Cleveland Indians: The Allure of Lonnie Chisenhall

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Like that girl you just can’t get out of your head, that is the Cleveland Indians‘ Chisenhall


Did you ever have a girlfriend who you just couldn’t forget about? One of those girls that gets you in trouble every time you go near her, who makes you take her to restaurants you can’t afford, starts fights in bars and makes you finish them, who pisses you off on an hourly basis, but then she smiles at you and you’d walk a mile barefoot in snow just to be near her.

There’s a baseball equivalent to that every so often, and for the past few years it’s been Lonnie Chisenhall, who has seduced and betrayed us enough times by now it would be easier to write a country song about him than a blog. It’s probably no coincidence that his ESPN mug shot makes you think of Jesse from Breaking Bad. Chisenhall will soon be 27 years old, and guys who haven’t established themselves as major league regulars by that point seldom go on to have great careers. They do, however, start costing enough money (just like the girlfriend) to make you wonder if they are worth it.

Thus when Chisenhall was sent down to Columbus earlier this season we all assumed, for the 73rd time, that he was done, that the brief flashes of brilliance we had seen over the past few seasons were just a tease.  Chisenhall was hitting.209 when he got sent down, and that probably overstated how much he was contributing on offense. The Indians kept saying how much better he was on defense, but I have my own method for analyzing defensive aptitude, based on the tightness of the knot in my stomach when a ground ball is hit to a guy. By that measure, Chisenhall should never play third base again.

When the Indians traded every outfielder on the roster, I figured they would still find a way not to promote Chisenhall. They said, after all, that the rest of this season was about finding out who could help them in 2016, and that sure as hell didn’t include Chisenhall. If they had really thought he was part of the future in the outfield they would have been playing him there regularly in Columbus, but he only played four games in the outfield in the eight weeks he was there. But it turned out that there were no other viable options, so he got the call one more time.

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And, lo and behold, he’s got us again. Since he came back July 30, Chisenhall has posted an OPS of .997.  If he could do that for a full season, he would be in the MVP conversation. He has also played a nearly flawless right field.  There is still that swing, smoother than a James Taylor song. Another couple of weeks like this, and we’ll start to see speculation about how Chisenhall fits into the plans for 2016.

Before we start buying flowers and chocolates, let’s remember that this is 57 plate appearances so far (through Friday). When assessing his prospects for 2016, would you rather look at that or the 1400 plate appearances that came before he was sent down in June?  Let’s also note that in those 57 plate appearance there are thirteen strikeouts and only five walks, which some would tell you is a better indication of whether his approach has changed than the OPS.

So here we are again. This team will go into the offseason with gaping holes in center field and right field.  First base and DH are shaky at best. They will most likely bring in someone to compete with the incumbents for the fifth starter role. They probably aren’t ready to totally commit to Giovanny Urshela at third.  They are crossing their fingers that Yan Gomes will return to form. All told, there are more holes on the roster than resources (prospects, trade bait, cash) to fill them.  You would love (love!) to think that Chisenhall could fill one of those holes. Even if he can platoon in right field with Jerry Sands or Ryan Raburn, that means more resources can be devoted to fill the other holes.

But if you jump off that cliff and the 2016 Lonnie turns out to be Bad Lonnie, you could be looking at another season down the tubes. Regardless of what moves get made in the meantime, the best hope for this team in 2016 is to put nine guys in the lineup who make a decent contribution on a consistent basis.  Combine that with the current rotation and you may have a legitimate contender, but we saw this year what can happen if two or three of those nine guys come up short.

If Chisenhall was one of four or five options for right field, first base, and DH and we knew that he would only play if he deserved to, I would be all for it. But it’s hard to see where they will come up with enough depth to make that an option, and even if it was you can bet the Indians don’t want to create a scenario where they might pay Chisenhall two million dollars to play at Columbus again. So that leaves only two realistic choices: commit to him for four hundred at bats or so, or cut him loose. This is the point where I am supposed to give my expert opinion, but after almost nine hundred words of deep thought…I don’t freaking know. But if we want to go back to the girlfriend analogy one last time, this is the point where you either get married or walk away. If you marry that kind of girl, you end up in a reality TV show.

Next: Indians Minor League Update

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