Reuniting With Crisp the Right Move for Indians

It is a little hard to believe, but it has been eleven years since Coco Crisp last wore an Indians uniform. In 2005, he was one of the move beloved players on a Tribe team that won 93 games and just barely missed the playoffs.

The following offseason, Tribe management determined the club had enough outfielders and depth at the position. It was hurting at third base. Cleveland pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Crisp to the Red Sox for top hot corner prospect Andy Marte. Certainly, that is a deal the Indians would like to do over. Marte never panned out while Crisp has enjoyed a long, solid career.

Crisp, whose given name is Covelli, spent parts of four mostly productive campaigns with the Tribe. His best year in Cleveland during his first Tribe tenure was his final one. He hit a career-best .300. He also added 16 home runs and 69 RBI, both second-best career marks for the power numbers. He swiped 15 bases that year, making him a truly all-around player on a playoff-contending club.

Crisp’s Major League tour has taken him to Boston, Kansas City, and Oakland. He won a World Series under current Cleveland manager Terry Francona with the Red Sox in 2007. Overshadowed by bigger names like David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, Crisp was a main cog on the second of the Red Sox’s three World Series crowns this century. He helped that squad with a .268 batting average, 28 steals, and 60 RBI in 145 games. Tribe fans will remember that season with some regret, as the Indians lost to Boston in the American League Championship Series in seven games, after having a three-games-to-one edge.

After three solid seasons in Boston, the veteran outfielder was traded to Kansas City before the 2009 campaign, where he would spend one forgettable season with the Royals. He played just 45 games and hit .228. That was, by far, a career low at that point in his then eight-season career.

Crisp was signed by Oakland after the season, where he enjoyed a career resurgence in 2010. He rebounded from his miserable year with the Royals with a .279 batting average on the west coast. He also stole 32 bases. In 2011, he led the league with a career-high 49 base thefts. He enjoyed a nearly seven-year run with the A’s, including the three-consecutive postseason appearances, starting in 2012.

Now, Cleveland is looking to win its first AL Central Division title since, oddly enough, that 2007 campaign that saw its season end on a sour note at the hands of Crisp’s Red Sox. If the Indians, currently leading the Central, can finish the job and earn their first postseason berth since a 2013 Wild Card entry, they will be without outfielder Abraham Almonte. Almonte was suspended the first 80 games of this season due to test positive for one of MLB’s banned substances. Players suspended for banned-substance use are ineligible for that year’s postseason.

The Indians needed an outfielder to step in for Almonte. The Athletics, ticketed to watch the playoffs from home, were looking to shed cost and some of its older players, thus leading to Thursday’s reunion between Crisp and the Indians.

Crisp now has a shot to reach baseball’s postseason for the sixth time in his career, having gone twice with Boston and three times with Oakland. The Indians now have an outfielder they feel comfortable with inserting into a pennant chase and possible October baseball games. They do not have to call up a player from the minors, like a Bradley Zimmer, and thrust him right away into big and meaningful at bats. That could be overwhelming to a new player and have a negative impact on his development.

All things being equal, the Tribe would probably like to have the 27-year-old Almonte over the 36-year-old Crisp. Almonte has hit for a higher average this season, while Crisp has slowed down a bit with age. Almonte could be with the Indians in a utility outfielder role for multiple seasons, while the elder, returning outfielder Crisp is likely a one-to-two month stopgap.

Still, Crisp is not a bad alternate.

As he goes into his second tenure with Cleveland, Crisp has gotten the job done when it has counted the most. He is batting over .345 with runners on base and .424 when they are in scoring position. Despite a .234 overall average, Crisp has been a clutch hitter this season. That is truly the essence of what late-season and postseason baseball is all about, when every trip to the plate could be considered a clutch situation.

Francona, who is a master at getting the most out of his players by putting them in situations that best suit them, may well use Crisp a lot in a pinch-hitting role. He has some pop in his bat with eleven home runs and a little speed still in the tank with seven stolen bases. He is clearly not afraid of a big moment. Putting him in to pinch-hit late in an important and close game for a rookie like Tyler Naquin could be something for Tito to consider. Putting him in as a pinch-runner for a plodding catcher in the later innings could be a way for Cleveland to use its newest acquisition.

Aside from on-the-field help, Crisp will also be a nice clubhouse presence. He will be a good example for a team full of players with very little postseason experience. Most of the Tribe’s roster has no more than the one-game Wild Card under its belt. He gives Cleveland another playoff-tested player to go with the likes of Mike Napoli and Andrew Miller.

There had been questions, for a little while, as to what Cleveland would do about the roster hole that would be created without Almonte on a possible playoff roster. Management stepped up to the plate, so to speak, and answered those in a strong way.

Crisp is certainly not at the top of his game anymore. However, he still has a little something to give to a contender. Both on the field and, perhaps more so, off the field, Crisp will be a fine addition to a Cleveland team that needed to add another piece to the playoff puzzle.

After eleven years, Crisp is definitely older. He is also wiser. He may also still be someone the fans love to cheer for after all this time. It was the right move to make for the Indians. As Crisp told reporters on Friday morning, being back in Cleveland seems to be, “as it should be.”

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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