New father Travis Hafner is out on paternity leave, so on Wednesday the Indians found themselves in the interesting position of having an open spot on the 25-man roster for three days. With a hole to fill at DH (Jose Lopez got the start there Wednesday night), the Tribe turned to man whose bat they think can be useful: recently acquired utility man Vinny Rottino.
Rottino, 32, has bounced around the league quite a bit throughout his 10 years of professional baseball. After signing with the Brewers as an undrafted free agent in 2003, he appeared in 18 MLB games with Milwaukee between 2006 and 2008 before being traded to the Dodgers in July 2009. He signed with the Marlins as a minor-league free agent for both the 2010 and 2011 seasons before latching on with the Mets last November. The Indians claimed him off waivers at the end of June.
He doesn’t have much of a big-league résumé. Rottino has appeared in only 44 MLB games since making his debut seven years ago, and has a .188/.282/.319 line in that span. He posted a .182/.308/.394 triple-slash with 2 homers and 5 RBI in 18 games with the Mets this year (believe it or not, according to wRC+ that worked out to a slightly above-average offensive performance), and has hit .304/.369/.486 in just under 300 plate appearances in Triple-A.
Rottino doesn’t have any real future with the organization—this could be his only chance to play in an Indians uniform—but given his solid performance in the minors it’s reasonable to give him an opportunity to suit up in the big leagues again. The worst that happens is he’s gone when Hafner returns.
But there’s another player in the Indians system who’s got to feel like chopped liver right about now: Matt LaPorta.
As we’ve noted many times before, LaPorta has been absolutely destroying minor-league pitching this year. He’s raking to the tune of a .276/.360/.513 line with 18 homers and 52 RBI in 83 games for Columbus. There is quite simply nothing left for him to prove in Triple-A, and with the parent club in dire need of a right-handed bat it’s absolutely confounding that the Indians have yet to give him a real chance to win his job back.
On Tuesday, the team added insult to the injury of ignoring the best right-handed bat in the organization by trading for Lars Anderson, another Triple-A first baseman who’s quite similar to LaPorta but not as good. And now that Indians have an opening for a bat, they chose to fill it with an unproven journeyman who has no future with the team instead of a onetime top prospect who is putting on a hitting display in Columbus.
I get that LaPorta has gotten stuck with the “Quad-A” label, but being realistic about our expectations for him does not mean deeming him useless. Even if he repeats the 2011 performance that cost him his job he’d be an asset to a team starved for offense and a better hitter than Manny Acta‘s go-to righty bat, Jose Lopez. The fact that LaPorta’s still around should say something about his potential future role in Cleveland, and nobody benefits from keeping him in Triple-A limbo (expect the bleacher creatures in Columbus).
It may be that Manny Acta is to blame for LaPorta’s continued exile. During his brief promotion in June, Acta let LaPorta start three games before sitting him on the bench for a week without a single taste of in-game action. Presumably the front office would not have called a player up just to let him ride the pine so one might infer that Acta simply refused to play him; in that case, keeping LaPorta in Triple-A is just pragmatism on Chris Antonetti’s part. But whatever the rationale, I can’t think of a single good reason for letting the team’s potential first baseman of the future remain unchallenged in the minors while giving the almost certainly inferior Rottino a chance to turn some heads.
It’s nice to see Rottino get back to the big leagues, and it doesn’t really matter who fills Hafner’s shoes for a couple days. But the decision was just another in a series of sleights against Matt LaPorta, who deserves far more opportunities than he’s getting with this team.