Every day, we make choices. Most choices are minor, like when you're driving home from work debating with yourself whether you should head straight back to your place and eat the boring leftovers from the night before, or stop on the way for a burrito instead.
Other choices are important. You know the stuff: do you pick the safe college close to home, or go across the country to your dream school? Do you take the high-paying job in your field, or strike out halfway around the world on a passion project? That girl you met two years ago -- do you ask her to marry you? Are you ready to commit forever? What about kids, do you want kids? Are you ready to take on this mortgage?
And then there are the choices made for you, whether by the sheer randomness of the universe, or because of choices made by other people -- sometimes loved ones, sometimes strangers -- that leave you with no choice. When you're ten years old and your parents move you across the country for a job, that's a life-changing choice that's been made for you. When a family member falls seriously ill right before you're supposed to go across the country to your dream college, and their care needs force you to stay home, that's a choice that's been made for you.
From a baseball perspective, it's these types of choices -- the choices made for you -- that I think about when I look at Matt McBride's career.
McBride, of course, was the only position player involved in the July 30, 2011 trade between the Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians. By 2015, he was also the only player remaining with one of the original trade organizations four years after the fact. That changed on Thursday when McBride opted for free agency, ending his career in Colorado and -- considering his .199/.228/.305 Major League slash line and the fact he'll be 31 years old in May -- speeding up the clock on whatever's left in his big league career.
McBride's time in Denver this year was a disappointment. He slashed just .167/.186/.167 (7-for-42) with four strikeouts across 20 games with the Rockies. With just 43 plate appearances spread over those games, McBride never found a consistent role on Walt Weiss' ball club. He only started eight times. He only had one multi-hit game. He didn't get any extra base hits. He never walked. He didn't even manage to strike out more than once in a game. He did, well, nothing.
Over the last four years combined, we've seen the same; McBride has just 158 big league plate appearances to his name, which include 33 strikeouts, just three (!) walks, and an OPS+ of 35. He's Kyle Parker, but five years older. And he's never played more than 12 games at any position in any single Major League season. Talk about a cup of coffee.
Now that he's a free agent, some team will invite him to Spring Training in February. He'll fight for a job, and depending on the inevitable end-of-March crunch, perhaps he ends up on an Opening Day roster. Or in Triple-A, where he's a stellar .318/.352/.532 hitter in 1,381 plate appearances. Or in an independent league.
But was it really supposed to be like this for Matt McBride?
In 2006, Matt McBride was a catcher at Lehigh University, playing in the NCAA's Patriot League after choosing to stay close to home and attend the school because of its academic reputation. He started 56 games that year, and slashed .417/.463/.678 in 211 at-bats, with 19 doubles, 12 home runs, 22 stolen bases, 21 walks, and just 15 strikeouts. For the second consecutive season, he'd be named to the All-Patriot League First Team; later, his college dominance earned him a spot on the Patriot League's 25th Anniversary team.
On June 6, 2006, with the 75th pick at the very end of the second round, the Cleveland Indians selected McBride, then just a junior, in the MLB Amateur Draft. He had a choice to make -- a life-changing move across the country for your dream job choice -- and he chose to sign rather than return to Lehigh. The Indians shipped him to Mahoning Valley, and then Lake County, Kinston, Akron and Columbus over the next five years. He moved from behind the plate to the outfield, and then to first base.
He was good, too. He was a midseason All Star in 2006 (New York-Penn League) and again in 2007 (South Atlantic League). Shoulder surgery hampered 2008, but he came back to win Player of the Week honors in 2009 (Kinston, Carolina League) and 2010 (Akron, Eastern League). He was an Eastern League Player of the Month that year, too. The Indians thought so highly of McBride, they sent him to the Arizona Fall League -- twice -- where he was named to the AFL's All-Prospect Team as a member of the Peoria Saguaros in both 2009 and 2010.
McBride began 2011 in the Indians' organization with 31 Triple-A games already under his belt. He had been nearly two years younger than 2010's Triple-A competition, and entered the new season with the future ahead of him alongside minor league teammates Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, and Asdrubal Cabrera. Well, until July 30.
(If you're curious, in that same second round in 2006, some 20 picks before the Indians took McBride, the Rockies picked high school outfielder David Christensen. By the time McBride picked up his second straight All-Prospect honor in the Arizona Fall League, Christensen had just finished hitting .194/.289/.317 in 104 games in High-A Modesto. He did not play in the Arizona Fall League. In fact, he was released by the Rockies just 40 days after they acquired McBride.)
On July 30, 2011, a choice was made for Matt McBride that changed his baseball career, as trades always do. Ten days after that choice was made, having been assigned to Double-A Tulsa in his new organization, McBride landed on the disabled list with a strained oblique. Eleven days later, he was activated. Four days after that, he went back on the DL and missed the rest of the season.
Maybe the omen was bad.
We know McBride's story from then on. Great minor league hitter. Flexible catcher/corner outfielder/first baseman. Bad big leaguer. After four years of that -- including 2013, where he saw no big league action -- McBride washed out of Colorado.
When I look at Matt McBride's career, I think about choices made for us. How would things have been had the Rockies made a different trade? What if the Rockies had gotten back Kipnis? Or Chisenhall? What if Dan O'Dowd had insisted on taking John Drennen, a left-handed outfielder who slashed .300/.355/.434 in Akron in 2010 -- all numbers better than McBride? (Drennen washed out of affiliated ball after 2011, and then the indy leagues after 2013.)
What if McBride stayed in the Indians' organization? Would he have been promoted to the big leagues in 2012, seeing time in left field for a club that suffered through a platoon of Johnny Damon (.222/.281/.329) and Shelley Duncan (.203/.288/.388) during a miserable 68-94 season? Couldn't McBride have contributed there?
Look, it's impossible to determine the what-ifs of baseball trades. It's certainly feasible McBride would've done even worse in Cleveland than he did in Colorado. And it's not my intention to feel sorry for McBride; for nearly a decade, the man has collected money to play a game. He's done it at the highest level in the world. That's a damn good deal.
But it's bizarre -- kind of funny, kind of sad, kind of surreal -- to think about McBride's 2015 in the context of a 2011 choice made for him that's been affecting him ever since. He wasn't good this year, and the Rockies weren't, either. If he's remembered at all in three, or six years when the Rockies are (hopefully) winning, it'll be as a humorous footnote. Can you believe the Rockies just won the World Series again, we'll say to each other in 2021, when just a few short years ago, guys like Yohan Flande and Kyle Kendrick and Kyle Parker and Matt McBride were playing for this team?!
McBride won't have that same experience, of course. Fans get to follow teams for lifetimes. Fandoms are handed down through generations. Matt McBride may have a few years left in the game, and then it'll be taken away, perhaps as a choice made for him when no team offers him an opportunity one winter. Transactions -- outrighting, designating for assignment, claiming on waivers, placing on disabled lists -- will increasingly function as choices made for him. The choices he's able to make for himself will continue to dwindle each year. It's a brutal game.
I know, this post is way too long for a player review of a guy who couldn't hit .200 in extremely limited action for a team that finished 26 games under .500. Is anybody still reading? And this post may read like a premature eulogy for McBride's career. But maybe it is kind of a eulogy.
I'm just stuck on the fact that a few years ago, a choice was made for a well-regarded 26-year old minor leaguer that probably looked damn good: join an organization known for developing hitters, and play in an offense-crazy ballpark. Less than 160 plate appearances later, it's over.
This winter, Matt McBride gets to make a choice for himself. But the only options he may be picking between non-guaranteed, non-roster invites to Major League Spring Training. Is it still a choice you make for yourself if the options presented are so limited?