Possible Reasons For Demoting Lonnie Chisenhall, None of Which I Like

The careers of two Indians who were thought to be significant parts of the future took dramatic turns for the worse Monday. While the recent events on the field are ample cause for optimism, this continuing attrition of prospects is, to be blunt, alarming.

First, the easy one to analyze. Nick Hagadone has had two serious meltdowns in the past three days, making him the obvious candidate to be sent down when Brett Myers or Vinnie Pestano is activated. Hagadone has now been with the organization for nearly four years and has yet to have a sustained period of reliable performance on the major league level. Worse, he appears to be unable to handle the pressure situations that determine the value of a relief pitcher. It is unfortunate, because Hagadone has the stuff to be a closer on the major league level, but he is not able to command his pitches well enough to be trusted with anything close to that role. It would be a surprise if we see him again this year, given the other options available.

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The other event Monday was the demotion of Lonnie Chisenhall to Columbus. There is no way to look at this other than as alarming. Chisenhall has been referred to as a cornerstone of the franchise. Cornerstones do not get sent down at age 24. This most likely means that the Indians need to look for other options, both short and long-term. How you analyze this move depends on your opinion of the reason for it. I could think of four possible reasons, none of which seems justifiable to me.

REASON #1: to get his confidence back. This is just a normal step in the maturation of a young player, another step in his development, according to this theory. I have trouble with this idea. Chisenhall is 24 years old. It is time for him to get five hundred at bats at the major league level and decide whether he is the answer at third base. If he spends this season bouncing between Cleveland and Columbus again, we will spend another offseason not knowing whether we can trust him. It’s time to decide.

REASON #2: The next possible reason to demote Chisenhall is as simply a wake-up call. For the past week or so, Chisenhall has clearly not been fully engaged, making sloppy defensive plays and giving away too many at-bats. Frankly, using this as a wake-up call doesn’t sound like Francona.

REASON #3: What Francona said, to give Chisenhall a chance to face left-handers every day. What Chisenhall needs, though, is to face left-handers who can get filthy breaking pitches over the plate. He won’t see those guys in the International League. If they could do that, they would be in the majors.

REASON #4: This seems most likely, that the brain trust sees a team on a bit of a roll, with the potential to possibly contend, and Chisenhall was seen as hampering that quest. This is bad long-term management, for the reasons stated above, but even if you wanted to simply justify it in terms of this season, I’m not sure you could. We have been told all year that Mark Reynolds is a poor third baseman; now we are to believe that he can handle the position.

Whether or not Reynolds stays there long-term, this means more playing time for Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn, either at third base or replacing Reynolds at DH. At best, this depletes the bench, which has been a strength, with no real options in Columbus to replenish it. At worst, the increased playing time will expose Aviles and Raburn for what they are, replacement level players who can be assets in the right situation but not as everyday players. Their career numbers do not indicate that they will be significant improvements over Chisenhall’s career levels, and, whereas Chisenhall has room for improvement, Aviles and Raburn have been around long enough that their career numbers probably represent who they are.

Chisenhall is a guy with 19 walks in 473 lifetime plate appearances. Major league pitchers know that he will swing at anything in the same area code as home plate, and they are smart enough to use this to get him into bad counts and to make him swing at their pitch instead of his. He needs to see major league pitching in order to fix this. Some guys never do fix their approach, and it is best for the long-term health of the franchise to figure out as soon as possible if Chisenhall is one of those guys so they can get somebody else for next year.

Bottom line, Chisenhall has a beautiful swing, and enough raw ability that I think he deserves a full year to develop an intelligent approach at the plate. I don’t know that I see this team as complete enough to where Chisenhall is the only thing keeping them from contending, but even if he was, unless the Indians have a trade for David Wright in the works, he is as good as the other options available, so I would have given him more time.