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Tribe Happenings: Indians are searching for an outfielder

Tribe Happenings: Indians are searching for an outfielder
April 1, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

On the lookout for outfield help

Since outfielder Grady Sizemore went down with an injury at the start of spring training the competition for the Indians’ starting left field spot has been wide open. But as we near the end of spring training, it is no secret the Indians have not been pleased with their internal candidates to fill left field and the fourth outfielder role.

The Indians named Shelley Duncan to the team on Friday, but that was a foregone conclusion as he was expected to make the team as a starter or reserve player anyway. While he performed the best of anyone in camp they still have not declared him the starter in left field, likely because they are still considering options via trade, waivers, or free agency to add to the roster.

Earlier this week the Indians worked out designated hitter/outfielder Vladimir Guerrero at their complex in the Dominican Republic. The Indians said they did so at his request, but it is clear they are interested in him. How strong that interest is remains to be seen, but it is cool at the moment because he is limited to full time designated hitter duties and they already have one in Travis Hafner. This could simply be them just setting things up to sign him later in the year if Hafner suffers an injury.

On Thursday night there was a lot of buzz that Angels outfielder Bobby Abreu had been traded to the Indians. The deal was reportedly close to being completed, but the deal broke down and is now dead. The Indians could still revisit the trade, and probably are at the moment. It is unknown who was involved in the trade, but outfielder Trevor Crowe was pulled from an Indians’ minor league game on Thursday in anticipation of a trade.

A left-handed pitcher was also reportedly being included in the deal. Lefty David Huff pitched on Thursday afternoon but suffered a hamstring injury to the first batter he faced, so it is possible that if he was the one involved in the deal that his injury is what nixed the trade.

There are a few other “name” free agents out there the Indians may also consider signing such as Magglio Ordonez and Johnny Damon, but Ordonez has made it known he will probably retire. On the surface Damon would seem to fit, but he is mostly a designated hitter now as he has played just 53 total games in the outfield the last two seasons out of 295 total games played.

The Indians still have yet to announce who the last two position players will be on the opening day roster. Infielder Jose Lopez is expected to be one of them and one of Ryan Spilborghs or Aaron Cunningham are expected to be the fourth outfielder, but with the Indians working the phones looking for deals and sifting through the waiver wire there is no guarantee any of them have made the roster yet.

The Indians are expected to announce the final roster decisions today, but the search for an outfielder is one that may carry into the season. If they were unable to strike a deal in the past 24 hours for Abreu or in another trade, they will probably go with one of Spilborghs or Cunningham in the short term but continue to actively search for another option the first few weeks of the season. 

Chisenhall optioned to Columbus

The Indians optioned highly touted third base prospect Lonnie Chisenhall to the minors this past week, a move that was not much of a surprise considering Jack Hannahan is still with the club and was expected to be the starting third baseman when camp broke.

Chisenhall, 23, is still young and learning.  Those that objectively take a step back and look at what he did in the big leagues last year (.255 AVG, .699 OPS) and this spring (.205 AVG, 39 AB, 16 K), it is easy to see he still needs some more time in the minors to finish himself off. The Indians rushed him to the big leagues last year as they were desperate for a spark and were trying to stay in a pennant race, but had they not been contending he probably would not have been called up to Cleveland based on how he was playing at Triple-A Columbus (.267 AVG, .784 OPS).

Some people may believe that Chisenhall and the team would be better served to just have him play at the Major League level so that he can finish himself off that way by learning to hit Major League pitching. The problem with that line of thinking is it is just not practical and not how the game works. If players simply needed to hit at the Major League level to finish themselves off, every team would do it and there would not really be much of a need to have high end prospects play in the minors at all.

That is the whole purpose of the minor leagues, which is a place for players to develop in an environment where they may not be overwhelmed and under pressure to perform and win at the same time. It is one thing to go out there and hit Major League pitching so you can learn, but it is another thing to be prepared and ready to face it. Chisenhall is just not ready or prepared for it yet.

Chisenhall had an awful spring, and when you consider his inconsistent performance from last season there is no reason to believe the light is suddenly going to go on just because the Major League season has started. That is the good thing about Hannahan, as he is a solid option and essentially helps buy a little more time for Chisenhall to go to Columbus and play at a level where the pressure of winning is secondary and where he can fine tune his approach and really work on some things before and during games.

Chisenhall has always been young for the league he played in during his time in the minors, so he has never really had the chance to settle in and perform. He has had some solid numbers over his career, but considering scouts over the years have raved about his swing and offensive potential with the bat, you would expect a lot more than a career .272 batting average and .344 on-base percentage in the minors.  He still has some things to work on and maybe now that he is finally more age appropriate for his league he will turn the corner with his offense and gain that consistency the Indians are looking for.

Another thing to consider is even though Chisenhall has been one of the Indians top prospects for some time that was always mostly based on projection and not on performance. He never truly dominated or put up great numbers in the minors, and did not last year before he was called up. So he certainly has a lot to prove at the minor league level still and needs to get more consistent with his at bats and defense.

Chisenhall is still the future for the Indians at third base. At the moment Hannahan is simply a stop gap option at the position and at least at the start of the season gives the Indians the best chance to win out of the gates. There is no doubt that in the long term Chisenhall will impact this team much more, and when he is ready to make that impact he will be in Cleveland.

Indians acquire bullpen help

Not only have the Indians been less than enthused with the options available to them in the outfield this spring, but they have also not been very excited with the candidates to fill the last spot in the bullpen. As a result, they went out and acquired right-handed reliever Jairo Asencio from the Braves on Thursday for cash.

Asencio, 28, pitched most of last season at Triple-A Gwinnett where he went 3-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 47 games (54.2 IP, 39 H, 22 BB, 70 K).  He also had an International League leading 26 saves in 27 opportunities and held hitters to a .196 average. He was up and down with the Braves several times last season, and in six games in the big leagues he posted a 6.97 ERA (10.1 IP, 16 H, 5 BB, 8 K). This spring he made ten appearances with the Braves in Major League camp and had a 3.27 ERA (11.0 IP, 13 H, 3 BB, 12 K) before being traded to the Indians.

Asencio features a 90-92 MPH fastball that he can get up to 95 MPH and has a solid slider. While he has closed in the minors, his role in the big leagues will mostly be in middle relief.  He also once went under a false name of Luis Valdez before he was caught and ended up missing the entire 2010 season because of visa issues that stemmed from the incident.

After naming right-handed reliever Dan Wheeler to one of the two open bullpen spots on Friday, there is still one spot open.  The candidates for that final spot are right-handed pitcher right-handed pitcher Jeremy Accardo (8 G, 1.00 ERA) and Asencio (10 G, 3.27 ERA), but considering that the Indians just traded for Asencio, he is on the 40-man roster, is out of options, has had a lot of minor league success, and has pitched well this spring, it looks like he will get it.

Roster decisions

The Indians made several roster decisions this week naming Hannahan to third base, Duncan to one of their open outfield spots, Wheeler to one of the open spots in the bullpen, infielder Jason Donald to a utility role off the bench, and right-handed pitcher Jeanmar Gomez as the fifth starter.  They still need to decide on one bullpen spot, one utility player on the bench, and the fourth outfielder.

Donald and Duncan were foregone conclusions as if both remained healthy they were going to make the team one way or another. Wheeler is also not much of a surprise as going into camp he was the favorite to win one of the final bullpen spots. His numbers are ugly this spring (10 G, 11.70 ERA, 19 H, 6 HR, 3 BB, 9 K), but up until he blew up yesterday he had been pitching well and the Indians are banking more on his past success than his spring numbers.

Gomez and right-hander Kevin Slowey were in the running for the final spot in the rotation after Huff’s hamstring injury on Thursday.  Gomez suffered a mild strain to his right hip yesterday but has been cleared and should be fine, so the Indians announced Gomez as the winner in the fifth starter derby. He deserved it as he clearly outpitched everyone and looks like he is ready to make good on the opportunity to round out the Indians’ rotation.  With the way the schedule works the Indians do not really need a fifth starter until April 11th, so it should give Gomez a few extra days to heal.

Transaction rundown

With so many players in camp late into spring training it was a busy week for the Indians as they reduced their spring training roster considerably. Here is a quick recap of all the roster moves from the past week.

On Tuesday they optioned Chisenhall and first baseman Matt LaPorta to Triple-A Columbus, and then reassigned outfielder Chad Huffman to the minors.

On Wednesday they released Cristian Guzman and reassigned outfielder Fred Lewis to the minors. Guzman pulled a hamstring last week and is expected to go to the Dominican Republic to continue rehabbing. Lewis had been battling tendonitis in his throwing elbow the last few weeks and missed over a week of action. The Indians gave him the option to request his release as they do not have room for him in minors.

On Friday the Indians optioned first baseman/outfielder Russ Canzler and left-handed reliever Nick Hagadone to Triple-A Columbus, and reassigned catcher Luke Carlin, infielder Andy LaRoche, right-handed reliever Chris Ray, left-handed pitcher Chris Seddon and right-handed pitcher Robinson Tejeda to the minors.

On Saturday the Indians optioned right-handed reliever Frank Herrmann and Slowey to Triple-A Columbus.

After the moves the Indians still have 32 players in camp, so they need to make decisions on seven more players before opening day. Outfielder Felix Pie, catcher Matt Pagnozzi, and infielder Gregorio Petit are still with the team but have already been told they will not make the opening day roster. They are being kept around through the exhibition game on Tuesday in Zebulon, NC against the High-A Carolina Mudcats so the Indians have a few extra players available for the game.

Parting shots

The details for the restructured contract of Indians right-handed pitcher Roberto Hernandez were released this week. Instead of the $7 million he was set to make this season he will now make $2.5 million with an additional $2.7 million in incentives. His 2013 club option which was $9 million has also been reduced to $6 million with an additional $3 million in incentives. The 2014 club option for $12 million has been eliminated. … Former Indians’ left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz has had a strong spring with the Rockies where in four games he is 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA (11.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 9 K), though will start the season in the minors. The Rockies are going with four starters to open the season, but once they have a need for a fifth starter Pomeranz is expected to get the call. … The Rockies have moved former Indians’ right-handed pitcher Alex White to the bullpen.

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his new book the 2012 Cleveland Indians Prospect Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Bric
April 2, 2012 - 2:10 AM EDT
Good time to buy a car is around Christmas.
Wait until spring, and you get bad colors, and the car's been test driven 22 times by 17 different drivers.
Good time to get a LF is a whole lot earlier than April
Matt
April 2, 2012 - 12:12 AM EDT
I agree with many of these posts. When will the front office be accountable for these very poor trades of late. Additionally, I cannot believe it has been 20 years since the team draft and outfielder that has made an impact at the big league level. It is inexcusable that Mirabelli still has a job let alone a "VP" title for the garbage he drafted prior to 2008.

Like everyone else, I cannot believe Hagadone was sent down while we have to watch clowns like Wheeler and Ascencio get pummeled and released within 6 weeks of the season starting. This happens every year such as with Jamey Wright, Vinnie Chulk, should have Durbin, etc. Also apparently this front office seems to think it is acceptable to lie about your idenitity such as Carmona/Hernadez as well as this Ascencio guy, yet someone like Huff who simply tweets he is starting gets blackballed by the organization.

It is time for change in this front office, 10 years and 1 playoff appearance. You can blame budget but look at the Reds, they are loaded with young home-grown talent despite trading 4 quality players for Latos and are now in great position moving forward by simply cleaning the front office and bringing in Jockety. Indians fans deserve better than having to watch the likes of Hannahan, Duncan, and a host of other 30-somethings that have no future.
Tony
April 1, 2012 - 6:51 PM EDT
The Hagadone thing both makes sense and doesnt make sense....if that makes any sense ha. It doesnt make sense because, yeah, he is pretty close to being ready and really pitched well. But it makes sense in that you really don't ever want to start the season with a rookie unless you are forced to....give them 2-4 weeks in the minors and then come up then. Gives them time to settle in and not be too amped up early on and also of course by doing so you manage the service clock to add an extra year of roster control. I believe the main reason the Indians chose a guy like Wheeler over Hagadone is simply going with track record and using that ML depth at the outset to see what you get. Plus you need a veteran arm in the bullpen you can "abuse" and not worry about.

I am 100% on board with Kipnis at second base. He is an above average player there, but in the outfield he becomes ordinary from a production standpoint. It's like moving Carlos Santana from catcher to first base. You go from a near elite catcher, to maybe a slightly above average first baseman. Leave Kipnis at 2B and instead I'd go with seeing if Phelps can play left field. Switch-hitter, solid bat, some athleticism....do it.

The Jimenez trade is going to be under the microscope BIG TIME this year. Both Pomeranz and White are on the Rockies' opening day staff....so Ubaldo better be lights out as it may be a move they really regret. I feel Ubaldo is another enigma like Carmona in that you don't know what the hell you are going to get from start to start....so hopefully the light goes on for him and he rekindles that 2010 magic somehow. Otherwise, yes, it could end up as one of the all-time worst moves this org has ever made.
matt underwood
April 1, 2012 - 3:41 PM EDT
if UJ struggles and we fail to get little to no return on the lee and CC trades, when does the front office start to take some serious heat?

It seems they've drafted better, but talent evaluations have been piss poor when making trades (vmart trade removed)
Dennis
April 1, 2012 - 3:39 PM EDT
I agree Kipnis should be moved to the outfield, but I think Donald deserve to start at second.
troy
April 1, 2012 - 9:57 AM EDT
I simply can;t believe how bad this organization is at drafting outfielders. I would rather put Kipnis out in LF and play Phelps at second than this horrific list of ancient journeymen candidates that pop up everyday. I am suprised they havnt tried to coax Kenny Lofton out of retirement
Seth
April 1, 2012 - 9:46 AM EDT
I don't get why they didn't give Hagadone the bullpen job at the start of the year. Is the thinking that they're better off to start with Wheeler, rather than lose him, and have Hagadone around for when one of the bullpen guys is either injured or ineffective? Hagadone's getting pretty old, it's not like he needs some additional experience in the minors. I don't like the move of leaving him in the minors, and not going what with what would seem to be their best bullpen pitchers.

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