Diminishing Returns

Earlier today my esteemed colleague Dustin Parkes wrote about Cleveland’s acquisition of Casey Kotchman. It is indeed a puzzling move, as the Tribe seemed to be lousy with first base options.
First and foremost, the team seems intent on limiting the amount of time stud catcher Carlos Santana spends behind the plate. Between Santana, lefty masher Shelly Duncan, and organizational question mark Matt LaPorta, one would assume there aren’t too many at bats lying around for Kotchman to pick up.

Parkes rightly points out that Matt LaPorta is entering his age 27 season and comes complete with a sparkling minor league resume. Why the lack of faith in the key piece of the CC Sabathia trade? Perhaps he just isn’t very good.

Matt LaPorta is hardly a raw prospect, loaded with potential just waiting for his chance to play. He is 27 years old. When healthy, he played every day in 2011. He won a starting job out of Spring Training in 2010 and played nearly every day until being sent down in June. With more than 1000 big league appearances under his belt, it is becoming abundantly clear that he just might be a quad-A hitter.

His minor league numbers are indeed sparkling but what else should we expect at double-A from a 23 year-old with four years of college ball to his name? LaPorta doesn’t have much of a position (his defense could charitably be described as “existent”) and hasn’t shown the power or patience he displayed at the big league level.

In fact, over the last three seasons, Matt LaPorta ranks last by fWAR among hitters with at least 1000 plate appearances. His various projections for 2012 are less than rosy. From ZiPS .253/.321/.422 to Bill James’ .254/.327/.441, blocking Matt LaPorta doesn’t warrant a great deal of concern. Not to suggest he is now as good as he will ever be but, at some point, Cleveland needs to make a decision on what LaPorta can and cannot be at the big league level.

With the signing of Kotchman (and Russ Canzler, for what that is worth), the Clevelands seem to have done just that. They could try trading LaPorta, hoping he doesn’t quite become somebody else’s Jose Bautista. In reality, he is much more likely to become another Andy Marte or Josh Phelps. Which is to say: RIP Matt LaPorta.