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Ghosts of Indians Past: Alvaro Espinoza

When was the last time someone mentioned the name Alvaro Espinoza? Seriously, think long and hard about this. I’m willing to bet most of you haven’t heard that name since somewhere around 1996. For some of you, the name Alvaro Espinoza might not even ring a bell because you’re just too young to understand the impact he had on the Cleveland Indians during the mid 90’s.

Ok, so that’s a bit of a stretch. Alvaro Espinoza never really accounted for much of anything during his time spent with the Cleveland Indians. His primary purpose was to serve as the utility infielder/primary back up to Carlos Baerga at second base, and Felix Fermin and Omar Vizquel at shortstop. I know, when was the last time anyone mentioned the name Felix Fermin in casual conversation? We’re two for two in obscure Cleveland Indian references and we haven’t even hit the 200 word mark yet.

Credit: Trading Card Data Base

Anyways, Espinoza was always an intriguing person to me. Back then, before I was stat obsessed and staying up till all hours of the night writing about the Indians, I was a stupid kid. It was this stupid kid that didn’t understand the role or importance the utility infielder played on the 25-man roster so to me, Alvaro Espinoza was just the guy who sat on the bench, wore glasses, and looked like anything but a major league baseball player.

So just who was Alvaro Espinoza and what role did he play during his time in Cleveland? Glad you asked.

Alvaro Espinoza was acquired by the Indians as a free agent signing following his release by the New York Yankees. After spending four relatively successful years in New York as the Yankees starting shortstop, Espinoza signed with the Indians thinking he would have a chance to start. Unfortunately, the Tribe had incumbent starter Felix Fermin which thus pushed Espinoza to the bench. It was a position he would assume for the next three and half seasons.

During that time from 1993 up until the trading deadline of 1996, Espinoza appeared in 344 games and made 802 plate appearances. His approach was simple – Make contact and put the ball in play at the expense of any and all power. It was an approach that Espinoza perfected but did not experience much success with. His triple slash was a horrendous .252/.276/.350. His OPS+, an indication of how well he did compared to other hitters, came out to 63, meaning that Espinoza was 37% worse than the average hitter. He racked up 11 home runs, 74 RBI, and 133 runs scored. His bWAR with the Indians? A mind-boggling .5.

On the plus side, in his 802 plate appearances Espinoza only struck out 103 times (12.8%). On the down side, he only walked 22 times. Think about that, in 802 plate appearances, Alvaro Espinoza walked 2.74% of the time. In other words, Espinoza never saw a pitch he didn’t like to swing at.

However, despite his flaws at the plate, Espinoza was never brought to Cleveland for his bat. He was brought to Cleveland for versatile glove that in three and a half seasons accumulated a .966 fielding percentage at multiple positions.

During his time with the Indians Espinoza primarily played shortstop or second base when he made his way into games. His .971 fielding percentage as a shortstop is good enough to rank him the 67th best of all time. During his three and a half seasons with the Indians he was actually slightly better, posting a fielding percentage of .973 at shortstop.  In addition to that, Espinoza also filled in admirably at first base and third base.

What Espinoza may be most well know for amongst Tribe fans has nothing to do with his actual contributions on the field. Rather, Espinoza is often remembered as being a part of the trade that sent fan favorite Carlos Baerga to the New York Mets in exchange for Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino. It was a sad day for Tribe fans, myself included (Baerga was my favorite…I may or may not have cried.) but for Espinoza it was the change of scenery he apparently needed.

Following the trade to New York Espinoza put together the best offensive stretch of his career. In 48 games with the Mets, he posted a .306/.324/.478 triple slash with an OPS+ of 113. It was the only time in his career in which he posted an OPS+ over 100 meaning it was the only time in his career that Espinoza was above league average. His bWAR in those 48 games was 0.9, better than the entirety of the three and a half seasons he spent in Cleveland.

After the season, Espinoza would once again be released and this time he signed with the Seattle Mariners. He appeared in 33 games for the Mariners and hit below the Mendoza line. Needless to say, Seattle released him mid-way through July. He would never suit up for another major league team.

In his time since retiring from Major League Baseball, Espinoza has taken an active role in coaching. He started out with the Montreal Expos in 1998 working as their minor league infield coordinator. In 1999 he managed one of the Dodgers’ class A teams before moving back to the role of minor league infield coordinator. In 2002 Espinoza joined the Pirates’ organization and by 2004 he had been named their infield coordinator. Unfortunately, it is at that point where Espinoza’s trail goes cold.

Tags: Alvaro Espinoza Carlos Baerga Cleveland Indians Felix Fermin History Jeff Kent Jose Vizcaino

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