Cleveland Guardians News

Roster Decision Looming: Aaron Cunningham or Jose Lopez?


Aaron Cunningham and Jose Lopez have several things in common. They were both acquired by the Cleveland Indians on the same day. They are both right handed hitters. who are currently on the Indians’ active roster. And, most importantly, they are both candidates to be removed from the 25-man roster when Johnny Damon joins the team sometime in early May.

Cunningham was acquired because he can play all three outfield spots respectably and Lopez was signed in the hopes that he could find the power stroke that enabled him to hit .272 with 67 extra-base hits and 96 RBI with the Seattle Mariners in 2009.

Jose Lopez made the Opening Day roster on the strength of a very good spring training in which he hit .327/.364/.538 with two home runs. His inclusion on the 25-man roster provided Cleveland with another right-handed bat off the bench who could provide depth around the infield. He signed a minor-league deal with the Indians a free agent this winter, so all it cost to put him on the roster was his $800,000 salary.

But the Indians had to part ways with two players in order to acquire Cunningham from the San Diego Padres. The first was minor league pitcher Cory Burns, a highly regarded reliever who led the Indians organization in saves in both 2010 and 2011. He notched 30 saves with an 1.83 ERA and a 12.8 K/9 rate for High-A Kinston in 2010, and he earned 35 saves with a 2.11 ERA and a 10.6 K/9 for Double-A Akron in 2011.

Then, in order to add Cunningham to the 40-man roster, the Indians had to expose Josh Judy to waivers.  Judy, another promising reliever, was subsequently claimed by the Cincinnati Reds. He appeared in 12 games with the Indians in 2011 but spent most of the year in Triple-A Columbus, where he went 6-2 with a 3.45 ERA and 23 saves.

At this point Burns and Judy are sunk costs—they’re gone no matter what, so Cunningham shouldn’t be given extra job security just because he cost the team some useful pieces. But that the Indians were willing to part with two promising bullpen arms to get Cunningham presumably implies some degree of confidence in his abilities, and if they decide to cut him it will mean that trading for him in the first place was a bad move.

Manny Acta has generally kept each player in his respective role. Cunningham has appeared in 14 games, including three starts in center field and one each in left and right and nine appearances as a defensive replacement or pinch runner. Jose Lopez has started four games on the year: two at first, one at third, and one as the designated hitter. Neither player has done much with the bat: Cunningham is hitting .217/.308/.261 and Lopez is slashing .176/.176/.412. Interestingly, Acta has not called on either right handed hitter to pinch hit yet.

When Damon is ready to return I believe that the Indians will move Lopez off the roster. The Indians paid a price to bring Cunningham to Cleveland and he is here to fill a role that nobody else on the current roster can fill, and Lopez doesn’t really give the Indians anything that Jason Donald doesn’t already provide.

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