For a team that lacks a clear direction and has no prayer of making the playoffs, September at-bats are holy things. With active rosters expanded to 40 players, teams can use their last few weeks of meaningless games to give some Triple-A (or even Double-A) players a look. An audition for the next season, an opportunity to face MLB pitching, just a chance for the team to see where some guys are—whatever it is, it’s a luxury that you don’t really have from April through August.
That’s why it’s so hard to figure out why Vinny Rottino is suiting up for the Cleveland Indians on a regular basis.
Rottino, as you may know, is a 32-year-old journeyman who spent time with the Brewers, Dodgers, Marlins, and Mets before the Indians claimed him on waivers in June. He’s a career .167 hitter whose only real standout skill is his versatility. The 31 MLB games he’s appeared in this year are more than his combined totals from the first nine years of his professional career (26)—not exactly a vote of confidence for his potential.
Nor is he turning heads with his play this year. In 65 MLB plate appearances in 2012, he’s hitting .145 with a .529 OPS. Limit the scope of inquiry to his time in Cleveland and he’s gone 2-for-22 with one walk and one extra-base hit in 25 plate appearances. It’s a small sample size, but the point that he hasn’t shown anything to contradict the notion that he’s a career minor-leaguer still remains.
But the way Manny Acta has been using Rottino lately, you’d think the team saw him as a legitimate candidate to contribute in Cleveland down the road. As of Tuesday, he’s now appeared in each of the Tribe’s last five games, including thrice as a starting outfielder. He’s played in seven of the Indians’ last eight games and 10 of their last 15. Last week Acta even had him hitting leadoff.
The games don’t matter at this point and it’s nice to see Rottino get a shot in The Show, but letting him play has the opportunity cost of making someone else sit. Every time Acta pencils Rottino into the lineup, it means Thomas Neal or Ezequiel Carrera (both of whom have the chance to stick with the team in 2013 and beyond) heads to the bench. Looking at the organization’s long-term strategy, even sticking Matt LaPorta in left field makes more sense than playing Rottino—at least he has some real potential.
Rottino’s story is a nice one and the Indians don’t have anything to lose by not putting their best team on the field every night, but that doesn’t mean what happens between now and the end of the season is meaningless. September at-bats are great opportunities for players like Neal and Carrera to show the team what they’ve got, so unless the Tribe brass sees Rottino as a long-term option (which would open up a whole new can of worms), by letting Rottino play Acta is holding the team back.