Unfortunately, it’s been a little quiet at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Thus, my material to write about has been a bit…lacking.
But that has changed today!
Indians hire Bere as Bullpen Coach
Earlier this morning, the Indians announced that they have hired Jason Bere as their new bullpen coach. Bere replaced Kevin Cash after he took the helm of the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this offseason. Bere pitched with the Indians in 2000 and 2003 and has been a special assistant for baseball operations evaluating and instructing pitchers in the Indian’s organization over the past nine years. The search was almost entirely completed in-house, and Manager Terry Francona had high praise for Bere, specifically concerning his ability to communicate and teach young players.
Even though Bere will be the Tribe’s bullpen coach, he will be very instrumental in guiding young pitchers Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar along with pitching coach Mickey Callaway.
Interesting side note via foxsports.com: Jason Bere started and won the final game at Cleveland Stadium on 10/3/1993
Progressive Field named “Most Family-Friendly in MLB”
In a recent set of rankings, ABC Travel Guides for Kids Magazine listed Cleveland as the #1 destination for kids in 2015. The publication noted that Progressive Field may be the most family friendly ballpark in the MLB. In addition to available kid-friendly concessions and concession policies, the Indians have continued to make an investment in creating a family-friendly atmosphere via promotions, attractions and family ticket pricing packages.
Read more about Progressive Field’s “Most Family-Friendly” rating here.
The Indians added the Kid’s Clubhouse in 2012 as a part of the renovations to the RF portion of the ballpark. Currently under construction are additions to the CF portion of the ballpark bordering the Indian’s Hall of Fame and bullpen. These renovations will cut seating in the upper-deck in right-center field so that the aforementioned Kid’s Clubhouse can be expanded. In addition, several new concession options will be made available that showcase different Cleveland food scenes such as Tremont and Ohio City. The bullpens will also be moved and stacked such that fans sitting in center field will be able to see the players warming up a way not possible before at Progressive field.
The renovations should be completed before the beginning of the 2015 season and there are plans to erect a statue of Larry Doby, the first African-American ballplayer in the American League.
The funding for the 2014-15 renovation project, in addition to expanding the fan experience at Progressive Field, is completely privately funded and does not utilize any taxpayer money meant for infrastructure improvements such as heating, concrete, and sewers.
You can read more about the renovations here or watch a short 3-minute video here.
I’m hopeful that these new renovations, while cutting capacity by approximately 1/7th, will increase the fan experience for all who attend in the coming years. These renovations are a part of a 4-5 year master plan that will see continued off-season renovations to areas such as: The Lower Bowl and Club/Suites. In addition, sound system improvements are slated for sometime in the next 3-5 years.
Coming soon: A discussion of the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees
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:
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.
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.
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.
By 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.
Everything is debatable. Well, almost everything. It started with a discussion over “Free Hat”, the ridiculous and mostly misunderstood cause on South Park, which started as a crusade against Hollywood producers bastardizing their own work, but ended with an angry mob successfully freeing a man who killed infants. It was par for the course for South Park, but properly illustrated that almost nothing can be a unanimous decision any more.
We can’t even get banish Steelers fans in Northeast Ohio, how can we agree on what the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers should do? Clearly, the people that are actually in charge of those groups have struggled to find the answers, and that’s proven by the significance of 1964, even though I personally believe 1948 holds just as much meaning. What big free agent should the Browns sign or who do you want at 4? The latter part of that question seems to apply to just about every team in town, and just give it a year or two if it doesn’t.
It doesn’t matter, because most of our opinions fall on deaf ears. We can’t make those decisions; to fire, re-hire, and eventually re-fire Mike Brown, to put Danny Salazar at the bottom of the rotation, or to replace D’Qwell Jackson with Karlos Dansby. Only the powers-that-be can make those calls, but we sit around the pubs or go to the interwebs to talk about what should happen, what might happen, and what’s going to happen.
I suppose that’s why places like this and people like us get to do what we do. There’s a mainstream, the people who make a living doing something similar to what we do, and they’re the ones that are supposed to get the information. From time to time, especially in the age of Twitter and everything else that’s out there, those who get the facts interject opinion, but that gets them in trouble. I hear a lot of talk about how these guys need to protect their access, which is granted by the teams, but I’m talking about the trouble it gets them into with the fans, aka their readers.
There is no winning that game. Occasionally, I’ll see a writer respond to the vitriol in the comments section of their stories, but I hardly see what good comes of that. On Twitter, a lot of people don’t see the responses these guys get for nothing more than an honest day’s work, but God forbid anyone Retweet any of it, because then we have to hear about how egotistical so-and-so is. An opinion ends up being a risk; it’s not a jump off the building type of risk, but you put yourself out there if there’s any chance of disagreement, and there always is, but there’s seldom a clear cut right or wrong. Supporting Hat McCullough should be one of those things, and though it was fiction, the message sent by the 2002 episode of the show isn’t far off from where we’re at with fundamental differences in 2014.
Two Ways to Say, “That’s the dream.”
Is there a worse time for a show to end its nine-year run than on Opening Day? Well, How I Met Your Mother is doing exactly that on March 31st. Most viewers of HIMYM will tell you that they’re only sticking around for the pay-off, due to the amount of time invested in this drawn-out tale of how Bob Saget met the mother of his children, as he tells the story in the year 2032. If you don’t watch the show in first-run or syndication, you probably don’t care if I fill in the blanks, so I’ll save both of us the time. However, I do need to point out that that an eccentric character played by Neil Patrick Harris has often said, “that’s the dream” about multiple fantasies, even though the saying would probably imply that one thing is the dream. Here are two things that I would say are the dream, given the opportunity to pull the strings on this puppet show we call life.
Don’t get him back, get back at him
So, I heard it through the grapevine that Dan Gilbert was on Late Night with Seth Meyers, a time slot that once featured David Letterman on NBC, to discuss the billion dollar giveaway that Quicken Loans is sponsoring, and the unfunny Meyers attempted to make a joke about the odds of Lebron James returning to Cleveland. Gilbert couldn’t talk about, to abide by the guidelines of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but it’s a real live discussion outside of Cleveland, even if it’s died for the most part with all of us…and thank God for that.
Now, I’ve adjusted my position on Lebron James, and I’m really over everything that happened in 2010. It all seems like so long ago now, it seems silly to hold a grudge. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been turned off to the NBA, largely because of the circus, but the trials and tribulations of the Cleveland Cavaliers ever since doesn’t make the Association an entertaining product. In fact, I skipped my annual trip to the US Airways Center to check out the Cavaliers live, not for any real good reason, just that I didn’t feel like spending the money or the time to watch this team. I’ve said it in this space that they’ve lost me.
Before anyone wants to play the bandwagon card on me, let it be known that I stood by for a good percentage of the games from 2010 to 2013, but this year I opted not to make the investment to follow them closely. Long story short, no League Pass for this household this year. None of this is to say that I’ve completely lost all interest in the Cavs, just that there’s more to life than watching a sub-par basketball team play as inconsistent or as poor as they’ve been known to do. And yes, I realize a lot of this comes from being spoiled for four or five years before the rug was pulled out from underneath is, but suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly, there is only one option to save it. It’s an option that I’ve repeatedly said “no thank you” to in the past, even if I’d be more accepting, given my changed position.
Here’s the thing; I want a winner in Cleveland as much as all of the Cavs fans that pine for his return, but it leaves a stone unturned. If we join him, we cannot beat him. I have, in the past, used the word “tainted” to describe a Cleveland championship, if we need Lebron James to do it for us, like a hired mercenary. No matter how many ways the Akron-ites want to paint the picture, he’s not one of them, and he’s certainly no longer one us Cleveland-ers, not any more, if he ever was.
Truth be told, and I don’t care to go too far down this path, I would rather the Indians or Browns are the first to the Promised Land, but I’m willing to enter the land of beggars that can’t be choosers. If it’s the Cavs, at least it’s someone. At the very least, there’s something in the modern era, and yes, that prospect of a tainted title is better than nothing at all. I guess that’s where I’ve made the personal compromise, not to be mad at Lebron, Jim Gray, or ESPN, at least compromised enough to hold such a grudge that I’d reject success for my hometown.
I just don’t like it, and if Kevin Love or any other Top 30 player in the NBA were to come to play for Kyrie Irving and cash Dan Gilbert’s checks, how would that be any different? It would only be different in the fact that the opportunity to beat the guy we couldn’t win without. After 50 years and however many more, the story of our title should be outstanding, epic even. I wouldn’t want it to be a footnote on the career of James. I want it to be our story, and this is the only way it wouldn’t be. Again, it’s not that there is any scenario where I’d reject Cleveland getting that moment, however tainted it might be. It’s just that if I’m scripting it, I want it some other way.
And that, right there, is the dream.
I don’t even worry about the bullpen
It’s just such a lie, but it’s just the dream. Starting pitching was such a major concern at this time last year, and Tito found a way. Of course, a lot of credit is due to Mickey Callaway also, but both he and Francona are back, granted with a few of their projects from a year ago gone to greener pastures, or at least richer ones.
So, the question isn’t about what this club can do to the fill the void left by Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, but what to do to replace Joe Smith and Chris Perez. Now, everyone may have their reservations about Perez, especially with everything that happened in his last season with the club, from his problems with the Post Office in Rocky River to him basically resigning as the team’s closer in September. However, it’s become easy to forget this guy was an All-Star and closed a lot of games for the Tribe.
In the case of Smitty, and aren’t all guys with the surname of Smith cursed with that nickname, you have a late inning guy that you’re going to miss a lot. We’re left with a lot of questions, probably more questions than answers in this bullpen. We all loved Vinnie Pestano a few years ago, but can he bounce back after a demotion last season. Can Austin Adams, CC Lee, and/or Preston Guilmet make the jump in 2014?
Rich Hill went back to Boston, but the hope is for Nick Hagadone to harness his velocity and hit the strike zone. Scott Barnes has been on the cusp of being ready for two seasons, so I think the clock is ticking on him to help out against the lefties at the big league level. Of course, they’ve traded for Josh Outman and Mark Rzepczynksi in the last 12 months, in their never-ending quest to land southpaws to aid this pitching staff.
Cody Allen may or may not be ready to close games, but John Axford is in camp, and the job is probably his on Opening Day, but nothing is permanent. I’m still a fan of Carlos Carrasco in that role, though they really want him to take the ball every fifth day. Maybe I’m just stuck on the idea of how well the conversion went for Jose Mesa, Game 7 notwithstanding, and how good Justin Masterson was in the limited time he spent out in the pen last season. Another starter that might serve this organization better in the Indians bullpen than the Columbus rotation is Josh Tomlin, but I’m just spitballing at this point.
All I really want is a solid set of arms that can get nine to fifteen outs when the starter hands them a lead. That’s going to mean at least one plate appearance from the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Billy Butler in critical division games. Getting those huge outs with the pressure on, that’s the damn dream.
One Big Deal
With apologies to Michael Brantley, who I planned on featuring in this space this weekend, Cleveland still isn’t a Tribe town. The headlines still belong to the Browns, who brought in Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner, and former Texans running back Ben Tate. Dansby and Whitner are plugging holes left by the departures of D’Qwell Jackson (Colts) and TJ Ward (Broncos), but Tate fills a need that hasn’t been properly addressed since Jamal Lewis left this team five years ago.
You always get a little worried about what the “other” back is going to do in a featured role, a la James Stewart after serving as Fred Taylor’s understudy in Jacksonville or Michael Turner after playing behind LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego. More recently, Matt Flynn has made buyers beware of what a solid backup can do in a good system, and that’s a legitimate concern for the Browns with Tate. Under Gary Kubiak and the old Broncos zone-blocking scheme, Tate was a more than satisfactory backup for Arian Foster, but you might wonder what he’ll be able to do in Kyle Shannahan’s offense, which promises to be a similar scheme.
Because of Alfred Morris and because of Olandis Gary, among others, I’m excited for this Shannahan-Tate marriage that we’re about to see unfold in Cleveland. Thus far, we’ve seen Tate take a few pages out of Joe Haden’s How-To-Be-Loved-By-Browns-Fans playbook, engaging social media to tell the world he’s now a Cavs and Indians fan. That promises to go a long way, but Haden has backed up the adoration he receives for his off-the-field character by being a leader on it. That also goes a long way, but leadership only gets you so far, the love fades as more and more 4 and 5 win seasons add up.
Speculation is that Tate will be a part of a running back by committee, with Dion Lewis returning from injury and the smart money saying the Browns will draft the position as well, but they need to start somewhere. Trent Richardson wasn’t the answer, nor was Peyton Hillis, but those guys are part of the past. The former Auburn back may not be the answer either, but he’s a good place to start. And he will start, that’s the kind of money he’s making.
There’s more to Tate’s love for his new team and his new town than the free hat.
Six On Shin-Soo
In a 9-player deal, you are going to consider certain players as what the trade is built around, while others are noted as throw-ins. When the Reds, Diamondbacks, and Indians built a deal around Shin-Soo Choo going from the Indians to the Reds, everyone aside from Choo and Trevor Bauer were considered throw-ins. You could almost consider it two separate trades; Choo, Jason Donald, and cash went to Cincinnati for Drew Stubbs and Didi Gregorius, then the Tribe flipped Gregorius for Trevor Bauer and a bunch of relievers were thrown in. Matt Albers and Tony Sipp probably fit that bill, but Bryan Shaw is a much underrated part of this deal. At 26, this strikeout pitcher has dynamite stuff, and I’d say he’s a future closer; maybe it doesn’t happen with the Indians, but he’s been quite the pick-up for the Indians to date. Losing Tony Sipp was addition-by-subtraction to begin with, but gaining Shaw was a big, even if unheralded win for the front office in Cleveland.
The principle player in this whole deal was moved to Cincinnati as a one-year rental for the Reds, but the Reds were willing to part with a hot prospect that ended up cooling off as a rookie in Arizona and an excess outfielder with some speed but no stick. The Indians have a shortstop, perhaps multiple shortstops, down on the farm that could fill any voids the big league club might have over the next few seasons, so Didi Gregorius was never a viable option for them, though they basically traded Choo down I-71 for his rights. Indians fans had to wait a while to see what Choo was all about, making his debut in late May of 2008, after Tommy John surgery, but he was a solid addition to the team for a few seasons. In his “walk year” with the Reds, he was pretty much the same player, a .285 hitter who gets on base enough, but probably not worth the $100 million plus that the Rangers threw at him this off-season.
Is it possible that Arizona has taken a good look at all of their young talent, and then decided that it all stunk and to sell high? They’ve dumped Jarrod Parker, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Davidson, Adam Eaton, and Bauer over the last few seasons. They took a middle infielder and a useless left-handed pitcher to dump a guy that was obviously a bad fit in the school of hard knocks that Josh Towers and Kirk Gibson are running in the desert. You try not to use the word “bust” with a 23 year-old that could still be a work-in-progress, but you also wonder if this guy will ever find his command. Of course, if he doesn’t make it, his ego and questionable workout regimen will be put on trial, but who knows if that has anything to do with it. A couple of rocky performances in Spring Training have it looking like Bauer won’t be on the Major League roster on March 31st, so you wonder when, if ever, things will happen for the former first-round pick.
I’m not sure if anyone, other than those with Dutch blood, think too much of a Gregorius, though I often convinced myself that the Indians weren’t doing much better with Cabrera, who they’ve apparently been unable to trade. There’s no questioning that there was never a question of Gregorius spending a minute with the Indians, but why not think about it, if only in theory, since it was completely possible. The best part about Gregorius was his at-bat music, Notorious by Notorious B.I.G., but I highly doubt too many of you attend games at Chase Field to appreciate that. He goes into outrageous slumps, and doesn’t hit well enough at the big league level to really own the shortstop position in Phoenix. The Indians already had a Juan Diaz, and we are now a year closer to Francisco Lindor’s Major League debut; some people think that’s coming in September, but we’ll see.
Last year’s season premiere of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia was a brilliant episode called “The Gang Broke Dee”. The focus of the show was Sweet Dee hitting rock-bottom, and then suddenly succeeding because she stopped caring about everything. However, her brother was convinced it was time for her to settle for a man, not a particularly attractive or confident man, but a man nonetheless. That’s how I saw Drew Stubbs; he was fast on the base paths and adequate in right field, but never anything close to what I would consider great in any realm. With the standard of being a throw-in to this blockbuster deal, what thrills me the most about Stubbs going forward, is that he was able to get bullpen help from Colorado when he was traded after one season with the Tribe.
I’m so glad that Drew Stubbs was traded for Josh Outman this past off-season, because he does help this bullpen with a much need left-handed arm, but also because I don’t need to fill the six blurb quota that this column demands without saying much of anything at all about Matt Albers or Tony Sipp. Outman had a rough September with Colorado and nothing on the stat sheet jumps off the page, but he can give you an inning or two, is comfortable throwing 25-30 pitches in an outing, and he strikes guys out, which is critical because it means you can bring him in with runners on base.
That’s all I’ve got for you. Enjoy the time you have to kill between now and next weekend.
With Spring Training underway, the Cleveland Indians are gearing up for a strong follow up season to the surprising 92 win 2013 campaign. While this off season lacked the major free agent acquisitions of last season, manager Terry Francona is still able to field the same core group of players that played a major part in their success last year. There is some concern that with the lack of a major roster addition the 2014 squad’s output will resemble the 2008 Indians, however the pieces remain in place for the Tribe to continued success. Here are five storylines for the 2014 Cleveland Indians season.
1. Improvements from Swisher and Bourn
While the Indians didn’t sign a big name free agent (David Murphy anyone?) there are still plenty of things to be excited about on the roster as far as the players acquired last season, specifically Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. With a free agent pool that was not impressive, the Indians instead are relying on Swisher and Bourn to rebound from underachieving seasons instead of taking on another large contract.
If you just go by the numbers, Swisher was slightly down but close to right on par with his career averages. Last year for the Tribe, Swisher hit .246 with 22 home runs, 63 RBI, 27 doubles and 74 runs scored. Compared to his numbers in four years with the Yankees Swisher disappointed, however more was asked of him as he was hitting higher in the lineup for the Tribe. While it’s unfair to expect Swisher to his upwards of .275 with 30 home runs, an increase in production isn’t unfathomable, especially considering his on base percentage was down nearly 20 points from his career average (.358 OBP career vs. .341 in 2013). Swisher’s overall power numbers also declined as he only had a .423 slugging percentage compared to a career average of .462. His lack of RBI production was partly due to the instability around him, but look for Swisher to improve after having a season to adjust to a new ball club and an off season to rest an injured shoulder that hampered him for the majority of the season.
The Indians will also be expecting an increase in production from leadoff hitter Michael Bourn. Bourn only appeared in 130 games last season, the lowest number for him since 2007 with Philadelphia. Hopefully Bourn put the injury bug behind him, but it’s his production down the stretch that the Indians are really hoping improves. The speedster boasted a batting average of .304 through the month of June when his hitting took a nose dive. Bourn never hit better than .247 following the month of June and in the months of July, August, September and October Bourn only hit .236. Bourn’s on base percentage dipped lower as the season progressed as well, never reaching above .300 for the last couple months of the season.
He also failed to excite once he got on base.
Known for his speed, Bourn only managed to steal 23 bases for the Indians in 2013. Compare that to the 42 stolen bases in 2012 and 61 in 2011 and the disappointment is obvious. While this might partly be due to playing his first season in the American League and partly due to injuries, these numbers – the steals especially – will have to improve for Bourn.
2. The Carlos Santana Project
The Cleveland Indians have lacked a solid third baseman since Casey Blake, and Blake won’t ever be confused Mike Schmidt. With Lonnie Chisenhall failing to take a strong hold of the position, the Indians are hoping to successfully move Carlos Santana over to third. Santana has spent the majority of his career at catcher but does have minor league experience playing third base, although the majority of that was very early in his career. Despite that, Santana has committed to a position change and despite what one would think the reviews haven’t been all that bad. While he may have looked a bit uncomfortable at first, reports from the Dominican winter ball leagues were generally positive and optimistic. Santana also spent time with fellow Dominican Republic native and former third baseman Fernando Tatis working on his game at the hot corner. Expecting Santana to be a gold glove third baseman would be naïve, and with Chisenhall and Mike Aviles on the roster the experiment could end up being short lived, but if Santana can prove to be a serviceable glove at third base the Indians might have found a way to maximize Santana as he would be able to see more playing time at third base than he would’ve at catcher. The Indians would potentially get more offensive output at third base in one year than they’ve had in several years combined should Santana become the regular third baseman.
3. The Goon Squad Graduates
The Indians roster depth last season played a huge role in their overall success. Dubbed the “Goon Squad” and made up of Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes and Jason Giambi, this group played a big role in the Indians post season push. Now these goons look to have an expanded role on the club.
Whether or not Santana becomes the everyday third baseman it seems fairly certain that he will not be the teams regular catcher, that role now belongs to Yan Gomes. Gomes played sparingly early in the 2013 season but saw more opportunities as the year went one, opportunities he capitalized on. Gomes showed some pop last year, hitting 11 home runs and 18 doubles in 293 at bats. Gomes also played extremely well defensively behind the plate and showed good chemistry with the pitching staff. If Gomes is able to build on his production from last season the catcher position will remain an asset on offense while becoming stronger on defense.
While the success Gomes had last year was a nice surprise, Ryan Raburn’s season was equally as surprising and impressive. Like Gomes, Raburn made the most of his opportunities and he was rewarded with a contract extension during the 2013 season. With the departure of Drew Stubbs, Raburn will likely see more time in the outfield. Whether the expanded role will result in an increase in production remains to be seen, and expecting him to duplicate an impressive .543 slugging percentage is probably unrealistic, but Raburn does have the talent to be at least a platoon player in the outfield.
4. The Starting Rotation
While the aforementioned Goon Squad played a big role in the team’s success last season, it was the starting pitching that played the biggest role in the Tribe’s 92 wins. Loaded with question marks last year, guys like Scott Kazmir, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Zach McAllister elevated their games while Ubaldo Jimenez finally became the pitcher the Indians traded for and was arguably the best pitcher in the American League in the second half of the season.
This year the Indians will need the same type of overachieving production. Jimenez is now a member of the Baltimore Orioles and Kazmir is with the Oakland Athletics. That means once again the likes of Kluber, Salazar and McAllister will have to elevate their games. Carlos Carrasco will have to realize his potential and more than likely somebody else will have to emerge much like Kazmir did last season. While prospect Trevor Bauer has the talent to emerge for the Tribe, don’t sleep on Shaun Marcum. The 32 year old right hander has proven to be a reliable starting pitcher during his career. If you take away a poor season for the New York Mets (1-10 with a 5.29 ERA in 78.1 innings pitched), his career numbers are pretty solid (57-36 with a 3.91 ERA before arriving in New York). While he will never be a top of the rotation type of guy, Marcum is a very real possibility (assuming he is fully recovered from surgery and makes the team) as the Indians number four or five starter as the year progresses, especially if Carrasco continues to struggle in the big leagues. Marcum signed a minor league deal with the Indians with an invite to Spring Training.
5. The Ax Man
The Indians bullpen will have a new look to it this season, anchored by new closer John Axford. I’ll take a risk in saying Axford has big shoes to fill, considered how former Tribe closer Chris Perez’s time ended in Cleveland, but Perez as a whole was more good than bad and his departure left a definite hole in the bullpen. Axford is similar to Perez in that they both enjoyed dominate seasons recently and both have struggled to duplicate the production.
Axford has the ability to be a solid closer for this team, the key to that equation is whether or not Pitching Coach Mickey Callaway can get through to Axford. For a better explanation than what I can provide of what needs to be done to fix Axford, click here, but if he is able to get back on the right track Axford would be a huge asset for the Tribe.
Despite winning 92 games last year, there are plenty of questions regarding the 2014 squad. Whether or not Swisher and Bourn can produce at a higher level and who will emerge as a reliable starting pitcher are the two biggest concerns surrounding this team. The Indians managed to lock up a Wild Card spot last season last season with similar concerns, so if those concerns can turn into assets similar success can be had.
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