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Tribe Happenings: There is a lot of blame to pass around

Tribe Happenings: There is a lot of blame to pass around
It has been a good year for the Indians, but not good enough. (Photo: AP)
September 16, 2014
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

So who is to blame?

The Indians went into Detroit this past weekend and were swept out of the Motor City. They played hard and were setup to win two games late, but due to the timely heroics once again from Tigers hitters they lost both games in excruciating fashion.

The hangover from that sweep carried over into Monday night’s game in Houston as they lost 3-1. The aftermath is a current four-game losing streak that has all but certainly taken the Indians out of postseason contention. They are still mathematically alive, but barring a miraculous 13-0 finish and a lot of help, they are done.

Now that the season has more or less been considered over, the immediate reaction is to look back at what went wrong and what prevented them from having the success that many wanted from them this season.

After the Indians went 92-70 last season and made the playoffs, the hope was that they would take a step forward this season, but it never happened. They battled inconsistency in the starting rotation for most of the first half of the season and also had a few wrinkles in the backend of the bullpen that they needed to iron out early on. The poor defense singlehandedly had a hand in at least a half dozen losses in the first month or so of the season and has been one of the worst units in all of baseball. The offense has all kinds of trouble thanks to a half dozen or so players underperforming along with some questionable lineup construction on a nightly basis from the manager.

All of that led to an up and down season. It wasn’t the year many hoped for, but they should still finish over .500 and the future certainly looks bright with a good, young rotation to go along with a solid to above average bullpen and a lineup with three established stars and a few other good role players. I wrote last week how this was a transition year, a season where they had so many question marks that needed answered and mostly were answered. I evenpredicted before the season that they would take a slight step back and go 84-78.

So in the end, this team did not really disappoint in my eyes as the season played out pretty much as expected.  But that doesn’t mean that we should accept a .500 or slightly above finish. It means that the team did not do enough to build off of last season’s playoff showing.

So who is to blame for the team taking a step back this season? There are a lot of candidates:

The Starting Rotation

In the first half of the season the starting rotation ranked 13th in the American League in ERA (4.49), 2nd in K/9 (8.6) and 11th in WAR (6.5). They actually pitched much better than their ERA suggests as they had a 3.51 xFIP which ranked 1st in the league, but the unit still underwhelmed thanks to their inconsistent outings, inability to consistently pitch deep into games and several changes to the makeup of the rotation. They found their groove in the second half as they currently are 3rd in ERA (2.98), 1st in K/9 (8.8), 2nd in WAR (8.0) and 1st in xFIP (3.18), a huge reason for their second half turnaround.

It is hard to fault the rotation for the team’s struggles this season considering how well they have pitched of late, but they certainly had a hand in the sluggish start to their season and 47-47 record at the All Star break. They are the least to blame, but some better outings earlier in the season may have saved some overuse of their top pen arms who have struggled a little late in the season.

The Bullpen

The bullpen was a good unit in the first half of the season ranking 3rd in the AL in ERA (3.08), 4th in K/9 (8.8), 8th in WAR (1.5) and 6th in xFIP (3.61). They also had 11 blown saves (8th) and a 69% save percentage (8th).  But they were also 2nd in innings pitched (309.1) where by comparison the Tigers pen threw the least amount of innings (251.2). That heavy workload was a byproduct of the inconsistency in the rotation in the first half and a defense which only made things worse.

The heavy amount of work in the first half looks like it finally caught up with them in the second half as the bullpen is 9th in ERA (3.39), 7th in K/9 (8.4), 11th in WAR (0.6) and 7th in xFIP (3.48). The performance measures only slipped a little, but it is in the moments that really count where they took a step back as they lead the AL in blown saves in the second half (11) and have the worst save percentage (45%). Going strictly by results and performance in the second half alone, the bullpen arguably is the most to blame – especially when you consider they singlehandedly blew four winnable games over the past two weeks alone.

The Defense

The defense has been awful all season. They have 111 errors and .980 fielding percentage this season, and there are several other misplays or missed routine plays that were not recorded as errors or plays a capable defender should make that were not made and affected the outcome of games. Defense can be hard to quantify, but looking at things from a statistical standpoint via the advanced metrics at Fangraphs, they Indians are dead last at 15th in the AL in UZR (-65.9), 14th in UZR/150 (-9.3) and 15th in defensive runs saved (-74).

No matter how you slice it the defense has been nothing short of abysmal this season. While other cross sections of the team have struggled at times this season, the defense has been the one constant all year which has hurt them. The combination of errors to go along with their inability to make a play on elusive groundballs that an average defender would make has really hurt the pitching staff and ultimately their ability to win consistently. This by far is the one area of the team that needs a massive upgrade this offseason.

The Lineup

The lineup has struggled with consistency all season as they will show spurts of good play, but often struggle to sustain their performance. They never really got hot for an extended period of time like a lineup will often do at some point.

In the first half the lineup scored 4.4 runs per game and had the 5th most runs scored in the league (417). They ranked 7th in batting average (.256), 7th in on-base percentage (.323), 8th in isolated power (.141) and 9th in WAR (9.7). In the second half they are down to 3.8 runs per game and are 10th in runs scored (211). They are 6th in batting average (.253), 5th in on-base percentage (.313), 9th in isolated power (.131) and 7th in WAR (5.9).

The cross section by halves makes the lineup look not too bad, but looking it over the whole season you see an average to slightly below average group as they are 7th in runs scored (628) and 10th in WAR (15.6). Injuries have no doubt had an effect on the performance of the lineup, but they had way too many players like Jason Kipnis,Michael BournNick Swisher and others have down years that it was tough to overcome. This is another area of the team that needs some significant retooling in the offseason.

The Manager

Manager Terry Francona is a heck of a manager and has won two world championships, but even he had a negative impact on things as well. No one will ever question the way Francona handles his team on and off the field, and while he does tend to overuse his top pen arms he does a pretty good job of managing a pitching staff. That said, there are some things he does with the over reliance and allegiance to his veterans or with the construction of the lineup which to me has negatively impacted a few games this season.

Francona’s undying loyalty to the Ryan Raburn’s and Jason Giambi’s of the world or going after veterans likeChris Dickerson in-season and David Murphy in the offseason to me is something that has hurt the team a little this season. It takes some time for a young player to get a legit chance with him as he has refused to give someone like Jesus Aguilar an extended look this season – a guy who could potentially fill one of their biggest needs which is right-handed power. He’s given some looks to other young players like Jose Ramirez and countless pitchers, but in those cases he was almost forced to play those guys after Asdrubal Cabrera was traded and how thin the Indians are in the pitching department when it comes to suitable alternatives.

Francona has also put together some run adverse lineups. He had the struggling Jason Kipnis hitting fifth until recently, he keeps putting low on-base guys and hacker types like Jose Ramirez and Mike Aviles in the two-hole and he has had Yan Gomes and Lonnie Chisenhall hitting in the sixth through eighth spot in the order for most of the season. Are his options limited? Yes, the Indians have few alternatives to those spots in the order and they have other spots where players are underperforming, but a lot more thought can go into the makeup of the lineup than he has done this season.

There is no rule that says a middle infielder with little pop has to hit second in the order, but that’s what Francona continues to do. There is no rule that says a former All Star has to hit in the top five spots in the order, but that is what he has done with Kipnis for most of this season. It just comes down to his over-the-top loyalty to his players, something that works for and against him and is something he needs to get a little better at balancing.

The Coaching Staff

It is hard to place much blame on the rest of the coaching staff. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway has been unbelievable with the job he has done with the pitchers the last two seasons. He is a gem and a guy the Indians may have a hard time keeping in the not too distant future as teams begin to consider him as a managerial candidate.Sandy Alomar Jr and the rest of the staff have also done a solid job, though the one guy who could have some blame thrown his way is hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo because of the struggles and inconsistency in the lineup this season, but he does not appear to be in any danger of losing his job this offseason.

The Front Office and Ownership

Coming off a playoff appearance, the front office really did not go out of their way to put the team over the top going into this season. Yes, I am fully aware of the limitations they were working with from a payroll standpoint and they only had so many available dollars to spend last offseason. I wrote about it countless times last offseason. It was the unfortunate reality after their spending spree the previous offseason.  But it is hard to sell winning when you let two of your top three starting pitchers and one of your top pen arms leave via free agency and do little to replace them.

Now, obviously the Indians believed in their young arms and that belief is paying off and they have been proven right; however, while they went through the growing pains of a young staff early this season it may have ultimately hurt their chances to make the postseason this year. They inexplicably let Aaron Harang go for nothing this spring and could have really used him early in the season while they sorted things out with the rotation.

But the problem once again lies with the inability to get that last player or two to put them over the top. It happened after the 2005 and 2007 seasons, and it happened once again last offseason. The sore spot right now continues to be their inability to find that last key offensive player, that linchpin to the lineup which brings it all together. Instead, they once again tried to spackle the lineup together by finding a rebound candidate in David Murphy – a player who is an average player and has little impact potential for a lineup in need of an impact.

The Murphy signing was the Indians only real big move in the offseason. There is no question he has helped the culture of the team within the locker room, but his signing did nothing to improve the lineup from a year ago and is still a questionable move considering this team’s ongoing issues when facing left-handed pitching. Meanwhile, the likes of Jose AbreuNelson Cruz and Mike Morse were right-handed bats that got cheap or fair deals that would have fit better into the Indians lineup. So even if the free agents were less than compelling, there were certainly options available in the free agent market.

The front office followed up their inactivity in the offseason with a lot of inactivity at the trade deadline as well. In their defense, there was not a lot available in terms of players that could help, but I think many expected a lot more than the Indians simply subtracting the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson from the team for a few prospects. It was not a banner year for the front office and they should be under a lot of pressure to make some considerable changes this offseason either to change the makeup of the lineup or to be aggressive and go after that last big piece in the lineup.

In the end, as you can see, there is all sorts of blame to go around. Every facet of the team failed them at some point this season, some more than others.

Brantley’s decline

It would be hard to blame Indians outfielder Michael Brantley for anything this season. He is probably the MVP of the team this season or at worst the co-MVP along with Yan Gomes and Corey Kluber. His emergence should help lock up the three-hole in the Indians lineup for the foreseeable future. That said, he has tailed off in the second half of the season in the power and run production department.

Check out Brantley’s first half and second half numbers below:

1st half 90 .322 .382 .519 .901 .197 7.7% 8.2% 15 63 10
2nd half 55 .321 .378 .470 .848 .149 8.0% 8.4% 4 31 11

Brantley has been remarkably consistent just from an approach standpoint all year putting up great at bats. He’s been the same hitter all season just from the standpoint of batting average, on-base ability and making consistent contact. But the one thing you notice is the dip in his power, which has resulted in a drop in his run production which in turn has had a negative effect on the Indians lineup in the second half.

As far as run production goes, Brantley carried the team offensively in the first half of the season while the likes of Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes have done much more of the heavy lifting in the second half. Brantley is still hitting for some power as his doubles-rate is nearly identical in the first and second half, but it is the absence of the long ball from him in the second half which has had an impact on the team’s ability to generate runs.

I don’t think anyone ever expected Brantley would wind up with around 30 homers this season even after the pace he was on earlier this season. He’s more than exceeded expectations from a power standpoint this season and looks to have established himself as a guy who should hit around 20 homers a season – 15-17 on the low end and 22-25 on the high end. But looking at the way his home run and RBI production has tailed off in the second half even while he is still hitting at the same .320+ clip shows how locked in he was in the first half with the power stoke – and maybe that he was a little lucky.

Moving forward

The Indians are not going to admit the season is done – and they shouldn’t - so changes to the structure of the lineup probably won’t happen for a few more games. But there are a few things I would like to see these final two weeks of the season.

First off, I would like to see them back off the innings for Corey Kluber, Trevor BauerDanny Salazar and T.J. House the rest of the way. I am not worried too much about Carlos Carrasco since his innings are low considering he was in the bullpen for most of the season, but I’d like them to limit the use of the other four starters down the stretch and not push them too far in their outings. I’d even just consider a six-man rotation the rest of the way so thatZach McAllister can get a few outings to improve his standing not only with the team but as a potential trade chip in the offseason.

Secondly, I’d like to see the Indians play Jesus Aguilar an extensive amount of games the rest of the way. Yes, he may only get 50 or so at bats these final 12 games, which is not a lot to take anything away from good or bad in a performance due to the small sample size, but a strong finish could be a confidence builder for him and give the organization a better feel for him as a player at this level and potentially make them re-think some things with the lineup for next season.

Last, I’d like to see the Francona continue to mix in C.C. Lee in late inning situations, let Kyle Crockett and Nick Hagadone pitch longer in their outings and not be so limited to just matchups with left-handers, and I’d also mix inAustin Adams more. The likes of Cody AllenBryan ShawScott Atchison and Mark Rzepczynski have been used and abused this season with their workload, so I would really limit their use down the stretch to save their arms a little and to also get some looks at some other arms that could factor very heavily into the mix next season.

Parting shots

Ryan Raburn hyperextended his knee on Saturday and has been out of the lineup since. The knee has not improved so the Indians are considering sending him back to Cleveland to have an MRI to find out what is wrong. At this point, his status for the rest of the season looks very iffy. … Former Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is hitting .236 with 5 HR, 15 RBI and .737 OPS in 39 games since being traded to the Nationals. ... Former Indians starting pitcher Justin Masterson is 2-3 with a 7.53 ERA in eight starts since being traded to the Cardinals.

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

September 19, 2014 - 12:36 PM EDT
McAllister will likely be in the bullpen to start next season. He's out of options so will probably be the long man and sort of be in the Carrasco role of this year. I don't see a lot of upside to him as a pen guy only because he doesn't get a lot of movement on his fastball and he needs to stop throwing that slider which has killed him this year. He's a guy who is going to routinely throw in the 92-94 range and is still a depth starting option where his value may still be the highest. But I expect he will be given some opps to pitch out of the pen next year not as a permanent change but just to get him right a la Carrasco. I also think he could be traded this offseason.
September 19, 2014 - 12:27 PM EDT

I love McAllister throwing 98 mph for 1-2 innings out of the pen. I think he can be our version of Wade Davis and that means you don't have to go out and get another bullpen arm, IMO
September 19, 2014 - 12:22 PM EDT

I totally agree with you on Kipnis. He has not earned his PT in the field or at the plate and shouldn't be starting.
September 18, 2014 - 8:36 AM EDT
Tyler Holt should not be considered in a platoon in right field. I like him but he's a true fourth or fifth outfielder right now and should only be a depth option for the Indians to start next season. I would expect him to open in Columbus and be the first outfielder called upon when an injury crops up.

As for Kipnis, I know many hope the Indians take him off second or reduce his time at the position, but I don't see that happening. They just gave him $50 and they will be patient with letting him snap out of his funk. Now, if the problems continue deep into next season....I think a change is considered.
September 18, 2014 - 8:33 AM EDT
Murphy has been nails with runners on base. He's hitting .344 with runners on, .379 with RISP, and .500 (7-for-14) with the bases loaded.

OTOH, he's hitting .153 leading off an inning and .206 with nobody on base.

That's about the widest discrepancy I can imagine. Maybe he concentrates better with runners on, or maybe he just gets better pitches to hit, but the guy has been productive this year in his most important at-bats. He has the ability to be patient with runners on base and lay off or foul off marginal pitches until he gets one he can handle.

If Raburn hadn't injured his wrist in spring training, we would have had a very productive RF platoon.

Along with Masterson's and Swisher's knee problems, that's mainly what kept the Indians out of the playoffs. We could have survived sub-par seasons by Bourn, Kipnis, and Asdrubal if Masterson, Swisher, and Raburn had just stayed healthy and duplicated their 2013 seasons.
September 18, 2014 - 7:39 AM EDT

I've been wondering if there is a possibility they'll make a play for Yasmani Tomas. It seems unlikely, but if they are convinced he could be a star...maybe. They could try to compete with the field and offer a 6 - 7 yr deal. It don't think that's the way to go, and they'd never take that kind of risk after the Bourn and Swisher signings. However, they could create a unique opportunity for him and themselves if they signed him to a 3 or 4 yr deal that allowed him to become a FA at the end of the contract. He'd be 27-28 when he hit FA w/ potential at another huge deal. I don't see it happening, but it would be a creative option for the Tribe and Tomas.
September 18, 2014 - 6:22 AM EDT
As a right handed OF option is it possible that Holt could be a .270 hitter who adds speed to the lineup? With Rayburn signed for next year there was no reason to cut him this year as there was no replacement. If he does not bounce back next spring - the adios.

However it is done - the team needs to get less "left handed".

I know there is much hate on Aviles - but how many of you guys saw his diving stop and throw to save a hit last night? IMO Kipnis does not make that play. If KIpnis starts like last year, and J Ram starts at SS, then some serious platoon time is needed for Kip.

Francona gave KIpnis every opportunity to snap out of it this year. If Kip does not find himself - he needs to be treated as any other player - he needs to earn his PT.

September 17, 2014 - 10:55 PM EDT
Agree with Tony, you cant trade Santana, He has finally found a home at 1B. I believe if he plays a full year at first that his average will be a lot higher than this year. I also see him hitting 30+ hrs. The only way tou trade him is if you get something you can not refuse. I dont see that happening.

I prefer the Indians try to get in on Tomas sweepstakes.

Awesome game by Carrasco. He just topped Kluber outing from last night.

September 17, 2014 - 10:14 PM EDT
Ryan, I would have looked at the trade route to fill right field. I was fine with the Murphy signing when they made it and still am fine with it.....that is important to note. But my point is in the end it has turned out to be a wasteful signing and now they are stuck with him for next year. They are probably going to end up now hoping for a Raburn revival next year and go with Raburn/Murphy again in RF....which is something I hope they don't do. They need to make a change out there.
September 17, 2014 - 10:10 PM EDT
No way do I trade Santana. He's one of the only elite (or near elite) level bats the Indians have. They trade him and it is a huge hole. There is absolutely nothing wrong if a guy doesn't put the ball in play 200 times but walks half of those times. Some guy named Trout is going to do the exact same thing (and actually strike out more). Obviously, Santana is no Trout, but power hitters often strike's nice to have a guy who is more patient and won't make as many outs. Again, Santana is miscast by the Indians. It is not his fault they have him at cleanup because they don't have other options. Mark me down as someone who would like to see Gomes hit cleanup and have Santana hit 2nd or 5th.
September 17, 2014 - 7:03 PM EDT

I appreciate you bringing some balance to the discussion about Murphy and the Indians' offseason. It seems as though we have a lot of ppl who want to live in hindsight and it's extremely unfair and unfortunate.
September 17, 2014 - 6:29 PM EDT
I've said it before and I'll say it again--I'd really, really like to see what other tams would offer us for Carlos Santana. It's not that I don't appreciate some of the unique things Santana brings as an offensive player. It's just that he's not a good fit for this team--which badly needs a cleanup hitter. Way, down the thread, larry made a great point. Santana doesn't put the ball in play for 200 of his 600 or so at-bats. That's a third of the season where he has no opportunities to drive in runs. Tony, you're right that he would make an elite No. 2 hitter; it's just that we don't have the No. 4 hitter to drive him in. Gomes and Brantley are my only untouchable hitters on this team. With Santana's skills and more importantly, his reasonable salary, we could really get some interesting pieces in return if we put him on the market.
September 17, 2014 - 5:43 PM EDT
Count me in on being baffled by the non-rostering of Urshela. Everyone knows that our 3B position is an adventure to say the least on defense. My guess is that Francona told the FO that he has no idea how to do defensive substitutions anyway and that Chisenhall and Aviles will work their way through it that the FO just gave up.
September 17, 2014 - 5:31 PM EDT
@shy you really like skating the line of libel with your random PED accusations.
September 17, 2014 - 5:28 PM EDT
Only reason that JD Martinez was a missed opportunity is the fact he had options left, was 25, had a hitting profile similar to Gomes before he came to Cleveland, and the OF at Columbus was bereft of talent. Of course it is questionable whether or not he would have ever gotten playing time this year because of Raburn and Swisher clogging up 25 man roster spots, but there was an opportunity to get him. Of course if he was outright released and could have signed with anyone, he probably saw that Detroit gave him a better option to play at the ML level, they only had two starters set with Jackson and Hunter, and Hunter was already considered a part timer due to age, thus he would have a shot at LF. In Cleveland, after the Murphy signing, there were no obvious openings. If I was JD Martinez, I would have signed with the Tigers.
September 17, 2014 - 5:22 PM EDT
Brantley's lower HR rate is probably easily attributable to the fact Brantley only really had pull HR power, like pretty much everyone else on this team except for Gomes. I mentioned somewhere else but if he ever used a bat like Santana's, he might be able to generate the extra 20-30 feet he needs to get it to and/or over the LF wall on the fly. Unfortunately the added mass of the bigger bat would probably slow his swing down so that is probably out of the question, so I am thinking that 15 HRs from Brantley is all we can realistically expect as the scouting reports realize that you might as well pitch away to Brantley because even if he squares it up, at worst it will be a double down the line or in the gap, versus a possible homer if you go inside.
September 17, 2014 - 5:15 PM EDT
@Tony, not arguing whether there were more "pressing" issues that needed to be addressed over Murphy, but who would you have in RF if it wasn't Murphy at the start of the year? I know you previously had advocated keeping Stubbs, but again, an extreme RHH platoon versus a LHH.
September 17, 2014 - 5:13 PM EDT
I find it interesting that so many people seem to have this hate for Murphy, he was signed for 5.5 million this year and 6 million next year to at least hit against 70% of the pitchers in the league. To blame Murphy for not improving the team against LHP forgets that they already signed the RH platoon portion last season, Raburn, and ignores the fact that Murphy actually .638 OPS which is actually higher than Raburns and WAY above Kipnis, whom Francona REFUSES to platoon for but loves to do with Murphy. Murphy IMO is not a poor or great signing, it was average. His oWAR is 1.1, based on the belief that FA signings should be worth 5-7 million per WAR, then it seems to be a OK signing. Were there better signings out there, especially RHH options? No question, but again, the team committed to Raburn being the RHH portion of the platoon before the off-season started, so they were in the market for a LHH. It was not just by chance or coincidence that the length of the Murphy contract coincided with the length of the Raburn extension. Ignoring the RHH vs LHH aspect, Morse was coming off a similarly down year like Murphy, Cruz had a 1st round pick to be forfeited attached to him, and Abreu was an unknown and received $68 million guaranteed, not exactly the same kind of signing as Murphy, Morse and Cruz.
C L Who
September 17, 2014 - 3:50 PM EDT
The FO should have traded Masterson when it couldn't sign him to a three year deal, and in any event no later than ST when it became obvious that he didn't have his good stuff going. ACab too should have been moved in the offseason.

If the "real" Kip and Chis are the ones that appeared in 2012 and 2014, and after the ASB this year, then they need to be moved. I've consistently supported Chis, but it's starting more and more to look like the real Chis is the 220./ 280 player who Ks a lot, and not the terror at the plate of the amazing 6 week stretch.

Goes without saying that Raburn and Big G need to be DFA'd released, not resigned...whatever, and that Aviles and Murphy need to be traded. Of the two, Murphy is far more productive, but he still needs to go.
September 17, 2014 - 3:07 PM EDT

Draft and follow classes are always going to be difficult to evaluate.. The latest version has some hope and some promise. The top two picks (Zimmer and Sheffield) I liked a LOT.. Not so much on the third pick.. I think Mike Papi has a lot of Beau Mills in him.. and should have been passed on in favor of one of the arms the Tribe desperately needs to be developing. (Spencer Adams, Nick Burdi, Matt Imhof and Sean Reid-Foley as examples of arms and I also like Jacob Gatewood, a SS, where Papi was picked). By passing on them, the Indians passed on theee most important and valuable commodity taken from this draft.... but who to pick is an argument for another day/thread..

The results by ALL teams from the Rule IV draft are ALL miserable. Every single team fails to the tune of less than 1 player in 7 selected EVER makes a meaningful contribution to the club that drafts them. EVERY TEAM.. Saying the Indians are somehow special and immune to this.. is at best disingenuous.

Could/would Nelson Cruz help this club.. this year.. Sure, if the Indians were locks to contend.. That was far from a certainty.. and remains so after the 2014 campaign. There are a lot fewer questions coming out of the 2014 season.. A lot fewer.. Nelson Cruz?.. he's available again. but it won't be for $ 8 MM.. it will be for 10 times that.. over a much longer period of time.. Being on the wrong side of 30.. and being a FA.. doesn't make signing Nelson Cruz a better option for the Indians & that's the truth..
September 17, 2014 - 1:36 PM EDT
Hiram, I could be wrong, but I recall Antonetti or Francona talking earlier in the year how Murphy was not signed strictly as a platoon guy. I stand corrected if I am wrong. My memory is not as sharp as it used to be.:)

One thing to note on a Murphy platoon.....he was brought in to rake against righties. He was a career .280 hitter with a .816 OPS against them in his career coming into this season. Yet this season he has hit just .267 with a .717 OPS against them. I think this is a guy who is sliding. Two down years in a row. Three in his last four. He is also a -0.4 WAR player which means he is playing just below replacement level.
September 17, 2014 - 1:10 PM EDT
One name I can see the Indians going after this offseason is Carlos Gonzalez. His stock has taken a hit. I think the Guy needs a change of scenery and would look big time in the the Tribes OF.


That's a Championship lineup if everyone plays to their abilities

I wonder what the Rockies would want though
September 17, 2014 - 1:08 PM EDT

That's hindsight, no way any of us fans could have known the SP would carry the team the way it has the second half.

I don't argue that he'd been a difference maker, I'm saying that he wasn't an option. The Tribe liked the draft class - bad track record or not - and were not willing to blow a draft pk for him. That is in fact history... Not opinion. Many teams weren't willing to spend the pick to sign him or Morales and Drew for that matter.
September 17, 2014 - 12:59 PM EDT

In the interview CA did with Jim Bowden, CA specifically mentioned that he wanted a complimentary back to go with Raburn. This might be a case of giving mixed messages or things changing. If the plan was to have Murphy play every single day then the decision is very flawed because Murphy is no longer an everyday player.
September 17, 2014 - 12:48 PM EDT
Great article. Enjoyed all the comments. Agree with most. Are there any (agility) drills that could give current
players better range or is it all natural ability? I am sure natural ability is most important, but how much better could a player be with extensive training, i.e. how much could he improve his range factor?
Nick S
September 17, 2014 - 12:48 PM EDT
Matt, you can add all the RH sticks you want this offseason. If the Indiansdon,t improve the infield D in 2015, they are going to fight the whitesox and the Twins for last place. Any avg. defense this year the Indians would bEleading the division by 5games. No1 issues that must address this winter, per Tom H. PS. The Indians Fo is saving Urshela for 2015 prom!
September 17, 2014 - 12:16 PM EDT
@ GSon & Homer

I disagree on passing just to take a first round pick. First off, look at this FO record for drafting. Its ugly even if last year was a good draft. Also, we don't know if Zimmer will ever make the major leagues, he is a "prospect". We saw last year when Mark Reynolds was red-hot for 6 weeks he carried the offense. Cruz could have done that this year, especially while this team is struggling to score runs. He also would have taken the pressure off the other guys. There is no doubt in my mind, Cruz would have gotten us to the playoffs with this pitching. Maybe Zimmer helps in 6 years, but I want to win now.
September 17, 2014 - 12:13 PM EDT

Thanks, that's completely how I interpreted it. He's a guy I have liked for yrs, but not an impact bat. He could be an everyday 3b at some point, but as you said, probably June or later. Fortunately, he will be 23 next all next season - he's still young and should have some development with the bat left. His defense would play right now at the big league level so that's not an issue.
September 17, 2014 - 12:04 PM EDT
Homer, I too was mildly surprised that Urshela was not called up. Like you said, he has to be added to the 40-man anyway this offseason and he should be an option at some point next why not just bring him up and see what he can do? Even if he only sits the bench and gets 10-20 plate appearances, the experience alone could do him some good (like J-Ram last year). Not calling him up speaks to me more that they don't think he is ML ready with the bat yet and not about service time (he'd only get 25 or so days). By not calling him up it pretty much means that he has no shot to come up until at least June next year, if even then.
September 17, 2014 - 11:39 AM EDT
Based on their current contracts I think the Indians should just hold pat this offseason.
September 17, 2014 - 11:21 AM EDT
Interesting the Indians have not called up Gio Urshela. He will require a 40 man spot this offseason, so why not go ahead and roster him? I guess, they don't think he's ready for the bigs, or just that he wouldn't get every day playing time. I could see a scenario where the Indians bring in a professional bat at third base. Maybe they could get Chase Headley on a short term deal (bounce back), another guy Casey McGehee could be an option (Marlins - arb. eligible), or the Tribe could go for a long term solution at 3b. Maybe Anthony Rendon from the Nats, for Danny Salazar.
September 17, 2014 - 10:40 AM EDT
Hiram, that's not true on Murphy. We all THOUGHT that the Indians signed him to platoon in right field.....but the Indians flat out said during spring training he was their everyday right fielder and that he was not signed to platoon. It made the move all the more puzzling. Sure, Raburn would maybe spell Murphy at times against a tough lefty.....but the idea was that Murphy was going to play a great amount of time against lefties.
September 17, 2014 - 10:28 AM EDT
Everyone has been waiting four years for Santana to be a consistent hitter. Next year' we"ll see.
September 17, 2014 - 10:26 AM EDT
Disagree with Tony on the Murphy signing and on the Ty Burkleo thing

Tony seems to forget that Murphy was suppose to be in CONJUNCTION with Raburn as a platoon. The problem was that Raburn didn't produce, Murphy played too much and Tito refused to give the other guys a chance. It's poor decision making by TITO, not the FO and the fact that Raburn didn't do what he did last year. At the beginning of the year you could've projeced about 25 HR and 100 RBIs beteween Murphy and Raburn. Murphy did his part how about Raburn. It wasn't a poor signing at all.

Idk, Tony mentioned firing Van Burkleo and then mininizes the role that Tito has had with over working his bullpen, not giving others a chance in the starting lineup, rotation and in the bullpen, poor lineup construction. Tony, doesn't want to fire Tito with all that but hinted last year he wanted to fire Van Burkleo. We need some consistency because this is anything but consistent
September 17, 2014 - 9:59 AM EDT
If Masterson hadn't suffered the knee injury and had been able to repeat last season, and if Swisher's knees hadn't deteriorated, and if Raburn had just been able to come close to his 2013 season, we'd be in first place today.

Great column, Tony! And you made a great point in that Santana has been an elite offensive performer since moving to first base, not to mention his defense there has been very good. With a full season at 1B next year his numbers should be even better.

Gomes has had an incredible offensive season. I would have him DH more next year to rest him and let Perez catch more often. I would give Aguilar a real shot at DH. Move Chiz to right field and put Urshela at 3rd. That improves the defense and adds two right-handed power bats to balance the lineup.

Use the savings from Masterson's and Cabrera's contracts (approx. $20 million) to get a right-handed power bat in left field. Move Brantley to center. Bench Murphy, Raburn, Bourn, and Swisher. Yeah, that will be very tough to see tens of millions rotting on the bench. But if Francona is too loyal to aging, injury-prone, unproductive veterans, Antonetti needs to step in and make those decisions, even if it means releasing some guys and eating their contracts.
September 17, 2014 - 9:42 AM EDT
L.Chisenhall since the All Star Break:

.220 BA, .272 OBP, .611 OPS

For comparisons sake: Kipnis: .230, .295, .610

Chisenhall has been as bad as in his past 3 seasons after the break. His first half this season is the outlier.
I'd try to deal both this offseason
September 17, 2014 - 9:40 AM EDT

Good perspective.

I think the Indians did the right thing by not losing a pk to sign a rental. This team was not on the brink of the WS this past offseason. If we are honest about where the club was, this was a transition yr from the start. I've heard sometimes you take a step back to take a step forward, I think that applies here. The emergence of Gomes, Brantley, and to some degree Chisenhall. Prospects developing... Bauer, Ramirez, Crockett, Holt, Aguilar, Adams, Price, Perez, Hagadone, House. The rotation seemingly coming together...Kluber, Bauer, Carrasco, Salazar and House. The bullpen... Allen, Shaw, Atchison, etc.

Overall, a very good season and a lot of reason to be excited about next yr. Obviously, some moves are coming. I think if the pitching holds up, another bat or two are added, starting pitching depth and another backend bullpen are added this team could be AL Central contenders for several yrs to come.
Canadian Joe
September 17, 2014 - 9:10 AM EDT
Excellent article Tony ! A lot of good discussion and back and forths on a number of issues. The simple fact of the matter is there is some real good talent on the horizon, and it's up to the front office to augment this talent with sound signings, or trades that do not take on aging, expensive players. Beltre and the like are short term solutions, but to get them, long term assets have to be dealt. If the team was on the cusp of winning a World Series, then you look at the solid additions. This team has to get back to the playoffs to be relevant, and you do that with young developing talent. Then you add. I have a big fear this off season that one of the young pitchers becomes a trade piece. If that is the case, the return better be more than a case of empty beer bottles !!!!
September 17, 2014 - 8:27 AM EDT
@ Matt:

If the Indians sign Nelson Cruz... they don't draft and sign Brad Zimmer..and probably not Justus Sheffield..

The performance of FA's for the Indians on a one year deals like the one for Cruz says "lose" for the Indians..

It's not like the draft and sign guys are vastly superior.. either way
September 17, 2014 - 8:19 AM EDT
Wading in on the rosterbation discussion.. one that will no doubt become a regular / repeating feature of this site going into the off season...

David Murphy.. This might come as a shock to some, but, I was involved in an argument (yes.. me) regarding the value of David Murphy via projected results.. The foil (some stat-geek named Filihok) was convinced that my projection was way off.. I suggested that David Murphy, a life time .270/.330/.425 hitter would be more of a .290/.350/.450 hitter AT progressive field (and only progressive field). This was based on a theory best summed as "Home Cookin" or horses for courses. The thought was, David Murphy needed to play every day the Indians were home.. period...and he'd hang those kinds of numbers.. As the end of the season approaches, he's not far off those numbers... IOW..he's performing as expected for a $ 6 MM a year veteran. David Murphy is part of the solution.. He'd be more of a solution if he could hit better away from Progressive Field.. IDK why he can't.. but he can't...

Overall, in MLB, runs are off about 22 to 28 per team, on average or about 4 % to 8 %. The increase in the use of defensive shifts.. the strike zone being a weee bit bigger.. the overall velocity of the pitching staffs (mainly bullpens) being higher..etc.. all contribute to a slow down in runs scored. The Indians are not the only team not scoring enough runs.. The Indians starting pitching, having been so good, has kept them in just about every game save for two short & painful stints.. the west coast trip in April and the Tigers back to back series..

Claiming the Indians missed on Nelson Cruz or Jose Abreu is true. Michael Morse is marginally better than David Murphy without the injury history.. Call it a miss as well.. CA's crystal ball was unable to project that Abreu would become the game changer that he is. He's an incredible young talent in the entirety of Chicago-land...

The use of limited resources to acquire free agents has never been a strong suit of the Indians.. and shouldn't be.. The Indians have resources in the form of young talented middle infielders that can and should be used to acquire the pieces that will fulfill the teams needs going forward.. In the end, it's the only way this club can compete.

And yes.. that does include Francisco Lindor..
September 17, 2014 - 7:50 AM EDT
It just comes down to the end result. That .235 hitter also has a .366 on-base percentage which is 24th in ALL of baseball. The idea of the game of baseball is to get on base and not make outs, and he does it at an elite (or near elite) level. There are several hitters hitting between .280-.315 that he is making less outs than because of his patient approach at the plate. He also has an .809 OPS (top 40), 135 wRC+ (top 30) and .209 isolated power percentage (top 20). Also, it is important to note that since moving to first base full time he's "hitting" much better. As a first baseman this season he is hitting .284 with a .944 OPS whereas as a third baseman earlier in the year he hit .129 with a .509 OPS. That experiment obviously weighed on him and it buried his numbers to start the season.

Brantley, Santana and Gomes are a good core in this lineup. Chisenhall is probably close to that core too. And obviously Kipnis when he is right......but they have a lot to do to get this thing figured out. Guys like Murphy are wasteful signings. No reason to pay that kind of guy, an average to below average player, $12 million over two years. He by all means is not the problem with this lineup, I know that (he's had a solid year), but the point is it is signings like his which don't really help.
September 17, 2014 - 6:42 AM EDT
I agree, with Santana's ability to walk he would be fine hitting second, but to call someone hitting .235 a good hitter is a little strange.
September 17, 2014 - 1:47 AM EDT
It's not like they signed Murphy to 2 years, $30 million. He's making "veteran 4th outfielder" money. I would imagine if they want to drop him, they can trade him.
September 17, 2014 - 12:51 AM EDT
Great article Tony. Again for me it comes down to the Front Office. Making no moves to help this team in the offseason is just unacceptable. The one move they do make - Murphy - is a clone of most of the other players in this lineup (LH, little power, etc.). I wrote a comment at the beginning of the year saying how terrible this Murphy deal was when you could have had Nelson Cruz for 1 Year and was criticized. Not only is Cruz a better player he added a power dynamic this lineup desperately needed. It seems like this lineup is loaded with 6 or 7 hole hitters. How do they not see that? And once again the problem against Lefties showed up because no moves made because they were totally relying on Ryan Raburn, I repeat, Ryan Raburn to have a career year again when he has no track record of sustained success.

The front office again dropped the ball at the deadline, acquiring only a utility infielder (like they do every year). This team desperately needed a bat as everyone could see Swish was a mess. Speaking of, according to Eduardo Perez (his former teammate), he couldn't believe how out of shape Swish looked coming out of spring training as it was clear he hadn't seen the weight room in quite some time. Way to hold this guy accountable for his big contract. Talk about stealing money, that was very Keith Hernandez like what he did this season. I am also seeing the same thing with Kipnis. He looks like he has a double-chin already. I am so tired of hearing the "pressure of the contract". They knew what expectations were when they signed it.

Finally, the awful drafts under the Mirabelli era hurt us here as those players should have been at AAA or not have a little experience, yet no one in his drafts made it that far. How bad is depth when you have to trade for Dickerson and Shuck? Yet, Mirabelli gets promoted to VP anyway because he is a friend of the Front Office. No one ever says much about that and to me it is one of the biggest crimes of this organization.
September 16, 2014 - 11:57 PM EDT
I have no problem with Murphy, it is just that he was a poor decision. He wasn't needed and there was no reason to give him two guaranteed years. At the outset of the season the Indians even surprised in that they said he was not going to be platooned and that he was an everyday right fielder....which made the pickup all the more stranger. It's just another example of the team's fondness for gritty, tough veteran role players.

It is important that Santana is miscast as a cleanup hitter because the Indians have no other suitable alternatives. Well, they may have an alternative in Gomes but Francona refuses to put him higher up in the order. Santana would be an ideal two-hole hitter. He's an elite presence in the lineup and one of the top 25-35 hitters in the game.
September 16, 2014 - 11:25 PM EDT
There he is in the 5 hole again? Its mid sept. Tito and it ain't happening for kipnis this year. My lord.

Bourn is the key to creating $ flexibility next year. Way overpriced but has some value. Must be traded. Shouldn't be a problem to replace his weak offensive numbers. Swish is untradeable I'm afraid.

Want to see naquin given a fair shot in spring.

Raburn has to be let go. Like aviles but avg bat and glove and we'll save a few bucks so he's gone.

Kipnis to OF or trade. Jram to 2d when lindor moves up. Move Murphy too.

Want some youth a leadoff guy and a middle of order bat. That's all!!
September 16, 2014 - 8:51 PM EDT
Good comprehensive overview Tony. I do think the front office has to shoulder the blame. Some of the guys from whom not much was expected when they were signed like Gomes, Brantley, Kluber, Carrasco, Perez, Ramirez, Atchison, Shaw, Allen have been pivotal in keeping this team from losing more than winning this year. I think the coaching staff and the individuals themselves get all the credit- not the front office. But where guys from whom a lot was expected and not delivered is concerned the blame is squarely on Shapiro and Antonetti. The $100 mil multiyear obligation for Bourn and Swisher has been a major mistake that is crippling the Indians this year and for the next couple. Both of these guys have chronic degenerative issues. Hamstring surgery is not fixing Michael Bourn- he is no longer the fastest guy on the team and he is not going to get any faster. Same w Swisher, his knees are shot. Arthroscopic surgery helps but at his age and condition, it will not turn him back into an everyday player. They also gave JK a multi year deal, without doing due diligence on the PED's in Columbus. You see what you have now, sans enhancements. I have been saying this since Manny Acta was fired. You need a baseball guy in the front office. Somebody who eats, sleeps and pisses the baseball talent pool. Player recognition is the first order of business in the business of baseball. And I wouldn't worry about Brantley's HR drop--off second half. He can hit 'em if he's healthy and if he tries to.
September 16, 2014 - 8:42 PM EDT
Check that, JD Martinez was released by HOU on March 22, signed March 24. I thought he went thru waivers. So basically, anyone had a chance to sign him...I'm sure after the previous season they thought they had that RH bench bat in Raburn. Afterall, they did extend him this past offseason.
September 16, 2014 - 8:39 PM EDT
yeah, I don't get all the Murphy hate. I think if anything his season looks worse because of how poorly Raburn performed. If they had been able to use Murphy in more of a semi-platoon role with a productive Raburn, it would have been fine. Overall Murphy hit pretty well, it was his defense that was strangely bad. Saying to sign Cruz or Morse very much falls into "hindsight is 20/20". Both of those guys were lottery tickets that happened to cash in this year. They are likely to suck next year. Maybe Raburn gets healthy and is the good version of himself next year.
September 16, 2014 - 8:37 PM EDT

Then Indians aren't the only team that missed a chance at JD Martinez. I was hoping they'd claim him, but obviously, for whatever reason they didn't. I'm sure it may have had something to do with the roster make up at the time he went thru waivers.
September 16, 2014 - 7:35 PM EDT
Talk about missed opportunities for a right handed bat, how about J.D. Martinez. As long as this team is the old boys network, FO and manager, this team will always tread water, and we will watch Giambi bat as DH like tonight. I totally agree that Francona plays his favorites too much. When he gives his regulars a rest, it's never one or at best two, but three, and the bottom of the order looks like a minor league lineup.
September 16, 2014 - 7:22 PM EDT
Agreed, the Indians should expand their rotation and bullpen and work some of the younger arms. McAllister seems likely to get the Carrasco treatment, give him a shot at the rotation, with the bullpen a likely landing spot for him.
September 16, 2014 - 6:48 PM EDT
Nice article. I don't get into the blame thing.

I think its pretty obvious that Murphy was not the problem this year. I don't see a problem with that signing--we needed an outfielder and (besides Cruz) that was the best option, by far. The problem w RF was that he didn't have a viable RH platoon partner. Thinking that Raburn could be that was terrible decision and he was a disaster from the get go.

Add in non/low-performers Swisher, Kipnis, Cabrera, Bourn, Axford, Masterson (and Santana for a third of the year), and its really amazing that this team is not buried in cellar. That's why I think that Francona did a great job, but I agree that his use of the BP has been very questionable, most of the guys were totally gassed weeks ago.

I give the FO a negative rating for not being more aggressive in the offseason and letting Kazmir go, but give them credit for getting something for Masterson and Cabrera.
September 16, 2014 - 5:41 PM EDT
September 16, 2014 - 4:29 PM EDT
I also think you are way too hard on Murphy. In over 100 less at bats, 20 less homers and not hitting cleanup he only has 24 less rbi than IBI's favorite switch hitter. The Tribe has a cleanup hitter with 100 walks and over 100 strikeouts. That's over 200 at bats without putting the ball in play and it's hard to drive in runs like that when you only have 100 hits. The Tribe really needs to find some hitters."

Murphy was not the solution but he sure as heck was not the problem. The key problems were plain and simple those getting the big bucks who failed to deliver. ACab, Masterson, Kipnis, Swisher and to a lesser extent Bourn and Rayburn. ACab and Masterson are gone. Kipnis in a fair competition next spring might have to make the team as a utility player (who makes interesting Tweets).

I have said several name players need to go. We need to replace left handed stiffs with anyone who can hit .270 from the right hand side.

What flexibility does Kipnis have? I do not see it. I see Chiz as a RF possibility because he has a great arm. That said, an all left handed outfield next year is unacceptable. And can anyone explain adding another lefty OF in Shuck?

September 16, 2014 - 5:09 PM EDT
The good news is this: for the first time in a long time, the Indians go into the off season without SP as a major need. The open positions in the field seem to be RF and 3B. While it will be a challenge to improve, it's easier than looking for pitching.
September 16, 2014 - 4:29 PM EDT
I also think you are way too hard on Murphy. In over 100 less at bats, 20 less homers and not hitting cleanup he only has 24 less rbi than IBI's favorite switch hitter. The Tribe has a cleanup hitter with 100 walks and over 100 strikeouts. That's over 200 at bats without putting the ball in play and it's hard to drive in runs like that when you only have 100 hits. The Tribe really needs to find some hitters.
Nick S
September 16, 2014 - 3:44 PM EDT
If the Indians do not improve the Infield defense this winte rthey will be going nowhere next year! Chis, off 3base,and Kipnis off 2 Base.
September 16, 2014 - 3:33 PM EDT
Excellent article!!! Fair and balanced. No complaints on the analysis of the team. This team was the big tease this year and they did compete with meaningful baseball in September.

Is Justin Masterson days as a starter over? Would he more beneficial toward the back end of a bullpen going forward? He definitely ruined his FA value this off season. Based on history I dont see him getting more than 1 yr contract at best this off season. Looks like Cabrera might have the same problem. I.m glad the Indians were able to get some value for them at the trading deadline in which I do give credit to the FO.

matt underwood
September 16, 2014 - 3:23 PM EDT
i wish the front office would be sent to "souvenir city" - to me the front office has grown stale and lacking any sort of creativity; constantly doing the same as they have done for the past 15 years (cue someone bringing up the definition of insanity). they always seem to be trying to get too cute and try and over think things which more times than not backfires. they need to shut their computers down and get more baseball people in there.

if i am Dolan, i am furious at the front office as to how this season has shaken out. for years the Dolans have taken serious heat about not spending money, they finally give the green light to do so and it ends up blowing up in their face due to the outrageous contracts given to swisher and bourn.

as a fan, i agree the team is close and there is definitely a solid 3 year window, but i do not put any trust in the front office to make the appropriate moves to get them over the edge.
September 16, 2014 - 3:09 PM EDT
Injury or not, Murphy was a poor offseason pickup. Even when he is good and healthy he is an average player. Giving him a two year deal was a double whammy of a poor move. Look, there are a lot of more pressing issues than Murphy....but he never should have been signed. As for Walters, I see no role for him to start next season. He's not ready to stay in the bigs yet. He has to open in Triple-A.
September 16, 2014 - 2:55 PM EDT
Good stuff - but I think you are too hard on David Murphy. His injury lead to a rotating cast of failures in RF.

I also wonder if you see a role for Zach Walters?


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