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March Madness at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

Kipnis, Brantley and many question-marks in the rotation

March Madness at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario
March 20, 2013
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March Madness means the college basketball tournament, and we here at IBI are hosting our first annual IBI March Madness bracket challenge. If you haven’t gotten your bracket in, make sure you sign up! To the winner goes the spoils, as a year’s subscription, a 2013 prospect book and four free tickets go out to the winner. There are other prizes as well for second and third. There’s nothing like a little swag for being the luckiest smartest bracketologist here at IBI.

March Madness also means that spring training is winding up, and for the Indians, it means that the final battles are being waged for the final spots on the team’s roster. From here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, it appears as though the 25-man is wrapped up. While there may still be some business involving an overbooked pen and a Carlos Carrasco-burning-suspension-move, the roster should look something like this:

There could be some play there with regards to the bullpen, especially with the Perez injury, but with the Indians’ closer ahead of schedule, he should be back by opening day. I also don’t think that Ryan Raburn is a sure-thing. Ezequiel Carrera could very well find his way onto this roster as well. Past that, this line-up is set.

So much for March Madness. I suppose the madness is that the Indians appear as set as they have been in years.

That’s a good thing, right?

The Indians focus this offseason was acquiring a group of free agents to make this team competitive in 2013. Gone are the days of discussing windows opening and closing, and with it have come thoughts of playoff grandeur. Lost in all of this is the potential to sign some guys to long-term deals, much like they did last season when they signed Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera to deals that would carry them past their first free-agent season. If there was a concern when the Indians threw all this money towards free agents, it was that they wouldn’t be able to work out long-term deals for some of their current talent. I don’t know if concern was the right word there, but I think you get my point.

Would the Indians be able to balance in a higher-spending model while still retaining the ability to build and sign in-house talent. According to Ken Rosenthal, the Indians are doing just that.

The Tribe is in talks with Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley to sign them both to multi-year deals past their arbitration years. The Indians need to continue this line of thinking going forward to ensure that they develop and hang on to their youngsters. It will be interesting though to see if the Indians ultimately put pen to paper, for a variety of reasons:

  • Jason Kipnis-The Indians could make a statement with the struggling Kipnis by signing him to a long-term deal. Kipnis has a ton of star potential, but struggled at the end of 2012 and has continued that struggle during spring training this year. He’s going to be a great player, and it would be a solid move for the Indians to lock him up to a long-term deal. It also may boost his confidence a bit heading into the season. You never make a move based on that, but it is something that could be a by-product. If the Indians have the means, Kipnis should be #1 on the list.
  • Michael Brantley-Brantley is the more curious of the two. He has an incredibly advanced approach on a team that won’t have that many folks taking pitches at the plate. As a centerfielder, Brantley provides more value than he would as a left-fielder, where power is a premium. Still, the upside of Brantley is clear. He’s an above-average defender who can get on base. He’s never going to roll out 10+ homers, but his value is clear on a team that can make the power up at other positions. Will the Indians be able to wrap up Brantley to a long-term deal? Do they want to? Will the cash be enough to entice him to? These are all interesting questions, as Brantley provides the more sure thing. Of course, Kipnis has more power upside.
  • Justin Masterson-His name hasn’t been mentioned, but you have to wonder if the Indians will try and sign their “best starter.” Masterson has a ton of questions, that I’ll get into in a second, but you have to believe that Francona wants to keep him around. Is Masterson a guy they try to sign to a three-year deal, to keep him beyond his arbitration years? Not likely, because he’s a pitcher, but something to watch. You could probably include a guy like Zach McAllister in this equation, although he may be a year away.

Kipnis and Brantley should be no brainers at this point. It’s just good business to keep hold of your potential in-house starters. It’s something John Hart did very well, and Mark Shapiro did as well. It’s the one thing you can point to in 2012 that was probably a positive for Chris Antonetti, so we’ll see if he can add another exclamation point to an already successful 2012-2013 offseason and preseason.

Every single Indians’ starter has questions heading into the regular season, and that just isn’t healthy, as we found out in 2012, and to some extent, in 2011 as well.

  1. Justin Masterson-Is he the starter that dominated in 2011, or the starter that didn’t in 2012? Is he really a starter, or is he a really, really good bullpen arm?
  2. Ubaldo Jimenez-Where do I go with this one? Is his delivery fixable? Will he see an uptick in velocity? Can he become a pitcher, and not a thrower? Is he even a major league pitcher at this point?
  3. Brett Myers-Why did the Astros move him to the bullpen, and why don’t the Indians know when Brad Mills is part of the coaching staff (I realize they know, but am concerned with why it’s a massive secret, and even more curious about the background of it all, and why and how the Indians signed him)? Is he a starter at this stage of his career, or is he just another bullpen arm? Is he Derek Lowe, circa 2013?
  4. Zach McAllister-Can he replicate what he did in 2012? Can he improve on 2012? Will he regress in 2013 after a small sample size?
  5. Scott Kazmir-Is his “balloon full” after regaining much of his lost velocity? Can he stay healthy, which he never really was able to do later in his first run, and has been out for two years?
  6. Trevor Bauer-Is he a prodigy or an enigma (listen, he’s young, so anything is possible at this point)?
  7. Carlos Carrasco-Can he rebound from 1 ½ years off? How will they handle his suspension? If everything works out and he finds his way back to Cleveland, what pitcher will he be?
  8. Daisuke Matsuzaka-Can he ever rebound from

I can safely tell you that there isn’t a snowball’s chance that all those questions end up on the positive side of the column. In a perfect world, they start domino-ing off of each other in a positive way and become that rag-tag group that continues to one-up each other. There are guys, like Masters and Myers and McAllister, that I really believe could do it.

Ultimately, the fear here is that the Indians have built a team that could really do some damage, but will watch the balloon pop because the pitching staff just can’t get the job done.

There’s a lot of scuttlebutt about Ubaldo Jimenez with regards to where he stands as spring training winds up here at the end of March. His numbers haven’t been great, but they haven’t been all that special either. The key to Jimenez this spring has been his new approach to his delivery. Terry Francona and Mickey Hatcher have been having the righthander quicken up his deliver in hopes that he can find a better rhythm. In turn, the better rhythm was hoped to improve his velocity. It’s hard to get a reliable radar gun down in Arizona, but our very own Tony Lastoria documented the speed of his pitches during his most recent start.

According to Lastoria, Jimenez was consistently throwing in the upper-80’s, occasionally touching 90. I don’t think that I have to say much about that, do I?

Tony will tell you that there isn’t a gun out there that is reliable 100% of the time, but reliable or not, his radar readings over the course of the past year have been pretty accurate. That doesn’t bode well for the camp that believes Jimenez is set for any sort of a major rebound.

Jimenez has pitched himself into jams, but managed to keep those innings in which he’s struggled from getting out of hand. He’s done this in a variety of ways. First and foremost is that he’s throwing more strikes. In 18 1/3 innings, he’s managed to strike out 14, while walking only three. In doing so, he’s allowing his defense to bail him out, often making spectacular plays to do it.

In Francona’s daily press conferences, it’s clear that this is what he’s been preaching to his enigmatic starter. He’s also stated several times in an almost pleading way that if Jimenez continues to improve his rhythm on the hill, that his velocity should improve.

It just isn’t.

Yes, he could be working on his delivery, which would explain a drop in his velocity. I can buy into that. I just don’t think that when the regular season starts, you are going to see his velocity improve from the upper-80’s to the 93-94 MPH range where he can begin to resemble the pitcher he was in 2010 for Colorado (his velocity was more than that, I know, but c’mon, he’s never going to be that guy again). If he only sees a jump in his velocity back into the lower-90’s, I just don’t see how viable he can be on a start-to-start basis.

Can he turn himself into a pitcher, and not just a guy that blazes night-after-night? I don’t see it, but perhaps that’s why they’ve brought in Brett Myers. Perhaps they were hoping to show Jimenez a guy that’s seen his velocity drop over the years, but has been a fairly consistent starter.

Of course, Myers has been getting torched, so so much for that.

I can’t see a situation in which Jimenez can be successful throwing at his current level. Let’s hope there’s more to this than meets the eye, because if there isn’t, the Indians are going to have to count on some youngers and some retreads to carry this staff.

I can’t help but think that Kyle Lohse may be on the Indians’ radar still, as spring training rolls to a close. I know there have been reports that they aren’t on board, but it could get interesting as teams start to break camp. If Boras is holding firm to his salary demands, and it’s fairly clear that he is or Lohse would likely be playing for someone right now, it’s possible that Lohse won’t sign with a team until after the June draft. It’s an interesting strategy, as it would nullify any issues with draft-pick compensation.

If that’s the case, the Indians are completely out of the running. I’m not saying Lohse is the end-all of starters, but he definitely would be an improvement over what they have with regards to a rotation now. Yes, the Indians have an interesting group of starters, but when every single one of them is tied to a question, that’s a lot of hope on positive answers.

Congrats goes out to Carlos Santana, who on Tuesday night, was crowned a World Baseball Classic champion after the Dominican Republic defeated Puerto Rico 3-0. Santana didn’t have much to say in the finals of the Classic, but his fifth inning home run against Puerto Rico over the weekend put the Dominicans a game away from the finals. Santana’s numbers were solid during the series. In eight ball games, Santana hit .273, with six hits in eight ballgames. He had a double, two homers and three RBI, while walking nine times against only six K’s. While those numbers don’t scream out to you, his OPS should. His slash was .273/.484/.591, for a 1.075 OPS. It was second highest for the Dominican.

The Rearviewmirror:

I’m overly excited that the Indians traded for Mike Aviles. His versatility is going to be paramount to the success of the Indians, but I’ll get into that in a another corner. I mention Aviles because he reminds me a lot of Jamey Carroll, who reminded me a lot of a more versatile John McDonald. For those wondering about McDonald, and I may be the only one out there, he was just dealt today from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Pittsburgh Pirates. McDonald is now 38, and is long past his prime, but there’s always been a small part of me that wanted to see McDonald back.

He was a scrappy utility player with the Indians, who never played in more than 100 games, and never hit more than .250 or so, but always played the game the right way. It’s good to see the McDonald’s of the world still valued in a game that sometimes seems dominated by numbers. He’s a glue player, and someone that provides leadership based on the way he plays the game.

You know…kinda like a poor-man’s version of John McDonald. Good luck to McDonald, even if it’s with the Buccos.

Also in the rearviewmirror are some intriguing guys that are likely heading out of Cleveland altogether, or heading to Columbus. I absolutely love Yan Gomes, and think if he can focus on catching for the 2013 season in Columbus, he could become a factor in 2014 as a multi-use defensive player, and a plus offensive player. I hate platoons, but love guys with the ability to fill in at multiple places. Mike Aviles and Gomes are two such players.

Chris McGuiness is likely gone, as I have to believe that Texas wants this kid back. If the Indians could figure out a way to put him on the roster, they would, but he just wouldn’t stick, and he just isn’t ready. I just don’t know if the Indians are willing to deal for him at this point. My good buddy and fellow IBI editor Steve Orbanek loves this kid’s swing, and for good reason. There’s a hitter there, and if the Indians could get him in the outfield, I could see him really putting pressure as soon as next season. He’d be a good alternative or supplement to the non-power guys. It’ll be interesting to see what they finally come up with in the coming weeks.

Have we seen the last of David Huff? Have we seen the last of Zeke Carrera? It appears likely, but we’ll see how things work out.

The battles appear to be over, but there should be some interesting players in Columbus that should be more than just fodder going forward.

Make sure you check out Tony Lastoria’s notebooks here at IBI, as he continues his on-site coverage of the Indians in Arizona!

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

User Comments

Common Cents
March 21, 2013 - 11:20 AM EDT
Seth, you are such a father figure. We respect that. We so enjoy your patronizing nature!!! THANKS BUDDY!

Folks, this team has no hackers, other than Chisenhall, and his less-than-a-year window.

March 20, 2013 - 10:02 PM EDT
I don't see much of a point to lock up Brantley unless they are thinking that they definitely will not keep Bourn. It doesn't make sense to keep both players long-term. There weren't a lot of better options available this year, but have to think next year if Bourn is still on the team it would make more sense to trade Brantley, who isn't a good fit in LF, and then either acquire a 1b to bump Swisher back to the outfield, or acquire another more offensive-minded outfielder. Depends on how things shake out this year with performance, but doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to lock up Brantley now with such a flexible situation.

It's inaccurate to say that Brantley will be one of the few guys to take pitches, the Indians are actually loaded with anti-swingers, they have 5 guys who were in the top 30 in MLB for lowest swing %. Santana was 9th lowest, Brantley 20th, Bourn 23rd, Kipnis 25th (wouldn't have guessed that), Stubbs 26th and Swisher 28th. They have some strikeout artists, but all of those guys and Reynolds know how to take a pitch too. Chisenhall's the only real hacker on the team.
March 20, 2013 - 9:09 PM EDT
Johnny Mac.

I was at what was argueably both his best pro game & Jake Westbrook's best, at least statistically. June 14, 2004 at the Jake, an afternoon makeup game vs Baltimore.

Johnny Mac went 4 AB, 2 R, 4 H, 1 RBI, 1-2B, 1 BB, 0-K's.

Jake threw a CG Shutout: 9 IP, 0 Runs, 4 Hits, 2 BB, 4 K's, 103 pitches.

Only one hit reached the OF in the air, a sharp single by BJ Surhoff. One hit was a bunt "single" by Melvin Mora that was mis-played by Tim Laker. The most dominatingly pitched game I've ever seen in person. Oh yeah, the Tribe was up 8-0 after 3 and cruised to a 14-0 win. It doesn't get any better than that.
March 20, 2013 - 7:35 PM EDT
you might think i am crazy but michael brantly will hit 10 or more home runs this year.he is starting to figure out that he can turn on certain pitches even if he is not a pull hitter.

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