Contend or Rebuild, Lonnie Chisenhall Must Play Everyday—Somewhere

It’s the last full week of November as I write this, and Indians fans still don’t know what direction this team plans to take this offseason. Other than flipping reliever Esmil Rogers while his stock was high for some depth (and some expected 40-man roster additions), the team hasn’t made any serious moves nor has tipped its hand as to if the front office believes this core can still contend with some help, or instead start trading assets to restock the system with talent, as many have speculated.

I don’t know what the Indians are planning to do, and honestly I’m quite torn on the decision of whether to rebuild or attempt to contend. But one thing is becoming evidently clear to me: no matter what the Indians do, they need to make sure Lonnie Chisenhall is getting everyday Major League at-bats, versus righties and lefties, starting from Opening Day. And if they are uncomfortable doing this in 2013, then they should trade him now and get something useful for him.

I know the knocks on Chisenhall: he struggles (to put it kindly) against left-handed pitching. He doesn’t walk enough. His defense isn’t great. But Chisenhall has a huge trump card here, if the Indians use it wisely: He just turned 24, and has less than a year of MLB service time. Chisenhall is incredibly young, and having already spent a full season at Double-A Akron, and parts of two seasons at Triple-A Columbus, he really has nothing left to learn in the minor leagues. He has to take his lumps versus big-league pitching and learn to adjust, especially against lefties, and he should be given this chance in 2013, or the Indians risk stunting his development and ruining his potential.

Chisenhall has already suffered two hard-luck injuries (including a freakish broken right ulna this season after he was hit by a pitch) that have already really hurt his chances for development, but he certainly isn’t a lost cause. He hasn’t even logged 400 big-league at-bats yet, but the team has to be willing to let Chisenhall learn on the job this year, even if they feel they can contend. Go ahead and sign Kevin Youkilis, but don’t make him the everyday third baseman over Lonnie. If Cleveland isn’t comfortable letting Chisenhall play everyday in some capacity, then it’s time to cut the cord and trade him before he becomes a useless organizational guy, as happened with a recent former top prospect who was removed from the 40-man roster earlier this week. Chisenhall definitely has some trade value, and coupled with maybe another prospect, could certainly bring a talented player in to help the roster contend in 2013.

Mind you, I don’t think contending in 2013 and giving Chisenhall a chance are mutually exclusive: the team very much could do both this year. But no matter what they do, the Indians have to commit to it. Play Chiz or trade him. Just don’t allow him to fade to irrelevance.

Tags: Cleveland Indians Lonnie Chisenhall

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