I’ve written it multiple times. The Indians have come out and said it multiple times. On Monday morning, Chisenhall was even sent back to Minor League camp.
None of this has stopped a lot of Tribe fans from flooding my inbox and my Twitter feed, outraged over the fact that Chisenhall was not given a chance to win the Opening Day job at third base.
If you’ve been following along — whether that’s here on the blog, over on Twitter or on Indians.com — you’ve no doubt seen me defend Cleveland’s decision to send Lonnie Baseball to the Minors to open this season.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. Would I like to see Chisenhall at third on Opening Day? Sure. Why not? He’s a highly-touted prospect who absolutely raked at the plate this spring, looking completely comfortable down the line on defense as well. But just because one player might generate a little excitment for a championship-starved franchise is not a reason to bring him north this soon.
That happens to be the way the Indians see it.
“That’d be short-sighted for us,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said on Monday morning. “We can’t just focus on generating excitement. Our focus is on winning championships. That’s what we want to get back to. Not just with Lonnie, but with any of our players, to the extent we can, we want to put them in a position to be successful when they get to the Major League level.”
This is a principle I agree with entirely.
When Chisenhall breaks into The Show, you want him at third base every day for the long haul. You don’t want him there, only to see him struggle in his first taste of the big leagues, forcing a demotion back to the Minors. Teams, not just the Indians, like to avoid shipping a young player back and forth if possible.
In some ways, this is where expanded rosters in September come into play. It helps contending teams boost their depth, but is also helps non-contenders give a taste of the Majors to some developing players. Chisenhall has not had that taste. He hasn’t even cracked Triple-A yet. He has exactly 27 spring at-bats, including four in a “B” game, under his belt.
That resume does not make him a realistic candidate for an Opening Day roster spot, no matter how strong a spring he has had up to this point. The Indians insist that there are areas that Chisenhall — just 22 years old still — needs to develop. Antonetti cited his offense against left-handed pitching and the fact that Chisenhall is still working on learning third base after years spent as a shortstop, as two examples.
“Really, all aspects of his game [need developing],” Antonetti said. “He certainly has strengths. With his swing, his balance, his ability to consistently put the barrel of the bat on the ball, are all strengths. He needs to a little more consistent against left-handed pitching. He needs to continue to have a better awareness of the strike zone. And then defensively, remember, it’s a guy who’s transitioned from shortstop to third base and he still needs to learn nuances at the position defensively.”
“He hasn’t had any Triple-A exposure yet. He’ll begin to learn more about himself and we’ll be able to learn a little bit more about him as well as he faces better pitching and better competition.”
When a team decides to send a player down in this manner, talk of delaying his arbitration clock naturally arises. By pushing back Chisenhall’s promotion to the Majors, Cleveland also potentially pushes back the possibility of him becoming a Super 2 player, meaning he’d need three full seasons to reach arbitration instead of just two.
I know some fans out there won’t buy this — and, hey, you’re entitled to your opinion — but Antonetti said the decision to re-assign Chisenhall to the Minors was in no way financially motivated.
“I can say that’s certainly not the case,” Antonetti said. “What we do is we try to rely upon our evaluators and our player development people. We meet at the end of the season every year to talk about every player in our system and where they are developmentally. Everybody to a person thought that he still had development left to do. I think if you look back to last year, if he was really that far ahead, then he would’ve been at Triple-A at some point last year.
“He still had development left to do where we felt he was best served developing at Double-A last year and he needs some some amount of Triple-A time. How much is going to be dependent upon a lot of things, primarily on his development and secondly on our Major League need.”
And that is the big question. How long will Chisenhall be at Triple-A? One month? Two? Until September? Could he crack the Major Leagues sooner rather than later?
“First thing, there needs to be an opportunity for him,” Antonetti said. “Second, if that opportunity is there, he needs to make sure that he’s done the things necessary from a development standpoint to position himself for that opportunity.
So what do you have to look forward to at third base for now? It’s been written to death that Jason Donald is the favorite for that job and nothing has changed. That said, if Donald’s current left hand issue continues to be an issue, Jack Hannahan seems like the next option for the hot corner.
Maybe that doesn’t excite you like a highly-touted prospect would, but if you take a close look at the situation, and the way baseball teams routinely operate, it is the route that makes the most sense. You don’t have to agree with it. But, that doesn’t mean it should stop you from understanding the reasoning behind it.
For the rest of today’s coverage, check Indians.com.