The Cleveland Indians made a flurry of roster moves Tuesday evening in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft. Outfielder Tim Fedroff and pitchers Chen-Chang Lee, Trey Haley, and T.J. House were added to the Tribe’s 40-man roster to protect them from being claimed purchased by other teams during the December 6 draft. To make room for the additions, the Indians removed Matt LaPorta, Brent Lillibridge, and Fabio Martinez from the 40-man.
Martinez was designated for assignment, and while Lillibrdge was outrighted to the minors he can refuse the demotion and become a free agent. But LaPorta has no override power for his assignment to Triple-A Columbus. His removal from the roster is an interesting signal about what future he has with Cleveland—but he might not get the opportunity. LaPorta is now fair game to be claimed by another team in the Rule 5 Draft. So will he?
It’s easy to see why LaPorta could be appealing to another team. As a former top prospect there’s no question he has potential, and his raw power is not in question. Moreover, he’s terrorized minor-league pitching (.916 career minor-league OPS), so he’s capable of putting his tools to use. Let him work with a hitting coach who gets him and give him enough at-bats to find his groove and he could be a solid middle-of-the-order hitter.
That said, LaPorta has never been able to sustain success at the MLB level, and after over 1,000 big-league plate appearances he has a sub-.700 career OPS. He can’t hit a breaking ball, he’s a poor defender, and he’s coming off hip surgery—plus he’s arbitration-eligible in 2013, meaning he’s due for a (small) raise. Committing to keep him on the 25-man roster all season would be a risky proposition.
Given LaPorta’s track record and the commitment it takes to make a Rule 5 pick worthwhile, I’m not sure it would be a smart move for any team to claim LaPorta in two weeks. However, there are 29 other teams out there, and last month 70 percent of Indians writers said they expect LaPorta to be wearing some other club’s uniform in 2013. As a Cleveland fan I’d be sad to see him go, but it’d be nice to see LaPorta get the real chance he deserves.