Things To Keep An Eye On For Tribe After A Week.

The Cleveland Indians will be home tomorrow afternoon for their home opener, weather permitting.  It will be cold, but it will still be warmer than the Tribe bats were on the first trip on the season, as Terry Francona’s crew lost four of six to Seattle and Los Angeles.

To those who are prone to panic at this about the Indians, it is just six games, and we don’t start evaluating the team until 27 games, or 1/6th of the season is played.

However, that doesn’t mean some of the things we were concerned about as the off-season unfolded, and during spring training haven’t raised their ugly heads.

The old saying that you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone certainly applies to Bryan Shaw.  Yes, the right-hander had some hiccups, and seemed to give up more than his share of key gopher balls, but for the most part, he was very reliable.

The bullpen misses him.

In two of the four Cleveland losses, the relief corps gave up tie breaking home runs, one by Dan Otero, and the other by the pitcher who has a history of allowing long balls in high leverage situations, Zack McAllister.

In addition, last Sunday after Otero allowed the tie breaker, Tyler Olson allowed another two run shot, meaning the ‘pen has already allowed four homers in six games (McAllister served up another in the blowout on Tuesday).

We are not concerned about the production from the top of the batting order because Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, and Jose Ramirez have established track records, and they will hit.

And it appears that Michael Brantley will be activated for the home opener, and if he can stay healthy, it will give the lineup another solid bat.

We can be a little worried about Bradley Zimmer though.  It’s not the centerfielder’s .143 batting average (3 for 21) that is a concern.  Heck, a 3 for 3 day on Friday would bring him to .250.

It’s the lack of contact which is worrying.  The second year major leaguer has struck out in 11 of those 21 at bats, an alarming rate, and completelybo unacceptable for someone who can run like Zimmer.

Zimmer should be trying to bunt for hits two or three times per week, taking advantage of his speed, and helping him to make contact.  We would also add that he hasn’t drawn a walk through six games either.

In addition to Zimmer’s strikeout woes, Yan Gomes is having them as well, fanning in eight of 14 at bats.  The catcher has struggling with strike zone judgment before after winning a Silver Slugger Award in 2014.

In ’15, his strikeout to walk ratio was was 104:13, the following year, it was 69:9.  Last season, it improved a bit to 99:31, and so did the rest of his offensive numbers.

A patient Gomes is a more productive Gomes.  He has to understand this and have some degree of plate discipline.

This duo must be better for the Tribe to have a lineup with some length.

If we didn’t already have questions about these players coming into the season, we wouldn’t have them now.  The season has a long, long way to go, and numbers are particularly volatile now.

But these were question marks coming in.  It doesn’t make a question the long term future for the Indians, but they are things to keep an eye on.

A baseball man once said you should ignore what you see in April and September.  For Zack McAllister, Bradley Zimmer, and Yan Gomes, we hope he was right.



Tribe Can’t Platoon In Too Many Spots

Cleveland Indians’ manager Terry Francona is one of the best in the league at using the platoon advantage.

It helps that his team has a number of switch-hitters who are regulars:  SS Francisco Lindor, 2B Jose Ramirez, and 1B Carlos Santana were everyday players in 2017.

It enables Francona to platoon in right field where he used Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer until both were injured and the front office acquired Jay Bruce.

He also did the same in center, using rookie Bradley Zimmer and veteran Austin Jackson out there.

In 2016, he did the same, using Tyler Naquin and Rajai Davis in center for the American League champs.

The players have to have decided platoon advantages for the strategy to work.  Guyer is lethal vs. southpaws, and Jackson hit .352 against lefties last season.

We mention this because with Santana and Bruce now free agents, many people look at available free agents and wonder about fits for the Tribe.

One name that came up was 1B Matt Adams, recently non-tendered by Atlanta.

Adams, who swings from the left side, has an 828 career OPS vs. right handed pitching with a .286 batting average.  We like Adams, who has been production even though he’s been an everyday player just one season.

However, there is one problem with the platooning.  Francona also likes to carry 13 pitchers, including eight relievers.  That means there are only 12 position players, which limits how many spots the manager can use a platoon system.

Plus, two of those dozen position players are catchers, so if you aren’t platooning with that position, it means there are only two spots that the manager can use different players against left-handers and right-handers.

And don’t forget the need for a utility infielder, preferably someone who can play shortstop defensively so you aren’t playing a statue when Lindor gets his infrequent days off.

So, if the Indians don’t re-sign Santana, they will either need a full time option there or decide that Zimmer has to play everyday in centerfield.  Either that or have one less pitcher in the bullpen for Francona.

As things are right now, you have to think the current platoons will be Chisenhall and Guyer in right (again) and Zimmer and a right-handed bat to be named later in centerfield.

That’s why we still believe if Santana goes elsewhere, Michael Brantley will move to first base with Jason Kipnis playing left field.  If Santana returns, we could see a deal involving Kipnis.

If you want to look at a player from another team that was non-tendered, how about reliever Hector Rondon.

The right-hander was in the Tribe organization until 2012, and had seasons of 29 and 30 saves for the Cubs in 2014 and 2015.

Last season, he was 4-1 with a 4.24 ERA for Chicago, with 69 strikeouts in 57-1/3 innings, so he still has swing and miss stuff.

We know the Indians like to reunite with former players, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the reliever came back to Cleveland, especially since the front office has to be looking for arms to replace Bryan Shaw, who is a free agent.

With the Winter Meetings starting on Sunday, the Indians’ roster changes should start to take place.  Just remember the number of platoon options are limited unless full time players are acquired as well.








Tribe Adds A Big Bat In Bruce

The Cleveland Indians are certainly a different organization than they were five years ago.

After watching their offense sputter over the last four games, scoring just one run (Austin Jackson’s bloop single that tied the game on Tuesday) that didn’t come on a home run over the last four games, they decided to add some pop to the batting order, acquiring slugging outfielder Jay Bruce from the Mets for minor league pitcher Ryder Ryan.

And reportedly, the Indians got him because they were willing to pay the remainder of the outfielder’s salary, something the Yankees weren’t willing to do.

With Lonnie Chisenhall still on the disabled list and Michael Brantley going on today with a sprained ankle, the organization couldn’t go with an outfield of Austin Jackson or Brandon Guyer in right, a slumping Bradley Zimmer in center, and Abraham Almonte in left for even a short time.

The 30-year-old Bruce is hitting .256 with 29 home runs and 75 RBI (847 OPS) in 102 games this season.

When Bruce played with the Reds before being moved to the Mets at the trade deadline a year ago, we felt he was a product of playing his home games in Great American Ballpark, a known hitter’s paradise.

With Citi Field being a pitcher’s park, Bruce has been very good on the road this season, with 18 dingers and a 919 OPS.

He is also been dominant at Progressive Field, hitting .384 with a 1.031 OPS in 86 at bats.

And the defensive metrics say he’s been a solid defender in right field this season, a drastic change for the better from when he was in Cincinnati.

He is a high strikeout, low walk guy, having been punched out 102 times this year, with only 39 walks.

Hopefully, Bruce can help the inconsistent Tribe offense, which has scored three runs or less in 47 of their 111 games (42%) this season.  That’s not acceptable for a team with post-season aspirations.

The addition of Bruce could allow Terry Francona to move Carlos Santana back up to the leadoff spot in the batting order, replacing the slumping Jason Kipnis, whose batting average has dropped to .225 on the year, with an on base percentage of .285.

With the injuries, management had to realize they had to lengthen the lineup, which yesterday had Zimmer, Almonte, and Roberto Perez in the bottom three spots.

The league seems to have made adjustments to Zimmer, who is 0 for 17 in August, and the extending playing time has affected Jackson, who is 5 for his last 24.

Bruce will probably play right, with Guyer and Almonte alternating in left and Zimmer and Jackson splitting time in center.

There is speculation that perhaps Brantley and Chisenhall are more seriously injured than originally thought, but we believe the front office couldn’t think of going with an unproductive outfield for even another week, especially with the upcoming schedule of 11 road games, all against playoff contenders.

It also sends a message in the clubhouse that the front office isn’t satisfied with the way the team is playing since the All Star break, and they also want to do more than just win the American League Central.

Considering the cost, it’s a no brainer move for the Indians.  Hopefully, Bruce keeps slugging and the seemingly dormant Tribe offense gets a jolt of energy.








Tribe Seems Stuck In Mud Thus Far.

The Cleveland Indians reached the 1/3rd point of the season yesterday, and they continue to be spinning their wheels to this point.

The Tribe went 15-12 during the first 27 games (1/6th of the campaign), and slipped to 13-14 over the last 27.

That isn’t what anyone was thinking when the Indians broke spring training with a road sweep of the Texas Rangers.

You could blame the below .500 record on the absence of Corey Kluber who basically missed the entire month of May with a bad back.  Not having one of the game’s best pitchers doesn’t help any team.

However, Terry Francona’s team just hasn’t been able to put everything together.  The only consistent part of the ballclub is the back of the bullpen, which has been spectacular.

Other than the trio of Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, and Bryan Shaw, there isn’t one thing for Tito to hang his hat on a regular basis.

The offense has been up and down more than an elevator in a high rise.  After winding up 2nd in the AL in runs scored last year, Cleveland ranks third from the bottom in 2017.

In 26 of the 54 games played to date, the Indians have scored three runs or less, and they are 7-19 in those games.  When you are scoring three or less in basically half the time you take the field, it is difficult to put together a sustained period of winning.

On the other hand, the Tribe has scored 8+ runs a dozen times.  So, as you can plainly see, it really is feast or famine for the Cleveland bats.

This team also doesn’t have a come from behind victory that fuels a winning streak from time to time.  The only walk-off win this year came in the home opener, way back in early April.

Last year, once the Indians got the first walk off, they followed it with a bunch of them, so there is hope in that regard.

The loss of Kluber hurt because of his reliability and high level of consistency.  Carlos Carrasco has been good, but he had issue with a chest muscle over the last month.

Danny Salazar has been moved to the bullpen for the time being, mostly because he’s has a problem giving Francona at least five innings.

Without Kluber, the most consistent starters have been the two youngest in the rotation–Mike Clevinger and the much maligned Trevor Bauer.

That can’t give Tito and the front office a warm and fuzzy feeling.

On the other hand, perhaps Kluber’s return will steady the rotation, and things will improve greatly over the next 27 contests.

The defense and baserunning also seem to have gone backwards to date.  We talked about improving on the bases last week, but the defense, particularly in the outfield has been a concern.

It has improved since Bradley Zimmer was called up, but one thing to keep an eye on is Michael Brantley’s defense, which seems to have declined greatly over the past three seasons.

Francona spoke about a lack of veteran leadership with this group, that they missed a Jason Giambi or Mike Napoli in the clubhouse.

If true, then it’s time for Jason Kipnis and Brantley to be assertive with this group.  There is too much talent to be just two games over .500 at this time of the year.

It isn’t panic, but it is fine to be a little concerned with the 2017 Cleveland Indians.  It’s time to start establishing that they are the team to beat in the AL Central Division.




Why Has Tribe Stopped Running?

The Oakland A’s arrived in town yesterday for a four game series against the Cleveland Indians.  Why is this significant?

Because it marks the return of World Series hero Rajai Davis, who hit the game tying home run in game seven of the Fall Classic.

Davis brought the added weapon of the stolen base to the Indians, leading the American League with 43, as the Tribe led the junior circuit as a team with 143 steals.

Along with Mike Napoli, Davis was credited with making Cleveland a very aggressive team on the base paths, and the Indians seemed to go from first to third quite a bit.

In fact, the Tribe led the AL in extra bases taken last year with a 45% percentage.  This statistic is based on taking more than one base on a single or taking more than two bases on a double.

Terry Francona’s team also led the league in stolen base percentage, succeeding on 81% of their steal tries.

This year, it’s a completely different story.

Cleveland ranks 11th in the American League in stolen bases, and is 12th in stolen base percentage.

They’ve also dropping to 11th in extra bases taken.

Granted Davis was a huge part of the Tribe’s speed game, but he’s wasn’t the only player running.  Jose Ramirez stole 22 bags, Francisco Lindor had 19 and his keystone combination partner, Jason Kipnis had 15.

Abraham Almonte added 8 more.

This year, Michael Brantley leads the Indians with five, which for a full season, doesn’t even project to 20.

Ramirez has three, Lindor and Kipnis each have two.  This year’s team just isn’t as aggressive on the bases.

Davis’ replacement is Austin Jackson, who hasn’t stolen 20 bases in a season since 2014, and he has never been the base stealer that Davis is.

Napoli was replaced by Edwin Encarnacion, who has been the better hitter over his career, but doesn’t have the aggressiveness on the basepaths of his predecessor.

So, this aspect of the game has to come from other players.  You would think it would come from Lindor, a team leader in every sense of the word, but he’s turned into an extra base machine, ranking third in the AL behind Mike Trout and Corey Dickerson of Tampa Bay.

He’s not stopping at first base very often, but his on base percentage is down almost 20 points from a year ago.

Ramirez would be the other candidate, but his on base percentage is down 25 points from a year ago.  Perhaps he will steal more when he starts drawing some walks again.

Maybe rookie Bradley Zimmer can be a force in this area.  Zimmer stole over 40 bases in each of his last two minor league seasons, so he has the kind of speed the Indians need.  However, he will have to learn the pitchers’ moves or he will just rely on raw speed to advance.

There are other reasons why the Tribe offense is sputtering, mostly a considerable drop in the team’s on base percentage and a terrible batting average with runners in scoring position.

But don’t overlook the aggressive base running we saw in 2016.  That was a big part of the Indians’ attack a year ago.  They need to get back to that mindset this season to help get the offense going again.



If Tribe Makes A Deal, They Have Depth in System

The hottest team in baseball resides right here in Cleveland, Ohio.  The Indians have rolled off 10 straight wins, and currently sit atop the American League Central Division by five games over the Kansas City Royals.

There shouldn’t be any doubt that president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff should be sellers when the major league trade deadline hits at the end of July.

What should the Indians be focusing on?

Many people want Cleveland to get a bat, believing the offensive surge that has occurred over the last month is not sustainable.

We believe the focus should be on the bullpen, because Terry Francona seems to trust only Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen when he has a lead late in games, and both of those guys have some warts that are troublesome.

Shaw has been prone to the long ball, and Allen goes through periods where he struggles to throw strikes.

As a result, Francona is letting his starters go longer into games than normal, something may not be a big deal one or two times through the rotation, but if the Indians are going to make a run in the post season, they need to monitor the workload of the starting pitchers.

We have already seen Tito and Mickey Callaway push back Danny Salazar earlier in the month, and Corey Kluber got an extra day as well.

Most of the speculation regarding getting help either in the bullpen and/or in the lineup centers on giving up prospects, as that is what most teams are looking for.

If you are going to push to go deep into the playoffs, you can’t deal people currently on the roster.  You need to add to the squad, not move people around.

So, eliminate the speculation on dealing Trevor Bauer and Lonnie Chisenhall.  Tyler Naquin may be expendable, because he could still get sent back to minors when Abraham Almonte is activated.

We wouldn’t do that, but the Indians might.

So, what prospects are expendable?

If the Indians are going to make a big splash, they would like have to give up one of their two prime outfield prospects, Bradley Zimmer or Clint Frazier.  Right now, Frazier is the brighter star, having a better season in Akron.

The other guy people talk about is Bobby Bradley, the slugging first baseman at Class A Lynchburg.  Bradley has contact issues, but when he connects, the ball goes a long, long way.  The talent evaluators with the Tribe have to decide whether or not Bradley will ever be more than the next Russell Branyan.

If they don’t think so, he could be a very popular piece in making a major move.

The Tribe also has some starting pitching in reserve, guys who could contribute to a major league team as early as next year.

We’ve already seen Mike Clevinger, but there is also Adam Plutko, Ryan Merritt, Shawn Morimando, and in the lower levels of the minors, you have Julian Merryweather and Justus Sheffield.

And don’t forget C Francisco Mejia, just promoted to Lynchburg and the Tribe’s representative in The Futures’ Game.

If the Indians receive a player they would control for 2017 and perhaps 2018, they may be willing to move a top line prospect.  However, it would be very difficult to move Zimmer and Frazier, two guys who could be starters as early as next year, for a two month rental.

The farm system is finally producing, and if the Indians play it right, they could be the team to beat in the Central Division for the next 4-5 seasons.

Besides the prospects, they have Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, both under 23-years-old playing everyday.

Antonetti and Chernoff have plenty of ammunition to go out and get an impact player without giving up on the future.

They can deal from organization depth.  It’s been a long time since the Indians could say that.



Tribe Farm System Starting To Pay

From the time Mark Shapiro took over as general manager of the Cleveland Indians to his departure last season, the overriding tale of the regime was lack of success in the amateur draft.

From 2000 to 2008, the most successful first round choice by the Tribe’s scouting staff was Jeremy Guthrie, and because he was signed to a major league contract, he appeared in all of 16 games for Cleveland, starting just once.

In 2008, the Indians drafted Lonnie Chisenhall, and while you can’t put him in the “star” category, he is a serviceable major league player, a step up from previous years.

In 2011, Cleveland selected a high school shortstop named Francisco Lindor, and since then the Indians’ first round picks show up among baseball’s top prospects, depending on the publication or website you are reading.

Lindor was followed by Tyler Naquin, who made the Opening Day roster this season, and Tribe fans are waiting patiently for the next group of top picks, namely Clint Frazier (’13), Bradley Zimmer (’14), and Brady Aiken (’15).

Both Frazier and Zimmer can be seen nightly about an hour south of Lake Erie, both toiling for the Akron RubberDucks.  Aiken is recovering from elbow surgery after he was the first overall pick in 2014, and should pitch for one of the Indians’ minor league teams this summer.

During that drought, thankfully, the Indians were very good finding prospects in other organizations, so they did have some good young players in the pipeline, such as Shin Soo Choo (Seattle), Asdrubal Cabrera (Seattle), Michael Brantley (Milwaukee), and Carlos Carrasco (Philadelphia).

That has continued in recent years too, as the front office basically stole Yan Gomes, now one of the AL’s best catchers from Toronto, and when they dealt Choo before he became a free agent, they received Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw from Arizona.

There may be two more players unearthed in another team’s system on their way as well, both coming from the Angels system.

A few years ago, with Vinnie Pestano no longer a dominant set up man, then GM Chris Antonetti moved him to Los Angeles for a starting pitcher in the Class A California League with an ERA over 5.00.

The deal was regarded as ho hum, Cleveland got a warm body.  After coming over to Kinston, the right-hander had a 4.87 ERA.

The Tribe pitching coaches re-did his mechanics, and last year he posted a 2.73 ERA at Akron and 145 strikeouts in 158 innings pitched.

That’s the story of Mike Clevinger, one of the organization’s top ten prospects, and a guy you may see at Progressive Field some time this season.

When the Indians seemed to be out of the race last year and wanted to make room for younger players, they moved veteran David Murphy to the Angels for a young shortstop who looked to be all glove, no hit.

Eric Stamets had a very good training camp, and has gotten off to a good start (albeit a couple of games) at Akron.

Could he be the next success story for the organization?

For a mid to small market team like the Indians, they must be able to develop players.  The fates of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher show what can go wrong with the free agent experiments.

Over the last five seasons, the Indians have made tremendous progress developing young players.  We picked them to win the division this season, and with the young talent on the horizon, it could be another long run of success on the corner of Ontario and Carnegie.


Tribe Banking On A Lot Going Right on Offense

The supporters of the front office of the Cleveland Indians, those who think they never do anything wrong, will take the signing of Juan Uribe and hammer critics of the move by saying people complain when they don’t spend money, and then when they do, the “haters” are still not happy.

As we have said all winter, in a vacuum, each one of the Tribe’s off-season signings are good.

There is little risk in any of the one-year contracts GM Mike Chernoff and president Chris Antonetti gave to Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, and Uribe.

All of them could be solid contributors to the 2016 Indians, and if they have good seasons, then Terry Francona’s bunch will be contenders for a division championship.

The downside is what if they don’t, and with Francona being a player’s manager, how long of a rope do each of the trio have?

What if any one of the three have a completely horrible spring training, and one of the younger players who play their spot, have tremendous springs.

We know the answer is that Tito is going to give the more experienced player the benefit of the doubt.

That may be fine, but this is a team, that for many reasons, can’t afford to get off to a bad start.  If the slumps last past April and into May, can management continue to give playing time to aging players.

Assuming Francona starts the season with 12 pitchers, that leaves two open spots on the Opening Day roster.

We project the starting lineup against the Red Sox, and likely David Price, this way:

Kipnis        2B
Lindor        SS
Napoli        1B
Santana      DH
Gomes        C
Uribe          3B
RH hitter   RF
Almonte    CF
Davis          LF

Lonnie Chisenhall will be the everyday guy in RF, but we doubt Francona will start him vs. Price.  The candidates for this spot, and a utility role are Joey Butler, Collin Cowgill, Shane Robinson, and Robbie Grossman, although he is a better hitter vs. right handers.

The other two bench spots will be Jose Ramirez and Roberto Perez.

Yes, this roster can be very, very good if everything falls into place, but how often does that happen, and why does the front office bank on that having to occur pretty much every season.

Perhaps in a few years, when Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier hit the big leagues, and hopefully are successful in the majors, the hitting attack will not have to depend on keeping your fingers crossed.

We look at the current lineup and a lot has to go right for this team.

Napoli has to keep doing whatever he did in the second half last season.  Hopefully, Uribe will continue to be productive at 37 years old.

Will Davis hit well at Progressive Field? Can Carlos Santana reverse a two year trend in his career that is going in the wrong direction?

That’s four questions out of nine spots, and we didn’t even mention Almonte, who had a solid two months in a Tribe uniform, that’s all.

Nor did we mention Michael Brantley’s shoulder surgery.

Look, we hope it all works out for the 2016 Cleveland Indians, but why can’t this organization try to eliminate some question marks going into the season?

Why do they have to continue with the “wishin’ and hopin'” mentality?

If have of the questions aren’t answered in their favor, this team is in peril of watching another season of outstanding pitching wasted.

That would be a shame, and it won’t help the feeling the fans of Cleveland have regarding the current regime.