Swinging for the Fences: The Goon Squad Shuffle
Which combination of utility players best suits the 2014 Indians?
The Goon Squad Shuffle.
No, it's not a new dance craze sweeping the YouTube and social media world, but knowing how quickly things get picked up and go viral, it soon could be, in which case I hereby claim all rights to the name.
In the meantime, however, let's focus on what the phrase "Goon Squad" means for those of us here in Cleveland in regards to the Indians bench.
Last season, the four primary utility players for the Tribe not only established an identity for themselves to the point where t-shirts were made and sold to the fans. They also backed it up on the field with consistent offense, versatile defense and clutch hits in some of the biggest moments of the season.
Gomes and Aviles were acquired early in the offseason a year ago in a trade with Toronto in exchange for relieverEsmil Rogers. Aviles was pretty much a lock to make the team from the start because of his versatility and the fact that he was a capable backup shortstop, something the Indians had lacked over the last couple seasons. He gave them just that over the course of the season backing up the shortstop, third base and second base positions and even got a handful of reps in the corner outfield spots.
While it's not fair to say that Gomes was an afterthought, he still wasn't viewed as a guy who could step up and make the significant impact that he did in 2013 after being called up shortly after the start of the regular season due to injuries to starting catcher Carlos Santana and backup Lou Marson. Now less than a year later, he's being handed the reins for the starting catcher role.
Ryan Raburn was the x-factor of this group after coming off a career-worst season in 2012 where he hit .171 with only one home run and 12 RBI in 66 games for Detroit.
After coming to Cleveland on a minor league deal, he immediately began his mission to prove that the previous year was a fluke by posting a .347 batting mark in Cactus League play with five homers and 12 RBI. But, of course, you take exhibition game stats with a grain of salt. During the regular season, however, Raburn, or "Bobby" as his teammates referred to him, finished what he started hitting 16 home runs and driving in 55 runs in a part-time role of corner outfielder, second baseman and even pitcher.
Last, but certainly not least, is everyone's favorite veteran pinch-hitter Jason Giambi, the man responsible for several clutch hits, including a two-run walk-off home run against the White Sox in late September that I and many other Tribe fans in attendance at Progressive Field that night won't soon forget.
That was last year.
Now heading into 2014, Yan Gomes has, in a sense, graduated to the starting lineup, creating an opening in the Squad. Mike Aviles will most assuredly return to the same role he filled last season, as will Ryan Raburn, but he is projected to share time in right field with newcomer David Murphy.
That leaves two or maybe only one spot open on the bench up for grabs depending on how many pitchers Terry Francona will choose to carry on the roster to start the regular season. But for the sake of discussion, let's just go with the traditional four players for now.
Sounds like no big deal, right?
The problem is Chris Antonetti has brought in eight viable candidates via minor league deals to go with several internal utility options.
So while performance in spring training will help dictate who gets the final spots, it also comes down to what areas on the field the Tribe needs the most depth in their judgment.
So without further or due, let's begin the shuffle!
Goon Squad Scenario #1 - Third Catcher:
One of the biggest questions Tito and the team need to address is whether or not they need to carry a third catcher on the bench with Gomes starting at the backstop and Santana shifting between third base, first base and DH.
Matt Treanor, one of the catchers currently in camp with Cleveland, spoke of this very issue over the weekend with Nick Camino of WTAM.
“If [Santana] is going to be concentrating his efforts on the infield, I’m sure they’d want to have another catcher," Treanor said.
It sounds a bit like Treanor is making a case to be added to the roster, but it is something the team will have to decide at some point.
The problem is with both Gomes and Santana likely playing everyday, replacing either one in the event of an injury becomes a bit more complicated during a game, especially if one of them is starting at DH and needs to move to catcher, thus taking the DH out of play for the remainder of the game.
It's not a huge risk nor is it something the Tribe can't live with, but what it comes down to is whether the team wants to have additional depth on the bench at another position or if they want to play it safe.
As things stand now, the Indians have at least two major league catcher options outside of Gomes and Santana in camp in Treanor and Luke Carlin. Both are journeyman catchers who have not done all that much at the plate, but teams have given them jobs as backups or minor league depth. Carlin has been with the Indians before. In fact, a little over two years from 2010-2012 was spent with the organization with brief stints in the majors in 2010 and 2012.
Both Treanor and Carlin would fill a third catcher role nicely, but Francona and the Indians may not decide to go that route and rather trust that Gomes and Santana could provide enough depth as long as both are healthy.
Prospects Roberto Perez and Jake Lowery are also in camp with an outside shot at being added to the 25-man roster in terms of their development, but neither have played at the big league level as of yet.
Goon Squad Scenario #2 - Speed Kills:
I've centered this scenario primarily around infield prospect Jose Ramirez, who I am particularly excited to watch this spring as he competes for a roster spot.
As an Akron resident, I spent many summer nights last year at Canal Park watching the then-Aeros, who were stacked with exciting prospects in 2013, Ramirez being one of them. So after watching him play last season prior to his big league callup in September, I can tell you that his speed is legit, as well as his defense and plate discipline, which should soon translate to the big league level if he's given the opportunity.
Outside of J-Ram, the Indians have brought in some additional speed in Elliot Johnson (22 steals in 2013) and Nyjer Morgan, although his speed appears to have diminished over the last few seasons of MLB and Japanese ball (3 steals in 2013 for Yokohama Bay Stars).
Mike Aviles can also rack up a few stolen bases as he swiped 14 bags for Boston in 2012 and 8 for the Tribe in 2013.
This would give Terry Francona multiple options for a pinch-running situation and also give him additional versatility, particularly if Ramirez and Johnson made the team.
Goon Squad Scenario #3 - Jack of all Trades:
- Mike Aviles INF/OF
- Ryan Raburn RF
- Jose Ramirez INF/David Adams INF
- Elliot Johnson INF/OF
Speaking of versatility, of all the candidates, which combination would cover the most ground on the field coming off the bench for the Tribe?
As I just said, Ramirez offers a lot, but his defense and versatility in the infield is something that may earn him strong consideration for one of the openings on the Goon Squad. He can play second base, shortstop and third base and be an everyday player if his bat and plate discipline translate well to the big league level.
This spring, the biggest adversary David Adams has to overcome is himself. Once a top infield prospect in the Yankees farm system, Adams has had injuries sideline him multiple times over the majority of his minor league career and was called up briefly on four separate occasions by the battered and tattered Yankees in 2013 and didn't even crack the Mendoza line.
Now he's still only 26 and versatile in the infield, but staying on the field will be priority number one for Adams this season and he may have to prove that in Columbus to start the year.
Over his career, Elliot Johnson has been somewhat inconsistent on offense, but he offers a lot by way of versatility considering that he has played every position on the field other than pitcher and catcher at the major league level. His primary positions are shortstop and second base, but both the Royals and Braves gave him reps at third and in the outfield in 2013.
One of the benefits of having additional super-sub players on the bench is that it takes some pressure off of Mike Aviles as he would no longer be the primary backup at so many positions. While he is capable of playing everyday, I believe his value would be better established if he wasn't spread too thin across the field.
Goon Squad Scenario #4 - Stacked Outfield:
- Mike Aviles INF/OF
- Ryan Raburn RF
- Jeff Francoeur OF/Nyjer Morgan OF
- Elliot Johnson INF/OF
One of the stark differences between the 2013 and 2014 Indians is that they will no longer have the benefit of having three center fielders in their outfield with the departure of Drew Stubbs via trade. Now they'll still have Bourn starting in center field and Brantley likely shifting to the primary backup role at that position, but you can make a case for having additional outfield depth on the bench.
Obviously that fact isn't lost on Chris Antonetti seeing as how he brought in veteran outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Nyjer Morgan to audition for the Goon Squad this spring.
Morgan played overseas last season and put up decent numbers, including a career-high 11 home runs and 50 RBI. Of course, once again, you take those stats with a grain of salt, but he is capable of playing all three outfield positions. And as I said before, he has stolen a good amount of bases in the past, but at the age of 33, his speed may not be a major factor moving forward.
To be honest, Jeff Francoeur may have a the best chance at making the bench outside of Aviles and Raburn if he shows signs of returning to his 2011 form with the Royals where he hit .287 with 20 home runs and 87 RBI. Plus, his well-documented cannon-arm out of right field may make him a better platoon candidate for David Murphy and give Raburn more time at other positions, including first base, which he is getting reps at this spring.
And if Elliot Johnson makes the team, he will likely get some reps in the outfield.
Goon Squad Scenario #5 - Pinch-hitting Power:
While this is a bit more of an unlikely scenario, here's what the bench would look like if offense and pinch-hitting options were the driving force behind selecting the utility players.
This would obviously help Jason Giambi's chances of making the team since it basically summarizes his role from a playing perspective. I'm still a fan of "Big G", but realistically the chances of him recreating the magic and production at his age may not be worth giving him a roster spot this year. There's definitely value in his leadership in the clubhouse that goes beyond the stats, as Terry Francona and many of the players from last year's team will tell you. But again, if someone like Bryan LaHair or Jeff Francoeur performs well enough to earn a roster spot this spring, is Giambi's leadership worth passing up on them?
It would also benefit David Cooper, whom the Indians re-signed to a major league contract this offseason after he opted out of his minor league deal during the season last year. The only problem with him is he doesn't hit for power and his versatility is limited strictly to first base and DH, which are typically power positions. He may get more consideration due to his major league contract, but he does have one remaining minor league option and can be sent down to AAA if he doesn't make the team out of camp.
Like Nyjer Morgan, Bryan LaHair spent last season playing in Japan where he hit .230 with 16 home runs and 57 RBI. Prior to that, he's been pretty much a career minor leaguer with his All-Star campaign for the Cubs in 2012 being the fullest MLB season he's had in his career at 130 games. Other than that, though, he's been a guy who has never been able to translate the success he's had in the minors to the big league level.
Honestly, I don't know if LaHair's chances of making the club as of right now are too good unless he pulls a Ryan Raburn and hits the crap out of everything during exhibition play.
Of course, there are numerous other combinations for the Indians bench in 2014 and players that I didn't even mention, but I wanted to focus mainly on the candidates that, as of right now, have the best shot of making the team. Some honorable mentions include Roberto Perez, Matt Carson and Ryan Rohlinger.
What I was hoping to illustrate here was some possible ways of coordinating the bench to highlight the different strengths and weaknesses some of the different combinations of players would have as a group.
Would you rather have more depth in the infield or the outfield?
Would you carry a third catcher?
Would you want more speed and/or versatility?
Would you prefer more strength on offense for pinch-hitting?
Normally whoever was put on the bench would be no big deal and probably an afterthought in many people's minds during spring training, but the inaugural Goon Squad class did set the bar pretty high last year...
MLB approves experimental rule on home plate collisions... I'll tell you right now I've read the terms and details of the new home plate collision rule and I still don't get some parts of it. I'm glad MLB is doing this on an experimental basis in 2014, because I have a feeling some tweaks will have to be made.
"A runner may not deviate from the direct path to home plate in order to make contact with a catcher or another player covering the plate..."
Okay, that's fair and understandable. So a runner cannot make an effort to collide with a catcher if he's not directly in front of the plate.
"Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, he cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score..."
Again, understandable as it eliminates any unnecessary contact at the plate.
"If, in the judgment of the Umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the Umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball)..."
This is where they start to lose me. Of all the judgment calls umpires have to make, this may be one of the tougher ones since it's so much to evaluate in such a short amount of time and may yield inconsistent results. Then again, that's nothing new in baseball given the frustration over strike zones and plays on the base paths. These calls will be subject to review, though, thanks to the new expanded replay rules.
I get what they're trying to do in that they're attempting to dissuade runners and catchers from initiating collisions at the plate by attaching the penalty of a run or an out, but I just don't know if having only a partial ban on home plate collisions is going to be easy to enforce to the satisfaction of Major League Baseball or the teams. But like expanded replay, we'll see how it works out.
Orioles sign Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz... Well Cleveland, we've waited and it finally happened. Ubaldo Jimenez is now off the free-agent market and he will not be wearing a Tribe uniform in 2014. The Orioles have finally made a big splash this offseason and have added a nice piece to the front of their starting rotation. The question is which Ubaldo will Baltimore see now that he's away from Mickey Callaway and in a division against which he has a career ERA of over six against the teams other than the Orioles.
Their rotation as it stands now would be Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bud Norris, Wei-Yin Chen and eitherMiguel Gonzalez or Kevin Gausman. Not a bad group, but in one of the toughest divisions in baseball, it may not be enough to stay competitive.
That may be why they bolstered their offense with the addition of free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz at seemingly a bargain price of only $8 million for one year. When you get down to it, it just wasn't a good time for Cruz to hit the open market. The Biogenesis suspension and draft pick compensation were not a good combination for someone looking for a long-term deal even with the All-Star accolades and consistent run production.
As for Baltimore, they may still only be the third or fourth best team in the division, but if things start to fall their way, they can really make some noise in the East, as we've seen before over the last couple years.
Andrelton Simmons extened for seven years and $58 million in Atlanta... So, are the Braves forgetting anyone they need to sign to a multi-year extension? Perhaps a bat boy or a peanut vendor?
Seriously though, John Hart may only be a senior advisor for the Braves, but this offseason has his fingerprints all over it as Atlanta has locked up pretty much their entire young core long term from Freddie Freeman to Craig Kimbrel and now to Andrelton Simmons.
The Braves have proven over the last few seasons that they are capable of being perennial contenders for the playoffs with the team they now have. Now, of course, making the playoffs and winning a championship are obviously two different things and I don't think just simply playing October baseball is satisfying the team nor their fans, I'm sure. Finding that next gear in the playoffs is what the Braves need to figure out next.
Long-term extensions have been a dime-a-dozen this offseason from Clayton Kershaw's record-breaking deal to Atlanta dishing them out by the dozen. Even the Angels have been reported to be exploring a long-term extension with superstar outfielder Mike Trout.
So what are the Indians' plans on this subject? After all, they, too, have a talented young core that I'm sure they would like to keep around for a while. They've already given Michael Brantley a four-year extension worth $25 million with an option and have had on-and-off discussions with staff ace Justin Masterson on a multi-year deal. Now as of this week, they've been reported to have opened up extension talks with All-Star second basemanJason Kipnis.
Now the order of their priorities as far as extension talks go could be disputed, but it's nice to know that the team is showing significant interest in keeping this group together for a while. Kipnis is definitely a no-brainer and Brantley, as I've said before, may not be a star, but he helps hold everything together. What about Masterson? I want to see him extended as much as anyone, but I don't see the Indians giving him Homer Bailey-type money.
Personally, I wouldn't complain too much if they entered the regular season with extensions complete for Brantley and Kipnis even if it meant rolling the dice on Masterson next offseason.
Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.
LaHair did have a nice start in 2012 in Chicago but was Mark Reynolds essentially that year hitting 12 of his 16 HRs in his first 51 games (.988 OPS in that time). Ended up benched at the end and let go after striking out in nearly 1/3rd of his ABs.
Maybe he has a monster spring and forces his way on the roster but personally more intrigued by Cooper than LaHair.
Last spot could go so many ways....going Frenchy now as we appear to need a DH against lefties (if Santana is playing 3B then) and Frenchy could be a decent platoon option (though hasn't been good against lefties since 2011). As said could play RF against lefties then letting Raburn DH.
In an emergency Raburn can catch so there is no need for a third catcher. I chose Lahair over Giambi because of the added value of being able to play the field. I'ver heard Francona mention how important it was on more than one occasion. That on top of his power potential gives him the nod IMO. There is no question the value that Giambi brings though, so I won't be upset if they decide to go with him again. Aviles can be a starter and a damn good utility player. If Francouer has regained his sight then he could be a great add. He would probably be the platoon with Murphy. The one thing missing in my 4 is speed. I love the impact of Ramirez not just on the bases, but the entire game. He is a better player right now than Asdrubal IMO, but they are not going to having him in a bench role. Regardless of who they choose, the bench is definitely a strength of this team. Go Tribe!
Tony couple things here...
I just don't see how we can expect Santana to start 40 or more games behind the plate, bat cleanup, AND potentially play a new position in 3B....
IMO it's not about carrying a "3rd catcher" it's about carrying a backup catcher. The catcher added to the bench should start 40 or so games, and depending on who it is could actually pinch-hit (obviously not if it's Treanor or Carlin though). If Santana is seeing any time at 3B I think his catching mitt should be taken away.
I suggested Gomes see a couple games at 3B...a position he's actually played in big league games...and people said it was too much for him with the catching....why are we expecting Santana to do it AND bat cleanup?! Putting way too much on Santana IMO. Let the guy hit and not have to worry about catching anymore. Twins have it right with Mauer, clean break.
Going by the data Tony listed in the other thread, the Tribe actually carried a 4-man bench and 7-man pen more than a 3-man bench/8-man pen.
Definitely think there's a chance the Tribe opens with 8 in the pen (especially if Carrasco isn't in the rotation), but my money is leaning towards the tranditional 4-man bench/7-man pen to start the year.
Francona has said he wants as many relievers as possible...but also says he loves his bench and having lots of versatility. I don't think he keeps only 3 with one being a DH-only in Giambi.
You will see a 7-man pen at least. No way we see a 5-man bench.
1.Mike Aviles INF
2.Ryan Raburn UTIL Everywhere
3.Jason Giambi DH/PH
Goon Squad Scenario:
1.Mike Aviles INF
2.Ryan Raburn UTIL Everywhere
3.Jeff Francoeur OF
4 Jason Giambi DH/PH
This is the only one that really makes sense, as IMO there's no way that Santana wins the 3B job and Chisenhall goes to the minors. Also, no way that Francona goes with only 11 pitchers, minimum of 12.
They'll be carrying an 8 man bullpen for sure,early in the season,just like they did most of last season.
The bench will be Aviles,Raburn/Murphy,and Giambi.At least to start the season.
Raburn(DH v. LHP's, OF and 2B-3B in a pinch)
Aviles(he plays basically anywhere)
Francour(RF v. LHP's)
Morgan or Cooper(primary DH v. RHP's)
Of course, if Santana winds up the primary at 3B, we'll need a 3rd C, but I think Lonnie gets the first few months there in a platoon
I understand where you're coming from, but only a major injury will keep Mike Aviles off this roster. If you recall, the Indians signed him to a 2-year extension with a team option for 2015 shortly after acquiring him last offseason. Plus, he played under Tito in Boston in 2011, so he's one of his guys. I do like Elliot Johnson's versatility a lot and if having him and Aviles together on the bench would be a great luxury to have.
As far as Jeff Francoeur, he would have to prove a whole lot to take the majority of the starts in right field away from David Murphy, aka the guy they're paying $12 million to. If Frenchy is seeing the ball better after his offseason eye surgery and shortening his swing with a lighter bat, we could still see good things from him.
Also, Ronny Rodriguez is not an option. He's nowhere close to a Major League option. For one, he wasn't even invited to big league camp this spring....usually a good indicator there for guys they want to consider throughout the year or at least the first few months. Also, his bat would struggle immensely at the major league level....and he is too inconsistent defensively. He's a good prospect, but nowhere close to a major league option right now.
Ronnie Rodriguez. I assume he could play SS, 2B and 3B. He could be a perfect platoon for Chiz, spell Kipnis and Ascab as well as provide speed off the bench. With Lindor and JRam coming up and Wendle, Gonzalez and Paulino behind him it wouldn't hurt to see what Jram is capable of if he has a comeback season.
Would be upset if they actually wanted a 3rd catcher to maybe play 5-7 games.
The way things line up right now it seems Francoeur and LaHair/Giambi/Morgan make the most sense. I would say Morgan and Francouer would probably be the best talent wise but Giambi will get if for his leadership. Later in the year it could make sense to give one of those bench spots to JRam.
Right now I think what you want is someone to play DH when Santana starts at 3B. If Chiz falls flat on his face then you would want a platoon at DH. Francouer/Morgan gives you that platoon plus Morgan brings speed off the bench.
Bottom line who makes up the Goon Squad is actually very important to our season. Tito is very very good at putting guys in spots where they can perform. It also wouldn't hurt to have one of the better rested teams in baseball.
1.Mike Aviles INF/OF or Elliot Johnson INF/OF
2.Ryan Raburn RF/C
3.Jeff Francoeur OF
4 Jose Ramirez INF
I think that everyone forgot that Raburn was our emergency catcher last year and I see no reason why he couldn't be again this year. I really think Ramirez will make the team because we need speed and he is a good infielder. I see a good competition between Mike Aviles, Elliot Johnson and David Adams and see who comes out on top. I feel that Jeff Francoeur will win the right field position with Raburn and Murphy fighting it out for back-up. I really like Jason Giambi but feel it will be hard to duplicate his performance of 2013 and hope that he joins our coaching staff since he has a lot to offer to team and Terry. My
scenario is based on performance and be able to play numerous positions. I cannot see having a 3rd catcher with Raburn on our team. Go Tribe!!!
Anyway, a scenario that is missing is one I think that plays out:
1. Mike Aviles - INF/OF
2. Ryan Raburn - OF/1B
3. Jeff Francoeur - OF
4. Bryan LaHair - DH/1B
5. Jason Giambi/Elliot Johnson - DH/UT
If the Indians do go with 13 position players and platoon in RF with Murphy/Francouer and at DH with LaHair/Raburn (I'm siding with Francoeur playing more RF than Raburn).....then that last spot could come down to the loser of Giambi vs. Johnson. The versatility and pinch running option of Johnson versus the leadership and power bat off the bench of Giambi.