Thanksgiving is finally here, and I arrived home Tuesday night ready to enjoy my much deserved break, but my plans were quickly foiled. CSU promptly lost to Robert Morris (which you can read about here). Then, the bad night took a turn for the worse: The Indians removed Matt LaPorta from 40-man roster right before the Rule 5 Draft. After hearing the news, I sat silently on my couch, broken-hearted and ironically sporting my Matt LaPorta shirt (contrary to popular belief, they did actually make those). I am in the
severe minority, but I will never stop being a Matt LaPorta fan.
Matt LaPorta came to Cleveland as the prize of the CC Sabathia trade and, while he never lived up to the high expectations that were put on him, he is hardly entirely to blame for his disappointments. Laporta’s talent lay in his bat when he came to Cleveland, so it wasn’t clear how the Indians would use him defensively. Matt was a right fielder in Milwaukee, but he was immediately shifted to left field upon arrival in Akron. After some time in left, however, the Indians felt LaPorta should play more first base, thus leading to another position change. Learning a new position takes time away from hitting and puts more pressure on the player. That has been shown with Michael Brantley, as he came up as a center fielder, but was forced to learn how to play left field. It may not sound like a major switch, but the necessity to work on defense swayed his attention away from his bat. Because of this, Brantley hits 28 points worse in left field compared to his center field numbers. The Indians could not find a position for LaPorta and that contributed to his disappointing performance at the plate.
At the Major League level, the Indians also failed to give LaPorta consistent playing time at a single position. In 2009, LaPorta played 52 games split among the corner outfield spots, first base, and designated hitter. After a consistent and pretty effective 2010 and an injury plagued 2011, LaPorta played only 22 games while being on the roster for what seemed like 50 days in 2012. LaPorta also received only 60 plate appearances, including only 49 after getting called up in August, despite management’s claim that he would get regular playing time at first base. One of Acta’s many mistakes in 2012, Casey Kotchman, was playing more first base than LaPorta, who still could make the Opening Day roster (albeit as a bigger longshot than Grady Sizemore). Even without the regular PT though, LaPorta hit .344 in September 2012.
Matt LaPorta cannot control his injury history, but it is longer than most people realize. Playing in the 2008 Olympics for team USA (back when baseball was an olympic sport), LaPorta was hit in the head. Though he did play in the Bronze Medal game, that injury should still be noted. In 2009, Matt had arthroscopic hip surgery in the off-season (LaPorta haters often cite his inability to turn on inside pitches from southpaws; his hip surgery very well may have affected his quickness and rotational ability, two things necessary to hit inside pitches). Though he was healthy going into the 2010 season, he lost plenty of playing time to Russell Branyan, which cost him plenty of Major League at bats. It led to less time at first base, some time in left field (forced to re-learn a position he was not expecting to play), and too many innings either on the bench or in Columbus. Finally healthy and getting a full season as the Indians first baseman, LaPorta performed decently until he was sidelined for a few weeks with an ankle injury. The first baseman had 8 home runs in the period before his injury, but only 3 after he came back. You have to wonder if lingering pain affected him.
And now we get to 2012, where all of these problems combined to screw over the Florida native. First, LaPorta was supposedly given a fair shake to win the job in left field, which he hadn’t played since 2010. And he was also given a shot to make the roster as a first baseman until Casey Kotchman was signed not too long before Spring Training. After that, LaPorta hit .380 in April for AAA Columbus while Casey Kotchman hit .149 in Cleveland. But no call-up was made. Then LaPorta spent May struggling, maybe because he was splitting time between left field, first base, and designated hitter. Hitting .307 at the time of his first call-up, LaPorta spent a couple of weeks on the Indians bench while Casey Kotchman hit .143. After being once again optioned to Columbus, Matt couldn’t find his footing in what was yet another change for him. LaPorta struggled in July and August, splitting time at different positions in AAA Columbus. Luckily, Tribe management got so tired of Casey Kotchman that LaPorta was recalled in late August. In a span of 40 days, LaPorta amassed a total of just 49 plate appearances. Like I said, they promised him regular playing time, but he never got any.
After the 2012 season ended, LaPorta again had arthroscopic surgery on his hip. One has to wonder if LaPorta was playing through the injury and that led to his diminished performances in the second half. With his status for Opening Day 2013 currently uncertain, LaPorta was outrighted and taken off of the Indians 40-man roster. He had to go through waivers, but no other team claimed him. Why the Indians outrighted him beats me. This is a team that needs a first baseman, a left fielder and a designated hitter, all three of which are possible positions for LaPorta when he isn’t shuffling between them. Though some fans believe the Indians have given him too many chances, that is untrue. Fans will say 2009 was his first chance, but that was at four different positions and was his first real taste of Major League action. In 2010, LaPorta spent half the season with Russell Branyan breathing down his neck as a replacement at first base. That led to an option to AAA and even an attempt to move him back to left field! 2011 was the first time LaPorta had no competition, and he had 8 homers in the 57 games before his ankle injury. That would have put LaPorta on pace for 21 homers had he played in 150 games that year. Instead, he underperformed and hit only 11 homers in 107 games. And I already wrote about the debacle that was his 2012 campaign.
If you’re still reading this article, you must think I’m really diluted because I haven’t blamed LaPorta himself for this performance. Except I am. Matt LaPorta has been a bust in the Major Leagues. His disappointing performances for the Indians over the past four seasons have made the player so worthless that none of the other 29 Major League Baseball franchises felt he was worth a waiver claim. However, the Rule 5 Draft is coming up soon, and I believe the Miami Marlins may take a flyer on the former Florida Gator, especially after their colossal salary dump. I mean, this is a team that played Austin Kearns in 87 games last season, so LaPorta wouldn’t be that crazy of a pickup. But until that draft happens on December 6th, we’ll just have to wait.
Mr. LaPorta, the best of luck to you in 2013. I would love it if you were playing in Cleveland, but as long as you’re proving doubters wrong, it doesn’t matter where you’re playing.
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