During the hot stove season, the Cleveland Indians decided to try to improve their team by signing some veterans to one year contracts.
Over the years, we have not been thrilled by this strategy for several reasons, mostly that it shows the organization doesn’t trust their young players.
And we also feel that part of the reason for the sluggish starts by the club over the past few seasons is they spend the first 40 games seeing if these veterans have anything in the tank, and a lot of times, bringing up the young players gives the Tribe a spark.
This season doesn’t seem to be any different.
While Mike Napoli has been productive despite striking out a lot, he has a .504 slugging percentage and leads the team in home runs and RBIs, the other vets are struggling.
Rajai Davis, 35-years-old, has an on base percentage of .265 and an OPS of 620. You would have to think a player like Tyler Naquin could do at least that well.
We realize Naquin’s numbers may not hold up with more at bats, but our biggest concern with the rookie offensively was that he wasn’t drawing walks. Guess what? Neither does Davis, who has walked just five times on the year.
Making the Davis issue worse is Terry Francona continues to hit him in the leadoff spot, despite a career .315 on base average.
Juan Uribe (age 37) was brought in because the management didn’t feel comfortable using Giovanny Urshela at 3B to start the season.
However, Uribe thus far has demonstrated no pop in his bat, with a slugging percentage of .306 and an OPS of 619. Uribe started the year playing pretty much everyday at the hot corner, but is starting to lose playing time to Jose Ramirez at that position.
For the record, Urshela had a 608 OPS last season while battling injuries, and figured to improve with experience.
Thirty eight year old Marlon Byrd is the other veteran signed by the Indians, he inked his deal during spring training. Byrd has been decent, with a 684 OPS and hasn’t been the hammer vs. left handed pitching he was purported to be.
We wouldn’t have a problem seeing him a couple of days per week as long as he is still contributing. He seems to get one big hit per week.
We understand that the season is just 31 games old, and we recognize this constitutes a small sample size.
We also know the American League playoff race will probably be very close all year long and one game here or there could make a big difference.
The Cleveland Indians feel they are a contending team, which is probably the reason they made the moves to sign these players, but being a contender also means there is a short leash for players who aren’t getting it done.
With Michael Brantley’s availability up in the air right now, Terry Francona can’t use his considerable patience hoping that Davis and Uribe will get it together soon. If they aren’t hitting, the lineup is full of holes.
Our fear when the Tribe signs this type of player is what will happen if they aren’t swinging the bat well. Tito gives veterans the benefit of the doubt, so his inclination is to keep giving them at bats with the hope they will snap out of their slumps.
He can’t wait much longer.
And as for a possible release of either player, remember they are on one year deals, so there is no long term investment in Davis or Uribe.
It will be interesting to keep an eye on both players through the end of May to see what the front office may do.
The bigger question here is why not give the young players the first shot at the job, and bring the veterans in if they don’t work out?