Up until two days ago, the identity of the Cleveland Indians’ Opening Day first baseman was anyone’s guess. Matt LaPorta had lost his hold on the starting job after three years of underwhelming production, and neither the Indians nor their fans seem to think Shelley Duncan or the newly acquired Russ Canzler have the makings of an everyday player.
Now that the Indians signed Casey Kotchman, the suspense is over. He isn’t exactly an All-Star and his presence won’t put butts in seats at Progressive Field, but the Indians didn’t hand him a $3 million deal if they weren’t planning to make him the everyday first baseman.
But is he the right choice? For this edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, we asked our respondents: Should Kotchman be the Opening Day first baseman? In addition to the usual suspects from Wahoo’s on First, we had the honor of being joined by Bleacher Report‘s Jim Piascik this week. Here’s what we all had to say:
Jim Piascik (Bleacher Report): As underwhelming as it seems that Casey Kotchman is the first baseman the Indians came out of this offseason with, he absolutely should be the starter on Opening Day.
While I have my doubts about his ability to replicate the career-year offense he put up last year, if he can be a league-average hitter and supply his normal above-average defense, he should be very useful for the Indians. Especially if the Tribe uses the left-handed hitting Kotchman in some sort of platoon with either Carlos Santana, Matt LaPorta or Shelley Duncan, this pickup will likely help the Indians more than it hurts them.
Lewie Pollis: It’s too soon to say definitively, but barring a spring training surprise, yes he should. Kotchman isn’t a particularly glamourous acquisition, but even though he won’t repeat his 2011 production he’s a great fit in Cleveland. His ceiling is probably that of a league-average player, but unless you’re projecting a breakout for Matt LaPorta or Russ Canzler, that’s about as good as the Indians can ask for this year.
LaPorta still has the highest ceiling of any first baseman in the organization, but he’s been a below-replacement-level player at a premium offensive position two years in a row; now that the Indians are contenders, they can’t afford to bleed production at first base just because there’s a small chance of a breakout. And while Canzler’s bat could boom, Kotchman’s superior defense would be more important behind the Indians’ worm-burning pitching staff.
If Kotchman doesn’t win the job in spring training, that’s probably a good thing, as it will mean LaPorta or Canzler looked good enough to inspire the team’s confidence. But with apologies to Canzler, Kotchman looks like the best choice for now.
Geordy Boveroux: I have a different way of interpreting this question than most probably will. Should Kotchman be the starting first baseman? No. But will he be? Yes.
I don’t like how Kotchman fits into Cleveland’s lineup. When what the Indians need most is a right-handed power-hitting first baseman, all they can muster is a left-handed first baseman whose career high in home runs is 14, back in 2008.
Many will point to his nice 2011 slashline of .306/.378/.422 and say he’s an upgrade over LaPorta, which may be true. But I’ll point to his .335 BABIP in 2011 and say that that was a mirage as his previous career high was a .305 BABIP in 2007 which was the only year he played a full season and batted above .268. Obviously that slashline won’t be anywhere near what it was last year.
All that being said, I just can’t trust LaPorta. I won’t deal with his 6.0% walk rate and 22.6% strikeout rate, but will settle for Kotchman’s 8.5% walk rate and 11.7% strikeout rate instead. LaPorta needs to really work to get a chance to start in Cleveland. I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts the year in Columbus even behind the newly acquired Russ Canzler just so Cleveland can send him a message.
At this point, anything but LaPorta will do.
Katie Hendershot: The way I look at it, Casey Kotchman is the new first baseman. The other options just aren’t there. Aside from some crazy platoon system, Matt LaPorta would be the other frontrunner for the spot at first. He has been too inconsistent and uninspiring in the past few seasons.
Really, when I look at it, first base is a shaky position. There’s no clear-cut option on the Indians’ roster that will solve all of the problems. Kotchman seems like the best option, given the circumstances. He has experience and over the course of his time in the big leagues, he’s been relatively consistent. Even if Kotchman wins the starting position out of spring training, there’s no guarantee he’ll be the starting first baseman for the entire season. Santana will undoubtedly see time at first from time to time. Jack Hannahan and Shelley Duncan will also likely see time there this season.
No, the Indians didn’t get a Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, but no one could have honestly expected that to happen. The team didn’t get any of the better options on the market, but for a good price they’ve locked down what is, from my perspective, the most exciting option in Kotchman.
Brian Heise: Wow, this is a tough one. Part of me wants to say yes and still part of me can’t help but think the Indians need to give LaPorta one last legitimate shot at first. With that said and knowing how the Indians operate, Kotchman will be the guy.
Kotchman is yet another left-handed bat who provides little to no power and doesn’t address the major issue facing the Indians heading into the offseason: the need for a quality right-handed power hitter. Kotchman has shown that he can be a reliable addition to any lineup throughout his career, particularly defensively. But that doesn’t address the real issue that has been created by LaPorta’s consistently inconsistent offensive production.
Last year in Tampa Bay, Kotchman’s fWAR was 2.8. Compare that with LaPorta’s -0.8 fWAR and the answer seems obvious that he should be the starter. Unfortunately, Kotchman’s few seasons leading up to 2011 were very LaPorta-like, if not worse (fWAR of -1.5 in 2010 with Seattle? Ouch).
Maybe last year was Kotchman’s bounce back year. Maybe he’ll turn into more of a power threat in the left handed hitter friendly Progressive Field. Maybe it’s a huge gamble at the risk of further damaging and already thoroughly screwed up Matt LaPorta.
The fact of the matter is Kotchman is guaranteed $3 million this year and LaPorta still has an option left. The Indians should roll with Kotchman and hope it finally lights a fire under LaPorta.