Final Two Month Approach Must Focus Toward 2016 For Tribe

The Indians never thought they’d find themselves playing out the string with two months to go in the 2015. But after a poor start, followed by a mediocre middle, before a dismal start after the All-Star Break, the Indians are playing out 2015 and trying to build for 2016.

At the trade deadline, the Tribe traded David Murphy, Brandon Moss and Marc Rzepczynski. Before those deals, the Indians were projected to have near a $100 million payroll for 2016. That doesn’t seem reasonable considering the Indians’ payroll history, or logical considering they’d be paying more money than ever to bring back a last place team. Instead, the Indians lightened the payroll around $15 million for 2016. They’re now projected to be around $85 million. If they want to make additions and improvements to the roster for 2016, the Indians will likely have to cut some more payroll before making their additions.

And for that reason alone, it seems disappointing to see Lonnie Chisenhall, Jerry Sands and Tyler Holt recalled, with Holt receiving the least amount of playing time this weekend in Oakland. If 2015 is an exercise in completing the season and preparing for 2016, it seems the Indians have all the answers already in Chisenhall and Sands.

Chisenhall has been fighting for a regular place on the Indians’ Major League roster since June 27, 2011. Only last season, after a scorching hot first half when he hit .332, has he played a full big league season without being sent back to the minor leagues. Chisenhall followed up his hot first half with a .212 second half and diminished playing time as the season ventured on. After hitting .209 in 59 games this season, he was optioned back to Triple-A Columbus.

Now, Chisenhall has been recalled again, this time demonstrating some newfound versatility. Chisenhall played in right field this weekend in Oakland and indications are the team feels he could play third base and first base, too. It appears the full time third base job has been lost to Giovanny Urshela. However, his versatility seems a bit presumptuous. Chisenhall made nine plays in the outfield in the minor leagues and seven more this weekend. He played 11 games at first base in 2014 with the Indians, and has never played a game at first base in the minor leagues.

Chisenhall’s versatility is essentially the same kind of sample size that made Carlos Santana at third base seem like a good idea. Furthermore, changing players’ positions to try and fit into the lineup is not the way to improve a poor defense. Truth be told, Chisenhall was having his best defensive season at third base this year when he was sent to the minor leagues. He was optioned to Columbus because of his lack of offensive production.

Instead, through the arbitration process, Chisenhall is due to make between $2.5 and $3 million in 2016. For a player who has failed to consistently produce offense over five big league seasons, he doesn’t seem worth the salary for a team that is forced to be financially strapped while carrying two albatross contracts in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn.

Much of the same can be said for Sands. He impressed in spring training this year and received an early recall to spark the offense. He also can play the outfield and first base, but is much more the journeyman than he is prospect. Sands has bounced around four organizations and between Triple-A and the big leagues since 2011. Much like Chisenhall, he’s never really stuck at the big league level—although he’s had much fewer chances. Sands has appeared in 93 big league games over the last five years. He’ll turn 28 years old next month and is much more of a 4-A player than he could ever be considered a prospect. Chisenhall turns 27 years old in early October and his prospect status has long since expired as well.

Meanwhile, Holt continues to sit the bench at the big league level as if he’s only here because they have no other options. When Holt was on the big league roster last August, the Indians played their best baseball of the season. When his playing time dwindled in September, the Tribe’s record slowed, too. Holt isn’t solely responsible for the Indians’ success, but I don’t think it is a coincidence that the team has success when he is able to provide outfield defense and improved range. The Indians’ defense is currently the weakest area. Holt immediately improves the outfield defense when he is on the field.

Admittedly, Holt is a role player, not a solution to why the Indians are around 20 games worse than they expected to be at this point of the 2015 season. But his role is a necessary one—back-up outfielder that can play all three positions well—while it seems Sands and Chisenhall aren’t real long term answers for 2016.

Photo: Getty Images

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. I don’t understand why Chiz can’t be our Alex Gordon. Gordon was a bust for KC, being the 2nd pick in the draft as the big hitting 3rd baseman that was going to make KC a contender again. He never hit and fans started calling him a bust and wanted KC to get rid of him. KC sent Gordon to the minors and put him in the outfield. He has been an all star ever since.

    Lonnie could be like that. Maybe taking him off 3rd base would help him relax at home plate and become the kind of hitter they thought he would be just like Gordon. The Tribe has to make a commitment to Lonnie and let him play every day in RF the rest of the year at least. We need Lonnie to be a big bat. Even if Paul Dolan would have money to spend there does not appear to be any bat available to spend money on. I know there will be no bats available in free agency that will be worth signing. People can yell all they want about Paul Dolan not spending money but if there isn’t anyone available to spend money on it is not Paul Dolan’s fault. Give Lonnie a chance to be good just like KC did to Alex Gordon.

    1. Chisenhall is in his fifth season as a big leaguer. He has over 3 years of MLB service time and will be in his second year in the arbitration process this winter. Gordon made the transition in his fourth season, with less than 3 years of service time, during 2010. In 2011, when Gordon was a Gold Glove left fielder, he did it for $1.4 million. Chisenhall will make around double that next season if he goes through the arbitration process. Unfortunately, since the Indians are indebted $30 million to Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, they can’t really afford a part time player/position change project for nearly $3 million.

      1. How else are you going to improve the offense? There is nothing out there in free agency. Offense is at such a premium that the Cards gave the Tribe a top five pitching prospect for Moss. No real offense was traded at the deadline except for Cespedes who was just a rental. Lonnie could be a big bat that is cheaper than anything else they could bring in.

        1. I think it is unfair to say, “there is nothing out there in free agency,” then mention Cespedes in the next breath. Justin Upton is a free agent, and so is Alex Gordon that you previously mentioned. That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more. I believe Chris Davis is a free agent.

          Now if you want to say, “there is nothing out there the Indians can afford on an $85 million budget while committing $29 million to Swisher and Bourn in 2016,” I’ll agree.

          1. The point about Cespedes is that he was a two month rental that will enter free agency in search of a big payday. I have also heard he is a bad influence in the clubhouse. Upton is not coming to Cleveland for any amount of money and I believe Gordon will sign with KC unless they decide as a small market like Cleveland they can’t afford him. But none of these guys are Belle, Manny, or Thome and that is what so many people want to see the Indians get. I wouldn’t sign Davis as he got caught cheating and will never have a year like that ever again. The kind of offense fans want like in the 90’s doesn’t exist anymore.

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