Cleveland Indians: How will the Tribe use Yu Chang in 2021?

Yu Chang #2 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Yu Chang #2 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

With multiple free agents potentially leaving the infield of the Cleveland Indians, how will Yu Chang fit into the mix in 2021?

The Cleveland Indians will have some tough decisions to make with some of their free agents, including 2020 addition and gem, Cesar Hernandez. Should Hernandez depart the club this offseason, one potential replacement is Yu Chang.

Hernandez was a consistent bright spot in the Indians’ lineup during the 2020 season, but it is more than likely that he priced himself out of a second contract with the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe are still in the process of cutting their team payroll and if there is an in-house option they are comfortable with, then that will be the direction the team is likely to go.

While there are many prospects that play middle infield in the Indians’ organization that could replace either Hernandez or Francisco Lindor, Yu Chang is a more experienced player that has already played second base at the major league level.

Chang is just the latest Indian that has been ready for the next step, but blocked at all the positions they play. One of the recent names on the list was Gio Urshela who went on to the New York Yankees and found his stride. The Indians don’t want this to happen again, so an attempt to make room for Chang might be greater than the effort with Urshela.

Predominately a third baseman, Chang has been stuck behind Jose Ramirez for two years now, leading to him making a transition over to second base. Chang has also spent a handful of games at shortstop each of the last two seasons.

In the field, Chang seems to be the least comfortable at second base, but that can be expected for someone who is more accustomed to playing on the other side of the infield. In his two seasons in the majors, playing a total of 38 games, Chang has just one error and it came while playing second. This isn’t to say though that he couldn’t settle in at the position.

Yu Chang is just a natural fielder, so if given the time to consistently work at a single position, then those errors will fix themselves. However, replacing Hernandez fully will also require a steady and strong bat in the lineup, something that was very valuable to the Cleveland Indians.

The plate is where Chang will need to improve if he wants to have steady playing time. His glove is great, but his bat could be what forces the Indians to keep him as a utility depth player.

Over 38 games, Chang has 97 plate appearances with 84 official at-bats, having drawn 13 walks. During that span, he has struggled with a slash line of just .179/.289/.262. He has just one home run on his stat sheet, one triple and two doubles while logging just seven RBI. Over 10 games played in 2020, he registered just two hits.

Part of this could be not being able to find his stride. He played 10 of 60 games during the 2020 season and just 28 during the 2019 season, but unfortunately his minor league stats aren’t a whole lot better.

During the 2019 season, Chang spent majority of the season at Triple-A Columbus, playing in 68 games for the Clippers. While he displayed more power with nine home runs, his average was still, well, average. His slash line was still just .253/.322/.427.

Those numbers are rather consistent across Chang’s career. Over six years in the minors, his career slash line is rather identical at .251/.326/.436 across 577 games.

If this is the norm for Yu Chang that will eventually come to be at he major league level, it’s something that the Cleveland Indians can live with, although they’d prefer better. However, it does help the initial question, what do the Indians do with Chang in 2021?

If needed, Chang could potentially be the replacement for Hernandez at second base. He has the glove and the potential to blossom into a solid player. However, given his stats, the Indians would be wise to look somewhere else and try and add another free agent like they did Hernandez last year.

Chang can fill in at second for a brief period, perhaps playing a bridge role until a player like Tyler Freeman or Owen Miller is ready to take over the position full-time. With that being said, he isn’t the long-term answer at this point to be a starter. That could very well change, but looking at the sample size we have, there are better options to bring in at this point.

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