And the beat goes on here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
It’s almost hard to believe that it’s been two years since I was talking about the pending Indians’ Culture Shock after Tribe GM Chris Antonetti and President Mark Shapiro pulled off the coup of the offseason when they hired manager Terry Francona. The fortunes of the Lake Erie Warriors changed on a dime, as their win total improved from 68-to-92.
With Cleveland seemingly perched in the cat-bird’s seat for 2014, they once again failed to improve their team with any key signings or movement during the last hot stove season. Sure, they brought in David Murphy (sarcasm), and actually DID improve their bullpen a bit, but their lack of roster movement and outside the box thinking, an inconsistent offense and an overused bullpen cost the team a return trip to the playoffs.
So I have to ask, did the Indians really make a culture change?
Yes, Francona managed to win 85 games this year, which most sensible fans will tell you that is probably more than they should have won. Yes, the Indians spent big money on players such as Big-Bust-So-Far Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Yes, the Indians wrapped up players such as Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis to long-term deals. Yes, the future looks bright in Cleveland…
…but will the Indians make a move, even if it means going over their internal cap, if they really believe they can take the next step?
Last year, they signed David Murphy.
(long…long…LONG pause, while I let that settle for a bit)
This isn’t a knock on Chris Antonetti, who has made a career out of making deals that have fleeced other teams (hello Yan Gomes and Corey Kluber), but a knock on the recent history of this club since 2005, when they’ve had that chance to take the next step.
It’s also a knock on the market and baseball’s ludicrous big-market structure, and it’s an irrational knock that the Indians ownership hasn’t taken that last big step to get this team over the hump. Please note that I said irrational.
It is what it is.
So I ask the same question that I asked last year: Can the Indians be a factor in 2015?
Can they go out and sign another starter?
Will they improve their team defense?
Will we see the long awaited debut of one Francisco Lindor?
Can players such as Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher improve after poor seasons?
Can that starting rotation continue to be special?
These are just a few questions that we’ll be revisiting here at the Corner as the offseason progresses, but here are some things that I’d really like to see in 2015, even if I know they won’t. I’m a fan. I’m irrational.
Get a starting pitcher, either via free agency or trade
I know what you’re thinking: this guy is nuts. The rotation was outstanding last year, and all of the pitchers that took part in the awesomeness will be back. Likely Cy Young winner Corey Kluber? He’s not a free agent until 2019. Carlos Carrasco? He’s not a free agent until 2018. Trevor Bauer? He’s not a free agent until 2020, just like Danny Salazar and T.J. House.
This is a rotation that seemingly has a foundation that you can rely on for the long haul, and with Mickey Callaway, a small part of me believes that they could likely continue where they left off, if not improve.
Of course, you know how that story ends.
I know there will be many throwing out names such as James Shields and Max Scherzer, but that isn’t happening. While Francisco Liriano is an enticing player, I’m not sure that he gets anything less than the Scott Kazmir deal from last year at two-years and $11 million. I would be okay with that, but I’m just not a big seller on Chris Antonetti and Shapiro going all in on Liriano with that kind of money on the books. The Indians will be looking for the next Scott Kazmir, and there are a couple of interesting candidates who could be had for the right amount.
The first is the San Diego Padres’ Josh Johnson. There are a couple of catches to this, of course. First off, the Padres own a $4 million option on Johnson, who had Tommy John surgery last April. With his timetable unknown, and two years of bad or non-existent baseball, it’s believed that the Padres won’t pick up that option. Yeah, that means he’s likely to sign something a lot smaller than that, which could mean a minor league deal.
You know, like Kazmir.
I love it.
He’s not a bad pitcher.
When he’s right, he is a strikeout machine, and do you really think that Mickey Callaway can’t get him right if he were to get his hands on him?
It would be glorious.
The second catch though is that Johnson would be willing to sign a deal with the Padres, even if they don’t pick up the option. Johnson has spent the season working with the young starters in San Diego, and has a good relationship with the coaching staff.
If I’m the Indians, there’s nothing about this kid that I wouldn’t love. Sign him to a two-year, $4 million deal with incentives, and don’t think twice about it.
If Johnson is off the table, there are other interesting starters out there. Colby Lewis could have some life left in him, and he looked pretty good in the second half of a lost season in Texas. At 35 and coming off of hip replacement surgery, he’s not optimum, but remember, we are just looking for a guy to log innings. Johnson could be fairly special, but he isn’t necessary.
If the Indians are going to deal for a starter, they’d need to get someone with control. How about Lima’s own Jon Niese from the New York Mets? He’s not a free agent until the 2017 season, but is controlled for two seasons after that with two team options. Now, he’s not going to come cheap because of that control, but I think if the Indians threw in the right package of players, something could happen.
There are a lot of other angles the Indians could travel down, including some Triple A options, but they need to solidify the rotation’s depth.
Give Francisco Lindor the starting shortstop job NOW, and not later
Last year, I wanted Lindor up with the Indians by the All-Star break. It didn’t happen, but enough is enough. The team defense was absolutely atrocious in 2014, and while Jose Ramirez improved that by leaps and bounds, he can’t touch Lindor’s glove at short. Lindor is special defensively, and with his power growth offensively, I’m starting to get pretty intrigued with his bat.
Lindor is the future lead-off hitter on this team, and I’d rather see any growing pains he’d go through happen in April, rather than July or August.
The second Lindor steps on the field in the big leagues is the second this defense immediately improves.
TRADE MICHAEL BOURN
I really don’t know if there is a team out there that would trade for Michael Bourn. Last offseason, I wanted him to be dealt, if only to free up money. At the All-Star break, I wanted him to be dealt, if only to free up money. This offseason, trade Michael Bourn.
This is no offense to Bourn, but he’s just not worth $13.5 million. Unfortunately, there are other teams that note this as well. As much as I hate saying it, because I really want Bourn to succeed, I really believe that he is an addition by subtraction guy simply because I think they can find his defense already on the 40-man, and if everything clicks, his offense won’t be missed, nor his speed, or lack of it.
No, I’m not ready for the Tyler Holt era here in Cleveland, although he certainly can play that kind of defense, but I’d be okay if Michael Brantley held down the spot until they found a guy who could take his place.
Hell, what about Jose Ramirez (like I said, I’ll get to him in a second)?
I do think that there are some players in the system that could show up and play center, but freeing up that money would be a big deal.
I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I sure as hell would try.
Hope that Jason Kipnis returns to form offensively, but if he doesn’t, don’t be afraid to put your best team out there
If you’ve read anything that I’ve written over the past fifteen years, you’ll likely have noted that there hasn’t been a bigger proponent for Jason Kipnis than me. I love the way he plays, I love how he wants to carry the entire team on his shoulders and I love that he never really backs down from anyone.
When they moved him to second base, he was clearly better than people were reporting when I saw him in Kinston on a daily basis, even though others were saying that his defense was sub-par.
He wasn’t the best defender in the world, but he was passable.
The best part of Kipnis is that when he’s on, he’s special. I mean, he’s really special.
The problem with Kipnis is that he seems to be either REALLY good, or not-so-much.
This past year, he was not-so-much for much of the time. It killed this team. The Indians signed Kip to six-year, $52.5 million deal, and he played like the .5 million part of it. No, I’m not questioning the guy’s heart. He clearly wants to play. He clearly wants to do well. He clearly wants to win.
…if he doesn’t get better in April, then put your best team on the field. I’m not saying bench Kip, but I am saying that it would be time to perhaps look in another direction at second.
Take that for what it’s worth.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and have a pissing match with all the know-it-alls out there who will discuss how the Indians aren’t going to move Kip from second. I don’t necessarily disagree with that. A lot of those same folks also said that Carlos Santana would likely get a shot to play third the whole year.
Yeah, how did that turn out.
I’m not a swami, and I’m not trying to be one. I just know this team well enough, and especially this manager, that if Kipnis isn’t performing, and if there’s somebody else on the team that can take his spot, then movement would have to be considered.
Should they trade him?
Should they move him to right or to potentially third?
Should they allow him to DH?
Jordan Bastian noted in his recent notes piece that Jason Kipnis “wouldn’t be moving from second base any time soon.” Like I said, I don’t disagree with that, but what is soon really? Is it spring training? Is it a month or two? Is it a season?
They can’t afford not to consider it, especially with players behind him that can way outperform him at second defensively, and can offer an effective bat as well. Kipnis has to step up, or get out of the way.
Jose Ramirez needs to play every day
Last year, I made a case that #JRam could be the starting second baseman, and could supplant Kipnis, or force his move to right. I preached it. I also believed that he could play shortstop, should the Indians deal Asdrubal Cabrera, even though there were plenty of naysayers saying he would be subpar at short.
JRam is special. He’s a special defensive talent, and his offense is equally as special, especially once he becomes familiar with the speed of the big league game. He did a nice job of that as the season progressed in 2014. He can bat lead-off if he had to. He can bad second if he had to. He can bat ninth if he had to.
He needs to play every day.
What I love the best about my #JRam love is that I actually base it on the fact that Terry Francona loves him.
Who should have started at short once Cabrera was dealt? Aviles right?
Nope. Francona has consistently done what managers do when they think highly of a player: he plays him. He skipped High A Carolina last year. He was a call-up on August 31, and was on the playoff roster. He started at short this year once Asdrubal was dealt.
You make the call.
I do, however, agree with the pantheons of people out there that JRam COULD be the odd man out, should Lindor start the year with Cleveland, and I’m totally okay with it.
Because Francona’s not a moron. Jose Ramirez is going to play every day. If Kipnis and Lindor are manning the middle, then you’ll see JRam in that super-utility role. He’ll play some short. He’ll play some second. He’ll likely play some third, and I really think that the Indians could tinker with him in Center Field, should they deal Michael Bourn.
He’s that good.
Trust your eyes.
Trust what he did over the past three months of the season.
Oh, and one more thing. If Jason Kipnis struggles this year, Jose Ramirez will end up at second base. How will it happen?
Use your imagination.
Put Yan Gomes in the middle of the order
Michael Brantley is the #3 hitter, and I’m fine with that. Carlos Santana is the clean-up hitter, and I’m fine with that. It’s time for the Cleveland Indians to put Yan Gomes permanently somewhere more important than the 109 times he hit in the 6-9 spots in the order.
I get it that Francona was protecting his sophomore catcher. It makes sense. He took good care of Santana when he was struggling in the clean-up role. I think he did the same with Gomes last year. Of course, when David freakin’ Murphy is hitting in the #5 spot, I’ve got some issues with that. It’s time for the Brantley/Santana/Gomes era, and it’s time now.
I’m sure our local SABR folks will tell you the positives and the folly of this next statement, but I’m gonna make it anyways: Yan Gomes is on the verge of being a superstar.
He’s growing into his power, hits a ton of line drives, and hits them far and hard. He hit for power, and he hit for average. I think those numbers will get better. I also have a feeling that we’ll see him be a bit LESS aggressive this year.
A LOT of attention has been made with regards to Mickey Callaway and his development of the pitchers.
Looking past Gomes and his offense, is a really solid defensive foundation. Put that together, and you have a star.
I predicted 130 games for Gomes (he played 135) last year, and I follow that with yet another “breakout” year for Gomes next year….
PUT HIM IN THE MEAT OF THE ORDER.
Get a third baseman
Does anyone think that the Lonnie Chisenhall that we saw last year is the Lonnie Chisenhall that we are going to see this year?
My Dad always told me to only believe what people see and do over time, and Chisenhall’s body of work doesn’t breed confidence. I hope this was his “Yan Gomes” year and he’s on the precipice of big things. I just don’t buy it.
If he can hit lefties, he’s a bonus. If he can’t, he needs to go.
He also plays defense like a rock.
The Tribe has to find a better defensive third baseman. No, I don’t mean Jack Hannahan, but I wouldn’t be upset with a one-year deal to a really good defensive third baseman, who can also play other positions.
Oh….wait…we already have one.
Jordan Bastian noted the other day that Mike Aviles would likely see his option picked up, and that the aforementioned Jose Ramirez would likely open the season up at shortstop. I don’t disagree, and it would be interesting to see how those positions shake out come July.
I could see a scenario in which JRam, Aviles and Chisenhall find themselves shuffling a bit, with JRam and Aviles sharing time at short and third, and Chisenhall at third and DH, or even other positions, should they decide to shuffle them around.
Don’t forget about Zach Walters either. I’m intrigued by his untapped ability. They could have a player there.
Also keep your eye on Giovanny Urshela. He’s a guy that has surprised offensively in nearly every league that he’s played in, and is clearly the best defensive third baseman in the organization. He has an interesting bat, and is a guy that has a high ‘learn-ability’ factor. Coaches in the system love his work ethic, and this is a kid that sticks with a program, and eventually figures things out.
Of course, the big leagues are the big leagues.
We’ll see Urshela this year, but I think he’s a year away of being the full-time third baseman. The Indian will want him getting as many reps this year as they can, so I don’t think we’ll see much of him, unless third is in shambles.
If the Tribe decides not to go platoony, they could look to the A’s and free agent Alberto Callaspo. No, I’m not saying Callaspo is the end-all and be-all of third baseman. What he can do is defend, and he can be that stop-gap that can allow a guy like Urshela to get his feet wet. He could also play multiple positions. I know, we have Aviles, but if Francona would prefer to have Aviles play multiple positions, Callaspo could fill in quite nicely. If Aviles played third full-time, Callaspo could take over that utility role as well.
Here’s my question though. Would Callaspo be anything different than a guy like Aviles, or eve Walters or JRam?
Not perfect, but the last thing they’d want to do is grab a guy for multi-years when they could have the answer in the minors.
Josh Donaldson has been bantered about as a potential trade candidate from the A’s as well. What would he cost though?
Too much, but if the Indians could find a steal in a deal there, I wouldn’t mind them knocking on the door. Of course, when they asked for Bauer or Salazar or JRam or Lindor, I would happily slam the door shut. While Donaldson is an enticing player who is locked up through 2019, he’s not a guy that I would consider for the four players mentioned earlier, especially considering that they’d likely ask for two or three of them.
However, If the Indians could trade JRam for Donaldson, while it would make me cry a river bigger than Timberlake did, I would sadly accept it.
Like Bastian said, if the Indians can improve at third base, they should do it. Just try not to hurt my heart, and do you think the A’s and Billy Beane would JUST want JRam?
Not when other teams will be knocking.
Nick Swisher, full-time DH, or Jason Giambi, part deux
Nick Swisher isn’t going anywhere.
Let that collect in your thoughts for a minute, but who in their right mind is going to take a diminishing DH?
So, we have a few folks that are probably yelling at their screens right now: HE’S AN OUTFIELDER AND A FIRST BASEMAN!!!
Really? How’s that worked out so far for the Indians.
Hell, I don’t even want him at DH for all that long. Unfortunately, We’ll likely see Swisher in the lineup with his rebuilt knees and shoulders put together by old gum and twine. Can Swisher be productive?
That’s a hard question to answer when you can’t even be sure that he can stay healthy at this point in his career. With $30 million on the books over the next two years, the Indians need to find him a role in which he can stay healthy, which may just give him a chance to be productive. It’s a longshot, but one that I would love to explore. Personally, if we’re stuck with the contract, then move him slowly into that Giambi role. Sure, that’s one heck of an expensive role player, but if they can maximize money elsewhere (and they already are in their rotation, and with the Lindors and the JRams making under a million), I would do it in a heartbeat.
Minimize his plate appearances if he can’t perform, and get him away from the top five of the lineup. Seeing him anywhere in the top four makes me cringe, and now Yan Gomes is pounding that door, as I mentioned before.
The icing on the cake would be a resurgence in his offensive production. If that doesn’t happen, then make sure this is the best team on the field you can make it, regardless of salary.
I’d really like to see Carlos Carrasco….and Danny Salazar…and Trevor Bauer…and T.J. House give Corey Kluber a run for their money
Last year, I was skeptical of Corey Kluber. I feared a one-hit wonder.
I also hoped for the best.
The optimist in me one.
This year I wonder about the other four starters.
What is the deal with Carlos Carrasco? The guy that we saw over the last two weeks was amazing. He was everything we wanted when Cliff Lee was sent packing, but had a feeling that we would never see. Then there was the glimpse in 2011 that was interrupted a few times by head games.
Enter the end of 2014.
He was essentially a wipe-out pitcher. Do we get that Carlos Carrasco again, or is the carriage turning back into a pumpkin?
Danny Salazar was supposed to be awesome last year, well, according to me. Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite that pitcher. He was good, but you could tell there was a lot left on the table. Was it because he didn’t get off on the right program in 2014, and have the Indians corrected that?
Trevor Bauer rebounded nicely this year, and turned into a battling pitcher who was clearly above what he had ever done at the big league level, especially his lost-2013 season. I have a feeling we are getting just the tip of the iceberg with Bauer, if he stays on the right course. I’m just not sure that the course he is on is Callaway-directed enough to make him special. So…will Callaway step in?
And what about T.J. House. I’m firmly aware of the talent-gap between House and the other three mentioned here, but I’m not sure House sees it that way. I think there’s more there than meets the eye with T.J.. Trust me on that. He has better velocity than you think, and he is a worker. Sometimes when you put that together, you get a really good pitcher…but will the league catch up to him?
It’s going to be fun to watch.
Sign Mickey Callaway to as much as he wants, and as long as he wants
A writer here in the area has a source in the Indians organization that pondered Terry Francona’s future. If you’re to read between the lines there, there’s been some speculation that Francona might not be in for the long haul for a variety of reasons. If that’s the case, I think the Indians obviously would consider Mickey Callaway the heir apparent.
I’m not saying Francona’s walking this year or anything, but there’s a good possibility that his long-term plans don’t involve managing a baseball club. I would love to see the Indians commit the type of money to Callaway that ensures he’s here for a long, long time. If that means they quietly make him the manager-in-waiting, I’m okay with that.
I don’t know that he’d be a great manager, but I’m not sure there were a bunch of people saying that he was going to be this special as a pitching coach at the major league level. Of course, you have to see how he works with his pitchers, as he did here in Carolina in 2011, and at Lake County in 2010. The team ERA’s combined was 3.70, and he made guys like Brett Brach and Clayton Cook fairly special at their respective levels.
The Indians thought highly of him from the start, and I think with another year or two of seasoning from Terry Francona, he can be a special manager going forward.
I kinda hope it’s with the Indians.
The likely line-up:
1. Michael Bourn
2. Jason Kipnis
3. Michael Brantley
4. Carlos Santana
5. Yan Gomes
6. Nick Swisher
7. Lonnie Chisenhall
8. David Murphy
9. Jose Ramirez
But I’d love to plug Francisco Lindor in there somewhere, and love to see David Murphy moved. I’d love to see an upgrade at third, and Kipnis moved to right field, but we shall see.
The likely rotation:
1. Corey Kluber
2. Carlos Carrasco
3. Danny Salazar
4. Trevor Bauer
5. T.J. House
Don’t be surprised if the Indians bring in another starter though. I would be happy with the five that are listed right there though, and honestly think that all, including Kluber, have upside. Imagine this rotation, with an offense that clicks?
Subject to Change!!!