Though the baseball season is not yet 30 games old, it’s time to have an awkward conversation.
Well, awkward if you’re a big fan (or parent) of Jake Bauers, Yu Chang, or Andrés Giménez.
Of the nearly 1,000 innings logged between the four infield positions, that trio makes up 41.5% of the playing time. Of the 1,026 total plate appearances logged by Cleveland batters, that trio makes up 171 — a full 16%. In a sport in which even the best players will fail roughly two-thirds of the time, the breaking point has come and Cleveland cannot keep devoting precious plate appearances to Bauers, Chang, and Giménez, who have a wRC+ of 63, 7 (!), and 51 so far.
Punting on one area to have an advantage in another is a common strategy employed by teams, but only Giménez is a net positive on defense, rated 1.8 runs above average, whereas Bauers and Chang are both -0.1. To continue to play this trio so often would be to throw a white flag in the air before the season is even a quarter complete.
Of course, it’s not as easy as swapping out all three players. Bauers is out of options, so designating him for assignment would mean risking losing him to another team, but is another team champing at the bit for a player that hasn’t come close to league-average offensive production since 2018? Chang has a great deal of defensive versatility, having played every infield position in the last two seasons, and though he still has options available he might be wanted in the big league lineup to relieve others. Finally, Giménez is the big name from the Francisco Lindor trade, and taking time from him might be seen as an admittance of losing the trade of the face of the franchise.
Even if there’s no easy decision, some decision should be made. The Cleveland offense ranks 21st, 10% worse than league-average. And yet, the team is in the thick of the AL Central and might just be able to contend. Kansas City has an average offense, but has lost three in a row in part due to pitching that rates below average; Chicago is already missing Eloy Jiménez and now has to deal with a stretch without Luis Robert, potentially dealing them a big blow; but Minnesota’s offense is fourth among MLB teams (4% better than league-average), which means they’re due for positive regression from their 11-17 record. Thus, if Cleveland is going to hang around, the time to shake things up is now.
The best way to do so, in my opinion, is to call Owen Miller up from Columbus and designated Jake Bauers for assignment.
Despite the home run last night, what Bauers brings to the team has simply not been good enough. He’s walking less than ever, striking out steadily in one-quarter of his plate appearances, and hitting the ball with almost no authority (.111 ISO and just 34.4% hard-hit rate). Taking him off the Cleveland roster clears up first base for Josh Naylor to receive everyday playing time and become more familiar and better in the position, which also opens more playing time in the outfield for Jordan Luplow and Amed Rosario. Luplow, with a 138 wRC+, has certainly earned more playing time and the team really needs to know if Rosario is a real option in the outfield, and the only way to find out is to give him playing time.
As for Bauers’ replacement, Miller isn’t likely to help out at first base but you can put him anywhere else in the infield. Primarily a second baseman, Miller has experience at second, shortstop, and third with San Diego and also at the alternate site for Cleveland. As recently as April 30 he was playing third and shortstop in the same game, where he had two hits, including a home run.
Though alternate site statistics are hard to come by, Columbus manager Andy Tracy praised his ability to have good at-bats and connect solidly with the ball in those games, which matches the FanGraphs scouting report on him. In fact, Tracy was impressed with the bat so much that he had to insert Miller at DH in the Clippers’ opener. He went 1-for-3 with a walk, a run scored, and an RBI.
To date, Miller has as many major-league at-bats as I do, but he’s never run a minor-league wRC+ lower than 121. Given what we know about Bauers through 862 plate appearances in MLB, I think taking a chance on Miller seems like the best way forward.
Just taking Bauers out of the picture only (potentially) solves one-third of the infield problems, as Chang and Giménez will still have lockers in Cleveland. But because Miller can fill their roles, his addition might either create more competition or ease their burden — either of which could help stop their struggling at the plate.
The potential benefit of this move outweighs the risk, so for me, it’s Miller time.