As the calendar turned to 2017, Richie Shaffer’s career appeared to be circling the drain. In the span of just five weeks, he had been traded by the Tampa Bay Rays — the team that had made him a first-round draft pick in 2012 — and designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners, Philadelphia Phillies, and Cincinnati Reds.
Then on January 26, mere weeks from the beginning of spring training, the Cleveland Indians claimed him off waivers, a move that was a minor transaction for the club, but for Shaffer marked the end of a truly bizarre offseason. The Tribe became the fifth team to whom he belonged since the end of the 2016 season.
“Sometimes you get so caught up in the things that you can't control in baseball, such as not having the direct ability to dictate your own future, and sometimes that gets caught in your brain and takes away from the stuff you should be focusing on,” Shaffer said in an interview with Jamey Vinnick of Hardball Scoop. “All this stuff happening has sort of allowed me to take a step back and figure out what really needs to be important."
Flash forward to the present, and it’s clear that Shaffer found a good fit with the Tribe.
The guy no one seemed to want six months ago reached the midway point in the season tied for third in the International League with 18 home runs and second with 62 runs batted in, and found himself in Tacoma representing the Columbus Clippers in the Triple-A All-Star Game. He went 2-for-3 in the game, with a double, a home run, and two RBIs, taking home MVP honors for the International League squad.
"I'm happy that I ended up landing in a good spot," he said. “It's funny, but I think it really helped me getting moved around that much. It helped me get my head back on right and focus on the things that I can control.”
That focus and the results that have followed are the reason he may find himself with a sixth organization before the month is over.
Though he was a postseason all-star in the Florida State League (High-A) following the 2013 season and appeared in the MLB Futures Game in 2015 (he shared the field with the likes of Bradley Zimmer and Aaron Judge, but went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts), the Clemson University product was largely considered a bust.
In two short big league stints in Tampa Bay, Shaffer put up a .213/.310/.410 slash line with five home runs. Those numbers were good for a wRC+ of just 99, which doesn’t exactly jump off the page, but his minor league stats suggested that his potential had not entirely evaporated. Shaffer entered 2017 with a slash line of .243/.338/.445, 30 homers, and a walk rate consistently between 11 and 13 percent in 778 total Triple-A plate appearances.
At this year’s break, he owns a .258/.358/.495 line, an ISO of .237, a .376 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 135. He’s kept up the walks as well, drawing free passes at a 12 percent rate, though his 32.8 percent strikeout rate is the highest of his career.
At 26 years old with nearly 1,000 Triple-A plate appearances under his belt, the question now seems to be when Shaffer will get another opportunity at the big league level. He has versatility on his side, having gotten considerable playing time in his career at third base and both corner outfield spots.
But those positions are being manned in Cleveland by Jose Ramirez, Michael Brantley, and Lonnie Chisenhall, respectively, with Erik Gonzalez, Brandon Guyer, and Abraham Almonte backing them up. Even in Columbus, guys like Yandy Diaz, Giovanny Urshela, and Tyler Naquin are probably ahead of Shaffer in the pecking order, all of which makes his taking the field at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario unlikely.
Shaffer has proven himself to be adaptable, though, and his strong showing this year could make him attractive to another team looking for a relatively young right-handed power bat. With the trade deadline approaching and rumblings of the Tribe once again being buyers, it would not be surprising in the least to see his name included in a package being dealt, yet another team being added to his whirlwind year.