Unlike the past few seasons, the front office of the Cleveland Indians actually made some moves this off-season.
They traded arguably their best hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, because he was going to be a free agent after the 2013 season, and they turned him into top starting pitcher prospect Trevor Bauer, with OF Drew Stubbs thrown in the deal.
For a team that finished second last in the AL in runs scored, dealing your best hitter isn’t regarded as a smart thing, but GM Chris Antonetti did sign free agent Nick Swisher to replace Choo. So, what else did the GM do to help the offense?
He did sign free agent Mark Reynolds to play 1B to replace Casey Kotchman which is an improvement there. Of course, it would have been better for the Indians to sign pretty much anyone else to play the position because you can make the argument that Kotchman may have been the worst offensive player in the big leagues at that spot in 2012.
So, much of the improvement for Terry Francona’s squad will come from wishing and hoping. Some of that hope is merited and some is not.
On the positive side, Francona should get better seasons out of 2B Jason Kipnis (.335/.379/.714), Lonnie Chisenhall (.311/.430/.731), and Carlos Santana (.365/.420/.785).
Kipnis will be entering his second full year in the majors at age 26 and his career should be on an upswing. He will likely hit with more pop with experience and his slugging percentage should get into the .450 range with more doubles and homers. He’s a better hitter than the one who had just 40 extra base hits last season.
For perspective, Jack Hannahan had 20 extra base hits in half the at bats. Most people will agree that “the JK Kid” is a better hitter than Hannahan.
Chisenhall has been hurt by both injuries and former skipper Manny Acta’s love for Hannahan.
In 350 at bats lifetime, Chisenhall has 12 career homers. And as for his supposed lack of ability against southpaws, he has an OPS of almost 700 (696) against lefties and has hit five dingers in 88 career at bats.
For the record, 88 times at the plate is not a large enough samples to suggest he can’t hit left-handers.
Santana is entering his 27-year-old season, and he should be poised for a bounce back year after his OPS dropped below 800 for the first time in his career. His average for 162 games in his career is 24 HR, 83 RBI, and an 806 OPS.
Francona would gladly take those numbers.
However, as much as those guys figure to be better, Reynolds and Stubbs could be potential nightmares.
Reynolds had an 892 OPS in 2009, an outstanding figure and one that would make you overlook the 223 times he struck out that season. Since then, he’s had an OPS no higher than 806, and his batting average hasn’t been above .221.
He’s been pretty even over his career at home or on the road, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Reynolds hit in the .210 range, although with some long balls. If the rest of the lineup hits that’s fine, but here’s hoping fans aren’t expecting the guy who played in ’09.
Stubbs’ OPS has dropped from 773 in 2010, when he hit .255 with 22 homers to 686 in ’11 and down to 610 last year. As a comparison, Kotchman’s OPS last season was 612.
Stubbs is 28 years old so he should be in line for a bit of a bounce back season. But if he doesn’t, the alternatives are Ezequiel Carrera or rookies like Tim Fedroff, which may not be bad.
The point is this. The Indians have improved the offense, but is it enough to climb from 13th in the league in runs scored to the top half of the American League, which is where they need to be to contend.
That improvement will be more dependent on the progress of Santana, Kipnis, and Chisenhall, than on big seasons from Reynolds and Stubbs.
The starting rotation has similar questions.
Fans should be thrilled that the front office did a makeover on a team that has lost 90 games in three of the last four years. The question that has to be asked is: Did they do enough?