November 20, 1992: The Reds release outfielder Geronimo Berroa. Berroa goes on to bat .288 with 97 home runs and 349 rbi between 1994 and 1997 from ages 29-32.
Berroa’s release wasn’t big news at the time, but he was a talented player who apparently had defensive challenges. He was signed as a free agent by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1983, but was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the Rule 5 draft following the 1988 minor league season. Forced to stay on the major league roster as a Rule 5 draftee, Berroa played in 81 games in 1989 as a reserve and batted .265 with two homers before being sent back to the minors for the 1990 season. The Braves released him after the 1990 season and he was signed by the Seattle Mariners in February of 1991, but sold to the Cleveland Indians a month later and granted free agency at season’s end after spending another season in the minors. He signed with the Reds in October, his fourth major league organization in 1991 alone and fifth overall to that point.
In the meantime, he had become quite the minor league hitter, sometimes called a AAAA hitter. He had batted .298 with 21 homers in A ball for the Toronto system in 1986 at age 21. At age 22 in AA, he batted .287 with 36 home runs for Knoxville, which drew attention, but slumped to .260 with eight homers the next season and that’s when the Braves drafted him. With Colorado Springs (Indians) in 1991, Berroa batted .322 with 18 homers, but was not called up. For Nashville (Reds) in 1992, he hit .328 with 22 home runs and the Reds brought him up and he batted .267 in 18 plate appearances and the Reds released him. He signed with the Florida Marlins (organization # six) a month later for whom he hit .327 in the minors, but only batted .118 in 36 plate appearances and he was granted free agency at season’s end.
Berroa signed with the Oakland A’s for the 1994 season and suddenly everything was right in the world. Working mainly as a DH and sometimes outfielder, Berroa batted .306 with 13 homers in 96 games as a 29-year-old. In 1995, Berroa batted .278 with 22 homers and he followed that up with his best season, batting .290 with 36 homers and 106 rbi (117 OPS+) in 1996. In 1997, his contract doubled to $3.3 million, and the A’s traded him at mid season to the Baltimore Orioles. Berroa was batted .310 with 16 homers in only 73 games at the time, but the A’s were going nowhere that season and Berroa was 32 years of age. Beane traded him to the Orioles for highly regarded pitching prospect Jimmy Haynes, who later became an opening day starter for the Reds.
Berroa batted .260 with 10 homers in the half season for the Orioles (seasonal total, .283, 26 homers, 90 rbi), but the Orioles allowed him to file free agency at season’s end. Berroa played with four more organizations (including the Indians and Blue Jays again) over the next three seasons with poor results before retiring after the 2000 season. For his 11 major league seasons, Berroa hit .276 with 101 home runs and a 109 OPS+. He played major league baseball games with nine different major league organizations in those eleven seasons and was in the Mariners organization for one winter month without ever playing a game.
So, I suppose the moral of the story is that there’s always a chance to play if a player can swing a bat. In Berroa’s eleven major league seasons, he played in 779 games. He played less than half of those games (354) in the field, the rest as either a DH or PH. It’s hard to fault the Reds for missing him as a hitter; after all, five other teams did, too, before he found his niche with the A’s. The 1992 Reds were 92-70 and they allowed some of their major league outfielders file free agency that offseason: Glenn Braggs, Dave Martinez, and Darnell Coles. They even went to the trouble of opening a roster spot to allow them to draft Willie Canate from the Cleveland Indians in the Rule 5 draft, only to sell his contract to the Blue Jays before the season began. Canate had never played above A ball at the time of his selection and eventually only played 38 major league games (57 plate appearances).
This was the offseason when new Reds General Manager Jim Bowden was first hired and all the moves except for Canate were made before Bowden was officially named GM. However, seemingly manic transactions became the Reds modus operandi over the next few years. Berroa would have been a useful part as the Reds win totals varied over the next few seasons.