Do the Indians Need a New Utility Man?

Going into this off-season the Indians' infield looked set, especially considering the utility infielder positions with super-utility man Mike Aviles available to play five different positions and great versatility at first base as well. However, that situation may be changing.

The Indians haven't been totally sold on Lonnie Chisenhall for the past two years and nothing there seems to have changed, especially considering how he ended the season on the bench with Aviles starting. In 2014 he will get another chance at the starting role, but if he fails, Aviles will be right there to replace him. Still looking at the end of 2013, it seemed that Jose Ramirez would be the next utility man in line after a strong September, but Ramirez injured his thumb in the Dominican Winter League and will need surgery that will keep him below full strength through the beginning of Spring Training.

The biggest issue with the possibility of Aviles replacing Chisenhall during the season is that Chisenhall can't play short stop. In fact, he can barely play third base. This could mean that whenever the short stop or Jason Kipnis need a day off, they would just start Chisenhall at third and use Aviles at that position, as generally happened in the later part of last season. There is just one big hitch in that plan, Asdrubal Cabrera has been placed on the trade market and New York is calling.

The Mets need a short stop, but aren't interested in Cabrera at the moment. The Yankees, however, are very interested, most likely as a second baseman for 2014, then as Jeter's replacement in the future. While the Yankees don't have the prospects needed to make a deal, they are the Yankees and generally get whatever they want when they throw their money around. There is little reason for the Indians to keep Cabrera around for his final season before free agency, especially considering his poor play in 2013 and the fact that Francisco Lindor will almost certainly be the starting short stop by 2015. The Mets and Yankees aren't the only teams in the market for a short stop either and with Stephen Drew the only starter left available, Cabrera should have decent value.

If the Indians do trade Cabrera, they will be in a slightly difficult situation, but it will only last a short time. Lindor will likely be able to play for the Indians by July and Ramirez should be available on Opening Day, but may be a little behind. Assuming the Indians give Chisenhall a long leash at third, Aviles could be the starting short stop for the first few months with Ramirez and Ryan Raburn (who has played 34 games at second base in the past two seasons) handling the reserve infielder duties. This situation would leave the Indians a little thin and within one injury of disaster.

This may be why the Indians have been rumored to be interested in Jamey Carroll. He is the kind of player that falls right in line with their recent signings of players like Jason Giambi and the mid-season trade last year for John McDonald. He brings absolutely no offensive ability at this point in his career, but can play all three skill infield positions at an above average level, is a veteran "leader" and would come incredibly cheap. Since he would only be the utility infielder until Lindor arrived, this actually wouldn't be as bad as some of the other Indians free agent signings in recent years.

In all, the Indians without Cabrera won't be much different than with him. If there is anything of value available, they should grab it while they can since he won't be with the team much longer anyway. Lindor is obviously the future and appears to be ready defensively and will be ready offensively very soon. Keeping Cabrera around could be enough to keep Lindor in the minors for most of the season, which would be a mistake. While there would be a slight lack of depth, that short term issue could be dealt with using a league minimum player like Carroll and in the long run, it would greatly benefit the Indians to have Lindor play a half season before becoming the full time starter. Moving Aviles to starter early in the season could also take some pressure off Chisenhall, who wouldn't have to be constantly watching his back waiting to be replaced. In the end, the Cleveland Indians could actually be a better team, now and in the future, without Asdrubal Cabrera.

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since it's inception in 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona.

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