Imagining the 2013 Cleveland lineup without a full-time DH
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 Cunningham, Cord 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Swisher, Cody 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!
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)
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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.
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.
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.
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.