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Tribe Happenings: Indians have one big hole left to fill

Tribe Happenings: Indians have one big hole left to fill
December 23, 2013
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Roster coming into focus

After the Indians signed John Axford, traded for Josh Outman and signedShaun Marcum last week, the roster is coming into much clearer focus as spring training nears.

The way things look at the moment, barring any trades or freak injuries this offseason, the lineup is pretty much set as the Indians will go with a lineup that looks something like this:

1. Michael Bourn, CF
2. Nick Swisher, 1B
3. Jason Kipnis, 2B
4. Carlos Santana, DH
5. Michael Brantley, LF
6. David Murphy/Ryan Raburn, RF
7. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
8. Yan Gomes, C
9. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B

The actual placement of players in the lineup from six to eight can change, but the one through five should be about right. There are definitely arguments to be made about how that lineup is constructed (I’d prefer Kipnis leadoff), but at least at the outset of the season this appears to be how it will be constructed.

The Indians may also look to find a suitable platoon mate for Chisenhall to sit him against lefties, but he should go into next season as the regular third baseman.  The bench will also include Mike Aviles, whichever one of Murphy or Raburn that is not starting, and Jason Giambi (or David Cooper or David Adams if Giambi doesn’t make the team).

While the starting lineup and bench looks good to go, the pitching staff has a few unknowns both in the rotation and bullpen that the Indians will still need to work through. Four of the rotation spots are locked down and five of the eight bullpen spots are locked down as well:

Rotation: Justin MastersonDanny SalazarCorey KluberZach McAllister
Bullpen: John Axford, Cody AllenBryan ShawMarc Rzepczynski, Josh Outman

While having three open spots in the pen may sound like a lot, the Indians have a plethora of internal options which will probably fill them. Vinnie Pestano all but has a spot locked up, but he first has to show he is healthy and effective this spring. Others like Blake Wood, Chen-Chang Lee (C.C Lee), Preston Guilmet and Frank Herrmannare the top candidates for the final two spots, Carrasco or Tomlin could end up in the pen, and even lefties Nick HagadoneColt Hynes or Scott Barnes could factor into things.

So barring any minor league free agent pickups or a reliever falling through the cracks late in free agency, the bullpen is probably set for the most part. Also, the lineup and bullpen look to be on par if not marginally better going into next season.

The same cannot be said about the starting rotation, which is where the Indians will probably focus most of their efforts the rest of this offseason. They have a few million left in payroll to add a starter who slips to them in free agency, so they could go that route or they may still look to make a trade for an established starter.

Other minor league free agent signings could still enter the mix, and there is still an outside chance that Ubaldo Jimenez returns.  They may also do nothing as they have some interesting internal options for the fifth starter spot in Carlos CarrascoJosh TomlinTrevor Bauer and the newly signed Shaun Marcum.

That being said, there is no more important part of a roster than the starting rotation, so the Indians need to continue looking for upgrades. It is no coincidence that the Indians caught fire in the second half last season and made the playoffs when their starting rotation took off with their performance.

They lost two valuable starters in Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, but it is also important to note that they only need to replace one because Danny Salazar is essentially takes one of their spots. Remember, Salazar was only in the rotation late in the season because Justin Masterson was out. Had Masterson not gotten hurt, Salazar probably would not have been in it and the rotation in September would have been Masterson, Jimenez, Kazmir, Kluber and McAllister.

With Salazar effectively replacing Kazmir, the Indians need to find a suitable replacement for Jimenez. Whether that means Jimenez is eventually brought back, they make a trade, or one of their internal options fills it remains to be seen. But how that turns out looks to be the last piece to their offseason puzzle because beyond that decision they look to once again have a solid and deep team to once again contend in the AL Central and be a factor in the playoffs.

Stubbs, Outman aftermath

Last Wednesday the Indians traded outfielder Drew Stubbs to the Rockies for left-handed reliever Josh Outman.

Stubbs, 29, played in 146 games last season with the Indians and hit .233 with 10 HR, 45 RBI, 17 stolen bases and .665 OPS. He primarily started in right field but often shifted to center field when Michael Bourn sat based on a matchup or was out injured.

Outman, 29, appeared in 61 games for the Rockies last season and went 3-0 with a 4.33 ERA, and in 54.0 innings allowed 56 hits, 3 home runs, 23 walks and had 53 strikeouts. He held lefties to a .198 average and .539 OPS last season, though was touched up by righties allowing a .347 average and .883 OPS.  He finished 9th among National League relievers in percentage of inherited runners who scored at 17.6% (6-of-34).

This is just a good baseball trade for both teams as each team had a need in a specific area and a surplus in another which allowed them to match up well in a trade.

Ryan Raburn took the starting job away from Stubbs in the second half last season when a left-handed batter was on the mound, and this offseason the Indians signed outfielder David Murphy to start in right field against right-handers to complete a favorable platoon with Raburn in right. This left Stubbs as the fifth outfielder on a team which had no use or a spot for such a player.

The Indians lost lefty Rich Hill to free agency – well he is still actually available but there should be no interest in bringing him back except maybe on a minor league deal again. They also had just Marc Rzepczynski as a reliable option to open the season with as a lefty in the bullpen since others like Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes, Colt Hynes and others are unknowns going into the season and have either not proven to be reliable or had enough experience at the major league level to feel comfortable about opening the season with one of them as the second lefty in the bullpen.

Stubbs will now help fill a void left when the Rockies traded Dexter Fowler a few weeks back. With his speed and power he could be a good fit in Coors Field, especially since the high altitude hinders the effectiveness of curveballs – a pitch that gives him the biggest fits. On the flip side, Outman will now fill the second lefty role in Cleveland and fills a big need the Indians had this offseason.

Outman is a power-armed lefty who throws in the low 90s but who can get it up to 95-97 MPH when he reaches back for more. His ability to get swing and miss is intriguing, and he has been very tough on lefties over his career (.189 AVG, .523 OPS). It is that ability to dominate lefties which makes him so intriguing, and considering his career against righties (.303 AVG, .844 OPS) the Indians are expected to use him almost exclusively as a matchup lefty specialist and only allow him to face a right-handed hitter when the situation or game score dictates it.

Both Stubbs and Outman are second year arbitration players, so the Rockies and Indians control each for two more seasons through the 2015 season. Stubbs was projected to earn $3.8 million in arbitration this winter while Outman is projected to earn $1.4 million, so the Indians also do save some money in this deal.

The pickup of Outman and the signing of John Axford as closer has helped fill some needs in the bullpen and stabilized it, especially since Hill, Matt AlbersJoe Smith and Chris Perez are no longer a part of it after being released or reaching free agency. They have essentially replaced Perez at closer with Axford and Hill in the matchup lefty role with Outman – two moves which have to be considered upgrades even if only marginal ones. If anything, the Indians now have a solid lefty combo in the pen with Outman and Rzepczynski, although how things look on paper can often times not translate on the field.

Bottom line, the Indians bullpen looks like it is actually improved. While they lost Smith to the Angels and his contributions will be hard to replace, both Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw appear ready to step into Smith’s late inning setup role and help offset his loss. Axford and Outman look like options to make the pen stronger, deeper, versatile and more dynamic. The Indians will probably continue to look for ways to add depth and reliability to their bullpen, but now their focus should point toward finding creative options to fill a need in the starting rotation.

Marcum adds intrigue to the rotation

Late last Monday the Indians signed right-handed pitcher Shaun Marcum to a minor league deal with an invite to major league spring training. If he makes the Indians opening day roster he will make $1 million and can make up to $3 million in incentives. If he is not added to the opening day roster he has the right to opt out of his deal.

Marcum, 31, has had a solid career but has struggled with injuries the last two years making 21 starts in 2012 with the Brewers (7-4, 3.70 ERA) and 12 starts with the Mets last season (1-10, 5.29 ERA). He is recovering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery and will need to show he is healthy and effective this spring to make the major league roster.

What this sets up as is an audition this spring for Marcum, not just for the Indians, but all of the teams around Major League Baseball. Since there is no guarantee he even makes the Indians roster, he will do his best to show other teams enough to consider him for a rotation spot on their roster should he not make the Indians roster.

This is a low risk signing for the Indians and the kind of deal I never have a problem with. If Marcum works out, then the Indians added a nice starter to the mix for little money and long term commitment. If he does not work out, they are not on the hook for any money and they can simply release him. This is why minor league deals should never be frowned upon because they really favor the team.

Right now Carlos Carrasco is the favorite going into spring training to be the Indians fifth starter. They all but announced that a few weeks ago when they talked about him at the Winter Meetings. Others like Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer are certainly in the mix, but barring an injury to Carrasco or any of the others in the rotation, Bauer should open at Triple-A Columbus. Tomlin should be in the mix until the end and it will depend on how he pitches and also what Carrasco and Marcum show this spring.

Marcum adds some intrigue to this setup as he is probably now the second option behind Carrasco. If Marcum shows he is healthy and effective this spring, then the Indians may be inclined to keep him around as the fifth starter and see where he takes them. They could then always just shift Carrasco to a pen role in the meantime and easily switch him back to a spot in the rotation if needed.

Remember, last offseason Carrasco went into spring training as the favorite for the fifth starter spot and Scott Kazmir was a minor league signing the Indians wanted to see where he took them. Kazmir looked great in the spring, won the fifth spot, and had a fantastic season. If Marcum can do the same this spring and just be an average performer that gives the Indians some innings and competes well, this would be yet another minor league signing win for the Indians.

Aguilar in the mix

Indians first base prospect Jesus Aguilar had a very good season at Double-A Akron this year hitting .275 with 16 HR, 105 RBI and .776 OPS in 130 games. This offseason in the Venezuela Winter League, a level of competition equivalent to somewhere between Triple-A and Double-A, he is hitting .324 with 17 HR, 49 RBI and .995 OPS in 55 games.

The 23-year old Aguilar’s season in Akron was nice, but his showing in Venezuela has really caught the attention of personnel for the Indians and other teams as well as media types. His power numbers have finally clicked and come together, and with the Indians in search of a big right-handed bat to put into the middle of the lineup, he could potentially be an option for them at some point this coming season.

Right now the Indians are set to have Nick Swisher be the primary first baseman and Yan Gomes the primary catcher. Both will also probably play some designated hitter, a spot that Carlos Santana is expected to hold when he is not playing first base for Swisher or at catcher for Gomes. With that in mind, it does not allow the Indians an opportunity to play Aguilar at the major league level unless an injury to one of Swisher, Santana or Gomes allows it.

That is not a problem as Aguilar could use some time at Triple-A Columbus this coming season to fine tune his approach, swing and defense all while being an immediate major league option for the Indians. If the need is on a short term basis, then newly signed first baseman David Cooper might get the first call because of his major league experience and not wanting to limit Aguilar to a bench role. But if the need is on a long term basis and allows him to start, then Aguilar could get that call to Cleveland.

Aguilar has the chance to impact the Indians roster and lineup much like Gomes did this past year. Gomes was slated for Columbus even before spring training began because Lou Marson was on the roster as the backup catcher, but an injury early in the season that put Marson on the shelf for a considerable amount of time opened the door for Gomes and the rest is history. Even if an injury does not allow Aguilar to come up, if he is really tearing it up in Columbus and the Indians have an injury in the outfield or poor performance, they could conceivably move Swisher to right field and free up a spot at first base and designated hitter to play Aguilar.

Either way, Aguilar is a promising and interesting bat to have stashed away in the minors. If his power and bat translates to the major league level, it would be a big boost to a lineup in need of a legit middle of the order bat.

Minor league coaching staffs announced

On Friday the Indians announced the coaching staffs for their minor league affiliates for the 2014 season:

Triple-A Columbus
Manager: Chris Tremie
Hitting Coach: Jim Rickon
Pitching Coach: Tony Arnold
Athletic Trainer: Chad Wolfe
Strength & Conditioning: Ed Subel

Double-A Akron
Manager: David Wallace
Hitting Coach: Rouglas Odor
Pitching Coach: Jeff Harris
Athletic Trainer: Jeremy Heller
Strength & Conditioning: Jake Sankel

High-A Carolina
Manager: Scooter Tucker
Hitting Coach: Tony Mansolino
Pitching Coach: Steve Karsay
Athletic Trainer: Bobby Ruiz
Strength & Conditioning: Scott Nealon

Low-A Lake County
Manager: Mark Budzinski
Hitting Coach: Shaun Larkin
Pitching Coach: Rigo Beltran
Athletic Trainer: Matt Beauregard
Strength & Conditioning: Paul Synenkyj

Short Season Single-A Mahoning Valley
Manager: Ted Kubiak
Hitting Coach: Phil Clark
Pitching Coach: Greg Hibbard
Athletic Trainer: TBD
Strength & Conditioning: Juan Acevado

Rookie Arizona Indians
Manager: Anthony Medrano
Pitching Coach: Mark Allen
Hitting Coach: Junior Betances
Coach: Dennis Malave
Athletic Trainer: Ted Blackwell
Strength & Conditioning: Cesar Yepez

Rookie DSL Indians
Manager: Jose Mejia
Pitching Coach: Jesus Sanchez
Hitting Coach: Francisco Cabrera
Infield Coach: Carlos Fermin
Strength & Conditioning: Hasani Torres

Parting shots

The Indians have added Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to the Tribe Fest lineup … The Indians signed catcherMatt Treanor to a minor league contract with an invite to major league spring training. He is the husband of Misty May-Treanor, the Olympic gold medalist in volleyball. … The Phillies have signed former Indians catcher Lou Marson to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. … The Indians have signed right-handed pitchers Gabriel Arias, Rainer Florez and Jose Nina to minor league deals, though they are expected to be minor league deals only and not involve invites to major league camp.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

December 27, 2013 - 1:37 PM EST
For the record, I do agree Tony that they likely will go with an 8-man pen. I just think it's pretty stupid. Along the same lines of Bourn leading off over Kipnis. I agree it's almost certainly what we will see...not what we should see.

As far as bringing in a 3rd things stand now, one of Santana/Gomes should be/will be DHing nearly everyday. Meaning nearly everyday you won't have a backup catcher on the bench and not only that, if you want to replace the catcher nearly everyday you'll run the risk of having to have the pitcher bat. While I agree that it's not as big a deal as some make it out to be, I don't think it's something you want to do every single day.

Maybe I'm giving Gomes too much credit, but I think he should be in the lineup every single day (or damn near). Unless his bat just takes a nose-dive, absolutely no reason he shouldn't be. Same obviously for Santana. Plus, maybe I'm wrong, but feel the ultimate goal should be to get Santana eventually 100% out from behind the plate. He's a liability back there defensively. Again, may be way off but I don't believe that Santana working out at 3B is simply for him to platoon with Chiz (that makes zero sense actually). I think long-term goal is to get him playing a position full-time other than catcher...
December 27, 2013 - 1:18 PM EST
Still don't see the need for a third catcher. There is no scenario where the third catcher should ever start over Gomes or Santana. And you would never pinch hit for them or ever replace them defensively (maybe Santana, but then you'd put in Gomes). The third catcher would be around simply for if Santana/Gomes are DHing and the other is hurt while catching so you don't lose the DH. And the likliehood of that happening is minimal, and even if it does, you just lose the DH for 1-2 at bats in a game and then call a guy up from AAA the next day. I'd rather do what they did last year and just go with the extra pen arm.....aside from a few days where the roster was in flux because of injuries/callups, they had 13 pitchers almost everyday last season and I expect that to be the case again this year.
December 27, 2013 - 10:01 AM EST
If Giambi is on the team and Santana is playing some 3B and DHing, I really think the Tribe needs to look at bringing in a 3rd catcher.

Looks like Tony is predicting only a 3-man bench and 8-man pen. I REALLY hate that idea, though we did see it a lot last year. Just hate it even more when you figure one of those bench guys may be a DH only...and your backup catcher is starting at another position. Very little room for changes late in the game then even if Raburn and Aviles and their flexibility is on the bench. Even if Giambi isn't the last guy on the bench, still would like to see a full 4-man bench with possibly a 3rd catcher in the mix.
December 25, 2013 - 8:37 AM EST
"the high altitude hinders the effectiveness of curveballs." is that a proven fact? Please explain the details.

In terms of 2014 help, Aguilar would be the only one of the players you mentioned who can contribute and even then he is not projected to be in a Cleveland uniform in April. He might not be with the Tribe until after the All-Star break.

They seem to want Lindor to spend 2014 in the minors getting another year of seasoning. Moncrief and Wendle are a little older than most guys at their level and are far from a sure thing to ever play in Cleveland.
December 24, 2013 - 11:01 PM EST
Disagree League Park. The Indians may not have much starting pitching help coming up from the minors, they have a lot of positional players in the mix like Lindor, Aguilar, Wendle, Moncrief and others who could really impact this club. Lindor and Aguilar alone may be all that is needed from within to really supplement what they have offensively already with Swisher, Santana, Kipnis and Brantley.
December 24, 2013 - 8:27 PM EST
Holes at 3B, RF, #5 SP, bullpen can't be ignored no matter how much Kool-Aid you imbibe. You can add SS as a huge question mark.

Team is on course to win about 85 games. Little positional player help on the horizon from the farm system.
December 24, 2013 - 5:56 PM EST
*Should have read...I don't think they are done.*

Stupid auto correct...
December 24, 2013 - 4:51 PM EST
Chisenhall is not the answer at 3rd base, nor do I think the Santana experiment is a wise move. I think we give up a few prospects & go balls to the walls to acquire Chase Headley from the Padres, Think that move would pretty much completes this team, albeit perhaps the acquisition of another starting pitcher, unless Ubaldo remembers how the Tribe stuck with him during his struggles
December 24, 2013 - 3:43 PM EST
I disagree, I don't think think honey are done. Every I indication is they want to add another SP. They've reportedly maintained contact with Jimenez and if Tanaka is posted his mkt becomes more unclear. Furthermore, the are some rumors that Kenta Maeda the second best SP in Japan will be posted this offseason. He projects as a 2/3 starter in the bigs but is a smaller framed guy.

Also, Paul Hoynes suggests the Tribe might post a maximum bid for Tanaka. I'd suggest, they will post a bid, they did bid aggressively on Ryu (Dodgers). The trick for the Tribe might be to offer a short deal 3 yrs and let him taste FA quickly if he'd even sign with the a Tribe. He's likely to get some insane deal 6/7 yrs / $100M+. I really don't see it happening with the Tribe, but you never know, they may move ACab and look to bring in Tanaka, Maeda (if he's posted), Garza or most likely bring back Ubaldo Jimenez. Suk Min Yoon, 27 the Korean RHP might be a target, the Tribe has scouted the Pacific Rim

Their entire approach appears to be to wait out the mkt, get an arm or two and just move from there. I think they will add another SP or two, but any move they make probably won't come until mid January, to February. I expect they'll continue to scour over the RP mkt too, there are several vets that will probably get under mkt deals, and some more minor league deals with guys like Boggs, Guerrier.
December 24, 2013 - 8:42 AM EST
I think the Indians are done, with the possible exception of signing a guy like Betemit to a minor league deal.

They don't have the trade pieces or the money to get a FOR starter. As for a 5th starter, they have options in Carrasco, Tomlin, and Bauer. Who is out there that the Indians can afford and who will be significantly better than the best of that group?

The only possibility will be if they take a flyer on another guy coming off an injury (like Marcum) who turns out to be this year's Pavano or Kazmir.
December 23, 2013 - 11:30 PM EST
Nice article. Ending 2013, this team is in a MUCH better place than it was at this time last year.

Though I think we could still use some more pitching.

And even though he throws 98 mph, I do not think that Salazar is ready to handle the day-to-day pressure of being a #2 starter, so I hope that CA is trying to make something happen to get another FOR starter.

This blog also seems to be in a much better place than it was a year ago. I have very much appreciated the work of all the writers, and the commenters too--thanks guys!
ron vollomar
December 23, 2013 - 9:04 PM EST
The rotation

Salazar and Masterson as the 1-2 or 2-1. Salazar is how far away from the #1 SP?

Bauer and Carrarco are how far from the starting rotation. Some have Carrasco as the fifth starter this year. Are these less than one year away from the starting rotation?

Kluber, McAllister and others might be thought of as fourth or fifth starters, but, we are talking young starters who have not had enough major league starts to know how good they can be.

Kluber was not much of a thought as a starting pitcher in the rotation prior to the start of the season.

Growth of the existing staff with experience could surprise.

I still think A. Cabrera, SS, will be dealt for a good starter, at least a solid #3.
Rich S.
December 23, 2013 - 6:32 PM EST
Problem with starting rotation is that the Indians have tons of 4th or 5th starter possibilities. They could trade for someone, but they won't be a 1 or 2 type starter, so I feel it is somewhat pointless to do so. I know they are pushing Carrasco as fifth starter, but I really feel Tomlin will be the surprise winner for last rotation spot. We should know in about 90 days.
December 23, 2013 - 6:16 PM EST
thank you andy i didnt know what his numbers were against LHP. i appreciate the input. Best wishes for greaT CHRISTMAS ANDY
Andy N.
December 23, 2013 - 5:34 PM EST
I don't think Betemit would be brought in as a possible platoon player with Chisenhall, and I don't think people realize that he is a far better hitter from the left side than he is from the right. He is a career .279 left handed hitter, and a career .228 right handed hitter. Also, in his last season of health (2012), he hit only .140 against lefties. That wouldn't be a good platoon mate with Chisenhall.
December 23, 2013 - 4:37 PM EST
MERRY CHRISTMAS IBI--------------I would still go after wilson benimit he was out al of 2013. I suspect he is only gonna get a minor league deal with invite. Low money factor some experience and a decent player before his injury. I would guess they arent beating down his door to sign him. He would be if healthy a nice RH combo to go with chiz. Yes i know he is a switchhitter however we only need a rh bat as platoon and being switch could be even better if they go to righty after the lefty. low risk high return A LOTTERY PIC!!!!!!!!
December 23, 2013 - 4:08 PM EST
I believe there is less holes to fill this off season compared to last. 92 win later most people wanted the Indians to do more with a tighter budget than last year. Maybe we will have a new years surprise. Hopefully it turns out better than Brett Myers.

It been pleasure an honor to express my opinions regarding the Indians on this site. I like how its educational and professionally run.

Want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
December 23, 2013 - 4:06 PM EST
I'm a Lonnie supporter and feel like he's been given treated according to folks' expectations who simply forget some of the facts.

He's been injured the two previous years in which he was brought up in baseball related games and last year was his first full season in the big leagues and he did spend time in the minors. I also, strongly disagree with Tito in how he was used at the beginning of the year. IT was obvious the guy was pressing and Tito jerked him in and out of the lineup. Tito doesn't get nearly the heat he should for some the bad moves he made. Don't get me wrong, I love Tito but he has made some blunders.

Back to Lonnie though. IT appears that Lonnie as the swing and power to become a very good player and now is the time for him to realize it.. I cringe when I hear ppl say he's been in big disappointment because if you watch you can see he has it but these same folks would probably say they expected 30-35 HR's when he never did that in the minors.

I think a reasonable expectation of Lonnie is .265, 20+ and 80. It strikes me that some folks are so down on Lonnie and you have ppl in Boston and Toronto who have 3B guys who are in similar situations in Middlebrooks and Lawrie respectively and aren't ready to give up on those guys. All in all, I think it's time for the fans to put aside their unreasonable and unfair expectations of Lonnie and see what he does this year based on what we know of him and not where he was picked
December 23, 2013 - 1:52 PM EST
Lonnie has been a disappointment. Hopefully another year under his belt and platooning with Aviles shall be beneficial. Would like to see jiminez return. That would give Tribe potentially impressive rotation depth. Bullpen depth also looks good on paper.

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