After GM Chris Antonetti made the deal with Atlanta sending Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn south, the Cleveland Indians started to play better and worked their way back to the outside fringe of the wild card race.
However, once in that position, the Tribe went back to a win one, lose one stretch, and dropping the first two games of a key series against another contender, the Minnesota Twins, virtually eliminates Terry Francona’s team from post-season consideration.
In a way, that’s good, because it won’t give anyone on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario a notion that the Cleveland Indians are a solid baseball team heading into the winter.
We see four position players who should have starting jobs when the 2016 season opens at Progressive Field on April 4th:
2B Jason Kipnis
SS Francisco Lindor
C Yan Gomes
?? Michael Brantley
Every other position should have competition.
The question mark around Brantley is because we think a move to 1B could be in the cards for him. He’s played the position in the minor leagues, and if the front office finds it easier to find a LF, then perhaps Brantley can be the new first baseman.
We say that because we do not think Carlos Santana will be back in ’16, because he will be dealt.
Santana, a polarizing figure because the sabermetric people love him because he walks, However, he is just slightly above average offensively in the AL, hitting just .234 with 17 HR and 79 RBI with a 749 OPS. The league average is 729.
The switch-hitter will be 30 years old next year, meaning he should be entering the decline phase of his career. It would be best for Antonetti to move Santana to a stat based organization while he still has value. Remember, the Tribe owes him $8 million next year with a club option of $12 million for 2017.
We would also like to see Jose Ramirez back with the team, although he might have the best trade value among the everyday players whom the Indians would be willing to deal.
3B? Giovanny Urshela is excellent defensively, but can he hit enough to play everyday?
CF? Abraham Almonte is a nice fourth outfielder, but the Indians need someone better to hold down the fort until Bradley Zimmer is ready to take over, and hopefully that will be late next season.
RF? Lonnie Chisenhall has been great defensively, but we have seen his up and downs with the bat over the years. Out of all the other positions, Chisenhall may be the guy we would give a shot to, at least in a platoon role.
LF/1B/DH? As we said, Brantley will hold down one of these spots, and he is developing into one of the league’s premier hitters. But the other two spots need people who can hit, and with the game changing, guys who hit for a good average, that don’t strike out excessively, and have a little pop would be fine.
Chris Johnson does whiff a lot, but we’d be willing to give him a share of one of these spots to start next year.
We understand that we are talking about a lot of changes, but we believe going with the status quo is not prudent if the Tribe wants to make the post-season.
Antonetti needs to be looking to upgrade at more than half of the positions in the lineup for next year. And we understand they may not be blockbuster moves, just incremental improvement at those spots would be acceptable.
We will discuss the pitching staff next week.