Matt LaPorta is back in the minors. The centerpiece of the trade that saw C.C. Sabathia go from Cleveland to Milwaukee 3 seasons ago is no longer on the big league club. After months of frustrating at bats and opportunity after opportunity, the Indians finally did what needed to be done.
They sent a message.
The message is loud and clear. A .238 batting average, 11 home runs, 18 doubles, 44 RBI, and a .694 OPS aren’t going to cut it. Not when you’re expected to be the right-handed power threat in the lineup for years to come. Throw in the numerous mental mistakes and the 79 strike outs and it becomes clear why this is the move that was made in order to make room for Jeanmar Gomez last night. But still, despite the fact that the decision is more than justifiable, the move still comes as a disappointment.
LaPorta was the piece the Indians hand-picked from the Brewers organization in order to cushion the blow of Sabathia’s exit stage right. He was billed as a power hitting, RBI machine… the missing piece in the puzzle that is the middle of the Indians lineup. There were also a lot of red flags. He didn’t have a position. He didn’t have a huge baseball I.Q. He’s still very raw. That was back in 2008. Three years later and how would you classify LaPorta? How would you describe him as a baseball player? Maybe as… Raw… Not a huge baseball I.Q…. May or may not have a real position… and the newest description…
A slow bat.
How else do you explain what we’ve seen from LaPorta at this point in time? In reality he’s no better than Shelley Duncan in that occassionally he’ll run into a fastball or hanging breaking ball and send it into the seats, but more often than not he’s left guessing. It’s obvious LaPorta doesn’t have a true grasp of the strike zone. He constantly chases pitches and when facing a dominant pitcher it’s more than obvious. Because of his slow bat he’s forced to guess what’s coming and where. When he guesses wrong he looks very, very bad.
Good to know this is the prized piece in a trade that involved a perennial Cy Young Award candidate. Thankfully for the Indians it appears that Michael Brantley will be a key cog in this machine for years to come. If not, this may have been viewed as one of the worst trades ever.
So what do we make out of all of this? Where do the Indians go now with LaPorta? Sources say he refuses to work on the things the Indians tell him to work on. Could that be the reason why he hasn’t developed the way the Indians had hoped? If that’s the case, why haven’t the Indians done more to get their message through his thick skull?
For LaPorta he’s looking at a make or break year come next year. If he can’t show that he can produce at the level that is expected of him, batting 5th in the order instead of 8th, and driving in runs left and right the Indians will need to explore other options. Carlos Santana has shown he is more than capable of playing first base and given his offensive production could be the real long-term answer at that position. Lou Marson, offensive issues aside, is a superb defensive catcher. You can live with his Matt LaPorta-esque offense if he’s going to throw out runners and manage the pitching staff. In that equation LaPorta is the odd man out.
What about DH? Maybe… but Travis Hafner will occupy that spot next year given the money he’s making. Left field? Nope, as mentioned above that spot belongs to Brantley. Right field? No again. Right field belongs to Choo. Sure, you could argue LaPorta could go out to left with Brantley shifting to center, but I can counter that with who would you rather have to rely on right now? Ezequiel Carrera, who’s had moments this year that point towards a bright future, or Matt LaPorta? If you’re smart you’re taking Carrera at this point.
I’ve tried to be patient and embrace the Matt LaPorta era. I’ve tried to spin his situation in a positive way all season long. The only remaining point working in LaPorta’s favor is that he’s only 26 years old and has yet to hit his prime. This was also his first full season where he was “the man” at a position… and he failed. So I don’t know. Yes, the Indians probably have to give him one last shot, but given how this year has played out the leash will be short. They need legit production, not excuse me singles and accidental home runs.
If Matt LaPorta was smart he would take this as a wake up call. He would use this time in the minors before September call ups to his advantage. Work on a few things, build some confidence and come back with a vengeance. In the offseason, start working on the things the Indians want him to work on, get in better shape, and come back next year as a man possessed. What other choice does he really have?