Every team would like five (or more) Corey Klubers on their side. Nine of Francisco Lindor or Jose Ramirez would probably be coveted too, though one would have to learn to catch.
Clones of those players do not exist, and hopefully would not be permitted to fill a team if they did, so a full 25-man roster must be filled by the Indians within the confines of nature.
Erik Gonzalez and Giovanny Urshela are by no means the same player, but within the confines of a 25-man roster, they each serve the same purpose for now. Most teams need stellar defenders and role players, and Terry Francona has had those two at his disposal in the recent past.
Unfortunately for Francona and the front office, both Urshela and Gonzalez are out of options and a decision will have to be made on who to keep. There is technically the option to retain both, but that would both depend on Michael Brantley’s early-season availability and afford the odd man out only a minute amount of time.
The team could designate one of the pair for assignment, but it seems either would be claimed fairly quickly. Both hold some trade value, but how much?
When the time comes, who should the Indians keep?
Tale of the tape
Both Gonzalez and Urshela are 26 years old, and both have another year of team control after 2018 prior to arbitration, giving them equal value on paper.
Defense (WARNING: SAMPLE SIZES)
Francona has referred to both players as ‘elite’ defenders, and each has backed that statement up from the moment they stepped onto the field.
The Indians’ immense library of game tape on advance scouting will have more tangible evidence of the pair’s defensive capabilities, especially given the amount of time needed to draw conclusions from defensive metrics.
Urshela has the much larger sample size, playing 1060 1/3 innings at third base (still only 1/3 the recommended amount to read into), posting a neutral 0 defensive runs saved, a career 5.6 UZR and 7.6 UZR/150 at the position. He has posted -1/0/3.8 in 23 2/3 innings at 2B, and 1/.5/28.3 in 20 innings at SS.
Third base remains his primary position, though he looked perfectly capable at all three remaining infield positions.
Gonzalez has spent the bulk of his time at 2B in his career, with marks of 4/1.9/10.8 in 212 innings. In 60 innings at SS, his -1/-1.5/-37.6 marks are by no means an indicator, nor are 0/.5/20.3 marks in 33 2/3 innings at 3B.
Again, do not read into the defensive metrics too much, as neither have hit the 3000 inning mark, and both consistently pass the eye test with highlight reel plays.
What may set Gonzalez apart is his familiarity with the outfield. The organization covets versatility, and Gonzalez has played 17 innings in corner outfield spots in the majors, and over 220 more in the minors. Urshela has none.
Neither player would be playing major league innings for the sole purpose of their bats.
Gonzalez’s career slash line of .262/.282/.405 would look much better than Urshela’s .225/.273/.314 line if not for the latter’s 321 more plate appearances. Again, sample sizes in the majors are not enough to judge alone.
Gonzalez was a slightly better hitter than Urshela in the higher tiers of the minor leagues, and has also show the ability to hit for power in the bigs.
On the flipside of the power aspect is what normally follows. Gonzalez carries a paltry 34.1 K% and 3 BB%. Unfortunately for Urshela, he does not separate himself a whole lot in this manner with 17.7% and 5.7% marks, though both are marked improvements on Gonzalez’s small sample. Minor league K% and BB% do not always translate, but both mirror themselves in that regard as well.
Gonzalez is the better runner here. Though not necessarily a stolen base threat, Gonzo was the go-to pinch-runner for Francona in 2017 while on the roster, giving him that sliver of extra value.
Urshela happens to be the best friend of Lindor, which counts for something. Separating the pair would probably not send the star shortstop spiraling into a fit of free agency dreams, though retaining Urshela over a personal relationship would not guarantee Lindor remained either.
Urshela’s primary position may also be a position of need for the Indians come opening day. Though Gonzalez can also play 3B, the team’s preference would most likely to place Jason Kipnis in LF and Jose Ramirez at 2B should Brantley emerge from camp unready.
In the opposite regard, Yandy Diaz is capable of playing 3B and LF, and Francisco Mejia may force himself into the majors at 3B because of his bat. Both cases, as well as that of recent addition Rob Refsnyder or any future addition stemming from an unresolved free agency market, could render that advantage useless.