The Cleveland Indians front office came into the offseason with one clear goal in mind: Upgrade the offense while keeping the pitching staff intact. This meant upgrading the outfield, in particular, although the Tribe have been interested in first base/designated hitter types as well to supplement an offense that ranked 11th in the American League in runs scored last season. However, to this point, their biggest acquisitions have in fact been outfielders. So which of them is most likely to stick once the regular season starts?
All three of the Indians outfield acquisitions this offseason--Shane Robinson, Collin Cowgill, and Joey Butler--are low-risk, inexpensive moves. While that is great for a team like the Indians who do not have a lot of payroll flexibility, it means there is at least a small chance that none of them could be good enough to make it onto a Major League roster. I do not see that being the case with these three, though.
Robinson, the first outfielder acquired this offseason, has the longest shot of making the roster. He is the only one not on the 40-man roster as a non-roster Spring Training invitee. Acquiring the 31-year-old was not a bad decision by any stretch, the move came early in the offseason, and he could serve as organizational depth in Triple-A, with maybe a call-up later in the season if things go downhill for the Major League club, or someone gets injured.
Collin Cowgill and Joey Butler both make sense to stick on the roster, but for different reasons. Cowgill hits great against left-handed pitchers (.323 career wOBA vs. LHP), which makes him a solid platoon option to go with Lonnie Chisenhall (.317 career wOBA vs. RHP), while Butler is a better overall hitter, but not as good against lefties as Cowgill. In fact, if Butler was to be in a platoon anywhere, it would make more sense for him to pair with Cowgill, not Chisenhall, as Butler has hit better in his career against right-handed pitchers (.333 career wOBA), compared to left-handers (.316 career wOBA) despite hitting right-handed himself. But keep in mind that Butler only has 297 career plate appearances, so he is likely not going to replace Chisenhall outright anytime soon. The decision will essentially come down to if the Indians want a more versatile hitter in Butler to stay on the roster, or if they want a more perfect platoon option in Cowgill to stick around and be a Ryan Raburn type with better defense.
Currently, the Indians have nine outfielders on the roster: Abraham Almonte, Michael Brantley, Joey Butler, Lonnie Chisenhall, Collin Cowgill, Tyler Naquin, James Ramsey, Jerry Sands, Zach Walters. Only one of those, Almonte, has significant playing time in the Major Leagues and can play center field. Walters and Sands will not make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training if the baseball gods are real while Naquin and Ramsey may still be too young (or not fully healthy in Naquin’s case) to be considered right out of the gate.
With Brantley’s injury sidelining him to between anywhere from May to August, depending on who you ask, at least four other outfielders should make the roster out of Spring Training. If I had a guess I’d say Cowgill, Almonte, Chisenhall, and Butler. But do not be surprised if Sands somehow finds a way into making Francona giving him another chance. Once Brantley returns, it would make sense to part with Butler one way or another, unless he proves to be a better hitter than Chisenhall and Cowgill combined. Butler also has an option remaining, so he could be sent back to the minor once Brantley returns.
This all comes with the assumption that the Indians are done adding to the outfield, which would be surprising, especially considering they only have one true center fielder with MLB playing time in Almonte.