Hot Stove Season Opens For Tribe

Now that the World Series has ended, the Hot Stove season has started for major league baseball teams, and initially there are a lot of procedural things that must be done.

The first is making decisions on the contract options for many players.  The Indians historically don’t offer many (if any) player options, they like to be the one making the decisions on an extra year for a player in question.

Both decisions made yesterday by the front office were no brainers, in our opinion.

The Tribe picked up the option on Carlos Carrasco, one of the best starting pitchers in the sport.  Carrasco has won 35 games over the past two seasons, striking out at least 200 hitters in each year.

They passed on outfielder Brandon Guyer, saving $2.75 million.  Guyer is a platoon player who feasted on left-handed pitching when he came over from Tampa in 2016, but in the subsequent years, he’s had injury issues and his production, while still good, isn’t at an elite level versus southpaws anymore.

Next on the agenda are making qualifying offers to the prospective free agents.  We are sure such a deal will be offered to Michael Brantley, but the real questions would be Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

If you make the offer, you have to be prepared the player will accept, and that’s why we would extend the deal to Miller only.  If he’s healthy, which he hasn’t been since the middle of last season, he’s still a dominant reliever.

Allen has declined in performance in 2018, perhaps due to the wear and tear of making a lot of appearance over his seven years in Cleveland.  It’s a tough decision and a tough business because Cody Allen has been a loyal player, willing to do whatever Terry Francona wanted him to do.

To improve the roster for the 2019 season, the Indians will need to gain some financial relief, meaning it would behoove the front office to look at highly paid players, who aren’t producing to the level of their contracts.

The chief players to look at here are Edwin Encarnacion, Jason Kipnis, and Yonder Alonso.  It is doubtful Encarnacion can be moved, because being a DH limits him to American League teams.

The other two would be in play, but there is no question in our mind that Cleveland would have to eat some money to make any deal happen.

Moving both would lop about $22 million off the team’s projected salaries, minus whatever the team would have to pay to make it work.

Although they will be the favorites to win the AL Central for the 4th consecutive season, it would be hard to take them seriously as a World Series contender with an outfield of Kipnis in LF, Tyler Naquin in RF, and a platoon of Leonys Martin and Greg Allen in CF.

There is also the matter of rebuilding the bullpen, which with Miller and Allen’s likely departure has just Brad Hand as a proven, reliable option.

It appears the organization has high hopes for Jon Edwards, but it would be nice to have another proven arm in the ‘pen going into spring training.  The cost for relief help would seem to be less than that of a solid big league hitter.

In a few days, we will know who is available in the free agent market and can examine some possible low cost options who could help.

The Indians have the stars, now they need to surround them with better secondary players.

MW

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Examining Tribe Free Agents & Other Stuff

It’s been a week since the Cleveland Indians’ season ended after getting swept in the American League Division Series by the Houston Astros.

Thus, the Tribe joins all but four major league teams in looking forward to the 2019 season.  Barring something drastic, the Indians will enter next season as the favorites for a fourth consecutive Central Division title.

However, there has the potential to have a pretty large roster turnover for Cleveland, and there probably will be.  What should the Indians do to improve next season?

First, the everyday lineup needs to be deeper.  The lineup was top heavy for most of the past season, and when Jose Ramirez slumped in the middle of August, there wasn’t enough hitting by everyone hitting after Edwin Encarnacion, and by that we mean consistent hitting.

The Indians have 11 free agents this winter, including Carlos Carrasco and Brandon Guyer, both of whom have club options for 2019.  The other nine are as follows–

Cody Allen
Michael Brantley
Melky Cabrera
Lonnie Chisenhall
Rajai Davis
Josh Donaldson
Andrew Miller
Oliver Perez
Josh Tomlin

We would exercise Carrasco’s option, but let Guyer walk.  Guyer was lethal against southpaws when he arrived in 2016, but although he had an 804 OPS vs. LHP in 2018, he hit just .233, which isn’t good enough.  And he’s 32 years old.

The qualifying offer for free agents will be around $17.5 million, and there is no doubt the Tribe will make the offer to Brantley.  They may also pick one of the two relief pitchers, Allen or Miller, as well.

That will get them draft pick compensation depending on the size of the contract they sign with other teams, should they go elsewhere.

Out of the two, we would pick Miller, because he didn’t pitch as much this season, and let’s face it, he’s the more dominant of the pair.  If he accepts it, and he might to rebuild his value, you have another back end of the bullpen reliever.

Allen seems to have shown the wear and tear of averaging 68 appearances per season in his seven seasons with the Indians.

As for Brantley, we would explore bringing him back, but only on a two year deal max.  The outfielder will be 32 years old next May, and we have seen the negatives of signing players over 30 to multiyear deals.

He hasn’t had a fall off in performance with the bat, but his defense has declined, and he had the injury issues in both 2016 and 2017.

The organization seems to have an issue with Chisenhall, who would seem to be an ideal candidate to bring back on an incentive laden one year deal.  The former first round pick has been limited to 320 at bats, batting .297 with 13 homers and 62 RBI in the past two injury plagued seasons.

He’s a solid offensive player, particularly against right handed pitching.

They have to make room for Yandy Diaz to play everyday.  It seems absurd to think the organization sent someone to the minors coming off a year at AAA where he slashed .350/454/460.

Diaz can hit, and he needs to be doing it at the major league level.

And the front office has to improve the batting attack by getting more consistent hitters.  We believe you need seven solid hitters to have a solid lineup.

We will look at the free agent list when it is complete to examine who is on the market.

Oh, and one last thing.  After Manny Machado and Bryce Harper sign, start working on a long term contract with Lindor.

This is a big, big off-season for the Tribe front office.  Simply put, they must improve this roster around the core of Lindor, Ramirez, and the starting rotation.

MW

Tribe’s Replaceable Four

The other day, we discussed the “slump” that the Cleveland Indians’ front office has been in since the end of last season.

We have all realized the Tribe’s roster is top heavy, and it needs more depth.  We also assume the Indians will be really be a player for a guy like Manny Machado, because they will not be interested in giving up a high ranking prospect for a player who would be with Cleveland for basically two months.

That said, here is a list of players the Indians should be looking at replacing, if only to get incrementally better.

Rajai Davis.  We understand he’s a great teammate, great locker room presence, etc…, but Davis was never a great hitter, and this year, he’s worse.

He’s a lifetime 693 OPS and a .312 on base average, and this year, those figures have dropped to 587 and .297, respectively.  He has been terrible vs. lefties (491 OPS), and his lone skill remaining is the ability to steal bases, which of course, is meaningless unless he is used as a pinch runner.

Getting someone else who can at least contribute offensively would benefit the bench.  The pit of misery that is centerfield this season is a reason why getting a player like Adam Jones from Baltimore would be an upgrade.

Brandon Guyer.  Guyer was tremendous when he came over from Tampa Bay in 2016, hitting .333 (907 OPS), and had an OPS over 1000 vs. southpaws.  He has battled injuries since then, and he’s not the same lethal bat against left-handers.

Guyer still has a very good 853 OPS against lefties, but his batting average vs. southpaws is just .250.  And while he was passable vs. RHP, he is 2 for 44 this season.

Could Guyer finish strong?  Of course, but his offensive numbers have been in decline since 2016, and that’s not a good trend.  Getting the ’16 Guyer to replace him would be optimal.

Zach McAllister/Dan Otero.  Both right-handers have been mainstays in the Cleveland bullpen over the past few years, but let’s face it, relievers are relievers for a reason, and it may be their usefulness with the Tribe is at an end.

Since moving to the pen, McAllister has always been a strikeout per inning guy and allowed about a hit per inning, but to this point, his whiffs are down (29 in 36-1/3 IP) and his hits allowed are up (42 hits).  He has been prone to the gopher ball, and that number has increased too.

Otero was great in his first year with the Indians in 2016, with an ERA of 1.53, and last year that figure did go up, but was a very respectable 2.85.

This year, his ERA has virtually doubled at 5.60.  The biggest stat that stands out is he is allowing home runs at the highest rate of his career.  He had a similar year with Oakland in 2015, but if the Indians get a couple of bullpen arms at the deadline, both of these guys could be moved elsewhere.

We didn’t address Roberto Perez because he the Indians value his defense more than they dislike his offense.  And Greg Allen was omitted from the list because he need probably can use more time in the minors.

Again, even if you don’t add a star, upgrading the roster incrementally can make a difference. Remember what the Guyer acquisition meant in ’16.  He had a big hit in Game 2 of the ALDS vs. David Price and Boston.

Coco Crisp was picked up on August 31st that year and hit two post-season homers and went 4 for 12 in the World Series.

Sometimes, small subtle moves can prove important.  Getting more production at these four spots could make a big difference in October.

MW

Roster Spot Battles Heat Up For Tribe.

Major league baseball will begin its season in less than two weeks, so we are down to the nitty gritty in terms of battles for Opening Day roster spots.

For the sake of this piece, we will assume that Michael Brantley, Brandon Guyer, and Danny Salazar will all open the season on the disabled list, something that is definite for the latter two, but Brantley has started to hit in minor league games.

We will also figure that Terry Francona will keep 13 pitchers, meaning eight relievers will make the team.  This is the way to keep Ryan Merritt, who is out of options.

The first battle is who will be the Tribe’s utility infielder in Seattle on March 29th.

It was figured going into camp that Erik Gonzalez was the frontrunner, but Giovanny Urshela has made a very strong bid to beat him out.  Urshela has been playing all four infield spots and his bat has been great, as he is 18 for 33 with 3 HR in Arizona.

He has walked just once, but has struck out only three times.

Gonzalez is 6 for 26 without a homer and has walked three times and fanned in seven at bats.  Strike zone judgment has always been an issue for him as his career strikeout to walk ratio is 45:4.

Neither have options remaining, and we would think Gonzalez has more trade value because he’s a natural shortstop and his glove can play as a regular in the majors.

In the outfield, we would pencil in Bradley Zimmer and Lonnie Chisenhall on the team, but who is the primary leftfielder and who is the other right-handed bat considering both Zimmer and Chiz hit left-handed.

What we don’t understand is why Yandy Diaz isn’t getting reps in the outfield, because you could put him in left on an everyday basis, meaning the battle would be between veterans Rajai Davis and Melvin Upton Jr, and Rob Refsnyder.

Tyler Naquin could be in the mix too, but he’s another left handed bat.

Nobody has really taken charge in this battle.  Davis is 7 for 27 with one extra base hit and no walks.  Upton is 6 for 33 with a home run, three walks, and has fanned 11 times, while Refsnyder is 7 for 31 with two homers and six walks.

Again, why not consider Diaz, who is 10 for 28 with a dinger and four walks?

Our guess is Francona will pick Davis and Upton and give them a week or two on the big league roster as an audition.

As for the bullpen, if Merritt is kept, six of the spots have been filled with Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Dan Otero, Zack McAllister, and Tyler Olson claiming them.

We think Nick Goody has pitched his way out of a solid spot by giving up 14 hits and 10 runs in seven innings of work.

Matt Belisle, signed at the beginning of camp, probably claims one spot allowing two runs in eight innings, although the 13 hits allowed are troubling.

That leaves Alexi Ogando (one run in eight innings, 12 strikeouts), and Carlos Torres (seven runs, 13 hits in 7-1/3 frames, but really one bad outing) battling with Goody.

We feel you will see Francona using these guys in high leverage situations for the next week and a half to figure out.  We note that Ogando was the second pitcher used yesterday and threw two innings.

In fact, we think you will see all of these players getting a lot of time until the decision is made.  The regulars will get their at bats in minor league contests.

Decision time is coming.  A strong finish by each one of these players could put them in Seattle for game one.

MW

 

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.

MW