Last week, I explained why Bradley Zimmer was facing a crucial moment in his big league career. A combination of injuries, a crowded outfield and an inability to earn an everyday role with the Cleveland Indians has made his fight for a roster spot an uphill battle.
If there’s one positive for Zimmer, it’s that he has company. Fellow outfielder Greg Allen has found himself in a similar position as spring training approaches. Like Zimmer, Allen is still trying to earn everyday at-bats heading into his age 27 season.
One would think 2020 represents a make or break year for Allen, as well. The only problem is the Indians may have already replaced him.
Upon acquiring Delino DeShields Jr. in last month’s trade of Corey Kluber, Cleveland found someone who can do everything Allen offers, only a little better. As a result, Allen’s place with the team may be in doubt.
In fairness, Allen already had his work cut out for him when it comes to earning consistent plate appearances with the Indians this summer. While Cleveland’s outfield is lacking in sure things, Allen hasn’t offered a ton that helps him stand out from the pack.
His speed makes him a weapon once he’s on base, as he’s notched 29 steals over the past two seasons and boasts an above average career BsR (3.8). The problem is Allen can’t consistently put himself in a position to take advantage of this.
Allen’s career wOBA is well below average (.281), while his .243/.299/.345 slash line leaves plenty to be desired. He’s shown flashes of potential, as he did last July when he logged a wOBA of .365 and a 125 wRC+, but can never sustain it. Allen received a 46% increase in plate appearances the following month, only to watch his wOBA drop 24% and his wRC+ nearly get cut in half.
This essentially sums up his time with the Tribe so far – random offensive progress, followed by drop-offs the very next month. While Allen did finish 2019 with a positive WAR, I’d guess he’s not bragging about a year-over-year increase from 0.0 to 0.1.
The one positive from his 2019 campaign is that it marked the first time he finished a season as a plus defender. Though Allen saw year-over-year drop-offs in almost every offensive category, his DRS (6) and UZR (5.0) came in at career highs, as he appeared to find a sweet spot in left field.
Unfortunately for Allen, DeShields has better career numbers. Making matters worse, said statement isn’t specific to just defense.
The former Texas Ranger has a higher career WAR (4.8), better slash line (.246/.326/.342), higher wOBA (.297) and his BsR (27.9) blows Allen’s out of the water. His 2019 season wasn’t what you'd call impressive, but he was still worth more wins (0.8) than Allen.
That’s basically the gist with DeShields. He’s not a massive upgrade, but his place on the team practically makes Allen irrelevant.
Allen best serves the Indians as a utility option, someone to come off the bench for pinch hits or running situations. Statistically, DeShields offers Cleveland more in said role.
With five years of experience – compared to Allen’s 586 total plate appearances – DeShields will also reap the benefits of manager Terry Francona’s preference for veteran players. It makes you wonder if Allen having the better spring of the two will even be enough to tilt things his way.
Toss in the fact Allen – unlike Zimmer – doesn’t have the advantage of being a former first-round pick, and you’re forced to wonder where things go from here.
Obviously, injuries or Franmil Reyes not showing progress defensively could create an opportunity for him. Provided none of this comes to fruition, though, Allen’s place with the Tribe becomes quite a mystery.
He has plenty of team control remaining, with free agency not scheduled until 2025. Meanwhile, DeShields is set to become a free agent after next season.
That said, Allen only has one minor league option left. Should he spend this season bouncing back and forth between Cleveland and Triple-A, it’ll be the last year he’ll be able to do so. In order to stick with the team beyond that, he’ll need to make quite the compelling case this year.
His career numbers don’t exactly create favorable odds for that.
Basically, it won’t be long before the Indians are forced to make a tough decision with Allen. In acquiring DeShields, it certainly looks like that decision may have already been made.