With the Return of Lonnie Chisenhall, Bradley Zimmer Optioned Back to Columbus

Lonnie Chisenhall was scheduled to come off the disabled list Tuesday night against the Brewers. In order to accommodate his return, the Indians were forced to make a subsequent roster move. For weeks the debate has been raging on about who would be the odd man out in the outfield. We finally got the answer on Tuesday Afternoon – Bradley Zimmer.

The news of Zimmer’s demotion, which broke late Tuesday afternoon, surprised most. While it was certainly a possibility that Zimmer could be sent back to Columbus, it was widely believed his value defensively would keep him on the big league club. At the end of the day, the Indians overlooked Zimmer’s defensive value and instead chose to focus on his offensive shortcomings. From that perspective, the decision was easy to make.

Zimmer has under-performed expectations so far in 2018. Actually, under-performing is being a bit too kind. In all honesty, Zimmer has been bad, backed by his .270 wOBA and 65 wRC+. At the time of his demotion, he was slashing .226/.281/.330 with two homers, nine RBI, and 14 runs scored. Thanks to his speed, he’s been good when the ball gets put in play, .367 BAbip. Unfortunately, the problem is putting the ball in play. Zimmer struck out in 38.6% of his at bats. That won’t cut it.

Bradley Zimmer

What does this mean for Zimmer?

Sending Zimmer back to Columbus should not be viewed as a punishment or an abandonment. It’s quite the opposite, actually. The Indians need Zimmer to succeed. He is one of the cornerstones of their future and has been since the day they chose to keep him over Clint Frazier. In order for Zimmer to become that franchise centerpiece, they need him to fix his swing and Columbus is the best place to do that. Free of the pressure and expectations, Zimmer can focus on making adjustments, closing up the holes in his swings, and creating more contact.

Believe me when I tell you, we have not seen the last of Bradley Zimmer in 2018. However, it might be a while. As a “small market” team that has to take the future and financial considerations into account when it comes to making decisions, stopping ZImmer’s MLB service clock is not the worst move. Delaying Zimmer’s arbitration period and avoiding the possibility of super two status wouldn’t be the worst thing ever. As it currently stood, Zimmer may have been eligible for arbitration following the 2019 season, With this demotion, that may now get pushed back until after the 2020 season, depending on the length of time.

What does this mean for the Indians?

The Indians chose to place all their eggs in the basket of Greg Allen and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Rajai Davis and Melky Cabrera.

For Allen, the decision serves as validation that he belongs at the big league level. It is also a reward for a job well done. Over his last 15 games played, Allen has slashed .300/.375/.460 and been a key piece as the Tribe turned into an offensive juggernaut in May. He also added a walk-off home run for good measure.

Greg Allen

Playing every day in either right or center has served Allen well, saying recently that it has afforded him the opportunity to make adjustments and find out whether or not the adjustments will work. Much like Tyler Naquin before him, Allen has been able to focus less on trying to stay on the team and more on just playing baseball.

As for Davis and Cabrera, it’s should come as no surprise that they remain on the roster. Terry Francona values a strong veteran presence in the clubhouse. Both players, especially Davis, check that box. Cabrera also provides an added layer of versatility thanks to his ability to hit from both sides of the plate. For a team that values platoon match-ups, Cabrera can be a valuable commodity.

On the horizon

While Tuesday’s decision was somewhat easy, there is another potentially more difficult decision coming on Friday. Brandon Guyer is set to return from the disabled list, meaning this same decision is likely to be made again. Will the Indians option Greg Allen because he has options available? Will Rajai Davis or Melky Cabrera be designated for assignment? Could Guyer, who struggled with injuries in 2017 and now again in 2018, be the odd man out?

We’ll have to wait and see what the Indians ultimately decide – youth and talent or age and experience? But, if based solely on performance, Allen should be the man to stay.