With the dust settling a bit from last week’s trade deadline dealings (I’ll get there), and the massive Jim Thome statue weekend just taking place (I’ll get there too), it’s time to really dust off the Sunday Drive and weigh in on whatever it is the Cleveland Indians are doing this year. The opinions are all over the place on this team, and while the Tribe looks a little different than they did a week ago, are they better or worse off for it?
While I was writing for IBI this past season, I led off my preseason predictions paragraph with “Most experts are calling for 82 wins and third in the division.” Today, the Indians are 56-55, and third in the division, behind a middling Kansas City Royals (who resemble the Indians quite a bit with regards to consistency) and the Detroit Tigers, who just traded for David Price. It seems as though the experts had a bead on the season…for the most part.
Of course, for all those faithful readers that have followed me around the Indians Universe over the past 15 years, know that I generally leave my brain behind for my heart. Instead of starting following what my baseball brain was telling me, I picked 88-wins for the Indians, and somehow convinced myself that it would be good enough to win the division. I remember thinking, “they just let go of two starters and added David Murphy, they aren’t going to get better.”
I then promptly said, “88 wins.”
Well, that’s technically not better than last season’s 92 wins, but I also knew that it would still be a stretch to get to.
Today, that’s an understatement of massive proportions. To put that into perspective some, for the Tribe to reach that win total at the end of this season, they would have to finish the season with a 32-19.
Is it impossible?
Last season, the Indians closed out the year with a ten-game winning streak, and over their last 51 games, went 30-21. During that stretch, they also had losing streaks of six and five games. They had one of the easiest schedules in baseball.
The Indians, Rays and Rangers all finished with 90+ wins, with the Indians and Rays finishing at 92-and-70, with the Rangers a game out of the Wild Card at 91-71. It was a fun final week.
What does it look like this year?
The Angels are running away with the first Wild Card slot right now at 66-44, with Toronto locking down the second slot at 60-53. The Royals, the Yankees and the Mariners are all two games in back of the Jays, while the Indians are three games behind, while the White Sox and Rays are both five game behind.
The Indians play the Angels, Royals, Yankees, White Sox and Rays off of that Wild Card list, but that’s only 19 of their remaining 51 games, and all of those teams aren’t definitively
Let’s take a closer look at their remaining schedule:
|Winning %–.503—As of this writing, Arizona is currently tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates heading into the ninth inning of their Sunday afternoon game|
Chicago, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Arizona and Houston have a combined .455 winning percentage. Unfortunately for the Indians, only 14 of those 27 games are at home, where the Indians are a smoldering 33-21 (.611). These are games they simply have to win to catch up and pass the log-jam of teams just ahead of them.If you take a cursory look at the overall winning percentage of their remaining games, you’re looking at a fairly unfavorable .501 winning percentage. If you take a closer look though, things get a bit more interesting. Of their final 51 games, 27 games are with sub-.500 records.
|Winning Percentage–.455–As of this writing, Arizona is currently tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates heading into the ninth inning of their Sunday afternoon game|
What does all of this mean? Who knows. My arbitrary win total of 88 truly doesn’t mean a thing. Think about this. After 111 games last year, the three division leaders were Boston, Detroit and Oakland, and the two Wildcard teams were Tampa and Cleveland. Those teams were all the AL Playoff teams, with the only change being the swap of positions between the Indians and the Rays.
We all know how that turned out.
Regardless, the Indians have to win a lot of games, and while their schedule isn’t 100% conducive due to the balance and counter-balance of good-vs.-bad teams and home-vs.-away teams, there does appear to be an opening, should the Indians win a lot more than they lose.
Of course, for every brooming of Texas…comes a home-and-home against the Cincinnati Reds, who share a 56-55 record, a 5-5 record in their last ten, and a +17 run differential. The Indians have been a bit better in the second half, going 8-8, while the Reds are rolling in at 5-11. The Indians need to win three of the four games heading into the Yankees series.
There’s no time for one step forward and two steps back.
The Indians traded their “ace,” Justin Masterson, to the St. Louis Cardinals last Wednesday in exchange for then-Double A prospect James Ramsey. Now I’ve discussed a Masterson deal in the past, and it certainly wasn’t the first time. The latter of those two links was perhaps the most fun I’ve had in writing the piece, and in it I discuss the Indians maximizing their opportunities with regards to Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Some would say they did.
At the time of the deal, I believe the Indians did the best they could for Masterson. He was coming off an injury. He was having the worst season, arguably, of his career. They got a top ten prospect in a rich system.
While I’m not going to wax poetic bout what they should have done six months ago, trading Masterson was the right thing to do, even if it was a few months too late.
As a person, Justin Masterson was truly something special here in Cleveland. It really could have been different.
Think about this: Masterson came to the Indians in one of the most controversial trades of the post-2007 Indians’ apocalypse. After the Tribe looked like dirt in 2008 and the start of 2009, the Indians dealt El Capitan, Victor Martinez, to the Boston Red Sox and received Masterson, Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price. it wasn’t a popular deal, as Martinez was the heart and soul of the Indians of the 2000’s. When he broke down and cried with his son in the locker room after the trade, Cleveland wept with him.
Before I continue, you have to make sure to click on the previous links. Both Victor Martinez stories are written by the great Paul Cousineau at his most tremendous site, “The Diatribe.” Cousineau bore out the sentiments of the Indians losing Martinez in those two pieces, and started off with this one, which showcased VMart as the “face of the franchise.”
Masterson had a mountain to climb.
The Indians had wanted future stud Clay Buckholz, and instead, got Justin Masterson. Masterson had been relegated to the bullpen by then Red Sox-manager, Terry Francona.
The fact that Masterson wasn’t throttled was a minor miracle. While he’s had stretches of dominance, they’ve always been counter-balanced by just bad pitching. In his five total seasons with the Indians (full seasons from 2010-2013, with half seasons in 2009 and 2014), he was 48-61 with a 4.23 ERA and 797 K’s over 950 innings. He bookended bad seasons in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with really good seasons in 2011 and 2013. In both 2011 and 2013, the Indians played pretty good baseball.
This year, Masterson was coming off of his best season, and being that it was his walk year, it was my belief that he would take the next step.
Did he have any sort of command this year? No, he walked five per nine, his worst since his first half-season with the Tribe, when he was first moved into the rotation.
Did he have any sort of velocity this year? No, over the past 4 1/2 seasons with the Indians, Masterson was never below 92.4 with his fastball average, 90.6 with his sinker average or 82.5 with his slider average. This year, he was at 90.5 (down 2 MPH) with the fastball, 88.8 (2 MPH with the slider) and 80.8 (2 MPH with the sinker).
That’s not only noticeable, but downright scary. Everybody Hate Cleveland’s senior columnist, Steve Orbanek, shared this fear earlier this year. “I’d sign him to a deal,” Orbanek hesitantly stated, “but I fear that he’s in-line for a velocity dip.”
He was dead on.
I’m not sure if it was due to a lingering injury, or if it’s simply “time.” Whatever it is, Masterson needs his velocity to be an effective pitcher. His M.O. has always been his ability to pitch through anything, although as games wore on, he would seemingly implode later in ballgames.
Infamous Indians’ online personality Hiram Boyd often lamented about this in our online discussions, and we often called into questions Masterson’s “killer instinct.”
Every connection that I have in the Indians’ organization seems to say the same thing about Masterson.
- He’s an incredible person
- He’s a fantastic teammate
- He’s an amazing father
- He’s the best husband on the planet
- His priorities were life, not baseball
I recall the Indians’ visit to Carolina a few years back, in which Masterson was clearly not going to pitch in. Ubaldo Jimenez had recently been thrown out of a game against the Colorado Rockies, but was working out hard in the outfield. Brett Myers was his usual miserable self, and many of the other Indians were stretching and tossing the ball around.
What was Masterson doing? He was jovially discussing Carolina weather with the fans and manager Manny Acta, without a care in the world. My daughter and I were 20 feet away from him when he caught my daughter’s attention by waving both hands above his head and yelling, “Hey, you want an autograph?”
I had honestly never seen anything like it before in my life.
I’d seen players nearly hurt themselves physically to avoid autographs, and here was the Indians top pitcher, yelling at us for an autograph because we were decked out in the blue and red of the Indians. He talked to us for several minutes, forced Manny Acta to sign the ball as well, and thanked us for coming.
It was clearly important to him.
I’ve been going to Major League games since 1975, and I can honestly say I’ve never felt that comfortable around a professional athlete…and this was all instigated by him.
Twenty minutes later, my daughter would be trampled by several adults trying to get autographs from the rest of the club. Ubaldo Jimenez saved her and signed for her and only her (and my son, who came running as well), but wouldn’t have signed if she hadn’t been knocked over by a 60-year-old man carrying a duffle-bag full of stuff.
Masterson truly enjoyed the game of baseball, but it wasn’t the only thing in his life.
I wanted him to succeed, but unfortunately, he didn’t this season.
In doing so, he lost the potential of a $15-0r-s0 million dollar Qualifying Offer this year, and one would have to wonder what he’ll get in the open market next year.
Don’t be surprised if the Indians are players though.
Here’s the thing that I really have come to ponder over the years, and again, if you’ve followed me, you’ve heard me say this more than once: what is Masterson’s best role?
I’ve often wondered if his best role was in the bullpen. If you listened to my former podcast, Smoke Signals, over at IBI, you often heard me getting browbeaten for the suggestion.
EHC’s Orbanek suggested it in last week’s Sunday Drive.
While Steve and I are likely over the top (although you have to wonder if the Joe Smith comparison isn’t favorable because of the velocity drop), there’s no doubt that Masterson was miscast as the Indians’ ace. He never was any such thing, even if he was the best pitcher in the rotation at any given time.
What he was, at his best, was consistent. What he was, at his worst, was still pretty consistent. When you throw in the bullet-points from above, you have a player nearly every GM would want as part of their organization. Look no further than the St. Louis Cardinals, who may be the best organization in baseball.
What about James Ramsey?
He was a first round pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2012 MLB draft. He was the 23rd pick in that year’s draft, and was the Cardinals second pick, after Michael Wacha. Both Wacha and Ramsey came after the Indians had selected Tyler Naquin.
I honestly have no clue what I just wrote has to do with anything, other than the fact that I’ve seen a lot of people hammering the Indians’ front office for both behind Naquin…over-and-over.
It is what it is.
Wacha just got moved to the 60-day DL, and Ramsey, well…he’s now with the Indians. So much for that…for now.
Back in October, I pondered the Indians getting a middle-of-the-order bat, and I really don’t think that James Ramsey is that bat.
He can defend, and he can play all three outfield positions. While I’ve seen some “experts” quantify his outfield talent without every seeing him, I’ll go so far as to say that he has some fantastic defensive traits. He really goes after the ball. He can hit for power, although he has always done it as an older player in younger leagues. At 24, he’s about to get his most significant time at Triple A.
I think he’s an extremely interesting get, being a potential centerfielder, as I think the Indians are going to go all out next year to deal Michael Bourn. I’m not saying that James Ramsey is a guy that will take over in center, but boy, he could get a nice look as a fourth outfielder. If he can bring the pop with him, I think he’s a guy that can absolutely take over a corner spot in a platoon or two as well.
The Indians could have had so much more, should they have made this move during the spring, but the enticement of the QO was too much. Hindsight is 20-20.
James Ramsey will have to do.
Good luck Mr. Masterson, may you find your velocity, your location, and your money next season. We surely know that you have a whole lot more than baseball going for you.
Now we’re left with Nick Hagadone and Brian Price. Oh boy…
Would it be too much to ask for the Indians to bring back VMart next year?
The Cleveland Indians also dealt Asdrubal Cabrera, which I have been clamoring for over the past two seasons. I’ve talked about it several times, but never so eloquently as I did back in January. I don’t hate Asdrubal. I just don’t think that he is a very good shortstop. Oh, we’ll hear the comparisons to Jhonny Peralta, and we’ll talk about the power…but…
…where in the hell did the Asdrubal Cabrera that I loved so much back in 2007 go? Drubs, I didn’t need you to hit 25 homers. I didn’t need you to swing for the fences. I didn’t need you to be a middle-of-the-order bat. What I needed you to do was be that guy that could hit .300, get on base 36% of the time, steal a few bases and be a cog in the offense.
What you turned into over the years is a guy that hit empty homers and was streakier than baby’s diaper. His offense eroded, and his defense eroded…and there were better and more cost-effective options. Just click that link from my January post, and then scroll down and look at what he did with runners in scoring position. He was a black hole on offense.
I love Ramirez.
I’ve often bantered about Ramirez and his Major League ability at shortstop. Defensively, Ramirez could be something special at second, and I’m telling you, he can be something special at shortstop if the Indians would use him there.
Of course, why the hell would they with Lindor ready to start there next season, or perhaps later this season.
Here’s what I can tell you from some fellow writers who watched him at Akron daily in a season in which he somewhat struggled offensively. He split his time between short and second, had as much range as anyone, could make the throws he needed and was accurate, and had a tremendous attitude. While most agree that Lindor was amazing to watch at the position, I heard nearly the exact same thing about Ramirez. Without fail, the word on the street in Akron is that Ramirez devoured the field at short and second.
When you combine that with the plus speed and his ability to work pitch counts, you have a player that can be special at multiple positions…including short.
I have often compared him with fellow EHC scribe Mike Hattery to Michael Brantley. Now mind you, this is before Brantley went on his MVP tear of 2014, which included his god-like power, but the traits and demeanor are there.
They are serious.
They know the strike zone.
They get on base.
Brantley has more power now.
Ramirez is a better defender (albeit at a different locale) and has far more speed.
Both work their asses off.
Let’s give Jose Ramirez some room to breathe this year, then next year, I’ll let you know what they really oughta do with him. There will be a whole lotta teams interested, but I sure as hell wouldn’t deal him. But that’s for another day.
Who were we talking about here? Who was the guy we dealt?
While it seems as though I was talking about a deal in which the Indians sent Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nats for Jose Ramirez, that’s truly not the case. And before I get into Zach Walters, I absolutely am not saying Francisco Lindor shouldn’t be the starting shortstop for the Tribe.
Like I said, I’ll get into that as the year progresses.
The Indians received another 24-year old (same age as Ramsey), only this time, they got an infielder in Zach Walters. Walters plays second base, has some major league experience, and was dealt by the Nationals so that Asdrubal could play second there.
I should stop talking about him now, because that truly scares the hell outta me.
Walters can play second, short and third, with his primary position likely shortstop. That alone should tell you where his standing is with the organization. Of course, with JRam a similar type player, I do worry a bit that a guy like Walters could make JRam expendable, since he has more trade value.
Now Walters isn’t garbage. He hit 29 homers last year in Triple A, and he’s likely a top ten Nats prospect. He’s a switch-hitter who strikes out a ton, and rarely walks. If I were a betting man, I would say his best position going forward is either going to be first or third. Coming from the Nationals, I can’t help but think Mike Morse…but I’ve never seen him play…
…so what the hell do I know.
Adios Justin Masterson…and Asdrubal Cabrera…
You have my Masterson story with regards to my daughter…now here is my Asdrubal story. Cabrera blasted a home run that day in Carolina all those years ago. While he was waddling around the bases, my daughter was massively excited. She turned and looked at me while he rounded third base and said, “Daddy, he looks like the Pillsbury Dough-Boy…”
Indeed he does…