Jon touched on it yesterday, but over 24 hours removed from Austin Kearns’s strikeout to end the game on Tuesday night, and I’m still in disbelief. The fact that Kearns remains a bench option, the last one it turns out for manager Manny Acta on that night, is a mystery to me. In my opinion, GM Chris Antonetti has some explaining to do, because what I see is a talented outfield in Columbus and a gaping hole on the bench in Cleveland, and it’s been that way for nearly three months now.
This season, Kearns is hitting .207 with 0 homers and 2 RBI in 87 at-bats over 30 games. He’s been part of the Tribe’s left field mix that has included Michael Brantley, Travis Buck, and Shelley Duncan, mainly getting his starts against lefties. His playing time has dipped recently with the return of Grady Sizemore, but the fact that he’s wasting a roster spot right now, with the Tribe offense still trying to find its way, is infuriating for yours truly.
There have been several instances this season where his presence has hurt the Tribe, but this is the first time it was undeniably a killer for the Indians. Heck, I would’ve rather kept Everett in the game and let him have a crack at bringing the tying run home from third. At least Everett has made some contact this year.
Kearns hasn’t hit a home run since August 22nd, 2010, when he was a member of the New York Yankees. Austin hit just .235 after being traded last season, and he’s hit just three long balls in the last calendar year. He has no speed, and he’s nothing special in the outfield. He’s struck out 32 times in those 87 at-bats. Again, why is he still here?
Is Antonetti that stubborn not to eat the rest of the $1.3 million that they owe the outfielder? Are we really that cheap? Does our GM really think that he can trade Kearns again for anything of value or that he will eventually contribute to this ballclub? If he does, him and I are living on different planets.
Currently calling Huntington Park home are Shelley Duncan, Ezequiel Carrera, Jared Head, and Chad Huffman: all outfielders and all people I would rather have on the active roster. Duncan was with the Tribe for most of the year before getting the demotion when Cord Phelps was called up. Duncan, like Kearns, was a righty bench option for the Indians. Unlike Kearns, Duncan made meaningful contributions to the team and even drove in the team’s only run in the last game he played in, a 1-0 victory for Cleveland. Duncan’s numbers (.222 average, 2 HR, 17 RBI in 81 ABs) are even skewed by the fact that he was forced to play everyday for a stretch against right-handed pitchers with Sizemore and Hafner both injured. The point being, when Duncan was used correctly (in pinch-hit situations and against lefties), he was a highly effective bench player. Shelley has 12 RBI in 12 games in his short time with the Clippers.
Carrera, you will remember, was here for a week in May, enough time to contribute more than Kearns has. Ezequiel in his first major league AB sent the bunt down the first base line in the eighth inning that gave the Tribe the go-ahead run in a 5-4 victory over Cincinnati. He is batting .290 in Columbus with 21 RBI and 25 steals. Carrera could provide speed on the bases, defense, and bunting, all valuable things heading into National League parks for nine straight.
Head and Huffman aren’t really prospects, but they have performed well for Columbus. Head, 28, hitting in the bottom of Columbus’s order most of the season, is batting .308 with 9 HR and 31 RBI. Huffman, 26, had an outside shot at making the big league club out of spring, and is batting .264 with 10 HR and 37 RBI. Heck, even Luis Valbuena has played some outfield, and he leads the Clip Show in RBI with 42 to go with a .303 average. And, if you read my blogs from way back, you would learn quickly that I was not a Valbuena fan in the least bit.
Even Travis Buck fell victim to being sent down instead of Kearns twice this season. Sure, Buck just broke a 0-for-24 skid with his late-inning single Tuesday, but his average is still higher than Austin’s, and he won a game against the Reds too.
I don’t mean to pile on Austin Kearns. By all accounts, he’s a nice guy who has had some tough off-the-field circumstances since joining the Indians. But, the Tribe is (or should be) in the business of winning ballgames, and if you gave the 31-year-old Kearns truth serum, even he would say he shouldn’t be on this team.
Sooner or later, Antonetti will wake up and cut ties with Kearns. My only question then will be, “What took you so long?”
Kirk Lammers grew up on the Marblehead Peninsula and is a graduate of THE Ohio State University. He now lives in Northeast Ohio, and you can find him at the ballpark, at the Q, or far too often on Twitter (@WFNYKirk)."