Austin Kearns: Why is he still here?

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?”

(Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)

  • REEPJP

    Could part of it be that Manny is pretty fond of the guy? If I remember, the only reason we offered him a contract in the first place last year was because Manny had him in Washington, was a big fan, and wanted to give him one last shot to stick in the bigs.

  • Mike_964boo

    I think the fact that it’s Kearns’ last chance to prove something in baseball is really getting into Acta’s head. It’s very tough decision to make for a manager to end someone’s career like this.

  • mgbode

    @REEPJP – that’s the only possibility in my mind. personally though, I think it would be better for the Tribe to ‘give away’ the 25th spot on the roster to a lucky fan in attendance. we can all strike out in a crucial spot just as well as Kearns and it’d buy a heck of alot of goodwill in the community :)

  • Boomhauertjs

    The $1.3 million contract is the only reason.

  • Ben

    Ok. I’ll be that guy. The 25th roster spot means nothing. I would much rather it be Kearns than Carrera only playing once a week. Now I will agree that it should be Duncan instead of Kearns but this means nothing at the end of the day. This team has some issues right now and they are between the ears of Fausto not the 25th guy on the roster.

    Now that I have said that I fully expect Kearns to be released this afternoon and Carrera brought up for the 9 NL games.

  • Boqueesha

    #5 I sure hope you’re right about this afternoon. I’ve been checking all over the internet every few hours since his awful strikeout the other night in hopes there will be a “kearns released by Tribe” headline

  • http://www.fromoutofnowhere.com Reggie Ruckus

    Kirk, thanks for publishing the question that every Tribe fan I talk to has asked. This is a team that badly needs a solid 4th OF because of the need to rest Grady’s knee. Kearns just hasn’t adjusted to being a bench player and has been so bad he almost makes one yearn for the good ol’ days of Jason Michaels and David Delucci (remember I said almost!). With Hafner relegated to a PH role for the next 9 games I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tribe make multiple roster moves today or tomorrow. I hope one of them is Kearns being DFA’d. Speaking of roster moves, O-Cab’s comments last night about playing 3B having me hoping the Chiz rips the cover off the ball and forces his way up here soon. At least Kearns hasn’t whined and that’s what it sounds like O-Cab is doing now.

  • HRD53

    Bring back Shellers!!

  • Jim

    Not sure if this has anything to do with it, but I do know that Kearns ultimately decided to resign with the Indians after we traded him to the Yankees because one of his children has an illness that requires a significant amount of care. He chose to return to Cleveland because of the proximity of the Cleveland Clinic. Not sure if this has anything to do with why Kearns is still on the team, but the front office is certainly aware of the unique situation and thus is perhaps giving Kearns the benefit of the doubt so he can stay here with his family.

  • Jim
  • Gren

    ‘He’s got a good motor.’

  • Ben

    Wait Buck goes…Duncan comes back…my head hurts.

  • Harv 21

    @ Jim: not sure how a child’s illness would cause Tribe to keep him. Assume his $1.3M base salary for the season is guaranteed, and he now has zero chance of hitting his incremental $50,000 incentives based on plate appearances. If they cut him he’d be free to stay home with his child.

    Doubt this is sentimental. Acta likes to say that there’s not a waiting list better players to obtain this time of year. Guessing that’s what he believes right now, and he’d rather tie his fortune to a has-been who might come through again than a rookie he knows nothing about. Very common mentality for managers and coaches.

  • Ghost To Most

    I agree with Ben, Carmona is much more of a concern. Not to say that we dont need to address the Kearns situation in the near future, but Fausto getting lit up is 10x the problem that Kearns is.

    I do think that Manny knowing this could be the end for Kearns probably has a lot to do with it.

  • NJ

    I think this mainly begins and ends at the $1.3M price tag.

    I was upset as anyone after that strikeout against Street, but I’ve cooled down and retired my pitchfork and torch.

    Here are some legit reasons to keep Kearns around…

    1.) He’s actually been a very good defensive outfielder throughout his career. This year, B-R.com has him at 0.7 dWar which is absurdly high considering his limited playing time.
    2.) Kearns’ splits against L/R are not extreme like Duncan’s. Having a bench player who can go any day is probably more valueable to this club right now.(Duncan is a career .192 hitter against RHP so he wouldn’t have been an upgrade against Street the other night.)
    3.) Shelley Duncan has had just as bad a season as Kearns. He’s hit for slightly more power for what that’s worth, but still has been just as terrible.
    4.) As others pointed out, the club doesn’t want to bring up a prospect just to have him ride the pine and start once a week.

    One final note: While I don’t think Kearns is all that anymore, I always feel bad lambasting somebody over a small amount of ABs. He’s only had 98 PAs. That’s barely a month’s worth.

  • Kirk

    Duncan has not had as bad of a season as Kearns. Less atbats and 17 RBI compared to 2. Kearns’s splits aren’t extreme because he can’t hit pitching from either side, at least Duncan hits lefties.

    Head, Huffman, and Carrera are not considered highly touted prospects, so they should not be concerned as much about bringing them up and sitting them. Carrera you may be able to argue.

  • NJ

    re: RBIs
    As a Bill James disciple, I do not find value in the RBI as a stat.

    re: Austin/Duncans split
    I’m just pointing out that Acta may prefer a D+/D+ Kearns over the C/F Duncan in terms of L/R split. Disagree if you want, but it’s a fair position.

    re: AAA guys
    I won’t disagree. Sadly, this organization doesn’t think like that. I posted just yesterday that I wish they would be more willing to cut ties with bad, expensive vets.

    I still think this mostly starts and ends with the $1.3M.

    I’m not advocating for Kearns, just pointing out that there are legit reasons to keep him around beyond “we want to be nice because his kid is sick”.

  • Ben

    I am OK with keeping Kearns if the legit reason is that his kid is sick. I would even be OK if they came out and said that (they never would)

  • NJ

    Has everyone gone insane? So the Indians, a multi-million dollar operation that is notorious for running tight budgets and exploiting every cash source possible, is now keeping Austin Kearns on the roster simply to be nice because his kid is in the hospital? One second we’re complaining they won’t spend, now we think they’re running a charity?

    The most simple reason he’s around (same goes for Ocab): we spent big ($1M+) on him and we’re going to get something for our money, darn it!

  • Ghost To Most

    I do agree that Kearns was kept over Duncan because Kearns can play the outfield. We all saw how useless Shelley is in left field, he aint much better at 1st base either. Duncan having minor league options left certainly had a lot to do with it as well.

  • Steve

    The people who are arguing that its about his salary, including Kirk, are plain dumb. The cost is sunk. The Indians cannot save more than 400k by keeping Kearns. This begins and ends with the lack of an option. Duncan has one, Buck has one, Carrera has a couple. Kearns does not. At the end of the day, playing once a week is not going to dramatically change the makeup or final record of this team. Whine all you want about that last at-bat, but Everett still is much more likely to make an out there than to get the run home. The fact of the matter is, the last guy, or even couple of guys on the roster do not make enough of a difference to get anywhere near this upset about. Kearns wasnt stopping Choo or Santana from hitting well, or the entire team w/ RISP, or keeping Carmona from preventing the big inning. The smart move is to not just get angry and start cutting guys left and right because you didn’t like one AB. That means shuffling the guys with options around and keeping hold of the ones that don’t. When a 4th OF magically appears that is substantially better than what we have now, then you can cut Kearns. Duncan, Buck and Carrera don’t fit that bill.

  • Ben

    It is insane to think that a manager keeps a guy around because he likes him and he signed here because his kid is sick?

    The money has nothing to do with it…Acta likes him. I think the conversation ends there. Besides…it is the 25th guy. It means nothing.

  • Ghost To Most

    I agree that its not the money, if Manny wanted him gone, he would be gone.

  • http://www.curseofcleveland.com Kirk Lammers

    Point being, Steve, that Antonetti might not want to admit he messed up by signing Kearns in the offseason, so that $1.3 million is hanging over him as a commitment. It’s not about saving the actual money, it’s admitting an error in talent evaluation.

    The salary point was not the main one of this article, if you had actually read it.