Octavio Dotel's been tryin' to make a living and doin' the best he can for the past 14 years. And when he makes his first appearance of the regular season, he will have played for more teams (13) than any other player in Major League history. In 14 years. Dotel may as well have been born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus rolling down Highway 41. Am I right, fellas?
But what makes someone this susceptible to changing teams? Why is Dotel the person to hold this record? What makes it so easy for teams to part with him, and for other teams to take him on?
Octavio Dotel has been a good pitcher for a lot of years. His career ERA is 3.74 and his career ERA+ is 121: solidly above average but not spectacular, especially for a reliever (Dotel hasn't made a start since his third year in the Majors). When healthy, he makes well over 60 appearances per year. He's been a closer twice in his career: in 2004 and 2010. He's basically a reliever who is almost good enough to be a good closer, but isn't quite reliable enough. Indeed, that's what I think about when I, an avid baseball fan for Dotel's entire career, think about Octavio Dotel. I think of him as a guy I wouldn't want as my team's closer, but who would be a nice guy to have at the back end of the bullpen.
Dotel, because of this specific talent level, occupies a unique space in baseball. He's a guy whom basically any team would like to have, and because of this, whatever team gets him will likely pay a handsome sum of money for him. Octavio Dotel has made almost 35 million dollars in his 13-year career to this point, or $2.7 million per year. This year he is set to make $3 million as a 38-year-old. That's not an insignificant amount to pay the guy who will be your 2nd-4th best reliever. Then again, if he is a workhorse for your team, eating good innings in a large portion of your games, that's a small price to pay for most teams.
So this has been the story of Dotel's career. When he's good, he's attracted attention. And that attention has led to trades. A guy like Dotel is perfect trade bait: a guy who will add value to the team he's being traded to but who is easily replaced on the team from which he is traded. Dotel has been involved in five trades in his career, all in years in which he's pitched pretty well. When he's pitched a little below expectations, teams haven't wanted to pony up the money to keep him. He's been granted free agency six times in his Major League career, mostly in years in which he has performed slightly below his career averages. He occupies a really weird space where if he pitches better than you expect, everyone wants him, and if he pitches worse than you expect, nobody wants him.
Octavio Dotel isn't, however, the first pitcher to fit this description. There are multitudes of pitchers out there just like Dotel. Ron Villone, who is currently tied with Dotel for the record of 12 teams played for, is very similar to Dotel in many ways. Mike Timlin is a guy who was just like Dotel. He played for six teams in his career. If he hadn't become a fan favorite in Boston, he may have challenged Dotel for the record. But Dotel just happened to be in places where it was easy for him to change teams.
And it's not like Dotel was oblivious to this record. Last year he played for the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, and he could have stayed there. But he knew he was at 12 teams and he had an opportunity to reach the record of 13. Dotel said that he "can't wait for the season to start so [he] can have the record." And that's what you have to love about Dotel. He has no delusions of grandeur: he knows his place in baseball, and he embraces it. If he can be in the history books for something, he might as well do it. Here's to a great season in Detroit, Octavio, and to 13 more teams.