As the Cavaliers and Browns enter what is perhaps the apex of interest over the past decade in Cleveland sports, I cannot help but think about what could happen with the Tribe in 2015. With youth comes a certain optimism, in the modern MLB marketplace, controlled proven youth comes unmatched hubris. For the Indians, this is where we sit.
I enjoy the multitude of articles which highlight who the Indians add, at least as a consumer, but my tact is far different with the thought being, who should the Indians avoid? This question comes with both specific players whom they should be wary of as well as inefficient asset allocation, which should be avoided.
There are three players who headline my list as players to be avoided despite the crush that Indians Twitter will have for them this off-season.
The list includes: Alex Rios, Nelson Cruz, and Andrew Miller.
Alex Rios: The Rangers opted not to pick up the 33 year old’s (34 for 2015) $13.5-million-dollar option and allow him to test the market to see if he can get something close to that deal. One important proviso at the outset of this article, few players should ever be completely avoided because there is always a contract that might be team friendly, yet I am writing this article with expectations of what these players will get paid, and the issues involved with making such gambles.
The thread that will pull all the position players I discuss together is a mixture of age, fit and park factor; for Rios age, park factor, and defense are the three issues.
First, let’s look at age. On the surface, last season looks uncharacteristically poor, one which would trigger the conversation of a potential rebound candidate. Rios posted an absurdly low 2.9% HR/FB, far below his career HR/FB of 8.8%. On the other hand, the second highest BABIP of his career only allowed him to be a replacement-level player. The offense was down, shockingly so but merely using this to project a bounce-back season is foolish.
One would think that we would learn something from the signings of Swisher and Bourn, that the aging curve strikes quickly, even when discussing Swisher, who was one of the most consistent players in baseball for eight years. Yet, we still have interest in players whose skills appear to be declining in their early-mid thirties. Foolishness.
Worth noting the HR ballpark factor at Progressive Field for right-handed hitters was 89, where 100 is neutral, and over 100 is hitter friendly. In Arlington, the HR factor for right-handed hitters is 106. Thus, Rios is suddenly going to regain his power production in a stadium that is awful for right-handed hitters, especially compared to his prior home? Simply an untenable position to take.
As a note, this is part of the right-handed power issue in Cleveland. The park simply brutalizes right-handed hitters, which makes Yan Gomes’ 49 extra base hit season all-the-more impressive. (Seriously people, this guy is unbelievably good. Victor Martinez, loved by Cleveland faithful, only had two seasons better than Gomes in 2014 in his entire career with the Tribe.)
Lastly, let’s discuss Rios’ defense. He was once an average, or even above average defender, but those days are behind us. He is a below-average defender in the outfield, and the Tribe cannot afford to play or add any more defensive liabilities whose best outcome is as a platoon DH.
Indians management, which is much smarter than this mere scribe, stay far away from Alex Rios.
Nelson Cruz: The key concerns are ultimately going to be the same for Cruz as they were for Rios, except Cruz is coming off a 40-home run season, which is going to guarantee plenty of good money thrown after bad.
Secondarily, Cruz has added risk, a prior PED suspension which provides an increased likelihood (minimal but still adds to the risk) of suspension, as well as the potential increase in injury, though we lack the necessary data to speak authoritatively on such subjects.
Once again, we run into the three same reasons why Cruz must be avoided: he is 34, will be 35 by the end of 2015, you will be paying for a 40-home run season that he will never match again, his best season is now behind him and there is a heightened risk of injury. A declining ballpark situation also makes him a massive regression candidate.
A multi-season contract is an almost certainty with the annual average value being set around $16 million minimum. This contract is going to blow up in somebody’s face, and Indians’ general manager Chris Antonetti will not be that guy.
Also, Cruz should never have a glove on his hands, it is something that makes little sense. It is a lot like when Michael Jackson started wearing white gloves, and gloves with sequins. There was no purpose, merely some sort of odd, ancillary stunt. Cruz just shouldn’t bother wearing a glove.
Andrew Miller: 73 games, 62.1 IP, 14.87 K/9!!!! 2.02 ERA, 1.51 FIP
The guy is just awesome, so why would it make sense to stay away? This is a more bullpen construction philosophy then in regard to Miller in particular. There is a distinct possibility that Miller will be $7 million dollar per season, lefty-specialist, back end guy this off-season. This is simply not an effective allocation of resources for a small-market team.
Bullpens are incredibly unpredictable and nearly impossible to construct, no matter how much money one invests in them. Just ask Detroit, which has emptied a large amount of assets and money into a pen that just won’t improve. Andrew Miller’s career offers us interesting insight into the challenge of a bullpen.
Arguably one of the best or the best lefty specialist during the past three seasons, Miller was acquired in an afterthought deal; a formerly loved starting prospect traded in exchange for a middle reliever. That off-season, the Red Sox even non-tendered Miller. The point being that assembling bullpens is generally about collecting as many good, low-cost options (Scott Atchison, Esmil Rogers (for a heartbeat), Bobby Howry) as possible and going with the hot arm. That is in combination with developing relievers and shifting starters who have more aptitude for the bullpen.
For instance, Zach McAllister. If the Indians can acquire more starting pitching as Jim Pete suggests in Corner, McAllister shifting to the bullpen could be a very effective move.
The secondary concern for Miller is one which makes action in our own bullpen essential. The attrition rate among relievers is huge, which we witnessed with Pestano. High-usage guys seem to pay for their success, which means that Allen, Shaw, and Zeppo are all in danger of dead-arm effects. Miller’s usage this season was very high compared to the two seasons prior, which season will it effect him, we don’t know.