How CarGo will affect the Indians' outfield

March 19th, 2019

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Since the news broke that the Indians were signing to a Minor League contract on Saturday, there have been plenty of questions surrounding the deal. Now that Cleveland has made it official, let’s break down everything you need to know about the acquisition. 

Why did they sign him?
Why not? There’s absolutely no harm in throwing another outfielder into the mix, especially an 11-year veteran like Gonzalez, who will make $2 million, plus incentives if he makes the team. That little risk is more than enough for the Indians to take a look at what they could have.

The Tribe tried something similar earlier this spring with to a Minor League deal, but after he struggled to get his timing down at the plate this spring, the Tribe informed him that he would not be making the roster. Now Gonzalez is the veteran non-roster outfielder the Tribe will quickly try to evaluate.

Outside of in center, Cleveland’s starting outfield is yet to be determined. The top candidates -- , , and -- are all quite unproven at the Major League level, so Gonzalez could slide in nicely if he’s able to show he has something to bring to the table.

Will he be ready for Opening Day?
It’d be extremely impressive if Gonzalez gets himself ready for the regular season in the next week. Indians manager Terry Francona said on Monday that the club would never bring in someone on March 18 and expect him to be ready to break camp with them. So don’t expect Gonzalez to be on the Opening Day roster. He’s likely going to be an option in mid-April once he gets his swing, arm and body ready to go.

Who does this impact more: Tyler Naquin or Hanley Ramirez?

As of now, it’s Naquin. Francona recently noted that Naquin hasn’t been able to nail down his timing at the plate. The 27-year-old is returning from right hip surgery and has struggled to settle in offensively after hitting a home run in his first Cactus League game on Feb. 23. The projected outfield has been Bauers starting in left, Martin in center and Naquin in right, but the latter could easily get pushed out by Gonzalez if he hasn’t found his rhythm through the first few weeks of the regular season.

Bauers could be brought in to split time between designated hitter and first base with Carlos Santana to open another outfield spot for Gonzalez, which would take Ramirez out of the picture, but Francona seems to be holding out for Ramirez, a 35-year-old who was brought into camp late and hasn't played in the Majors since being released by the Red Sox last May. The Indians know his spring stats won’t reflect what he could do this season, so they are trying to look for other things like Ramirez's bat speed, which Francona has been pleased with. Cleveland has also brought in some of its scouts the last few days to try to help evaluate how Ramirez looks. It’s clear the Indians are hoping to see enough to give him a shot, as they should, since they are missing a big bat in the middle of their lineup.

What does this mean for the outfield?

Right now, the Opening Day outfield still looks like it’ll be Bauers, Martin and either Naquin or Allen in right field. Allen has had a great spring, but his ability to play all three outfield positions and being a switch-hitter set him up to be a solid fourth outfielder. However, he has been swinging the bat better than Naquin, so that right-field spot is still a toss-up. Once we get a month into the season, don’t be surprised if the Tribe's outfield is Bauers-Martin-Gonzalez from left to right.

But … what about Mercado?
Yes, Oscar Mercado appears to have won over the hearts of Indians fans with his impressive spring, but the Gonzalez signing will not be the reason he doesn’t break camp with the Tribe. Chances were slim for the 24-year-old prospect, who spent just 32 games in the Indians’ farm system last year, to be on Cleveland’s Opening Day roster. Mercado, who is ranked as the Indians' No. 19 prospect by MLB Pipeline, likely needs a little more seasoning in the Minors to start the regular season. But he’s not far away.