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Tribe Happenings: This is only the beginning...

Tribe Happenings: This is only the beginning...
The Indians leave the field one last time in 2014....but excitement abounds for 2015. (Photo: Cleveland Indians)
September 29, 2014
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

This is not the end…but the beginning

Another season of Indians baseball came to a close on Sunday. As has been the case for the last 65 seasons, another season ended without a championship. They have come close a few times over the years, but the resounding theme is they once again fell short in their quest for a World Series championship and the second longest title drought in Major League Baseball will carry over into next season.

Today there is surely disappointment of another season coming to an end without a championship, much less a playoff berth, and the sad reality has settled in that the day to day grind of following your beloved baseball time just suddenly ground to a halt. But when we get by that sadness and disappointment, it should bring some excitement for the potential for this Indians team in 2015 and beyond.

Sunday’s season finale may have been the end of the season, but it is just the beginning of a bright future for the franchise.

The Indians have no free agency concerns with this club this offseason other that Jason Giambi, who will likely retire. The only free agency concern they have after next season is Mike Aviles. With so much stability in place with the roster, they have a chance to add on and make changes that improve a club that really found its stride on the pitching mound in the second half of the season.

Their starting rotation of Corey KluberCarlos CarrascoDanny SalazarTrevor Bauer and T.J. House as well as depth starters Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin are all under club control though at least 2017 (though Tomlin’s service time is close to where he could be a free agent after 2016). There certainly exists the possibility that problems could arise in the starting pitching department because injuries are always the greatest equalizer in sports and with youth there also comes some volatility. But with Mickey Callaway in charge of this group and the strides they made and the upside they still have, there may not be a more promising, young, dominant rotation in baseball.

The meat of the Indians bullpen in Cody AllenBryan ShawMarc RzepczynskiKyle CrockettScott Atchisonand Nick Hagadone are all under control for at least the next two seasons. They have some depth arms as well inC.C. LeeAustin AdamsBryan PriceShawn Armstrong and others who could also factor into things. With that much depth and several key spots in the bullpen under control, it really helps balance out the pitching staff and makes it a formidable unit going into next year even if the Indians do nothing to add to it this offseason.

In the lineup players like Michael BrantleyCarlos Santana and Yan Gomes have proven to be above average or elite players at their respective positions. All three of them are under team control for at least the next three years. Others like Lonnie ChisenhallMichael BournJason Kipnis and Nick Swisher are under control for at least the next three years. All of them have had success in the past or this season, but the key will be for them to be more consistent – and in some cases healthy – next season.  Others like David MurphyRyan Raburn, and Mike Aviles can all be brought back next season as they are under team control for at least one more season.

Also, several youngsters like Jose RamirezRoberto PerezTyler Holt and Zach Walters have established themselves as at least depth options next year - and in the case of Perez and Ramirez both probably open next season with the team.  There is also some guy named Francisco Lindor on the horizon ready to take over shortstop duties at some point next season and make a big impact on this club.

And of course the man guiding this ship, manager Terry Francona, is set to be here the next several seasons as well. His right hand man pitching coach Mickey Callaway and most of the rest of his staff should be here as long as Francona is as well.

The pieces are in place to have another strong run of success the next few years and contend not just for a playoff berth, but a World Series championship. While the 2014 season may be over, the 2015 season has already officially started as the Indians get set to embark on an extremely important offseason where they will need to be aggressive but smart in the moves they make to retool a lineup and defense that let them down at several key moments this season.

The Indians have a great nucleus from which to move forward with now that they have a strong five-man rotation, established bullpen and some core pieces in the lineup to build around. But the hard work to put this team over the hump and make those last two or three moves to complete the team begins now. The countdown for 2015 has officially started.

Let the fun begin…

What we learned: The Good

This season certainly had its ups and downs. Here is a look at a lot of the good that the Indians got out of this season.

The biggest development obviously was the establishment of a five-man rotation that the Indians can go into next season comfortable with bringing back in its entirety and not have to make a move in free agency or trade to supplement to it. Now, they obviously will need to make a few low budget non-roster signings as depth like they have in the past along the lines of Scott KazmirAaron Harang and others, but they should not need to waste resources in time, money or prospects to add a pitcher to plug into the rotation. If they trade one of their starters in a big deal that obviously changes things, but assuming no one is traded or gets hurt between now and the start of spring training, the Indians can pencil in the five names of Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer, Salazar and House into their opening day rotation for next year.

The other big development was the emergence of Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes as true stars at their positions. It is possible that both could struggle next year – that is true for any player – but their career trajectory and the way they have evolved over the last two to three seasons show two players who are cornerstone position players for a team. If they can avoid the injury bug, they should be two perennial All Stars for the Indians for the next several seasons and are players who can impact a game more than just with their bat.

A smaller development but just as important is the Indians look to have found their everyday first baseman. It has been a position in flux the past several years and they tried to fill it with Nick Swisher the last two season, but it looks like Carlos Santana has taken to the position well and has found a permanent home there. After his struggles defensively at catcher over his career and how much the position change to third base weighed on him this year, given the chance to play first base full time brought the best out of him this season as he hit .274 with 20 HR, 63 RBI and .912 OPS in 332 at bats at the position. Imagine what he might do over the course of a full season there.

The Indians also found some much needed internal left-handed pitching options in the bullpen this season. Nick Hagadone looked like he finally put it all together and the emergence of the young Kyle Crockett really creates for an interesting dynamic to the bullpen next year with the return of setup lefty Marc Rzepczynski as well. Few teams have two let alone three quality left-handed options in the bullpen.

The backend of the bullpen looks to be in good hands the next several seasons with Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen. You do worry if the workload they have endured the last two seasons will eventually catch up to them, but since that can be hard to predict the Indians should feel confidence about their bullpen with Shaw and Allen anchoring the backend of it. The key going forward might be to find one more right-handed arm that they trust as they never really found that Joe Smith replacement this season to use in the seventh and eighth inning. By finding that guy it could help lessen some of the burden on Allen and Shaw.

What we learned: The Bad

While the Indians had a lot of positives developments this season, we also unfortunately had some disappointments which bring big questions going into next season.

Probably the biggest disappointment was how little the Indians got out of their high dollar players. They had a payroll around $85-88 million this season, second highest franchise payroll of all time, but they got little out of the meat of that payroll.  Their key contributors Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber combined to make about $10 million this season.  Those five players alone combined for 25.1 WAR. Meanwhile players such as Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis, David Murphy, Ryan Raburn, Nick Swisher, Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson made a combined $59 million this season. Those seven players made up two-thirds of the payroll but combined for a meager 0.1 WAR on the season.

We all know that you typically get more bang for your buck from players who are pre-arbitration players, in their arbitration years or who sign their first long-term contract while still under club control. Free agency is expensive and the dollar amount per “win” in WAR jumps significantly. That said, for a team that has to be very cognizant of the way they spend money because of the limited funds they have, they have to do a much better job of getting more from the players they do spend on.

Jason Kipnis had a forgettable season and now will face a constant barrage of scrutiny this offseason as fans look to move him off second base or even trade him. In the end, all of that will probably be wasted talk as it does not seem that the Indians will abandon their franchise second baseman after a poor season that was hindered to some degree because of nagging injuries. They just committed $50 million for him to be their second baseman the next several years, and their history suggests that they will not give up on such a viewpoint after one bad season and that they will instead be hopeful for a rebound. I may not necessarily agree with that stance, but I am pretty sure that will be their line of thinking this offseason.

The excitement felt by many fans over the Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn signings less than two years ago has quickly evaporated and been replaced with disgust. It serves as a painful reminder that free agency is not the land of opportunity so many make it out to be, especially when you are operating with a limited budget where just one big long term deal can be crippling. Assuming both are back next season, both Bourn and Swisher will be the two highest paid players on the team – by far – and yet probably should be hitting eighth and ninth in the lineup.

The hope for Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera to have big years on the eve of their free agency went up in flames. Unlike in 2013 when Ubaldo Jimenez had a very good season in his free agent year to help propel the Indians to the playoffs, the Indians got another so-so showing from Cabrera and an abysmal season from Masterson. Cabrera hurt his free agent stock a little, but the one who really crippled his stock was Masterson. If both played to their potential, the Indians might still be playing and getting ready for their playoff opponent.

A big reason for the success of the team in 2013 was the Bench Mob of Yan Gomes, Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn and Jason Giambi coming through with big hits and nice fill-in performances all season. The bench this season capsized and went belly up in the water. While Aviles was okay at times he was still a negative WAR player and they got significantly poor showings from Raburn, Giambi and any other veteran they picked up to use off the bench.

Maybe one of the more perplexing issues that came about was the absence of Jesus Aguilar. While his at bats did not look good in limited opportunities, it was surprising when Swisher went down that the Indians did not give Aguilar more looks just to see what they could maybe get out of him if given an extended look in the lineup. There are obviously concerns with his defense at first base, but there were not exactly very many options to use at designated hitter and they could have used a right-handed bat against the heavy amount of left-handed pitching they faced down the stretch. To not give him 100 or more at bats in the wake of Swisher’s injury really says a lot about his chances to impact the team next year.

What we learned: The jury is still out

While you hope the emergence of the starting rotation is real, Jason Kipnis can rebound next season, and the Indians get more of a return on their dollars spent next season, the key to their success next season may come from some players who we still are unsure about.

Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer have unbelievable potential in the rotation. When they were on top of their game this season they were electric and showed front of the rotation ability, but they also showed the warts that come with youth as they struggled with consistency at times. Kluber looks like a perennial Cy Young candidate and the light bulb looks like it has gone on for Carrasco, but the key to the rotation might be Bauer and Salazar taking that next step forward next season and giving the Indians four front to middle of the rotation caliber pitchers in the rotation.

Lonnie Chisenhall hit .332 with 9 HR, 41 RBI and .915 OPS in the first half, but hit just .218 with 4 HR, 18 RBI and .592 OPS after the All Star break. His season and future with the club is one that will surely be dissected in great detail this offseason as third base appears to be the position the Indians may target an upgrade defensively and/or offensively. His defensive play at third base continues to lack consistency, and while the errors went down as the season progressed it is the plays he does not make that don’t go down as errors that are the real problem. Also, he now has 1,121 at bats in his career and he still lacks consistency at the plate. The Indians may consider limiting his role at third base or consider a change to a corner utility role so that they can maximize his effectiveness and bring more consistency out of his game both offensively and defensively.

The Indians also got a great chance the second half of the season to get some long looks at some young players who should be a part of the team in some capacity the next several years. All of T.J. House, Jose Ramirez, Roberto Perez, Tyler Holt and Zach Walters had a chance to impact the team to varying degrees the last few months of the season.

House had about as good a showing as could be expected and he no doubt has the inside track to the fifth starter spot to begin next season. The Indians would be foolish to waste money on a free agent starter on a one or two year guaranteed deal and keep House in Triple-A Columbus to start the season as depth. He got an opportunity to start, made good on the chance he was given and should give the Indians a lot of confidence moving forward as a back of the rotation arm. That all said, while it is still too early to completely trust House, where the Indians would be wise would be to add some depth in smaller deals in the event House gets hurt or underperforms next season.

The opening day shortstop nod next season should go to Jose Ramirez. Given the way they have handled rookies in the past and are aware of the importance of managing a young player’s service time clock, the Indians are not going to start a true rookie in Lindor right out of the gates. Ramirez showed enough this season to make the Indians comfortable with starting him at shortstop at the outset of the season and allowing Lindor to come up when they think he is ready to help the team. Ramirez is a nice placeholder at shortstop and fallback option at second base if Kipnis’ injuries or performance issues continue well into the season. While Ramirez brings some versatility, good defense and hustle, there are still some concerns with the bat as a sub-300 on-base guy should hit nowhere near the top of a lineup. He’s a starter for now, but will probably end up in a utility role once Lindor arrives and assuming Kipnis is still at second.

When Santana was permanently moved from catcher it opened the door for Roberto Perez to come up and solidify himself as a capable backup catching option. His future is limited because of his below average bat, but with the presence of Gomes he won’t have to play often and you know he will give you good defense and handle a pitching staff well when he does play. Even in a limited role, he will still need to show he can consistently put up quality at bats when he does pay.

Tyler Holt and Zach Walters probably have little chance to open next season with the club because Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles will probably be back. If that ends up to be the case, then both will serve as good depth options for the team to pull from Triple-A next season. While the bat is limited, Holt can play defense, is versatile and can run a little bit. He will probably be an up and down guy the next few years. Walters brings a lot of easy power from both sides of the plate and some versatility, though has huge strikeout concerns. Both players still bring some question marks, but both do bring that layer of depth a team needs to survive injuries and performance issues that crop up over a 162-game season.

Parting shots

Jason Giambi is reportedly mulling over whether or not to retire. Based on the way his season went this year, it seems like a foregone conclusion that he will retire. Also, there are whispers that he might be in line to join the Indians managerial ranks in the minors, something he would like to do at some point in the Major Leagues. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the manager for Short-A Mahoning Valley next year. … Michael Brantley recorded his 200th hit of the season on Saturday night becoming the first Indians player in history with 20 stolen bases, 20 home runs, 40 doubles and 200 hits in a season. Only three American League players have every accomplished the feat – Jacoby Ellsbury (2011), Alfonso Soriano (2002) and Nomar Garciaparra (1997). He is the first Indians player with 200 hits in a season since Kenny Lofton had 210 hits in 1996. … Right-handed reliever Bryan Shaw set a franchise record with 80 appearances this season.

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

October 1, 2014 - 12:17 AM EDT
Definitely the going back and forth with Santana hurt him but that doesn't excuse how horrible he was in the first half. It's not like he was a rookie who'd barely played the position. Not sure how you can look at it as anything but a huge step back. Before this year I thought he had the potential to be above average, that he had decent range and a strong arm. Now, it would be extreme progress if he could just be average. Or, by DRS, he was pretty much average in his career prior to this year. in 2014, he was at -14.
September 30, 2014 - 10:34 PM EDT
The key is dumping bourn. Free up 14 mil or say 10 if you have to eat 4. He's an 8 hole hitter at best. Not sure how else we can clear up payroll. Antonetti should put all efforts into trading him.

Lonnie is not the answer at 3d.

I would package Bauer and say Lonnie for a young hitter. I just don't trust Bauer. Maybe someone we can trade with that has a young bat for a young pitcher. Bauer to Pitt for marte? I know Pitt wouldn't trade him for choo a few years ago. Who knows, but we need to do something. Would also move kipnis. Has no range. But I doubt we move him. I want to get younger and more athletic.
September 30, 2014 - 10:29 PM EDT

I disagree with the fact it was a huge step back defensively. In the first half I agree he was garbage but in the 2nd half I thought his defense was at least acceptable. I wonder if the going back and forth with Santana hurt him because seemed to settle in the 2nd half. I also think he will be a 20+ HR guy sooner than later and to me is a better hitter than Kipnis and should hit higher than him
September 30, 2014 - 7:23 PM EDT
Chisenhall hit well batting 4th and as a DH because he was doing those things in the first half when he was hitting everything, anywhere. I would seriously doubt there's any correlation. Overall he had a decent year. We've always talked about Chisenhall being a guy who average .280 with 15-20 HRs, and that's pretty much what he did this year. Defensively, it was a huge step back though.
September 30, 2014 - 6:56 PM EDT
V1C Venom,

I'm not surprised. His Swing indicates that he will do better with more opportunities. I think he's already a much better hitter than Kipnis with fewer holes in his swing. IMO, Kipnis is somewhat of an overrated hitter. K's too much, ok power but much too streaky.
Vic Venom
September 30, 2014 - 6:10 PM EDT

Tony, what do you think of Cheng the Tiawanese SS/3B? Do you think he could have an impact at the major league level? I know his AZL numbers were off of the charts, but we have to see what he will do at future levels of minor league play. Where will he start out the 2015 season? Mahoning Valley or Lake County?
Vic Venom
September 30, 2014 - 6:06 PM EDT
@Tony and Hiram

Interesting thing I was looking at Chisenhalls splits and in 28 AB's in the 4th spot in the batting order he hit .408.
Not much of an example, but maybe they should experiment with him at the clean up spot at times next season?

Also, another interesting stat is that in 50 AB'S this season as a DH he hit .420. I always told Hiram that I thought he would hit better when he didnt have to play 3B.
September 30, 2014 - 5:55 PM EDT

i don't think that's how the infield coming out of the gate will look in 2015 but at some point should end up that way. It's a very good infield defensively and with three switch hitters is well balanced.
September 30, 2014 - 5:12 PM EDT
Good article, but I think you are overly optimistic about how playing first base has helped Santana's offensive production. Santana played most of the games at first base in the second half of the season, which is when he always hits well. He DHed more and played third base in the first half of the season, when he doesn' t hit well. I'm still not sold on Santana as a first baseman. He is a small target and lacks agility around the bag. The Indians need him in the somewhere in the lineup for his offensive production, but I'm not sure that first base is the answer.
Vic Venom
September 30, 2014 - 4:48 PM EDT
SMH at these people on here that want to trade LINDOR
September 30, 2014 - 3:06 PM EDT

I don't see them moving Kipnis to the OF or in a trade. As for Lindor and Urshela as the left side of the INF, I just don't see that happening. I have serious doubts the Tribe will want two young guys on the same side of the field, that's not including Ramirez playing 2b as you proposed.
September 30, 2014 - 2:52 PM EDT
Tony, Thanks for your response.

I do agree in all likelihood the Indians will start the season with Lindor at AAA. I'm just not sure how much better Lindor can perform in his first taste of major league option than Ramirez did this year.

I threw Urshela in the discussion since he would definitely help balance the Tribe's line up. The fact that Detroit didn't use Scherzer when he could have been easiby availabein the last series in Cleveland and went with Lobstein instead shows how lefty oriented the Tribes line up is. The Royals could have started Duffy against Detroit instead of Guthrie and chose to bring back the lefty against Cleveland. Many times in September against Cleveland, managers brought left handed relief pitchers in to replace left handed pitcher That not a very typical bullpen move.

Having an infield of Urshela, Lindor, Ramirez, and Santana would improve the defense dramatically as well as changing the orientation of the lineup. Adding a good right handed bat in the outfield would even improve the balance more.
September 30, 2014 - 2:25 PM EDT
I don't like it, but if you can't upgrade on Aviles/Raburn via FA or trade, then it makes alll the sense in the world to keep them. Think about it. Who would be better than Raburn in the org? While I think that Holt, Walters and even Moncrief could be upgrades, they're as big a risk as Raburn because of their inexperience. So, if you're the GM and you have to gamble one roster spot on Raburn, Holt, Walters or Moncrief, it becomes pretty simple, since you owe Raburn the money anyway and the other 3 are still under control. If he struggles, you can still dump him and call up whoever looks best in Columbus. If he is just ok and the youngsters are pushing in AAA, then Raburn could have trade value, even in a contending season, think ACab/JRam this season.

Same with Aviles. Who else would be the utility MIF? We all should be happy tha JRam has surpassed him at SS or he would be the starter to open next season. I'm perfectly fine with Aviles as a bench player. If Lindor crushes AAA, you thin about that later. Maybe another good problem to have, if all perform decently. Aviles could be another in season trade chip.

The only reason to dump those two vets is to free up 40 men spots. The questions then becomes: who could the Indians lose in the Rule 5 in favor of keeping one or both of those guys?
September 30, 2014 - 2:24 PM EDT
Nellie Rodriguez could potentially be a 30-homer guy, but I think at this point that would be a reach. Still a long way to go in his development curve and much tougher pitching coming his way. I'd feel safe saying he can no doubt be a 20-25 homer guy if he continues to develop as he moves up. He's borderline Top 20. Just too many candidates which may push him more to 25-35 range though still not sure. Santander is young and he could always bounce back, but at this point with the shoulder/elbow injuries he has had he is an extreme long shot to bounce back. He'd have to make a complete recovery with his health but also with his mindset to trust his shoulder/elbow in his swing. His value has plummeted. Zimmer and Frazier no doubt start in High-A and Zimmer could move quickly to Akron while Frazier is in High-A likely all year or a large portion of it. Zimmer has an outside shot at opening up in Double-A though. Yandy Diaz is not a big power hitter....he has good strength and barrels up balls well but the lack of power this year was more to do with his recovery from the wrist injury. Those hand injuries have a way of sapping power.
September 30, 2014 - 1:38 PM EDT

is Nellie Rodriguez a 30+ HR guy?? Do you think he's a top 20 guy off the top of your head? What's the Status on Santander?? He's a monster talent and want to see him get back on track. Do you think Zimmer and rzier begin the season at high A ball?? Do you wonder about the lack of power by Yandy Diaz??
September 30, 2014 - 1:22 PM EDT
Ramirez as a starter in the second half had a .323 OBP. I do feel like he is underrated, with his minor league performance at his age, and the limited amount of pro experience he has, it would be odd if he doesn't get better and improve things like his plate discipline. No reason he can't hit .300 in MLB with a solid walk rate. He hit .262 this year and might have been unlucky, .297 BABIP and 24% LD rate, you would expect someone with his speed and line drive abilities to have a much higher BABIP than .297. I don't think he would actually rate as above average on defense at SS over a larger sample, in fact his defensive screwups in the last week cost them badly. But he did show he can handle the position. I think that rather than using Jose Ramirez in a trade, since he is still probably underrated, it would make more sense to make Lindor available for someone who can really impact the team at a position of need, i.e. outfield.

If they're going to try moving any infielder to the outfield, I think it makes a lot more sense to have Chisenhall play some winter ball and get work in right field. He has the arm to handle it and he just looks like an outfielder. Kipnis, who's had elbow problems and barely has the arm for second, doesn't seem like a great fit for a corner outfield spot
September 30, 2014 - 12:52 PM EDT

IMO, Chisenhall is a better hitter than Kipnis with fewer holes in his swing. I think the ideal spot for him vs a Right handed starter is #5. You put him there and give him the RBI chances you give Kipnis, he will be a very good hitter. Has fewer holes in his swing than Kipnis and makes more solid contact. Tito is too stubborn to allow this to happen though. You hit him 5th I predict. . 290, 22- 90. Also, he will see more fastballs and is a good fastball hitter with plenty of bat speed. Chisenhall runs into trouble when he starts swinging at anything early. Won't have to do that because of protection in the lineup, runners on base and seeing better pitches.
September 30, 2014 - 12:46 PM EDT
Hiram, Chisenhall and Brantley are two completely different hitters. For now, keep Chisenhall in the lower part of the order until he starts to show more consistency. If he shows that, then I am more than happy to move him up in the order. Problem is, not sure where he fits higher in the order. He's not a front of the lineup hitter, Brantley is your 3-hitter and he is not a cleanup hitter. So perhaps he could slide into the 5th spot but I'd rather Gomes be there (or Santana if Gomes is 4th). So 6th or 7th looks to be ideal for him.

Gregg, I'm not a "WAR means all kind of guy" either. It's a nice stat which for the most part does about as good a job as any stat in determining how good/valuable a player is looking at just one number. That said it certainly has its flaws and one thing that scares me about a player is when such a large component of their WAR number is made up of the defense component. We saw how that defense number poorly inflated Bourne's value (he was NOT that much of a better defensive outfielder than everyone else in 2012). Defensive stats to me are still hard to quantify and judge with numbers, though they are getting better.

One thing to make clear is making Ramirez a utility guy in the short term does not destroy his value. Sometimes that is just how a guy fits into a team. I believe he can start. But I also believe that next year Lindor is the guy that takes over SS at some point. He's only going to play SS. And if Kipnis is at 2B as expected, then Ramirez best fills a utility role in 2015. Nothing wrong with that. Just means you have depth. Sorta like Brian Giles in the 90s. He should not have been a part time player, but with the established guys in the outfield that's just the nature of the beast. I have to think that Ramirez's position and/or role will shake itself out over the course of next season.

Barnes has struggled with consistency and injuries the last few years. It happens. Francona really lost trust in him quickly last season. His career has unfortunately been on a downward trend the past few years and I think there is a chance he is DFAed this offseason.

As for Raburn and Aviles, again, like with Kipnis at 2B, I don't necessarily want them back.....but I just see when going by history and putting together some bits and pieces of things I hear that they will both be back. Definitely one of them. I can't remember the last time the Indians just ate a contract (no matter how small) before a season started, so can't see that happening with Raburn. If they can find a taker in a trade I am sure they would be interested, but that is doubtful. Considering his cost and his role, they will probably gamble that he ticks back up with his performance. Aviles to me is close to a slam dunk because Francona likes him, he's versatile and is a big part of that clubhouse. They will want a veteran utility guy, and even though they could probably save $2 million on someone else, I am willing to bet that the intangibles in play with Francona's adoration for him and his status within the team brings him back.
September 30, 2014 - 12:27 PM EDT
This team has a history of bad Aprils and those poor starts are a big reason we don't make the playoffs. Why would you want to start the season with Raburn. He adds NOTHING.

Management waits a few months then sheds unproductive veterans when it is too late. If Lindor is ready to go, have him in the opening day lineup.

We haven't won a championship since 1948. Think about that. They have to get rid of Swisher if they are serious about bringing a championship to Cleveland
September 30, 2014 - 11:10 AM EDT
I have several questions and ideas for next season.
1. I agree with Tony, there is no need to rush Lindor at this point. Controlling him for another year
trumps starting him at the beginning of the season. While Lindor is a potential gold glover, he
will probably not hit more than 10-15 bombs a season. I don't think his history shows him being
any better than Ramirez with the bat, just a tad more pop.

2. I disagree with Tony about Raburn and Aviles. I think they are both goners. They either don't bring
much to the table or are redundant. Their contracts are small enough to dump or trade. Actually,
Murphy and Aviles could have some value to other teams, but Raburn would be a dump.

3. I'm intrigued by Walters but inconclusive. While he is young and inexperienced, I'm unsure of how
much more development can happen. If he establishes any discipline whatsoever, he'll become a
perrenial 25-30 homer guy. We argue and bicker back and forth about who should be playing 2B,
but he never comes up in any of our discussions. If that development should happen, then you can
put Walters in the mix for 2B duties. He seems to be very capable defensively and his power is for
real. Walters is not the type of player that comes off the bench and performs well. He needs at bats
to stay sharp and those consistant at bats may very well be in Columbus.

4. E Gonzalez is another fine up and comer. I have enough faith in him to allow Lindor to be dealt for
a potential TOR starter or a power hitting OF. Like I've said before, he will never surpass Lindor
with the glove, but I expect him to have a bigger bat. His defense is pretty good too.

5. Can we stop with converting good players into utility roles and destroying their value. Ramirez
is not and should never be a utility player. He either starts or is dealt for a position of need. For
God's sake keep Aviles if you want a utility player. They are relatively cheap and easy to find, while
quality starting SS and 2B are not. This team cannot afford to spend big. Therefore every asset
needs to maintain its respective value on the market. Trades and drafting is how this team will
compete consistantly. Keeping multiple starters at the same position is the opposite of what this
team should do.

6. Tony, what is the status of S Barnes? I really saw solid SP potential in him. I know the knee injury
set him back, but I didn't think it would make him disappear for a year and a half. His 94 mph
fastball, filthy slider, and developed change up seemed like it would translate. I would have
been more patient with him. That isn't hindsite either.

In conclusion, this team has some very good up and coming talent. It also has some valuable surplus in the middle of the diamond. Let's hope there are some teams that could benefit from that depth and in return help us in areas of need. It's easy to say "trade for this", but there has to be a willing partner. Here's to hoping things fall into place.
September 30, 2014 - 10:58 AM EDT

Great Article and Analysis..

I believe the Indians will keep both Raburn and Aviles. Lindor is not ready to take over SS position and Ramierz not ready to become a full time all purpose utility player.

With offense being down throughout MLB, I believe to get a quality bat will cost at a premium price through FA market or trade.

Francona mentioned he prefers 3-1 games over 8-7 games. I believe the Indians will be looking for more pitching this off season than a bat.
September 30, 2014 - 10:33 AM EDT
I am not a big WAR fan but in the one third season Ramirez played in 2014 his overall WAR was 1.8 and equally divided offensively and defensively(Baseball Reference).

The deference to being patient at the plate has been discussed as one of the significant reasons for the current fall in batting average. Working the count and passing on good pitches to hit often leads batters to having to swing at harder pitches to hit..

I look at the number of k's as well as walks. Both Urshela and Ramirez have very low stikeout rates as well as low walk rates. Rather than being influenced by the walks to strikeout ratio I'm much more interested in the strike out to total at bat ratios.

Urshela had more extra base hits this season than Chisenhall ever had, play great defense , hits right handed which the Indians sorely need, is 22, and strike out at a very low rate. Yet all the conversation concerning his performance is that it's nice but his walk to k ratio stinks.
September 30, 2014 - 10:09 AM EDT

call it the Brantley effect/affect. What ppl don't realize because they get caught up in the Sabremetrics is that pitchers pitch you differently in the certain parts of the order. I was one who advocated that Brantley hit in the #3 hole because of his solid contact, clutch hitting and the fact that it will be much more difficult to pitch around him. I'm not surprised that he had the success he had this year. Same for Lonnie. He will get much better pitches to hit higher in the order, with runners on base and have plenty of more RBI chances. Leave this to the Sabremetrics guys but I believe he was up there in hitting line drives or hard hit balls. I also notice he has many fewer holes in swing than Kipnis and IMO, is clearly the better hitter.

September 30, 2014 - 9:49 AM EDT
Chisenhall has been an inconsistent hitter through his first 1100 at bats. I don't see how putting him higher in the order makes him better. If anything, hitting lower in the order helps protect him and you can live with his inconsistencies. He's shown he deserves to be in the regular mix and play often, but he has shown nothing where he should hit anywhere in the top 4 spots in this order. I think 6 or 7 is a good spot for him until he shows some consistency or the light bulb finally goes on.

I find it amazing how quick everyone wants to take Kipnis off second base and throw Ramirez in there. Not saying I disagree with it as there is some merit to it and it makes some sense to me.....but this is all being based on 60+ games of Ramirez and banking on his youth and that he will get better. Problem is, a great majority of the time these players don't get better. He's going to have to show a lot more over a longer period of time to supplant Kipnis. Again, he's all but certain to open as the club's starting shortstop next season.....and when Lindor comes up they can reassess from there. Kipnis is the second baseman to start next year.
September 30, 2014 - 9:35 AM EDT

Like I told you on twitter if the Indians are thinking what you're thinking for the same reasons it's very flawed and very wrong on them. The attitude should be to improve the team and keep anything and everything on the table. That includes moving guys in trades and new positions. If Lonnie hits higher in the order I can easily see a .290. 22-90. I don't think you want to put that type on the bench.
September 30, 2014 - 9:23 AM EDT
Regarding Jose Ramirez... I wrote this at another site.. but it applies here...

S'ing MH about Jose Ramirez: He is not an everyday player in MLB yet.. He's working closer to it.. but really isn't one yet and may not ever be one... Just look at his first 100 AB's as a regular (which excluded May 2014... They were pretty impressive.) then look at his next 100 AB's: At best, he's been below a replacement player level. Defensively, he's made most of the plays he should.. he's made a few spectacular plays he shouldn't...He has decent to good range and a very good / accurate arm. Not turning double plays in crucial situations.. not catching the ball cleanly in key moments. are part of his "learning curve" right now.

The performance of Jose Ramirez merits a further look..

When you do look, you can see there are some serious performance issues.. Most notably is pitch recognition.. In the minors, J-Ram had an almost 1:1 ratio of strike outs to walks.. While the sample size if pretty small across the board, J-Ram's K:BB ratio went to 3:1.. Even more disturbing.. when J-Ram got behind in the count, he was truly hopeless. This is the obstacle many minor leaguers never overcome when promoted to the Major League. As of right now.. it would be pressing to say J-Ram comp's to anyone that you'd want as a starting middle infielder. The best example of someone who's been here might be Luis Valbuena.. IDK who else he reminds me of..

Does this mean he won't / can't be a major leaguer?.. Probably not.. but as a starting middle infielder, he has a LOT of growing up to do. He did grow a lot during this 250 AB trial under fire.. We'll see...
September 30, 2014 - 9:07 AM EDT
Hiram, you have to get your facts straight. I have never said I want Kipnis to stay at second base. I would be on board with a change so long as it makes sense where he moves to or any trade he is involved in. That having been said, I have maintained all along that I just don't see the Indians making the change at this point. Don't misconstrue what I want and what I believe the Indians will do. Huge difference there.

Chisenhall has been very comparable offensively to Kipnis so far in their careers. The jury is out on both if you ask me as while this may have been Lonnie's first full year at the big league level he spent the majority of last seasons there and has over 1100 at bats. But while they are similar offensively, Kipnis is the superior runner and plays second base - a position where the offensive demands are lower. If Kipnis were a 3B and Chisenhall a 2B, the expectations would be reversed.
September 30, 2014 - 8:55 AM EDT

I agree that Linnie's defense in the first half especially was unacceptable. It did get better as Tony stated in the 2nd half. If he can keep up what he did in the 2nd half at 3B it becomes less of an issue. Chisenhall at the plate considering it was his FIRST full year in MLB was considered a bit of a roller coaster but overall solid. I think Chisenhall will be better if he hit at the top of the lineup and not at the bottom. Consider what happened to Brantley as a clue. In fact, looking at the two players I think Lonnie is a better all around hitter than Kipnis .

Speaking of Kipnis. Before this terrible year Tony was one of the main one's complaining how poor he plays in the 2nd half of each year. Now all of a sudden he wants to not only Kip him at 2B with his below average play. I'm not saying that the Indians should move him but I am saying that if it's in the best interest of the team to move Kipnis to RF or trade then all those options should definitely be on the table. How much money he makes, face of the franchise, he's a nice guy, etc should have no impact on the decision on what to do with Kipnis. Stars are asked to move all the time in MLB, they do it and no issue. Kipnis isn't even a star.

Making an ascending player like Lonnie a utility player when comparing Lonnie and Kipnis in their first full years it was Lonnie>> Kipnis. Doing that is EXTREMELY hypocritical and unfair. I would move Lonnie to a different position or in a trade but to say the things that Tony is saying and not say the same things about Kipnis, in fact make excuses for him is not very objective
September 30, 2014 - 8:39 AM EDT
Vic, sure, I would be down with the idea of Ramirez at 2B and moving Kipnis to left field or trading him. But what I am saying is I don't see that happening. For one thing, Kipnis' value plummets immediately when moved from 2B to LF....but the main thing is this organization is not about to pull the plug on their $50M commitment to Kipnis just one year into it - and a year they know he was hurt for most of it. I think any thoughts of Ramirez moving to 2B full time only come late in the 2015 season or next offseason if Lindor comes up and takes hold of SS and Kipnis' struggles continue.

I like Ramirez a lot. I was one of the first to mention him a few years back and the only person from this site besides Jim Piascik. He has a bright future. Could he be another Altuve? Sure, anything is possible. But I would be careful with just throwing out comps like that. It puts expectations out of whack. I can already see things starting to get out of control with the expectations for Ramirez which will make for a long offseason. I hope he lives up to them next year. He certainly has the potential, but my hopes are more for a natural transition in his second year, play a solid SS until Lindor arrives and then move into Aviles' utility role. He can certainly be more than that next year and beyond, but that's my expectation for next season. Anything above that would be gravy and if he doesn't do more I won't be so disappointed.

Lindor is a step above Ramirez as an offensive player because of his more patient approach and some more strength to drive balls into the gaps. He is more of a top of the lineup threat than Ramirez; however, Ramirez could be that as long as he hits for a very high average like he did in the minors (he doesn't walk enough to inflate his on-base percentage). Right now Ramirez is not a good fit in the top of the lineup unless he gets a little more patient and he starts hitting for average like he did in the minors. Until he does that he should be hitting in the lower part of the lineup. Defensively, Lindor is a step or two above him in terms of arm strength, feel for the position and such. The lateral range and quickness for both are similar for sure.
September 30, 2014 - 8:39 AM EDT

Agreed, I like Walters if he develops into what I think he could I would suspect he hits .200.-225ba 20-25 hrs and 20-25 dbls. If he gets 500 ab he will also K 150 times. Walters has 30+ hr power but he does not make consistent contact to ever get that many hrs. Call him a wind mill or an interesting bench piece, I think we see why the Nats had him as a PH. He's definitely useful as long as he's coming off of the bench and playing good D.
Ron Vollmar
September 30, 2014 - 8:36 AM EDT
This concludes another Cleveland Indians season with outstanding coverage and I want to thank Tony and all members for their contributions.

There were too many questions at the start of the year, but, high hopes for some young and developing starting pitchers. This has to be the most positive aspect of the 2014 season.

There were some nice surprises from some batters as well as some disappointments.

This team is positioned much stronger now at this time than they were last year at this time.

Do you see them going out to find one more major HR hitter to complete this offense?
Jeff P
September 30, 2014 - 8:28 AM EDT
gregg, minor league numbers are nice, and fun to follow, but ultimately it comes down to scouting. It's about projecting what a guy will do, and Lindor projects to be an All Star. Ramirez is a really nice player, but he does not project to what Lindor does. Ramirez is a nice player, but eventually, he or Gonzalez(who also projects as a better prospect) will be a piece to bring us something we need.

And Kipnis for Avisail Garcia? Seriously? Let's at least get the facts right about Kipnis' defense. He does not have good range. He is not as smooth in turning the DP as you'd like. He does however field what he gets to. He made just 6 berrors this year. If his offense rebounds to an above average for position .750 OPS, which was his career mark entering this year, you can live with the lack of range. Offense at 2B is of great value, and guys capable of putting up a 4-5 WAR based almost exclusively on offense at 2B are very valuable
September 30, 2014 - 8:20 AM EDT
I'm not high on Walters. If I'm not mistaken, every HR he hit was on a low breaking ball. I've seen him swing and miss on tons of high heaters, or foul them off. I can't remember seeing him square up a good fastball, even when he got three or four in a row.

At best he'll be another Russell Branyan - a mistake hitter who can punish you on rare occasions that you miss badly in his power zone.

He also swings at just about anything.
September 30, 2014 - 6:58 AM EDT
Outside of projecting more pop from Lindor's bat because of his size, where has his minor league offensive numbers been better than Ramirez's.

At 21 Kipnis was playing centerfield for ASU.
September 30, 2014 - 6:45 AM EDT
I'm sorry I disagree. At 21 Jose Altuve had 234 at bats an obp of .297, obs of .654, 5 walks , and 29 k's. At 21 Jose Ramirez had255 ab, an opb of 300, obs of 646, 13 walks, and 25 k's. The same criticiism could have been made of Altuve that his obp was too low to ever bat lead off.

Kipnis is a terrible second baseman. I would love to keep Kipnis and find a position for him .The Indians have a natural 21 year old second baseman that is only get better .

Why not trade Kipnis for a good right handed bat. I would certainly consider including Kipnis in a package to Chicago ,his hone cithy, to p/u A. Garcia. I would do the same with Tampa Bay for Myers and I might trade Kipnis straight up to Arizona for Pollack..
Vic Venom
September 30, 2014 - 1:24 AM EDT
If they moved Kipnis why couldn't they move J-Ram to 2B? I have more faith in this defensive change than say a Carlos Santana to 3B move. I think it would an easier adjustment than other position change experiments. So Tony you are saying you wouldn't agree with a J-Ram/Lindor SS/2B combination??
September 30, 2014 - 1:13 AM EDT
Vic, there is no reason to rush Lindor. He simply is not ready yet, but is close. Waiting 3-5 weeks to debut him next season makes sense on so many levels. Not only does it allow the Indians to manage his service clock and gain an extra year or control but it also allows them a chance to get an even longer look at Ramirez in the everyday lineup.

As for second base, I just don't see a change coming there this offseason. For one thing, Ramirez is going to be slated as the starting who is the starting second baseman if they did move Kipnis? If Kipnis starts the season at second I don't see a midseason change of position unless he absolutely tanks defensively. Ramirez is a nice security blanket to have around in the event Lindor struggles or gets hurt and if Kipnis continues to struggle. That said, with Erik Gonzalez about ready to help I wouldn't bat an eyelash if someone came calling for him in a trade and it fits a vital need for multiple years.

Markn95, I just have to go by history and that suggests the Indians are not going to eat a contract and they will always gives guys the benefit of the doubt and hope they rebound after a poor season. I agree it is not how I would do it....but I suspect Raburn and Aviles will be back for sure. With Ramirez as the starter at shortstop, they will want a veteran backup with versatility....and I think they will ultimately decide Aviles is worth it compared to maybe what is out there and the unknowns that come with the replacement options.

I don't think Walters makes enough contact to ever hit 30 homers.....but I think he is going to be a potential part timer who gets 300-400 at bats in a season, moves around the diamond and hits 20 or so homers in a good year.

Gregg, there is a huge difference between Lindor and Ramirez. Not only offensively, but defensively as well. Lindor has some surprising pop for his size and profiles as a true top of the lineup bat....and he is a legit plus-plus Gold Glove caliber defender (Ramirez is borderline plus though continues to get better).

Vic, if they use the slogan, I want royalties....;)
Vic Venom
September 30, 2014 - 12:56 AM EDT
Who wants to make a bet that the Indians will use "This Is Only The Beginning" as their marketing slogan next season?
Vic Venom
September 30, 2014 - 12:52 AM EDT
Amen brother. I would love to see J-Ram and Lindor be the future 2B/SS combo. Get Kipnis and his taco bell addiction out of here!!
September 29, 2014 - 9:37 PM EDT
There were far to many blown saves this past season. Each blown save was a loss that should have been a save. Dumping Axford was a case of addition through subtraction. The improved rotation, hopefully, could help out the bull pen a great deal. As you pointed out, Salazar and Bauer both need to turn on the light and become consistent. We have to hope that Carrasco will continue to perform at the level and not return to his form at the start of the season.

The failure this season was a combination of things. But in my opinion, the blown saves was the biggest problem.
September 29, 2014 - 9:22 PM EDT
So basically everyone is back. Some guys had career performances, some guys sucked. Next year some of the bad players will do better, and the good players will regress. What is going to make this team better than 85-77? More starts from Carrasco and Salazar?

This team needs to get 90 wins next year...where will we find the extra 5 or so games? A few games over 500 is hardly anything to get excited about. Either you play for titles or rebuild...finishing in the middle of the league is boring.
September 29, 2014 - 6:28 PM EDT
To Roger and your comment from 9/29 - learn how to write - your post is unintelligent - I got tired after a few lines of run on rant whatever it was meant to mean. Just because you have some type of device to communicate on the Internet think twice before you hit "send".
September 29, 2014 - 6:14 PM EDT
Ramirez is 21 years old and I believe will be very good ball player as well as a much better second baseman than Kipnis. I can see Lindor playing at the same level as Andrus. Wouldn't the Indians be better off having Lindor and Ramirez as their keystone combination and either trading Kipnis or moving him to another position-perhaps DH.

In my opinion the only difference between Lindor and Ramirez is their size and that Lindor was a first round pick while Ramirez was a Latin American signing. Check Altuve numbers when he was 21 and he doesn't swith hit.
September 29, 2014 - 5:59 PM EDT
Hey Markn95, if Walters could hit .220 with 30 homers he could bat cleanup for the Tribe.
September 29, 2014 - 5:57 PM EDT
zack walters is ss by trade he wasnt gonna move ian desmond from ss in washington how bout pltooning with chiz at 3b most ss can naturally play 3b. If i were chiz i would field about 5000 grounders a day all winter in goodyear and work with 50 dumbells to strengthen his bi ceps so checking a swing is easier and develop more power i know he is $514,000 a year but maybe in goodyear there are players who can help him enhance his defensive shortcomings he needs a 1b and someone to hit him balls to give him more reps and occasionally have a shortstop and 2b there to work on plays where he needs to cut off the ball before the ss gets to it and has throw from the hole and a 2nd baseman to turn the mythical double play. if he isnt willing to do just that then maybe he isnt the answer at the hot corner. his avg for the year was ok but not if only 13 dingers a 280 avg isnt gonna make anyone forget matt williams or travis fryman defensively i have always hoped and the tribe FO did also for david wright type number from chiz. i do not wish to market him however he is a work in process. and he best spend the off season working on his defiencies. As for walters i am not opposed to as i have said hundred times signing mike cuddyer for one year team him with david murphy on platoon basis or sharing rf somehow he is a former batting champ. and let walter work out he familiarity with rf and lf and work on plate disapline in columbus to take over full time duties in 2016 and do his grady sizemore look alike then.
September 29, 2014 - 5:55 PM EDT
"Tyler Holt and Zach Walters probably have little chance to open next season with the club because Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles will probably be back."

Aviles is alright but replaceable. Why would you ever bring Raburn back??? Holt does more to win games and that's what I want to do . Win games.
September 29, 2014 - 5:44 PM EDT
Tony has it nailed, I believe, with one minor quibble. I think the Indians will keep Ryan Rayburn bouncing back and for the to Columbus next season without a qualm should he start off next spring looking anything less than 2013 level.

In adding to the team I guess they'll concentrate on finding a right handed hitting right fielder in a trade first and foremost, with a left handed starter next. Again, if we could ory Khris Davis loose from the Brewers (half of his hits this year were for extra bases!) that'd be great, but the reality probably is that we will end up with someone older and less exciting, though dependable. I used to think Jon Neise would be a target, but in reading up I see he's lost velocity and he's been fighting the Mets on shoulder surgery. We could really use another lefty starter, preferably at about 3.85 FIP or so. I am excited about 2015!
Vic Venom
September 29, 2014 - 5:39 PM EDT
A lot of you guys are obsessed with these sabermetric stats. These stats are very overrated at times IMO.
September 29, 2014 - 5:31 PM EDT
Make that: "...the roster will NOT undergo a complete overhaul..."
September 29, 2014 - 5:29 PM EDT
Couple of interesting notes.. the story pretty much touched on a few "maybe" minor leaguers the Indians may see in 2015, most notably, Francisco Liindor.. After that, the story focused on the guys who spent time IN Cleveland and contributed.. The Indians have 18 pitchers on their 40 man roster (Maronde and Barnes are the two not active).. That leaves 22 position players..

The Indians will need to clear a few spots for Rule V candidates (Like Joseph Colon or Tyler Sturdevant, as examples)..and to possibly acquire a player from another squad. From the 40 man, names that may be in jeopardy include Jason Giambi, Justin Sellers, JB Shuck, and Scott Barnes.. The roster will undergo a complete overhaul. The majority of the major league roster, over 35 slots, will remain constant. This may mark the most consistent off season the Indians have had in nearly two decades..

Other than possible trades.. that would be a sure sign that the front office has a clear direction and is following it..

September 29, 2014 - 5:24 PM EDT
If Walters can just bring his consistency up a bit, walk a bit more, strike out a bit less, he could a much needed power source. Walks would be key - I remember being stunned when I saw that Russell Branyan has a career OPS 30 points higher than Pete Rose, .814. which isn't shabby. So you can have a poor average and be valuable as long as you keep your OBP up and have big power.
Vic Venom
September 29, 2014 - 4:59 PM EDT
I hope we never see Raburn in an Indians uniform again. Last season was a big time fluke, we were lucky to get those numbers out of him. I'd rather see Chris Farley play the outfield than Raburned.
September 29, 2014 - 4:47 PM EDT
Tony, I hope you're wrong about Aviles and Raburn coming back but I suspect you're probably right. Raburn is obviously sunk cost, although the argument could be made to cut him anyway. But there's no reason to spend $2.5M (?) on a player like Aviles. I get that he's right-handed, he can play any position except C, and we have no veteran depth at shortstop. But I think he started to slip at the plate this year. He was never a high OBP guy and in 15 his average and power took a dip as well.

On that subject, I'm curious to see what this site will dig up about Zach Walters this offseason (I'm guessing he still qualifies as a "prospect.") To me, he offers a Mark Reynolds-esque burst of power this team could possibly use the next few years. Plus, he's a switch hitter who can play multiple positions, including shortstop. Realistically, a team that wants to make the playoffs can't have a guy hitting below .200 in its lineup. BUT, if he can hit at say a .220 clip and hit 30 homers, we could probably stash him in one of the 7-8-9 spots of the lineup and be ok. Is that a realistic scenario?
Vic Venom
September 29, 2014 - 3:33 PM EDT
I am not a fan of this whole, "We are going to take our time with Lindor," thing. How much time are they going to take? I understand that Ramirez is good and I want to see him develop as a starting SS and ultimately into a utility role. However, shouldn't they honestly start to see if they can develop Ramirez as the next starting 2B???? I think J-RAM has trade value, but i want to see him and Lindor playing together and be the next dominant tag team like Legion of Doom.

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