Uribe Shores Up All Indians Infield Question Marks

Going into the season, there were two large question marks in the Indians lineup: centerfield and third base. While still unofficial, it looks like the Indians may have gotten their guy for the hot corner in Juan Uribe.

At the start of the offseason, the Indians knew they were going to need some type of upgrade at third base. Rookie Giovanny Urshela took over third after incumbent Lonnie Chisenhall was removed and relocated to right field. Urshela played well enough, especially defensively, but offensively he struggled. He was called up prematurely to replace Chisenhall, who had seen his last days at third base after struggling throughout the first half of the season. With funds being tight and the free agent class at third base not being extensively deep, the Indians had to target the guy who they thought would be the best option in their price range. Uribe ended up being that guy, and with good reason.

Uribe, 36, is heading into his 16th year in the Majors. Originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Rockies in 1997, Uribe has spent lots of time traveling all over baseball. He’s been a member of the Rockies, White Sox, Giants, Dodgers, Braves, and the Mets. He holds a career .256/.303/.421 slash with 192 home runs. In the last three seasons, he’s averaged a 3.5 WAR (fangraphs.com), including a 5 WAR in 2013.

The Indians had tried to sign Uribe back in 2013 before he signed his three-year deal with Dodgers, so their interest in Uribe this winter didn’t come as a huge surprise. Not only is he a right-handed bat like almost every other free agent they’ve signed this winter, but he also brings some pop and some stellar defense as well. Between 2013 and 2014, Uribe averaged a DRS of 16. It’s been pretty apparent this winter that the Indians have been focusing their attention towards providing a solid defense to backup the biggest strength on their team: their starting pitching. Uribe fits into that plan extremely well.

Another positive about Uribe can’t be measured on paper. It’s been said by plenty of news outlets, previous teammates, and just people who knew Uribe about how great of a teammate he is. The Indians are a team that has lacked leadership over the last season or so. After Jason Giambi departed, the clubhouse has been waiting for someone to step up and take control of this team. It got so bad that Terry Francona drafted a liability agreement that he had the whole team sign so that everyone would take responsibility for their actions. Now, I’m not saying that Uribe is going to be the go to leader of this clubhouse. I think that Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, and Yan Gomes have now firmly planted themselves in that role. Bringing in veterans in the likes of Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, and Uribe will certainly help stabilize a clubhouse that is somewhat young, and continuing to get younger.

Uribe isn’t going to move the needle forward a whole lot, but he helps it from moving backwards. Urshela posted a WAR of 0.1 last season, while Uribe’s was at 1.9.  That’s an instant upgrade right away. No, he’s not going to hit a million home runs, he’s not going to hit .300, and he’s not going to steal 60 bases. What he will do is bring a strong glove to third base, provide an average bat, and bring a fresh and exciting attitude that should mesh well with some of the other new faces on the team.

Whether he stays on the team for the whole season or not, bringing on Uribe should prove to be a good move for this team. If he starts to fail, they can bring Urshela back on as the full time third baseman or even potentially Yandy Diaz. If Uribe succeeds, then all the better for the Tribe.

Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images

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