Within the space of the past four games, we have seen Mark Reynolds at first base and third base. Nick Swisher has been at first base, right field, and designated hitter. Carlos Santana has been at catcher and first base. Drew Stubbs has been in center field and right field. Ryan Raburn has been in left and right field. Mike Aviles has been at third base and second base.
Versatility is good, but I would submit that this is too much of a good thing. All of this has occurred since Lonnie Chisenhall got sent down, so it can’t be blamed on that. We have already seen Nick Swisher blame his balky shoulder on bouncing between right field and first base, but they keep having him do it. If Mark Reynolds is the third baseman until Lonnie comes back, leave him there and have him get comfortable. Same with Swisher at first. He didn’t play there much in New York, but he shows a lot of skill. Leave him there and let him get even better. Would Carlos Santana develop more quickly as a catcher if he didn’t need to learn first base as well? I would bet on it.
The thing is, none of this is necessary. Between Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn, the Indians can cover every position on the field except catcher and center field, and Raburn could probably handle center in a pinch. Yan Gomes also plays several positions, although it may be best for the long term if he concentrates on catching, where he has shown great promise. If Francona would get over his obsession with a thirteen-man staff, another bench player could be brought up and provide even more flexibility.
So why have core players treated like utility players? As I said, it is not necessary, and when a team is doing something that is not necessary, they should be able to point to a tangible benefit. In this case, it doesn’t exist. On Wednesday, Aviles played third and Reynolds first, after Reynolds had spent a couple of days getting comfortable at third. Whatever rhythm Reynolds may have been developing at third got disrupted, and nothing was gained on offense or defense. This was pointless over-managing.
This would be my core lineup, at least until Chisenhall comes back: Swisher at first, Kipnis at second, Cabrera at short, Reynolds at third, Brantley, Bourn, and Stubbs in the outfield, Santana catching. Gomes and Giambi would be the main DHs, but Santana can play there whenever Gomes catches, and they can funnel other players through that spot when they need a day off. Raburn is the main outfield reserve, and Aviles backs up all four infield spots. Since Raburn can play seond or third and Aviles can play left or right field, Francona should be able to make multiple in-game moves without bouncing around core players. The only starter I would bounce around would be Drew Stubbs, who provides enough of an advantage in center field to justify putting him there over Raburn if Bourn needs a day off.
For the most part I have been thrilled with Francona’s managing, especially the tone he sets. But this has been going on for several weeks. At first it looked like it was the result of slumps and injuries, but now it just looks like something Francona likes to do. I wish he would stop.