Tribe Happenings: The countdown to Lindor is on
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
A change at shortstop looms
Just about everyone knows that Indians top prospectFrancisco Lindor is the future at shortstop for the Cleveland Indians, and also that incumbent shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera will all but likely be gone by the end of the 2014 season. The question is, though, if a change at shortstop happens sooner than later.
Cabrera, 27, is under contract for next season at $10 million and will be a free agent at the end of the season. He already extended his contract once, but another extension is not expected and he is all but likely to enter the open market after next season looking to cash in as an above average player at his position entering his prime at 29 years old. There is a lot of value there for teams considering his age when he hits the market, so if he continues to perform as he has over the last four or so seasons, he should cash in big in free agency.
At this point the Indians can ill afford to keep Cabrera past 2014. His cost will be too high, and there will always be question marks with his defense, work ethic and durability as he gets older. With that in mind, the Indians will either keep him through the end of next season and get a first round draft pick as compensation (assuming they give him a qualifying offer, which they should), or they will trade him anytime between now and next July and try and use his value at a position of need around baseball to maybe help them fill a need elsewhere on their major league roster or in the upper levels of their farm system.
The Indians should not just dump Cabrera for prospects, but if they are able to acquire a good major league ready starting pitching prospect in exchange for Cabrera, they should strongly consider such a deal. Any such deal of Cabrera or just letting him leave via free agency will open the door at shortstop to become Lindor’s home for the next decade or so.
Lindor, 19, is having a sensational season. He was already well-regarded as a prospect coming into this season, but the growth he has made as an offensive player this season is astounding. So far he has answered every question mark with his offense, the only area of his game where there were any question marks to begin with.
Lindor was called up to Double-A Akron two weeks ago and is hitting .381 (16-for-49) with 1 HR, 7 RBI, 1.057 OPS and a sensational 10:1 walk to strikeout ratio in 12 games. Prior to his arrival in Akron he hit .306 with 1 HR, 27 RBI, .783 OPS, and a very good 35:39 walk to strikeout ratio. He has also totaled 25 stolen bases between the two stops.
Lindor’s ability to control the strike zone, put up consistent, quality at bats, make hard, consistent contact, and also show a little bit of pop (30 extra base hits) has taken his game to new heights. The Indians were going to go level by level with him each year, but he impressed so much at Carolina that they changed those plans and promoted him ahead of his timeline to Akron in order to give him a greater challenge. As a result of his early promotion to Akron, his timeline to Cleveland has been pushed up a little bit.
At this point, Lindor could probably come up to the big leagues and be one of the top defenders in all of baseball and hold his own offensively. But the Indians are in no rush to promote him because of the presence of Cabrera, and really, Cabrera is the sole reason that Lindor is probably not in Cleveland already. As soon as Cabrera leaves - be it as a free agent after 2014 or in a trade before then - Lindor should become the starting shortstop or very soon after.
With Mike Aviles around and under contract for two years beyond this season, he is perfect to have around as he can help ease Lindor into everyday work in the big leagues and also help limit Lindor's exposure early on. Aviles would also provide the Indians a short term stop gap at shortstop until Lindor is given the call.
Lindor will all but likely not be in Cleveland this year. The only possibility would be if Cabrera went down with a season ending injury and the Indians were desperate for a shortstop, but even in such a case they would probably turn to Aviles and just fill in with someone else in a utility role. You never know as things can change when a team is in a pennant race, but everything I have heard is that he will not be in Cleveland until sometime in 2014 at the earliest.
Before the year started, it appeared that Lindor’s ETA in Cleveland was the end of 2014 as a September callup in order to get him ready to take over for Cabrera at the start of 2015; however, I believe that has moved up a little. I could see the Indians dealing Cabrera in the offseason to free up his money so they can do other things, going with Aviles for the first month at shortstop so Lindor can polish things off with some time in Triple-A, and then bring him up at any point from the end of April or after. Having him come up at least a month into the season would also ensure the Indians gain an extra year of control as he wouldn’t be eligible for free agency until after 2020 – rather than 2019 if he opens the season in Cleveland.
In any case, the changing of the guard is coming at shortstop. Only a serious injury appears to be in the way of Lindor coming to Cleveland very soon and becoming the centerpiece of the Indians infield for a long time.
Free agent miscues
Remember that “Offseason of Dreams” the Indians had?
Well, Indians fans are getting a strong dose of reality of why free agency is not always what it is cracked up to be. Teams around baseball make big splashes with signings all the time, but very rarely do the players that sign those deals live up to the big contracts they are given and the expectations that come as a result.
The Indians spent a lot of money last winter on Michael Bourn (4 years, $48 million), Nick Swisher (4 years, $56 million), Brett Myers (1 year, $7 million), and Mark Reynolds (1 year, $6 million). But none of them have really lived up to their contracts.
Bourn is hitting .291 but he has not been the dynamic leadoff hitter they thought they were getting as he is only getting on-base at a .338 clip and has just 13 stolen bases. Swisher’s batting average (.244) and on-base percentage (.346) are not off his career numbers too much (.255/.360), but it has been his drop in power which has been disappointing as he has a career low .403 slugging percentage and was brought in to be a run producer.
Myers looks like he was damaged goods from the get go as he was not very good in the spring and then his elbow came up lame at the start of the season. Finally, Reynolds got off to an incredible start the first five weeks of the season, but has fallen off the earth since.
But even though the production from those four players is not meeting expectations I still believe it was money well spent. The Indians willingness to go out and spend a little money and step outside of their comfort zone, to me, helped restore some of the faith that had been lost in a fan base which had hit rock bottom after a very disappointing 2012 season. Some excitement ensued after the signings, and really, in the end, that’s kind of what free agency is all about. Not just to improve the team, but also help stir up some excitement in the team to maybe increase preseason ticket sales.
In contrast, the Indians spent minimal money in free agency on Scott Kazmir and Ryan Raburn and both of them have had as much or greater of an impact on the team than any of the four big money signings they made. Also, the Indians have improved this year thanks to contributions from the likes of new acquisitions Aviles, Yan Gomes, Drew Stubbs, Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers, and because of the improvements by players like Jason Kipnis, Justin Masterson, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber and others.
In a lot of ways, the additions of Swisher, Bourn and the others may have helped ease the others into their roles and taken the pressure off of them which is why their play has improved. There are so many different ways that a free agent can impact a team beyond just the numbers in a box score as they can impact a team in the clubhouse, on the leadership front, and take the focus off of others.
The stars may not align this coming offseason like it did for the Indians last year in free agency, and while I don’t see the Indians being players I think they will be in the mix for a lot of interesting players.
One of the best signings of the year in all of baseball might be the Indians free agent pickup of lefty Scott Kazmir in the offseason. The Indians bought a lottery ticket with him as they signed him to a minor league deal after he pitched last season in independent ball but impressed in winter ball action, and to date they have cashed in big time with that lottery ticket.
Kazmir, 29, is 6-4 with a 3.96 ERA in 18 starts, and has given the Indians far more than anyone thought he would with 100.0 innings, .239 batting average against, 8.1 K/9, and has allowed two earned runs or less in 11 of his 18 starts. He opened a lot of eyes in the spring and looked great, but was sidelined at the start of the season with a strained rib cage muscle and it took him some time to get things back in order, but he has since taken off since the middle of June going 3-0 with a 1.60 ERA in seven starts (45.0 IP, 23 H, 12 BB, 35 K).
Over the past month-plus Kazmir has looked as good as he ever has in his career, if not better, and could be on his way to winning the AL Comeback Player of the Year award. Earlier in his career he relied on stuff and velocity, and while it appears the velocity and stuff is close to what it once was the difference now is he knows how to pitch. No longer is he just a thrower, he actually knows how to use his stuff, change the eye level of hitters, read swings, and just keep more composed on the mound when he gets into trouble or the inning speeds up on him.
While it is not a big talking point right now because the Indians are focused on making the playoffs this season, a big thing on the Indians to-do list and a brewing offseason question is whether they resign Kazmir. He still has about 11 or 12 more starts to go this season, so anything can happen from a health and performance standpoint, but if he continues to pitch like he has this season he is putting himself in line for a good pay day in the offseason. What exactly that payday ends up being or what kind of market he has remains to be seen, but he’s probably pitching himself to a two or three year deal for about $7-11 million per season.
Teams are very intrigued by his showing this season, but I believe there will be some caution given his limited sample size with just one good season after three or four poor or non-existent seasons prior. But he should at least get a lower end multi-year deal of what I guess to be two or three years. Bottom line, to keep Kazmir in the fold the Indians will probably need to commit about $20-30 million to him over two to three years (any combination of money for two or three years in that range).
Kazmir will surely play the market because he has earned that right and is in his prime at 29 years of age, so another contract opportunity like this may not come around for some time. But the key in all of this may be that the Indians can simply extend him a qualifying offer which would put a compensation tag on him where a team has to forfeit a first round pick to sign him and the Indians would receive a first round supplemental pick for losing him.
Last offseason teams had to extend one year qualifying offers for $13.3 million to their free agents to receive compensation. That number is expected to increase each year though I have not seen what it may increase to this offseason, but let’s assume it is somewhere between $13.5-$14.0 million. It might be an overpay and a risk for one season, but if Kazmir is pitching like he is the rest of the year the Indians very well could extend him that qualifying offer as he would be worth every penny of that $13-14 million on a one year deal if he accepts it.
The key, though, is that offering the qualifying offer becomes sort of a poison pill where it scares other teams off since they would lose a valuable first round pick – something teams showed last offseason they value very much. If this happens, then it could help push Kazmir into a multi-year deal with the Indians close to the terms outlined above.
In a nutshell, the Indians nailed the Kazmir signing and even though he is a free agent this offseason they have a pretty good shot to retain him. What a shot in the arm it would be for the rotation for the next few years if he does stay long term, remains healthy, and is all the way back as a pitcher.
How much longer with Reynolds?
Indians manager Terry Francona has said he believes there is a hot streak still in there with Mark Reynolds. But as each day passes the chances of such a streak occurring appear more and more remote, and you wonder how much value a two or three week hot streak really has when you know he will morph back into the black hole in the lineup he has been since the early part of May.
Here are his numbers before and after May 10th:
Prior: .291 AVG, 11 HR, 29 RBI, 1.013 OPS, 14:32 walk to strikeout ratio in 31 games
Since: .175 AVG, 4 HR, 18 RBI, .510 OPS, 27:85 walk to strikeout ratio in 63 games
Amazingly, even though Reynolds has been an albatross in the lineup for 63 straight games (63 games!!) the Indians continue to trot him out there on a daily basis. He has not had a single extra base hit in his last 17 games, and his last double occurred on May 15th – over two months ago. That’s amazing when you consider he is a power hitter, but it just shows how he has been unable to drive balls and has been reduced to a singles hitter who strikes out a ton.
His numbers since May 10th are the worst in the American League, and by far. If a player like Yan Gomes, Lonnie Chisenhall, or Jason Kipnis had numbers like Reynolds, all three of them would have been shipped off to Triple-A Columbus a long time ago. But because Reynolds is making $6 million this season they are being patient to the point of absurdity because of his contract. If they do not want to release him that’s fine, but at least reduce his role as there are other bats on the bench which could be much more productive if given more playing time.
Why Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes are not being used more in the lineup instead of Reynolds is beyond me, but maybe the Indians are starting to come around on that front as he has not played the last two games. His spot in the lineup is one that the Indians need to look to fix with a trade as Gomes’ and Raburn’s value lie in their ability to come off the bench as part-timers and would probably be reduced in value and exposed if they played more often.
Assessing team needs
The trade deadline is just three days away, but things have been relatively quiet on the trade front around the league. It could just be the calm before the storm, or it really just might be that there are too many buyers and not enough sellers at the moment thanks to the advent of the second wildcard in each league and so many teams still in the mix. That may mean that we could see much more activity in August where trades can still be completed but are a little harder to complete as players traded on the 40-man roster have to first clear waivers.
In any case, the Indians may look to shore up their struggling bullpen with at least a left-handed setup man but may also look to pick up an experienced backend right-handed setup man to fill the void left by the struggling Joe Smithand Vinnie Pestano. Beyond bullpen help, the Indians are looking for a bat, potentially one that can slide in and fill the role currently held by Mark Reynolds as the regular designated hitter that can play a corner infield position and hit in the middle of the lineup.
At one time a starting pitcher appeared to be a need, but it is not a pressing need and the Indians are really only interested in a front of the rotation kind of arm that can be anywhere from a number one to three starter and who is under control beyond this season. The options that meet that criteria are limited, which is why it appears they will not acquire a starting pitcher.
If they were to acquire a starter and do not trade someone like Corey Kluber or Zach McAllister in such a deal, the Indians would need to create a spot in the rotation which could mean Ubaldo Jimenez is moved to the bullpen or even traded. Jimenez is all but certain not to return next season and while his performance has improved this season it is hard to trust him from start to start, so they may look to trade him for a prospect or two and just move on from him provided they get a significant rotation upgrade in another deal.
Here are some names to keep an eye out for as potential trade fits:
Bats: Michael Young (3B/1B/DH), Kendrys Morales (1B/DH), Raul Ibanez (OF/DH)
Left-handed reliever: Oliver Perez (LHP), James Russell (LHP), Mike Gonzalez (LHP), Joe Thatcher (LHP).
Right-handed setup men: Kevin Gregg (RHP), Jesse Crain (RHP), John Axford (RHP)
Longshots: Jeff Samardzija (RHP), Yovani Gallardo (RHP), Mark Buehrle (LHP), Jake Peavy (RHP), Glen Perkins(LHP), Bud Norris (RHP)
Right-handed pitcher Josh Tomlin was back on the mound on Friday night. He had Tommy John surgery last August and is in the early stages of his return to the mound and is on a rehab assignment with rookie level Arizona. He threw a scoreless inning and allowed one hit and struck out a batter. He will continue to pitch in Arizona, though could progress his way to Double-A Akron or Triple-A Columbus sometime in August to get more innings and line him up for a potential return to Cleveland in 2014. He is not expected to pitch with the Indians this season. … The MPBPAA honored Jason Kipnis with the Heart and Hustle Award this week, the second year in a row he received the award.
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.
Defensively that is.
Ignorant players don't realize that the game is played by statistics not athletes.
Tribe farm system is doing a great job of preparing future Indians, and a poor job of winning at each level.
Good for the Tribe. (Priorities)
Potential relievers and starters are in good supply.
Thanks Canadian Joe. I do think Lindor should finish the year in Akron no matter what. No reason to rush him to Columbus. He's gonna level out eventually and he needs the Double-A at bats. Just have him finish in Akron, play in the AFL in the fall to expedite his advanced game experience, and have him open in Columbus next year (or even in Akron) and go from there.
As for Ubaldo, he has a mutual option this offseason, which means both he and the Indians have to agree to pick it up (it's not happening). He will be a free agent.
As for Salazar, it is important to note that in 7 seasons he has thrown over 64 innings just three times. The most he has ever thrown is 107 innings in 2009 and last year he threw just 87 innings. The Indians and a lot of clubs are against huge jumps in a pitcher's inning workload from one season to the next, so Salazar will be limited to about 120-130 innings this season. They are saving his arm and limiting his outings in Columbus to keep him pitching but also save a few bullets for him to potentially fill a spot start need in Cleveland later in the year and/or a bullpen role. Next year he should be able to go about 170 or so and then the year after that have no restrictions.
Personally, all for the qualifying offer on AsCab irrespective of Lindor's progress but not so sure I would put a qualifyer or Kasmir or Jimenez. But there is time to consider all three. No need to rush from my viewpoint.
I do believe that things get better for Tribe pitchers next year even though there is little position help. IMO, we need to keep the roster turnover down and sign those who got us here, including the part timers. As I have said before, I do not believe this is a great team but don't want to flush it either.
We need to get real with this guy. HE IS NOT MAJOR LEAGUE READY - OR ANYWHERE NEAR.
tony addressed this point regarding the limit on Salazar during last weeks show on Tuesay night. Salazar never had a major innings season in his career. I think his max season is at 110 IP or less.
forgot about possibly moving acab to 3d. not a bad idea.
wish we would have signe f. liriano instead of pitt signing him. kinda like a kazmir. oh well, can't win them all.
As for ACab, it is unlikely anything goes down during the season. Word is, St.Louis will not make a major move either and the trade rumors linking them to big names are just that. This being said, I think it is likely ACab to St. Louis (or elsewhere) is finally consummated at the winter mtgs.
eventually he has to be stretched out. his TJ surgery was a number of years ago. seems to me that we cant know for sure unless they take the governor off him and let him let it loose without arbitrary pitch counts. I personally think he is the real deal and until he gets to a hundred or so pitches we wont know for sure. I had the webcast on and even the clippers radio people were questioning removing him after 5 innings and 11 K's
I think it's more likely they will attempt to add a hitter and/or reliever or two. The rotation has been very solid of late (may it continue), while the offense is getting a little better (not because of Reynolds), and the bullpen still being erratic (with Perez the main exception and Hill a semi-exception).
I also think they can't wait around forever for Reynolds, and if you can find a suitable replacement for him, I would DFA him. Yes, he might have some power streak, but that should have come about some time ago- heck, he's been in a deep freeze for two months. A quality Major Leaguer should be able to get himself out of such a deep slump to some extent at least within a 2-month period. I don't see much value in keeping him, especially when he provides virtually nothing defensively.
If Carrera could play the infield, I honestly think you'd get more value out of him and his speed than you would having Reynolds on the roster at this point. Even though Carrera only plays the OF and sometimes takes poor routes to balls, I still think he'd provide more value than Reynolds. Cord Phelps is another option (maybe a better option than Carrera), though has he been struggling with injuries? I haven't seen his name regularly in the Columbus lineup.
I do think, though, Reynolds and the bullpen are the two biggest issues, one or both of which should probably be addressed now or in August if possible. Go Tribe!
Irrespective of today's performance, there could be value in exercising Ubaldo's option. He has pitched well since April and has become the pitcher the Tribe hoped to get in Myers. I really do not see the difference between his career and Kazmir's. Both had a couple of bad years but seem to be pitching well now.
When you think about SS, I think the possibility of AsCab at 3B should be considered during some time in 2014. Chis may fit as a LH DH/1B. This article is much better than those IBIers who blame the AsCab "underperformance" for all the Tribe's problems. As Tony noted, other have "underperformed" as well.
Personally, I hate to give up on Reynolds who is a notorious streak hitter. He is also the only real RH power on the team. That being said, I would not mind increasing the plate appearances of Raburn and Gomes. Both have earned additional reliance but let's not go overboard. The Tribe signed Reynolds, warts and all, for a reason. Maybe a little faith in the FO is called for.
Think that looking at RH RP is a waste. The organization and current roster has plenty and we should not panic. LH RP is a different story and they make the best deal they can.
My congrats to yourtribe on his attendance. Nice to see there is a reader who pays to attend games. Judging from reported attendance, he is a distinct minority among Indian's ticket buyers.
I do not believe the Indians will be as good as Detroit the rest of the year. Too many holes and middle of the order issues but if the rumors regarding the Peralta suspension are true, it could mean a serious race in the Central.
Although bourn and swish aren't off to great starts,we had to sign them. The team last yr was god awful and even if we overpaid no other big names are lining up to come here. I also like the signings. Reynolds and Meyers were one yr deals so no biggie.
I would seriously consider moving acab too. Frees up about 23 mill when you add in Reynolds and Meyers.
Gotta love aviles,gomes,raburn and Stubbs too. Way better than the stiffs we had last year. Really like what Stubbs brings to the team. We actually have a major league bench for once!
Lindor will be in Columbus I think late this year. Also need to move up naquin to Akron. He had 3 great yrs in college already and is doing well again.
Although young, Bauer and carrasco need to show more. Really surprised how carrasco got lit up last times out. Expected more after tearing it up in AAA. Hopefully 2 of bauer ,Salazar and carrasco pan out.
Lastly I am not a Lonnie fan and just see another laporta. I know he's young and hope I'm wrong.
And as we write off ubaldo, he goes 8 shutout. And has pitched well lately but can he be counted on after the last 2 plus yrs? I just fear we get him back and he regresses again next yr. I would let him go. We'll see?
And lastly what the hell is going on with attendance? Should have had 100k this weekend with the nice weather and all the freebies. I have a family of 5 and have been to 4 games already and will see the tigers in Aug and mets in sept. And I live an hr and a half away.
And how about hafner! Shocking huh? Why he wasn't released, contract and all after 2010 is beyond me.
Again, nice writeup. And we sweep the strangers. Go tribe.
Regarding Bourn, I don't actually think he's been disappointing. His base running has been; I think he needs to get back to sliding head first into second, he keeps getting tagged on his upper body going feet-first. I wonder how much the early-season hand injury has negatively effected his technique going. But otherwise, if you were expecting more than a .338 OBP from Bourn, then you were expecting a different player, that's his career rate, and only 10 points lower than last year. While I think his peripherals are a little scary, pointing to coming decline, that decline hasn't happened yet. He's played 75 games and currently at 1.8 WAR. As a guy projected for about 3.5 WAR in a full season, that right in line. The hand injury is the only thing that held him back so far.