Killing Two Birds with One Ball

The Indians have had a few problems this season (obviously given their 17-19 record), but some of these may be more to do with stubbornness than talent. While the Indians’ defense overall has not been great, it is unfair to stigmatize everyone as a whole. For example, the Indians outfield currently boasts a .990 fielding percent with six assists while Jason Kipnis and his replacements (except Elliot Johnson) have also played well. In addition, the Indians have struggled offensively, but it is not the fault of everyone. Again, the outfield has been fantastic, knocking in 65 of the Indians 138 runs as a unit, as has Kipnis and his primary substitute, Mike Aviles. From the outside, it is obvious that not only do the Indians have problems, but they are arising from the left side of the infield and the catcher position.

Of these, the worst offensive detractor has been Carlos Santana and the worst defensive, his replacement behind the plate, Yan Gomes. After instilling fear in all base runners last season, it is now open season on Gomes (18 of 24 base stealers have been safe), who has been almost completely unable to make a catchable throw to second base. He has been worse than terrible behind the plate and if strike outs didn’t count for put outs for the catcher, he would have a fielding percentage of about .667. Gomes has also had issues at the plate, posting a line of .262/.300/.456 after signing a seven year extension during March.

Of course, Santana is not without fault either. He has been even worse offensively than Gomes (.139/.305/.270) and has been making those outs in more integral places as the Tribe’s clean-up hitter. Santana has been solid defensively at least, making just two errors in 44 chances in his first season at third and is yet to make an error at either of his other two positions. Of course, despite talks in Spring Training of using Santana in all four of his positions almost equally, he has been used almost exclusively at third base. To this point, he has played just a single game at first (he played 29 in 2013 and 21 in 2012), seven games at catcher and only nine at DH, often playing third even when Lonnie Chisenhall is in the lineup.

It is a little confusing why the Indians would stick so hard to their pre-season decisions, even when things aren’t going quite to plan. Gomes has never officially been the starting catcher prior to this season, and it is possible he is succumbing to the pressure. Most of his errors have been from being overly aggressive, which could be explained by the increased expectations of his new position. As a reserve in 2013, little was expected from Gomes and everything he did was a bonus. This season, that tremendous play was expected from the beginning and it is possible he is overextending himself to maintain that level.

Santana is facing a similar problem. With so much focus on his defense, which has improved to an unbelievable level, he has let his bat fall off. The problem with this is that the only reason they wanted him to play third in the first place was because he was the best power hitter on the team. Now, he is just the third best third baseman offensively, behind Mike Aviles and Lonnie Chisenhall and is likely the third best defensively as well.

The obvious solution to both problems is to return Carlos Santana to his starting catcher’s role, making the starting third baseman Chisenhall against right handers and Aviles (or Santana) against lefties. While Santana may be the starting third baseman of the future (even later this year), it is more important that he concentrate on his offensive game at this point. This would leave Yan Gomes as the odd man out, but it’s not like his bat will be missed. He would likely benefit offensively as well as defensively from a little time off.

This generally would leave the DH spot, where Chisenhall has been playing most days, open. This is a very good thing. Nick Swisher has also been struggling offensively (.206/.304/.324) and has been terrible defensively, with four errors already at first. Like Gomes and Santana, he could also benefit from some time off the field, and the best way to do this would be to DH the switch hitter. This is another position Santana could play, with less stress than third base. This also shows how Gomes would likely still play in at least half of the Indians games, even with a reduced role. Remember that the Indians use a different line-up almost every single game, so any starting role is not a guarantee of that player being there every game.

In addition to giving three different players a little more piece of mind, this move would do one more positive thing for the team. By freeing up a daily DH, the Indians would have room for a hitter on the team that can’t particularly perform on defense. There is one player deserving of that spot right now and his name is Jesus Aguilar. Aguilar has been the Tribe’s top power hitting prospect for at least three years and is currently destroying in AAA (.317/.414/.558). He will make his debut this season and the main thing holding him back is the fact that he can only play first base on defense. While there has been talk of teaching him third base, there is no reason to do this with both Santana and Chisenhall already on the team. With the DH spot coming open, the time has never been better to give Aguilar, who looks to be the most powerful hitter in the Cleveland organization since Travis Hafner tore his laburm, his first chance in the Major Leagues.

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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