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Cleveland Indians: What to do when Urshela returns?

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 11: Giovanny Urshela
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 11: Giovanny Urshela /

The Cleveland Indians will have a big decision to make once Giovanny Urshela returns from the disabled list.

Urshela has gone out on a rehab assignment from a hamstring strain that has sidelined him to start the season. Once he’s ready to be activated, the Cleveland Indians will have to choose between keeping him or Erik Gonzalez on the big league roster.

Both players are out of minor league options. That means that, to send one of them down to Triple-A Columbus, the Tribe will have to put them through waivers, where any other team can claim them. The Indians would prefer not to lose either of these major league caliber players for nothing, but that’s a possibility.

There’s the chance that no one claims the player that the team does decide to designate for assignment, and that’s the best case scenario for the Tribe. But the chance that that happens is slim.

Given the current roster construction, keeping both Urshela and Gonzalez is unrealistic. Both would have similar roles on the team and having two guys filling the same utility role is redundant and unnecessary.

Urshela vs. Gonzalez

Both Urshela and Gonzalez are good defenders. As backup infielders their primary skill is their defense, so that won’t be the deciding factor between the two. Which means their offensive ability will set them apart in the eyes of the organization.

Urshela is not a great hitter, with a lifetime .225/.273/.314 slash line, he’s disappointed at the plate. With an OPS+ of 56 and a career -0.8 WAR, Urshela is below replacement level.

Gonzalez’s career stats are better, with a .250/.275/.386 slash line, he’s not better by much, but it’s still an improvement. Gonzalez has also been worth 0.3 WAR, which is not great, but still more than one win better than Urshela.

On the other hand, Gonzalez is 0-for-7 with a walk to start this season. He hasn’t been able to get anything going offensively. With his struggles, perhaps the Cleveland Indians would rather give Urshela the chance to get things going offensively, despite his limited potential.

Deciding between them

Even though Gonzalez has gotten off to a slow start at the plate, he still has the higher offensive upside and would appear to have an edge over Urshela. Gonzalez is already on the team and is at full health, while Urshela is not.

Since Urshela has such a low offensive ceiling, I would imagine he gets designated for assignment. It seems likely that some other team in need of infield help could claim him. As great as Urshela is defensively, Gonzalez is also just as good and the higher upside should make this decision for the Indians.

It would hurt losing a guy like Urshela for nothing in return but that happens with out of options players all the time. Urshela should be back within the next week or so and the Cleveland Indians will have to make their decision by then, and I would expect Urshela to be the one that gets his walking papers.

Next: 3 Tribe prospects off to slow starts

There’s an off chance that the Tribe could try to send down a guy like Tyler Naquin and go with four outfielders. But with Lonnie Chisenhall out for an extended period of time, that is unlikely as the extra outfield options give the Indians the opportunities for better matchups.