Cleveland entered the 2016 season with the plan that Jose Ramirez would serve as the club’s utilityman, and we all know how that turned out. Ramirez spent half the year as the starting left fielder in the absence of Michael Brantley, then the other half as the starting third baseman after Juan Uribe was released.
JRam had a breakout year offensively, and according to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com, the Indians are going into 2017 planning on him remaining at the hot corner. Thus the club must find an upgrade over Michael Martinez, who while adequate defensively, is historically terrible at the plate.
Ramirez played in 152 games this past regular season, right behind second baseman Jason Kipnis and his 156, and the 158 played by shortstop Francisco Lindor. Being able to spell those three players a little more often would be in the team’s best interest.
The pickings are a bit slim when looking at players who could fill the utility role, though, mostly consisting of veteran retreads past their primes. There appear to be four such players that may fit into the Tribe’s budget, and none of them will work fans into a frenzy.
The first is Aaron Hill, who began 2016 with the Milwaukee Brewers before being acquired by the Boston Red Sox at the all-star break. Hill, who will turn 35 in March, appeared in 125 games between the two teams, slashing a respectable .262/.336/.378 with 14 doubles, 10 home runs, 38 runs batted in, and an OPS+ of 89. He is capable of playing both second and third, no neither of them spectacularly.
Another option is Darwin Barney, a former Gold Glove award winner who spent the past season with Toronto. Playing second, third, short, and a little outfield, he appeared in 104 games for the Jays, putting up a 269 /.322/.373 slash line and an OPS+ of 86. Barney turns 31 this week, and would be the superior defensive choice, though his offense is certainly lacking.
A name Cleveland fans may remember from his time with the Chicago White Sox is Gordon Beckham, who in 88 games with the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants played a little bit of second, third, and short. He racked up fewer than 300 plate appearances, and slashed just .212/.294/.347 with a 72 OPS+, but at age 30, is the youngest of the potential utility candidates.
The final name to consider is Andres Blanco, who will turn 33 shortly after Opening Day in 2017, and has spent the past three season with the Philadelphia Phillies. In 90 games this past season, he had a .253/.316/.405 slash line and an OPS+ of 93, appearing almost equally at first, second, and third, while also playing some shortstop and outfield.
None of these names is the one that will put the Indians over the top in 2017, but each would provide the kind of flexibility that Francona loves to have on his roster. With Ramirez slated to be an everyday player, finding a suitable utility replacement should be a priority for the Tribe this offseason.