Doesn’t Look Like Tribe Did Enough In Trade Market (At Least For Now)

The Major League Baseball trade deadline came and went yesterday, and the Cleveland Indians did make one trade, sending two minor leaguers to Toronto for reliever Joe Smith, who will be making his second stint with the Tribe.

Smith, who played for the Indians from 2009-13, compiling a 2.76 ERA and three saves in that period, is a quality relief pitcher.  His lifetime ERA is under 3.00 (2.95), and he is having a great season, with 51 strikeouts in 35 innings this year.

However, being a sidearmer, he is extremely effective against right handed hitters, holding them to an OPS of 588 and a .215 batting average.

Against left-handed hitters, the OPS against is 708, and this year that figure is 749, so he is more like a ROOGY, which will benefit the bullpen, but is that the biggest need for the relief corps.

Our biggest concern, which we discussed in the last post, is the overuse of Andrew Miller, and we don’t see how getting Smith remedies that.

When Smith was a member of Terry Francona’s bullpen in 2013, the only year they were together, he drew the later inning work, with Bryan Shaw working earlier.  Basically, Shaw took Smith’s spot when he departed in free agency following the season.

So, will Francona trust Smith is late inning situations again?

If he does, that will ease the burden on Shaw, Miller, and Cody Allen in the late innings of close games that the Indians are winning.

Francona can say anything he wants, but it is clear there is a pecking order in the bullpen, and when the Tribe has the lead late, he goes to that trio, pretty much on an exclusive basis.

There still is a pressing need for another left-hander, and perhaps Tyler Olson can fill that bill, but do you really think Tito would trust him to get Eric Hosmer out in a key game against Kansas City later this month?

Another factor with Smith is the health of his right arm.  He spent some time on the disabled list earlier in the year with inflammation in his shoulder.

The trust factor is another reason we are surprised GM Mike Chernoff didn’t strengthen the bench as well.

Right now, with Jason Kipnis on the shelf, Francona’s options are Erik Gonzalez, who has a terrible strikeout to walk ratio, or Giovanny Urshela, who is struggling to hit at all.

When Kipnis is back, Gonzalez will return to his utility role, but would the skipper and/or the fans feel comfortable having to put him in to pinch hit if the need was there?

We are all for playing young players, but in a pennant race, wouldn’t you rather have an experienced guy who can hit and can handle the strike zone?

We understand that it takes two to tango, and the Cleveland front office could’ve been eager to make a move, but if other teams were steadfast in wanting Francisco Mejia or Triston McKenzie, we would have passed as well.

Still, it seems like the organization is putting a lot of faith in the return of Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall.  Unfortunately, Kipnis has struggled all year and quite frankly, we don’t know what he will do when he returns.

They also seem to be putting a lot of faith in Danny Salazar’s last two starts.

You try to eliminate as many of the possible weak spots on your roster when making a playoff run, and we aren’t sure the Indians did that.

Hopefully, there are some moves to come in August.




Who Plays Second For A Few Weeks?

A few days ago, the Cleveland Indians announced 2B Jason Kipnis was about 4-5 weeks away from returning to the lineup.

First off, many people went crazy thinking Kipnis wasn’t going to be able to do anything for 4-5 weeks, meaning his return to the lineup would be about two months away.  Apparently, those people didn’t read correctly.

However, it does mean that the second baseman will miss most, if not all, of the first month of the season, so Terry Francona has to find someone to partner with Francisco Lindor as the team’s keystone combination.

It is not a coincidence that when the amount of time became specified by the Cleveland training staff, we started seeing Jose Ramirez playing in place of Kipnis.

Our guess is if Kipnis was going to miss a couple of weeks of the regular season, Francona would have went with a mixture of Michael Martinez and Erik Gonzalez at second, and left Ramirez at the hot corner, where he played so well in the second half of 2016.

But when it appeared to be a full month, he felt it necessary to move Ramirez back to his natural position, and use find someone else to play third.

In his heart of hearts, Tito probably knows Ramirez is stronger defensively than Kipnis, and a double play combination of Lindor and Ramirez could be among the best in the league.

What to do at 3B?  The primary candidates are Giovanny Urshela who is very good with the glove, but his hitting is questionable because he doesn’t handle the strike zone.

Then you have Yandy Diaz, who looks to be ready with the bat, hitting over .300 combined at Akron and Columbus last year.  The brass seems to be very concerned about his glove, although the defensive metrics show he is solid at third.

A dark horse would be Richie Shaffer, who spent the winter bouncing from team to team, but has made some changes in his swing and approach which has caused his power to spike.

Both Diaz and Shaffer would have to be added to the 40 man roster.

Urshela would be the safe pick, but remember the Indians are in a different situation than in the past.  They are the defending American League champions, they aren’t a contending team anymore, so they should be making decisions to win right now.

We have heard people say Diaz shouldn’t get the nod because they don’t want his service time to be an issue.

This was an issue in 2015 with Francisco Lindor, but the Indians weren’t the top dog in the league at that time.  Of course, the failure to bring him up sooner than June 14th may have cost the Tribe a spot in the playoffs.

But Diaz is 25 (Lindor was 21), so when he does become eligible for free agency, he will be 32 years old, past his prime years.

Our belief is to go with the offense, which means giving Diaz the job.  If you have the lead after six innings, then go to Gonzalez or Martinez, whoever wins the utility man job, for defense.

It’s great news that Kipnis should only miss a month, but they have some options to fill in for him until he’s ready to go.


Analyzing The Tribe’s Veteran Signings

During the hot stove season, the Cleveland Indians decided to try to improve their team by signing some veterans to one year contracts.

Over the years, we have not been thrilled by this strategy for several reasons, mostly that it shows the organization doesn’t trust their young players.

And we also feel that part of the reason for the sluggish starts by the club over the past few seasons is they spend the first 40 games seeing if these veterans have anything in the tank, and a lot of times, bringing up the young players gives the Tribe a spark.

This season doesn’t seem to be any different.

While Mike Napoli has been productive despite striking out a lot, he has a .504 slugging percentage and leads the team in home runs and RBIs, the other vets are struggling.

Rajai Davis, 35-years-old,  has an on base percentage of .265 and an OPS of 620.  You would have to think a player like Tyler Naquin could do at least that well.

We realize Naquin’s numbers may not hold up with more at bats, but our biggest concern with the rookie offensively was that he wasn’t drawing walks.  Guess what?  Neither does Davis, who has walked just five times on the year.

Making the Davis issue worse is Terry Francona continues to hit him in the leadoff spot, despite a career .315 on base average.

Juan Uribe (age 37) was brought in because the management didn’t feel comfortable using Giovanny Urshela at 3B to start the season.

However, Uribe thus far has demonstrated no pop in his bat, with a slugging percentage of .306 and an OPS of 619.  Uribe started the year playing pretty much everyday at the hot corner, but is starting to lose playing time to Jose Ramirez at that position.

For the record, Urshela had a 608 OPS last season while battling injuries, and figured to improve with experience.

Thirty eight year old Marlon Byrd is the other veteran signed by the Indians, he inked his deal during spring training.  Byrd has been decent, with a 684 OPS and hasn’t been the hammer vs. left handed pitching he was purported to be.

We wouldn’t have a problem seeing him a couple of days per week as long as he is still contributing.  He seems to get one big hit per week.

We understand that the season is just 31 games old, and we recognize this constitutes a small sample size.

We also know the American League playoff race will probably be very close all year long and one game here or there could make a big difference.

The Cleveland Indians feel they are a contending team, which is probably the reason they made the moves to sign these players, but being a contender also means there is a short leash for players who aren’t getting it done.

With Michael Brantley’s availability up in the air right now, Terry Francona can’t use his considerable patience hoping that Davis and Uribe will get it together soon.  If they aren’t hitting, the lineup is full of holes.

Our fear when the Tribe signs this type of player is what will happen if they aren’t swinging the bat well.  Tito gives veterans the benefit of the doubt, so his inclination is to keep giving them at bats with the hope they will snap out of their slumps.

He can’t wait much longer.

And as for a possible release of either player, remember they are on one year deals, so there is no long term investment in Davis or Uribe.

It will be interesting to keep an eye on both players through the end of May to see what the front office may do.

The bigger question here is why not give the young players the first shot at the job, and bring the veterans in if they don’t work out?




Who Has Early Leg Up For Tribe?

The Cleveland Indians have played eight exhibition games and while it is way too early to make solid statements on individual players, we can see some trends and indications on who will make the Opening Day roster.

For example, one of our favorite whipping boys, Zach Walters, hasn’t helped his cause by starting the spring 0 for 10, with five strikeouts.

On the other hand, Tyler Naquin seems to have played his way into the conversation to open the season in Cleveland.

He has started 8 for 18 with a double and two triples and has only struck out twice.  It’s another three weeks before decisions have to be made, but the rookie has caught the attention of people with his solid performance thus far.

Giovanny Urshela will start the season in Columbus because of the acquisition of Juan Uribe, but he has made the people who wanted him to have the job proud with 2 home runs and six runs batted in.

Perhaps his offensive struggles a year ago were the result of being nicked up with some minor injuries.

Out of the veteran outfielders on minor league contracts, Joey Butler has done the best job at the dish, going 3 for 9 with a homer.  We felt the guy who broke up Carlos Carrasco’s no hitter last year was the guy we thought was the frontrunner going into camp.

The rest of the candidates have been largely unimpressive.  Robbie Grossman is 2 for 15.  Collin Cowgill, the favorite of the stat people, is 1 for 12.  Will Venable is 0 for 6, and James Ramsey, who had a poor year at AAA last season, is 0 for 11.

Again, we know it is early, and today, one of these guys could get three hits and their numbers will be much better.  We are writing about players who are making early impressions.

Another area of competition for Terry Francona is the bullpen.  We all know that Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and Zack McAllister are locks for the relief corps, and unless Jeff Manship is terrible he will make the team as well.

We think Tito will keep two southpaws, and the guy who has made a good impression so far is veteran, non-roster invitee Tom Gorzelanny, who has made three scoreless appearances.

He held left-handed hitters to a .222 batting average last season with the Tigers.

The other lefty out of the bullpen spot is up for grabs between Kyle Crockett, Giovanny Soto, and Joe Thatcher.

One player who will not make the team, but has looked great so far is Mike Clevenger, one of the organization’s top prospects.  The youngster throws hard and has thrown four scoreless innings in two outings.

He could be an option down the road is something happens to one of the five starters.  Luckily for the Indians, they will also have Cody Anderson, who pitched well in 2015, in reserve at Columbus too.

Clevenger was another guy we were high on over the winter based on the way he finished last year at Akron and Columbus, particularly in the International League playoffs.

Right now, the players we mentioned have taken the lead in the clubhouse for the jobs that are open.

Now, they have to keep those spots, and there is a lot of spring baseball yet to be played.





The Only Consistent Thing About Tribe at Halfway Point…

For a team as inconsistent as the Cleveland Indians are, it is fitting that their record at the halfway point of the season is right around the .500 mark, although slightly below at 38-43.

And they start the second half of the year against the same team and pitcher they opened the regular season against, with Houston pitching Dallas Keuchel tonight.

Terry Francona’s squad went 12-15 over the last 27 games (1/6th of the season), down from the 16-11 in the second sixth of the season.

The first 27 games was a disaster at 10-17.

Such is the fate of the up-and-down Tribe, who can’t get anything going this season, and probably won’t be able to as long as the roster is made up of the same group of players.

The trip that just ended was a microcosm of the Cleveland season.

They looked horrible against Baltimore, getting shutout in the last two games, a doubleheader, which ended a sweep of the series by the birds.

Then, they visited Tampa, with the Rays owning a share of the top spot in the AL East, and took four straight from Tampa, the first three with their starting pitchers flirting with no-hitters.

They won the first game in Pittsburgh, then reverted back to their anemic offense, losing 1-0 on Saturday, and getting a paltry five hits on Sunday in a 5-3 loss, although the NL’s winningest pitcher, Gerrit Cole, was on the hill for the Bucs.

The best thing about the Indians’ season to date has been the jumbled nature of the American League, where no team is more than 6-1/2 games out of the second wild card spot.

On the other hand, the Tribe has the 10th best record in the AL, meaning there are more teams ahead of them than behind.

This clumping reduces the number of teams that will be sellers at the trade deadline at the end of the month, so it will be difficult for GM Chris Antonetti to make a move to improve the roster.

Unless, however, they do it from within, which has been our contention all along.

There isn’t a blockbuster trade out there, and really, we don’t want the Indians to give up their core position players (Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, Francisco Lindor) in any deal.

Nor do we want to deal the young, controllable starting pitchers either.

What should be done is more incremental moves, even subtle ones, that make the team better.

Cleveland did just that over the last 30 days by bringing up Giovanny Urshela to play third base and Lindor to play shortstop.

The defensive matrix says Lonnie Chisenhall did a solid job on defense this season, but at the very least, we can say Urshela is as good with the glove (our opinion is he is better), but he is hitting better (Urshela’s OPS is 651 compared to Chisenhall’s 585).

And the rookie has shown consistency, with a 13 game hitting streak just ending yesterday.

Lindor has struggled at the dish, as expected, but he is still performing better than Jose Ramirez did (Lindor’s OPS is slightly higher), and the defensive statistics say he is already the Tribe’s best glove man.

Which brings us to our favorite whipping post, Michael Bourn.

Let’s say the Indians replace Bourn with Tyler Holt, and Holt hits .265 with an OPS of 700, which is slightly below average in the AL.  That batting average would be 25 points higher than the veteran’s, and the OPS figure would be more than 100 points better.

Think the Indians would be a little better then?

We understand the contract status of Bourn, but right now, you are paying him to hurt the ballclub, and you don’t have to.

Yes, yes, we know he had a decent weekend against the Pirates, but that’s what we talk about in terms of consistency.

He had two good games.  He may go 0 for 12 this week against the Astros and A’s.

Can the Indians make a run?  Of course, but it will take a significant run of good play to do it, something they were unable to piece together in the first 81 games.