The 2014 season is in the books here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, and while the like-minded and often-compared-to-Cleveland-Kansas City Royals are currently preparing to play in Game 2 of the 2014 World Series, our Indians are already three weeks into their offseason. While it’s easy to look back on the 2014 season and wonder what went wrong, it’s time to gaze into the 2015 crystal ball as the Indians prepare for an offseason in which Chris Antonetti will look to regain some of the momentum of the 2013 season.
There are many that contend that the 2014 season continued that momentum, as the Indians followed their 92-win playoff season with another 85 wins. No, the win total didn’t improve, but you could make a case that there were several factors working against the Tribe, including some well-payed players that had many wondering why they were well-payed.
With that said, you could equally make a case that the finer points of this team improved greatly.
Michael Brantley is a borderline star after his 7.0/6.6 WAR (baseball reference/fangraphs) season. The only two things holding him back from true star status are the facts that he plays in Cleveland, and doesn’t really have the ‘body of work’ quite yuet.
Corey Kluber is the potential Cy Young award winner here in 2014. His stats are so sublime, that you could make a case that it’s a top ten performance in the history of Cleveland Indians’ pitching. If you don’t believe me, check out #EHC’s Steve Orbanek, who made a good case for it on Monday.
Yan Gomes is a top five catcher in all of baseball. Gomes’ 4.4 WAR is fourth in the league, and third when you take into account eligible players with regards to at bats. He mowed down 32% of basestealers, and while he struggled defensively the first month or so, he was one of the top two or three in the league from mid-May on. While Mickey Callaway receives much of the credit for the Indians’ pitching bravado, does anyone doubt that Gomes’ emergence doesn’t have an equal impact? Seriously. Ponder the Indians staff last September. Who was catching?
I could go on-and-on, mentioning the good pieces to this club, and if you closed your eyes and really listened to my sweet Indians’ nothings, you would think the Indians would be warming up for their World Series appearance.
But they just weren’t good enough.
I don’t think they are as far as others do from being not only good enough, but special. While I’d love to see the Indians deal for a Stanton or another big name, it’s just not going to happen. Instead, the Indians have to improve what they can. They have to improve the defense up the middle, and overall. They have to get their current roster’s struggling hitters right. They have to continue to develop the guys that are close.
If they do that, and add one key piece, I think they immediately up their win total to 90-plus. It sounds like a lot, but I don’t think it really is.
And I normally think it really is.
The goal of this team when they signed Terry Francona changed. The goals changed from maintenance to actual winning, and that’s exactly what has happened the past two season. Perhaps they were backwards with regards to win totals, but you could really make a case that this front office foresaw everything that happened last year and this, even if it did happen the wrong way.
What’s certain about this club heading into 2015?
Obviously you’ll have Gomes, Kluber, Brantley and Carlos Santana leading this team from their respective positions. Gomes will most certainly be manning the catcher position, with Kluber acing out, and Brantley roaming left field. Santana will likely find most of his at bats at first base or DH, with some catcher in between. How much likely depends on a few mitigating factors, including the fate of Nick Swisher, whose two seasons here in Cleveland mirror the first two years that Ubaldo Jimenez graced the mound for the Tribe.
The coaching staff feels fairly settled, and I couldn’t be happier with that.
It’s been fun learning about the good and the bad of Terry Francona. He is the ultimate player’s manager, and he owns the Indians’ locker room. Think about this: he introduced himself to every Cleveland Indians’ player, even if it meant flying to their house. I’ve never heard him say one bad thing about a player, or if he accidentally did, he masterfully spun it as a positive. He understands the psyche of being a major league manager.
It’s truly a wonder to behold.
He’ll be back.
Sure, Francona does rely on veterans and the old faithful a little too much for my liking, but if you think about the response he’s gotten from players you wouldn’t expect it from, it’s truly something special. His rotation trusts him to a fault, and while the bullpen might be used too much, they respond when they are healthy, and trust their spots.
Mickey Callaway will also likely be back, and that’s a relief. Like Francona Callaway is as hands on as they get. He has always been high on the Indians’ list of potential big league coaches. In my talks with him back in 2011, you could tell that he had the ability to understand his pitching staff. Brett Brach, a long time Tribe minor-leaguer excelled under Callaway’s tutelage. He spent his best seasons with Callaway, and often pointed to his pitching coach for the advantage.
Callaway’s M.O. has always been to make pitchers better than the sum of their parts. Pitchers like Kluber and Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez are perfect Callaway counterparts, and you will likely see the Indians looking for more this offseason (Josh Johnson).
I know there’s a groundswell of white and black with Ty Van Burkleo. If you look at the Indians’ offensive numbers this year, they don’t really look bad. I get that.
What concerns me about the Indians’ offense is that there is a lot left in the dugout for specific players. No, you can’t knock Van Burkleo for the failings of Jason Kipnis without preaching the successes of Brantley, but I do think it’s a fair question to ask whether or not he’s the right guy for the job. I don’t think he’s going anywhere, but if you look into Francona’s past, he has made subtle moves that have improved the team for the long haul.
In 2006, Dave Wallace moved on as pitching coach, and in his stead, Francona hired John Farrell. Could we see a move there this year? Not likely, but sometimes tinkering could add new dynamics for certain players. Of course, that’s not always a positive.
The only question that I have with regards to the coaching staff is Sandy Alomar Jr.. He has an eye on a bigger prize, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take a lateral move to another team so that he can get noticed. He’s behind some names here in Cleveland, and while he’s getting noticed, I’m not sure that he’ll ever be seen as an entity all to himself.
That said, our coaching staff is as good as it gets in the majors. Keep an eye on Matt Quatraro and Brad Sarbaugh. Both are highly thought of, especially Sarbaugh. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sarbaugh as this team’s hitting coach of the future.
There’s a lot of good on this team. I simply love the pitching staff, even though I’m always wary of pitching, both in the bullpen and the rotation.
I’m not going to spend ANY time talking about Corey Kluber, past saying that he’s a stud today, tomorrow, and the near future. Anything can happen, but this past season gave Kluber the key ingredient for me: “Body of Work.” The interesting piece to all of this is that I think there’s upside to his game. If this team improves their defense, he could really improve.
Imagine that: Corey Kluber could really improve.
Past Kluber, the rotation is so tasty. I’m going to start with the lefty, T.J. House. He’s the most likely not to be in this rotation next year, but as the only lefty, he has an interesting foot in the door. I’ll have a piece on House soon, where I’ll take a closer look at his crafted career, but as it stands now, I want him starting. This is a lefty that has big league velocity, and has that intangible that all good pitchers have. He’s tenacious, and he has a short memory.
There’s more there, including upside. It was Mickey Callaway who once told me that House was a kid who could really be special if he figured out how to throw strikes. Funny that four years later, he’s with Callaway and the Indians, and throwing strikes. I don’t know where he’ll start the year off in 2015, but I guarantee you he’ll be a factor in the big league rotation. My hope is that he has one of those “walk-off” springs, and just takes off from there.
He has more upside than people think.
Then there is Carlos Carrasco. I feel the same way about Carrasco as I did about Kluber last year. What I like better about Carrasco this year is that his stuff is so unreal. Sure, Kluber’s was as well, but I do think Carrasco’s “out-stuff” is more devastating, if that’s possible. I still have questions about his ‘body of work,’ but if he can come out and keep his head on straight, he very well could be the best starter on this team next year.
He’s that good. I mean, his FIP was 2.44, and his xFIP was 2.66.
I still haven’t talked about the starter I’m most excited about, and that’s Danny Salazar. The Indians handled him wrong last year. I said it last April, and the Indians agreed with me in August. They won’t make that mistake again this year. I do agree with many more than I did last year that he does have to vary his pitches, and make his secondary offerings more effective, but I also think the Francona-Callaway duo have Salazar in their sights.
His upside is immense, and over the long-haul, I really believe he’s going to be the pitcher that Indians’ fans remember the most. He’s going to win multiple Cy Youngs. I just hope that it’s with the Indians.
My biggest concern is Trevor Bauer.
Look, he was really good last year, and he took really positive steps. I still think that he has a ways to go though, and I have zero confidence that the mind of Bauer is enough to fix things. That said, Bauer seemed amicable to management as the year progressed, and his statements about his fellow rotation-mates was fairly impressive.
His stuff is electric.
I just can’t figure out if he’s going to be anything more than the struggling Fausto Carmona or Ubaldo Jimenez. We know the upside.
With all of that said, the Indians need to solidify their rotation with a couple of moves. The guy that’s been on my radar from the start is Josh Johnson, the Padres starter who missed all of last season thanks to Tommy John surgery. The Padres have a $4 million option on Johnson, but it’s likely they won’t pick it up. If they don’t, the Indians better sign him.
He could be special.
Another interesting option could be a pitcher from Japan, in Kenta Maeda. The problem with Maeda is that he’s likely going to garner some big money teams. If he falls to the middle though, I could see the Indians getting in the mix for the 26-year old pitcher. There some innings on that arm, but I do think they could be at play. If not, Francisco Liriano is still a name I would consider, and even a guy like Jason Hammel, although he’d be much further down the list.
Then there’s Colby Lewis, who I mentioned last week. He’s 35, and has a brand new hip. Just what the Indians need, right? A grandpa with a bum hip. Look closer at his second half. He could be exactly what the Indians need, a low cost supplemental starter with some actual upside.
I may get hit for this last name, but what about Justin Masterson? If the Indians could get him on the cheap, wouldn’t he be worth a flier at the back-end of this rotation? Listen, he induces a butt-load of ground balls. If the defense didn’t suck, would Masterson improve? The best think here, as my good friend Steve Orbanek has stated many times, Masterson can be utilized in the bullpen. Put him there, and move him out as needed.
No, these aren’t “going for broke” moves per se, but the Indians can’t just sit around and hope for the best. They need to add options, and these are free agent options that would work.
I like the lineup as well, and while I’ll get hit for this, I think they COULD add very little and be very good.
Yan Gomes isn’t as good as he’s going to be. I said it last year, and I’ll say it again. His value as a hitter, and a receiver can’t be quantified.
First base is likely wrapped up as well, with Carlos Santana (who was surprisingly good) and Nick Swisher manning the position all year, and likely swapping in and out of the DH slot. I wouldn’t be opposed to an upgrade here, and a move of Santana to the DH role permanently, but Swisher’s multi-millions will likely prevent that. No way he plays in right field next year, as some suggest. He’s too brittle.
That said, Santana has settled in as a consistent 25-20 home run hitter, and he’s a SABR-god. Look, he has his flaws, regardless of what many say about him, but he’s certainly a fantastic player on many levels. He does have negatives though, although when you broach that subject, there’s a faction that slam the mere thought of Santana not being ultra-special and angelic.
Don’t you hear the harp music when he smiles your way?
Second and Third simply have to be upgraded defensively, and this, to me, is the key to this team in 2015.
At third, I’m all in on the Indians dealing Lonnie Chisenhall for a reliever or some Double or Triple A starter, and going all out to wrap-up Chase Headley for one-year deal at third. Headley is an amazingly good defender, and he’s done nothing to improve his value. In a perfect world, I would love to see Headley at third for the Indians. Of course, there are predictors out there saying a four-year deal in the realm of $12 million a year are in the works for Headley. If that’s the case, the Indians are out.
I don’t think that’s the case.
What a get he would be for a one-year, incentive-laden deal. Give him the Juan Gonzalez deal, and season Giovanny Urshella in his stead. It would be perfect. Spend the freakin’ money and go and get him. Imagine this rotation WITH THIS GUY AT THIRD. Then, watch Urshela for years to come afterwards. He’s better than many of the trusted experts think. I’ve loved him for three years. Don’t be fooled.
Urshela will be good.
At second, Jason Kipnis DESERVES whatever time the Indians give him to figure things out offensively. If he’s the good Kipnis next year, you just deal with the defense. He’s not deplorable, but when he’s bad offensively, everything else tends to go south. So, you give him a chance. I alluded to moving him last week, and I’ll continue to do that as long as he leaves the room to allow me to continue doing that.
At short, Jose Ramirez will start there, but I do think there’s a better than 50% chance that Francisco Lindor could take that away from him sooner rather than later. My man Al Ciammaichella discussed Lindor’s “special-ness” on Sunday. I’ll fight Al to the death on the fact that I love him more, but we both are on the same page there. He is truly a special player, and his offense is much better than most will give credit for.
The risk here would be to just put him at short, shuffle #JRam to second, and GRAB HEADLEY. Holy cow, what a change that would be. I would argue that Jason Kipnis BELONGS in right field long term. I’ve heard some interesting discussions about Kipnis having a weak arm, or an inability to play the outfield, which is hilarious. The Indians moved him to second because his skills would make him a plus second baseman offensively. I’ve talked to several scouts over the years that have raved about him as an infielder, mostly based on ethic, but they’ve always said that he could play the outfield pretty well.
Now, the Indians have invested a boatload of money on him at second base, so they won’t move him on a whim. Of course, they tried Santana at third, didn’t they.
Raise your hand if you saw that coming. Most of us, like the minions we are, were predicating greatness for Santana at third. I know, that doesn’t bode well for a move to right for Kipnis, but ignore the common sense for a moment.
Suspend your disbelief, and look at that infield.
Lindor and #JRam would be one of the top two or three up-the-middles in baseball, and with Headley at third, and then Urshela, it would be like an iron vice.
Now put Kluber on the mound.
In all honesty, PUT KIPNIS ON THE MOUND WITH THOSE THREE.
While hyperbolic, you get my point. The team immediately improves.
I still think Bourn has something to offer if he can stay healthy in center, but I wouldn’t be opposed to moving him if some idiotic team would want him. I also wouldn’t be opposed to moving Brantley there, should another option become available. I think the outfield has some interesting pieces.
Ryan Raburn needs to go. I also think Mike Aviles should be a casualty as well, even though he likely won’t be, according to Jordan Bastian and Anthony Castrovince. Going against those two would be like trying to run up the middle on the 70’s Steelers or ’85 Bears. Still, a man can dream, right.
Would I be okay with Brantley in Right, Bourn in Center, Kipnis in right, and perhaps taking a flier on a guy like, gulp, Grady Sizemore.
Alright…alright…settle down back there. I’m talking about a fourth outfielder here, and while he looked like dog do-do on the bottom of my shoe in Boston, he was pretty darned good in Philadelphia this year. He can be a really good part-time corner outfielder, and you can get him cheap.
Perhaps a one-year, $5 million deal?
I joke…I joke…
Of course, David Murphy is still a part of this team, as is Raburn, but I’d make sure both were on other teams starting the 2015 season. I won’t argue this point anymore, and I won’t let basic knowledge of baseball let whispers and innuendo dissuade me again. These guys are “lightning in a bottle” sort, and I am sick of that elusivity.
Murphy is just not good, and don’t whisper voodoo either.
Now, if you REALLY want to make a big splash, you go out and get Headley on a one-year deal. Then, you give Victor Martinez a call. The problem with VMart is that the Tigers will most assuredly offer him a qualifying offer, which will kill any deal the Indians would likely offer him.
But, call him anyways.
I would LOVE to see him back with the Tribe, but it just doesn’t make any sense.
But…I would LOVE to see him back with the Tribe…
(the move makes no sense…none at all…but I can’t help but ponder now and again)
The one move that DOES make sense involved Chase Headley. Give him a call and tell him, “Hey Chase, here’s what we can do for you. We can give you a special one-year deal that will allow you to open the eyes of the rest of the big leagues. In turn, you help us develop our youngster at third, and in the meantime, get us to the World Series.”
I do think it’s that easy, and I did say World Series. This team has upside if the defense will allow it to show. There is help in the minors and a coaching staff that can get the best out of a team. There is a pitching staff, and an understanding of how to build a bullpen. There are really good offensive players on this team, and more upside than people realize.
Just go out and get Chase Headley. He isn’t the best free agent, and he’s a bit sell low, but for the Indians, he could be the Pot of Gold at the end of the Rainbow.
I know that isn’t the splash and panache that many want, but I just don’t think the Indians are as far away as others do. If they can get Headley, could swing a surprise trade or two, and replenish the bench, the momentum will surely continue in 2015.
How far could they go?
Where’s Kansas City right now?
Jim Pete is a founder and Senior Editor at Everybody Hates Cleveland, the former Senior Editor and Columnist at Indians Baseball Insider, and a darned nice guy. Follow him on twitter @JimPeteEHC, and follow the site twitter @evrybdyhatescle. We’re witty and exciting, trust me.