For three years, Valbuena had been bouncing between Triple-A, where he consistently tore the cover off the ball, and the majors, where he’s a career .226 hitter and has just a .630 OPS. He was as good as gone after the Indians designated him for assignment two weeks ago, but this move officially ended his tenure with the team.
In this week’s edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, we ask: Were the Indians right to give up on Valbuena? Our guest contributors this week are TD from Waiting For Next Year and frequent blog contributor Dale Thomas.
Thanks to TD and Dale for their contributions! Here’s what we all had to say:
TD (Waiting For Next Year): I think the answer to this questions is pretty cut and dry. Sweet Luis had plenty of chances to prove he belonged in the majors. In 2009, he showed some pop and I loved the way the ball stung off his bat the opposite way as a middle infield utility man. The Indians did too, so they handed him their second base job out of Spring Training. The difference in 2010—there was a book on him. Pitchers knew where his weak spots were and they exploited them. That pop was gone, and he finished the season hitting .193.
In 2011 the Indians had plenty of middle infield options: Asdrubal Cabrera was a mainstay at shortstop, Orlando Cabrera was signed to play second, and Jason Donald had jumped ahead of Valbuena in the pecking order for utility men. Then you had highly regarded prospects Jason Kipnis and Cord Phelps. Sweet Luis was stuck in AAA and naturally tore it up. He once again made himself relevant. With the rash of injuries, he got one more shot to be an über-utility guy, but once again showed that major league pitching was too much for him.
Yes, he is only 26, but you can’t say the Indians didn’t give him chances. How much more of him do we need to see? Poor Sweet Luis; the ever-lasting memory of him for most Tribe fans will be his botch jobs in left field against the Minnesota Twins this summer which cost the team two wins.
Dale Thomas: Yes. It was a good decision by the Indians, and best of luck to Toronto in their attempt to make a legitimate player of this guy. We tried, we failed. Sometimes a change in scenery is the right prescription. I say: “Don’t let the door hit ya…”
If you subscribe to the studies that say the average career of a MLB player is 5.6 years, then Luis has already put 71% of his career behind him. His three years as an Indian have not been kind to him, the team or the fans. He posted a not-so-whopping .224 batting average, and committed 11 errors in 2009 alone. These are not “keeper” stats even for the most hopeful of Valbuena supporters. Get him in an 0-2 count and you can cut that average in half, or if you need one good defensive inning to get out with a win, that’s when his glove goes hollow and his arm goes wobbly. He was a master of poor timing and seemed to go totally missing under pressure.
I never saw fire in his eyes, and moreover didn’t see any signs of improvement in his skills year over year. Happy trails Luis.
Lewie Pollis: There’s a difference between determining that a player isn’t a long-term fit with the team and flat-out giving up on him. It’s true that Valbuena didn’t have a clearly defined place with the team going forward, so trading him was a good decision. But dealing him for peanuts—as the Indians were forced to do after they DFAed him—was a mistake.
Yes, he’s struggled whenever he’s made it to the majors, but it’s way too soon to completely give up hope for him. His main problems in The Show have been plate discipline and BABIP. The former should be fixable with some good coaching since he’s demonstrated a good eye in the minors, and while he might never be a high hit-rate guy, BABIPs in the neighborhood of .240 suggest that there’s been at least a little bit of bad luck in play over the last two years.
Translated to the majors, his recent Triple-A numbers make him look like Asdrubal Cabrera. I’m not saying he’ll ever actually reach that, but I’m not ready to give up on a 26-year-old middle infielder with his minor-league track record. He won’t be a star, but at the very least he should become a solid utility player, and had the Indians traded him before they lost all their leverage they almost definitely could’ve gotten more than just “cash considerations.”
Geordy Boveroux: While I posted my own article arguing that the Indians should not have DFAed Valbuena for Juan Diaz, I do still believe letting Valbuena go was the right move. Valbuena is superior to Diaz, but many other players in the Tribe’s system are superior to Valbuena. With the depth that the Indians have in the middle infield, giving Valbuena a third shot doesn’t make so much sense when Phelps and Donald can take his playing time and further develop.
At this point Valbuena seems like a true Quad-A player. He will always mash Triple-A pitching, but will fail to produce in the majors. Perhaps now that he’s in Toronto he’ll be given a chance to really play every day, something he never got in Cleveland due to the Tribe’s aforementioned depth.
If Valbuena has a few quality years in Toronto, I won’t be surprised nor disappointed. Kipnis would just be blocking Valbuena at second base, leaving him to fight for a utility position with Phelps and Donald. In that competition, I prefer Phelps’ ceiling and Donald’s trustworthiness, leaving Valbuena with no place in Cleveland’s plans.