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.

13 Comments

  • The Doctor says:

    I deeply dislike the idea of wasting a roster spot on Giambi and the seemingly foregone conclusion by Francona to give him a spot strikes me as a completely non-sensical blemish on an otherwise pretty spotless decision making record by Francona so far.

    In terms of Giambi’s play, we’ve heard nothing outside the normal vapid spring training platitudes – “his swing is looking great”, “he’s got a great eye”, or the classic “he came into camp in great shape”. Yet as you point out, the likelihood that he’s going to produce anything of value on the field given his extreme (by MLB standards) age and obvious decline is exceptionally low. If all this gum flapping about how great he is with the young players is true, what’s so damn hard about giving him some nebulous on-field “consultant” or “advisor” role and freeing up the roster spot for someone useful? Obviously Giambi WANTS to play, but if he’s really such a great baseball mind, you’d think he’d be capable of objectively analyzing his performance and utter lack of a position in relation to the other bench options and concluding he’s not very valuable.

    As far as Carrera goes, my personal opinion is a big “yuck”. There’s nothing to suggest he’d ever be any more than at absolute best, a tolerable fourth outfielder. Having 3 CFs playing outfield negates the need to carry the typical “guy that can’t hit but we have him because he can play CF and maybe steal a base or two” (which is Carrera to a tee) type on the bench – in the case of injury to Bourn, Stubbs or Brantley moves to center and Swisher goes to outfield. I know he’s out of options, but I imagine we could at least get SOMETHING for him in a trade.

    Rayburn should almost certainly make the team given his flexibility and experience, and I’d give the last spot to Gomes (not like there’s really anyone else in legitimate contention). I suppose you could make a compelling argument that Gomes should be at AAA catching everyday though, if they really see him as a full time catcher. Man, how I’d love to rid ourselves of Sweet Lou in a year or two…

  • joey says:

    yes,i would put giambi on the roster. its very important to have a power hitter on the bench for pinch hitting,plus imo stubbs is only gonna play part time with swisher moving to right field one day a week,and also raburn will get at bats in right letting giambi dh a couple times a week. playing for the rockies the last couple years hurt his value cuz theres no dh in the national league,and hes not capable of playing 1st anymore. he will be a better more useful asset to this club than most think.

  • medfest says:

    Marson and Aviles make the squad,’nuff said.

    Raburn makes the squad because they need some right handed pop off the bench( with Aviles Raburn and Marson in the line up they can feature a line up with 8 right handed batters) and he can play six positions.

    Carrera doesn’t make the team because he’s a lousy outfielder with no pop,all three starters can play center and run well, so there is no need for a speedy back up there.My guess is he’ll get dealt to the Yankees (or another club hit by an injury) for a low A semi-prospect or a 4A type with an option left.

    So we’re down to the last man on the opening day roster,Mr. Irrelevant if you will.

    Giambi is pretty much toast as a player,but his leadership in the clubhouse,especially at the beginning of a season, could be worth having him around,as long as he’s not stealing too many ABs from real hitters.I also believe they are grooming him for a coaching role and this is just part of the transition.

    Having a relatively open spot on your major league roster can give you some nice flexibility during the course of a season.

    If this is the worst thing we have to worry about this season…..Wow, will I(and Ubaldo) be happy.

  • Jeremy C says:

    From the way Francona talks about him, im surprised they havent got married yet. If francona has ANY say at all Giambi will be on the team

  • Mary Jo says:

    As I read this Giambi hits a double. Guess he does have Legs. :-)

    Never a big Zeke fan, and IMO Gomes does need to be in C-bus catching ever day to finish polishing his skills. Leaves you with Raburn (love him!) and Giambi. Living in Red Sux Nation country I saw Tito first hand a lot during baseball season. His early years up here went much more smoothly with the right blend of players and a good mix of personalities. Towards the end, when many of them grew egos the size of Texas, the game itself pretty much went down the tubes. Like medfest, I think Giambi’s place on this team would be to step in if Stubbs gets traded, or transition to a coaching job. You have to wonder if Sandy gets picked for a manager’s job by another team next year. And, last, even on his bad days I bet Giambi>>LaPorta. ;-)

  • Stephanie Liscio says:

    I think this is a great post, and a great debate…but I just want to throw something out there. I’ve never been very high on Cord Phelps, personally. However, I can’t ignore the fact that he’s had a great spring. Does anyone think he is a dark horse to make the roster, or that he would be best as trade bait? Or neither of the above, and this is a fluke and he’d regress during the regular season anyway.

    • medfest says:

      He’s always been a a player who’s swing I like,he might be a Casey Blake type late bloomer.They’ll send him down to see how he handles the utility role and he’ll be up for good sometime this season(when Giambi pulls an oblique for example).A switch hitter who squares up the ball frequently from both sides of the plate and can play multiple positions is a valuable commodity.

      It’s funny you should mention him,the guy who I share season tickets with just e-mailed me and said that just like last spring training, Phelps has impressed him at the plate……………maybe he’s a Cactus League All-Star and nothing else.I hope not.

  • Josh says:

    I think Giambi’s roster spot all comes down to serving a purpose other than statistics. His locker is strategically placed right between Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisnehall. Not to mention Lonnie Chisenhall has been absolutely tearing the cover off the ball this spring. Oh and his K:BB is 4:4 so far… (Chisenhall had 8 walks all last season I think?) I think Giambi’s spot on the roster is all but cemented at this point. Chisenhall’s development is one of the biggest keys to this team. If he can have a season of .270 and 20+ HR that could be the difference between them contending or being outsiders looking in.

    Bench should be: Aviles, Gomes, Raburn, Giambi
    Bench will be: Aviles, Marson, Raburn, Giambi

    Marson is totally worthless both on offense and defense.(and the staff had a worse ERA when he caught) He threw out less runners than Carlos Santana in 2012 and drove in only 13 runs with nearly 250 AB’s in 2012.

  • no1ever says:

    Excellent post – I’ve been penciling in OD rosters all spring – my thoughts on Gomes, Carrera, Raburn, Giambi.

    Gomes – if you read his history and experience, he hass a great bat but has been somewhat of a jack-of-all trades at a bunch of defensive positions. Coupled with Francona’s “we want to see if he can be an every day catcher,” to me this means he starts at AAA to learn how to be catcher exclusively with maybe a spell at 1B. After much internal debate, I’d prefer this. Rather than have him start every 5th or 6th game and do some pinch hitting, spend a season at AAA and learn to be a really good catcher while also getting to hit every day. We can deal with Lou for one more year.

    Carrera – With the Bourn signing – he became somewhat of a leftover. We have 3 starters who can steal 30 bases (Kipnis, Bourn, Stubbs) – what does he really add we don’t have – speed in the OF? We already have that. Yeah he’s pretty fast, but unless we are in the 3 games where we need to pinch run him to do a suicide squeeze (I think Acta did it 2x) he becomes redundant in his skills. I thought he had promise but I think the wise thing to do is trade him for either pitching or pitching.

    Raburn – His spring has been very exciting. Francona likes his short swing as a bench player. He can play a bunch of positions so between Marson, Aviles, and Raburn you have every position covered (unless Raburn’s at 3b when someone tries to steal third). Platewise, he’s done everything right, and I’d say if he doesn’t earn an OD roster spot – was it ever really there to get? What more does he have to do?

    Giambi – This is a tough one. I think his power skills are almost gone. He can draw a walk and he’s left handed “power,” but eh, barely. However, everything I read about camp is about what his presence brings – locker placement, final 3 for Rockies manager job, wants to be around the game, etc. I guess late one day he was leaving and walked by Stubbs in the batting cage. Giambi drops everything he is doing and talks with Stubbs for 30 minutes, helping with his swing. So if he can make Swisher, Reynolds, Chisenhall, Kipnis, Stubbs better players – then by all means give him a roster spot. Will they have to pinch hit for Stubbs to draw a walk and then pinch run Raburn for Giambi? Probably. But keep three other ideas in mind – 1. This is a long season. 2. We aren’t winning the World Series (and are still a longshot for the playoffs). 3. FO wants to build us to win for a long time.

    Keeping those in perspective – I can take 2 months of Giambi (or even a season) if it means 2014 is a better year. Or 2015. I mean, they are projected to win 84 games – which is 16 more games than last year! If he helps Stubbs and Reynolds lower K’s, helps Chisenhall draw a walk, then yes, Giambi makes the roster. Will he be a sounding board for Alomar and Francona and other coaches – being a player-coach? Yes, then he makes the roster. Don’t be surprised to see Alomar as a manager somewhere else next year and Giambi as our bench coach. He might be here to stay for longer than anyone suspects.

    So, yes, I will now drink the Giambi Kool-Aid. It’s got its bright spots, some tartness and a sweet kick at the end – but I have a gallon of it when I wanted a cup. However, it makes my Stubbs Water all the better.

  • DP Roberts says:

    I think they should keep Giambi. There are always guys on every team who won’t listen to a coach or manager, but will listen to a fellow player. Sometimes, it helps to hear the same thing from different people, or in different ways.

    Secondly, a guy that far down on the bench isn’t going to get that many ABs anyway. Let’s say he gets 100 ABs this year (he had 89 last year). A guy hitting .250 will get 25 hits this year, while someone hitting .300 will get 30 hits. So, the difference between an average hitter and a great hitter is maybe 5 hits all season. The odds of any of those hits affecting the outcome of a game are slim. So, it makes sense that the Indians could use one of those bench spots to help make the starting players better.

  • Aaron says:

    zMy prediction…

    Opening day bench spots…Aviles, Marson, Raburn, Carrasco (only to serve his suspension, because he will be worthless all season if someone gets injured and they need to call him up for a start). If the pitching staff is in good shape, then they will call up Giambi. Giambi will never see a minor league game. Most likely will be sitting in the club house wearing his green suit waiting for this move.

  • nikki says:

    Remember how much better Asdrubal was when he had Orlando Cabrera mentoring him a couple years ago? If Giambi can have that sort of influence on younger players, he’s definitely worth the roster spot. Keep him!

  • Edward Ennett says:

    I think back to the 2007 Indians.

    One of their most important assests IMO was Trot Nixon. He didnt tear it up at the plate, or in the field, but he brought a veteran attitude of been there done that, and was able to help a very young team overall, get it together and make a great run. I believe he started the Rally Pie after games on STO interviews. And I feel his presence in the club house was worth more than a few wins over the season.

    From everything I have heard Giambi has a similar presence, if not even better. Also, his experience and instruction can only help such a young roster, I think he can really help Kipnis and Chisenhall.

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