What’s the Next Step for Cleveland Indians Outfielder Greg Allen?
Last week, I discussed the scenario Cleveland Indians outfielder Bradley Zimmer is facing as we (hopefully) near a 2020 season. Long story short -- Zimmer has a complicated road ahead.
However, he’s not alone. Fellow outfielder Greg Allen’s situation is quite similar to Zimmer’s, in more ways than one.
Like Zimmer, Allen has made several cameos with Cleveland over the past three seasons.
Like Zimmer, Allen has shown some potential in said cameos, but has yet to provide more than that.
Like Zimmer, Allen’s chances to make Cleveland’s final roster this season are very much up in the air.
Unlike Zimmer, Allen is trying to overcome this despite having watched the Indians acquire his potential replacement over the winter.
Cleveland’s offseason pick-up of Delino DeShields Jr. already made Allen’s attempt to earn a roster spot an uphill battle. Now, thanks to the consequences of an abbreviated season further limiting his options, it’s safe to say his fate is more uncertain than ever.
In fairness, the likelihood of Allen earning an everyday roster spot this season was low. Since 2017, he’s shown a tendency to heat up at the plate every now and then, but still boasts an overall fWAR of -0.1 after 205 games with the Tribe.
Still, the role he’d play -- utility outfielder -- now appears occupied by DeShields.
As noted a few months ago, while the former Texas Ranger isn’t a notable offensive threat, there’s very little he can do that isn’t slightly better than what Allen offers. DeShields’ career OPS, wOBA and wRC+ are each below average, yet still higher than what Allen has posted in those respective stats.
Sure, Allen’s quickness makes him a useful pinch runner, as Baseball Savant ranked his 29.0 ft/sec sprint speed in the 92nd percentile last season. Yet, in keeping with the theme, DeShields is better, as he landed in the 97th percentile with a 2019 sprint speed of 29.5 ft/sec.
So, when determining which of the two would better serve the Indians as their utility outfielder, all signs point to DeShields.
Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t necessarily be a huge pickle for Cleveland. As it would with Zimmer, the team could simply option Allen down to Triple-A so he can still get consistent playing time.
Said route isn’t going to be available this summer.
With MLB preparing to move forward without minor league baseball in 2020, options for Allen are now quite sparse. Though roster expansion is being discussed between the league and players union, this may not help his cause.
In fact, even if the league approves the use of 30-man active rosters, it’s difficult to see Allen landing a spot despite being behind DeShields, Oscar Mercado, Franmil Reyes, Jordan Luplow, Tyler Naquin, Jake Bauers and Zimmer on the list of available outfielders.
There is, of course, the 20-man taxi squad of injury reserves and replacements. This is also being included among discussions for a 2020 season, and could be the most realistic landing spot for Allen this summer.
That said, how quickly would Allen be called up from this group? Or, more importantly, would he be?
Of the outfielders mentioned above, it’s not a leap to assume both Bauers and Zimmer join Allen with the rest of the reserves. Since the former was the key return in a 2018 trade and the latter is a former first-round pick, odds favor the Indians feeling more compelled to call upon them should there be an opening on the active roster.
They also need to account for Daniel Johnson, an intriguing outfield prospect who appears ready to make his big league debut. Realistically, there’s a chance Johnson finds himself higher than Allen on Cleveland’s list of outfield priorities.
So, what route should the Indians take with Allen?
Unfortunately, viable solutions are few and far between.
Again, the taxi squad is a likely destination, but will this give Allen the chance to improve some areas of his game which need work? Can he become a more consistent hitter, or make strides improving his below average walk rate through scrimmages and practices?
Likewise, if the Indians did eventually call Allen up, the move would activate his last remaining option. This certainly further complicates things for him if he were to end up leaving this season still seeking a designated role.
With all this said, Allen being released by the Indians this year doesn’t feel like a far-fetched outcome.
No, it’s not at all the preferred route here. Still, the fact is DeShields’ presence all but ensures any role Allen has this season would be limited at best. By parting ways with him, Cleveland at the very least gives him a chance to catch on elsewhere.
At age 27, one would think Allen would prefer this as opposed to spending the next few months toiling among injury reserves while waiting for an opening which may not come.
It’s not a decision the Indians need to make today. It’s not necessarily the decision they need to make at all.
That said, as we near a crucial point in negotiations for a 2020 season, figuring out next steps for Allen is something Cleveland needs to keep in mind.