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With a young core in place, Indians need to look for power

Front office can't afford to sit on their hands, they need to make a splash

With a young core in place, Indians need to look for power
Terry Francona and Chris Antonetti have a good core in place, but need to make a big splash this winter.
October 11, 2014
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They teased.

They winked.

And they beckoned.

But when the final chapter closed on the 162-game journey, the Indians fell just short of the postseason and a spot to play in October. Not exactly the outcome many envisioned at the start of spring training, especially for a team coming in with high expectations.

For the 11th time in 13 years, winter has again come too soon for Tribe fans, leaving them wondering the same old question:

What’s next?

Finishing with an 85-77 record, 2014 marked the first time Cleveland had consecutive winning seasons in 13 years. The road to 85 victories however wasn’t an easy one.

“We were faced with a lot of challenges,” manager Terry Francona said. “Some health, some maybe guys not quite doing what we thought they’d do. Through it all we managed to compete right until the very end. That was not our goal, our goal is to win.”

The team lost Michael Bourn to the disabled list three times over the course of the season, saw Nick Swisher struggle to play through 97 games, and had former All-Star Jason Kipnis regress to hit just .240 with six homers.

If someone told you back in April this team would be in contention until the final two games in September, without the likes of Justin MastersonJohn AxfordAsdrubal Cabrera, and Swisher for the final seven weeks of the regular season, I don’t think a single soul would have bought in on it.

They had their highs and lows, but could never string together a run to put them over the top.

“For us, I don’t feel like we ever hit a stretch like that,” Bourn said. “We didn’t have a month where we played great baseball. We played okay at times, but I feel like last year we had stretches where we were playing unbelievable.”

Unlike the veteran bunch from 2013 that led the Wahoos to their first playoff berth since 2007, the 2014 Indians became a young group by season’s end. The team boasted 11 first-year players, where seven made their big league debuts.

Of those seven rookies, T.J. HouseTyler HoltRoberto Perez and Kyle Crockett not only helped the club make a strong playoff run, but proved why they should all have a spot on the roster come next season.

House became the Tribe’s fifth man on a staff that quickly became one of the best in the game. The southpaw joinedDanny SalazarCarlos CarrascoTrevor Bauer and ace Corey Kluber to give Cleveland hope for a powerful and exciting rotation for years to come.

The five led the Indians to set the all-time record for most team strikeouts in a single season with 1,450.

For the first time in a long time, the club has become a team centered on pitching, posting a 3.03 ERA during the second half for the third best mark in all of baseball.

Offensively, it’s a much different story.

With down years from Swisher, Bourn and Kipnis, the team relied on solid play from three key bats in the lineup inYan GomesCarlos Santana and of course All-Star Michael Brantley.

So, how does Brantley’s four year, $25 million contract extension look now?

Becoming the first Indians player in history with at least 20 homers, 20 steals, 40 doubles and 200 hits in a season, Brantley has quickly blossomed from a player to be named later to a potential most valuable player in front of our eyes.

Who even knows where this team would be without the five-tool superstar.

“Brantley turned into one of the top position players in the game, and that’s just numbers wise,” Francona said. “I think anyone that’s been around him for two minutes knows that his game goes far beyond the numbers of what he brings.”

As a two-time champion, the much of same could be said about Tito, who by no coincidence proved to get the best out of his players for the second straight year.

“His leadership and the leadership of his coaching staff set the tone for our players,” general manager Chris Antonetti said. “It doesn’t matter what time he got in, doesn’t matter whether we had a crushing loss or won by 10 runs, he shows up every single day with enthusiasm ready to go win that game. That tone, players see that every single day and its hard not to have that rub off.”

That’s where we’ll start this offseason.

Think back two winters ago, when Cleveland shocked the baseball world spending a combined $104 million on Bourn and Swisher. Field performance and injuries aside, the two signings along with the hiring of Francona lit a fire under both the team and fans.

Now more than ever, it’s that same spark they must generate once again for the upcoming 2015 season.

Before you start writing Victor Martinez and Nelson Cruz at the top of your Christmas wish lists, think about this.

Last November, I noted the Indians needed to avoid a 2008 type year in 2014.

Instead, they almost created an exact mirror image of it.

Back in 2008, the Tribe was coming off a playoff run that saw them come one win shy of the World Series. With limitless expectations, the front office did nothing to improve the roster over the offseason, leading inconsistency to prevail. Pending free agent ace CC Sabathia was traded at the deadline as Cleveland went onto miss the playoffs, despite having the A.L. Cy Young winner in Cliff Lee on their pitching staff.

Sound eerily familiar?

This past season, the club also had sky-high expectations at the outset after playing in October. Just as they did six years ago, Cleveland however went onto deal with many of the same struggles. David Murphy and Axford highlighted winter moves, as if the front office expected the team to just pick up where they left off.

They were wrong.

This led to the trade of their ace in Masterson and no postseason, all the while having a potential Cy Young Award winner in Kluber in their rotation.

The good news in all of this is, don’t expect a 2015 to be anything like 2009.

Sure there’s a lot to like about the young Indians roster, but the bottom line is, the front office can’t sit on their hands again and expect to magically contend with the same group of guys.

There are simply too many unknowns, especially for a team that will be relying on many young and inexperienced players to keep progressing forward this time around.

With the young pitching staff all but set, the Indians already sit in arguably a better situation than last winter. For years, fans have called for a middle of the order bat at the end of every season and this offseason proves no different.

So, how do they do it?

Before I answer that, answer this one: What do Brantley, Gomes, Santana, Kluber, Bauer, and Carrasco have in common?

They were all acquired by trade, and it’s the trade market that Cleveland will have to turn to once again over the next five months.

Yes, they will sign a few free agents, but don’t expect a reunion with the switch-hitting Martinez anytime soon. Like the team does every winter, expect more lightning in a bottle type signings, hoping to strike it rich on a few low risk, high reward free agents.

With a deep farm system, Mark Shapiro and Antonetti must get creative. In all honesty, no player should be untouchable throughout the organization.

Drafting an outfielder in the first round of the MLB draft the last three years, outfield depth in the minors would be a good place to start for potential trade bait.

Then there’s top prospect Francisco Lindor.

With shortstop Jose Ramirez having a memorable rookie season in the big leagues, can both rising phenoms find their way onto the roster at the same time next season?  

Barring a trade, Ramirez deserves the starting job at short come Opening Day and potentially beyond. Remember, I said no player should be untouchable and that includes the 20 year old Lindor. Top prospect or not, Ramirez has given the Indians an interesting dilemma by how well he played on both sides of the ball.

The Royals weren’t afraid to trade their top prospect in Wil Myers for two years of James Shields were they?

Look at where it finally got them now.

If that means giving up Lindor for two years of Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton, then so be it.

Brantley thrived hitting behind Santana in the three-hole of the lineup most of the year. Just imagine what he can do with one of the game’s top sluggers backing him up in the order.

Right field is just one option with Stanton, but there is another position on the diamond where the Tribe can improve, and that’s with Lonnie Chisenhall at third base.

If I had to guess the area Antonetti will target this winter, it’s the hot corner.  

The 26-year-old Chisenhall had two very different seasons in 2014. After hitting .331 with nine home runs and 41 RBI before the All-Star Break, he struggled to make much of an impact in the second half, batting just .218 with 18 RBI.

He also committed 18 errors at third, the fifth most at any position in the American League. Chisenhall could be an attractive piece for teams on the trade block if the Wahoos choose to deal him. Whether he is moved or not, third base seems like the logical spot for a potential middle of the order power hitter.

Two names to keep an eye on this winter are Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre and Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier, both of which would be great adds to the Indians lineup. Each player would also have multiple years remaining on their current contracts, something that always interests the Tribe brass.

Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver said it best, saying, “You win pennants in the offseason when you build your teams with trades and free agents.”

With a limited budget and lots of money tied into a few players, it’s the trade route that Cleveland needs to take this winter in order to keep improving.

Currently, the Tribe is in the midst of a huge multi-million renovation of Progressive Field. While new renovations off the field are welcomed, it’s also time the front office renovate some holes on the field.

If they chose not to, that other Cleveland team in the building next door might be the only organization buzzing with fireworks and excitement come June. Meanwhile, Progressive Field and the Indians could be begging fans to come through the gates with promotional fireworks as attendance numbers continue to downfall.

Whether they make a huge splash this offseason or not, the Indians will have history teasing and winking at them the whole way.

The last four times the club has made the playoffs (1999, 2001, 2007, and 2013) have all been odd years.

Knowing Cleveland fans, that puts the odds in their favor already.

Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at

User Comments

October 15, 2014 - 3:31 PM EDT
Ryan, I don't think anyone wants to cast Chisenhall to the curb. It's not like we are saying to trade him for a bag of balls or a journeyman minor leaguers. We are talking about adding an MVP caliber ML star. Big difference. Bottom line, the Indians need to move Chisenhall off of third base. The bat plays anywhere, so perhaps a corner utility role to help limit his exposure to lefties and to 3B full time will help him and maintain 400 or so plate appearances. He has always been a subpar defender. In the minors and now big leagues, and at this point he pretty much is what he is defensively. He hurts you defensively, helps you find a better role for him so he doesn't hurt you so much defensively and maybe helps you even more offensively. No harm in that.
October 15, 2014 - 3:26 PM EDT
I am a little surprised by the Donaldson love and the readiness to toss Chisenhall to the curb. I understand Donaldson at least has a glove going for him (but doesn't Urshela) but to think Chisenhall's norm is to be as bad as he was in the beginning of the season defensively is not taking into his whole body of work from the minors on up into account. Also, Chisenhall is only 26, and while he had an extreme split in halves (which Donaldson had this year, but in reverse), his overall numbers were still way better than Donaldson when Donaldson was 26 at the ML level. And Chisenhall has much better minor league numbers at much younger ages. It may be me, but I am a little surprised that so many people think so little of Chisenhall.
Vic Venom
October 14, 2014 - 12:56 AM EDT
No way any of those things happen that you mentioned. Why would the Rockies trade Gonzalez for Bourn? LOL
October 13, 2014 - 8:53 PM EDT
I think we should trade Bourn for Carlos Gonzalez, who is only 28 years old. Sign Adrian Beltre as DH since he is a power bat. Trade Aviles to Yankees who need a short stop. That would leave Zach Walters to be super sub. Now Line-up:
J Ram -ss, Lindor - 2b, Brantley - cf, Santana - 1b, C Gonzalez - rf, Beltre - dh, Gomes - c, Lonnie C - 3b,
Kipnis - LF
John L.
October 12, 2014 - 7:44 PM EDT
Bourn needs to be healthy to stabilize the outfield. Dickerson, Holt, Aviles, & Morgan played over 100 combined games in the outfield, Raburn only played 33 games in the outfield last year. With Bourn healthy then the Tribe only has to focus on right field instead of bouncing players around out there. As of now it looks like the position will be a rotation of Swisher, Murphy, & Raburn. They could all be serviceable players next year if used correctly cause I highly doubt any of them will be moved via trade. You could release Raburn and his $2.5m but Murphy's $6.5m and Swisher's $15m are harder to swallow on a team whose payroll is at $80m. At least Murphy only has one more year on his contract as opposed to Swisher who has 2. Murphy wasn't horrible last season but the Tribe had to use him more than they planned on last year given Raburn's hitting woes and Bourn's injuries. Same with Aviles, he's a great bench player and utility infielder but running him out there almost daily in left and right field at times was pushing it on a team that needed an offense. Maybe if Raburn gets his groove back he could see some time at 2B if Kipnis has trouble out of the gates.

I still think they should trade Lindor and his back woes now than hang on to him and have a bust, time and time again "can't miss prospects" end up like guys like Sean Burroughs, Khalil Greene, Corey Smith, Ryan Garko, Ben Grieves, & Lastings Milledge.

Orelease please release JB Shuck

October 12, 2014 - 7:34 PM EDT
If Josh Donaldson is on the mkt the Indians need to get a deal done. The price will be high, but he's the type impact player the Indians need. He'd meet the need with his RH bat, but add great defense on the corner.

As for adding another RH hitting OF I wouldn't be surprised to see the Tribe pursue Trumbo, or Viciedo if either were made available.
October 12, 2014 - 7:01 PM EDT
I agree about KC, there is a reason they are still playing and we aren't. But the basis for Jim's column was that with our young core the Indians need to look for power, and I was disagreeing that this should be our priority in order to move ahead. We certainly had some inconsistency at the end up the bullpen, though I have a little suspicion this might have to do with the ultra high usage from Francona. Fielding has been a problem for this club, no dispute there. Getting Ramirez on the field for ACab was a significant upgrade, and though a lot of criticism has been leveled at Chisenhall I thought he generally wasn't too bad the last couple of months of the season. Likewise, I think Santana proved to be a decent fielder at 1st, so I have some hope that we can have some improvements in the field even with our current squad.

I do think we could use some more power in the OF, but I'm hoping that actually comes from Swisher, who I hope can still hit 20-25 HRs along with a decent OBP.
October 12, 2014 - 11:05 AM EDT
I don't see Stanton and Frazier as a possibility. I do think if Beltre is available that he could be a good target and would cost less than anyone. He'll cost a lot, but not as much as most top trade targets. Donaldson is intriguing. Reports of his availability will surely bring about suitors to Beane. He'd be the guy I press hard after and start with Ramirez and Chisenhall (two assets we can afford to part with). Understand that they would not be the headline of the deal they would be the second and third piece. The headline might have to be Bauer or Salazar....and I might be fine with such a trade.

Art, one note on KC, while they only hit 95 homers, they are a superior running and defensive team to the Indians. And their bullpen is much better at the backend.
October 12, 2014 - 9:57 AM EDT
I don't see any major trades. Here's what I think the Tribe's brass is banking on:

Salazar and Bauer take the next step in their development and pitch more consistently and deeper into games, reducing the stress on the bullpen.

Kipnis stays healthy and has a bounce-back season where he approaches or meets his 2013 numbers. His WAR dropped from 3.8 to -1.1. He was clearly playing hurt. Your WAR doesn't drop 4.9 points at age 28 for no reason. Home runs don't drop from 22 to 6 for no reason.

Raburn has a bounce-back season and comes close to his 2013 numbers. This year his WAR dropped from 2.1 in 2013 to -1.4 as his OPS dropped a whopping 353 points. This was mainly due to the wrist injury suffered in spring training along with a loss of confidence.

Carlos Santana hit .129 as a 3rd baseman. After that experiment was abandoned and he was moved to 1st base, he hit .274/.406/.506/.912. Next year he'll be at 1st base all season. If he hits the same he'll be a 30 HR/100 RBI guy with a .400 OBP.

Michael Bourn is what he is. His batting numbers have been the same for two years; OPS of .676 and .674. He was on the DL three times last year and played 106 games. If the Indians trade for anybody, I could see a power hitting left fielder for when Bourn is hurt and Brantley moves to center. IOW, a David Murphy type, only a right-handed hitting left fielder. They could just go with Holt in center when Bourn is out, but I think they'll try to add a veteran power bat if they can find one.

I think this is pretty much the plan. The defense will be improved with no Swisher at 1st base (he'll be the DH), JRam at SS for the entire season instead of half (no Asdrubal), and Chisenhall having improved his defense in the second half.
October 12, 2014 - 9:21 AM EDT
At least Jim thinks the Indians would need to give up Lindor for Stanton, rather than just headlining the deal with Chisenhall and Ramirez.
October 12, 2014 - 7:51 AM EDT
dare i bring up, "spend when the rime is right?"
matt underwood
October 12, 2014 - 7:47 AM EDT
"Front office sits on their hands, refuse to make a splash"


October 12, 2014 - 1:48 AM EDT
This is like the third article early in the off-season saying something like "...names to keep an eye on this winter are Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre and Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier...". This is just ridiculous fantasy baseball thinking and sloppy writing, really...when the whole point of the article boils down to "keep an eye on..."??... it makes it hard to take you guys seriously.

I agree w many of the comments here, e.g. Lindor is not to be traded and guys like Stanton are not going to go to Cleveland.

The way to build this team into a winner is through a good farm system and shrewd trading--the kind that get's us Bauer-like talent that we can control for 4-5 years.

Also, a few more homers are not going to make the difference, but improvement from Swisher, Kipnis and Santana, plus one or two more solid middle-of-the-order RH hitters will really help, in addition to some much better defense and more consistent starting pitching.
October 12, 2014 - 12:49 AM EDT
I would not give anything for Stanton. The situation is so similar to Tony Conigliaro.(sp) Even Herb Score never recovered from a major hit in the face. Many things have changed since then, but it still it's a concern to me.

The farm system may be on the verge of becoming one of baseball's better systems. The big problem is that Aguilar has no place to play; Swisher and Santana have first base and DH occupied. Moncrief is blocked by Murphy, entering his last season as an Indian. J-Ram has shown that he can play in the major leagues. But it's as if he is holding the SS position for Linder. But make no doubt, Lindor is going to be the Indians SS.
October 12, 2014 - 12:26 AM EDT
This is precisely why I miss Paulie C., you can't just throw random players you want out there and say we should trade for them, the other team actually needs to have a reason to want to move them. I'm sure plenty of fans in other cities want they're team to pickup Michael Brantley, but we all know that ain't happening.

I'm with CL, I for would go hard after Scott Van Slyke, we really need that right handed power bat. The Dodgers have Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Scott Van Slyke and there is no DH in that league so they have to move someone. The big contract guys are going to be pretty hard for them to move and Joc Pederson is a super prospect so he's likely not getting moved.

Anyway, I'd give them Erik Gonzalez and Zach Mac. They really need relief pitching as it is the reason they got bounced out of the playoffs and with hanley ramirez likely moving on they could use a SS. If they don't want zach (short track record as a reliever) they can have anyone except for Cody Allen out of the pen.

Getting a bat like that would be a game changer for us. Murphy could spell him against tough righties.
October 11, 2014 - 11:24 PM EDT
Lonnie is not the answer at 3d.

I would consider trading Bauer in some package deal for a bat.
October 11, 2014 - 10:22 PM EDT
Try Lindor, Carrasco, Urshela & more for'd have to give up the system to get him.
C L Who
October 11, 2014 - 9:47 PM EDT
Lindor for Stanton? Yes, and 5 other players too. The Tribe is not going to do a Big Deal. I could see acquriing Scott Van Slyke for RF, and bringing up Urshela to compete with and motivate Chis. That's about it.

Swish is supposed to provide the power, so I hope to heck he is healthy.
October 11, 2014 - 7:43 PM EDT
Norm they are Hoobits not Dwarves!!!
And anyway Gandalf is buying season tickets this year!!!
October 11, 2014 - 7:01 PM EDT
KC is still playing and doing rather well. They hit a total of 95 HRs this season, about half of what Cleveland hit (142) with a missing Swisher and under performing Kipnis. We were about league average, and with decent pitching I think that is sufficient to make the playoffs.
October 11, 2014 - 6:42 PM EDT
I really like fantasy and this article is really it. How about a story where Bilbo gives the Dwarves gold to the Indians so they can afford these players? Face it Jim, Cleveland is pretty much finished as a ML city Nothing the Indians do will get more people to games. Why spend millions the Indians will never have? RH power, like improved defense, will have to come from the organization unless they can make another trade that makes economic sense. Cleveland in not New York, Boston or LA. If you want RH power, then you better hope for bounceback from Swisher and Raburn. Better chance than Stanton.
October 11, 2014 - 6:31 PM EDT
No way Stanton goes to the Indians, and I doubt the Marlins will even consider moving him this winter. Same with Frazier. I think that the smart thing for the Indians to do would be to target Headley in FA on a two or three year deal and shop Chisenhall. Last year, Headley had a league average bat and a stellar glove at 3B which should keep his price down, but building a better defensive team should be a priority. If the Mariners make Saunders available and the price is low, I think that he could be a great buy low candidate to help out the OF as he can play all three spots and has a decent bat while providing insurance for Bourn and moving Murphy back into a part time role.

Of course the team will still have poor defense at 2B and 1B, but it shouldn't be any worse than league average anywhere else on the field, and that would be a HUGE improvement. Remember that the Indians tied for the 7th best offense in baseball with Kipnis hurt all year, Swisher out, Aviles being generally awful, Murphy floundering, and Ramirez being about 15% below average. If Kipnis and Swisher come back healthy the offense will receive a major boost, but that defense definitely cannot fix itself, and it was one of the worst defenses since 2002 when UZR data became available.
October 11, 2014 - 5:37 PM EDT
Stanton at age 24 has better numbers than Albert Belle at same age. Very similar players. I would empty out the farm system to get Stanton except including Lindor. We can give them Zimmer and Frazier, Kipnis, Gonzales or Ramirez plus any of our pitching prospects.Lindor is untouchable because he plays a premium up the middle position. Lindor is a Jose Reyes caliber player minus the high stolen base ratio.

With Stanton hitting behind Brantley followed by Santana , we will have a mid 90's caliber tribe lineup
October 11, 2014 - 5:21 PM EDT
Power, power and more power. Three run homers are quite helpful.

After years of drafting pitching and middle of the diamond types we finally went hard after bats at the top of last years draft. I was thrilled and it looks like we chose wisely in at least two of the three big bats at the top But that won't help next year. So yes, package what you can to get a legit number 4 hitter. Then off we go if the pitching is as good as it looks.
October 11, 2014 - 4:16 PM EDT
Time for the Indians to fire their current hitting coach and hire Giambi as hitting coach.
We always hear when the offense or the pitching is good and give the pitching or the hitting coach the credit. Time for Ty to go.
October 11, 2014 - 3:02 PM EDT
Please explain why the Reds would want to trade Todd Frazier to the Indians? As Indian fan, former Clevelander, who lives in SW Ohio I dont see them trading Frazier. The Reds offense was way worse than the Indians this past year. They are looking for offense at SS or LF.

Would you trade Lindor for Frazier? I would not. Lindor will then become the next former Indian to torch the Indians like Bradon Phillips has done over the years.

If Puig is available, I see the Reds pursuing him.

John L.
October 11, 2014 - 11:25 AM EDT
Great points about trades Jim. Another 3rd baseman supposedly on the trade market is Josh Donaldson, him and Stanton in our lineup would have jumping around with excitement(although Stanton might need some more time given his fastball to the face incident). I think Lindor should be traded, one thing no one mentions about him is that he has had some back issues. They may be minor ones but he's so young and his backs already barking a bit??? Trade him now.

I also wonder about the futures of David Murphy and Ryan Raburn, have they officially become the right field incarnation of Jason Michaels and David Dellucci? Can the tribe afford to eat the $9 million they will make this year? I think their roster spots are possibly worth the tribe eating their salaries.

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