Tag Archives: justin masterson

Indians sign Kluber and Carrasco long-term; Buck 20 year trend in the process

In the last week, the Indians front office has bucked a trend dating back to the great teams of the 1990s

On Sunday, the Cleveland Indians announced they had signed 2014 AL Cy Young recipient and staff ace, Corey Kluber, to a 5 year $38.5 million deal and two additional club option years worth $13.5 million and $14 million respectively. The deal also includes escalators based on where Kluber finishes in the AL Cy Young race between 2015-18. Over those years, it could increase Kluber’s deal to nearly $77 million.

Kluber said that he “wanted to be here” and “that was the driving force behind it for me”.

Then, on Tuesday, the Indians announced the contract extension of SP Carlos Carrasco. His deal spans 4 years and is worth approximately $22 million. It also includes club options for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

Carrasco said “They never gave up on me. They always gave me the opportunity. That’s what they did last year. They gave me a big opportunity and I didn’t waste it. I took it and I think everything has worked out.”

There are two things here that are relevant and important to the story at hand:

  1. Both pitchers want to be here. They see the value in being a pitcher in this organization
  2. The Indians front office signed both pitchers to long term extensions; something they do not have a history of doing. Ever.

Both pitchers want to be here

I think the most interesting part of this collection of signings is the players involved see value in being a part of the team. The brand that the front office, Tito, and the coaching staff is building is one that appeals to players. That’s huge when teams are competing for free agents and money becomes a non-factor. The next question an agent may ask of the teams in contention are the culture in the locker room, living quality of the city in question, etc. Cleveland is on an uptick and the culture on the team is one that is contagious; players and people want to be around it.

The Indians front office signed both pitchers to long term extensions

The Indians are notorious for not signing starting pitchers to long term extensions. They’re so notorious that I even addressed the issue in an article during spring training last year – Well Masty, It was nice knowing you – and made the point several points that fly in direct conflict with what has happened over the past week. It’s funny because I ended the article with the line “Our players are assets. We must always remember that. Enjoy the time your favorites are here because you can always count on contracts staying short in Cleveland.”

It would appear that this year, my summation does not apply.

This following chart from Tony Lastoria’s (of Indians Baseball Insider) article last year around the same time (@TonyIBI) shows just how out of character these signings are with respect to history:

TABLE 1

PLAYER CONTRACT
Charles Nagy 4 years, $24 million
Jake Westbrook 3 years, $33 million
Chuck Finley 3 years, $27 million
C.C. Sabathia 3 years, $24.75 million
Paul Byrd 3 years, $21 million
Jack McDowell 2 years, $9.5 million
Dennis Martinez 2 years, $9 million
Dwight Gooden 2 years, $5.5  million
Orel Hershiser 2 years, $3 million

 

Clearly, Corey Kluber’s deal in particular surpasses anything (in terms of time) that has been agreed upon in the past 20+ years.

 

The core of the Indians is locked in and the time to compete is now

With players like Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco locked up for the long term, the Indians’ front office clearly believes they can compete and compete for years to come. With players like Lindor, Frazier and others in the minors continuing their respective developments, the Indians will continue to compete after some of the deals with current deals being to expire.

It’s an exciting time to be an Indians fan. Not just because of the short term potential of this year, but also the potential to compete over the long haul.

Go Tribe & remember to tune in to the Tribe Time Now podcast every week at tribetimenow.com/subscribe for the latest Tribe news and opinions from your favorite sports writers, bloggers, and opinionists.

Indians Stand Pat While AL Central Foes Acquire Talent

The winter meetings came and went. The Indians traded minor league 2B prospect Joey Wendle to the Oakland A’s for LH power bat Brandon Moss.

But that’s it.

The rest of the winter meetings blew ball in a whirlwind as every other AL Central foe made acquisitions to increase their respective chances of taking home the 2015 AL Central crown. To say that the AL Central will be the toughest division in baseball this year may be an understatement.

Let’s go through each team’s acquisitions quickly:

Cleveland

Detroit

Minnesota

Chicago

Kansas City

Brandon Moss

Yoenis Cespedes Ervin Santana Jeff Samardzija Jandel Gustave

Brett Hayes

Alfredo Simon David Robertson Yohan Pino

Adam Moore

Alex Wilson Dan Jennings

Alex Rios

Destin Hood Gabe Speier Rob Brantly

Kendrys Morales

Jerry Sands Melky Cabrera
*Indicates best acquisition

 

I believe that’s everyone.

It’s apparent that Minnesota did the least so far out of the five teams in the Central. Every other team cut the deals necessary to make themselves a contender in 2015. The White Sox have made the most drastic changes to their lineup going into 2015. The additions of Jeff Samardzija and David Robertson immediately turn around a staff that was in the bottom five in the league for nearly every major pitching statistic. The 1-2 punch of Sale and Samardzija is going to be rough for teams that catch Chicago at the beginning of their rotation. Adding Melky Cabrera give the White Sox a solid 1-4 hitter who, last year, hit .301/.351/.458 with 35 2B, 16 HR and 73 RBIs (If Melky could have come cheaply, I was secretly hoping the Indians would make a run at him to bolster the outfield, but alas, it was not to be).

For Detroit, the additions of Yoenis Cespedes and Alfredo Simon are just icing on the cake for a lineup that is already loaded with juicy talent.

Think of it this way: The 3-4-5 combination of J.D. Martinez, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez was pretty scary in 2014. Now add Yoenis Cespedes to that mix.

That’s not even fair. That reminds me of the ’27 Yankees lineup that featured Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri. They are going to smash homeruns and rack up a ton of extra-base hits. Pitchers will go into the Tigers’ den with low ERAs and come out limping.

The worst part: They’re in our division.

2014 AL Pennant winners, the Kansas City Royals, didn’t make nearly as much noise as our friends from the state up north, but they were able to sign Luke Hochevar to a new deal and as recently as the writing of this article, signed Alex Rios to an $11 million deal. The Royals, like the Indians, focus on building through their farm system rather than through large trades and FA signings. It showed during the winter meetings. The Royals added Kendrys Morales to fill Billy Butler’s vacancy and the Rios signing fills the hole left by the departure of Norichika Aoki to FA.

So at long last, we come to our wahoo warriors; our protectors of the Cuyahoga: The Cleveland Indians.

The Indians were one of the first teams to take the dive during winter meetings with their deal for Brandon Moss. In my article last week, I delved into what the Moss addition means for the Tribe moving forward. To summarize: Moss is a great LH power hitter that will help bolster the middle of the lineup and create runs if the top of the lineup can get on base.

After that deal though, the front office shut it down. I’m sure there were deals out there that just didn’t get made. I know for a fact the Indians were on the short list to sign FA pitcher Brett Anderson. The issue is, and always has been, money. Brett Anderson got $10 million from the Dodgers. Ervin Santana got 4 years/$48 million. Justin Masterson got $9 million with $500 incentives for innings pitched from the Red Sox. The Indians just don’t have that kind of money to throw around, especially considering how over-valued the latter players are. I don’t know what world Brett Anderson is worth $10 million, but it certainly shouldn’t be this one. Same goes for Ervin Santana. The Dodgers and Red Sox are both in the top 10 in salary spending year in and year out. They can afford to overpay a low-risk/high-reward pitcher and eat the cost if he blows up in their face. The Indians, and other small-market teams cannot say the same.

That brings up another slew of issues that I’ll save for another article.

To counter the lack of moves made during winter meetings, the Indians signed C Brett Hayes, C Adam Moore, 1B/OF Destin Hood and OF Jerry Sands to minor league contracts with spring training invites yesterday (12/15). All four players have varied stints of major league experience, but the most intriguing contract (for me anyway) is Jerry Sands. Sands was well-regarded by the Dodgers during his time there. He plays great defense and is a right handed power bat (THANK GOD). The problem is his lack of major league experience. He only has 97 major league plate appearances against left handed pitching, he has a slash line of .289/.340/.511 and, according to fangraphs.com, a wOBA of .483 (ridiculously good). This is the first time that I’ve calculated wOBA (an offensive statistic that tells a deeper story than say just batting average or just slugging percentage). If he can shine in Triple-A Columbus this season, I don’t see what he couldn’t see some playing time around the All-Star break if Michael Bourn is struggling to stay healthy.

There’s still plenty of time to add talent, but the pool is considerably smaller than it was just a week ago. The Indians are going to need to spend money if they want to compete, especially in an AL Central that has bulked up considerably. With less than 70 days until pitchers and catchers report, the next 2-3 weeks are going to be very telling of what the front office is planning over the course of the rest of the off season.

That’s all for this week.

Go Tribe!

Cleveland Indians Weekly: A Lot of talk, not a lot of movement

 

It’s been a pretty big week for player movement in the MLB thus far

The deal involving the Oakland A’s and Toronto Blue Jays was the centerpiece of this week’s marketplace.

In exchange for 3B Josh Donaldson, the A’s received 2B/3B Brett Lawrie and three minor-leaguers (High-A Pitchers Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman & teenage shortstop Franklin Barreto).

In my opinion, this signals that the A’s are entering a period of rebuilding even though Billy Beane hasn’t overtly made that decision known to the general public. Donaldson has a WAR north of 7.4 the past two seasons and is one of the best players in the game today. In a world where he has to compete with the likes of Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, his true influence is left nearly unnoticed.

From the Blue Jays side of the equation, there are a few things that are clear:

1. They think they have what it takes to compete AND win the A.L. East in 2015

2. The power moves by the Boston Red Sox (signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez) signaled a “Power” arms race in the N.L. and the other four teams had a very short time to decide if they wanted to jump in. Clearly New York is nowhere near the point where it can hope to compete  in 2015. Their superstar hung up his cleats for good, it’s rotation is unproven and its infield is decimated from just a few years ago. The Orioles are seeing some of their rising stars hit free agency and take the opportunity to test the market (See: Nick Markakis), but they retain many of the pieces that helped them win the division by 10+ games in 2014. Finally, the Rays have lost skipper Joe Maddon to Chicago and unless everything comes together in 2015, I just don’t see them even competing through the All-Star break.

Some minor rumblings…

There were some other smaller moves around the league and the Indians have been linked to the likes of free agent and former SEA 1B/DH Kendrys Morales and NYY 3B Chase Headley. Whether anything happens with those players, it’s too early to know. Considering we already have Carlos Santana, I guess I don’t see the point in being linked to Morales unless the thinking is that he and Carlos would split 1B/DH duties. As for Headley, we’ve basically moved away from that deal, but it’s interesting that were looking at a 3B when we have Lonnie Chisenhall. While some people think Chisenhall had this crazy good season, he honestly didn’t. He came out smoking into June and then just deflated. His slash line at the end of the season was .280/.343/.427. Above average, but nothing to write extensively about, in my opinion. If that slugging percentage goes up by oh, I don’t know, 50-60 points and his SO/W ration comes down from 3, then we can talk.

In the same breath, we can also say that FA and former Tribe ace Justin Masterson is garnering interest from every team in the AL Central in addition to a handful of other teams in the AL and NL East & NL Central. Again, WAY to early to tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team pull the trigger on him around the time of the winter meetings or a little before.

The real talk…

Has been around what to do with Nick Swisher. Nick’s contract has about $30 million left on it and, after last year, many are speculating that the Indians front office is shopping his contract around to see what they can get for him. I’ve never been a “fan” of Swisher per se. Last year was definitely a blip on the radar. Swisher has never played as badly (or as few games) as he did last season. The front office must see it as the beginning of his post-prime regression. I would give him one more year. If he had played a full season, I guarantee his numbers would have rebounded somewhat.

If the Indians are looking to unload a contract…

They should look at Michael Bourn. Bourn is in the middle of his 4 year/$48 Million contract and he still has upside that may be appealing to some teams. If the front office could package Bourn and a few prospects (that are not off the table (See: Lindor, Frazier, Naquin, etc) for PHI P Cole Hamels, that could be a smart move. Hamels is owed $90 million through ’18, but he is going to be cheaper than many of the current FA P on the market. The problem with this deal is: The Phillies are an old team. When I say old, I mean OLD. The Phillies want one thing and one thing only: Young talent. We have young talent. We have a lot of it. But the Phillies are going to want our best and brightest, especially after Cole Hamels finished 6th in the NL Cy Young race and delivered a a 3.07 FIP, 3.37 SO/W and 5.0 WAR. I’m thinking they’ll request Lindor and/or Naquin and our front office will laugh all of the way out of their offices and make a joke about old age, dinosaurs, etc (at least I would).

You may have heard…

That the Indians and Red Sox are poking around the idea of a trade involving Yoenis Cespedes for a few of our major-league tested young pitchers (Bauer and Salazar). Don’t believe it for a second. Carrasco, Bauer and Salazar are propped up for Big seasons this year, and the front office is not going to damage what could be the best young rotation in the majors for a 1 year rental on a guy who regressed on a really bad Red Sox team. Mark my words: Cespedes will be dealt by the All-Star Break this year (or earlier). He’s goign to be dealt to a dumb team on the cusp of playoff-relevancy with a lot of young talent to unload. I’m thinking Brewers.

Interested in meeting AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber?

Or MVP finalist Michael Brantley? Check out Tribefest, held January 24th and 25th at Progressive Field. I’ve included the link here. Last year, the area got hammered with bad winter weather and I was unfortunately unable to go, but from what I heard from my friends on Twitter, it was the greatest thing next to opening day. I highly recommend going if you’d like a chance to take a picture with one of your favorite players or get an autograph. Tickets are on sale now and are going quick!

As the weeks progress, I’ll be sure to cover any deals or signings by the Indians. Because this is the downtime for the MLB, I’m going to be doing in-depth profiles of the players who I believe will get the starting nod on Opening Day 2015. I’d like to include snippets of conversations with fans, so, if you have an opinion about starters in 2015, make sure you leave a comment and let’s talk!

I love ya Cleveland. Roll Tribe!

Cleveland Indians Thanksgiving

 

First off, I want to wish all of you readers out there a Happy Thanksgiving!

For the first time in several years, Cleveland sports fans can actually be thankful for their teams. That got us thinking at MTAF: Cleveland — What would different members of the professional organizations be thankful for as they sat around the table sharing Thanksgiving dinner?

As a fan of the Cleveland Indians, I attempted to delve into the mindsets of several different members of the organization, trying to ascertain what they would be giving thanks for.

Chris Antonetti & Mark Shapiro

My first thought with regard to what Chris and Mark would be thankful for would be getting Terry Francona to come on board and coach the Tribe. But then I sat back and looked at the larger picture. If I was Chris or Mark, I would be thankful for how well the trades they’ve made over the past ten years have worked out. Just look at how a handful of the following trades worked out (in terms of production) for the Indians:

Year CLE Sends CLE Receives
2002 Ryan Drese & Einar Diaz Travis Hafner
2008 Casey Blake Carlos Santana
2009 Victor Martinez Justin Masterson & Nick Hagadone
2006 Ben Broussard Shin-Soo Choo
2006 Eduardo Perez Asdrubal Cabrera
2002 Bartolo Colon Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips & Cliff Lee

And those are just a few of the trades that have been made. Think about this: In a three team deal involving the Cardinals and the Padres, we gave up veteran pitcher Jake Westbrook and received 2014 AL Cy Young Winner Corey Kluber. Had Matt LaPorta worked out better, the Sabathia deal (which included 2014 MVP finalist and Silver Slugger award winner Michael Brantley) would have been seen as more genius than the Colon deal.

As Mark and Chris pass the gravy boat, they’re going to be giving thanks that so many of their trades worked out so well.

Terry Francona

As Terry Francona rides his scooter to the store to pick up cranberry sauce, I imagine he too will think about what he’s thankful for. I would venture a guess that he’s thankful for several things:

1. His health

2. Mickey Callaway

Tito has probably never worried about his health (see: Urban Meyer). I’m not old by any stretch (I’m 23). I’ve found out that older men are thankful for their health, regardless of how healthy they actually are. Next, Tito should be counting his lucky starts that he has Mickey Callaway sitting on his bench coaching up his pitchers. Think about 2013. Mickey Callaway turned around a struggling Ubaldo Jimenez into quite possibly the best pitcher of the second half in the American League. I feel that if Tito had started Ubaldo in the place of rookie Danny Salazar, the Indians may have gone on to be World Series champions. Then we look back at 2014 and (channeling my innermost LeBron here) not one, not two, but THREE examples of what Mickey Callaway can do. First, Corey Kluber. Mickey has said that he really didn’t have to do much with Klubes this past season. As much as I’d like to believe that, there’s a reason he’s the pitching coach. Mickey worked with Corey to develop his secondary pitches and propel him into the upper echelons of pitching talent in the MLB. Next, there is Trevor Bauer. Bauer’s problem in 2013 was consistency and immaturity. Unfortunately for Trevor, he is young and often impatient. He need time to develop under more mature, accomplished pitchers. He got that with Justin Masterson and Corey Kluber. This year, while he had his troubles, Bauer was much more consistent and flashed some of the greatness that made the front office go out and get him. Finally, we have Carlos Carrasco. Known affectionately as “Cookie” among die-hard Tribe fans, Cookie experienced many of the same issues that Bauer faced — inconsistency and maturity. Remember his ejection and subsequent suspension in 2011 against Kansas City? How about his ejection for plunking Kevin Youkilis in 2013? That wasn’t a wild arm. Tito and Mickey worked with Carrasco and put him in the bullpen in 2014 and boy, did he deliver. Carrasco was electric out of the pen and proved to be the long-reliever we needed, especially when one of our starters couldn’t make it out of the 4th or 5th inning. How many times can you remember Carrasco putting in three to four quality innings, saving our bullpen arms for the home stretch?

Finally, The Indians are thankful for YOU, the fans.

When you go to a game or buy a jersey, you help finance the continued journey toward that elusive World Series title. When you get on Twitter or Facebook and talk about the Indians, you help them make a branding impact on new fans or fans who just don’t know it yet. When you write odes to Tom Hamilton or romanticize what the Tribe means to you on a t-shirt, you help the Indians build an regional identity. In a city like Cleveland, our professional sports teams need their fans as much as we need our teams. In some ways, we define one another. The Indians wouldn’t have much meaning without us and we wouldn’t have much meaning without them. So when the front office, the coaching staff and the players sit around their respective tables to share food and make memories, they will probably reflect, even if it’s only for a moment, on what it means to put on the Tribe uniform day in and day out for the best fans in the major leagues.

As for me, I’m thankful for football, a lot of food and a day off to enjoy it all with my family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving fans. Enjoy your turkey.

The Flailing Cleveland Indians

As it currently stands, the Cleveland Indians are in third place in the American League Central division with a 59-59 record. Last year at this time the Indians were 64-56 and in second place in the division, obviously a much better situation record-wise, but if you can believe it mathematically right now they are closer to first place than they were last year at this point. As it stands, the Indians are currently five games back of the division leading (don’t pinch yourself, it’s not a dream) Kansas City Royals. On this date last year, while in second place, they were six games back of the Detroit Tigers. The Indians are also still alive in the AL Wild Card race, currently 4.5 games out. Last season, every time this team was thought to be done they put together a long winning streak. It happened three times that I can remember. Mathematically the Indians are in the postseason hunt, as they were last year. However the difference between last year and this year is that this season I have absolutely no confidence at this point for the Cleveland Indians.

Last season we used words like clutch and magic to describe this team, especially late in the year. It seemed like every time the Indians needed to win in a big game, Jason Giambi would pinch hit for somebody and hit a walk off home run. The offense always came through. Our bats bailed us out. And this year our offense stinks. Except, that’s not really the case. For the 2013 season the Cleveland Indians hit .264 with runners in scoring position. So far this year the Indians are batting .263 with runners in scoring position. How about late game clutch situations? Baseball-Reference categorizes these situations as Late & Clutch, and defines them as “plate appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck”. Last year the Indians were batting .254 in these situations. This year, the Indians are hitting .244. Yes, a slight dip, but enough to cripple this team? Probably not, especially when you consider that last year the Indians offense collectively had 104 RBI and scored 110 runs in these situations while this year so far they have 95 RBI and 98 runs scored. Considering there is a month and a half left in the season it seems reasonable to project that the Indians will match or even surpass those numbers. Last season the Cleveland Indians were tied for 5th in the league in runs scored with 745 and were 13th in batting average, collectively hitting .255. This season, the Indians are 6th in runs scored so far with 522 and are 11th in team batting average, hitting .256. Last season defensively, the Indians as a team had a fielding percentage of .983 (21st) and were 11th in errors. This season the defense is the worst team in the league in terms of fielding percentage at .979 and first in errors, committing 91 so far. While those numbers are a step back and clearly not good (for either year), is a 4% drop in fielding percentage the reason why this team is flailing? It certainly doesn’t help, but I’d say it’s not the primary reason. Yes, the bats have been inconsistent at times this year. Guess what, they were last year too. The Indians averaged nearly 4.6 runs per game last year. This year through 118 games they are averaging 4.4 runs per game. Yes, they made no major additions, but they had no major losses from an offense that was in or near the top 10 in many statistical categories last year. That remains the case this year.

Alright, so what’s the point?

TomlinThe primary reason the Cleveland Indians are struggling, and will continue to do so for the rest of the season, is because of one thing. The starting rotation. Before giving a statistical analysis, consider this. The Cleveland Indians opening day starting rotation consisted of Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. The Indians have traded Masterson, McAllister and Salazar combined have made 19 starts in the minors (compared to 26 starts with the Indians), Carrasco lost his starting job (however has regained it, recently winning his first game as a starter since 2011) to Josh Tomlin (who has been as inconsistent as everyone else anyway), Trevor Bauer hasn’t successfully made the leap to consistent starter many were hoping for and lastly, people know who T.J. House is. Now, for the numbers. Last year’s starting rotation was far from lights out, but they were reliable. For the 2013 season Tribe starters collectively had a 3.92 ERA (14th in baseball) while the opposition hit .254 against them (13th). So far this year, Tribe starters collectively have an ERA of 4.37 while opposing offenses are batting .270 against them. As a whole, last year’s pitching staff (starters and relievers) had an ERA of 3.82 (15th) and the starters and an ERA of 3.92 while the offense averaged almost 4.6 runs per game. This year, the pitching staff has an ERA of 3.84 (nearly identical to last year, but 18th overall) while the starters have an ERA of 4.37 and the offense is averaging 4.4 runs per game. Keep in mind, the rotation’s awful ERA includes the 2.46 ERA of Corey Kluber. That’s how bad everyone else is.

Last season, the Cleveland Indians offense provided some support. That is also the case again this season. The difference between last season and this season, and the reason why the Indians have a small chance of making the postseason this year, is the starting rotation. Outside of Corey Kluber the Indians have nobody else to confidently hand the ball to. That’s a problem, and that’s why the Cleveland Indians are flailing.

Thursday’s Trade Deadline: Baseball Nerds' Christmas in July

Major League Baseball’s trade deadline is a prime example of why the sport is so unique. Trades simply don’t happen as frequently or with nearly as much magnitude in other sports as in baseball.

Four O’clock PM Eastern Standard Time on July 31st is the annual deadline to finalize any non-waiver trades. (To be clear, players can still be swapped if they are passed on by all MLB teams, hence clearing ‘waivers’.) Ultimately the decisions to pull the trigger on deals are telling enough that by the next day fans have a good understanding whether their squad is chasing this year’s pennant or gearing up to make a run next season.

The final hours leading up to the deadline were the most active of any in recent memory with twelve deals being made on Thursday. Each general manager has a plan, some more thorough than others. Those intentions I cannot quite speak to because of extremely limited access. I can, however, speculate as to why certain moves were made while defending those I like and ripping the boneheaded ones.

Let’s start with the Twins stealing away a potential top of the rotation guy in Tommy Milone from the Athletics, giving up only Sam Fuld. Milone is a huge addition for Minnesota. Fuld can play a part in the Oakland outfield equation going forward but Milone might already be the best Twins starter.

There were a few deals made with the present in mind more than the future. Although it may appear one team got the better of a deal, that could very well change as prospects further develop. The Brewers and Mariners also added pieces to their outfields. Milwaukee acquired Gerardo Parra who won’t set the world on fire but is another solid option for the Brew Crew. Seattle upgraded in the form of Chris Denorfia and Austin Jackson via the 3-way David Price deal which they simply piggy-backed on, completely lucking out.

David Price
David Price

Left-handed Red Sox reliever Andrew Miller was dealt to Baltimore. The O’s would have done well to grab a starter but Miller is money out of the ‘pen. The Yankees acquired a good hitter and utility man in Martin Prado from the Diamondbacks who didn’t need him the way they’re playing this summer.

There were plenty of puzzling deals too. As good as the Prado addition was, the Yanks had me seriously scratching my head with the Stephen Drew for Kelly Johnson transaction. This one might be a case of both players needing a fresh start. It’s still odd to see Boston and New York trading with one another just before facing off in a weekend series in Fenway.

I was under the impression that Asdrubal Cabrera would be a building block in the current Cleveland configuration. Apparently I was wrong as he was sent to Washington for Zach Walters. His sudden departure might be the result of wearing out his welcome as I know was the case with the seemingly-indifferent Justin Masterson. The Tribes sent their former Opening Day starter to St. Louis for James Ramsey. That brings us to the Cardinals.

I cannot believe what the Cardinals did on Thursday. Allen Craig and Joe Kelly are heading to Boston in exchange for John Lackey and a prospect. Trading these two guys away shows you how deep the cardinals are at all positions. Craig is a victim of the Oscar Taveras craze and Kelly was just a number in the shuffle of fantastic young pitchers that St. Louis is hoarding.

Lackey has a pretty good track record in the postseason going back to his rookie season in 2002 with the Angels. He pitched and won Game 7 in that Series against San Francisco. Last autumn, after losing Game 3 to the Cardinals, he won Game 6 to again clinch the Series. The dude literally WINS the World Series. The Cards have seen it themselves and apparently decided he’s a guy they want on the mound for their side. He is owed a fair amount of praise, but all those games were in American League parks. Now we’ll see if he can do it in the Senior Circuit.

Jon Lester
Jon Lester

The BoSox dealing away ace Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes to the A’s for Yoenis Cespedes was a blockbuster Thursday morning splash and early sign how exciting deadline day would be. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is going to look like a genius when he re-signs Lester to a new multi-year deal in the offseaon.

The 3-way cannonball deal that sent David Price to Detroit; Jackson to Seattle; Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin and Willy Adames to Tampa Bay was undoubtedly a direct answer to the Athletics landing Lester. And although the originally reported text from Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski to A’s GM Billy Beane about the deal was false it’s still a nice little storyline. Either way, I think it’s cool to see competitors acknowledge each other instead of ‘coach speak’ oozing from everyone who steps in front of a microphone.

Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski with owner Mike Ilitch in background.
Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski with owner Mike Ilitch in background.

Certainly the Tigers strengthened their starting rotation for this postseason but I think the deal was truly made as an insurance policy. Max Scherzer’s contract expires at the end of the season, he’s playing at an incredible level and he is a Scott Boras client. I can easily see him wearing Yankee pinstripes next year. Now that scenario wouldn’t hurt the Tigers nearly as much. The price Detroit had to pay was an everyday centerfielder. Jackson was pulled off the field minutes before the deadline. Sitting in my seat at Comerica Park I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Never have I been to a game where the starting pitcher and centerfielder don’t finish the game on the same team.

After letting all the ideas marinate in my head I think it’s clear the deadline day winners were the Red Sox and the Braves. Boston made moves for their future, Atlanta acquired for an immediate impact. They picked up the antithesis of every player they have in Emilio Bonifacio. His style of play can really help them going forward. Boston fans should be thrilled though. They’ve now got their corner outfield spots set up for years and a solid middle of the rotation pitcher with a high ceiling.

Boston’s 2014 is looking a lot like their 2012. Of course they won the World Series last year. That’s just something for your baseball brain to snack on going into next season.

For a more in depth look into the Boston Red Sox trade deadline activity check out Matthew Kline’s column.

The Cleveland Indians Are Finding Success in July

In case you haven’t noticed, or have just been too frustrated to care, the Cleveland Indians are doing all they can to climb out of the hole they dug for themselves in the first few months of the season. At the end of June, the Indians found themselves in a rough spot. They were 40-43 and in third place in the AL Central, 7.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers and 5.5 games back in the AL Wild Card race. Since then the Tribe has gone 11-6 (now 51-49 overall) and are sitting in second place in the Central, 5.5 games back of Detroit and 2 games back in the AL Wild Card race. More impressive, the Indians are 6-2 on the road in July (including 4-2 on their current road trip). While that’s clearly only a small sample size, it’s still encouraging for a team that had a .378 winning percentage this season on the road through the month of June. Whether this is just a flash in the pan or a turning of the tide for the Indians will remain to be seen. Here are some of the July heroes for the Indians, some expected and some unexpected.

The phrase “heroes for the Indians” cannot be brought up without mentioning Michael Brantley. Through the month of June, Brantley was batting .314 for the Indians. This includes a .341 batting average in June and a .345 average in May. Somehow, he keeps getting better. So far in July, Brantley is batting .365 with 3 home runs, 10 RBI and 13 runs scored. There is no question Brantley is the MVP of the 2014 Indians and should be in the discussion for AL MVP.

Brantley isn’t the only one who is hitting the ball well for the Tribe of late. Jason Kipnis has also been swinging a hot bat. After a rough start to the season (partly due to injury) the Tribe second baseman is hitting .280 in July with 2 home runs, 8 RBI, 14 runs scored and 7 stolen bases. His current batting average of .254 would be the lowest of his career, however if Kipnis keeps hitting the ball well .254 will be a distant memory.

While Brantley and Kipnis may seem like obvious heroes for an Indians turnaround, this team has been getting help from more unexpected places – like Nick Swisher. For the month of July, Swisher is batting .290. This is not a typo. Nick Swisher is batting .290 for the month of July. He’s hit 3 home runs, has 15 RBI and has scored 10 runs. Over the last 28 days (22 games for Swisher) he is hitting .266. While he isn’t playing like a $15 million per year player (did anyone really ever expect him to?) this upward trend from him is a good sign for the Indians lineup. It’s worth pointing out that July was Swisher’s best month last season as far as batting averages go, as he hit .284. Hopefully this time Swisher can continue hitting well not just in July but into August and September (and possibly…October?).

Chris Dickerson
Chris Dickerson has been an unexpected surprise for the Indians.

Rounding out the offensive surprises for the month of July is the trio of Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana and Chris Dickerson. Gomes, who has been reliable all season for the Indians, is batting .333 for the month of July. Since the All-Star break he’s gone 9-17 (.529) with a home run and three RBI. While Santana has actually cooled a bit in July compared to June (.308 in June vs. .250 in July) he seems to have put the dreadful start behind him. His season long batting average will likely suffer but his production will be welcomed. He also seems to have found a home at first base. In 38 games as a first baseman Santana is batting .309. While he will never be considered a star defensive player, Santana is also error free in his 38 games at first base this year and has actually showed off a nice glove. Lastly, ever since arriving in Cleveland from Pittsburgh in a trade, journeyman Chris Dickerson has provided a huge, unexpected spark for the Indians. In his 11 games (8 starts) in the month of July, Dickerson is batting .375 with 2 home runs, 6 RBI and 8 runs scored.

While the starting pitching has continued to be generally unreliable (unless you’re talking about Corey Kluber), the bullpen collectively has gotten even better. Through the month of June, Tribe relievers combined had an ERA of 3.32. Not too bad, especially when you consider how many innings these relievers are forced to pitch. So far for July the bullpen has a collective ERA of 1.77 through 61 innings pitched and has a K/9 ratio of 10, up from 8.9 on the season. John Axford is putting together his best month of the season (albeit in a limited role). Axford has appeared in 7 games in July (7 innings pitched) and has only allowed one earned run while striking out nine. The opposition is hitting just .083 off of Axford in July (27 batters faced). While he has been the Tribe’s most reliable reliever all year, Cody Allen seems to be pitching on another level in July. In 10 games (9.1 innings pitched) he has not allowed a run to score while the opposition is only hitting .206 off of him (37 batters faced).

Looking ahead, the Indians can continue to help their cause in the Central division. After the series finale today in Minnesota the Indians travel to Kansas City to take on the Royals for four games. Winning this upcoming series would help put some distance between Kansas City, who is currently in third place in the Central and only 1.5 games back of the Indians. For the team overall, the last missing piece continues to be the starting rotation. Indians starters currently have a 4.33 ERA for the month of July. Hopefully Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister have worked out whatever issues (“injuries”) they’ve had earlier in the year and can be positive contributors to the starting rotation. If that happens, the Cleveland Indians could find themselves in position to make another October run.

Cleveland Indians Midseason Review Part Two: The Bad and The Ugly

The All-Star break is nearly over and the Cleveland Indians are getting ready to start playing baseball again. For the Tribe the first half of the season was a rollercoaster culminating in a 47-47 record, landing them in 3rd place in the AL Central behind the Kansas City Royals (48-46) and the Detroit Tigers (53-38). The first half ended on a positive note for the Indians, as they took 2 out of 3 games against the Chicago White Sox and have won 8 out of 12 in the month of July. Nick Swisher (hitting .289 in July) and Carlos Santana (hitting .276 since the end of May) are finally starting to hit the ball better while All-Star Michael Brantley continues to be the team’s best player. Corey Kluber (9-6, 3.01 ERA) has also emerged as the team’s best starter. Despite this, the Indians still find themselves 7.5 games out of first place. At this time last year Cleveland had a 51-44 record and was only 1.5 games behind Detroit for first place in the Central. Clearly there is still some work to be done for the 2014 Indians. Picking up from yesterday, here is part two of the Cleveland Indians midseason review, this time focusing on the bad and the ugly. For part one (the good) click here.

The Bad

Masterson has been a disappointment for the Indians this season
Masterson has been a disappointment for the Indians this season

While the Indians offense at times has been maddening, they are currently ranked 7th in the league in runs scored with 417 and also have the 11th best team batting average at .255. So how does a team that scores runs at a fairly good clip (average of 4.4 runs per game) find themselves with a .500 record and in 3rd place? Poor starting pitching. Aside from Kluber the Indians starting rotation has been a mess. As a whole Tribe starters in the first half of the season (Kluber, Masterson, Bauer, Tomlin, McAllister, House, Salazar, and Carrasco) have an ERA of 4.49 while the opposition is batting .273 off them. Justin Masterson, who earlier this year was reportedly asking for a contract extension in the neighborhood of $17 million per year, is 4-6 in 19 starts with a 5.51 ERA. He’s averaging just over 5 innings per start, is second in the American League in walks (56) and leads the AL in batters hit by a pitch (11). Trevor Bauer (3-4, 3.84 ERA) and Josh Tomlin (4-6, 4.26 ERA) have been decent, pitching like end of the rotation starters, but all in all the Indians starters are a big reason why this team is in the hole that they are in. As a team the Indians have a -8 run differential (417 runs scored vs. 425 runs allowed). The 425 runs allowed doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of the starters, however as a group they have allowed 307 runs (275 earned runs) to score this year. Injuries have played a factor into this equation (McAllister and Masterson specifically) but all in all the Indians starters, outside of Kluber, haven’t been all that great.

To continue with the pitching theme, John Axford has been a disappointment this year. Brought in to fill the closer role, Axford was stripped of those duties during the month of May. Statistically Axford hasn’t been all that bad this year. In 41 appearances (37 innings pitched) he is 2-3 with a 3.41 ERA. His K/9 ratio is 10.7 and the opposition is only hitting .221 off of him. Axford’s problem seems to be similar to that of former Tribe closer’s Chris Perez, he lost his mental toughness. The Ax Man saved 8 out of 9 games through the end of April, however ninth inning dramatics and a few blown saves forced manager Terry Francona to make the switch to closer by committee with Cody Allen being the committee chairman. Not a good look for Axford, who is getting paid $4.5 million to save games (or in this case not save games) for the Indians this year.

The Ugly

s19tribee.jpgDefensively, the Indians are a train wreck. As a team they are first in the league in errors (76) and, unsurprisingly, have the worst fielding percentage of any team in the league (.979). Cleveland is on pace to commit 130 errors this season, this would be the most errors by a team since the 2011 Chicago Cubs (134). Indians pitchers have also thrown 42 wild pitches (6th most) and there have been 7 passed balls (tied for 5th most). Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera leads the Indians with 14 errors, which is good enough for third most errors in the league this year. Challenging Cabrera for the team lead is Lonnie Chisenhall with 13 errors and Yan Gomes with 11 (although the majority of his came very early in the season and he has been relatively error free since early May). Nick Swisher has also committed 9 errors. The third base and shortstop position combined has committed 36 of the team’s errors this season – offenders here include Cabrera, Chisenhall, Carlos Santana and Mike Aviles.

For the majority of the season two of the Indians heavily relied upon hitters have failed to produce much of anything. While it’s true that both Santana and Swisher are (possibly) turning things around, both were mostly bad for the Indians for most, if not all, of the first half. Santana is hitting .207 on the year. While he does have 14 home runs he was only batting .159 through the month of May. His one redeeming quality was a good on base percentage during this stretch. Currently Santana has an OBP of .349 (top 50 in the league) but a hitter with his potential hitting cleanup in the batting order needs to do more than draw walks. Nick Swisher has been a colossal letdown this year for the Indians. Injuries may be playing a small factor (suffered a hyper extended knee earlier this year) but Swisher has been pretty terrible in just about anything baseball related aside from giving high fives. This year Swisher is batting .208 with 8 home runs and 36 RBI with only a .288 on base percentage. July has treated Swisher better, hitting .289 with 3 home runs and 11 RBI (45 at bats), but in order to salvage his season he is going to have to do more than hit well in 12 games.

The Indians as a team have also played poorly on the road. This year they are 18-28 away from Progressive Field. Offensively they have been outscored 201-210 and pitchers have an ERA of 4.22 on the road (compared to 3.76 at home). While the Indians have played well so far in July they are about to go on an eleven game road trip (against Detroit, Minnesota and Kansas City) to kick off the second half of the season. If this team wants to make a playoff run in the second half they’ll need to play better on the road and it must start immediately with this road trip. Already 7.5 games back and with all 11 of the upcoming games being against teams in the division the Indians could really help (or harm) their chances.

In Conclusion

By all accounts this team has underperformed. The rotation has been awful, key players have struggled mightily offensively and defensively they are the worst team in the league. Overall they play like a team that constantly looks like they are about to turn a corner but never do. If that doesn’t change than the 2014 season will go down as a bust for the Cleveland Indians.

Cleveland Indians: June Ups and Downs

This Cleveland Indians team is, if nothing else, frustrating. Just when it looks like they are about to turn a corner they seem to forget how to play baseball. Most recently the Indians finally got themselves over the .500 mark in early June, thanks in large part to a stretch between May 30th and June 9th were the Tribe won nine out of ten games. In the thirteen games since the Indians have only won four and have been swept by the Detroit Tigers at home in front of over 100,000 fans (for the series). There is a silver lining to this unfortunate turn, however. And his name is Carlos Santana.

Carlos SantanaBy all accounts, Carlos Santana has been miserable this season. For the majority of the time his batting average has been under .200 and the experiment at third base was nothing short of sloppy defensively. Then something happened to Carlos, on the afternoon of May 25th while catching against the Baltimore Orioles a foul ball hit his catcher’s mask. He then missed the next nine games with a concussion. All he’s done since he’s come back is hit the cover off the ball, and that is a welcome sight for anybody associated with the Cleveland Indians – player, coach or fan. On the season, Santana is only batting .214 and has only driven in 31 runs. Over the last 28 days he has appeared in 17 games and is hitting .371 in that span, including six home runs (he has twelve on the year) and 14 RBI (almost half of his 31 for the season). Since returning to the lineup for the Indians Santana has been playing first base regularly. He hasn’t committed one error in this span (139.1 innings) which, let’s face it, is a small victory in itself for this team.

The production Santana has been providing recently has been much needed. As a team the Indians are batting .257 on the year. With the help of Santana the Indians are batting .270 over the last 28 days (23 games). Santana’s on base percentage, which for a while was his only redeeming quality, has also gone up during this recent hot streak. For the 2014 season his OBP is .366. Over the last 28 days that number has ballooned to .480 while his slugging percentage during this time is .710 (.408 SLG in 2014).

The Indians offense has also been enjoying increased production from Michael Brantley. Brantley, who also missed a handful of games with a minor concussion, hasn’t even come close to struggling like Santana has this season. But somehow, this guy continues to get better and better as the year goes on. On the season Brantley is batting .323 with a .390 on base percentage. He’s hit 11 home runs (a career high) driven in 49 runs (on pace to set a career high) has scored 51 runs (career high of 66 in 2013), has stolen nine bases without being caught once and has only committed one error (in the third game of the season). How does it get better? Over the last 28 games Brantley has hit .354 with a .424 on base percentage. He has hit two home runs, driven in ten runs and scored 19 runs during this time. Over the last two weeks he has hit over .400.

Now, can somebody explain to me why the Indians are only 11-10 in the month of June when they have two guys in the lineup producing like Santana and Brantley? Well allow me to answer my own question, bro.

Now it’s unfair to pin all of the Indians struggles on Nick Swisher, but he certainly isn’t helping anything. Like Santana, Swisher missed a chunk of time in late May and early June to an injury (knee). Unlike Santana, he has not come back swinging. For the month of June (he’s only appeared in 10 games so far this month) Swisher is hitting .132 with six RBI and two runs scored. His on base percentage is also a pathetic .132 during this time (meaning he hasn’t walked once) and he’s struck out 18 times – which is obviously a terrible strikeout to walk ratio. Unlike Santana, it seems like Swisher isn’t even seeing the ball, or at least he has a terrible approach. Regardless, the Indians fifteen million dollar man has to start producing something, even if that’s only like a five million dollar man.

Now, onto the biggest reason the Indians have struggled for the month of June (no, it’s not Nick Swisher’s fault). The Indians starting pitching has been a disaster as of late. This month Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber and T.J. House have combined to make 21 starts, totaling 117 innings pitched (on average less than 6 innings per start) and have a combined ERA of 5.03. The opposition is batting .288 off of Indians starters during this stretch. And while our ace hasn’t been as bad as others in the rotation, he hasn’t been good either. Justin Masterson, who has been reported to be asking for an extension worth $17 million per year, has an ERA of 4.56 for the month of June (5.03 on the year). The only two consistent bright spots for the Indians in terms of pitchers for the month of June have been Cody Allen (1.80 ERA in 10 innings pitched) and Carlos Carrasco (1.26 ERA in 14.1 innings of work).

All of this adds up to a disappointing 11-10 record with a -6 run differential (102 runs scored, 108 runs allowed) so far for June. The offense is appearing to come around and is showing signs of stability (the Indians are 6th in the league in runs scored on the year and 7th overall for the month of June). But struggles from guys like Nick Swisher and nearly every pitcher on the staff are what’s holding this team back. The Indians are in third place in the AL Central (six games back of Detroit) and 4.5 games behind in the AL Wild Card standings. However if pitching coach Mickey Callaway can’t get quality starts from his pitchers (which at this point is like trying to get water from a rock) they may as well end the season now.