Offseason Diatribe – Cleveland Indians

November 21, 2009 at 9:00 pm Leave a comment

Hey it’s those perpetual underachievers, the Indians. Things seemed so great in 2007. They had two aces (And were about to get another one the next year when Cliff Lee remembered he was good), they had a great center fielder (Sizemore), an up and coming second baseman (Cabrera), one of the best offensive catchers in baseball (Martinez, and Kelly Shoppach showed he was perhaps the best backup in baseball), the best defensive outfielder in the game (Guitierez), and a bunch of players that could decide to be phenomenal if circumstances allowed (Peralta, Hafner, Choo, Garko). They also had the makings of a solid bullpen with Betancourt and Perez having great seasons that year. And now, out of all of those players, they have only a few left. Hafner is ineffective and his contract appears to be weighing the whole team down. Peralta seems to be past his prime. Carmona can’t get it; he’s a head case. Perez lost it. Only Sizemore and Choo seem to have any value to them anymore, which is too bad, because if things had broken right for the Indians, they could have been a juggernaut for a few years in the Central; the Twins, White Sox and Tigers dodged a giant bullet. Is there any hope for the future in Cleveland? Kinda.

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It feels like it’s been so much longer..

Catcher – I really have no idea what the plan is at catcher. They are rumors that Kelly Shoppach will be non tendered, which would seem to be a mistake, as he hit .261/.348/.517 in 2008. As a catcher. Additionally, he hit 21 home runs in only 403 PA’s. Obviously, this past year was a struggle. That can likely be explained by a 70 point drop in BABIP, since his line drive rate was the highest of his career in ’09 (21.8%). He is almost sure to bounce back in 2010, and wouldn’t break the bank in arbitration in his second year of eligibility. The issue, of course, is Carlos Santana. Here’s a catching prospect who hit .290/.413/.530 in double A this past year. A year after OPS’ing over 1.000 in A+ in 2008. He has also shown the ability to walk more than he strikes out, a hallmark of superstars such as Pujols and Mauer. So… Santana looks to be a stud. But then there’s Lou Marson, who the Tribe received in the Cliff Lee trade. Marson has shown astounding walk rates in the minors, but not much else. Who among these three do you attempt to trade? Personally, I would try and shop Marson, banking on potential over prior results.

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Give Carlos Santana a chance, won’t you?

1st Base – Wait.. do the Indians have a first baseman these days? Garko is gone. Hafner can’t do it. Is Matt LaPorta an option, because otherwise the top of the 1st base depth chart belongs to Andy Marte. The Andy Marte. I suggest an upgrade, perhaps even the return of Russel Branyan. Other possible options can be seen here.

2nd Base – They aren’t considering Luis Valbuena, are they? Valbuena showed solid walk rates in the minors, with a bit of pop. He then hit 10 home runs with the Indians in ’09. His defense was fairly awful at shortstop, but a bit bit more tolerable at 2nd (-9.1 UZR/150), so perhaps with Cabrera at SS and Valbuena at second, middle infield defense will be at worst, acceptable for Cleveland. Cabrera has flashed quite a bit of prowess defensively (historically). Actually, given that it’s a time of rebuilding, I’d recommend the Indians go with Valbuena; he actually held his own overall offensively, stole some bases, and taking his minor league record into account, should be able to get on base more effectively in the future. Jason Donald figures to be a good alternative (.889 OPS at double A in ’08), although he is coming back form a back injury.

https://i2.wp.com/msn.foxsports.com/fe/img/MLB/Headshots/140x170/8361.jpgMe? Second Baseman?

SS – The clumsily named Asdrubal Cabrera has developed into a decent middle infielder, although UZR shows he may be better suited as a second baseman (-.04 UZR/150 and -5.3 UZR/150 at second and short, respectively). He had a .799 OPS as a 23 year old in 2009, which is quite valuable. It looks like the Indians will be set at one of the middle infield positions for a while with Cabrera.

3rd Base – The even more clumsily named Jhonny Peralta is actually another decent piece for Cleveland. He’s still just 27, but he is a far cry from his first full season, in 2005, when he hit .292/.366/.520 with okay defense. This from a 23 year old shortsop. 2006 was a bad year, and then 2007-’08 were pretty good, with the OPS around .800 and 20+ homers. Last year was the worst year yet for Jhonny, as he hit just .254/.316/.375. His BABIP was basically the same as in prior years, as was his line drive %. Basically he just hit the bal on the ground constantly (50.2%, his highest by a good margin for his career) and naturally, his fly ball rate was at its lowest for Peralta’s career (30.6%). At 3rd base, that kind of production is going to get Jhonny traded (At best) or designated for assignment. There’s still time to rebound, and Peralta tends to rebound every other year or so.

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Why you smiling? You’re chubby. Your name is mispelled. You couldn’t crack a .700 OPS last year. List goes on..

Outfield – Grady Sizemore probably doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone; he’s still an elite hitter, and his center field defense has historically been above average. Shin-Soo Choo finally got a full season under his belt, and excelled, hitting .300/.394/.489 with decent defense in right field. He even hit lefties pretty well (.823 OPS). The only potential problem is that he struck out 151 times, which likely won’t be a problem given Choo’s production. Then there’s young Matt LaPorta. He managed a .750 OPS, grounded mainly in decent power production (.442 SLG, .188 ISO). The issue, is that LaPorta’s plate discipline thus far hasn’t shown up in the majors (6.2% walk rate). But given that he still hasn’t had 200 PA’s in the big leagues, as well as his hitting pedigree, LaPorta stands a good chance to bust out in 2010 (Or 2011). His outfield defense was actually palatable (-.04 UZR/150), so overall I’d say the Indians have a decent outfield for 2010. But wait! They also have the impressive (OBP-wise), but powerless, Michael Brantley available. Give Brantley the left field job and put LaPorta at first (Unless they do acquire a first baseman). No upgrades needed.

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DH – Travis Hafner, go away. Come again when.. well when it’s 2006 again. That’s the year when he probably should have won the MVP (1.097 OPS, 42 home runs). Lately, his old player skills have dissipated, likely due to a combination of age and his shoulder issues. He still managed a .823 OPS last year, but with only 16 home runs, and he was unable to stay healthy. Yet another Indian who has gone from a being a force to being well.. nothing useful.

Rotation:

ugggghhh

Jake Westbrook – A solid #3 starter when healthy. He missed all of ’09 (And almost all of ’08), however, with Tommy John surgery, and the rehab has not gone well. The Indians hope he’ll be okay to pitch on opening day, but that’s kind of up in the air at this point. Can he resume his ’04-’07 4.00 FIP days? Maybe, but he’ll be 32 and anything but a sure thing next year. And he’s the ace.

David Huff – Decent walk rate, but hittable and doesn’t seem to have the ability to strike guys out (4.56 K/9). Fine as a #5.

Anthony Reyes – Has shown flashes of being a decent pitcher (2006 WS, 4.15 FIP in 2008) but has mostly sucked everywhere he’s been. He’s now 28, and has had only one season (Besides his cup of coffee in 2005) with a FIP below 5.25. He’s just not good. Fine for triple A.

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Maybe drinking more would help you not be quite such an awful pitcher. Worked for David Wells.

Fausto Carmona – He had a great year in 2007. He had almost as much of a case for the Cy as C.C, but he hasn’t been the same pitcher since. He still gets ground balls (55.2% GB rate, although that is down nearly 10% from ’07), but it’s the walks that have killed him. In 2007 he walked 2.55 per 9. That number has risen to 5.03 in 2009. You can’t succeed with that unless you are an extreme strikeout pitcher, and Carmona has never been that (5.58 K/9 for his career). Carmona either needs to give the bullpen another try, or else try the NL.. or perhaps a different line of employment.

Aaron Laffey – 1.04 K/BB ratio. That’s awful. So was the 1.62 WHIP from ’09. He’ll be 25 next year. Maybe he’ll surprise me. I wouldn’t bet on it. He’s a #5/#6 at best.

Carlos Carrasco – The prize of the Cliff Lee deal, Carrasco sucked for the Indians as soon as he gave the big leagues a try. Given, he’s been rather overrated as a prospect for some time now, as he has tended to fluctuate between being borderline okay and good in the minors. In A+ ball in 2007 he had a 2.84 ERA (Albeit a 4.38 FIP to go with it). In 2008, he made 6 starts at AAA and had a 2.19 FIP with 46 K’s in 36.2 innings. He also gave up 8 unearned runs in that stint, while giving up more than a hit per inning. In 2009, he was solid at triple A, recording a 4.01 FIP with the Phillies’ triple A club, and a 2.92 with the Indians’. Will he finally have a good all around season next year? Probably not, but maybe in 2011.

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Justin Masterson – The prize of the Victor Martinez deal, he had a 4.04 FIP between the Red Sox and Indians last year, with solid K numbers and bit too many walks. He has shown the ability to limit hits while posting good K/BB numbers throughout his minor league career. Bill James seems to think Masterson is legit, projecting him for 30 starts, a 4.00 ERA, and a K/BB of 2.04. He may very well be the #2 starter for the Tribe next year, so hopefully those projections come true, or are surpassed.

Jeremy Sowers – …had a .98 K/BB ratio in 123.1 innings. NON TENDER.

Cleveland needs to upgrade the rotation, badly. The minors don’t offer a lot of help, with Hector Rondon showing decent K/BB ratios in triple A, but appearing a tad hittable and (Apparently) requiring more seasoning before he’s ready. Adam Miller hasn’t had a full season since 2006. He’s good, or at least he was, so I suppose he could be a dark horse for the Indians in 2010, but it’s more likely he burns his throwing hand grilling hamburgers. Cleveland needs help outside the organization, but I don’t think they have the payroll room to add an impact starter from the free agent market. I say they trade one of their catchers (Not Santana) and one of their young question mark starters (I’d try Carmona) to the NL for some established pitching. Maybe a Joe Blanton or an Aaron Harang type.

Bullpen:

Jess Todd – A throw in to the Mark DeRosa deal, he had a 2.38 FIP for the Cardinals’ triple A affiliate. He struggled against major league hitters, allowing a .351 opponents average, but still managed a good strikeout rate (8.06). He’ll be 24 next year and looks like he’s developing into a solid middle reliever.

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Jess Todd learns from the best (I actually have no idea who that is with him).

Tony Sipp – Sipp appeared to be a major success this past season, with a 2.90 ERA and 48 K’s in 40 innings. He posted great K/BB numbers in the minors, but gave up 25 walks in his 40 major league innings. That’s 5.63/9. That’s awful. His opponents BABIP was also just .253, bringing his FIP to a far less impressive 4.20. Expect some regression next year for the 26 year old.

Chris Perez – The centerpiece of the DeRosa deal (They did manage some good value for ol’ Mark), Perez was seen as the future closer for the Cardinals. Perhaps he can fulfill that role with the Indians. He gave up a rather obnoxious 8 home runs in his 57 innings in ’09, but otherwise showed a lot of potential. After putting up ridiculous K numbers in the minors, Perez has now struck out 110 batters in 98.2 major league innings. He also allowed only 75 hits in that time. His walk rates have been a bit on the high side for both his minor league and major league career. What does this equate to? A solid middle reliever who hasn’t quite put it together yet. I look for a decent amount of improvement in 2010.

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See, I can get stalked by old men, too, Jess Todd.

Jensen Lewis – Another Indians reliever with a great minor league career in terms of K rate, Lewis regressed this past year. But then most players on this team did. Lewis did survive as the team’s closer in 2008, and has put up decent K numbers in the majors (8.24). Last year, however, Lewis posted the highest walk rate of his career at 3.93. He’s still young, and still managed to limit hits, so I expect him to bounce back next year.

Kerry Wood – I don’t know. I really don’t. How can you really predict a Kerry Wood season? Honestly, he’s due for an injury at this point. If he stays healthy, expect better numbers than last year, when he at least continued to strike guys out and limit hits. But he’s always allowed a ton of walks and last year gave up 7 home runs, not great for a closer.

The bullpen is in okay shape. I would try Adam Miller there to see if he can catch lightning in a bottle and maybe close games at some point. If that works, and who knows, maybe it will, the Indians could have a dominant bullpen in ’09.

Overall, this team strikes me as one of the most unlucky teams I’ve ever witnessed. They’ve had countless players fall off the face of the earth when they should have been in their primes (Hafner, Peralta, Rafael Perez, Carmona, Garko, Barfield) and have had a decent amount of players not develop like they should have (Marte, Jeremy Sowers, Miller, Beau Mills, among others). C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Franklin Guitierez and Casey Blake are all producing for new teams. I feel like GM Mark Shapiro has made all the right decisions, but this might be a case of awful managing. It’s quite possible that Eric Wedge absolutely sucked at motivating his players. Only when they had so much talent it was impossible to lose, were they able to contend. ’04 ’06, ’08 were completely lost seasons where the Indians should have contended with the talent they had. Year to year, they had hardly any consistency from even their star players (Martinez was pretty damn bad in ’08, Lee was terrible in ’07, for example). I feel like Manny Acta might not be the right manager; he certainly sucked at motivating the Nationals this past year (After he departed, his successor, Jim Riggleman, proved that motivation was possible on that team). Acta should manage a team like the Mariners, or Royals, who are so stone age in their statistical analysis that a pro SABR manager would benefit them far more. The Indians make the right decisions on paper, generally, but something wasn’t right in the way they were managed, and I don’t envision much success for them next year, despite a decent offense and a young, flamethrowing bullpen. I don’t think Acta will motivate this team, and their rotation is pretty awful.

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