As I was cruising the web this morning – before work, of course – I happened to stumble upon an ESPN blog post by Jason A. Churchill entitled Next Wave of Call-Ups. Churchill, for those that don’t know, is the executive editor over at ProspectInsider.com and a regular contributor to ESPN as well. He knows his stuff and provides some pretty fantastic insight.
Anyway, the first minor leaguer he mentions in the post is Indians first baseman Matt LaPorta, who, by the way, happens to be hitting .333/.408/.658 in Columbus. And because Cleveland’s starting first baseman, Casey Kotchman, is at the complete opposite side of the spectrum (.202/.285/.312), Churchill subtly states/implies that the team could turn to LaPorta some time soon. But I’m not really certain that’s going to happen, at least for awhile.
Right now, the Indians have five infielders (not including catchers and DH) – Kotchman, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jack Hannahan and Jose Lopez – and five outfielders – Michael Brantley, Shin-Soo Choo, Aaron Cunningham, Johnny Damon, and Shelley Duncan – on the roster. So if the team were to promote LaPorta, who would be the player sent down or DFA’d?
Let’s go case by case.
Kipnis, Cabrera, Hannahan, Brantley, and Choo are definitely safe. Lopez is the only backup middle/corner infielder; he’s safe. Duncan mashes lefties – .359 wOBA this season – making him pretty invaluable with such a left-handed heavy lineup; he, too, is safe. Now that leaves three options: Damon, Cunningham, and Kotchman.
The team definitely needs to roster a fourth outfielder, so either Damon or Cunningham has to stay. Now, I already think the Damon signing was, well, not the smartest move. But I want to take it a step further.
Who’s the backup center fielder?
Damon’s atrocious – and I mean ATROCIOUS – in the outfield and Duncan’s not that much better. Choo, I suppose, could fill-in for a game or two but would be stretched at the position for any significant amount of time. Cunningham, on the other hand, is a pretty damn good defender, at all three outfield positions actually.
So cut Damon, right?
I would. But the team won’t; they just spent $1 million on him. Do you think they would move past him so quickly? Probably not.
So that leaves Kotchman, right? Well, not exactly.
First off, it’s too soon. He has only 124 plate appearances thus far, still not enough to warrant any serious conclusions. Secondly, he’s still owed quite a bit, – more than two million dollars, actually –if the team cut him today. And, frankly, I don’t see the Indians forking over that type of money for a player no longer on the roster.
Finally, at least in terms of roster construction, the Indians have a 12-man pitching staff. No team in baseball operates with anything less. I would. But, again, the Indians won’t. So, there’s literally no room – at least sensibly – for LaPorta.
Hell, I’m not really sure if he warrants a promotion yet, either.
We already have a pretty solid idea about what LaPorta’s capable of; since 2010, he’s cost the team two more wins than the average minor league (replacement) player. Maybe he’s fixed the hitch in his swing – Branch Rickey thought they were uncorrectable – I don’t know. Maybe he’s no longer a guess hitter, the type that goes up to the plate looking for a specific pitch, but looks completely fooled by anything else. Again, I don’t know.
But he’s now 27-years-old and smashing the hell out of Triple-A pitching. Well, guess what. Old minor leaguers tend to do that in the land of Quad-A players.
Basically, I’m saying two things:
- He doesn’t fit on the current roster
- And I’m not convinced he’s improved at all
Now this doesn’t mean the Indians won’t risk losing Cunningham to waivers in order to promote him. I suppose they could convince themselves that Damon could fill in at center when needed. It could happen. It would be stupid. But it could happen.
I guess there’s no other way to say it: Matt LaPorta just doesn’t have a place on this team.
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