Before I get the backlash of overreacting to something that is just another minor league signing with a Spring Training invite, this isn’t about wasting a Major League roster spot, at least not yet. The Indians could bring in Michael Martinez for Spring, get through the month with a healthy roster and cut him late in March and there would be no detrimental effects to the franchise or anyone’s ego. However, that is unlikely to happen and, for the fourth year in a row, Martinez is likely to take a significant amount of at bats from a well deserving Indians minor leaguer. Before going any further, let’s take a conservative look at how the Indians infield projects for 2018 down to Lynchburg.
|MLB||Jose Ramirez||Francisco Lindor||Yandy Diaz||Erik Gonzalez|
|AAA||Tyler Krieger||Yu-Cheng Chang||Eric Stamets||Joe Sever|
|AA||Sam Haggerty||Willi Castro||Gavin Collins||Mark Mathias|
|A+||Miguel Eladio||Luke Wakamatsu||Erlin Cerda||Alexis Pantoja|
As it stands, this grouping would mean that Giovanny Urshela would have to be exposed to waivers as both he and Erik Gonzalez are out of minor league options and that Mathias (who was injured through most of 2017) will have to repeat AA. This is also including the many likely outgoing minor league free agent middle infielders including Ronny Rodriguez, Yonathan Mendoza and Josh Wilson.
With just a glimpse into the Indians middle infield depth, we can look at why signing Martinez for the fourth straight season should be seen as an insult to every Indians minor league infielder. To start, the Major League Indians need absolutely no infield help, or at least not the kind Martinez could provide. While Yandy Diaz may not be ready to start at 3B, there’s no question that he’s better in every facet compared to Martinez. If the Indians stick with the current roster, they could use Jason Kipnis at second, Ramirez at third and Diaz as a bench IF/OF, but in any event he should be on the roster as it currently stands. The pure infield utility man battle then should go down to Erik Gonzalez and Urshela.
Of these, Gonzalez is more versatile and the better offensive producer. In fact, he’s already hit four home runs with a .405 slugging percent in the Majors through just 81 games compared to Martinez’s .261 career slugging percent with six home runs in 295 games. EGon has MiLB experience at all four infield positions and all three outfield positions with significant playing time at all the infield positions (including first base). This versatility may be what boosts him ahead of Urshela, who is the better defender, but had played just one game at first and none at second before playing a couple games in the Majors in 2017. If it isn’t, Gonzalez’s bat should be enough to be a difference maker as Urshela has hit just .225/.273/.314 so far through 148 MLB games. Of course, Martinez is just a .194/.243/.261 hitter, so Urshela looks like Babe Ruth compared to Terry Francona‘s favorite son.
Assuming Martinez is considered an extreme injury replacement, at least three players would have to be injured for him to make it to Cleveland. However, Eric Stamets should make that four if he has anything to say about it. The Clippers starting short stop from 2017 has played at second and third as well, making him a suitable utility man, especially considering his glove first mentality. Despite being known as a defensive stalwart, Stamets hit 16 home runs in 116 games last year to go with 26 doubles. While park factor may have aided him a bit, Martinez played 129 games for Columbus in the past two seasons and hit just seven home runs. If the Indians aren’t looking to trade Stamets before then, he would make a lot more sense as a short term MLB utility man in case of injury as he’s already on the 40 man roster and has little left to gain in AAA.
As for the rest of the potential 2018 Clip Show, Martinez could have a big impact if he’s used similarly to 2017. Last season, he played 17 games at second, 12 at short, 1 at third and 32 in the outfield. With absolutely zero MLB potential, those at bats are simply wasted. While last year, there weren’t many real MLB infield prospects in AAA (beyond Gonzalez, Diaz and Urshela), next year will likely be a completely different situation. Yu-Cheng Chang is one of the Indians top hitting prospects and should be the starting short stop or third basemen, depending on if the Indians are preparing him for a trade (keep him at short) or for their own use (move him back to 3B). Francisco Mejia, the Indians top hitting prospect, will also likely be with the team for at least a short period and could potentially take some playing time at third as he did in the Arizona Fall League. Add to that Stamets and Tyler Krieger, who played in the World Baseball Classic, AA Akron and the AFL last year, and there is unlikely to be much free time on the infield in Columbus. Instead of a team full of AAAA retreads, the Clippers could actually have an entertaining team this year full of legitimate prospects.
As for those who may say that Martinez is used more in the outfield anyway, Dorssys Paulino (in his final year of team control unless the Indians protect him), Greg Allen, Connor Marabell and Mike Papi could all be in the Clippers outfield next year and may already have a difficult time finding enough playing time. With Eric Haase and Bobby Bradley also looking to hit AAA in 2018, they wouldn’t even be able to hide Papi at first base or DH. For the first time in years, the Clippers could be truly stacked from top to bottom and there will be few if any players who could legitimately be outplayed by Martinez.
In the last few seasons, AAA for the Indians has held one or two legitimate prospects with a bunch of fill in players in case of injury. That made sense at the time as, for example, the Indians had no catchers ready to play at AAA and needed reserve players like Eric Kratz and Adam Moore simply to have catchers at the level, let alone to have someone available as an emergency replacement. That isn’t the case anymore. With the players mentioned above, the Indians have a legitimate MLB alternate available at every position. In particular, Mejia, Stamets and Allen are MLB ready and alone could cover every position on the diamond except pitcher and first base for at least a short period.
In the end, there is no use at all for Martinez in the Indians system and there never will be. He will take at bats away from real prospects during Spring Training, then waste a roster spot and take at bats away from real prospects during the regular season. He will antagonize both old school fans, who will remember him for making the last out in the 2016 World Series, and the new school fans, who will remember him for ranking 3,653rd of 3,764 MLB position players ever in career fWAR. His career WAR of -2.4 shows him as being below the average replacement level player, which may be acceptable for a team with no real replacement level players, but the Indians are not that team. There have been times when signing Martinez made sense at the MLB level and there were other times it made sense to bring him in at the AAA level. Those time are long since passed and are unlikely to ever return.