By: Noah Wright
The Indians are now going to be without MVP caliber shortstop Francisco Lindor to start the season, and potentially all of April. However, the free agent crop is still deep, and holds one certain unsigned player who perfectly fits the Cleveland Indians. I’m talking about the most versatile player in the MLB, Marwin Gonzalez.
Now why is Gonzalez the perfect fit the Indians? Well first, he can play shortstop to a good degree. He has positive marks in DRS at shortstop. This makes him a good fill-in for Lindor. Plus, it’s his main position by trade. Next, he’s a good bat. In 2017, Gonzalez broke out, and batted an impressive .303/.377/.530 with 23 home runs in 515 plate appearances, and 144 wRC+. He did that all while seeing at least 100 innings logged at 5 different positions. In 2018, Gonzalez may not have been too impressive overall, but he did heat up in the second half, batting .275/.352/.492.
Gonzalez would also probably benefit from a move away from Minute Maid Park. The Astros home stadium is pretty pitcher friendly, and it shows in Marwin’s home and away splits. Throughout his career, Gonzalez has batted .254/.310/.410 at home, and .272/.326/.428 on the road. Plus, he’ll be in a very hitter friendly environment speaking that the Indians are in the AL Central, the weakest division in the MLB. Marwin will face the Tigers’ and Royals’ pitching staffs, 2 of the shallowest staffs in all of baseball. In Progressive Field, the Indians home park, Gonzalez has a .273/.333/.545 line.
However, Gonzalez will provide much value in his positional versatility. Gonzalez has played every position at least 3 times throughout his career except for pitcher and catcher. Marwin would fill in for Lindor until he is 100%, and then once Lindor is healthy, Gonzalez can help in many areas that the Indians need help in. One of those areas is second base. Currently, the Indians have Jason Kipnis penciled in as the main 2B. Last season, Kipnis put up a .230/.315/.389 line in 601 plate appearances. Overall, he was worth 89 wRC+. Kipnis’ offensive production was about the same in 2017 as well. This is also the second straight season Kipnis has had negative ratings in DRS, and he’s no longer a big stolen base threat like he was early in his career.
In the outfield, the Indians are relying on a combination of a platoon of Matt Joyce/Jordan Luplow in left field, Leonys Martin in center, and Tyler Naquin in right. Overall, that’s not a very impressive outfield. For starters, Naquin has struggled with injuries and performance inconsistencies since his rookie year back in 2016. The past 2 seasons have seen Naquin bat just .256/.287/.341 in only 80 games. While Martin is still a good outfielder in terms of defense (3 DRS, 9.1 UZR, 4.1 arm rating), he’s overall mediocre with the bat. The most promising of all 3 outfield positions is the platoon in left field. Matt Joyce may be coming off of an injury and slumped plagued season, but it was only 2017 when he batted a solid .243/.335/.473 with 25 home runs and 116 wRC+ in 544 PA’s with the A’s. Luplow on the other hand, showed good defensive prowess in LF with 5 DRS in LF with the Pirates. Luplow had also shown off some pop in his bat, having a .527 slugging % and 23 home runs between the Bucs’ AA and AAA teams in 2017. Even though he was a good hitter in the minors, he’s yet to duplicate that in the majors with only .644 OPS in 190 MLB plate appearances. Marwin could add a proven MLB bat to that weak outfield, and also not be a slouch out there defensively. Afterall, he has positive marks in DRS when he plays left.
Marwin Gonzalez is the overall most perfect fit for the Indians. He can fill in at short for the time being, play some second base if need be, and some LF too. At this point in the off season, Gonzalez’s market has been next to bare bones. There has not been any talk about him since the Nats showed some interest in him, but then went on to sign Brian Dozier to fill their need at second. So money should not be an issue. I’m going to estimate Gonzalez gets around 2 years $18 million (9 million AAV). After the Indians cut some costs, they should easily be able to afford a $9 million player who is one of, if not the most versatile players in all of baseball right now.