Big moves bring new team to Corner of Carnegie & Ontario
I really can’t help myself as I sit in a giant pile of snow here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario. I find myself staring at the 2013 roster and thinking, “Who are these freakin’ guys?”
Sure, those were some of the funniest words (well, not quite those words) uttered in the film Major League, as fans across town viewed the roster brought in at the beginning of the season after the Indians had dumped their regular players for a group of low-priced, no-named free agents.
I couldn’t help but utter those same words at the start of 2013, but fortunately for both Indians’ fans and for the writers that cover the team, the meaning couldn’t be any more different in 2013 than the words uttered nearly 25 years ago.
“Those freakin’ guys” the Indians’ front office brought in aren’t no-names. Instead, they are either a group of players respected around the league for production and their locker room demeanor (think Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Brett Myers, Mark Reynolds, Mike Aviles and Jason Giambi), or highly thought of system guys (Cody Allen, Carlos Carrasco and Lonnie Chisenhall).
Here’s a quick look at the 25-man roster as it stood today in comparison to the 25-man roster at the start of the 2012 season:
|SP1||Justin Masterson||Justin Masterson|
|SP2||Ubaldo Jimenez||Ubaldo Jimenez|
|SP3||Derek Lowe||Brett Myers|
|SP4||Josh Tomlin||Zach McAllister|
|SP5||Jeanmar Gomez||Scott Kazmir|
|CL||Chris Perez||Chris Perez|
|B2||Vinnie Pestano||Vinnie Pestano|
|B3||Joe Smith||Joe Smith|
|B4||Tony Sipp||Cody Allen|
|B5||Rafael Perez||Rich Hill|
|B6||Dan Wheeler||Matt Albers|
|B7||Jairo Asencio||Bryan Shaw|
|C||Carlos Santana||Carlos Santana|
|1B||Casey Kotchman||Nick Swisher|
|2B||Jason Kipnis||Jason Kipnis|
|SS||Asdrubal Cabrera||Asdrubal Cabrera|
|3B||Jack Hannahan||Lonnie Chisenhall|
|RF||Shin-Soo Choo||Drew Stubbs|
|CF||Michael Brantley||Michael Bourn|
|LF||Shelley Duncan||Michael Brantley|
|DH||Travis Hafner||Mark Reynolds|
|C2||Lou Marson||Lou Marson|
|4OF||Aaron Cunningham||Ryan Raburn|
|U1||Jason Donald||Mike Aviles|
|Manager||Manny Acta||Terry Francona|
|Bench Coach||Sandy Alomar Jr.||Sandy Alomar Jr.|
|1st Base Coach||Tom Wiedenbauer||Mike Sarbaugh|
|3rd Base Coach||Steve Smith||Brad Mills|
|Hitting Coach||Bruce Fields||Ty Van Burkleo|
|Pitching Coach||Scott Radinsky||Mickey Callaway|
The difference isn't exactly shocking, but the two teams certainly have stark differences, to say the least.
The starting rotation may not necessarily be better, but it certainly is different, and it certainly possesses a bit more upside, especially when you look at the players side-by-side.
The 2013 Masterson can’t be any worse than the 2012 Masterson, because he was pretty bad.
While I do believe the 2013 Ubaldo Jimenez can be even worse than his 2012 self, he certainly didn’t look that way during the spring. He seemed to have found the strike zone. Later today, we’ll see if he can continue to find the strike zone, and if he can perhaps locate some of that velocity.
There may not be much difference between Derek Lowe and Brett Myers, at the end of the day. Lowe is a bit older than Myers, but they do seem to be at the same point in their careers. The difference is that Myers pitched in the bullpen last year, and is returning to the rotation. Will he be better? I certainly think he can be more consistent, and for a longer duration.
Zach McAllister certainly should be a better starter than Tomlin. His stuff is much better, and if you read Steve Orbanek’s debut column, Orbiting Cleveland, there certainly may be more than meets the eye with the Indians righty.
Kazmir used to be one of the best lefty starters in all of baseball. He hasn’t been that in a long time, and likely will never be that again in his career. He appears to be hurt, but if he’s healthy, I do like him better than Jeanmar Gomez and his no-velocity garbage. If Kazmir doesn’t start, Carlos Carrasco, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Trevor Bauer all could take over that spot. Check, check and check. I like all three of them better than Gomez.
In the Pen, things just get better. Perez, Pestano and Smith should be at least equal to last year’s numbers. I believe Perez and Smith will be, and Pestano should show a bit of an improvement.
I like Allen better than Sipp last season. Sure, Sipp is a lefty, but the Indians only have one up right now, and while I believe Hagadone will be back soon enough, he’s not up, so can’t compare.
Hill is intriguing, and Perez spent the entire season hurt in 2012. Hill is better, and really could be the lefty Joe Smith.
My dog just threw a pitch that was better than Dan Wheeler’s arsenal of garbage. No, I’m not comparing Matt Albers to my dog, but he doesn’t have to do much to be better than Wheeler.
I honestly didn’t remember Jairo Asencio was on this team. Bryan Shaw has electric stuff, and while it can be flat at times, there’s some mix there that I like.
Carrasco will be sent down soon, but who comes up depends a lot on the Kazmir injury.
The offense is really where the major difference is, even though you can see there is some upside to the pitching staff.
The 2013 Santana seems to be ready to break out, after that was seemingly derailed by a concussion at the mid-season point.
Nick Swisher is like adding two offensive players’ numbers to the line-up, specifically when you compare him to last year’s first baseman, Casey Kotchman, whose name I hope to forget forever after writing this piece. Swisher is the leader of this team. Kotchman is the starting first baseman for the Miami Marlins. Yeah, they are the team that just traded away their…well…team.
Jason Kipnis was one of the better second basemen in the first half of 2012. That’s hard to remember, because he was one of the worst at the end of the 2012. Kipnis can flat out rake, and his glove continues to improve, to the point where you can consider it an asset.
Asdrubal Cabrera came into camp in shape, after playing in the winter leagues and the WBC this offseason. He blasted a two-run homer in Tuesday’s opening night win, and seems to be ready to take off. He’s had two fantastic half-seasons in the past two years, then fallen apart in the second half. This year, I hope to see that change.
Lonnie Chisenhall isn’t an improvement defensively over Jack Hannahan, but the bat isn’t even comparable. Chisenhall is a former Indians’ #1 prospect. Hannahan was 31 when he made the Indians, hadn’t played in the bigs in a year, and had only played in 290 games over four seasons prior to that. Chis has the potential to be a solid third sacker for years to come.
Choo is better than Stubbs, but the new Indians’ rightfielder does possess value. He may be the fastest player on the team, and if he’s not, he’s definitively second. He is a solid fielder with a nice arm. Choo is still better.
Brantley was outstanding in center last year, but there was definitely room for improvement. Bourn may have been the best centerfielder in all of baseball when you incorporate defense and baserunning into the equation. Brantley is twice the player that Shelley Duncan was in 2012, and he could be more. Brantley is on the verge of breaking out.
I loved Travis Hafner when he was healthy, but when was he healthy? Was it in 2006? He just wasn’t the same player that was one of the best offensive players in baseball during his heyday. Injuries robbed him of his power. Mark Reynolds will strike out 200 times this year. He also may hit 40 homers, with some of them traveling to new and undiscovered zipcodes.
Lou Marson is at least equal to his past work, and could improve upon light-hitting offense.
Ryan Raburn versus Aaron “Freakin’” Cunningham? Raburn would have to stay asleep for the entire month of April to get into the realm of Cunningham, and still wouldn’t be so low. Raburn is a multi-position player with some ups, although not many.
Mike Aviles is a starter on many teams outside of Cleveland. For the Indians, he’s a super utility player, and he really is a force to be reckoned with for what he can provide the Indians throughout the season. The Indians are only carrying Raburn and Aviles as utility guys right now to help supplement the pitching staff during the 13-game stretch at the start of the season in which the Indians don’t have a day off. Aviles really makes that possible, since he really can play anywhere in a pinch. There really isn’t a comparison between what he brings the 2013 team as compared to Jason Donald and Jose Lopez in 2012. The numbers will be better, but it’s more than that. Aviles is a glue player to me, a guy that hold this team together with all he brings.
Giambi will soon come off the DL and take the place of the 13th pitcher, and he really brings to the table a unique skill set. HE has that short memory that you love with a pinch hitter or spot starter who can grab a bat every few days and produce. He understands his role, and that makes him invaluable. It’s not easy for some guys to sit on the bench for stretches. Giambi will do it without a problem, and be able to produce numbers that should provide some impact. When you add to that the ability to be a coach on the field and in the locker room, you have a player that the Indians haven’t had in some time. The key with Giambi is production, and as long as he can hit the occasional home run, and as long as he doesn’t turn into a hole on offense, he should not only stick around, but play a key role with this team.
It’s always hard to quantify a major league coaching staff, and as much as I want to talk about the departed staff in a negative fashion after the 2012 collapse, I’m just not ready to do that. Let’s just say that Terry Francona and his approach are a major upgrade, and leave it at that.
Francona brings a culture that the team hasn’t had in years, if ever. He also brought in a coaching staff that can supplement that, including holding onto Sandy Alomar Jr., who’s considered a top managerial candidate in all of baseball.
With Mike Sarbaugh and Brad Mills, there are two more managerial minds on the staff, with Sarbaugh coming from a massively successful run throught the Indians organization, and Brad Mills recently being the manager of the Houston Astros.
There has been a lot of scrutiny placed on pitching coach Mickey Callaway, but he seems to be filling in the role of pitching coach quite nicely. It’s hard to know how much for the next month or two, as the Indians’ rotation starts to settle in, but there have been subtle differences in guys like Justin Masterson and especially with Ubaldo Jimenez that could provide insight to improvement. Of course, we’ve only seen Masterson in games that count, and that start was a mixed bag that started off rough, and ended good.
While Callaway has gotten the most notoriety, Ty Van Burkleo may have the toughest job of all. This team can hit, and if they don’t, it’s not hard to figure who is going to be the first on the chopping block. No, I don’t see that happening realistically in 2013, but watch how this team hits, and watch the position the Van Burkleo is in. This is a team that puts him in a no-win situation. If they hit, they should. If they don’t, shame on him. I’ll be focusing my attention on Lonnie Chisenhall against lefties and a guy like Drew Stubbs, who’s swing was too long in Cincinnati, but has been working with Van Burkleo this offseason to make it more compact. If he bounces back with a good offensive season, and if Chisenhall gets better against lefties, Van Burkleo should get the credit he deserves.
There are 14 players and an entire coaching staff that weren’t a part of the active roster at the start of the 2012 season. You really could ask, “Who are these freakin’ guys?” Of course, this time when you say it, you likely will be smiling because they can play, and not because it’s the punch-line of a movie.
It’s official. Ezequiel Carrera is heading to the Philadelphia Phillies. I don’t believe that his loss will hold all that much of an impact with this team in 2013, but I do think that Carrera can be impactful for any team that he plays for. He provides a team with off-the-bench speed and solid defense at all three positions. He was a lock for the Indians fourth outfielder before their surprising acquisition of Michael Bourn. Even after, you could see it pained manager Terry Francona whenever he mentioned the reality that Carrera could be gone. He just provided the Indians with the exact set of tools that Drew Stubbs, Michael Brantley and Michael Bourn provide. I will continue to follow Carrera, and don’t be surprised if he does some nice things for the Phillies in 2013 and beyond.
David Huff cleared waivers and was sent back to Columbus, where his role continues to be murky. The Clippers rotation isn’t a given for Huff, with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Trevor Bauer, Giovanny Soto and Corey Kluber filling out the top four slots. If Carlos Carrasco is sent down, as anticipated, and if Scott Kazmir makes his start on Saturday, Huff may become a sixth man out of the rotation, or end up back in the pen. Of course, Scott Barnes is already there as the top lefty, and the pen is full of solid guys that are ready to contribute in the bigs. Hopefully Huff clears out a road for him moving forward, but it certainly doesn’t appear to be an easy one. It’s too bad the Indians couldn’t work out a deal for the lefty. It’s hard to believe there isn’t another major league club that needs a left hander in some sort of role.
The Indians beat the Toronto Blue Jays, and as one of our loyal posters Seth pointed out in a discussion earlier this year, they were able to really force the Blue Jays pitching staff to throw pitches. Unfortunately for the Indians, R.A. Dickey was a knuckleballer, so while the Indians hitters were able to force him to making 104 pitches in six innings last night, the knuckleballer didn’t seem to feel the effects of it. The Indians were patient with Dickey’s floater, and it paid off with some key hits and walks. They’ll strike out a bunch as the season progresses, but they’ll take a lot of pitches in doing it.
Asdrubal Cabrera watch: I firmly believe that Carlos Santana is going to break out this year, but Drubs may be on the verge of something himself. He played all winter, came into camp in shape, played in the WBC, and has never been as ready to play as he is this year. He made a phenomenal play that really saved Justin Masterson on the turf in Toronto on Tuesday night, then supplemented that with a big two-run homer. I’ll be keeping weekly tabs on the shortstop for the time being, as this could be the year he stops being a pretty good offensive shortstop, and starts being a really good shortstop period. It is plays like he made in defense of Masterson that can snow ball for a rotation that needs a solid defensive effort. You have to believe that Masterson found Cabrera at some point after the game to thank his shortstop.
Hmmm, I wonder if Michael Bourn being on first base had anything to do with the pitch that Asdrubal Cabrera saw?
The Indians won its first opener since beating the White Sox in 2008. Maybe I should delete this fact?
The Bullpen Mafia resurfaced last night, as Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez were fairly dominant. Perez labored a bit, but when you compare it to opening day, 2012, you can’t really complain. This bullpen has more depth and power arms than they have had in years, so while the Mafia was in full force, the Blitzkrieg with the rest of the new relievers on this roster will really be effective. This team can hit you in waves with big arms, angles and experience. Yeah, did I mention the depth yet? Your homework today is to take a look at Columbus’ roster. There are some guys in the wings, that is for sure.
The next time we speak, the Indians will have finished their series against the Blue Jays, will have headed to Tampa for a weekend series with the Rays, and will be wrapping up their opening series at progressive field with the New York Yankees. It’s early yet, but these early games should provide an interesting picture of this team going forward. Opening night was a blue collar win, but it was one game. I can’t wait to see what a few weeks brings.
It’s a beautiful day for baseball…everybody…
Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at email@example.com.