The Indians gave out exactly one major league contract throughout the entire offseason, guaranteeing just pennies in comparison to all other contenders in MLB. But there may be more value in a pair of their non-guaranteed contracts than most fans realize.
The weakness in the Tribe’s outfield has been noted time and time again. But if they had a talented DH, Carlos Santana could be deployed as the club’s full-time first baseman while the speedy and athletic Jake Bauers takes a spot in the outfield grass.
Unfortunately, Edwin Encarnacion and his parrot have a new home in the Emerald City. And yet, the Indians may have managed to replace his production with a pair of relatively under-the-radar minor-league deals. That tandem, in a platoon capacity, is more than capable of offensive production similar to Rhys Hoskins. Think I’m exaggerating? Come on another statistical adventure with me.
There’s no sugar-coating Hanley Ramirez’ horrid 2018 season. While he caught fire for a three-week stretch, his overall .254/.313/.395 batting line was such a drag on the Red Sox that he became a casualty of a late-May roster crunch. The only silver lining was his performance against left-handed pitchers, against whom he clubbed his lone home run while hitting .333/.378/.476; good for a wRC+ of 131.
Perhaps his numbers against southpaws gave the Indians hope that he could plug some holes in a lefty-heavy lineup. After all, this wasn’t just small sample size theatre. A quick glance at his three-year sample (2016-2018) reveals an almost identical 130 wRC+ against lefties that he earned by batting .280/.363/.535. His 20.6% platoon strikeout rate during that span was palatable, while his 11.3% platoon walk rate was actually pretty impressive. If Ramirez can replicate something close to this production, he’ll certainly earn his conditional $1MM major league salary.
On the other side of the coin, the Indians can probably rely on fellow veteran Matt Joyce to do some real damage against right-handed pitching. After a solid first season with the Athletics in 2017, the journeyman cratered last season while battling injuries. All told, his bat was slightly below average in 246 plate appearances. That lead to just his second season ever with a wOBA that didn’t crack .300.
Joyce appears to have made a full recovery, though, and the Indians managed to ink him on a minors pact as well. The greater three-year sample for the 34-year-old reveals a talent for producing against righties. During that span, he’s walked against them at a 15.1% clip (!!!) while striking out 21.5% of the time. He’s credited with a 122 platoon wRC+ during that period, thanks to a .241/.357/.468 batting line; those figures are remarkably close to his career platoon marks of 121 and .251/.350/.451, respectively.
When we lump together both halves of that platoon, weighting the numbers to reflect the fact that Joyce made nearly three times the number of strong-side platoon plate appearances as did Ramirez since the start of 2016, we get a two-headed behemoth with a .251/.358/.482 batting line, 124 wRC+, 14.2% BB rate and 21.3% K rate. That player splicing would average 30 homers and 82 RBI across a full season.
You may have guessed by now that this performance stacks up similarly to the .246/.354/.496 line, 13.7% BB rate and 22.7% K rate that Rhys Hoskins posted across the 2018 season. For another fairly close comp, consider Travis Shaw or Aaron Hicks. Looking back to 2017, that profile fits the performances of Jake Lamb, Dexter Fowler, Yasiel Puig and Brandon Belt. It’s also remarkably similar to the careers of Michael Conforto and Jose Bautista.
It’s fair to be skeptical that Joyce can return to form, or that another year of aging might have a dreadful impact on Ramirez’ bat. Who knows, the Indians might not even choose to deploy this strategy at all. But I, for one, am hoping to see Matley Joymirez in action; the results could be tremendous while costing the Tribe next to nothing. An outfield of Bauers, Leonys Martin and Greg Allen with Hoskins’ bat at DH doesn’t look quite so bad.