Austin Kearns, Where Have You Gone?
That must be what the Indians are asking themselves after signing the veteran outfielder to a one-year, $1.3 million deal in the offseason. The plan seemed simple enough – bring in a guy who could back up all three outfield positions and slug 10-15 home runs on young team that could learn from his experience.
Three months into the season that plan has not exactly gone to form and that is putting it mildly. Kearns, who had averaged nearly 13 home runs a year in nine seasons before this one, has seen a complete power outage.
The once formidable hitter is hitting this weekend’s games and the season’s halfway point with zero home runs, two runs batted in and a paltry .194 batting average. In 33 games played and 110 at bats, there has been nothing to indicate Kearns may soon find his batting stroke.
With this in mind, the Indians have to be asking where Kearns has gone. However, it seems that the Tribe front office may not be paying attention at all. Recently fellow outfielder Travis Buck was optioned to AAA Columbus this season. While not great by any stretch, Buck does at least have two home runs and .241 batting average. Shelley Duncan has been up and down this season and his two round trippers and 17 RBI are much more appealing that anything Kearns is doing.
Of course the option to send a player to the minors is not really an option with Kearns. The Tribe can not simply outright him to Columbus. Because he is out of options, Kearns would have to clear waivers first and there is surely a desperate team out there who would snag him. Of course, would this really be a bad thing?
Another option would be to cut Kearns outright, paying him what’s left of that $1.3 million deal (about half at this point). $650,000 is typically petty cash in baseball circles. However, it has to be the reason the tight-fisted Indians are keeping a light-hitting guy like Kearns around.
Even if they don’t want to give more playing time to the Duncan’s and Buck’s of the world, Tribe management could dip into a minor league pool that would seem to have more viable options than Kearns.
In Columbus you will find Chad Huffman with 10 home runs and 40 RBI and Jerad Head with 10 and 37 to go with a cool .304 batting average. Granted that is against minor league pitching, but wouldn’t it seem like a better idea to get one of those kid’s feet wet in the majors before letting Kearns go hacking away one more time.
Naturally, that won’t happen. Kearns will still be on the team for the foreseeable future – maybe he’ll get over the mendoza line – and players who could be better options will be left behind.
Again, this begs the question of whether the Indians are asking what has happened to their lone offseason offensive acquistion or whether they are asking what he means to their bottom line. Again, the answer seems obvious.