CLEVELAND: Chris Dickerson arrived in the home clubhouse of Progressive Field last week for the first time and was in the midst of putting on yet another new team’s uniform when he was asked about the surprising trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates that brought him to the Indians.
Dickerson stopped momentarily, smiled and said: “Christmas came early.”
The Indians weren’t looking to play Santa. The organization just needed an experienced and serviceable outfielder who could get them through the second half of the season — if need be — after injuries to center fielder Michael Bourn (hamstring) and his backup, Nyjer Morgan (knee), left them thin on major-league outfielders.
With minor-leaguer Tyler Holt too inexperienced to fill in for that length of time and reserve Ryan Raburn in a first-half slump in which he’s batting .199 in 55 games, the Indians went outside the organization in need of a stop-gap.
Dickerson, who can play each outfield position and can hit right-handed pitching consistently, was targeted by Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti last winter as a potential free-agent acquisition.
“He’s a guy we felt complemented our team well, but especially once we lost Michael,” Antonetti said. “We talked about him as a free agent this winter, but ultimately didn’t have the at-bats to commit to him at Triple-A and there was no clear major-league opportunity. It just wasn’t the right fit at the right time. But now it is.”
To clear a spot on the roster, reserve catcher George Kottaras was designated for assignment and later picked up by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Indians manager Terry Francona maneuvered the lineup by moving All-Star left fielder Michael Brantley from left to his original position in center, kept David Murphy in right and slipped Dickerson into left field and batting ninth.
Now, after a week with the Tribe, it’s obvious that Dickerson (originally drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 32nd round of the 2000 draft), might be capable of giving the Indians a little more stability than they originally expected.
It’s a small sample, but Dickerson is batting .471 (8-for-17) with at least one hit in each of his first five games, including a double, RBI, walk and four runs scored.
“He’s done a really good job,” Francona said. “He’s been on base a ton. When a guy goes down and somebody fills in and gets hot, it really helps.”
Not bad for a solid pickup on the cheap, who was this close to a July 15 out clause in his contract with the Pirates. Dickerson signed with the Pirates in the offseason, figuring he’d have a pretty good shot at making the 25-man roster at some point.
But young outfield prospect Gregory Polanco matured quicker than anticipated.
With Polanco now in the big leagues, Dickerson was relegated to being minor-league depth in case of an injury or if Polanco struggled.
“I don’t think anyone figured Gregory would dominate at Triple-A like he did,” said Dickerson, a left-handed hitter. “It was impressive to watch. At that point, I knew what was going to happen — the landscape was going to change.”
Acquiring Dickerson cost the Tribe little — a typically inconsequential player to be named or cash. And it reunited him with former teammate Nick Swisher, who gushed about Dickerson’s talent.
“C.D. is one of those guys [who has] tremendous strength, he can fly, he’s got an absolute cannon and light-tower power, man,” said Swisher, who played with Dickerson with the New York Yankees. “I just think bringing over a guy like that, especially at a time like this when we really need it, is really going to be able to help us.”
Before the trade, Dickerson spent the first half of the season at Triple-A Indianapolis, hitting .309 with 15 doubles, two triples, seven home runs and 30 RBI.
He also had 12 stolen bases and an .886 OPS in 65 games.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Dickerson, 32, has never been an everyday player in the big leagues and isn’t likely to keep an everyday job with the Indians after Bourn returns.
He’s a career .262 (163-for-623) hitter in the major leagues. He served as a part-time player for the Baltimore Orioles last season, and has spent parts of six seasons in the big leagues with three other teams (Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and New York Yankees).
“You never know,” Dickerson said. “You keep playing as long as you can, hoping that eventually you find the right fit.”
As expected, the Indians optioned right-handed pitcher Zach McAllister to Triple-A Columbus on Tuesday during the All-Star break. With a weekend series against the division-rival Tigers beginning Friday, including a day-night doubleheader Saturday in Detroit, the Indians are in more need of bullpen depth than a fifth-starter. … Left-handed pitcher T.J. House is scheduled to make a start for the Indians’ short-season affiliate Mahoning Valley today in an effort to keep him on his regular throwing schedule during the break. That way, House can rejoin the big-league club when needed during the road trip that begins in Detroit and includes stops in Minneapolis and Kansas City.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.