Remember when it was supposed to be the dream outfield of the Indians brass roaming that giant patch of green grass to open the 2012 season at Progressive Field? Yes, the Michael Brantley, Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo triumvirate was supposed to be healthy and together from day one. Of course, that never came to fruition. Even before the team played one inning of Spring Training ball, they were thrown for a complete loop when the oft-injured Sizemore came up lame and required back surgery. (Please don’t make me rehash my feelings on this signing. Please. I beg you).
With Grady unavailable until June at the absolute earliest, the Tribe was forced to go with Plan B – moving Brantley to center field and holding a mass tryout for the left field job. Of course had the Indians not gone after Sizemore in the first place or at least protected themselves knowing his injury history they wouldn’t have been in this predicament in the first place. So without a real great option, the Indians left themselves with Shelley Duncan, the newly acquired Aaron Cunningham and Russ Canzler, along with minor-league free agents Felix Pie, Ryan Spillborghs, and Fred Lewis.
Duncan and Canzler are not known for their defense and left field is neither of their natural positions, though the Indians have seen Shelley play there last season. Neither would make anyone forget Dale Murphy. Cunningham is more of a bat option than a glove. Pie, Spillborghs, and Lewis are solid defenders, but they are all fourth outfield options at best.
This Spring, of the options listed above, the only one who has shined with the bat is Duncan. Using his excellent September as a springboard, Shelley leads the Indians in home runs (5) and RBIs (15), however he is just 8-37 (.216). His OPS looks great though (.947). Manny Acta has still yet to even acknowledge that Duncan is the leading candidate, despite the fact that the others haven’t even put themselves even close to him. Canzler is the only other one who has shown some sort of bat (.297/.350/.674), but of his 11 hits, only one has been of the extra base variety, a double. His defense is in serious question and he has options left.
Cunningham is a guy that the Indians would love to have had a big spring, but he hasn’t done so. He is pressing a bit, knowing he is out of options and with a new team after the Padres seemed to have given up on him. Defensively, he has been solid enough, but the questions remained if he will ever hit major league pitching well enough to be a regular. He is hitting just .222 (8-36) with two doubles and one RBI.
Pie can play all three outfield positions and has speed, but he hasn’t hit a lick this spring either (though he had a big game-tying RBI single late in yesterday’s 6-5 loss to Milwaukee). He isn’t suited to be the guy in left, but could be considered as a bench option. Like the rest, the veteran Spillborghs is hitting just .171 and like Pie, was brought in as a potential backup, not a guy who would get regular playing time.
So where does that leave them? Duncan is clearly the best option, but it seems as if the Tribe’s brass wants a something better and doesn’t trust him as the guy until Sizemore (or should I say if Sizemore) returns. Don’t need believe me? Check out the latest Tribe daliance.
According to ESPN Deportes, the Indians worked out former All Star and former AL MVP outfielder/DH Vladimir Guerrero in the Dominican Republic. If that doesn’t show some level of desperation, then may be it shows the Indians are attempting to be creative. Signing Guerrero would be interesting to say the least. Nobody will ever doubt his bat. Even last year at age 37, he hit .290/.317/.733 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs in 145 games as a DH for the Baltimore Orioles. As we all know, the Indians already have a DH who can’t play in the field, Travis Hafner. So if the Indians did sign Vlad, he’d be the one roaming left field. 10 years ago, he had a cannon for an arm in right and was feared by runners. But as recently as two years ago, he could barely play out there because of bad knees and when he did, he was a butcher.
I’m all for adding a bat of his caliber and if he has anything left, he would provide a nice stick in the middle of the Tribe order. But in reality, this seems more like the Juan Gonzalez part deux experiment back in 2005, which lasted one whole at-bat where he pulled up lame and was never seen in a Tribe uniform again.
It’s unknown as of today if the Indians have serious interest in Guerrero, but the fact that he is being considered has to mean they are somewhat concerned for what they have in the outfield. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that we haven’t seen Brantley in a week after he strained his right hamstring.
I still think the Indians should give Duncan his shot in left and hope for the best. Maybe this is finally his time and the guy we saw in September will be the real Shelley in 2012. Only time will tell.