Ever since we learned that Grady Sizemore would miss the first month of the regular season (and maybe more), the assumption has been that Michael Brantley would move to center field and someone from the huge group of internal candidates would rise to the occasion and win the Opening Day left field job. Yet Cleveland immediately began scouting other teams’ outfielders in preparation for a possible trade, and the Indians have recently been linked to free agent Johnny Damon.
In this edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, we asked our esteemed panel: Should the Indians look outside the organization for a left fielder? Joining us this week are Bleacher Report‘s Jim Piascik and SABRTribe‘s David McGarry. Here’s what we all had to say:
Jim Piascik (Bleacher Report): To me, unless the Indians are going to make a significant upgrade (think B.J. Upton, Gerardo Parra, Chris Young, etc), the Indians should just let Shelley Duncan be the starting left fielder on Opening Day. The free agent options are less than stellar and Duncan has proven he has a lot of pop. Plus, the Indians could really use Duncan’s right-handed bat in the lineup. Even though the majority of big-league pitchers are right-handed, making a left-handed leaning lineup strong, the Tribe still needs some balance in the batting order.
Duncan’s defense may not be the best, but considering the number of groundball pitchers the Indians have, Duncan’s defense in left field is less of an issue and shouldn’t hurt the Tribe too badly. Push comes to shove, the Indians could use Aaron Cunningham or Ryan Spilboroghs as a occasional starter on days when Josh Tomlin (a fly-ball pitcher) is starting and late in close games when defense becomes more important. It’s not ideal, but I would stick with what the Indians already have on the roster.
David McGarry (SABRTribe): The Indians should always be on the lookout to buy low and sell high, but for all practical purposes the Indians should not be actively looking to acquire a left fielder. The Indians currently have a large collection of mediocre outfielders, namely Michael Brantley, Shelley Duncan, Aaron Cunningham, Matt LaPorta, Ryan Spilborghs, Felix Pie, Fred Lewis, Nick Weglarz and Ezequiel Carrera, all hoping to land a spot on the 25-man. The Indians are likely to start Brantely in center, play Duncan in left and take on Cunningham as a fourth outfielder.
Outside of trying finding everyday at-bats for both Nick Welgarz and Duncan at LF/1B/DH, this approach is probably optimal but it still leaves Brantley, a very poor defensive center fielder, in center with extremely little depth behind him. As I alluded to above, I don’t think the Indians should be looking to acquire any player unless he is above average and available at a below-market value cost, however given the current abundance of left field depth I would recommend that the Indians should put more effort towards acquiring a center fielder than a left fielder.
Lewie Pollis: It would be great to see the Indians bring in a fresh face. Another good hitter is always a welcome addition to any team, and given Grady Sizemore’s history of not recovering as well from injuries as hoped, there’s a good chance that left field wouldn’t just be a temp job.
But while the Tribe’s outfield depth is more about quantity than quality, there is at least one solid option to fill the left field spot: Shelley Duncan. He might not be an ideal everyday player and you’d rather his bat be available off the bench, but assuming he maintains some semblance of the power he showed last year he should be at least an average player in 2012. So any move the Indians make—be it a free agent signing or a trade—would have to net them a truly above-average player for it to be worth their while.
The headliner of the current outfield draft class is Johnny Damon; Great as he’d be as an inspiration for promotional days, he really doesn’t represent a substantial improvement over Duncan, Russ Canzler, or Ezequiel Carrera. A trade is a possibility—one of the also-rans for the final rotation spot could be dealt for an outfield bat—but it seems unlikely that the Indians would be able to get anyone of substantial value for Zach McAllister or Kevin Slowey.
Steve Kinsella: I do believe that the Indians will be on high alert for a left fielder on the trade/waiver wire between now and Opening Day. We never know what key player may come available as spring training winds down. Seems like just yesterday that spring training was coming to an end and the Indians were desperate for a first baseman and on March 28, 1992 they acquired Paul Sorrento from the Minnesota Twins for Curt Leskanik and Oscar Munoz.
Not all moves work to the Indians’ advantage though. On March 31, 2004 the Indians were in need of another arm for the pitching staff and dealt Luke Scott to the Astros for Jeriome Robertson, and of course the Cincinnati Reds were huge beneficiaries of an out-of-options trade when the Indians sent Brandon Phillips to the Reds for relief pitcher Jeff Stevens in 2006.
The Indians should always be on the lookout for any position player that can help make the team better tomorrow then it is today. There are several interesting out-of-option players that could become available if the right offer is made, including the Oakland A’s’ Brandon Allen, the Baltimore Orioles’ Nolan Reimold, the Toronto Blue Jays’ Rajai Davis, the San Francisco Giants’ Nate Schierholtz, and the Seattle Mariners’ Mike Carp. Aside from out-of-options players who may be available the Indians could kick the tires on some old-in-the tooth players and trade for Bobby Abreu or test the waters and pull Johnny Damon off the couch. The most intriguing players in terms of ceiling that I’d target for left field would be Reimold and Allen.
Katie Hendershot: In my mind, Shelley Duncan is the Opening Day starter. Within the organization, that seems to be the only clear-cut answer, and even that is temporary. The Indians could go outside of the organization and get a low-risk left fielder for a short period of time, but I think that they already have that in Duncan.
By no means do I consider Duncan a fit for the left field position for the duration of the season; he’s much better suited as a fourth outfielder or as a utility man. Right now though, I think he is capable of being a temporary fix. He has the potential to bring some additional power to the lineup, which the Indians need.
Looking outside of the organization is a possibility, but there are options in the upper ranks of the minor leagues that should hopefully get to see some time in a major league uniform at some point during the season. Thomas Neal and Trevor Crowe could potentially see some time in left during the season, depending on how they fare in Triple-A. Nick Weglarz is another option looking down the road.
Brian Heise: I don’t think the indians should look for left field help outside of the organization. However, that’s not necessarily because the solution is currently on the roster. I just feel like there isn’t a legitimate option available on the market that could give them anything more than what could be expected from Shelley Duncan, Matt LaPorta, Russ Canzler, etc.
Given how the Indians are attempting to build their team, they should just hold on to their money and wait and see if somebody wows them in the next couple of weeks. Right now Duncan probably has the edge to start Opening Day, but is he the answer for the entire season? Probably not. As much as I’m not a fan of it, left field by committee and going with whoever’s hot at the moment is probably the best option at this point.
If that doesn’t work over the first month or so, then the Indians should re-examine available free agents or explore the possibility of a trade. Until then, the Indians should remain patient and see if someone they already have can take the bull by the horns so to speak and take ownership of a position that has been a continuing issue for some time now.