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Lillibridge Versatility May No Longer Fit in Cleveland

Lillibridge Versatility May No Longer Fit in Cleveland

| On 03, Nov 2012

After a disappointing 2012 Cleveland Indians season the organization is at a crossroads to decide how to progress with the organization, not just for the 2013 season but several seasons to come. Decisions involve ownerships, the front office, managerial and coaching decisions and the players. For the month of October, we’ll look at how the Indians ended up in their current predicament, but most importantly, Where Do the Indians Go From Here. Today, we examine a player who is out of minor league options, meaning they must be on the 25-man roster. This concludes our player breakdown of the 2012 season.

When the Indians acquired Brent Lillibridge on July 24 this season, he was supposed to fill a specific role during the Tribe’s second half. However, as the season turned Lillibridge’s intended role evaporated, and now, possibly his place with the Indians will too.

Lillibridge spent the first half of the season splitting time between the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox. On June 24, he and Zack Stewart were traded from Chicago to Boston for Kevin Youkilis—a player the Indians were rumored to have interest in. When Lillibridge struggled to find a role in Boston, hitting only .125 in 10 games with the Red Sox, they were happy to jettison him to Cleveland just a month later.

At the time, the Indians were in contention for the American League Central division and the move was thought to be an attempt to strengthen their bench. Lillibridge would replace the weak-hitting outfielder Aaron Cunningham on the roster and also his role in the field as a late inning defensive replacement in left field. Lillibridge, however, is a super sub who has played every position on the field—except pitcher—at the Major League level.

His versatility became necessary to the Tribe roster because the Indians had played most of the first half without a back up middle infielder. Most of the first half of the season Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis had little in the way of a replacement when they needed a day off. With Jason Donald spending most of the first half in the minor leagues and falling out of favor with Manager Manny Acta, only Jose Lopez was left to occasionally play second base and Jack Hannahan at shortstop. Neither Hannahan or Lopez would be considered quality defenders with the necessary range at the positions up the middle.

But just as the Indians acquired Lillibridge, the slide out of contention and the horrific 5-24 record in August began. The Indians no longer needed a late-inning defensive replacement after Johnny Damon was released and Ezequiel Carrera was given the left field job. Carrera is a fine defender. Lillibridge only appeared in left field four times with the Indians this season.

He did play six of the nine positions on the field with the Tribe while hitting .216, with three home runs and eight runs batted in during his 43 games on the shore of Lake Erie. Unfortunately, his offensive numbers were a steady increase from the paltry sub-.200 averages he had in both Chicago and Boston.

And while it may seem a good move to have a versatile utility player on the Indians bench, how many do the Tribe need? The Indians already have Jason Donald, who Acta never trusted because of his shaky defense up the middle. But with Acta gone and Donald out of options, it seems Donald would receive a chance to be the teams’ utility player. He too, can play both infield and outfield.

Meanwhile, Lillibridge is also out of options and cannot return to the minor leagues without clearing waivers. Worse yet for his plight to remain an Indian, he has logged enough Major League service time to be arbitration eligible for the first time in his career this winter. While, MLBtraderumors.com projects Lillibridge to only garner 700-800k in arbitration, it would be foolish for the Indians to spend that salary on a second utility player when Donald fills the same role at nearly half the price.

Lillibridge may find himself a non-tender candidate soon if the Indians elect to not offer him arbitration and instead make him a free agent. However, like many Indians with imperfect contract situations, the Tribe could consider bringing Lillibridge back on a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training if he cannot find a guaranteed Major League contract.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images