Aug 8, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds left fielder Marlon Byrd(9) bats against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
The Cleveland Indians added Collin Cowgill, but is the former Angel good enough to fill in for Michael Brantley? Perhaps the Tribe should consider these options…
After essentially buying outfielder Collin Cowgill from the Angels, it looks like the Indians have an idea of who might be the new fourth outfielder this season. Given the need in left field with Michael Brantley expected back no sooner than mid-May, Cowgill would be nothing more than a fill in and then transition to the fourth outfielder spot once Brantley comes back.
But is Cowgill the best option in left, and even as the fourth outfielder? Who else could be out there other than a Cowgirl, who hit .188 with the Angels in 2015? The same guy that saw his playing time diminish after midseason trade for multiple outfielders in an attempt to limit his at bats?
Other Free Agents
Let’s start with the assumption that the Dolan’s won’t bust open the bank vault for a major free agent like Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes. So, you can put that pipedream to rest. But for left fielders, specifically guys like Mike Aviles (option declined by Tribe) or Alejandro De Aza are more in the Indians’ price range. But here’s an intriguing name for you: Marlon Byrd. He’s not a great defensive outfielder at all, but he did hit 23 home runs from the right side last season and fits the type of bargain free agent this club always goes after with the promise of playing time. Once Brantley returns, he offers a nice platoon option for Chisenhall in right field.
Among other outfielders, Gerardo Parra or Rajai Davis could be good options. They can play all three outfield spots, though neither should play in center routinely. Dexter Fowler won’t be affordable as a centerfielder, allowing Abe Almonte to see time in left field, but someone like him just won’t be in the budget. The best option of the aforementioned trio could be Rajai Davis, who the Indians are very familiar with from his time in Detroit and Toronto.
In House Options?
The most exciting option is really Tyler Naquin. The former first round pick hit .263 in 50 games at AAA Columbus. With few real free agent
Feb 24, 2014; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians infielder Tyler Naquin takes part in the annual photo day at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports
options, Naquin present the team with the most potential to begin the year in the outfield with the big league club. He played very well in the minors last season (he did hit .348 in 34 games at AA Akron), but just needs to stay healthy. His affordable rookie contract and ability to play all over the outfield should give him a leg up on the competition for the Terry Francona. After all, it’s Francona who values versatility more than most managers.
Naquin is also more likely than fellow AAA outfielder James Ramsey to earn the job, as Ramsey still has some development left despite his first round pedigree after striking out 128 times and posting only a .708 OPS in Columbus. Clint Frazier has been tearing up the fall leagues, but he’s at least one more year away, probably two. Bradley Zimmer is hurt himself, so there’s little chance he even makes it as high as AAA this season. The Indians did send Michael Choice down to AAA this week, but he would be a placeholder far more than a permanent 4th outfielder.
Ideally, Naquin impresses in Spring Training and makes the team as its left fielder to start the year. Unless a veteran is brought in because Naquin’s bat doesn’t appear ready, it should be his job to lose.
But something tells me that Francona will value the type of experience that a seasoned major league player can offer in place of a guy like Michael Brantley. As such, the Tribe should be targeting Marlon Byrd or Gerardo Parra, not Collin Cowgill.
It would be disappointing, especially since Naquin can play center field. But, this team needs offense more than most. Byrd and Parra both represent proven big league bats that can help soften the blow of losing Brantley.