As Spring Training enters its final couple of weeks, the Tribe still has a few decisions to make about which players are going to crack the Opening Day squad. One area in particular that is going to require a couple different decisions is the bench. Mike Aviles and Lou Marson seem to be the only locks on the bench thus far and for obvious reasons. Aviles gives the Indians a ton of flexibility on the infield and Marson is a solid defensive backup to Carlos Santana. After doing the math, this leaves 2 bench spots open. The four players competing for this spot are Ezequiel Carrera, Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes, and the one and only Jason Giambi.
The focus of this post is going to be on Giambi as the remaining bench decisions are going to rely heavily on whether Giambi makes the squad or not. There are a wide range of opinions on what the Indians should do with Giambi. Some people think it’s a horrible idea to even consider putting him on the roster. I mean he is 42 years old, about a decade past his prime, and virtually unable to do anything besides DH. On the other hand there are people that like the chemistry he brings to the clubhouse, and the attitude he brings to the team as well. I know I’m supposed to be a big stats guy here, but this is a move that is almost impossible to make a decision on strictly based on statistics.
Just for fun though, here are a couple stats to consider. Say what you want about Giambi being way past his prime, but Giambi can still can on base with the best of them. His career BB% is 15.5%, which was better than any single season BB% produced by any of the Tribe’s starters last year. In limited AB, Giambi’s BB% last year was extremely impressive at 17.7%. When players get older, skills such as their power and bat speed often decline. However, a player’s eye at the plate is not something that declines quickly, which is one of Giambi’s biggest assets at the moment. He has led the league in walks 4 times over the course of his career. Despite only hitting 1 HR in 89 AB last season, I still think it’s safe to assume he’s got a decent amount of pop left in his bat. In 2011, he jacked 13 HR in just 131 AB. For a guy that has 429 career HR, I highly doubt that all his power suddenly evaporated last year.
Unfortunately, the couple positive statistics I just highlighted for Giambi are just about his only on-field assets. It’s pointless to do statistical analysis on his decline because it wouldn’t do anything except for state the obvious: Giambi is as far on his last legs in the MLB as any other player right now. So the question is what does the Tribe want? Do they want an extremely well-read player who cannot play the field, but can still provide a presence in the lineup, get on base, and be a good clubhouse influence? Or do they want to go with the more versatile, productive options who will likely contribute more on the field but less in the clubhouse.
Right now I’m going to assume that Yan Gomes doesn’t make the squad out of Spring Training. Gomes is so versatile, and I’m confident he will play a part in the Tribe’s season at some point in 2013. However, he still has options and is the most obvious choice out of the competing reserves to be sent to Triple-A. This may not be a completely valid assumption, but I would guess that the Indians will put Ezequiel Carrera on the squad to begin the season. I don’t think they want to risk losing him to waivers just yet, and his speed and bunting ability gives the Indians a couple useful tools off the bench.
So that would leave it to Ryan Raburn and Jason Giambi for the final spot. In my opinion, Ryan Raburn definitely deserves to make the team based on his performance in Spring Training. He has earned his spot on the roster batting .440 through the spring, with 4 HR and 11 RBI. His OBP is .533 and his SLG is 1.000. Yes, Spring Training is too small of a sample size to think he will do anything close to this during the season, but he has overachieved to a point where I think it would be unfair not to give him a shot. He’s also a super-utility man and can play almost every position on the field. As a matter of fact, before having a terrible year with the Tigers last season, Raburn was actually a pretty darn good player. From 2009-2011, Raburn averaged 15 HR and an AVG of .274.
Honestly, I like the idea of having Giambi as a player-coach on the squad. I think it would be good for the clubhouse, and I still do think he can produce a little from the DH position. However, I’m not willing to cut a guy like Raburn to make this happen. I think Raburn offers the team too much flexibility, and he can give them right-handed pop as he has shown in the past and over the course of the spring. The Indians have already added players who are known to have a good presence in the clubhouse such as Nick Swisher and Brett Myers, along with their new well-respected manager Terry Francona. The ONLY way I would consider Giambi given the situation is if Ryan Raburn agrees to go to Triple-A to start the season, and waits for a call-up (which would inevitably happen). Still, that’s probably not the ideal route to go though.
Francona seems to like the idea of having Giambi on the squad as a kind of a player-coach as he likes the character Giambi brings to the team. I guess we’ll have to wait a couple weeks to find out the verdict. Regardless of whether he makes the team or not, I actually believe Giambi has already truly made his presence felt in the Tribe’s clubhouse. If you disagree with me, watch Giambi doing the Harlem Shake in a full-body green suit as a member of the Tribe again and get back to me.