The Indians have signed veteran third baseman Juan Uribe to a one-year deal. On the outside this looks like a very modest move, but looking more in depth it’s quite the improvement to the Indians lineup. Uribe will most likely take the lion’s share of at bats at third, taking over in place of youngster Giovanny Urshela. Urshela became the Indians everyday third baseman last year, after moving Lonnie Chisenhall to the outfield. Urshela’s defense was pretty good at third — he had a total of one defensive run saved, and his FSR was a +5, ultimately grading him as an above-average defender. However, his bat never was quite up to major-league caliber. He performed nothing like the player who slashed .302/.350/.503 with 21 homers in 155 minor-league games in 2014. For starters, his wRC+ was just 68…in other words he was completely abysmal at the plate. In 81 games Urshela barely hit his weight, hitting a measly .225 to go along with a miserable .608 OPS and just six homers. All things considered, the Tribe had to make a move at third. With their only other options being Chisenhall — an absolute fielding liability at third (-7 career DRS) — or Jose Ramirez, who has not been a very effective hitter either (.631 OPS, 75 wRC+ in 2015), Juan Uribe makes a ton of sense.
When looking at Uribe, the first thing that should be considered is his experience. He has a total of 14 seasons and 89 days as a major-league ballplayer. Uribe, who will be 37 on Opening Day, could be a great mentor for youngsters Urshela, Ramirez, and of course Francisco Lindor. Next, consider Uribe’s defense at the hot corner. Over the last three seasons alone he has 33 DRS, making him one of the very best at fielding his position. Uribe’s defense could even be considered an upgrade over that of young Urshela’s. Combined with Mike Napoli (the new Tribe first baseman) and Lindor, the trio have a total of 63 DRS since 2013 (Lindor had 10 in 2015, his only major-league season). His contributions to the Tribe defense, a defense that ranked third in all of major-league baseball in 2015, could be a major factor going forward. With the pitching staff already looking very solid, the upgrade Uribe provides to an already stellar defense could put the Tribe among the very top teams in the league at preventing runs.
Aside from defense, Uribe’s bat is a big upgrade from that of Urshela. Uribe has had fairly respectable numbers at the plate over the last three seasons. Since 2013, he has slashed .281/.329/.432 and has a combined WAR of 10.5. When comparing his previous season to Urshela’s, the upgrade becomes more evident. Urshela’s wRC+ was 37 points lower than Uribe’s (105), and his OPS was 129 points lower. Though Uribe’s offensive output is only slightly above average (as evidenced by his wRC+) it’s still a big improvement over any other option the Indians had at third.
Based upon this analysis alone, the impact Uribe will have on the Tribe will be quite significant. Given, of course, that his current offensive and defensive performance continues to be just as solid as it has been the past few seasons. In closing, Uribe will provide the Indians with something they’ve lacked consistently at the hot corner: a very good glove combined with solid offensive production. It’s likely, considering his age, that he will only be a short-term solution at third. But hopefully his experience will rub off on the younger generation of Indians players behind him, and leave them with a much longer lasting impact.