As fun as it’s been watching the Cleveland Indians this summer, there are still issues needing to be addressed in the second half if they want to clinch a playoff berth.
For one, the trade deadline cannot come and go without the Indians making moves. The bullpen needs bolstering, while another bat would be a welcome addition.
Outside of trades, though, there’s at least one glaring problem the Tribe has to figure out. It involves the team’s starting catcher, a player who was very recently seen as one of the core members of the clubhouse, but is now a glaring liability.
Yan Gomes, a little over two years removed from a significant contract extension, is putting forth an absolutely abysmal season. We’re well past “he’s just off to a slow start” territory, and you have to wonder just how much longer Cleveland can let the struggles continue before removing him from the everyday lineup.
How bad have things gotten for Gomes? The last time his batting average was over .200 was April 29. In 29 at bats during the month of July, he has one hit. The last time he hit for extra bases was June 25.
Every hitter is prone to slumps, but Gomes has been completely unwatchable at the plate for the majority of the season so far. As he ended the first half with a .166 batting average, it’s become pretty clear Gomes at-bats are where momentum goes to die.
It’s no surprise this unending slump has gotten to his head. Gomes’ strikeout rate is up, as he’s on pace to set a career high in K’s. It’s clear the frustration from his struggles is causing him to swing at pitches he should be laying off of.
As his contributions have declined, his confidence has followed suit. With every unsuccessful plate appearance, Gomes appears to lose less and less belief in himself.
Even more concerning is the fact this isn’t just contained to the first half of this season. Gomes had his breakout year in 2013, followed it up with a strong 2014 campaign, and has been on a decline ever since. Sure, he was injured early last year. At the same time, he’s been healthy since late May of 2015 and no improvements have occurred.
We could go on and on about how bad Gomes has been for the past year and a half, but the main concern is just what Cleveland is going to do about it.
Right now, Gomes coming to the plate is essentially a guaranteed out. Backup Chris Gimenez, while seemingly proving to be starter Trevor Bauer‘s key to success, is only a mild improvement at the plate (currently batting .185). At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be an available solution.
One might be on the way, though, in the form of Roberto Perez.
While he’s still relatively unproven, Perez has shown flashes in his short time with the Tribe. He’s currently rehabbing from thumb surgery, and could be ready for reactivation soon. Perez has shown some power, hitting just five less home runs than Gomes last year in 179 less at-bats, and has also displayed better patience at the plate.
I won’t go out on a limb and say Perez would be a gigantic boost for the Indians. That said, if he’s able to collect more than two hits per week, he’s a significant improvement over what Gomes is contributing.
The point is Cleveland has to explore any and all options when it comes to solving the Gomes problem. Manager Terry Francona is known to give his vets long leashes, preferring to let them work out of their funks instead of sending them to the bench. That said, how many more opportunities can Gomes get? It’s been half a season, a miserable one at that, and there’s been no indication he’s just a couple solid at-bats away from going on a tear.
Right now, the Tribe is essentially sending up eight capable batters a game, then spoon-feeding the opponent an easy out with Gomes. The team has been able to grab a solid division lead despite this, but can’t ignore the problem much longer.
Francona may have undying loyalty towards his vets, but if he keeps letting Gomes flail at the plate, it could come back to bite the Indians in a bad way.