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Transactions: Indians add Jose Lopez, Aaron Cunningham

Aaron Cunningham is spooky as hell.
Aaron Cunningham is spooky as hell.

Let's get the first one out of the way—I'm sure you're all pretty familiar with Jose Lopez. Lopez was once an interesting little player for Seattle, hitting a combined 42 homeruns as the M's second baseman in 2008 and 2009. He was never much of a hitter and when his bat fell of in 2010, the fall wasn't pretty. Lopez OPS'd 611 in 2010 and 2011 as he dragged his cold, dying bat from the Mariners to the Rockies and then, to end last season, to the Marlins.

Lopez is, charitably, a utility infielder but his major league career is on life support at this point. As a result, he's not competing for utility innings in any realistic sense—the Indians are already stocked with Cord Phelps, Jason Donald, and Jack Hannahan, so they're pretty flush with backups at Lopez's "best" positions of 2B and 3B. Instead, as sometimes happens with players in decline, he's going to be asked to play a position that wouldn't have made sense for him even at his peak. Lopez will almost certainly try to offer the Indians a right-handed option at 1B, where he played a tad as a Marlin last season. This is going to be quite a trick if Lopez pulls it off—at his very best, he barely had enough bat for 2B so 1B is a stretch, to say the least. This isn't a case of a square peg in a round hole, it's a case of a small peg in a big hole. Still, he's right-handed, so he'll get a shot. I'll be surprised if he makes it to Cleveland this season.

Now, on to Aaron Cunningham. Jerry Crasnick broke this news within the last half hour, and it's a bit more interesting. Heading to San Diego will be trick pitcher Corey Burns. Make no mistake, this is a trade of little for little, and Burns' quirky delivery and high-80's fastball doesn't represent a significant loss for the organization. Cunningham is equally lacking in value but he's interesting in how tightly he fits in the Indians pattern of recent OF transactions. BP twice called Cunningham a "right-handed Travis Buck" in player comments because, like Buck, Cunningham is a player who's hit for a nice average in the minors but been unable to ever generate real power. Cunningham debuted very young with Oakland (just like Buck), and was twice involved in pretty large trades—once, he went from Arizona to Oakland as part of the package for Dan Haren and then, three seasons later, he went from Oakland to San Diego in the trade that brought Kevin Kouzmanoff to the A's.

Cunningham's stock peaked before 2009 when BA ranked him as the 55th best prospect in baseball (Buck peaked as BA's 50th best prospect, by the way), after he spent 2008 showing his first real power in the minors, belting 17 homeruns across AA and AAA. Unfortunately, that power surge was not sustained and Cunningham has struggled to even fulfill the fourth outfielder ceiling that he seemed like a lock for when he broke in as a 22 year old. He seems like sort of an odd hitter—I've never watched him, but BP described him this way in their 2008 annual: "Cunningham is a tough call as outfield prospects go, which might help explain why first the White Sox and then the Snakes dealt him. He stands on the inside corner of the batter's box and covers the plate well (taking a number of HBPs as a result)." That's not sticking out to me in highlights, so perhaps he's modified his approach.

Cunningham is unlikely to be a big find for the Indians but, like Buck a year ago, he's going to have another go at making good on what's left of his promise. Cunningham is out of options and thus must make the roster out of spring training or else be expose on waivers, where I suspect he'd be selected. My guess is that if Cunningham can look even close to competent, he and his right-handed bat will send Ezekiel Carrera back to the minors and Trevor Crowe to wherever he goes now. That would give you a starting outfield of Brantley, Sizemore, and Choo, with a bench of Duncan and Cunningham. In the short ter,, someone's coming off the 40 for Cunningham, but there's lots of options in that department (hey, Nick Weglarz!). In the long-term, this might be more doom-spelling for LaPorta—any option-less players on the 40 (Cunningham, Duncan) are ahead of LaPorta on the list to make the 25 man unless we can come up with a reason to think otherwise.

Understandably, there's been some pushback on Twitter about this being a lame acquisiton and, yes, acquiring pseudo-fourth outfielders is sort of lame. At the same time, I sort of like it. Cunningham has hit lefties throughout his minor league career, he's been acquired at extremely low cost, and there's enough talent there to think you might still get value. Barring a major outfield acquisition, I think he'll make the team and has more potential utility than any of the guys he'll bump from the roster.