Clean Health For Tribe Could Land Chisenhall In Columbus
By Mike Brandyberry
The Indians were a team riddled with injuries a year ago, but if the team were to remain healthy through spring training a member most Tribe fans expect to see on Opening Day might find himself in Columbus instead. Despite a good half-season, Lonnie Chisenhall might head to Goodyear with a much warmer seat than the average fan realizes.
Chisenhall reached the majors on June 28 last season against Arizona. He provided a quick spark to a struggling offense, but he struggled through August and lost his job to Jack Hannahan while the Tribe battled to stay in the playoff chase with Detroit. When Hannahan was injured in early September, Chisenhall became the starter for the remaining month of the season. With no competition, Chisenhall had his best month as a member of the Indians. He finished his up and down season, hitting .255 with seven home runs and 22 runs batted in.
Considering the Indians’ dedication to their developing young core, most fans perceive Chisenhall to resume his role as the Tribe starting third baseman. However, if the Indians have no injuries this spring—and certainly that is a big if—Chisenhall migt hfind himself with no choice but to return to Columbus for more development.
Every team carries 13 position players and 12 pitchers on an active 25-man roster, and the Indians are no different. Of those 13 position player spots, the Indians already have committed guaranteed money for this season to Hannahan, Casey Kotchman, Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo and Travis Hafner. Once Asdrubal Cabrera’s contract status is resolved, he will become the sixth position player guaranteed money for this season. As we know, money doesn’t fall off the pine trees in centerfield at Progressive Field, and if the Indians commit money to someone, they are going to stick with them. Just ask Austin Kearns.
With six spots spoken for, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis are most certainties to make the team. Every team has to have a back-up catcher, and chances are Lou Marson will assume the role. If not Marson, someone else will assume the role. The roster still needs a middle infielder who can spell Cabrera and Kipnis. Hannahan has never played middle infield as a major leaguer, so he can’t assume that role. The leader would have to be Jason Donald. That currently fills 11 of the 13 roster spots.
Meanwhile, both Shelley Duncan and newly acquired Aaron Cunningham are out of options and could not return to Columbus without clearing waivers. Duncan had a solid September, and most feel he can provide a spark to the offense. Cunningham was acquired for Cory Burns from the San Diego Padres in December. To make room for him, Josh Judy was designated for assignment and claimed by the Cincinnati Reds. Judy closed at AAA-Columbus most of last season, while Burns closed at AA-Akron. It seems a lot to risk for a player whom the Indians would risk losing only months later. Cunningham’s chances to make the roster have to be strong. With roster shuffling the week before Opening Day, Cunningham and Duncan each would likely be claimed if they were waived.
The Tribe would be carrying five outfielders, which isn’t a certainty. But Manny Acta admitted yesterday on Tony Rizzo’s “Really Big Show” that to keep Sizemore healthy he will have to have scheduled days off and may only play, “110, 120 games.” Suddendly, five outfielders doesn’t seem like such a stretch.
That’s 13 position players and no Chisenhall. Again, this assumes the Tribe breaks camp with a clean bill of health. Another point of consideration is how lefty heavy the offense has become. If someone like Ryan Spilborghs or Jose Lopez emerges as a right-handed bat, Chisenhall again could help create room for their promotion to the Opening Day roster.
When asked in the same interview about the emergence of Chisenhall and Kipnis, Acta quickly admitted that he hoped, “at least one of them would win the starting job.” Acta went on to rave about how Kipnis continues to develop. No mention of Chisenhall.
Certainly, with a week and a half remaining before pitchers and catchers report, no decisions have been made concerning the Opening Day roster, but Chisenhall’s spot might not be as safe as most believe.
Photo: Getty Images