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Tribe Notes

Jim Ingraham: Indians added a body but really didn't do anything to fix their outfield problem

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    New center fielder Leonys Martin doesn't have the offensive numbers to suggest he'll give the Indians what they really need to upgrade the position.

    AP

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Leonys Martin?

That’s the outfield fix?

An outfielder with fewer home runs than Jason Kipnis and a career on-base percentage (.303) only four points higher than Roberto Perez?

That’s the fix?

A day after reports surfaced that they had gone fishing for Bryce Harper, the Indians reeled in Martin, outfield duct tape.

Nobody in their right economic mind thought the Indians would actually acquire slumping glamour boy Harper, who as a free agent this winter will sign a contract containing more zeros than Martin’s stolen base total this year (seven).

Even as a rental, Harper was way beyond the Indians’ modest means. That obvious fact was further emphasized by the outfielder the Indians eventually landed.

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Enter Martin, who is now with his fifth team in the last four years, hit .172 a year ago, and until Tuesday was the center fielder/leadoff hitter for a Tigers team cruising toward a 93-loss season.

This, in the non-Michael Brantley precincts of the Indians’ outfield, is what passes for an upgrade. And THAT is the real crux of the matter.

It’s not that the Indians traded for a 30-year-old outfielder with mediocre stats.

It’s that they HAD to trade for one.

Because the Indians’ outfield cupboard was bare.

It was bare even when it was stocked.

For most of this season — since Bradley Zimmer was sent down to Columbus, where he suffered a shoulder injury requiring season-ending surgery that will likely sideline him until the middle of next season — the Indians, in center and right field, have been using a rotating cast of characters who at this point in their careers are best suited to be bench players, not starters.

Brandon Guyer is 32, Melky Cabrera will turn 34 in a few days and Rajai Davis is 37.

Tyler Naquin, the former No.1 pick, is now 27 and the jury is pretty much in on him. Greg Allen, who has ridden the Columbus-to-Cleveland shuttle for most of the season, is 25 and has shown flashes of promise, but only flashes.

To fully appreciate Martin, one has to consider the surrounding landscape. FanGraphs’ version of WAR for the Indians’ non-Brantley outfielders: Davis 0.6, Naquin 0.3, Guyer minus-0.1, Cabrera minus-0.2, Allen minus-0.5.

Martin is at 2.1. That’s a significant upgrade over the rest of the boys in the band. So by that measure, Martin was a worthwhile acquisition. But the Indians should be measured against the three super teams ahead of them in the American League, the teams they will be facing in the postseason: the Red Sox, Yankees and Astros.

Martin’s 2.1 slots respectably among the center fielders from those three teams. Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr. is at 1.3, Houston’s George Springer at 1.9 and New York’s Aaron Hicks at 3.2.

But there’s an offensive and defensive side of the equation, and the Indians’ greatest need was for more offense from their outfield. That’s an area, when measured against the competition, Martin barely moves the needle at all.

FanGraphs’ offensive runs average, which measures the number of runs above or below average a player is worth offensively, has Springer at 5.5, Hicks at 15.5 and Martin at 1.0.

Bradley Jr. (minus-5.2), is a defensive specialist who isn’t counted on to provide much offense in Boston’s power-laden lineup.

Most of Martin’s WAR value comes from his defense, but it’s been the lack of offense in the outfield that has been the Indians’ biggest problem.

Martin’s modest 1.0 offensive runs average is still a significant improvement over the Indians’ other non-Brantley outfielders, ranging, best-to-worst, from minus-2.9 (Guyer) to minus-4.4 (Naquin).

In other words, while the Indians slightly improved their outfield offense with Martin, that outfield, as measured against the best teams in the league, remains bleak, with the threat of becoming even bleaker when Brantley leaves as a free agent after this year.

In the two versions of the Indians’ top 30 minor league prospects produced by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, there were, with the exception of Allen, no outfielders currently playing at the top two levels (Columbus and Akron) who could be potential additions to the major league roster next year.

That changed Tuesday, when the Indians acquired Oscar Mercado in a minor league trade with St. Louis.

Clearly the outfield will be a priority for Indians talent hunters in the coming offseason. In the meantime, they will have to do the best they can with what they have.

Trades can still be made in August, but players must first past through waivers, which makes deals more difficult. Zimmer presumably will be back at some point next season. But Lonnie Chisenhall — remember him? — probably won’t. He’s also a free agent after this year.

So, barring an August trade to add a bat more significant than Martin’s, the bulk of the Indians’ offense will still have to come from the first four spots in the lineup.

Contact Jim Ingraham at 440-329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.


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