If the Indians are going to win the AL Central, it’s safe to say they’ll need to upgrade the offense, most likely with an outfield bat.
What the Indians really need here is someone to replace Grady Sizemore. He may be the worst everyday player not named Yuniesky Betancourt. [Not willing to admit how bad Sizemore’s been? Then consider this depressing stat: when he gets two strikes on him with runners in scoring position, he’s 0-25.]
But we know the Tribe front office is too stubborn to sit Sizemore down, so realistically all we’ll get in the outfield is someone to replace Austin Kearns.
Here are some options (ordered from most to least realistic):
Laynce Nix, Nationals
Nix is a similar player to Morse and is also one of the Nationals’ expiring contracts. He can play all three outfield positions, but is really more of a corner outfielder at this point in his career. His OBP (.314) is nothing special, but he could provide some pop off the bench (12 HR, 25 XBH).
Jeff Francoeur, Royals
After an impressive start to his career, Francoeur has fallen flat in recent years. He’s only 27, but his .303 OBP over the last four seasons has limited his playing time in Atlanta, New York, Texas and now Kansas City. He plays good defense though and has some pop (12 HR) which makes him a decent candidate for the Tribe.
Mike Morse, Nationals
Since the Indians aren’t looking for an everyday player, Morse makes a lot of sense. He can play both corner outfield positions as well as first base and even could even play third base in a pinch. This season he’s batting .302 with a .351 OBP and 15 home runs. He’s a free agent at the end of the season, meaning he could be a reasonably cheap option.
Josh Willingham, A’s
Willingham would be another two-month rental who could provide some pop off the bench (12 HR this year). The downside is he’s a liability on defense and has limited experience playing anywhere but left field.
Casey Blake, Dodgers
It’s been five years since Blake played the outfield consistently, but he’s worth mentioning in the discussion. He could be had for a relatively cheap price, and would provide the Indians with depth at third and first as well as right field. He definitely isn’t he most exciting option on the market, but could be a nice veteran addition who could platoon at a few positions. Blake has a team option for next season, which likely would not be picked up.
Marlon Byrd, Cubs
Byrd is one of the more expensive options out there (he’s still owed $6.5M in 2012), but may be worth it if the Indians have any doubts about Sizemore’s ability to stay healthy (which they definitely should). Byrd can play all three outfield positions. He was somewhat of a late bloomer, but has blossomed into a consistent player. Over the past five seasons he’s batting .296 with a .350 OBP – and he’s right on target to match those numbers this season (.307/.349).
Reed Johnson, Cubs
Johnson is an ideal fourth outfielder who can play all three positions reasonably well. In limited playing time in Chicago he’s batting . 325 with a .368 OBP. He may give you the most bang for buck, as the Cubs are paying him just $900,000 this season, the last year of his contract.
Coco Crisp, A’s
Crispy wouldn’t give the Tribe the power they’d ideally like to get, but his versatility and speed make him an ideal candidate to be the fourth outfielder. He’d be a two-month rental who could be valuable in pinch-running situations down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Ryan Ludwick, Padres
The former Indian will be a hot commodity and may be too expensive for the Indians to rent for two months. He isn’t having a great season (.305 OBP) but there’s reason to believe his power will increase once he’s out of Petco Park. The Tribe could reasonably rely on him for 8-12 home runs down the stretch.
Hunter Pence, Astros
Pence is undoubtedly the best option if the Indians have questions about Sizemore or Choo’s health. He’s just 28 years-old and is still subject to arbitration through 2012. He’s a consistent 25 HR-per-year guy who would give the Indians offense a huge boost. However, they’ll need to part with Sizemore, Brantley or Choo sometime in the near future to make room for his bat.