A Dose of Sunshine: Part two
Almost five years ago, the Cleveland Indians were just one win away from capturing the American League pennant and earning a World Series berth. As the Tribe of 2012 plays its final games in a forgettable season, there is little to suggest— with respect to the current roster— that this squad will be able to compete in the immediate future.
However, there is one important factor that could help the Indians pull off a quick retooling process: they have just $11 million committed to their 2013 payroll. Sure, there are several arbitration eligible players to retain and some no-brainer buyouts that will eat into the flexibility, but the bottom line is the organization can rid itself of any payroll albatrosses by parting ways with Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Roberto Hernandez and/or Ubaldo Jimenez, in addition to other smaller expiring contracts. How much of the discretionary money leftover for the 2013 payroll gets invested into free agency remains to be seen, but at least there’s no dead weight financially inhibiting the team.
In the second part of a series devoted to looking at the current state of the Indians with a positive mindset, I’ll examine two more reasons for hope: a deep, talented bullpen and several young players who could be a factor in 2013. In the first segment, I covered the Indians strength in the middle of the diamond and the potential to move a couple trade chips.
With a mere few weeks left in this season, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the readers of Indians Prospect Insider. All of the comments and e-mails are very appreciated, as I look forward to continuing contributing to IPI during the big league offseason.
The Bullpen Mafia
Although a cursory glance at the team’s relief numbers don’t show the individual talent contained here, the team has the majority of its bullpen spots accounted for heading forward, including the important late-inning roles. With five rock solid players in the ‘pen, it should continue to be a strong point for the team next season. An improved rotation would help take some of the burden off a relief corps that has notched 419 strikeouts (4th in AL), a .239 opponents batting average (5th in AL), and 75 holds (2nd in AL) this season. Since Chris Perez, Joe Smith and Esmil Rogers are arbitration eligible, the Indians will have to resign a few key components to keep this unit intact, but again, the money is certainly there.
Chris Perez – Closer – 27 years old: There is no better place to start than the player responsible for recording 36 saves in 40 opportunities. Chris “Pure Rage” Perez has made a considerable stride forward this season in developing into an upper-tier closer. His 10.28 strikeouts-per nine innings is the best mark on the team, an impressive jump from his 5.88 clip in the 2011 campaign. Another serious improvement in Perez’s game has come in the form of allowing walks (1.92 walks-per nine innings in 2012, compared to a 3.92 mark in 2011). He is likely due a considerable raise from his $4.5 million salary this season. Ryan Madson (1 year, $8.5 million) and Jonathon Papelbon’s contracts (4 years, $50 million) from this past offseason show what contenders are willing to pay for upper-echelon closers. Assuming Cleveland is willing to compensate Perez with a salary commensurate with his performance (3.48 ERA, .222 opponents’ batting average, 1.06 WHIP), the good news is that a salary spike shouldn’t preclude the team from being able to move him at the 2013 trade deadline. With a handful of in-house replacements and the distinct probability that the Indians will not compete next season, there is decidedly less of a need for a closer of his caliber, especially since his public comments heavily indicate he is unhappy in Cleveland. Regardless, he is an asset moving forward.
Vinnie Pestano – Setup man – 27 years old: Pestano has emerged as the best of the bunch in a strong Indians bullpen. His 2.17 ERA, .193 opponents’ batting average, and 1.03 WHIP are all team bests, foreshadowing that he very well may be ready to step into the closer’s role, should the team move Perez next season. His 9.67 strikeouts-per nine innings is certainly good enough to maintain his late-inning role, even though it is a dip from his dazzling 12.19 mark las year. His 35 holds are an American League best, which is especially impressive given how few leads his underachieving team hands him. In spite of fewer strikeouts, Pestano has shown that he is developing as a pitcher this season by lowering his walks-per nine innings (3.03, compared to 3.48 in 2011) and home runs-per nine (0.58, compared to 0.73 in 2011). The bottom line is that he is producing and improving on his already low 2011 ERA (2.32). As a 20th round draft selection in 2006, Pestano is certainly one of the better draft picks the organization has landed. In 2013, he will continue to make near the major league minimum, which is music to Indians fans’ ears.
Joe Smith – Setup man – 28 years old: The sidewinder, Joe Smith may be the oldest of the five bullpen arms highlighted in this article, but that doesn’t make him expendable. On the contrary, his experience could serve plenty useful if the Indians employ a handful of young relievers (Cody Allen, Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes, etc.) in the bullpen next season. Over 64 games this season, Smith sports a 3.32 ERA, with a .223 opponents’ batting average, and 1.26 WHIP. He is 2nd on the team in holds (18) and has helped the Tribe overcome its limitation of not having a quality lefty setup man, thanks to Tony Sipp’s struggles this season. Smith doesn’t flash the gaudy strikeout numbers like many Indians relievers do, but he is still a solid arm to have in the fold. His walks-per nine innings are up this season (3.77, compared to 2.82 in 2011); however, Smith likely had a career year in 2011 while pitching his way to a 2.01 ERA in 71 games, so in spite of a bump in ERA he has shown he is still plenty capable. One of the three important arbitration eligible relievers, Smith should likely command a contract near his $1.75 million 2012 salary. He should definitely be retained to keep the back-end of the bullpen strong, especially if Perez isn’t in the long-term plans.
Cody Allen – Reliever – 23 years old: Tribe fans got introduced to Allen in style, watching the 23rd round selection of the 2011 draft toss 12 straight scoreless appearances to kick off his Major League career. This power arm (94.7 average fastball velocity, 2nd on the team) was fast-tracked to the big show, and he hasn’t shown that he is overmatched, even after the streak ended. Allen has a live fastball, which he has rode to a 2.96 ERA over 24.1 innings pitched. His peripherals (.247 opponents’ batting average, 1.36 WHIP) show that he needs to continue to work on limiting base runners, but it’s hard not to be excited about this young, overpowering pitcher. He’s tallied nearly a strikeout per inning, hinting that he could be ready for a late-inning role as soon as next season. The 4.07 walks-per nine innings pitched may make some uncomfortable with thrusting a setup role on the young righty, but the skill set, including a sharp slider, is there. Along with Pestano, Allen is undoubtedly one of the better value picks that the team has plucked from the draft. He is the best young reliever in this bullpen and should have plenty of success from this season to build on.
Esmil Rogers – Reliever – 27 years old: Acquired from the Colorado Rockies for cash considerations on June 12th, Rogers has proven to be the best scrapheap pickup of the season for the Tribe. He has battled bouts of control issues, but has experienced a rebirth in Cleveland, while posting a 2.54 ERA in 46 innings pitched, with a .238 opponents’ batting average and 1.11 WHIP. He has also shown the ability to throw multiple innings per appearance, making him a strong candidate for a middle-relief role with the Indians heading into next season. His 95.6 average fastball velocity is the highest on the team, and the Tribe may be able to further take advantage of his zip in the future by using him in immediate relief of some of the soft-tossing starters on the team. Even though he is arbitration eligible, there should be little trouble in leveraging a reasonable contract with Rogers. He has blossomed into a very solid reliever, notching 9.59 strikeouts-per nine innings pitched, further fortifying the Indians greatest strength, its bullpen.
In addition to having a strong bullpen, the Indians have a handful of players, all of whom are 26 years old or younger, who could be ready to step into bigger roles next season. They have shown flashes in 2012, while possessing some upside that could help the team moving forward. Because of the lack of Major League ready talent at the upper levels of the Cleveland farm system, it is especially crucial that these players continue to develop.
Zach McAllister – Starting pitcher – 25 years old: McAllister has been a calming force for an otherwise volatile starting rotation. Believe it or not, he actually has the best ERA (4.15) among Indians starters, which, admittedly says more about the deficiencies in the rotation, than his ability. Regardless, McAllister should absolutely have a role in the 2013 rotation, if for no other reason than he’s earned it the most compared to other Tribe starters. He isn’t a top of the rotation guy, but should prove to be a very capable 4th or 5th starter as he continues to learn against big league hitting. Over 19 starts, McAllister has averaged 5.7 innings pitched per start, while recording a .269 opponents’ batting average and 1.37 WHIP. His 16 home runs allowed and 32 walks are areas to shore up, but his 8.14 strikeouts-per nine innings pitched is impressive, considering his average fastball velocity is 92 MPH. Even if he were to simply maintain this season’s stat line, McAllister would still be a shoo-in for a rotation spot next season, and at just 25 years old, there’s room for some improvement.
Lonnie Chisenhall – Third Baseman – 23 years old: Looking ahead to 2013, there is little reason to believe that Jack Hannahan will hold off the younger Chisenhall, who has much more offensive potential, something the corner infield positions on this team are desperate for. In 92 at-bats this season, the Tribe third baseman possesses a .283/ .320/ .467 triple slash, which includes the team’s highest slugging percentage, albeit in limited at-bats. He also has a .300 batting average with runners in scoring position over 20 at-bats. Chisenhall has 20-homer potential, something that can’t be said for Hannahan or any in-house Indians first baseman. Therefore, if Chisenhall maintains his current production through the end of this season, there will be no reason not to pencil him in as the everyday player at the hot corner in 2013. With the team likely set for another round of rebuilding, he should be given every chance to cultivate his game against big league pitching. He has shown marked improvement from his .255 batting average over 212 at-bats in 2011, so it’s time for a switch to the youngster.
Scott Barnes – Starter/ Reliever – 25 years old: As one of the few Major League caliber left-handed pitchers on the Tribe’s roster, Barnes is a commodity for the Indians. Once considered a high upside prospect, he still has time to shine at just 25 years old. In addition to being a southpaw, he is also capable of starting or relieving. Over 12 relief appearances with the big league squad, he has a 5.40 ERA, but that is inflated due to one dreadful appearance on June 14th, in which he gave up five earned runs. Over the last 30 days, Barnes has held the opposition scoreless in five appearances. He has to cut down on walks (seven in 15 innings pitched), but the eleven strikeouts are a plus. If he doesn’t make the starting rotation out of spring training next season, he should help shore up the long-relief woes the bullpen has endured in 2012. Role consistency will help continue Barnes’ development.
Nick Hagadone – Reliever – 26 years old: Hagadone flashed the ability to dominate Major League hitters in April and May of this season, while notching a 2.20 ERA over the first two months. Unfortunately, in June the wheels fell off and it drastically ballooned his season numbers (6.39 ERA, .263 opponents’ batting average, 1.62 WHIP), before his rookie season was short-circuited with a self-inflicted injury. The key to Hagadone’s success is simple: control. He has to harness his location and limit walks to be successful. He has the fastball (94.3 average fastball velocity) and slider capable of getting out of trouble, but not even a strikeout rate better than one-per inning is good enough to overcome the 15 walks he issued in 25.1 innings pitched. As a lefty, if he can regain his early season form, there is no reason to think he can’t hold down a job in the ‘pen.
Others: Zeke Carrera has six stolen bases and is still only 25 years old, but his .245 batting average doesn’t show he’s well-rounded enough for an everyday role. Along with Russ Canzler (.286 batting average in 49 at-bats) and Thomas Neal (.314 batting average at double-A Akron), the Indians have a trio of mid-20s players who could vie for the opening in left field, but it’s hard to get too excited over these low-level prospects. The Indians would be wise to use some of its payroll savings on a free agent outfielder, potentially Cody Ross or Juan Pierre, to name a few. The 26-year old Corey Kluber could be given a shot to compete for a rotation spot in 2013, but his 5.48 ERA in nine starts doesn’t indicate he’s ready. However, a healthy Carlos Carrasco, who reportedly hit the mid to upper-90s in his rehab starts with double-A Akron, should be recovered enough from Tommy John surgery to throw his hat in the ring for a starting role.
1. Fire Acta; hire Buddy Bell. We need a baseball guy who will stand up to the front office. Old foggies will be in vogue given the success of Davey Johnson. Acta has bad body language, he's not firey, and frankly he's been a loser everywhere he's managed. I like Larry Bowa, too. Alomar or Sarbaugh would be a waste of time.
2. Trade CP and Choo. Honestly we won't get much. We should have done it last year. As John Hart said, closers fall off trees, so nobody will spend a ton to get CP, who has no filter on his mouth and could be a royal pain in the @$$. Look for a Josh Reddick-type deal. Choo's value is diminished because he can't hit lefties and is really a slug in the OF. For a contender, he's a platoon player.
3. Let Ubaldo and Roberto Hernandez go. Too much baggage. We need to start fresh. Ubaldo vests for 2014 after a certain number of innings and at that point he will be untradable. The gutsy call from the front office will be to admit the mistake an move on.
4. Overpay for a top of the rotation starter (Dempster, Peavy) and a bat (Youkilis, Melky, Napoli). We'll have to overpay because nobody will come here. Detroit turned around the attitude when they signed Pudge a few years ago. Cleveland is in the same boat. And you need two free agents. One would be a waste of money.
5. Keep Masterson. High quality guy with a good contract. You win with guys like that, this year notwithstanding.
Question is: How many of these things will the Tribe do?
I don't know if I'd wait until July to trade Perez. What if he gets hurt or regresses to his 2011 season? Trade him while his value is high.
Barnes has a 2.45 ERA in 11 appearances if you take away the disastrous 5 earned runs in 1/3 inning outing on June 14. I don't know if he's a starter, but he's an interesting arm and he should be given every opportunity next season.
The keys to this winter are to get the best prospects they can for Choo and Perez, and nail the draft, especially that top pick, which should be around #5. They need a Chris Sale type pick at that spot.
Seriously though, it would be nice if by midseason next year some of their higher end prospects from Carolina could be on the cusp. They need to make a big charge this offseason and next spring.
Santana-1B; Marson starts at C; FA-backup C.
Fedroff + Neal platoon in OF.
Aguilar-1B/DH by mid-season/Lindor-IF by midseason.
Paulino-RF by trade deadline; Choo traded.
McCallister, Masterson, + either Carrasco, Barnes, or McFarland, + either FA, Slowey, Gomez, or Murata
Lose; draft; build for another year.
(Good, positive article by Adam McGavin)