June 15, 2012
Fresh off a sweep in Cincinnati, the time has never been more opportune for the Indians to do some much-needed tweaking to the ancillary pieces on the roster. Sure, there are areas of the roster that have demanded attention since well before this disparaging sweep—namely, left field and the fourth outfielder role—but why not take the opportunity to do some adjusting before the losses start to mount?
Coincidentally, the Tribe did make a move on Wednesday, but it’s one that doesn’t make much sense: sending Matt LaPorta back to Columbus, in favor of the new scrapheap pickup, Esmil Rogers. Choosing instead to carry 13 pitchers on the 25 man roster, Cleveland has hammered another nail in the quickly-darkening coffin that holds the shreds of confidence and potential for the much-maligned LaPorta, who was only given ten days and eleven at-bats to prove his worth to the team. A right-handed hitter, with some long-term potential, and the ability to play two positions that the Indians desperately need help with (first base and left field), LaPorta getting axed is difficult to justify.
IPI columnist, Brian La Shier wrote a compelling column yesterday on the organization’s bizarre handling of the former centerpiece in the C.C. Sabathia trade; so, I won’t use much space depicting the mismanagement of LaPorta, but, rest assured, his demotion is perplexing, especially when there are at least two other players on the current 25 man roster who do not merit holding a roster spot over him.
Luckily, there are other areas of concern that require attention.
For starters, Jack Hannahan’s return from the disabled list is imminent, so we’ll kick off the roster rundown with an easy one. Clubbing a home run in his first big league at-bat of the year, Lonnie Chisenhall quickly made an impact with the Tribe. Unfortunately, since then Chisenhall has tapered off with a plummeting batting average which now sits at a measly .214. Couple that with a pair of errors and it’s easy to foresee what should be a no-brainer as far as roster moves go when Hannahan is deemed ready. At 23 years old, Chisenhall still has plenty of time in his career to lock down the starting third base gig, even if it isn’t this season.
However, swapping third basemen doesn’t resolve that unlucky situation of retaining 13 pitchers on the roster. A dozen pitchers is a more logical number for an American League squad, so who in the Bullpen Mafia gets the kiss of death? A look at the bullpen’s stats offers an answer that seems even more apparent than sending Chisenhall down; yes, I’m talking to you, Tony Sipp. The same reliever that posted a 3.03 ERA in 2011 is putting up some brutal numbers this season: 6.65 ERA, 21.2 IP, 4 HR, 9 BB, .267 Opp BA, 1.48 WHIP.
Sipp hasn’t registered consecutive scoreless appearances while recording an out since mid-May. With the swift judgment being passed on underwhelming Tribe relievers (i.e. Dan Wheeler, Jairo Asencio), it’s difficult to figure out why Sipp is considered worthy of a roster spot at this time. Sipp still has a minor league option remaining, so there is no risk of losing him to waivers by sending him down.
With the disastrous appearance on Thursday from Scott Barnes, in which he gave up five hits, two walks, and five earned runs, there is potential that the 24-year old southpaw gets the demotion instead. However, in his first three appearances, Barnes did not allow a run or a hit in four innings. Call it speculation, but it’s hard not to wonder if the Indians’ brass is stalling for more time to try and decide Sipp’s fate. Otherwise, why send down a position player, who is of use to the big league roster in favor of an eighth arm in the ‘pen?
Easily the most troubling roster issue is the Indians outfield situation which feverishly commands the necessity to make some decisions. Every outfielder not named Brantley or Choo should be in danger of getting the boot.
Johnny Damon has received the bulk of recent playing time in left field, so we’ll start there. Much has been made of Damon’s struggles through his first 100+ at-bats of the season, and rightfully so, but in fairness, he possesses, or at least used to possess, the skill set to beat out his current competition for starts. Yes, he is closing in on 3,000 hits and did not get a chance to play in spring training, but that hardly outweighs his hitting line of .176/ .264/ .533.
I have less of a problem giving Damon the benefit of the doubt, for now, over his fellow scuffling teammates, but if he spends another 100 at-bats continuing this abysmal pace, it’ll be near-impossible to justify him meriting a roster spot, let alone a starting gig.
However, there should be much less slack given to reserve outfielder Aaron Cunningham. With an OPS under .500, it’s nothing short of ludicrous that he still trudges along on the Tribe’s roster. Cunningham offers nothing in the way of getting on base, hitting for power, or stealing bases. Plus, if you’re willing to live with Damon’s struggles, it’s hard to also accept the burden of retaining another hitter who is below the Mendoza line. The time has come to acknowledge why Cunningham has been with five different organizations and just cut ties with the career .227 hitter.
Sadly, Shelley Duncan’s .205/ .303/ .639 hitting line leads the troubled trio of struggling outfielders. Most of the positive nature of Duncan’s stats came thanks to his early season tear, but with some pop in his bat, he’s statistically-speaking the only one of the three who can offer the Tribe any semblance of a threat off the bench. Admittedly, he would struggle to possess a roster spot on most other clubs, but for the time being Duncan’s spot on the roster should be considered safe if for no other reason than both of his competitors are hitting below .200. Furthermore, there is a lack of major league ready options in the high levels of the farm system.
The Indians need to send a message to fans that they are still invested in winning this year by trimming the roster of dead weight. One would hope that there is no long term plan of holding on to 13 pitchers, especially when there is one painfully obvious weak link in the bullpen. Decisions need to be made sooner rather than later as to what the direction of the rest of this season will be.
Continuing to give Sipp and Cunningham a longer leash than LaPorta warrants an explanation, especially when the latter fills a need. The only thing worse than sending down a potentially useful piece is to do nothing at all, regarding roster adjustment. Let’s hope some moves are in store to give the Tribe the best chance to win.
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They clearly don't think LaPorta is a major league player considering they have Damon, Duncan and Cunningham in Cleveland and LaPorta in Columbus. Based on some comments it sounds like they want him to make some fundamental changes in his approach to hitting and until they see that happening they don't care how well he hits in AAA, he's not getting to play in the bigs. There's no point in bringing him up again and expecting a different result if he's not doing anything different.
Can't imagine anyone defending playing Damon and Kotchman over most anyone.