Hit the road (to Ottawa), Jack
After the Orioles designated Jack Cust for assignment on April 9 to make room on the big-league roster for Erik Bedard, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth in the Orioles' sabermetric community. I discussed Cust earlier—he is a flawed player, but he still has too much promise as a hitter to be surrendered for nothing.
However, I have yet to see a commensurate level of surprise at what happened after that: not a single major-league team claimed Cust off waivers. After ten days, the rights to Cust then reverted to the Orioles, who assigned him to Triple-A Ottawa.
I have to say that I was shocked. After all, one week earlier the Orioles had let go of John Stephens, another flawed prospect held in high esteem among performance analysts, and saw the Red Sox (who have the vanguard of the sabermetric movement on staff as an adviser) claim him and add him to their 40-man roster. I expected something similar to happen to Cust. Despite Cust's defensive deficiencies, I thought that surely an American League team with a weak farm system (Red Sox, Yankees) or a sabermetrically savvy front office (Athletics, Blue Jays) or a weak major-league roster (Devil Rays) could find a place for him. Perhaps an NL team needing bench depth (Giants) would find a role for him as a pinch-hitter and spot starter. But no one bit. And it's not like some teams fell asleep at the waiver wire, either, because the move drew extra attention when MLB found the Orioles guilty of calling up Bedard too early after the transaction was announced and reversed it, forcing the Orioles to place Cust back on their roster for a few more days. One reason for the other teams' hesitation was that (to quote MLB.com beat writer Gary Washburn) "any team that claimed Cust would have had to place him on the 25-man roster." This was not true in Stephens's case.
But the total lack of interest from 29 big-league teams showed just how far Cust has fallen in the eyes of MLB talent evaluators. This is the same guy who made a lot of top-50 and top-100 prospect lists just a few years ago, who has an impressive .299 BA/.436 OBP/.551 SLG in his minor-league career, who was one of the Orioles' top hitting prospects when he was acquired from the Rockies in March of 2003, who has nearly three full AAA seasons under his belt, who posted an impressive .878 OPS in a limited role last year, and who is still just 25 years old. What happened? Are all those teams dunderheads for passing on him? Or were they right, and have the stat-heads overrated Cust and turned a blind eye to his flaws?