Last season, I really wanted Lonnie Chisenhall to take the third base job by the throat and strangle it. The Tribe’s former first-round pick—and the supposed future of the hot corner—was given the job last Spring with little looking over his shoulder. Sure, the Indians had brought in Mark Reynolds on a one-year deal, but that was to be a first base/designated hitter option. His days at third were thought to have been behind him. And sure, Mike Aviles was on the roster, but he was to be a jack-of-all-trades. This was Big Lon’s time.
They say that the pitchers are usually ahead of the batters earlier in the season, but it behooved Lonnie to take all doubt out of who was the guy at third base. He sputtered out of the gate, hitting .222/.253/.656 in April. He was even worse during the first two weeks in May, going 4-for-22 (all singles). His already average defense didn’t help his cause. Not helping matters was Reynolds’ smokin’ hot bat, and with his ability to go back to his old position, the Tribe brass decided to send Lonnie down to Triple-A to give him a chance to catch his breath.
It looked like a genius move. Chisenhall destroyed Triple-A pitching to the tune of .392/.456/1.132 with 26 runs batted in through 27 games. It was more frustrating that exciting; Lonnie had already graduated from Triple-A and his May/June stint confirmed it. The real question at that point: Was Chiz a 4-A guy?
He came back up and was a platoon player at third with Aviles. His inability to hit lefties was still a serious problem, but he was doing the job. His .270/.289/.749 June and .271/.338/.779 July showed improvement1, but there was little power. In August, Lonnie fell off the table going 9-for-62 (.145) with 16 strikeouts and just three walks. By September, Chiz was all but a bench player. During the Tribe’s 10-game winning streak to close the season, he only started twice and in one of those starts, he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth inning.
Strangely, Terry Francona played a hunch and gave Chisenhall the start in the Wild Card game against Tampa Bay righty Alex Cobb. Cobb shut everyone down; Chiz came through with three hits. The season ended there, but Lonnie had to know this was a huge winter for him, with a lot completely out of his control.
Unfortunately for him, the organization’s decision to turn Carlos Santana into a third baseman spoke volumes about their current view of Chiz’s future. Francona and Chris Antonetti continued to say all positive things about Lonnie, but the writing was on the wall: If Santana could handle third base, the job was going to be his. It became more and more apparent in Goodyear that the organization wanted this experiment to be a success. Despite the fact that Chisenhall hit well this Spring (.303/.362/.918 in 62 ABs), Francona gave the third base job to Santana. Chisenhall broke camp with the big club, but where would his at-bats come from?
With Jason Giambi starting the season on disabled list, conventional wisdom would have Chisenhall as the designated hitter against right-handed pitching. But there we were on Opening Night in Oakland, facing Sonny Gray—a right-hander—and Ryan Raburn was in the middle of the lineup as the Tribe’s DH.
To make matters worse for Chisenhall, the Indians signed a quality backup catcher in George Kotarras on the eve of the season. You may ask, “what does this have to do with Lonnie?” Right now, Santana is listed as the backup catcher to Yan Gomes. But it was no secret that the Indians were looking for a good second option so Santana could concentrate on honing his craft at third. When Kotarras became available, the Indians scooped him right up.
If Lonnie isn’t getting starts at DH against right-handed pitching, Giambi will soon be back from the disabled list, and Kotarras was brought in. Doesn’t this all add up to Chisenhall’s eventual demotion to Columbus? He still has options and it is better for him to be playing every day with the Clippers than sitting on the bench in Cleveland.
I am hoping that I am wrong, but if you read the tea leaves, you can see how the organization feels about Lonnie long term. At age 25, it is still too early to write him off, but it is starting to look like the Indians may have swung and missed on another first-round pick.
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Especially considering his abysmal luck—his BABiP for 2013 was .243 as compared to his career mark of .274 [↩]