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Did The Tribe Win Last Night? | April 18, 2014

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McGuiness a Mystery in Cleveland’s Plans

During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the 15 newcomers to the 40-man roster this winter and the role they can play moving forward.

By Bob Toth

When the Cleveland Indians selected Texas Rangers minor league first baseman Chris McGuiness in the 2012 Rule 5 draft following the completion of the season, it was thought that he might be able to provide the team with a better option at what was a position of weakness at the time.

The team’s potential first baseman of the future, Jesus Aguilar, still appeared a couple of years away from being able to contribute at the major league level after just reaching Double-A Akron late last season. The team’s primary first baseman from last season, Casey Kotchman, was a free agent that the club did not seem particularly interested in resigning, despite his above average glove at first base. Matt LaPorta, another internal option with the team, had failed to hold down the job despite being handed it on several occasions during his tenure in Cleveland. Russ Canzler was dropped from the 40-man roster on two different occasions but was unable to pass through waivers unclaimed to remain an option for the team.

Now, a few months after acquiring McGuiness in that draft, his role with the club is still largely undetermined, but especially after the signings of Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher, and Michael Bourn. Those moves plugged any holes the club had in the lineup. His status as a Rule 5 pick only complicates matters further.

“Chris McGuiness is a guy we gotta get a good look at,” Indians manager Terry Francona said on February 7 in a radio interview on ESPN 850 WKNR’s The Really Big Show. “We Rule fived him, so we have to get a good look, so if you see him getting more playing time than maybe other guys, that’s not a coincidence, because you gotta try to make an answer during Spring Training, which is not easy to do.”

When the team appeared to be headed towards a substantial rebuild, it did not seem unreasonable that the Indians may try to stash McGuiness on the roster until they obtained full control of him. After substantial free agent spending and a team much more built to win now than the team that finished the 2012 season, committing a roster spot to McGuiness is a much more difficult task and one that seems increasingly unlikely.

There were several factors that attracted the Indians to McGuiness.

At the time of the Rule 5 draft, the team desperately needed legitimate depth at first base and power of any sort at the plate in the minor league system.

The 24-year-old McGuiness has displayed both. Many of the options in the team’s upper levels of the farm system, at least last season, were older players or players who had not yet capitalized on opportunities they had been given at the major league level.

Aguilar, arguably the Indians’ best internal option, is a right-handed bat who is still a year or two away. As he too was exposed during the Rule 5 draft, the team may have taken a flyer on McGuiness as a bit of protection in the event that someone may have taken a shot on Aguilar.

McGuiness has had varying degrees of success in the minor leagues, but definitely had a breakout type of season last year with Frisco, the Double-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. In his first season in Double-A, he appeared in 123 games and displayed some impressive power numbers. His 23 home runs were fourth-best in the Texas League and were second on the team to top prospect teammate, third baseman Mike Olt. His 77 runs batted in were seventh in the league and he was eighth in total bases on the season.

The numbers were a nice sign for McGuiness, who played just 55 games at the Single-A level in 2011 while dealing with knee and oblique injuries.

The Rangers acquired the 2009 13th rounder from the Boston Red Sox in 2010 as part of the compensation for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Split between two teams in two different leagues, he hit a combined .284 with 19 home runs and 68 runs batted in. He showed a good eye throughout the season and, with 77 walks, earned a .406 on-base percentage over the course of the year.

McGuiness may have pushed himself further into the spotlight after his solid 2012 production with an impressive display during his participation in the Arizona Fall League following the season. In 25 games, he led the AFL with 27 runs batted in and was recognized for his efforts with the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. The Rangers had hoped to get him some playing time in left field in Triple-A to help increase his opportunities for the ball club.

McGuiness may have had a better chance of sneaking onto the major league roster if not for the series of moves that impacted the outfield and first base positions on the Indians roster, including the big three free agent signings, but also some minor moves including the acquisition of Yan Gomes via trade, the waiver claim of Mike McDade, and the Spring Training invitation to veteran Jason Giambi. In an effort to try to maximize his opportunities with the club, Francona elected to get him some playing time in the outfield, just as Texas had considered.

“Chris is a Rule 5 kid, trying to enhance his chances,” Francona said in video of the Indians’ February 23rd daily press conference. “If you look at our roster, as a first baseman, it’s pretty thick over there. Kid’s got enough ability for us to Rule 5 him. There are people who really liked him. And he’s more than willing to do it [play the outfield]. In fact, he said that they had talked to him in Texas about the same exact thing.”

Acquiring McGuiness cost the Indians $50,000. He must remain on Cleveland’s 25-man roster for the entire season and must be active for at least 90 days.

In order to be removed from the active Indians roster, he must be offered back to Texas for $25,000. The two teams could also work out a trade.

It is still quite feasible that the Indians try to work out a deal with the Rangers in the next few weeks, which would allow the Indians to send him to the minor leagues to get additional at bats and provide the club with another left-handed first baseman at Columbus, where the current depth appears to be an injured LaPorta and at least one of McDade or Gomes.

McGuiness, with no minor league experience above the Double-A level, would hardly seem a candidate to make the jump to the major league level. How long he remains a member of the Cleveland Indians is yet to be determined.

Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer