On Wednesday, the Indians continued to build their depth behind the big league team by inking infielder Andy LaRoche to a Minor League contract. The deal includes an invitation for LaRoche to attend Spring Training as a non-roster player, giving him an outside chance at a bench job.
"We expect Andy to come into camp to compete for a spot on the Major League team," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti wrote in an e-mail. "His defensive versatility and right-handed bat complement our other projected infielders."
LaRoche joins infielder Jose Lopez among the list of non-roster invitees who will be in camp this spring. The others include outfielder Felix Pie and catchers Luke Carlin, Michel Hernandez and Matt Pagnozzi. The Tribe will extend non-roster invitations to a crop of Minor Leaguers as well.
The 28-year-old LaRoche is a right-handed-hitting third baseman by trade, but he also has limited experience at first base, second base, shortstop and in left field. That is similar versatility offered by Jason Donald, who is on the roster and will enter Spring Training as a leading candidate for a super-utility role off the bench.
Like LaRoche and Donald, Lopez offers a right-handed option for the bench, which is important given that the starting infield projects to feature two lefties (second baseman Jason Kipnis and either Lonnie Chisenhall or Jack Hannahan at third base) and one switch-hitter (shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera).
Donald -- a candidate for the starting third base job a year ago -- appears to be the favorite to land a utility job this spring, but Cleveland can ill afford to have no other options. Last spring, Donald had his left hand broken by a pitch during an exhibition game. Players such as LaRoche and Lopez offer insurance for such scenarios.
Last year, LaRoche hit .247 with a .320 on-base percentage in 40 games for Oakland, but he spent the bulk of the season with Triple-A Sacramento. In the Minors in 2011, LaRoche hit .254 with four homers and 27 RBIs over 54 games. He owns a .226 career average across parts of five seasons in the Majors spent with the Dodgers, Pirates and A's.