The Cleveland Indians line-up at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

Michael Brantley, Jason KipnisI do love the hot stove season at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Sure, it’s become a whole lot more complicated with the advent of social media, but it doesn’t take away from the fun of wondering what’s going to happen next. You have good years and bad years…

Okay, in Cleveland, you often have bad years, and bad years, and good years, and bad years, but there’s always that tinge of potential from day-to-day and week-to-week that the Lake Erie Warriors might bring a new present to put under in the wigwam.

This year, the Indians made the first splash at the Winter Meetings, bringing in Brandon Moss. No, it wasn’t the biggest move, and by Thursday, most had forgotten it, but for one day, the Indians were the talk of the baseball world.

The best thing about acquiring Brandon Moss?

It was universally lauded as a good move, and people are really starting to take the Indians seriously. Talk about a net gain for the Indians, who brought in Moss for a minor leaguer.

How good is Moss? While everyone was laughing at the A’s in 2013 for watching their offense take a hit when they dealt Yeonis Cespedes to Boston for Jon Lester, the baseball purists noted that it was more likely due to Brandon Moss and his hip-induced slump.

If he’s healthy, the Indians are a really good offensive team.

Of course, it was overshadowed by a slew of big moves and free agent signings that have been taking place ever since, but don’t discount the Moss move. If all clicks together, it really could be the deal that puts the Indians  over the playoff top.

Will adding Brandon Moss to the current line-up be enough for the Indians to take the next step? If we’re to be honest, there isn’t likely going to be any more additions of any significance offensively.

If you start with Moss himself, the Tribe immediately addressed their issues with a middle-of-the-order bat. To put it simply, he’s been one of the best offensive players in baseball over the past three seasons with regards to power. While I’ve heard the term platoon with Moss, I just don’t see it that way. He destroys righties, but isn’t embarrassing against lefties. He’ll be playing everyday, and I’m going to assume that it will be in right field, although we’ll likely see him play a smattering at first, DH-ing, as well as left field, should the need arise.

What’s my projected line-up for the Indians? If Kipnis continues to struggle, or doesn’t recover in a timely fashion with yesterday’s surgery, my best guess is it would look like this:

Michael Bourn
Jose Ramirez
Michael Brantley
Carlos Santana
Brandon Moss
Yan Gomes
Jason Kipnis
Nick Swisher
Lonnie Chisenhall

If Kipnis does rebound (and I’ll get to that in a second), you would likely see a lineup that looks more like this:

Michael Bourn
Jason Kipnis
Michael Brantley
Carlos Santana
Brandon Moss
Yan Gomes
Lonnie Chisenhall
Nick Swisher
Jose Ramirez

I’m pretty content with either line-up, all things considered. Is it the Indians of the 1990’s?

Of course not.

Are their holes there?

Of course there is.

When you consider the market for this team, it really is an interesting line-up if everyone stays healthy.

When healthy, Michael Bourn is a pretty good lead-off hitter. By the end of the season, there may be a better candidate or two that joins the team, but I think Bourn still has a good year or two left.

Jose Ramirez is a hell of a lot better than people give him credit for. There is no doubt that his best position is second base, but he is an above average shortstop. Offensively, the more he plays, the better he gets. If he hits .280 with a .320 OBP, I’ll be content, but I do think he’ll hit better than that. I’d like to see him walk more, but what can you do. Don’t forget his speed. In a full season, you’ll see at least 30 stolen bases. Defensively, he’ll be fine, and don’t be surprised if he sees time at second, and it becomes more and more permanent.

Don’t worry, I’ll dedicate a future Corner to Jose Ramirez, and his future with the Cleveland Indians. I’ll let the Hot Stove season settle a bit before I get there, rather than lay out my judgments in the middle of December. Don’t worry, I’ll get there.

Michael Brantley was a top-three MVP candidate last year, and I think still has room to grow. I know that national pundits were more-or-less on the side of caution with Brantley’s future, but if you look closely at his preparation and his improvement, you see there’s more to the story. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Michael Brantley is one of the smartest baseball players in the league. Not only is he an amazing hitting, but he will simply outwork most pitchers in his preparation. He’ll be at the top for the next three or four seasons.

Carlos Santana is already a really good hitter, and I think a year at first base will make him even better. No, I’m not going to get irate at how people in-and-out of Cleveland undervalue him. That’s all fine, and I certainly don’t take it personally, and if you follow Twitter, you know Santana doesn’t either. A healthy Moss will be the best protection Santana has ever had, and could make a push for that clean-up spot. Yan Gomes is a really good hitter, and like Brantley, I don’t think we’re in for a season of regression just yet. As a matter of fact, one could argue that Santana’s move to first helped his offense last year, and he should be the regular there in 2015. I’m going to stop short of predicting 30-and-100, but don’t be surprised if Santana is at least as good as last year. I know there’s an argument regarding protection, but do think Moss hitting fifth will help him.

As to Moss, there’s not a whole lot that I don’t like about the move. Let’s start with the Park Factor that EHC’s Michael Hattery has been talking about for almost two years. Moss hit 76 homers in Oakland in a park that sees 12% less home runs for left-handed hitters. He’s moving to Progressive Field, that see’s almost 10% more home runs for left-handed hitters. No, that’s not saying Moss is going to break Indians’ home run records, but we could see a 30-plus homer year, should he be 100% healthy.

I’m still bullish on Yan Gomes. Last year, many expected a sizable regression for the Indians catcher, and after he struggled in April, most were content they were right. He struggled offensively, and most concerning was his visible drop in defense. It didn’t last though, as he put up a .278/.313/.472 slash in his first full season as a full-time catcher, and hit 21 homers. If he could figure out how to take a walk, I’d boldly say he was a top two or three catcher in all of baseball. Some still argue that point. I think he’ll get more patient. I think he’ll still hit 20 home runs. I know he has the body of work. Yan Gomes is a really good hitter, and a better defender. Just ask his pitching staff.

The fulcrum of this offense isn’t Brandon Moss or Carlos Santana: it’s Jason Kipnis. On Wednesday, Kipnis underwent surgery on his left ring finger to repair his extensor tendon that he injured during a workout a month or so ago.

Kipnis was not only optimistic, but planning on working out:

Prior to this injury, I think I’d have bet a year’s salary that Kipnis would not only come back ready to have a big year offensively, but would show improvement with the glove as well. I like that he’s pissed off at the Cleveland community. I like that Jose Ramirez is with the big league club, and could ultimately push him for his second base job.

To me, that’s a recipe for success for Kipnis, who signed a six-year, $52.5 million deal with the Indians prior to last season.

There’s no doubt he pushed, and there’s no doubt that his early season oblique injury hurt him in that he lost power, but the only noticeable difference in his April prior to the injury were his three homers. At no point was he all that good, and the injury just made things worse.

If you’ve ever talked to Kipnis, or even listened to him, you know that he’s a player that wears it all on his sleeve. I firmly believe he was pushing thanks to his new deal, then playing through the injury, thinking a bad Kipnis is still a benefit to the team.

Now, Kipnis will be injured this offseason.

How will this effect his preparation? He clearly can’t swing. He clearly won’t have the same cardio workouts.

Could it be a benefit? Might this force Kipnis to come to camp with less tread than in previous years?

Let’s hope so.

If Kipnis comes back and has a year that we all know he can have, the Indians not only are contenders, but may be the favorites.

I have no feelings with regards to Nick Swisher. He can’t be worse then last year, but I don’t see him being the guy that was so “pretty good” for so many years. If he’s only the DH, and he stays better than 80%, he will be better than last season.

Then there’s Lonnie Chisenhall.  Does anyone expect him to do what he did last year for about half the season? I don’t. He dropped off the cliff offensively as the year progressed, and is just terrible playing third. If anyone describes him as “good” at any facet next year, I’ll be surprised, and content.

I won’t hold my breath though.

The bench has a chance to be pretty good, with David Murphy, Mike Aviles, Zach Walters, Tyler Holt, Roberto Perez and Ryan Raburn all contending for spots.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Indians with another minor move or two that could effect the 25-man roster offensively as the Hot Stove season progresses, but you’ll likely see their “big moves” come internally.

There are three players in Columbus to really keep your eye on.

Outfielder James Ramsey could make an impact early if the Indians are buying high on him. There are a lot of writers here at EHC that think highly of him, and if the Indians begin making moves with regards to Murphy and Raburn without an outfielder coming in return, Ramsey could be in play. Of course, Moss blocks him from right, so unless there’s an injury and a full-time job available, don’t expect Ramsey yet.

That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if Moss was a one-year, non-tender candidate.

I have gotten trashed over the years for saying that Giovanny Urshela was more than just a glove. Now, people think he’s more than just a glove.

Go figure.

Yes, he has a major league glove. Yes, he still needs some seasoning. Yes, the Indians are high on him. The third baseman sprained his posterior cruciate ligament in his knee in November, and will miss the start of spring training. He won’t be up soon, but he will be up this year, especially if Chisenhall is struggling or injured. Once he gets up here and gets some reps, he won’t be going down any time soon.

The major focus of the offseason will be on Francisco Lindor. I’m pretty sure that he won’t be starting the year off in Cleveland, but I’m also not 100% sold on that. Either way, look for Lindor up before July, unless something happens to Ramirez or Kipnis. The Indians will be careful with Lindor, but he’s more ready than people think. He has a plus glove, and his offensive capabilities get better by the day. You combine that with the speed and make-up, and you have the makings of a really special player.

I don’t talk about Lindor as much as some other prospects simply because he really is special. Sure, anything could happen going forward, but boy, I just don’t see him missing.

This is the year people.

I’ll take a look at the pitching in my next Corner.

While the offense looks pretty good if healthy, you can’t help but worry about the defense. Santana was good last year, but will that continue? Kipnis regressed last year, but will he get better? Jose Ramirez will be good at short, but Chisenhall is just not good.

In the outfield, I love Brantley, even though some others knock his defense. Bourn is regressing. Moss is a below-average defender.

Lindor will be up, and that will help. Urshela could be up, and that would help too. I still salivate over Lindor and Ramirez in the same infield, and think it will happen at least a few times this year.

All that said, I don’t see anything with any regularity that will improve this defense, and that could be the death knell of their playoff chances.

It really could.

Should we really be worried about Moss and his hip? The easy answer is no.

Mike Lowell had the same surgery at the age of 34 in 2008. In 2009, he hit .290, with 17 homers and 75 RBI, which were nearly identical numbers as he had in the year the injury occurred.

Likewise, a 29-year old Chase Utley had the same surgery during the same season, and came back with a .282/.397/.508 slash, with 31 homers and 93 RBI.

As a matter of fact, many major athletes have had a similar surgery and returned to 100%, or better. Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas had the surgery when he turned 35 after the 2009-2010 season, then returned and broke the NHL record for save percentage, won the Vezina Trophy for best goalie and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, as his team won the Stanley Cup.

In a 2011 study, 95% of professional athletes were able to return to their previous level of competition. Sure, the older you are, the bigger the cautionary tale. The age of concern is 35, since that’s when you begin to see cartilage damage and usually require more surgery sooner, rather than later.

Moss didn’t appear to have any sort of issues during surgery, and all doctors involved, including Cleveland’s medical team, have said they expect a full recovery. He should be okay.

Yes, Matt LaPorta had this surgery when he was 24-years old in 2009, and really was never the same player he was predicted to be. It was clear the hip condition was chronic, as he needed more surgery after the 2012 season, which more-or-less ended his major league career.

That’s the exception, not the rule.

Look for Moss to rebound and be ready by opening day, but don’t be surprised if the Indians take their time with him.

Everybody Hates Cleveland isn’t going anywhere! We are working on some things behind the scenes to bring you a better product as the new year approaches, and hope you’ll come every day and check them out. Like I said from the start, I love this community that I’ve been a part of over the past 14 years, and look forward to the next 40 or 50.

As things begin coming together, we’ll make the announcement here, as well as the other sites that we’ll be affiliated with!

Keep an eye out for big changes in 2015!

I’ll take a look at the Gavin Floyd signing, and the overall pitching in my next Corner, coming sooner than you think!!

Jim Pete is a founder and Managing Editor at Everybody Hates Cleveland. Today, he’ll be bemused at the need for people to be right on Jose Ramirez being a utility player. Anything can happen, but what happened to waiting to see a MLB body of work? Meh… Follow Jim on twitter @JimPeteEHC if you love Family Feud, and follow our website twitter@evrybdyhatescle, won’t you? If you do, Mike Hattery will get married…seriously.

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2 thoughts on “The Cleveland Indians line-up at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

  1. Pingback: The Gavin Floyd gamble at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario | Everybody Hates Cleveland

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