A week ago, after Asdrubal Cabrera was shipped off to our nation's capitol, Jason asked whether or not the Indians should call up Francisco Lindor to take his spot. Jason argued that the team shouldn't, while some readers disagreed. That isn't the only question Terry Francona, his bosses, and his coaching staff need to answer right now.
All around the diamond, the Indians have question marks. If you focus on trying to win today, you have to wonder whether Jose Ramirez is the right answer at SS. Is playing Michael Brantley in CF (or playing Mike Aviles at all) really the right call? If you prefer to focus on the future... Well, I don't think it's clear who the Indians should feature at many positions next season, and now could be the time to start figuring it out.
I am going to put on my manager's hat and look at how I would use the Indians' assets the rest of the way.
First, we can start with the sure-things: Carlos Santana will play everyday, mostly at 1B, perhaps some at DH; Yan Gomes is the starting catcher; Lonnie Chisenhall is a present and future starter; Brantley will reclaim LF once Bourn is back; Jason Kipnis is the 2B.
On the mound, I imagine that Danny Salazar's demotion is a temporary thing having more to do with two days off next week than with his role. He, Trevor Bauer, and Corey Kluber are going to be in this rotation next season, and should be in it the rest of the way this season. Cody Allen and Carlos Carrasco likely have bullpen spots locked down.
But that leaves a lot of questions: Who is in RF? Who is the backup C? Who can play a utility or fourth outfield role? Who else pitches?
This is where the 2014 vs. 2015 debate gets interesting. The Indians are 6.5 games out in the Central, chasing two teams; they are 3.5 out in the Wild Card race, chasing four teams. They are extremely unlikely to make the 2014 post-season...but it is not impossible. (FanGraphs puts their chances of making the playoffs at 13%.)
At SS, you can make an argument that the team's best shot at the postseason is to hand the job to Lindor right now. There's some risk of interfering with his development though, and you lose a year of team control by bringing him up now. If you are preparing for 2015, there is no reason to rush Lindor. Give the role to Ramirez, or Zach Walters, and see if either of those guys demands attention for a roster spot in 2015.
My call: I'd go with Ramirez right now. If we find ourselves closing the gap (say 1-2 games out of a spot, chasing only one or two teams), that might be the time to call up Lindor.
At 1B/DH, Nick Swisher appears to be the man to split time with Santana, but there are two players in Columbus who I think can change that. One is Jesus Aguilar, the other is Giovanny Urshela. Not quite 23-years-old, Urshela is a stellar defensive 3B and his bat has really blossomed this year. I'd love to see what he can do at the hot corner, letting Chisenhall DH and/or spell Santana at 1B.
My call: I would call up Aguilar now and bench Swisher. I'd bring up Urshela on August 31 if the Indians are still in contention, so that he could be on the postseason roster. If they're out of contention his call up can wait another week.
In RF, it is probably too early to make a change, because David Murphy has been an average hitter, but James Ramsey interests me. RF has been a disaster for the Indians and Ramsey offers the potential for immediate improvement, and is also is the most likely player not on the 25-man roster to win a starting role in the OF for 2015, so why not see what he can do now? And for those worried we'd lose a year with him, remember that A) he is not Lindor, and B) we have Tyler Naquin, Clint Frazier, and Bradley Zimmer lining up behind him.
In CF, I think Bourn still has to be the guy. If healthy, he is still capable of being a spark plug at the top of the order. If he can't stay on the field, I'd rather see Ramsey there than Brantley playing out of position. Ramsey in CF sounds much better to me than Aviles in LF.
My call: Bring up Ramsey this week.
Backing up Gomes, I think the right man is in place; Roberto Perez has shown enough to justify his role for the rest of this season and should be considered the frontrunner to be the backup catcher in 2015 too.
My call: Keep Perez.
In the rotation, things are murkier. T.J. House, Zach McAllister, and Josh Tomlin seem to the best options for winning games this year, and no one in Columbus jumps off the page as demanding a shot. Maybe we take a look at Tyler Cloyd (who tossed a no-hitter last week), but not unless someone gets hurt or 2014 is officially over.
The pen probably doesn't change a ton either. I'd like to see C.C. Lee, Austin Adams, and Kyle Crockett throw some high leverage innings, but again, only if we are relatively confident that the postseason is out of reach. I might want to see John Axford back in the closers role, unless the Indians are set on Cody Allen keeping the job into 2015. They might be, but the financially prudent thing to do is keep him in the 8th, limiting his saves, thereby keeping down his arbitration price tag. You can't do that at the expense of wins, though, so don't make the move until 2014 is over.
Is there anyone I missed? Anyone you want to see out there the rest of the way?