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
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:
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 Masterson, John Axford, Asdrubal 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. House, Tyler Holt, Roberto 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 Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor 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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
No way any of those things happen that you mentioned. Why would the Rockies trade Gonzalez for Bourn? LOL
J Ram -ss, Lindor - 2b, Brantley - cf, Santana - 1b, C Gonzalez - rf, Beltre - dh, Gomes - c, Lonnie C - 3b,
Kipnis - LF
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I would consider trading Bauer in some package deal for a bat.
Swish is supposed to provide the power, so I hope to heck he is healthy.
And anyway Gandalf is buying season tickets this year!!!
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.
With Stanton hitting behind Brantley followed by Santana , we will have a mid 90's caliber tribe lineup
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.
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.
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.
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.