The Columbus Clippers are 42-22, 22 games over .500 and on top of the entire International League in AAA. This is a testament to them and the fact that their team is made up almost entirely of Major League ready talent. The Clip Show roster includes former pros, Hector Ambriz, Justin Germano, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Josh Judy, Jensen Lewis, Anthony Reyes, Luke Carlin, Jason Donald, Nick Johnson, Luis Valbuena, Ezequiel Carrera and Josh Rodriguez. That makes 13 of the 29 players of the Clippers roster former Major Leaguers. Some of these players have just been on the Indians this season, but others like Lewis, Reyes, Johnson and Valbuena have had careers more than a couple years long. Along with those players with MLB experience, many of the other players are completely ready for the Major Leagues. This includes, Jerad Head, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, Chad Huffman, Zach McAllister, Scott Barnes and Zach Putnam.
Value over replacement player (VORP) is an interesting and useful stat. It is a very complicated aggregate of a whole slew of stats, some conventional and others not. It is used to compare current Major League players with average replacement players, or all those players listed in the first paragraph. A VORP of 0 means that player is roughly the same as any random player you could pluck out of AAA.
Austin Kearns currently has a VORP of -1.1, ranking him 50th in the Majors among left-fielders. There are only 30 teams, so this means at least 20 ML back-up left-fielders are better than him. A couple random LF better than Kearns in VORP are Ryan Ludwick (7.3), Travis Buck (4.6) and Milton Bradley (3.2). It’s good news, I guess, that Kearns is still better than Jason Michaels who has a VORP of -2.7. For those who like conventional stats, Kearns is hitting a line of .195/.290/.280. The .195 batting average is about 20 points lower than the next worst Indian, Lou Marson‘s, batting average.
Kearns other low point (other than being one of the worst offensive players in the league) is his defense. It is hard to point at any particular stats that show this other than simply watching him play. Kearns has awful instincts and has missed multiple catches going back on balls that Michael Brantley could have made without trying. Kearns has made a couple diving plays in the outfield this year, which some look at as impressive plays, but they are always on balls that could have been caught without the dive by a faster player, like Brantley or Travis Buck. While he has yet to make an official error this season, Austin has cost the Indians more than a couple runs than Brantley would have, due to his lack of speed, outfield instincts and arm strength. In the last game against the Yankees alone, Kearns cost the team at least 2 runs, possibly more, by allowing a double to Alex Rodriguez that should have been caught, then was unable to throw out any runners at the plate, even though he had multiple easy chances.
Due to the Indians position of lacking a true DH at the moment, Kearns could be released for a player at any position. With Grady Sizemore back to starting every day, Brantley in left and Shin-Soo Choo rarely needing a day off in right, Travis Buck can more than take care of the off days. With Orlando Cabrera no longer starting in the field, he is available to DH, meaning that the Indians don’t even need to bring up a player that is ready to start, just one who will not hurt the team when he is used.
Who the Indians should bring up depends on where they think the biggest holes are on the team. Until a few days ago, the two weakest positions for the Tribe were second and third base, but both of these have been taken care of, at least temporarily, with the advancement of Cord Phelps and the improved play of Jack Hannahan. First base is a weakness, because Matt LaPorta has no back up outside of Carlos Santana, meaning his real back-up is Lou Marson, and he only has a VORP of 4.4. Designated hitter is the other obvious weakness, but this will be filled as soon as 4 days from now when Travis Hafner returns from the disabled list. The main choices in AAA ready to be advanced are Nick Johnson, Jerad Head, Jason Kipnis and Chad Huffman.
While Johnson has yet to prove himself in AAA, he has a long Major League track record and would fill in better than any other player at the first base, DH role. Head and Huffman are both outfielders, but have spent some time at other positions. Head has played a couple games at third, while Huffman has spend considerable time at first. This makes Huffman the more desirable of the two as the Indians don’t need another outfielder right now. Most likely, Kipnis will have to wait until another infielder is demoted, meaning the failure of Cord Phelps or whenever the Indians tire of Adam Everett‘s weak bat. The best move in my mind would be to bring up Huffman immediately and release Kearns. I am aware of the emotional reasons Kearns returned to Cleveland, but the fact is he is not producing. With the plethora of young outfielders the Indians have available, the signing of Kearns didn’t really make sense in the first place, but now it is just plain irresponsible to continue to put him in the field.