With two outfielders ready to return from the DL, the Cleveland Indians have a difficult set of decisions to make. Who should remain with the club?
The Cleveland Indians outfield is about to get crowded in a hurry. Bradley Zimmer recently returned from the DL, and according to MLB.com, both Brandon Guyer and Lonnie Chisenhall are slated to do the same tomorrow (June 5). Roster decisions loom as a result.
Melky Cabrera and Rajai Davis cannot be sent down, as they are out of options. If the Indians choose to part ways with either or both, they will become free agents. The unmitigated disaster that is the Cleveland bullpen has a few demotion candidates, but spreading the relief corps more thin seems a fool’s venture.
With two outfielders returning, two players on the 25-man roster will be sent packing, either temporarily or for good. One of those choices is simple on the surface: Greg Allen. He has three options remaining, has not undeniably staked his claim to a spot in the starting lineup, and could benefit from more development in an everyday role in the minors.
He also shouldn’t be sent down.
Time to part ways with a veteran
The Indians have accounted for a lack of elite outfield talent by possessing a measure of depth at the position. It’s helped to get them by through the first few months of the season as injuries have plagued five different outfielders to varying degrees since Opening Day.
Perhaps it’s time to sacrifice some of that depth in favor of upside.
Cabrera and Davis are known quantities. Cabrera is likely better than his .208 OBP, but he and Davis are utility men at best, even in an outfield where Michael Brantley is the only outstanding player.
Allen, on the other hand, has some undiscovered riches yet to be mined. He is already putting up better small-sample-size offensive numbers than Cabrera, Davis and Guyer. But even if he were to regress, isn’t it better to get below-average production from a player with the potential to improve than from a veteran who just “is what he is”?
Allen has played well enough that the Indians might as well continue forward with him for a larger chunk of the season to see what they really have in him for the future. If nothing else, it allows the Tribe to evaluate what they may need to do at outfield positions down the road. Whether Allen is successful or not, neither Cabrera nor Davis are part of that long-term plan anyway.
Cabrera should be the first player released to account for the returns of Chisenhall and Guyer. From there, it doesn’t make much sense to hold onto both Guyer and Davis. One should be released so that Allen may have a chance to flourish.
Allen’s potential role going forward
Parting ways with a serviceable veteran contributor also indirectly places a little bit of pressure on Allen. To keep him in Cleveland would be to say: “You’ve got our attention, now go out there and prove us right.”
Allen would presumably be afforded ample opportunities to continue proving himself if he were to come out on the winning end of the outfield logjam.
Zimmer has a 38.6 percent K-rate on the season and has done anything but solidify himself as the team’s permanent center fielder. The argument can be made that Allen is the better option there for the time being, especially after having just come off a seven-game hitting streak that ended June 2.
Even if Zimmer were to reclaim his spot, Allen’s ability as a switch-hitter would still likely provide him with regular playing time, spelling Zimmer and Chisenhall against lefties.
It seems plausible to expect that Allen would fall in temporarily as the fourth outfielder behind Brantley, Zimmer and Chisenhall starting Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers (again, if he remains with the Indians in the first place). Maybe that’s the role that best suits him for the duration of the season, but nobody outside of Brantley has performed well enough to earn everyday playing time. Allen has quietly been on a trajectory to becoming the next outfielder who does.
Either way, Indians upper management has a pretty difficult set of decisions to make assuming Chisenhall and Guyer are indeed ready to return to action in the Tribe’s next series. The Indians can play it safe and demote a player they still control, or they can believe in the improvements they’ve seen in him and allow him to blossom.
And if this decision gives them fits, just wait till Tyler Naquin comes back.