With news coming down earlier this afternoon that Marlon Byrd would be serving a 162-game suspension following a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug, the minds of Cleveland Indians fans instantly turned to the team's outfield situation as a whole. If the Tribe front office was not already desperately searching for an outfielder before, they should be now.
With Byrd gone, Abraham Almonte still serving a PED-related suspension for another 30 games, and Michael Brantley still not on a solid timetable for a return from the disabled list, the outfield situation is the bleakest it has been all season for the Tribe. Lonnie Chisenhall and Rajai Davis remain as the only two dedicated outfielders on the Indians' 25-man roster. While Jose Ramirez and Michael Martinez can take up space in the outfield, the Indians desperately need an outfield ringer.
So, naturally, that means the Indians are going to turn to star prospects Bradley Zimmer and/or Clint Frazier, right? No.
Zimmer and Frazier have looked good in Double-A so far, slashing .247/.378/.524 and .311/.400/.537, respectively. But that in no way means they are suddenly ready to jump into a major-league team with aspirations of making the playoffs. While both players have looked good when they make contact with the ball, their strikeout issues remain a problem. Zimmer has struck out in 30.3 percent of his at-bats this season, which would be a career-high at any level. Frazier has his strikeout rate down to a much better 19.7 percent, but there is still work to be done on his over-aggressive approach at the plate. Without more work in Double-A and some time against Triple-A pitchers, it is easy to envision Frazier getting eaten alive by any MLB pitcher with an out pitch.
It is always tempting to go straight for the top prospect as the solution. Believe me, as someone who loves nothing more than seeing prospects debut, I would love to Clint Frazier to come galloping into the Indians clubhouse and the lead the Indians to a 2016 World Series. But it does not happen like that. At 23 years old, Bradley Zimmer is still a baby in baseball terms, and Frazier is younger yet at 21. There is no reason to let the suspension of a major-league outfield jeopardize the future of two potential everyday players.
Another theory floating around Indians fans is the idea that the Tribe should go out and trade for a big outfielder. Unfortunately, acquiring anyone on the level of Ryan Braun or probably even Jay Bruce would require one, if not both of, the Tribe's top outfield prospects. As Indians fans, we all love seeing Bradley and Frazier, and salivate at the idea of them playing some day, but the fact of the matter is they are not a Francisco Lindor-level prospect. Their ceiling looks to be something along the lines of a very good everyday player, but not a superstar like Lindor. Because of that, teams are going to be reluctant to trade one of their current everyday players for a prospect who could maybe end up being around the same value.
In order to get an impact outfielder now, the Indians would have to dump far too much of their future to get a player for a couple years at best. It's not worth it.
The Indians, as they stand now, are not a Jay Bruce away from winning a championship. They are not terribly far off, mind you, but another serviceable bat in the outfield is not likely to push them over the edge. It is the boring solution, but calling up Tyler Naquin now, then maybe Joey Butler or Collin Cowgill in a few days time is the right solution, for now and for the future.