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Cleveland Indians Hot Stove Target: Marwin Gonzalez

For a team which will enter the 2019 regular season with an 85% (or more) probability of returning to the American League Division Series, the Cleveland Indians offseason is filled with certainty. Indeed, the lazy lede notes the Indians are set to lose the majority of third baseman Josh Donaldson, left fielder Michael Brantley, left-handed reliever Andrew Miller, and right-handed reliever Cody Allen; as well as outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall and left-handed reliever Oliver Perez. Of course, Brantley and Perez are the only two of the above who substantively produced in 2018, which concludes the lazy lede.

If the Indians are to continue to operate at their current payroll level, they will be relatively cash-strapped despite a large exodus due to major spikes in expenditures on Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor, and others. Of course, the Indians are still paying their superstar core of Jose Ramirez, Lindor, Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger an absurdly low rate due to the arbitration structure and effective predatory extensions by the Indians front office.  Alas, a bombastic shot aside the Indians are relatively cost-capped, and targeting free agents must be accepting of this context.

The second construct is that the Indians simply cannot rebuild their entire outfield in free agency if the team continues to operate as they have over the preceding decade. Therefore, the Indians must target an outfielder that places the roster and the outfield in the best position moving forward.

With the aforementioned in mind, the following values become paramount: reliability (injury risk/production stability) and flexibility. Flexibility is a dirty word and many associate with the notion of platooning, which can irritate. But flexibility is the center of modern baseball and a foolish character wrote as such on the Hardball Times :

Positional flexibility is the future. Perhaps it will involve a bench entirely composed of versatile players with infield-outfield experience or a catcher who can play another position besides first base. As bullpens become more and more specialized, position players will become more and more diversified in order to create platoon advantages.

((If you cannot find a way to add a narcissistic quote from your prior work, then you probably are not a blogger.))

Travis Sawchik furthered this idea documenting how prospects and veterans alike were being pushed up the defensive metrics to improve platoon matchup flexibility.

Teams are becoming more creative. For instance, the Phillies are experimenting with swapping corner outfielders in response to a specific opponent’s batted-ball tendencies.

This quagmire is an elongated march to the case for Marwin Gonzalez. Gonzalez is not in himself an impact player, but he does two distinct things: creates flexibility and relative reliability.

Compared to Michael Brantley his offensive ceiling is marginally lower but not drastically:

Courtesy of Fangraphs

Of course, Gonzalez is two years younger and has not had dramatic issues staying on the field in three of the the past four years. Further, while Gonzalez’s offensive ceiling is a tick lower, he is relatively neutral with career production above average against both left and right-handed pitching. Having a player without dramatic platoon splits is advantageous because he cannot be easily targeted by opposing managers with pitching changes, while allowing a manager to deploy him against any starter.

In regard to flexibility, Gonzalez is a poor man’s Ben Zobrist playing above average defense at first base, second base, and left field; as well as acceptable defense at third base and potentially right field.

For the Indians, flexibility is paramount because they have a lot of platoon-limited players headed for playing time in 2019: Brandon Guyer, Tyler Naquin, Bradley Zimmer, Leonys Martin, Lonnie Chisenhall (perhaps), Yandy Diaz, and Jason Kipnis.

Gonzalez improved his batted-ball profile when the juiced baseball started pinging and has a strong line-drive/fly ball anchored swing. The last four years since the contact-profile adjustment Gonzalez has posted a wRC+ of 112 and a .772 OPS.

Gonzalez is quite simply an everyday starter who fits into a lineup easily. Positions have become increasingly meaningless by the day. Like the NBA with its flowing defensive spectrum versatility is essential to a teams ability to create its best potential matchups. Having Gonzalez, and Jose Ramirez on the same roster would be a dynamic advantage because it would create starter production from non-locked positions which allow the rest of the roster to be used in the correct circumstances.

Marwin Gonzalez is not a particularly compelling name. He lacks the panache of Andrew McCutcheon or the upside/risk thrill ride that is A.J. Pollack. But, for the Indians, Marwin Gonzalez is an excellent fit.

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