Addition of Shoppach Gives Indians More, Better Options
Craig Gifford | On 06, Sep 2013
The Indians made a number of roster moves at the end August. Between Major League Baseball’s Aug. 31 deadline to make trades with waivers and expansion of rosters to 40 players on Sept. 1, the Tribe was active.
Many fans were well aware of the trade Cleveland made with Arizona to bring in outfielder Jason Kubel. Despite injuries dragging him down, the hope is he can spend the season’s final month resembling the Kubel who blasted 30 home runs in 2012. Most fans probably also recognized names like Vinnie Pestano and Nick Hagadone being recalled from Triple-A Columbus.
However, the end-of-the-month acquisition that may have flown most under the radar could also be the one that proves most beneficial during the stretch run. On Aug. 30, the Indians signed catcher Kelly Shoppach. A lot of Clevelanders probably remember Shoppach as the good-fielding, decent-hitting backstop who spent 2006-2009 in an Indians uniform. He had his best seasons with the Tribe.
Since leaving Cleveland, Shoppach has not done much, serving as a backup much of the time. This year, the 33-year-old veteran began the season with Seattle. The Mariners released him on June 20. He was picked up by both the Nationals and Pirates after that. Both teams let him go before he saw action with either one. With Seattle, Shoppach batted .196 with three homers and nine RBIs in 35 games, 107 at bats.
Clearly, the Indians did not sign Shoppach to be their new starting catcher. The numbers he has put up this year and over the last few years are not indicative of a player who should be an everyday guy. The signing of Shoppach is not important in terms of the player whom the Tribe picked up. Instead, the move is key because it will now allow the Indians to have two of their best hitters in the lineup nearly every day.
Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes have been two of Cleveland’s most productive hitters this season. Santana is tied for the team lead with 17 home runs, to go with 60 RBI and an .260 average. Gomes, who is one of the team’s biggest surprises this year, has nine bombs, 33 runners driven in and .297 average.
Gomes, a throw-in to the trade that landed Mike Aviles from the Blue Jays in the offseason, was supposed to spend the most of the year in Columbus. When former backup catch Lou Marson got hurt at the start of season, Gomes got a chance. He has made the most of his opportunity. So much so that he has forced Tribe manager Terry Francona to be creative with his lineups.
With both Gomes and Santana calling catcher their regular position, it is hard to get them both playing on the same day. Santana has to move to first base or designated hitter to make room for Gomes in the lineup. It is either that or not play at all. The problem is, if both are playing, with one at DH, the Indians are taking a risk. If the one playing catcher were to get hurt, all-of-a-sudden, Cleveland would lose its DH. It happen in April when Desmond Jennings plowed Marson and Santana was pulled as the DH and forced Trevor Bauer to hit.
All season, the Indians have kept a thin bench to bolster the numbers in the bullpen. It has worked to preserve the relievers. Also, the Indians have not needed a large bench with Aviles and Ryan Raburn both able to play multiple positions. It has, however, left the Tribe weak when it has played both Santana and Gomes. If both catchers got hurt in the same game, Cleveland did not have a third option at backstop before the Shoppach acquisition.
Santana, based on his past achievements and his numbers this year, is a must-start for the Indians. Gomes has entered that territory. The second-year catcher took off with a .370 batting average in the month of May and has remained a mostly consistent threat at the plate. He has been one of Cleveland’s more reliable batters this year. The batting average leads the team, among players who have been with the Indians the majority of the season. Jason Kipnis is second at .284.
When the rosters were able to expand to 40, one of the Tribe’s main goals was to provide depth at catcher. Marson is not ready to return to action. Shoppach was the best available catcher. He will likely only play in a real pinch.
The Tribe can now start Gomes and Santana both on a regular basis. This is good news for a team that has struggled at the plate for the better part of the past few weeks. No longer does Francona need to try and figure out how to maximize both players without risking a major headache in starting them both on the same day.
At 3.5 games out of a wild card spot when play began on Thursday, the Indians will need their best horses in the race if they are going to catch the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL’s fifth and final playoff slot. Shoppach is certainly not one of team’s top guys, but he will allow the Indians to play their best ones every day. That makes the signing of the catcher as a big a deal as any the Indians have made since the season began.
Photo: Tony Dejak/AP Photo