Matt LaPorta has a four game hitting streak. You probably haven’t noticed because it has occurred over the Indians last 12 games. LaPorta, who is fourth on the team in home runs and RBI, has been essentially removed from the Indians roster as he has only been allowed to play in four of the Indians last 22 games. LaPorta’s replacement has been Lou Marson who, as a back-up catcher, has played in 22 of the last 31 games. So far this season, there is no question that LaPorta is a superior player to Marson as he has a slightly higher batting average and a slugging percentage more than 100 points greater. The real question is why is then, Lou Marson starting over Matt LaPorta?
Matt LaPorta has struggled a lot over his tenure thus far with the Cleveland Indians. This is no secret and has been talked about ad nauseum, so I won’t reiterate any more to that here, other than to point out that his line stats of .234/.300/.395 are not only unacceptable for the middle of the lineup spot he was supposed to be in, but are terrible even for a bottom of the order hitter. Here are a couple quotes from manager Manny Acta about Matt LaPorta from earlier in the season:
“He has made progress, but expectations for a guy like him are high. That’s not because of the trade, but because of being a high draft pick and the way he cruised through the minors.”
“He’s had a lot of inconsistency, but shows flashes of what we anticipated. He needs work on plate discipline. He’s projected as a walks, power guy and it is still not there.
While his last point is accurate, the first isn’t really the best way to think about the situation. There are so many draft busts and scouting errors, that it is a mistake to evaluate a current player based on what he did five years ago. While his numbers are not necessarily a good predictor of his future performance, the Indians must have had enough time to see where his real talent level lies. I believe that at some point during the season Tribe management decided that Matt LaPorta will never become the player they need him to be. As soon as the Indians were legitimately out of the playoff race, LaPorta was removed from the roster and sent to AAA, never to make a return to the starting line up. If there was any chance of LaPorta being the starting first baseman next season, I don’t think that Manny Acta would have insulted him by replacing him with a back-up catcher. If they have already decided to part ways with LaPorta, it makes sense to see what Lou Marson is capable of in an every day role (early results: not very much).
Much has been made of Carlos Santana playing first base, but this would extremely weaken the Indians offense. While a player of Santana’s talent is among the best available at catcher, he is only an average first baseman. Since Santana is a given in the roster, the question is whether the Indians will be able to find a better first baseman or catcher next season and amazingly talented catchers are in short supply.
Starting off fresh at first next year makes sense, especially if the ownership decides to finally spend for that big free agent. There are quite a few big name first basemen that should be available next year, possibly allowing some of the lower tier ones to slip to the Indians. The Yankees and Red Sox are set with Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis so they will likely be inactive in this market, allowing other teams a shot at big names. The biggest names out there will be Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Prince Fielder. With the extremely low payroll of the Indians, along with an option to renegotiate with Grady Sizemore, the Indians should have enough spending money to get even a top tier player. The success early in the season and the addition of Ubaldo Jimenez for the next few years should place the Indians as an early season favorite for the Central Division in 2012 and the Dolans may pick next year as their time to take a chance.