One of the most remarkable aspects of Octavio Dotel's record -- playing for 13 different major league teams, more than any other player -- is how late in his career the wandering began.
Dotel played with just two teams from the moment the New York Mets signed him as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic at age 19, in 1993, until June 2004, when Dotel was 30 and pitching for the Houston Astros.
Consider that stability compared to the three players Dotel passed to take hold of that record: Mike Morgan, Ron Villone and Matt Stairs. Morgan debuted at 18 years old with the Oakland Athletics, and by age 25 was with his fifth team. Matt Stairs joined the Athletics, his third team, by age 28. And Ron Villone, the well-traveled lefty, was pitching for his fourth team, the Indians, by 28.
That reflects the value of Dotel compared to his league-trotting compatriots. It would be entirely too reductive to simply summarize his career, which may be over after Dotel left a rehab appearance with forearm tightness this past weekend, by referring to his sheer number of stops.
For instance, take a look at how Baseball-Reference's WAR ranks Dotel compared to those other most-traveled players. Dotel posted a career WAR of 15.7. Morgan bested that in his career, at 28.9, but that's in roughly three times as many innings. Villone, in more than 200 more career innings than Dotel, was worth about a quarter as much, 4.2 WAR. And Stairs, a position player, checked in at 14.3, good but still not at Dotel's level.
It's also possible to see how important Dotel was for so long by looking at the players involved in his transactions. He made his first jump, from the Mets to the Astros, as the centerpiece in a deal that brought Mike Hampton and Derek Bell to the Mets prior to the 2000 season. The former became the staff ace for the National League pennant winners, the latter spent most of the season as the team's starting right fielder.
A few years later, Dotel was the most valuable component from the Astros in a three-team deal with the Royals and Athletics. Out went Dotel, catcher John Buck and cash. In came Carlos Beltran, who went on to enjoy the finest postseason any Astro, and maybe any player, has ever posted.
Even as he aged, and the number of uniforms he'd worn continued to escalate, Dotel earned the teams who traded him value when they did. In 2007, the Royals traded 33-year-old Dotel at the non-waiver deadline to the Braves, getting back Kyle Davies, a 23-year-old starting pitcher who'd ranked as high as 53 on Baseball America's Top 100 prospects.Three years later to the day, Dotel went from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now 36, Dotel still landed the Pirates outfielder Andrew Lambo and starting pitcher James McDonald, both a year removed from appearances on the Baseball America Top 100.
And even a year later, in 2011, he not only became a key part of a massive, eight-player deal between the Cardinals and Blue Jays, he then provided the Cardinals with a multi-inning relief appearance in both their NLDS series and NLCS, earning victories both times, and managed to earn a hold in Game 7 of the World Series, won by the Cardinals. Dotel pitched 24 1/3 regular season innings for the Cardinals, then another 15 1/3 in the playoffs.
Even those postseason appearances, against the best hitters in baseball, at age 37, held the trademark of all Dotel work: a massive number of strikeouts, and as he aged, a decreasing number of walks. Dotel struck out 20 in that 2011 postseason, good for a strikeout rate of 11.7 per nine innings. His career postseason mark was even better, 12.7 per nine. It took until his 2011 Cardinals tenure for Dotel to win a World Series championship, but that was no fault of Dotel, anymore than his travels reflected on some defect in his work.
The Tigers relied upon Dotel in 2012, and were hoping to do the same in 2013, but it appears Dotel's body has finally given out on him. It is worth noting that his ability to get strikeouts while pitching deep into his career as a reliever is about as rare as his propensity for ending up on different teams.
Among relievers with at least 900 innings pitched, Dotel is second only to Billy Wagner in strikeouts per nine. Part of this can be chalked up to the increased number of strikeouts in the modern game. But Dotel is so far ahead of the competition, it's more than just changes to the modern game. Only Trevor Hoffman and Dan Pleasac are even within two strikeouts per nine of Dotel's career mark of 10.8/9, and Hoffman, at 9.3, is well behind in a career that largely overlapped Dotel's in era.
The easy part is to identify Dotel as a man of many teams. The hard part is figuring out why a pitcher like Dotel, a shutdown reliever who struck out many, was well-liked by teammates and front offices alike and effective until the end, didn't find a more permanent home.
''I don't want to trade Dotel,'' Mets General Manager Steve Phillips said back on July 21, 1999, after a young Dotel dominated the Baltimore Orioles in his fourth major league start. ''I would be highly reluctant to do it. It would have to be a special deal for us to trade Octavio Dotel.''
But ultimately, like so many other GMs, trade Octavio Dotel is precisely what Steve Phillips did. Many others followed. And nearly everyone who acquired Octavio Dotel turned out to be lucky to get him.