Indians send Lonnie Chisenhall, Matt LaPorta to minors

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Lonnie Chisenhall was Cleveland’s starting third baseman down the stretch last season as a rookie and headed into spring training as the presumed Opening Day starter, but today the Indians sent him back to Triple-A while handing the job to veteran Jack Hannahan.

Matt LaPorta was also optioned to Triple-A and unlike Chisenhall his place in the Indians’ long-term plans is now very uncertain. LaPorta was acquired from the Brewers as the centerpiece of the CC Sabathia trade, but the former first-round pick is now 27 years old and has hit just .238 with a .701 OPS in 269 games as a big leaguer.

As a prospect LaPorta looked like a potential middle-of-the-order bat with power and plate discipline, but his stock has fallen so far that the Indians signed Casey Kotchman instead of playing him at first base. Chisenhall struggled this spring, but is probably six good weeks at Triple-A away from being back in Cleveland. LaPorta might need an injury and some big-time production in the minors to return in an expanded role.

Royals sign Michael Saunders to a minor-league deal

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Free agent outfielder Michael Saunders has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Royals, the team announced Friday. While the move comes just two days after Saunders agreed to terms with the Pirates, he allegedly asked for his release after the club acquired outfielder Corey Dickerson in a multi-player swap with the Rays on Thursday. MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan adds that Saunders will make $1.5 million upon reaching the majors, with a potential $500,000 in bonuses.

After earning his first spot on an All-Star team in 2016, Saunders followed up a solid campaign with a career-worst performance in 2017. The 31-year-old split the season between the Phillies and Blue Jays’ camps, batting a combined .202/.256/.344 with six home runs and -0.7 fWAR in 234 plate appearances. Although he remained healthy throughout the year, with no sign of the lingering hamstring strain that has plagued him on and off since 2013, he wasn’t productive enough to merit a full-time role on either roster.

With Dickerson slated for a starting role in Pittsburgh, it was unlikely that Saunders would have commanded anything other than a backup role in 2018. Now, however, he’ll compete for playing time amid a slew of outfield options, including Alex Gordon, Cody Asche, Jorge Bonifacio, Tyler Collins and Paulo Orlando.