A Trio of "Tens"
Chavez, Hudson and Descalso among 26 big leaguers who reached 10-year mark in 2020
By Jerry Crasnick
Put any group of big leaguers in a room together, and they’ll have different definitions of success. For Jesse Chavez, a veteran pitcher with nine teams and 481 appearances on his resume, a meaningful career is most likely the product of showing up, overcoming enough setbacks to earn a living and letting everything else take care of itself.
“I tell the younger guys, ‘You should have five goals when you start playing: Get drafted. Get to the big leagues. Reach arbitration. Reach free agency. And get to 10 years,’ ’’ Chavez said. “That’s the checklist.’’
Ten years of MLB service qualifies a player for the full pension. It’s also the minimum criterion to appear on a Hall of Fame ballot. But within the player fraternity, the achievement transcends money and name recognition because of the perseverance required and the elite company it attracts. Of the 20,000 or so players who’ve played in the big leagues, roughly six percent (or about 1,200 overall) have attained 10 years.
“If you’re lucky enough to stick around, you realize there aren’t a whole lot of guys who’ve reached that mark,’’ said infielder Daniel Descalso. “It’s like a badge of honor -- a respect-among-your-peers thing.’’
The list of 26 players who reached 10 years this season features superstars (Freddie Freeman, Giancarlo Stanton and Chris Sale) and two 2020 World Champions (Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen). But it also includes a range of players who never made an All-Star team or ranked among the top tier in jersey sales, yet made their mark as grinders, respected teammates and professionals worth emulating. Three players who fit that description spoke with the MLBPA on what it meant to them to join the club in 2020.
On any list of players notable for longevity, Jesse Chavez has to rank among the most improbable.
Chavez displayed a live arm in high school, but he was a gangly 6-0, 125 pounds as a teenager. After the Cubs selected him in the 39th round of the 2001 amateur draft, he chose to attend Riverside Community College in his native California. The Rangers picked him in the 42nd round in 2002, then waited 11 months before signing him under the old “draft-and-follow’’ process.
MLB dispensed with the draft-and-follow system in 2007 and capped the draft at 40 rounds five years later, so the circumstances that facilitated Chavez’s entry to pro ball are just a memory now.
Since his MLB debut with the Pirates in 2008, Chavez has logged time with the Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, Athletics, Dodgers, Angels, Cubs and Rangers. Along the way, he changed teams in trades for Kip Wells, Akinori Iwamura, Rafael Soriano, Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel, Liam Hendriks and Mike Bolsinger, while perfecting the art of scrambling for flights and packing on the fly.
Regardless of venue or role, Chavez made it his mission to do whatever was required, no matter the toll on his right arm. He inherited his work ethic from his father, also named Jesse, who worked as a warehouseman before his retirement in 2017.
“My dad always told me, ‘If you can get on the field, get on the field no matter what. Go out there and compete and find a way,’ ’’ Chavez said.
Chavez credits his junior college coach, Dennis Rogers, with laying the groundwork for his career. When he had trouble sticking with Kansas City in 2010-2011, he received words of comfort and encouragement from Triple-A pitching coach Doug Henry, who talked him out of quitting and going home to pursue another line of work.
Photo Courtesy of Jesse Chavez
The service days crept up on Chavez quietly, in a blur of short-term deals and uniform changes, until his elbow ached enough for him to consent to a 1,600-inning cleanup in 2019. A rough stretch in August put a major dent in his ERA, but Rangers manager Chris Woodward and pitching coach Julio Rangel gave him a nice morale boost when they flagged him on his way to the bullpen at Coors Field and congratulated him on reaching the coveted 10 years.
Later that week, in San Diego, teammate Lance Lynn laid out tiny glasses of ready-made margarita mix on a clubhouse table and summoned everyone for a toast. Amid cheers from his fellow Rangers, Chavez checked off the final item on his personal checklist.
“I’m only here because of confidence and perseverance,’’ Chavez said. “I can’t control results, but I can always control my preparation. That’s how I was raised. Trust yourself and leave it all out there. Don’t give anybody a chance to say no.’’
The medical marvel
It’s been quite a ride for Daniel Hudson over the past 14 months. In October 2019, he witnessed the birth of his third child and helped pitch the Nationals to a World Series victory over Houston. Three months later, Washington management rewarded him with a two-year, $11 million contract extension.
Because service time days were prorated during the abbreviated 2020 season, Hudson was never entirely sure of his 10-year target date. A few days after teammates Stephen Strasburg and Starlin Castro reached the milestone and were treated to a mid-August toast by Max Scherzer in the clubhouse, Washington manager Davey Martinez called Hudson into the visiting manager’s office in Baltimore and did the honors.
“Not a lot of guys get to this point,’’ said Martinez, raising a glass as the coaching staff joined in the toast. “You did it, and we’re proud of you.’’
Hudson’s road to 10 was notable for resilience and reinvention. He won 16 games and threw 222 innings as a starter with Arizona in 2011 before suffering two elbow injuries that necessitated Tommy John surgeries in 2012 and 2013. Hudson’s medical odyssey earned him a role as a protagonist in Jeff Passan’s 2016 book, “The Arm.’’
This year, at age 33, Hudson threw his fastball an average 96.5 mph -- best of his career, according to FanGraphs. He used it a career-high 76 percent of the time while averaging 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings as Washington’s closer.
“Fifty years ago, Tommy John (might have been) a death sentence for your career, and I’ve had two of them,’’ Hudson said. “I definitely appreciate where we are now in terms of modern technology and pitcher-specific workouts. I’m over 700 innings and I’ve pitched 60-70 games a year for a few years. With modern medicine, the workouts, the doctors and the trainers now, that’s a big factor, for sure.’’
The versatile one
Daniel Descalso broke in with St. Louis as a third-round pick out of the University of California-Davis in 2007. By the time he reached Triple-A Memphis two years later, he had established a friendship with a young outfielder named Jon Jay, a product of the University of Miami.
“One of the goals we set together was to get to that 10-year mark -- to hold each other accountable and push each other along the way,’’ Descalso said. “When you’re not an everyday player, you have to find ways to adapt, stick around and contribute as the game changes and ebbs and flows.’’
Descalso, 34, has been a monument to versatility over his career. He’s logged 255 starts at second base, 141 at shortstop, 131 at third base, 42 in the outfield and 29 at first base, while posting a 6.75 ERA in six appearances as an emergency pitcher. The only thing he hasn’t done is catch.
His 10th year celebration came under less than optimal conditions. The Cubs placed him on the 45-day injured list in July when he re-aggravated an ankle injury that he had initially suffered in 2019, and he spent the entire season at home with his family in the San Francisco Bay area.
But when the big day arrived in September, it didn’t go unnoticed. Descalso’s wife, Julia, collaborated with old friend Jon Jay and taped a video with testimonials from a bunch of teammates and friends. David Freese, Allen Craig and Jay checked in from the St. Louis days, while Nolan Arenado and Tyler Chatwood reminisced about their time with Descalso in Colorado. Former Arizona teammates Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb and Archie Bradley recorded personal messages, and Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward sent their congratulations from the Cubs’ clubhouse.
As it turns out, Descalso wasn’t the only 2010 Memphis Redbird to make the grade this summer. Jay, a member of the Diamondbacks’ outfield in 2020, had already celebrated his 10th year of MLB service in August.
“It’s crazy when you think about it,’’ Descalso said. “You have 20,000 guys (who’ve played in the majors), and that doesn’t halfway fill up a big-league stadium. And only 1,200 of them get to 10 years. It happened a little differently than I had imagined. But I don’t take one day of those 10 years for granted.’’
Photos Courtesy of Daniel Descalso
The 23 other major leaguers to reach this milestone in 2020