Can Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez coexist for the Cleveland Indians?
The Cleveland Indians have a dilemma, albeit a dilemma other teams certainly envy, at the shortstop position. Rising phenom and highly touted prospect Francisco Lindor has made a splash in Spring Training, showing off his defensive prowess while clubbing three homers, including a flashy inside-the-parker. He is batting .303 overall. Meanwhile, Jose Ramirez has solidified his place as the Indians’ Opening Day shortstop, hitting .313 and flashing the leather that earned him a 7.0 UZR and 18.9 UZR/150 in 68 games at shortstop in 2014, placing him among the elite at his position defensively.
While Ramirez is likely to hold off Lindor in the short-term, at least until late June when he likely loses Super Two eligibility, it seems the Indians will have an interesting decision to make at shortstop in the near future.
The way I see it, they have three options.
#1: Move Ramirez to Third
Lonnie Chisenhall is nothing short of horrendous at third. Steamer projects a -4.9 Def value for Chisenhall per Fangraphs – the Def value weights both UZR and defensive runs saved. Meanwhile, Ramirez is projected to have a 9.0 Def, eighth best of all active shortstops. Clearly, Ramirez could be a huge upgrade defensively over Chisenhall. Also, should Chisenhall look more like the player that hit .218 with four homers after the All-Star break than the behemoth who batted .332 with nine homers in the first half, Ramirez would provide consistency and speed that Chisenhall lacks.
Ramirez will likely never have the pop Chisenhall has at the plate and, should Chisenhall follow up last season with improved consistency, he could be a top five offensive player at his position. Additionally, putting Ramirez at third permanently would block the ascending Giovanny Urshela, who hit double-digit homers in Columbus last season and is a defensive stud in his own right.
#2: Move Ramirez to Second
Jason Kipnis, like Lonnie Chisenhall, is poor defensively. He put up a -4.2 Def while healthy in 2013 and a -6.4 mark in 2014 while fighting a bad oblique. Even with regained range and mobility, Kipnis figures to be a bottom five defensive second baseman in all of baseball. Given the way he is driving the ball to the opposite field this spring, it appears Kip’s bat is headed in the right direction. Accordingly, he is a candidate to move to the outfield for the Tribe, the position he played in college and early in his Minor League career before moving to second. At minimum, this is a move the Indians could make easily in two years, when Nick Swisher’s contract expires and Brandon Moss hits free agency. I don’t believe it would be a particularly tough transition for Kipnis. Ramirez would then slot in as the everyday second baseman.
Kipnis has spent the better part of his professional career adjusting to second base and, at 27 years of age, he could certainly still grow defensively. In addition, as we saw with Carlos Santana last season, changing positions can be incredibly difficult even when a player has past experience at the position. The stress of relearning the position also negatively impacted Santana’s performance at the plate. Should Kipnis regain the confidence and opposite field power he displayed as an All-Star in 2013, the Indians will be unlikely to change his position, especially given the unique combination of power and speed he brings to a traditionally weak offensive position.
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Ramirez would have tremendous trade value should the Indians think about moving him to make room for Francisco Lindor. He is young and has proven he has the ability to play at the Major League level. At 22 years old, he is likely to improve significantly at the plate over the next few years. The sky truly is the limit for Ramirez. The Indians could move him in a blockbuster deal if they were willing to package a prospect or two to land a star or they could look for a one-for-one swap similar to the Brandon Moss/Joey Wendle deal.
Ramirez is an incredibly talented, defensively gifted young player. Generally, you want to keep those guys around any way you can, especially as a small market club. Terry Francona has shown a willingness to get his players at-bats when they perform – see Lonnie Chisenhall last season following his hot start at the dish – and he has been an outspoken supporter of Ramirez from the start. Given Ramirez’s age, potential, and defensive prowess, it would likely take a big package to wrestle him from the Tribe.