Could Shaffer open with the Indians?
The most likely scenario involving Shaffer at this time would be for him to open in Triple-A and play a variety of positions for the Columbus Clippers, providing depth as needed at the big league level. However, that versatility could potentially allow Shaffer to open the season on the big league roster. The Indians have only one other utility option on the big league roster at this point in Erik Gonzalez, who got his first taste of the big leagues this past season.
However, Gonzalez was awarded a fourth minor league option this offseason and the Indians could decide to give him more everyday time at shortstop in Triple-A. He’s a legit option but his bat falls short of Shaffer’s, especially in the power department. The other option the Indians have at this time is veteran Michael Martinez, who was re-signed to a minor league free agent contract earlier this offseason. He spent a portion of the 2016 season as the Tribe’s utility man and had that role throughout the playoffs (to the ire of many Tribe fans).
Both Gonzalez and Martinez have a leg up on Shaffer in their ability to play shortstop and second base in addition to third base and the outfield. However, Shaffer would provide more pop off the bench than either of those two. Also, the presence of Jose Ramirez at third base could allow the Indians to carry Shaffer as their utility player. Ramirez could backup both Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis at shortstop and second base, respectively, while Shaffer then backs up Ramirez at third base and Santana at first base.
While this seems like an Intriguing scenario, it’s probably a bit of a long shot. Manager Terry Francona does love versatility, but he also seems to prefer a veteran player as utility players, hence his use of Martinez over the much younger Gonzalez last year. And who knows, perhaps another year at Triple-A getting everyday at-bats will help get Shaffer back on track and he could still develop into an everyday player.