On Thursday, Austin Kearns’ second stint with the Cleveland Indians officially came to an end.
Kearns, 31, was granted his release after having been designated for assignment a week ago to make room for Shin-Soo Choo’s return from the disabled list. Given the Indians’ glut of outfielders and Kearns’ poor performance to date—he was hitting .200/.302/.287 (62 wRC+) with 2 homers, -4.5 UZR and -0.7 WAR in 57 games—he was the clear odd man out on the Tribe’s roster.
But while Kearns’ time in Cleveland is over, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be a useful piece for another contender down the stretch.
As we showed yesterday, Kearns has gotten fairly unlucky this year. Plug his .304 career BABIP in instead of his .280 current BABIP and his slashline rises to .216/.318/.310 (73 wRC+); use instead his current .339 xBABIP and it jumps all the way to 239/.341/.343 (89 wRC+).
In addition, his low UZR number may be misleading; he has a 7.2 UZR/150 in his career, and FRAA (+1.8), DRS (+5) and TZR (+9) all like his glove this year, too. Put that together with his respectable luck-neutral offensive numbers and he looks like a worthwhile piece for a team in need of an outfielder—and it just so happens that he’s now available to the other 29 MLB teams for only a prorated portion of the league minimum salary (probably about $100,000 if he signed today).
Here are five contending teams who have outfield holes and could use Kearns’ kind of mediocre yet respectable level of play for the stretch run:
Detroit Tigers. Brennan Boesch and Austin Jackson have two-thirds of Detroit’s outfield covered, but the other third? The Tigers have plenty of options for the final spot—Magglio Ordonez, Ryan Rayburn, Andy Dirks, and the recently acquired Delmon Young—but none of them are particularly confidence-inspiring. The Tigers wouldn’t want to spend much on a seventh outfielder, but Kearns wouldn’t cost much and every little bit helps in a division race this close.
Chicago White Sox. Speaking of the AL Central, if the White Sox want to stay in the race they have to do something about Alex Rios other than continuing to put him in the lineup every day. Rios is hitting even worse than Kearns (.213/.255/.315, 49 wRC+) and he’s no Andruw Jones in the field either. Even though he’s a corner outfielder, Chicago ought to at least consider signing Kearns and replacing Rios with him in center—it can’t get much worse out there.
Texas Rangers. While one D. Murphy (Daniel) is quietly having a solid season, David Murphy is struggling mightily. The Rangers have given him 300 plate appearances even though he’s hitting just .246/.313/.355 (73 wRC+) while playing subpar defense in left field. Kearns would probably be able to perform at least as well as Murphy, especially since his offensive numbers would be inflated playing half his remaining games in Arlington.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The other AL West contender has a left field problem, too: his name is Vernon Wells, and he’s hitting .201/.232/.366 (62 wRC+) with -0.3 WAR. With three more years left on his terrible contract after this season the Halos can’t afford to bench him for good, but if they want to make the playoffs this year even the marginal upgrade Kearns could provide would go a long way.
Philadelphia Philles. At -1.6 WAR, Raul Ibanez has been the worst player in the National League—he’s been a somewhat respectable hitter (.235/.282/.407, 84 wRC+) but he’s an absolute butcher in the field (-18.8 UZR). The Phillies could send my grandma out to left field and they’d still win the NL East in a landslide, but why wouldn’t they take advantage of an opportunity to upgrade?