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Picking a Cleveland Indians infield

4/30/2011

Because analysts like to worry about sample size and caution against "too much, too soon" when it comes to drawing conclusions about April outcomes, let's put the shoe on the other foot and identify an instance of an April result that has made a difference: the Indians' infield.

The specific action that brought this to mind today was the activation of Jason Donald from the DL -- and his immediate dispatch to Columbus. This was especially a step down for him because less than two months ago Donald was the early favorite to win the Tribe's open third-base job. It wasn't necessarily a permanent opportunity he'd be winning for himself -- already in his age-26 season, Donald's opportunities at third or second are either going to come now, or perhaps never, especially with a bat projected to deliver OBPs south of .330 while slugging less than .400. Lacking the range you ideally want from a shortstop, his every-day options were limited, and his bat rates are below ideal at the hot corner.

Unfortunately for Donald, he hurt his left hand in the first week in March in Arizona, and his opportunity started to get away from him, a turn of events he could ill afford. That's because his future is now, limited not only by his own possibilities, but also because long-term the Indians are going to want to turn to a series of prospects at second or third, starting with Lonnie Chisenhall, and followed by Jason Kipnis, Cord Phelps, and perhaps Jared Goedert.

One of the great complaints about spring training performance is that it doesn't mean anything, so managers shouldn't make substantive decisions based on it. However, in a case like Donald's, there wasn't anything else to work with as far as his winning much loyalty from his manager, Manny Acta. Once Donald went down, Acta had to turn to the temporary alternatives available to him. As a result, veteran journeymen Jack Hannahan and Adam Everett got chances that, without spring training's turn of events, would never have existed. They made the most of it, both making the team as non-roster players, and now that veteran tandem is operating in a loose job-sharing arrangement at third base for the Indians.

Now, swapping in Hannahan and Everett for Donald should be far from earth-shattering in terms of the offensive value you would expect. Using True Average to aggregate their offensive contributions, none of them are projected to be anything like an average third baseman (.268), since Hannahan and Donald projected in the .230s, and Everett was down around the Mendoza Line. Hannahan and Everett are no more likely than Donald to hold the job at third for a full season. Even if you're the sort of cynic who thinks that Chisenhall's time in a Columbus Clippers uni is directly tied to his potential super-two arbitration eligibility after 2013, both halves of the Hannaverett combo are over 30 years old, and neither half is likely to keep cranking with OPS clips north of .800. Hannahan and Everett are both good fielders, and both have their uses, but even a platoon between the pair seems short-lived.

However, both had good Aprils, and because of that plus Donald's injury, it's going to be that duo that will be manning the Indians' infield for the next few weeks before Chisenhall's case for the job becomes too obvious to avoid. Hannahan and Everett can fend off that future for some time, like Donald might have, but Hannahan is a career .360 slugger (.131 ISO) -- betting on his keeping his SLG north of .500 is "would you also like the Brooklyn Bridge?" territory.

If the Indians are to continue winning, they must not get overly sentimental when the time comes to swap out players who got off to hot starts. That will mean accepting that Hannahan is the same hitter he's been over most of his career, and that they'll be better off with people who deliver more at the plate over the season's long march. The Tribe's front office is more than smart enough to know all this, but in the meantime, whatever possibilities Hannahan possesses have come directly at Donald's expense.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.