Cleveland Indians should have kept Billy Hamilton after Spring Training
Back on February 15 the Cleveland Indians inked a deal with veteran outfielder and free agent Billy Hamilton. The 30-year old speedster had made a career on stolen bases and strong fielding, but his bat was always lackluster. For a team like the Tribe, he seemed like the prototypical late addition along with Harold Ramirez and Ben Gamel.
However unlike Ramirez and Gamel, Hamilton didn’t make it out of Spring Training. Instead, Cleveland released him on March 13, less than a month after signing him. As for the others, Ramirez has found a spot in the Tribe outfield as a starter and Gamel lasted all of 17 games of the major league season in Cleveland before being let go himself.
What stings a bit for the Cleveland Indians is that the one player they didn’t give a chance at all is performing above his career stats. Hamilton isn’t on the level of Ramirez, but he is outperforming others that are currently on Cleveland’s active roster.
This reality isn’t one that the Tribe had foreseen during Spring Training. Between Eddie Rosario and Josh Naylor, two spots in the outfield were pretty much locked up. That left a mixture of Ramirez, Gamel, Bradley Zimmer, Jordan Luplow, Oscar Mercado, and Daniel Johnson, as well as Amed Rosario at the time, to fight for the final starting spot and the depth role.
As this season would have it, both Rosario and Naylor went down around the same time and Cleveland’s outfield returned to a free-for-all amongst players that are too good for Triple-A, but not good enough for the majors. Ramirez luckily has been able to stabilize one spot, but that leaves three with question marks for the time being.
Rosario will eventually return, but having a veteran like Hamilton to complete the outfield in center would have been really nice to have. What makes the situation that much worse is not only is Hamilton playing decently well this season, but he’s doing it for the team Cleveland is chasing in the divisional race, the Chicago White Sox, who picked him up just three days after the Tribe cut him.
So far this season, Hamilton has played in 48 games for the White Sox and has totaled 88 official at-bats. In that time he’s slashing .227/.250/.409 with six doubles, two triples, two home runs and six stolen bases. Those numbers might not seem too great, but in terms of Cleveland’s outfield they would unfortunately be classified as a bit of an upgrade over some of the players in the mix.
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While Bradley Zimmer’s batting average is just a bit better at .241, he has just one double, one triple and two home runs with the same amount of stolen bases. The only problem is that Zimmer has had 20 more at-bats than Hamilton and Hamilton has still managed to log five more doubles and an additional triple. As for Jordan Luplow, he’s managed to post an average even lower than Hamilton’s despite Hamilton being known for a low batting average over the course of his career.
There’s still the chance that Oscar Mercado or Daniel Johnson could emerge as the much needed piece in the outfield. Mercado has flashed potential and Johnson could possibly turn a corner after his home run in Oakland. However, having a veteran in Hamilton still seems like the best option of the bunch.
The reality with Hamilton is that you know what you’re getting, for better or worse. He doesn’t have the best average, but when he makes contact he becomes an immediate threat on the bases and can stretch almost anything into a double or triple.
He’s also established himself as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game with his last error being back in 2018. If anything, he would have provided a late game defensive substitution or base-runner while being the depth outfielder to give guys a day off.
Regardless of what his role would have been, it’s hard to make sense of how Ben Gamel survived in Cleveland longer than Billy Hamilton. They both offer different skill sets and what Cleveland could use right now leans towards Hamilton’s, being a strong outfielder and veteran. What’s really unfortunate is that both are outplaying most of Cleveland’s current outfield options at this point in the season.