts with five teams, including four contracts with the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles and Indians aren’t AL West teams, but the Angels, Astros, Rangers, Mariners, and A’s are … so he makes my list.
* - Just kidding. There were two. This messed me up for about a year.
NL West: Steve Finley and Matt Herges
Undoubtedly, Steve Finley is the greatest player to ever complete a divisional run such as this, and the undisputed master of the National League West. A two-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glover, Finley earned 40.4 fWAR over his career, a mark that puts him firmly in the tier of players unworthy of Hall of Fame selection, but possessing excellent careers worthy of fond remembrance.
He was traded with or for a Hall of Famer (Curt Schilling, someday), an MVP (Ken Caminiti), All-Stars (Edgardo Alfonzo, Glenn Davis, Pete Harnisch), and the other Pedro Martinez. Though his greatest seasons were arguably with his second franchise, the Houston Astros, once he was traded to the Padres in 1994 he stayed on the west side of the country for the rest of his career. Aside from a brief detour with the Angels in 2005, Finley spent the rest of his big-league career in the NL West, where he helped the Diamondbacks along to their 2001 World Series win. He even pitched a scoreless inning for the Snakes that season, doing his best impression of a LOOGY!
While Finley may have gotten more credit for staying true to the NL West for much of his career–that happens when you’re good–reliever Matt Herges completed the same trek Finley did, just in his own way. A late-blooming reliever, Herges made his debut with the Dodgers in 1999 at the tender age of 29. Never possessed of strikeout stuff (career K% of 15.7), Herges was a guy who flitted from bullpen to bullpen without really settling in as a late-inning guy. There was one exception though, as the ’04 Giants leveraged him as their closer for part of the season. He rewarded them with a 5.23 ERA and an unholy 20 meltdowns to pair with his 23 shutdowns. It wasn’t a good look.
Herges completed his NL West tour when he signed a free agent deal with the Rockies in 2007. He went on to pitch for almost three seasons in Colorado before a short stop in Cleveland, then a return to Colorado for his final big-league appearances.
Sure, Herges wasn’t as great as Finley … his 4.2 fWAR was approximately 10% of the total value Finley racked up over his illustrious career. But in our world, we’re judging these players simply by the teams they played for. By that metric (and that metric alone!), Finley and Herges are equally deserving of our attention.
NL Central: Cesar Izturis and Ted Savage
Question #1: Do you remember Cesar Izturis? I’ll bet your answer is yes. Over his 13-year career, he appeared in games for the Blue Jays, Dodgers, Nationals, and Orioles … as well as every team in the NL Central. It’s funny, but he only spent 387 of his 1,310 big-league games playing for the Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates, and Reds. Nevertheless, he completed the NL Central cycle when he finished his career with a below-replacement showing over 63 games in Cincinnati. Oh, and he first came over to the NL Central in a 2006 deadline deal: a one-for-one trade to the Cubs for Greg Maddux. That’s one for the trophy case.
Question #2: Did you remember that Izturis won a Gold Glove and made an All-Star Game? Me neither. Izturis did have a reputation as a great gloveman, and both DRS and UZR back up his excellence–particularly in 2004 with the Dodgers. But oh man, his offense was horrible. He undid everything he ever earned with his glove thanks to a career 61 wRC+. For the record, that marks him as 39% worse than league-average as a hitter; he had a career .293 OBP and actually cost his teams 7.8 runs as a baserunner.
But while Izturis moved across team lines frequently over his career–something we could expect from a utility infielder in the new millennium–he wasn’t the first player to complete the five-team NL Central … uh, quintfecta? No, that honor goes to 60’s outfielder Ted Savage. Savage was a talented prospect in the Phillies’ system after serving three years in the Army, and he posted decent numbers in his rookie campaign (.345 OBP, .375 SLG), but was traded away at the close of his rookie season.
As an African-American playing for a Philadelphia ballclub that had a troubled relationship with black players, there were rumors that his trade to Pittsburgh was race-related. This began his tour of the National League (and particularly what would later become our NL Central) as a journeyman platoon outfielder. Never possessed of good defensive numbers, Savage spent much of his career on the bench, without getting much of an opportunity to contribute regularly due to a combination of competition, injury, and ineffectiveness. However, in 1970, one of his final big-league seasons, Savage finally strung together 343 plate appearances, and he posted an excellent 146 wRC+ in those games. He posted a terrific .402 OBP on the strength of a 16.6% walk rate, but he’d be out of the majors just two years later.
Savage would also spend most of his post-playing career in the NL Central as well: after his playing career, he’d earn his PhD in urban studies, and later join the Cardinals organization again–this time he’d serve team and community for 25 years in a variety of roles. His story, compelling and almost-forgotten, is accounted for in this excellent biography by David E. Skelton at the SABR BioProject.
So there you have it: those are the six men to serve for all five teams in a given division. There is both a star center fielder (Finley) and a replacement-level reliever (Herges). There are three utility infielders: a good hitter (Johnson), a good defender (Izturis), and one guy who was good at both at times (McLemore). And finally, there was an outfielder who never got a real shot (Savage). A pretty cool club, if you ask me. I wonder if anyone else will join them soon?
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