With Kipnis and Chisenhall set to Return, the Indians Have Several Decisions to Make
When Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall come back the Indians will have some lineup juggling to do not just in the lineup but in the field as well. The pressing question they have at the moment is where does Terry Francona place Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley in the batting order. However, they will have to answer some questions soon about the field as well.
The first week has gone by and the Indians look good offensively. The lineup thus far has been pretty consistent. Every game against right handers, the top five has been the same. It went like this: Santana, Lindor, Brantley, Encarnacion and Ramirez.
Against left handers, the top five looked the same except for one small change. Guyer took Brantley’s spot at 3rd in the order and is playing right with Almonte moving to left. In Arizona though, it was Santana moving to right and Guyer in left.
Last season, Jason Kipnis consistently hit in the 2nd spot of the order, but now with Brantley who hits 3rd in the order, the Indians now have a problem most teams wish they had. They have two quality hitters who both hit over .270 career wise and they don’t know where to put to put them in the lineup.
Obviously one of these guys is going to be bumped down to probably 6th in the order because you can’t move Lindor out of the 2nd spot, Encarnacion out of the 4th spot, and Jose Ramirez is way too good with runners in scoring position in the 5th spot. The 6th spot, however is not a bad spot to be in as they will still have opportunities to drive in a lot of runs.
I think the person who thrives the most at being in the 6th spot would be Michael Brantley. He hasn’t played essentially in two years and he would feel no pressure to produce as much as he used to. He no longer is the guy that’s counted on to bat .300 and drive in 100 runs. Francisco Lindor and Edwin Encarnacion have taken on that role with some strong contributions from Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis.
Jason Kipnis, who hit in the 2nd spot last year, will thrive a lot better then Brantley in those situations. He produced in key situations last season and you already know what you’re going to get out of him at the top of the order. Like last season, the Indians could put Kipnis back at the 2nd spot and Lindor back at the 3rd spot. However, it should be noted that Kipnis is coming off an injury out of spring training and only saw six at bats in the spring. He’s scheduled to make a couple AA starts and then join the club.
One could make the argument that a guy like Carlos Santana could be someone who gets bumped down in the lineup. This is unlikely given his production at the top of the order and his uncanny ability to take walks. But it should be noted that Terry did say that he wanted a right hander in between Brantley and Kipnis and since Lindor is a switch hitter who could provide that right handed bat at the two spot in the order, we could see Santana slide all the way down to the 6th spot with the top three being Kipnis, Lindor and then Brantley.
While the 6th spot wasn’t promised to these guys, it almost makes sense because you don’t wanna move these guys down too far in the order and take them out of opportunities to produce and drive in runs.
Now when Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall come back the tribe have some questions for the field. What do you do with Yandy Diaz? Jose Ramirez will slide all the way over to third base where he became the everyday 3rd baseman last season and Kipnis will go back to his regular spot at 2nd base. Keep in mind the Indians will not only be making a roster change now but also later when Chisenhall returns to the club. So with the Indians probably having to DFA two guys the Indians have some choices in that regard.
There are several guys that could be on the way out of the majors. Yandy Diaz, Michael Martinez, Abraham Almonte, and yes, I believe that if Lonnie Chisenhall doesn’t produce, he could see the door since the Indians practically told highly touted prospect Bradley Zimmer that if he puts up good numbers, the job was his.
Let’s not forget, Chisenhall was drafted in the first round of the MLB amateur draft and has been up and down in his career in terms of production. The Indians need a guy who can come in and consistently produce in key situations and as whole produce year in and year out. Granted Chisenhall hit .286 last year, he has a track record of underperforming the year after putting up quality numbers. For instance, in 2012 he hit .268. The next season in 2013 he hit .225. In 2014 he hit .280. The next season in 2015 he hit .246. Last season as mentioned he hit .286. It should be interesting to see what he puts up this year.
One guy I think that will definitely see the door will be Michael Martinez. Martinez just doesn’t bring enough to the table to be in consideration to be on the team when those guys return. So that just leaves Diaz, Almonte and Chisenhall.
For the time being, I think Chisenhall stays. His contributions in right field far outweigh his bat in my opinion. Make no mistake though, if Chisenhall doesn’t pull his weight at the dish, I don’t think the Indians will hesitate to call up Bradley Zimmer to see what he can do at the big league level.
Now that just leaves us to decide between Almonte and Diaz. This is difficult because the Indians have a need for a good bat off the bench in late situations and that’s where Diaz comes in. Not to mention you can platoon him around.
However, the Indians have a huge need for outfielders on their team as outfield depth is a huge problem for the Tribe. One thing that benefits Almonte is his ability to switch hit. This can be key in late game situations when the opposing team turns to a right-hander and the tribe can counter with a lefty or when the opposing team counters with a left-hander and the tribe can counter with a right-hander. A lot like Chisenhall though, Almonte can be shaky in certain situations as a hitter and overall isn’t all that reliable.
At the end of the day, I think Almonte is the odd man out and they give the nod to Yandy Diaz as the Indians need to see what their young guys can do and ultimately have much more of a need for solid bats off the bench.
Overall, I don’t think the Indians have a bad problem. They are trying to find a way to replace good players with other good players that they already have. The Indians are lucky because they have several players they can turn to in AAA if the ones at the major league level don’t workout. They don’t have to make any trades or blow up the roster in any way to replace one guy.
As guys like Kipnis and Chisenhall get set to come back, it should be interesting to see what Terry Francona does.
Image via Zimbo
Stats via baseball reference