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Imagining the 2013 Cleveland lineup without a full-time DH

Imagining the 2013 Cleveland lineup without a full-time DH
Travis Hafner (Photo: Cleveland.com)
December 20, 2012
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For the first time in recent memory, a typical Cleveland lineup card will not feature the phrase "Travis Hafner, DH." Not that there is anything wrong with carrying a full-time designated hitter on the team (especially when he is putting up a .308/.439/.659 line with 42 home runs like Hafner did in 2006), but it does limit flexibility.

That lack of flexibility really hurts a team like Cleveland when the full-time DH gets hurt. This leads to light-hitting players like Aaron CunninghamCord Phelps,Jason Donald, and Vinny Rottino finding "DH" written next to their name; a true nightmare to behold.

With Hafner a free agent and not expected to re-sign, Cleveland has a flexible DH spot for the first time in years. If the team does not fill it at some point later in the offseason, Terry Francona can use the DH as a way to give one of the regular players some rest while keeping their bat in the lineup.

So let's take a look at what this could look like. Be warned: math and assumptions lie ahead. One such assumption is that each of the regular players will play 150 games. This is probably a bit low, but this should capture some of the nicks and bruises that accumulate over the course of the season. Or something like that.

Catcher

Carlos Santana: 107 games; Lou Marson: 40 games; Yan Gomes: 15 games

Santana is technically the starting catcher, but the team has routinely given him days off from catching to keep him fresh throughout the season. Giving Marson 40 starts should do that, plus allow Francona to start him mostly against left-handed pitching, as Marson owns a .264/.355/.368 line against lefties (and an abysmal .197/.286/.266 line against righties). Francona could also give Gomes a few starts, as he could prove to be a more effective offensive weapon long-term than Marson.

First Base

Mark Reynolds: 110 games; Carlos Santana: 21 games; Chris McGuiness: 16 games; Yan Gomes: 15 games

Reynolds will obviously get most of the time at first base after signing a $6 million contract in the offseason, but I can see Francona taking him out of the field on a semi-regular basis. The reaction about his defense at first is mixed, but he was a butcher at third base. Starting Reynolds at DH allows Rule 5 selection McGuiness, along with Gomes, to play a bit at first base, limiting their exposure while buying time to see if they can stick in Cleveland. Santana will also see time at first base, as it is another way of keeping arguably the team's best bat in the lineup.

Second Base

Jason Kipnis: 125 games; Mike Aviles: 37 games

Kipnis is the heart and soul of the team, but he faded down the stretch and could have used a better backup to spell him from time to time. Aviles gives Cleveland that option, as he would be good enough to hold down the starting job at a league-average level. Plus, he is right-handed, once again helping to balance the heavy left-handedness the plagued the team in 2012.

Shortstop

Asdrubal Cabrera: 125 games; Mike Aviles: 37 games

The same arguments from above apply here as well, perhaps even more so considering Cabrera's even larger struggles in the second half. People have questioned Cabrera's conditioning, but either way, it cannot hurt to allow Cabrera to get some extra days off. Plus, as an added bonus, Francona can get Cabrera and his below-average range out of the field.

Third Base

Lonnie Chisenhall: 135 games; Mike Aviles: 27 games

Cleveland needs to find out if Chisenhall is the long-term answer at third base, but that does not mean he must play all 162 games. Chisenhall has struggled pretty mightily against left-handers (he owns a .227/.253/.443 in a limited sample), so Francona can let Aviles gain some starts while Chisenhall grows into the role. He will need to face left-handed pitching in order to get better, but it will not hurt to give him a day off every once and a while.

Left Field

Michael Brantley: 93 games; Chris McGuiness: 44 games; Ezequiel Carrera: 25 games; 

Nobody knows how the acquisition of Drew Stubbs will play out for sure, but right now it appears he will start in center field. This leaves Brantley to play in left field, something he did not do in 2012. The rest of the time could go to McGuiness (who is reportedly going to be tried there in Spring Training) and Carrera (the true fourth outfielder on the roster). I think the non-Brantley time is up for grabs in Spring Training, but for now, I could see McGuiness getting the time to help continue his development.

Center Field

Drew Stubbs: 130 games; Michael Brantley: 32 games

Stubbs is one of the better defenders in the game, so giving him a healthy amount of time in center field makes plenty of sense. He is also a right-handed bat, something Cleveland desperately needs. The catch is that Stubbs simply has not been able to hit right-handed pitching (he owns a .228/.301/.355 line against righties compared to a .276/.344/.476 line against lefties in his career), so limiting his playing time a little bit makes sense. This also allows Brantley to boost his value by keeping him in center some of the time.

Right Field

Free Agent: 125 games; Ezequiel Carrera: 37 games

As no one knows who will play right field next year, I am assuming someone like Nick SwisherCody Ross, etc. will take over in 2013. If someone does sign, they will play the lion's share of the games in the field, like the other key members of the team. Carrera, being the fourth outfielder, is in line to fill the rest of the games in right field, though I could see someone beating him out for the role in Spring Training.

It is all too fluid to nail down, but the numbers are roughly in the ballpark. And that's the spirit of this exercise anyway!

Designated Hitter

So where was this all leading?

Since I stated that the main starters were going to play 150 games, we can add 22 games for Santana and 25 games for Kipnis, Cabrera, Brantley, and the free agent not yet on the roster. I only gave Reynolds 30 games at DH (bringing him up to 140 total) since I can see Francona leaving him out of the lineup a little bit more frequently to avoid high strikeout totals. This gives us 152 designated hitter games, the number of times Cleveland will need one in 2013.

So in the end, a Santana/Kipnis/Cabrera/Brantley/Reynolds/free agent concoction will be the team's designated hitter, while decent to above-average defenders in Aviles, Carrera, and Marson will gain a few extra games in the field.

It is not a perfect solution, but it could keep the team healthier and fresher down the stretch. Cleveland has a 57-93 record in the second half of the past two seasons and maybe this is a solution to that problem.

In case my reasoning above was hard to follow, here are the raw numbers for games:

  • Mike Aviles: 101 games (37 at 2B, 37 at SS, 27 at 3B)
  • Michael Brantley: 150 games (93 at LF, 32 at CF, 25 at DH)
  • Asdrubal Cabrera: 150 games (125 at SS, 25 at DH)
  • Ezequiel Carrera: 62 games (37 at RF, 25 at LF)
  • Lonnie Chisenhall: 135 games (135 at 3B)
  • Yan Gomes: 30 games (15 at C, 15 at 1B)
  • Jason Kipnis: 150 games (125 at 2B, 25 at DH)
  • Lou Marson: 40 games (40 at C)
  • Chris McGuiness: 60 games (44 at LF, 16 at 1B)
  • Mark Reynolds: 140 games (110 at 1B, 30 at DH)
  • Carlos Santana: 150 games (107 at C, 22 at DH, 21 at 1B)
  • Drew Stubbs: 130 games (130 at CF)
  • Free Agent: 150 games (125 at RF, 25 at DH)

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at jpiasci1@gmail.com. If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.

User Comments

Shy
December 21, 2012 - 10:43 AM EST
Of the names mentioned I was really impressed w ZackMack last year. Pretty good stuff, good control, a lot of experience for his age, and he's a grinder-tough mental approach. These are the guys that sometimes develop over time into Curt Schilling front of the rotation types. Masterson on the other hand looks unhittable at times which is why he has high trade value, but he seems mentally all over the place and this is the crucial year for him. He is inconsistent not only from game to game but even within games he starts well he has a hard time bearing down after the 5 th or 6th.. We all see the flashes of brilliance and hope he can become more consistent but I have my doubts and probably would have traded him for Morales- the Angels got a pretty darn good starter in Vargas- higher rated than Masterson IMO. I am excited about the Bauer trade and I know you think another big deal or two is coming. I hope so. The kid is obviously volatile- for him to succeed it would help to have a good team behind him. Happy and Healthy Holidays to you Tony and all who help make the IPI so fun and enjoyable. Shy
Tony
December 21, 2012 - 12:02 AM EST
Shy, not sure the Indians had the starter they could depart with for Morales. Who were they going to trade....McAllister? Kluber? Jimenez? Masterson? Not a good fit there as some of those guys are too valuable to the Indians and some are not enough to get Morales.
Shy
December 20, 2012 - 10:10 PM EST
Well lets see the Indians could have gotten Kendrys Morales who has 4.8mil remaining on his contract before arbitration. Switch-hitter, great in the clutch, power, average ready for big year after return from broken leg last year still hit 22 jacks in limited duty. Gone to Seattle today for Justin Vargas. Speaking of which Edwin Jackson gone today signed w the Cubs. Maybe Shapiro should change his cologne and Antonetti should change his occupation. Carlos Santana at DH? It's a good thing the Winter League is over down south- he was about to be cut.
Rich
December 20, 2012 - 3:04 PM EST
This is definitely the way I envision the lineup also with one exception. I would only keep one extra catcher, Gomes or Marson. I would keep an eight man bullpen, which I think they will need given the probable shaky rotation. I think the advantage of an extra arm will outweigh the flexibility of a third catcher.

I do like seeing the flexibility of having the DH spot open for resting players and for matching right handed hitters against left-handed pitching and vice-versa. I hope the Indians don't cave and sign Hafner to a late-season signing for low dollars.
Nick
December 20, 2012 - 1:31 PM EST
Is the thought of Gomes being our DH a year too soon? He seems to really be coming into his own and he can still provide at least some pop at DH.
Jim Piascik
December 20, 2012 - 12:34 PM EST
My only regret for the offseason so far is that quite a few of the buy-low SP options have been signed. And most of them have gone to Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and co. in Chicago (Baker, Feldman, Villanueva in particular).

There are still some interesting names out there though. Jurrjens, Myers, Marcum, Oswalt, Saunders. Maybe one of those to go with Masterson/Ubaldo/McAllister/Bauer. It's not pretty, but it's something.
Tony
December 20, 2012 - 11:32 AM EST
Hafner will come cheap and on a one year deal, so I anticipate a team like the Rays and Athletics being a potential landing spot for him, Maybe even Houston if they can't sign Berkman out of retirement.

Brian, I agree. And I think having the DH spot open helps in the event a signing like say Swisher goes bad as he could still be the DH. Just adds much needed flexibility to the roster. It is amazing how much Hafner really crippled that flexibility.

Jake, I think in addition to signing Swisher, the other need is starting pitching like you suggest. but I also see a need to get a primary lefty in the pen, something they don't have. They can't rely on Hagadone, Barnes or Huff in such a role at the outset of the season.
Jake
December 20, 2012 - 11:25 AM EST
Hey Jim I love the article. From what I'm reading we only need one more offensive weapon in rightfield and the offense is set. Also the bullpen is now set with the trades made landing Shaw and Albers and two of the three prospects Barnes, Hagadone and Allen filling out the bullpen. Which leaves the Indians biggest hole their rotation. I'm guessing Masterson, Jimenez, and McAllister are set in the rotation. Leaving two spots open for the likes of Bauer, Carrasco, Gomez, Huff, and Kluber. Who do u see the Indians signing to fill at least one more spot in the rotation and who from that young group do u see filling the 5th starter spot or the two open spots if the Indians fail to sign a true starting pitcher?
brian
December 20, 2012 - 11:11 AM EST
Good article. Being able to give our players some rest is great, but I feel like the biggest benefit of this is our ability to be flexible when signing or trading for quality players. If we have an open DH spot, we can go out and trade for a player in July if were competing regardless of his position. I can't think of a situation off the top of my head, but in the last few years I know there have been players that would have looked good in our lineup, but we had no place for him on the field and Hafner was clogging the DH spot. I don't expect that to happen now.
Jim Piascik
December 20, 2012 - 10:00 AM EST
I've read that Seattle and Tampa are fits, but that was from saber-leaning writers. The fact that he can't stay on the field recently seems to be dragging his market down to nothing.

He's a well above-average hitter when he's in the lineup. But if he's only going to be in the lineup 65 times, nobody wants him.
Joe
December 20, 2012 - 9:54 AM EST
Jim/Tony, speaking of DH's, have you heard anything of Hafner getting any feelers from other teams ? Just curious.

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