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How Could Indians Replace Aaron Cunningham?

You probably can’t name the Indians’ fifth outfielder from any of the past few years. Fifth outfielders, by their very nature, aren’t very good. There’s a reason they don’t play much, they don’t stick around long, and they rarely cause much commotion.

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Aaron Cunningham is a typical fifth outfielder in all of the previous regards—except I’ve never quite seen such venom spewed towards a guy with barely over 100 plate appearances. Perhaps this is a product of the social media era, where everything is dissected and analyzed, or perhaps Cunningham is spectacularly bad. Or maybe we just need a whipping boy, and Cunningham is an easy target (I mean, look at the forearm tattoos!).

Whatever the reason is, let’s look at we do know Cunningham has done this year: In 66 games (101 plate appearances), he has just one home run and five runs scored to go with a miserable .189/.263/.267 slashline. That’s pretty bad. And at -0.4 fWAR, the Indians would probably do better looking elsewhere for a fifth outfielder. So, yes, the Indians could use an upgrade.

However, the other side of this coin is that it doesn’t make sense for the Indians to spend a ton on a guy who really isn’t going to play much. So, I’ve decided to look at some possible options who they could grab without trouble: two internal candidates, Ezequiel Carrera and Russ Canzler; a guy who used to be with the organization, Trevor Crowe; and one guy who intrigued me who was recently designated for assignment, Brent Lillibridge.

Three of these guys (Carrera, Canzler and Crowe) haven’t played in the majors this year, so for their stats I used the minor league equivalency calculator. Admittedly, this isn’t a fool-proof method – the creators of the MLE Calculator admit as much themselves, and I’m always leery of people who cite this as an almighty source. Secondly, these guys are everyday players at Triple-A, but they wouldn’t get that much playing time with the Indians  So the numbers will be skewed. Still, it’s a good place to start.

First up is Ezequiel Carrera, currently at Triple-A Columbus. He’s probably never going to be an everyday guy in the big leagues—he simply doesn’t hit enough. However, his defense is decent and he can play center field. He is also on the 40-man roster, although that’s not a huge issue if we’re just trying to replace Cunningham.

  • Triple-A (365 PA): 4 HR, 48 runs, .267/.317/.364
  • MLE: 3 HR, 39 runs, .218/.256/.292

So, Carrera probably WOULD be an improvement, but it’s probably six of one, half dozen of the other. I’m not sure it’s worth bring him up just to get Cunningham off the roster. For what it’s worth, Carrera is the youngest of the candidates, so he’s still got some time.

Next up is another guy who can play center, the recently released Trevor Crowe. I know there are fans who feel he should have received another shot, but I’m not one of them. Here are his numbers:

  • Triple-A (152 PA): 3 HR, 20 runs, .250/.336/.386
  • MLE: 2 HR, 16 runs, .195/.259/.293

Again, Crowe would probably be an improvement, but he’s still not good. He’s also 28 and not that great of a fielder. And he was released on Monday, so he’s really not an option anymore. I don’t think the Indians really ever considered him to be an option—otherwise he’d still be here.

Next is the recently DFA’ed Brent Lillibrige, formerly of the Red Sox. He wasn’t with Boston long (he was acquired from the White Sox in the Kevin Youlkilis trade). I was mildly surprised at his DFA, because I always considered him to be a useful player. His stats aren’t really that great, though, and unless he is actually released, he may not be worth the price of a trade.

  • MLB (86 PA): 0 HR, 10 runs, .165/.212/.177 -0.5 fWAR

As you can see, he’s actually been worse than Cunningham. However, he has fewer plate appearances, and I’m sure the trade didn’t help matters.

Finally, a bit of a left-field candidate: Russ Canzler. He can’t really play center and he’s not a good defensive outfielder. But if the Indians are looking to add a bat to replace Cunningham, they could do a lot worse than give him a shot. Canzler is on the 40-man, and facing the dreaded Quad-A label, not unlike former prospect Matt LaPorta. But while it seems like LaPorta will probably never get another shot in Cleveland, Canzler is fresh to this organization.

  • Triple-A (367 PA): 14 HR, 46 runs, .277/.341/.489
  • MLE: 12 HR, 37 runs, .139/.200/.316

Yeah, that .139 average is ugly to look at, but at least Canzler has the threat of a power stroke, something Cunningham can’t claim (not sure if Canzler has tattoos).

My opinion? Watching Cunningham has been painful, but I’m not sure any of these guys represent a real upgrade. If Canzler could play center (he can’t), maybe I’d be more of an advocate of seeing him in Cleveland. Don’t take this as a call for more playing time for Cunningham, but I don’t see the point in making a move that probably won’t affect the team all that much.

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Tags: Aaron Cunningham Brent Lillibridge Ezequiel Carrera Russ Canzler Trevor Crowe

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