Here's a fun January baseball exercise.
Take a pencil and a blank page and see if you can keep track of the following, making sure to pay close attention, because if you miss one bit of it, you won't have the details of two different yet equally mind-boggling winter tales.
"It's, well -- it's pretty weird what's happened here," says agent Joe Bick.
It's a trail of missed and sometimes-answered phone calls and text messages, an ongoing mystery in which the truth is never far ahead or behind.
In the end -- if there ever is one -- you've got Sandy Rosario and Eli Whiteside as the slightly bewildered protagonists, wondering how and why it all came to be.
First, as promised, the vitals.
Rosario, a 27-year-old right-handed reliever with 10 Major League appearances from 2010-12, had been with the Marlins organization since the day he signed as an amateur free agent in 2004. This winter, he bounced around the Majors like a pinball for two months.
He was with Miami, then Boston, then Oakland, then Boston again, then the Chicago Cubs and has finally landed with San Francisco, all without leaving his offseason home in the Dominican Republic.
Rosario was claimed on the waiver wire four times and traded once between Oct. 17 and Dec. 21. So he's been with five different organizations since Oct. 16, including one of them twice. His seemingly never-ending travels drew notice from the national media, and baseball blogs took interest in his unusual story, with headlines like CBSSports.com's "Sandy Rosario, lord of the transaction."
Whiteside, meanwhile, is a 33-year-old catcher who debuted with the Orioles for a short stint in 2005 and worked his way back through the Minors to stick with the San Francisco Giants four years later.
Whiteside was the backup to Buster Posey in the Giants' stirring run to the 2010 World Series championship and stuck around with that franchise long enough to make it to The Show for 14 games in the encore World Series title season of 2012. The season ended and Whiteside started getting volleyed all over the proverbial Major League ping-pong table, too.
On Nov. 5, Whiteside was claimed off waivers by the New York Yankees. Less than a month later, on Dec. 3, he was claimed off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays. That same day, he was claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays by the Texas Rangers. And on the night of Jan. 1, in a new but seemingly familiar year, Whiteside was designated for assignment by Texas, only to finally be outrighted to Triple-A Round Rock.
That's a total of two players being property of a total of nine organizations in a span of two months, with multiple transactions taking the player back to an organization with which he'd already been. If it seems confusing, consider for a moment about how Rosario, Whiteside, their agents and their families must feel.
For Rosario, the initial dread of looking at his phone and seeing the incoming number of his agent, Andy Mota, eventually gave way to a sort of enervated amusement. Rosario became conditioned to expect another roster move every time his phone rang, even when Mota wasn't calling with any news.
"He would pick up the phone like, 'OK, where am I going now?' It was funny," Mota says. "He got a laugh out of it. But we know it's better to have a job and to be noticed than to be trying to look for a job at this point. There are a lot of free agents out there."
With so many changes happening so frequently -- so many phone calls from Mota, so many others from team executives who just picked him up -- a positive attitude like that is almost necessary. Rosario has walked the line between unwanted and wanted, dropped by four teams but scooped up by five.
He has pitched only 7 2/3 innings in 10 big league games since 2010, the highlight of his brief time in the Majors occurring in 2011. He pitched three innings over four games for the Marlins in 2012, giving up six runs on eight hits. He hasn't had much of a chance to prove that he deserves a permanent spot in a big league bullpen, but he hasn't necessarily done enough at the Major League level to earn more of a chance, either.
There are positives to look back on, including a 1.04 ERA and 16 saves for Triple-A New Orleans last season, and Rosario has taken comfort in the fact that teams kept calling rather than letting the stress of such a hectic stretch dominate his mind. He remained optimistic, saying every time he landed somewhere new, "I hope this is it. I hope this is where I'm staying."
But even he couldn't help but find the bizarre humor in Boston trading him to Oakland for a player to be named later (Graham Godfrey) on Nov. 28 and then claiming him on waivers less than two weeks later. It seemed as if the A's had acquired Rosario with the intent to keep him -- they had just given up a player for him, after all. But he was only halfway through the journey that eventually brought him to the defending World Series champions -- you know, the one that just cut Whiteside loose.
"I've been bouncing around like a ball on a pool table," Rosario told USA Today in Spanish last month, not long before the Giants acquired him. "I'm lucky this happened in the offseason. Imagine if it had been during the season, packing up and traveling to a new team every four days. ... It feels so unstable. You don't even know where you're standing."
The same goes for Whiteside, who in 2011 hit .197 with four home runs and 17 RBIs in 213 at-bats, the most in a single season in his big league career, but is far more well-known for his skills behind the plate, his ability to seamlessly help prepare a championship pitching staff, and his team-first demeanor and solid clubhouse presence.
"People are watching, and they do see things," Whiteside says. "Being behind the plate, working with those guys out there in San Francisco, that was an incredible experience. It's one of the best if not the best pitching staff in all of baseball, and bouncing stuff off of [pitching coach Dave Righetti] and [bullpen coach Mark Gardner] and learning from those guys, with the type of player I am, that's what I like and what I want to do."
He might just get the chance to just that in Texas. While the Rangers have two high-profile catchers -- A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto -- signed up for the upcoming season, Whiteside realizes that there could be worse things than being close to the Majors in a winning organization.
"I like the Rangers," he says. "It looks like a good clubhouse, a good group of guys to be around, it's closer to home [Mississippi], which is a plus. Other than that, whatever's going to happen is going to happen. I can't control that. All I can control is how I perform, working with pitchers, trying to learn those guys.
"The only thing that got frustrating recently was not knowing where I needed to try to find a place to live for the spring."
Whiteside and Rosario don't have to worry about that stuff -- for now. They're going to be in Spring Training, and, with Whiteside based in Surprise, Ariz., and Rosario over in Scottsdale, they could meet and talk about their shared journeys.
Bick and Mota, meanwhile, will keep looking out for the best interests of their clients -- players with just enough big league value to possibly be claimed again and again.
"I'm sure there will be more twists and turns along the way," Bick says.
"You don't think I'd quit on him now, do you?"