Richie Shaffer is the type of baseball player who's often described as a "man of many hats." This offseason, that cliche became a reality as he moved among five teams in less than three months.
Shaffer's ride on the baseball merry-go-round began when he was traded from Tampa to Seattle as part of a five-player deal on Nov. 18. The transaction concluded a five-year stint with the Rays that saw him go from first-round Draft pick to Major Leaguer.
Shaffer had an idea the Rays would be doing some reshuffling, but after spending so much time with one organization he still had to adjust to the idea of being a part of a new team.
"It's hard to say I saw the trade coming, but I knew they were going to make changes," Shaffer said. "I didn't really expect to be one of the guys moving, but I guess I wasn't overly surprised that it did happen. I was just shocked at first because it was the first time I've ever been traded, so that part was a bit jarring. But the fact that I was traded wasn't all that surprising to me."
| "I got to the point where I started dreading phone calls. Anytime my phone rang and I didn't recognize the number, I was like, 'Oh, jeez, where am I going now?'"
-- Richie Shaffer
Just as Shaffer was getting used to the idea of starting next season as a Mariner, Seattle obtained pitcher Chris Heston and had to clear a spot on its 40-man roster. A week later, Shaffer was on the move for the second time in a month as the Phillies plucked him off the waiver wire on Dec. 14.
He wasn't long for Philadelphia, either. The Phillies designated the 2012 first-round pick for assignment on Dec. 20 to clear a spot for newly acquired right-hander Clay Buchholz. Three days later, Shaffer was a member of the Reds.
As Spring Training approaches, teams make moves to round out their 40-man rosters. For every addition, a subtraction often follows. It's the baseball bookkeeping version of Newton's Third Law -- for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
"I got to the point where I started dreading phone calls. Anytime my phone rang and I didn't recognize the number, I was like, 'Oh, jeez, where am I going now?'" Shaffer said. "After the first time I moved, I thought it was going to be a one-time thing and I was a little unprepared for the merry-go-round. Now I've learned to be prepared for anything and realize at the end of the day it doesn't matter what uniform you're wearing as long as you prepare the right way and handle your business. You can only control what you can control."
It's easy to see what makes Shaffer a valuable asset. In addition to being able to play any of the four corner positions, Shaffer has some serious power with 71 homers in 501 Minor League games. After the trade, he took away an important lesson -- that a career can change in an instant and, often, a player has no control over where he ends up.
"It's all part of the business of baseball. It's difficult to kind of describe the feeling about it because it is pretty cut-and-dry. It's just like, 'Well, you're with this team now, so, yeah,' and there's nothing you can say or do about it," Shaffer said.
It was fitting that the Reds briefly picked up right-hander Tyrell Jenkins. The 50th overall pick in the 2010 Draft had an offseason similar to Shaffer's as he moved from the Braves to the Rangers to the Reds before settling in with the Padres.
"In a situation like ours, you can take it one of two ways: you can say that nobody wants you or everybody wants you, and I guess it's a little bit of both," Shaffer said. "At the end of the day, there were a lot of organizations that wanted to have me on their roster, but the business end of things just didn't play out in my favor. But you can't let that discourage you. That's just something that comes with the territory of being a young player."
As the holiday season ended, it looked like Shaffer may have found a home, but it wasn't to be. After signing veteran right-hander Scott Feldman, the Reds had to clear a spot on the 40-man roster and Shaffer again drew the short straw. Placed on waivers, he was claimed by the Indians on Jan. 26.
"This whole thing has taught me to sort of take everything that everyone says with a grain of salt and know that the same person that is telling you that they love you and are so excited to have you in their organization may be the person telling you that it turns out we don't love you as much as we said we do," Shaffer said with a laugh.
"You need to use that as motivation to prove to these teams that you're not the type of player who they should just freely give away. You need to go out there and prove to them that they should be thankful that they got you for free, essentially. Now it's up to me to change that perception of someone that these teams are willing to lose to someone that they would never think about losing."
Four days after joining the reigning American League champions, Shaffer again was exposed to waivers. But in a bittersweet end to a roller-coaster offseason, he went unclaimed and was sent outright to Triple-A Columbus. Even though he was taken off the 40-man roster, he said he was relieved to have a good idea of where he will begin the 2017 season.
"I'm excited to go out there and have some fresh eyes on me. To the teams that picked me up and let me go, I'm just a name on a spreadsheet with a scouting report. They may have never seen me in person or know what I bring to a team. I'm ready to get in there and show Cleveland what my value can be and that I can be an asset," Shaffer said. "I've got a chip on my shoulder and a lot of people to prove wrong heading into camp."