Coming into the year, it seemed like the Indians were a couple of years away. The team wasn’t all that different from the one that won only 69 games last season. However, after getting off to a 30-15 start, it seemed like the Indians were going to be a different team this season. That start proved to be much of an aberration, as Cleveland went 50-67 the rest of the way, mostly due to ineffective starting pitching and injuries. A huge part of that was midseason pickup Ubaldo Jimenez , who didn’t perform as Indians brass had hoped. As usual, the injury bug bit Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore. What would their season have gone like if it hadn’t?
What went right?
Carlos Santana is on the verge of becoming a superstar. While he only hit .239, he walked 97 times this season, and popped 27 homers. For a catcher, an .808 OPS is extremely good. Also, Asdrubal Cabrera had a breakout season, and was voted to his first career All Star game. After only hitting 35 home runs in ~2500 career plate appearances at the minor and major league level combined, Cabrera found his power stroke and hit 25 dingers, second among AL shortstops. He also finished 3rd in AL shortstop OPS. While the Indians have plenty of infield prospects that showed upside, Jason Kipnis showed he could be a star in the making. For the last two months of the season, Kipnis hit .272/.333/.507/.841, a remarkable line for a rookie 2B. On the pitching side of things, Justin Masterson really took a step forward, and showed he’s going to be an extremely tough number two going forward, posting an ERA of 3.21 in 216 IP. Other bullpen names such as Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, Rafael Perez, Chris Perez, and Tony Sipp really excelled in the excellent Indians’ bullpen.
What went wrong?
Once again, the Indians just couldn’t stay healthy. Only two regulars played 115 games or more. Shin Soo Choo had some legal troubles early in the year, and couldn’t put them behind him, or so it seemed. Choo had his worst year in an Indian uniform, only putting up a .734 OPS. He was only worth 1.4 WAR this year, after being worth 14.1 in the three previous years combined. Grady Sizemore only made it onto the field for 71 games this year. Going forward, he’s going to have to stay healthy if the Tribe want to make a splash in the AL Central. Midseason pickup Ubaldo Jiminez was the most disappointing of all the Indians’ pitchers. He posted a 5.10 ERA in 65.1 IP after coming over from Colorado for Drew Pomeranz, a highly regarded pitching prospect, Alex White, Joe Gardner, and Matt McBride. Look for Ubaldo to rebound on his 4.68 ERA performance from this season. Other than Masterson, no other starter had an ERA in the 3’s.
The Indians future rests on the shoulders of their young core and position player talent. They need Lonnie Chisenhall, Cord Phillips, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, and Matt LaPorta to continue development. Their core group of middle relief guys are also pretty good.
Injuries. If the Indians stay healthy, they can make some noise. They also lack starting pitching depth. After Masterson and Jiminez, some guys need to step up. Since the Indians depleted their minor league system via trade, they should look to sign a few guys in free agency.
Pending Free Agents
Kosuke Fukudome must be signed to an extension by November 15, or he will be granted his release. I wonder how the Indians approach this, it all depends on Fukudome’s asking price. He won’t get anywhere near the 13.5 MM that he got this season, but I’d guess somewhere in the 5-7MM range. Grady Sizemore’s 9MM club option should be exercised, but concerns about his durability may force the Indians to decline, and try to sign him to an incentive laden shorter contract. They also have to decide whether or not they want to exercise Fausto Carmona’s 7MM option. Travis Hafner has been retained for next season already.
Pitching. Pitching. Some more pitching, and then maybe a starter or two. Guys who could be of interest to Cleveland would be Mark Buehrle, Bruce Chen, Jeff Francis, Freddy Garcia, Aaron Harang, Rich Harden, Paul Maholm, and Jason Marquis, and maybe Roy Oswalt. Basically, some veteran starting pitching help. There really isn’t much on the market, so the Indians will have to hope some of their recent draftees develop nicely. I’d expect them to stay away from huge contracts like Edwin Jackson and CJ Wilson will receive this offseason.
If the Indians want to contend going forward, they need some starting pitching. Mitch Talbot and David Huff just aren’t going to cut it. Only one starter produced more than 1.8 WAR for the Indians this year. They need to hope guys like Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco, and Josh Tomlin can eat some innings for them in the future. Their position players look to be pretty decent, and the bullpen looks shored up for now. It all hinges on the starter’s ability to get guys out. Either the Indians should keep their older, more expensive players, or get rid of them and try to rebuild. We’ll see what they decide to do in the coming months.