Hot corner key to Indians success in 2015?
After a long hard winter in Cleveland, it had to be refreshing for the Tribe to know that the 2014 season arrived with spring training in the warm confines of Goodyear, AZ. Coming off of a year where they made it into the one game playoff against Tampa Bay, only to come up a little short, they entered spring training with a glaring question: ‘So who’s on third base’?
With the emergence of Yan Gomes in 2013, they now had what they presumed to be their everyday catcher in 2014 and beyond. Gomes proved to be the superior defensive catcher to Carlos Santana and now Santana seemed to be a man without a position.
After Lonnie Chisenhall’s struggles in 2013 both offensively and defensively, plus Carlos’ eagerness to play the position that he played at the beginning of his career, Santana headed to winter ball to see if the experiment would pay off. Through winter ball and spring training the Indians liked what they saw as they named him the Opening Day third baseman. However, the third base experiment for Santana did not last too long as he posted an abysmal .909 fielding percentage in 26 games.
After he returned from a concussion, Santana finally found a home as he moved across the diamond to first base, while Chisenhall, who was swinging a hot bat at the time, settled in at third base. As the de facto every day third baseman, Chisenhall posted an uninspiring .931 fielding percentage with 18 errors in 114 games, but even more troubling he only turned nine double plays, the worst in the Majors amongst every day third baseman.
While we know one guy is not the sole reason for the Indians defense being so woeful, an upgrade seems to be in order at third base.
The in-house options may not be the way they go. Chisenhall could remain at the position, but the Indians probably can’t afford another up and down season from him offensively and defensively. Jose Ramirez has some experience at third base, but he will likely start next year as the starting shortstop in Cleveland. Prospect Giovanny Urshelacould be an option at some point as he is a very good fielder, but he may need more seasoning at the plate.
On the free agent market, switch-hitting Pablo Sandoval is likely the top third baseman available. With a career .960 fielding percentage along with a solid career .294 batting average plus a career .346 on base percentage, he is likely to have many suitors who will drive his price tag up, thus eliminating the Indians.
Another possibility is another switch-hitter, Chase Headley. Headley is only an average hitter with some pop, averaging 16 home runs per year for his career but did have a career high of 31 in 2012; however, his glove at third base is stellar. With a career .967 fielding percentage, including a remarkable .986 mark with the Yankees this year, there is a lot to like about Headley. Once again, it will come down to salary and he may be too rich for The Tribe.
Jed Lowrie may be willing to switch positions but is he really an upgrade? The wildcard could be JJ Hardy. Although he has always been a shortstop, a move to third base may not be out of the realm of possibility. First, he will likely wait and see what the Orioles choose to do with Manny Machado. If they choose to move Machado back to his natural shortstop position and then go after a guy like Headley, whom they once acquired, Hardy would be left without a spot to play in Baltimore. Hardy has been a solid, steady fielder over his career and a move to third base could make him an even better fielder. He is a right handed hitter who has shown plus power in previous seasons.
On the trade front, rumors are swirling around baseball circles that Oakland will trade Josh Donaldson this offseason. With tremendous offensive production the last two years and great range at third base where he turned a whopping 43 double plays, what’s not to like? He is first year arbitration eligible this offseason, which means he is looking to get paid handsomely. Oakland will also want a king’s ransom in return for him.
Adrian Beltre may be available but with $36 million left on his deal, Cleveland is probably a long shot to make any deal for him. There are also steady vets like Casey McGehee of the Marlins and Juan Uribe of the Dodgers, but each of them have club friendly deals so they will likely stay put as well.
There are also two young third basemen who may be available in a trade. Cody Asche and Maikel Franco of the Philadelphia Phillies appear set to be going to spring training to compete and see who will be named the Opening Day third baseman. Although Asche has a little more major league experience, Franco is considered the future for them at third base. Asche has the potential to one day be a .300 hitter in the majors. He likely only offers about 15 homer power and hits left-handed, much the same as Chisenhall. His glove, however, appears to be superior to that of Chisenhall. His fielding percentage in the majors this year was .948 to go along with his minors career number of .950.
In Boston, there could be a battle brewing between Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini. Middlebrooks burst onto the major league scene in 2012 hitting .288 with 15 home runs and 54 runs batted in in only 75 games. The 23 year old Cecchini offers a higher batting average, higher on base percentage and more durable option for the Red Sox. Middlebrooks is only 26 years old and is an obtainable player and one in dire need of a change of scenery. He offers a right-handed bat, capable of 25 plus home runs a year. Also, although he was limited to just 57 games this year, he had a solid .972 fielding percentage at the hot corner.
The Indians front office may already be having conversations about the hot corner and those conversations may sound similar to the great Abbott & Costello parody. “Who’s on first? What’s on second? And altogether they say “I don’t know who is on third!“
So I ask you, Tribe fans, who do you want at third base in 2015 for your Cleveland Indians?
Player A: Age 28, .255 BA, .342 OBP, .456 SP, .798 OPS, 126 OPS+, 23 Errors, .952 Fielding %.
Player B: Age 25, .280 BA, .343 OBP, .427 SP, .770 OPS, 120 OPS+, 18 Errors, .931 Fielding %
Player A (Donaldson) is the better player than Player B (Chisenhall) but not immensely better, at least not this past season. Should we trade half the farm system to improve marginally at one position? I'm thinking that Donaldson will be better next season but I'd bet that Chiz will also be better.
Headley is a better fielder than Chiz, but not sure if he's a better hitter. And he's probably going to be expensive, with the Yankees as the most likely fit. Middlebrooks hasn't hit and can't seem to stay on the field.
I'd focus on making Chiz a better player myself, unless he could be moved to acquire Donaldson. No way do you trade Lindor right now. Maybe Gonzalez or Ramirez, but I'm ok hanging on to all three into/for next year. IMO their value has a strong chance to increase by mid-season/end of next year when one could possibly be used to acquire a missing piece.
Otherwise, let's go with Urshela while letting his bat mature at the MLB level. Trade Chis, or put him in right field.
RF we have Murphy & Raburn apparently coming back. Yuck! Little power there, probably below average defense and two guys with declining skills plus we need a RH power bat ideally in RF
I would trade Chisenhall (don't need him now) and Lindor for Donaldson. We can throw in a pitching prospect the A's like if necessary, or if they want a centerfielder to replace Cespedes, we could send them Naquin or Frazier.
Why Lindor? You need to give up something to get something, and we have another young shortstop in the system that looks to be a comparable player to Lindor once he arrives. I'm talking about Erik Gonzalez. If you haven't read Tony's recent column on him, check it out.
The key to trades is dealing excess talent from a position of depth, and the Tribe is loaded with shortstop prospects in Lindor, Gonzalez, and Jose Ramirez. By trading Lindor and grooming Gonzalez as the next shortstop, we lose little or nothing in defense and possibly only a little in offense, which is more than made up for by the addition of Donaldson.
I am a Lonnie Chisenhall fan, a few yrs back I said, Chisenhall would be better than Kipnis, at this point that's still questionable. I could see a scenario where Chisenhall moves to RF, I would support that, but I am assuming if the Indians did make a deal for a RH hitting 3b, they would include Chisenhall to get the deal done.
2. I'm a Chiz fan but while he hit well (although streaky) he didn't score a lot of runs or drive in enough. I think he'll improve hitting wise but I'm not sure he'll ever be a good run producer. If given the chance, I would trade him if I thought the return made the team better.
Asche would be an intriguing add, but hits LH.
Chisenhall, Ramirez, Naquin, and Anderson for Donaldson and Ryan Cook.
Put Lindor and Giovanny Urshela in battle for second base. Maybe Lindor is not ready next year, then Giovanny might be second baseman.
Jason Kipnis I hope will be our right fielder with David Murphy being the sub. That would leave Brantley and Bourn in other outfield position, provided Bourn is not traded.
I think Swisher with knee surgery will retire and maybe be new hitting coach since production has fallen every year.