Here’s a side of being a pro player that few take the time to think about…
Mickey Storey was having a storybook 2012. He married longtime girlfriend Monique to start the year, and she gave birth to their second child, Durant (joining older daughter Deionce), in October, just after the season.
The 26-year-old had a productive year, his first full one in the Astros system. Acquired in mid-2011 from the Athletics for future considerations, Storey returned to Triple-A Oklahoma City and struck out 72 in 65 innings, earning a his big league promotion in August. There, he rejoined interim manager Tony DeFrancesco, who’d managed him at Triple-A Sacramento with the A’s in 2009-10 and with Oklahoma City in ’11.
With DeFrancesco’s trust, Storey pitched well, going 0-1, 3.86 with 34 strikeouts in 30 big league innings. His 10.09 strikeouts per nine innings ratio improved on his 9.37 K/9 mark in 290 minor league innings as a pro, numbers he’s proud of.
“I was able to achieve my dream and make it to the major leagues, and pitched for more than two months and did well,” the righthander said from his home in West Palm Beach, Fla. “I pitched 95 innings between Triple-A and the big leagues, was durable, threw well and went into the offseason feeling good about it.
“Since I was designated for assignment, I have to admit, it’s been the most mind-blowing experience.”
Storey had changed teams when he was traded, but that was simple to explain. This offseason, he’s been designated for assignment four times, going from the Astros 40-man roster to the Yankees, back to the Astros and finally, on Dec. 19, to the Blue Jays.
When the 2012 season ended, Storey was a big leaguer. Now he’s become an offseason punchline on the Internet and appears ticketed for a spot in the bullpen for Toronto’s new Triple-A Buffalo affiliate.
“I could see the humor in it if I had a bad year,” Storey said, “but I didn’t. It was my best year. It’s left a bad taste in my mouth.”
Rules & Procedures
Storey’s offseason odyssey started Nov. 20, the date when major league clubs set their 40-man rosters prior to the Winter Meetings and the Rule 5 draft. The Astros added seven minor leaguers to the 40-man for the first time, including prospects such as righthanders Jarred Cosart, Jose Cisnero and Chia-Jen Lo and shortstop Jonathan Villar. That got them to 38, but then they made more room by dropping Storey and veteran Scott Moore from the roster.
The Yankees claimed Storey off waivers, adding him to their 40-man, with general manager Brian Cashman calling Storey to explain the process.
“He didn’t guarantee me anything,” Storey said. “He knew me, knew my stuff, said they had good reports on me and said I will have a chance to make the (big league 25-man) roster, but he also let me know there was a chance it could happen again.”
And it did. The Yankees re-signed Mariano Rivera on Dec. 6 and needed to make room on the roster. The Astros then reclaimed Storey from New York, putting their roster at the 40-man maximum.
According to Storey, the Astros indicated they would not expose him to waivers again, but they did just that on Dec. 19. This time, the Blue Jays claimed him, and when GM Alex Anthopoulos called, it was to tell Storey that he was a Blue Jay but also that he was immediately designated again, booted from the Jays’ crowded roster.
“It’s been tough to explain to people, whether they know baseball or not,” Storey said. “I have relatives in New York who were really excited when the Yankees picked me up, and I had to explain to them when it happened. They don’t know the rules; heck, I just learned them myself.”
Storey will have to take a pay cut, from the $490,000 MLB minimum on tap for the 2013 season, but says the money isn’t as big of a deal, because he’ll still make six figures in the minors. It’s tougher being off the 40-man for other reasons, such as the lack of insurance coverage.
He’s certainly not alone. Just on Jan. 3, the Rangers DFA’d catcher Eli Whiteside, the fourth time that’s happened to Whiteside this offseason, matching the this year’s high of righthander Sandy Rosario (now with the Giants). Outfielder Scott Cousins, now with the Angels, joins Storey in having been claimed three times this offseason. Sorey likely speaks for all of them when he says the competitiveness of wanting to be a big leaguer has made all the roster shuffling so difficult.
“I’ve been talking to (Astros pitcher) Bud Norris, who’s going through arbitration, about the business side of things,” Storey said. “He was telling me how he wants to prove he can win as a major league starter. I just laughed and said I want to contribute to a team that wins. That’s all. I’d take minor league money to play in the major leagues.”
Margin For Error
Storey figures he’s been deemed expendable for much the same lack of velocity that made him a 31st-round pick in 2008 out of Florida Atlantic, where he ranks second in program history in wins and strikeouts. He’s never been a hard thrower, sitting in the 88-90 mph range, but he locates his fastball and relies heavily on his cutter and plus curveball, which has led to his high strikeout rates.
“There are a lot of guys throwing 95-100 out there who get a lot of leeway,” he said. “I always thought the point was to get outs, not to throw hard.”
Storey will have to keep having success with his breaking ball to earn a spot in Toronto’s bullpen. Otherwise, he’ll shuffle off to Buffalo despite last year’s success, a victim of baseball’s 40-man rules and procedures.
“When I came home after the season, I just couldn’t wait to get to spring training,” he said. “Now I’m not sure what I’m walking into.”
No wonder why so many quit and/or washout before making the show…