Omar Minaya left the Rangers to become Assistant GM of the Mets, then GM of the Expos
In July 2004, Joaquin's grandmother died
In 2010, Benoit won the Tony Conigliaro Award, honoring his comeback from rotator cuff surgery to become one of baseball's best setup men
The award is presented annually by the Boston Red Sox in memory of Tony Conigliaro, the former slugging outfielder who came back from a devastating pitch to the face to return to the big leagues. A 12-person panel votes on the award to recognize a player who overcomes adversity through the spirit, determination, and courage that were Conigliaro's trademarks.
Benoit joined the 2010 Rays and became the critical cog in their bullpen, leading all American League relievers with a 1.34 ERA over 63 appearances and dominating league hitters.
Joaquin is thankful to God for his comeback from the labrum surgery. He says he learned a lot during his season off in 2009.
"It's a situation when you can sit down and think about things that you have missed in life," Benoit said. "For me, it was a free year. I took a year off from my career. I sit down and I look at all the things that I miss. I think it makes you think about things, to grow as a person and as an athlete, too. I think that when I had surgery, it made me realize a lot of things, as a pitcher, as a person. I mean, you grow up spiritually."
Benoit smiles a lot. He has a personality that allows teammates to gravitate toward him.
Benoit does his best reflecting at night, up in the mountains. He prefers when it's raining—it's something inexplicable, he says, what the steady, innocent flow of precipitation does to relax his mind. Benoit steps outside of his home and peers out at the horizon, out at the array of city lights below that illuminate Santiago, Dominican Republic, where he grew up.
He used to reside in the center of town, where it "is a party night every night," he says. His old complex bordered a nightclub, which regularly pumped loud music and hosted noisy patrons until 3:00 a.m.
"I didn't get any sleep," Benoit said, "so I moved to the mountains, and all you can hear is crickets." Benoit had his house built after the Tigers awarded him a three-year contract following the 2010 campaign—the best year of his career.
In early 2010, a year removed from major shoulder surgery, Benoit's world was quieter than one of those nights up in the mountains. No teams were calling, asking for his services or even offering him a tryout. No one wanted him. All he heard were crickets.
TIME TO GO FISHING?
When Benoit was a child, his father woke him up once a week at 1:00 a.m. to go fishing. The two scoured small lakes and dams in search of crab and shrimp. That experience nearly came in handy when Benoit's big league career appeared to be finished.
With teams weary of his right shoulder—which was surgically repaired in January 2009—Benoit worried that he needed a new vocation. He said he stressed about his career possibly being over "every single day" once he became a free agent following the '09 season.
Benoit gathered his family to discuss how they could invest his life savings. They considered various business ventures, but Benoit admitted that no matter which avenue he chose, he wouldn't be doing the only thing he wanted to do: pitch. "I'd probably be an OK fisherman," Benoit said.
Benoit envisioned himself perched along a little stretch of water known as Samana Bay, the only place in the Dominican where humpback whales swim close to shore. But the hurler with the fragile shoulder was too young, too hungry, and too unprepared to transition to the next unidentified phase of his life.
"It was the most painful thing I've ever been through," Benoit said. "Not having a job, finding myself a home when everybody already reported to spring training, it was really, really tough. To think that if I don't find a job, I was going to sit at home, not knowing what to do...."
Benoit doesn't try to explain how, over time, he graduated from a middling Major League starter to closer of the World Series title-seeking Tigers. He doesn't care to consider whether there are differences between pitching in the eighth inning of a close game and taking the hill in the ninth. Benoit never expected, nor requested, to take the reins as Detroit's closer.
Benoit's 2010 effort—a 1.34 ERA with 75 strikeouts and only 30 hits allowed in 60 1/3 innings—first convinced him that he could handle such a pressure-packed role, especially given his shaky status at the start of that season.
"If you told me at the beginning of that season that I was going to do that," Benoit said, "I would've told you, 'No.' "
At the beginning of that season, Tampa Bay cut Benoit from big league camp on the final day of spring training, and he headed to Triple-A Durham, though every time he played catch, his shoulder throbbed. He rested for four days, resisting the urge to even glance at a baseball. "Somehow, there was this miracle," Benoit said. "I guess God touched my arm."
The pain persisted until the summer months, but as Benoit pitched with regularity, it wore off. He joined the Rays in late April and turned in one of the best years of any reliever in baseball.
Benoit again entered the offseason as a free agent, but this time with a completely altered attitude. A year earlier, Benoit recalled, while talking with his mother, his mind floated to thoughts about his uncertain future. A year later, he sat next to his mother. This time, he spoke his mind.
"I was telling her what I was thinking before," Benoit said, "and I said, 'This year is totally different. Now I'm going to wait for [teams] to call me.'"
Given the way the Giants trounced the Tigers in the 2012 Fall Classic, Benoit is itching to return to the grand stage. "Hopefully, I get to close the last game of the World Series this year," he said.
"He's come up huge for us [this season]," said pitcher Max Scherzer. "We all know how good he is. We all know what his stuff does. We know he's consistent, and we all believe when he takes the mound, he's going to shut the door."
"Even though he had surgery," Dombrowski said, "our medical records were good as far as future health prognosis."
The shoulder has held up, and Benoit has delivered. And even he can't believe it.
"From being almost out of baseball to living up in the mountains—I'd take that any time," Benoit said. So how, exactly, did it all happen? He has no answer. Crickets. (Meisel - mlb.com - 8/19/13)
January 15, 2007: The Rangers and Benoit avoided salary arbitration when Joaquin signed a one-year, $1.05 million contract.
November 1, 2007: The Rangers signed Joaquin to a two-year, $6 million contract. He received a $500,000 signing bonus, a $2.5 million salary in 2008, and a $3 million salary in 2009.
February 15, 2010: Joaquin signed with the Rays organization.
November 17, 2010: Benoit signed a three-year, $16.5 million contract with the Tigers. Joaquin will receive an annual salary of $5.5 million and has the opportunity to earn an additional $1 million in incentives each season.
November 12, 2015: The Mariners acquired Benoit from the Padres, sending RHP Enyel de los Santos ad INF Nelson Ward to the Padres.
July 27, 2016: The Mariners traded Benoit to the Blue Jays for RHP Drew Storen and cash. (Editor's note: Benoit paid dividends right away during a pennant race, not giving up a single run in the month of August.)
Dec 6, 2016: The Phillies signed free agent Benoit.
July 31, 2017: The Pirates sent RHP Seth McGarry to the Phillies so the Bucs acquired Benoit.
Nov 2, 2017: Benoit elected free agency.