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Don’t Designate Me, Bro

When the word “designated” enters the clubhouse conversation, ballplayers must get a little glum. If you’re told you’re a designated hitter, it means your glove is deemed superfluous. If you’re told you’re designated for assignment, it means the entirety of you is deemed superfluous. Until somebody declares different, the NL reverts to a DH-free zone in 2021 (CBA be praised), but DFAs remain a perennial and more than a little cruel tool in sorting out personnel.

WTF’s the deal with DFAs? Major League Baseball helpfully explains, “Clubs may utilize this option to clear a spot on the 40-man roster — typically with the intention of adding a newly acquired player (via trade or free agency), a Minor Leaguer or a player being activated from the 60-day injured list,” meaning “people we think are more important than you at the moment…yeah, we’re gonna need you to come in early and clean out your locker.”

Let’s revisit the fine print [1] regarding designation for assignment, per MLB:

• You’re off the 40-man (by the by, if 25-man rosters are now 26-man rosters, why aren’t 40-man rosters now 41-man rosters?).

• You have seven days to be traded or placed on irrevocable outright waivers, which sounds even colder than being designated for assignment.

• If another team claims you off waivers, your new team may really want you, but they may also want to option you to the minor leagues, which they can do if they don’t necessarily want you within an arm’s reach of desire. Congratulations, and welcome back to limbo.

• If you clear waivers, you can be sent to the minor leagues without ever leaving the organization that already told you their lives are at least marginally better without you…or you can be released, which is great if you’ve been in prison, a mixed bag if you liked knowing you knowing you were a gainfully employed professional baseball player.

• With requisite service time or previous outrighting behind you, you can say, in essence, “DFA me? DFA you!” to your old team and declare yourself a free agent, implicitly telling 29 other teams, “Come and get me!” Then, of course, you have to hope somebody will.

When you’re the player who’s been designated for assignment, what are you to think? You’re the sweater that doesn’t quite fit any longer, and we don’t necessarily want to get rid of you, but we do need to make room for a nicer sweater. Maybe somebody else wants you. But if they don’t, we’ll put you in another drawer, with the sweaters we’re not as likely to wear, but hey, you never know. If we get really chilly, we might poke around and pull you out.

The busy-beaver Mets front office has designated four players for assignment recently. Where are they now?

When the Mets signed motivational speaker [2] and defensive specialist Albert Almora, Jr. [3], they designated Corey Oswalt [4] for assignment. What’s that saying about Corey Oswalt? He’s the sweater nobody else wants. Corey Oswalt cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A. Corey Oswalt’s been optioned to Triple-A ten separate times since 2018. He should check his contract to make sure the Mets haven’t legally changed his name to Corey OswAAAlt.

When the Mets swung their portion of a three-way deal to acquire speedy outfield prospect Khalil Lee from Kansas City for flotsam and jetsam from the Steven Matz swap (Matzam?) Josh Winckowski, they designated Ali Sanchez [5] for assignment. Somebody in St. Louis wanted Sanchez, a young catcher who seemed to play the last five innings of every Spring Training game since Clover Park was Digital Domain Dome. It was probably Yadier Molina, wishing to personally train a successor in Met torment (like Yadier Molina will ever go away). The Cardinals officially traded cash to the Mets for Sanchez. That used to be reported as “the Mets sold Sanchez to the Cardinals,” but in 2021 it’s hard to imagine anybody being comfortable about announcing they’d just sold somebody to somebody else.

When the Mets signed Jonathan Villar [6] with the obvious intent of engineering hilarious cases of mistaken identity with Kevin Pillar, they designated Brad Brach [7] for assignment. Due respect to all the other “grew up as a Mets fan [8]” feelgood stories who’ve worn the orange and blue, but Brad Brach really grew up as a Mets fan, so much so that he attended Game Three of the 2015 World Series and considered David Wright’s home run one of his greatest baseball thrills. Me, too [9], except by 2015, Brad Brach had been pitching in the big leagues since 2011. So he was one of us, and now he was literally one of us, depending on how much of a stickler you are about applying third-person plural to fans of teams. Then one day in the Spring of 2021, he wasn’t one of the us he/we rooted for. Brad cleared waivers and got released. He’s since signed with Kansas City, which was probably something he wasn’t anticipating that October night six years ago when the last team he wanted to be of help to was the Royals.

When the Mets signed Kevin Pillar [10], they designated Guillermo Heredia [11] for assignment. Guillermo’s DFA is still in progress, having happened on Sunday and this is only Tuesday. The Mets made their 1999 marketing slogan, “Are You Ready?” In 2021, “Are you Heredia? You are? Luis wants to see you” hasn’t been nearly as appealing a come-on. You can’t blame Guillermo if he sensed the grim reaper approaching and cried, “DON’T DESIGNATE ME, BRO!” Heredia struck the attention-paying fan from last September as a useful outfielder. Pillar struck those who make the decisions these days as a somewhat more useful outfielder.

The late, great Bill Withers probably wasn’t thinking about DFAs when he sang, “You just keep on usin’ me until you use me up,” but when the designations for assignment start flying, ain’t no sunshine when you’re gone. Unless you’re Corey Oswalt. Then you’ll probably be flying in from Syracuse sooner rather than later.