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.

MW

 

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Tribe Needs Bullpen Help To Ease Miller’s Workload

Terry Francona likes to say when you think you have too much pitching, you go out and get more.

That holds true today, because even though the Indians lead the American League in team ERA, team president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff are probably looking for more arms before tomorrow’s trading deadline.

The return of Danny Salazar to form should ease the need for another starting pitcher, and eventually, either Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, or Mike Clevinger will go to the bullpen, but another top notch bullpen arm would help the Indians going forward.

It is pretty obvious that when the Tribe has the lead, Francona has confidence in just three guys, closer Cody Allen, rubber armed Bryan Shaw, and the ultimate relief weapon, Andrew Miller.

Two games this week demonstrated this.

Thursday, with Miller and Shaw unavailable due to usage over the past few days, the skipper went with Trevor Bauer for eight innings and over 110 pitches rather than bring someone out of the group that includes Zack McAllister, Nick Goody, and Dan Otero.

And Bauer was pitching in a 2-1 game.

Bauer thrives on throwing so the pitch count wasn’t the issue it might be for others, but it is hard to imagine Tito staying with his starting into the 8th had Miller or Shaw been available.

The next night, Cleveland had a 9-2 lead after six when Salazar was removed from the game.  The Tribe won it, 9-3, but McAllister (7th), Goody (8th), and Shawn Armstrong (9th) all had difficulty recording outs, and the latter two ended the inning in bases loaded situations.

Look, the Indians have post-season aspirations, and they currently lead the AL Central by three games, the concern is keeping the primary relievers fresh for September and October, and that’s why they could use an extra arm in the ‘pen that Francona will trust.

Shaw leads the AL in games pitched with 49.  This isn’t a shock, as he routinely is in the top five in the league in appearances.  He is blessed with that kind of arm, and in spite of the social media critics when he fails, which isn’t often, he gets the job done.

Allen has made just 42 appearances and usually pitches one inning. He has the traditional closer role, and does it quite well.  He has only 19 saves, because the Indians win a lot of games in blowout fashion.

The concern is Miller, and Francona is always talking about reducing his work load, but then he can’t help himself.  The guy is that good.

He has been in 45 games, pitching 53-1/3 innings, ranking 5th in the AL in innings for relievers.

Last night, he threw almost 30 pitches, and our guess is he will tell Tito he can go today, but with a tough schedule coming up this week (at Boston for three, New York at home for four), he should get the day off.

That’s why the Indians needs another arm out there, to lessen Miller’s load.

With Boone Logan likely out for the year, the Indians need another southpaw.  They also need a reliever that can get right-handed and left-handed hitters out.

That would also allow Francona to shorten games even more, particularly in the post-season.

We believe getting another reliever is the primary goal of the front office before tomorrow afternoon at 4 PM.

It could make all the difference going forward for the Cleveland Indians.

MW

Why Tribe Will Repeat As AL Central Champs

A year ago at this time, we predicted an American League Central Division title for the Cleveland Indians.

After consecutive third place finishes in 2014 and 2015, that pick was a little more out on the edge as this year, but we will go ahead and say it anyway, the Indians will win the division title for the second straight year.

It’s not hard to see that Chris Antonetti, Mike Chernoff, and Terry Francona have put together a helluva good baseball team, and they complement that with a farm system that seems to be churning out major league ready players.

The first thing people want to bring up when talking about the Indians is their pitching led by staff ace Corey Kluber, one of the game’s best starters, and the bullpen trio of Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, and Bryan Shaw, which was dominant for most of the post-season.

Indeed, Cleveland finished second in the American League in staff ERA in 2016, one of only two AL teams (Toronto) with an ERA of under 4.00.

Besides Kluber, Danny Salazar made the All-Star team a year ago, and Carlos Carrasco is capable of dominating any big league lineup.  Consistency and injuries have been an issue with both hurlers in the past.

Trevor Bauer is the wild card.  There doesn’t seem to be any reason he shouldn’t be able to win 15 games, but he has gone through long stretches of seasons where he pitches poorly.  If he can avoid those, and he’s only 26, he could be an elite starter too.

Josh Tomlin is a solid fifth starter, and in most rotations would be a three or four.  If any of the starters falter, Mike Clevinger and Ryan Merritt can step in.

With the trinity of late inning relievers the Tribe has, most nights, it’s a six inning game for the opposition.

Because of the pitching reputation, people forget the offense, which scored the second most runs in the AL behind Boston.  They did it without Michael Brantley, one of the league’s best hitters.

And this off-season, the front office added perennial 30+ home run, 100+ RBI man, Edwin Encarnacion to the lineup.  After searching for a right-handed power bat for many years, Cleveland now has one of the best in the game.

They also have one of the best and most exciting young players in the sport in SS Francisco Lindor.  If the Indians win the division in 2017, Lindor will be an MVP candidate.

Even if Brantley has a set back, an offensive led by Encarnacion and Lindor, with support from Carlos Santana (34 HR last year), 2B Jason Kipnis, and 3B Jose Ramirez should score a lot of runs.

Kipnis will start the year on the disabled list with shoulder soreness, however.

Francona is a master at using platoon advantages, so even though there aren’t big names in centerfield and rightfield, the Tribe will get production out of those spots.

And behind them in the minor leagues, poised to help in the majors are OFs Bradley Zimmer and Greg Allen, 3B/OF Yandy Diaz (if he doesn’t open in Cleveland), and C Francisco Mejia, who will start the year in Akron.

They also have Francona, one of the game’s best leaders, and a master at handling the roster and the clubhouse.

In a long term view, the Cleveland Indians are on the precipice of a good run at the top of the AL Central.  In the short term, they will win the division again, and hope to end what is now the longest World Series winning drought in the sport…69 years.

MW

Spring Training Is Here!

People who aren’t baseball fans just don’t get it.  We heard a few times on talk radio this week that hosts didn’t understand why baseball people get so excited over camps opening, when the regular season is still six weeks away.

It’s pretty simple.  First of all, baseball is the one sport that occurs pretty much every day.  To be a hard core supporter of the grand ol’ game is to make a daily commitment, 162 games played over 180 days.

Since it is played each day for the most part, it is missed when it isn’t here.  So Tribe fans, still dealing with a heart breaking loss in game 7 of the World Series, haven’t been able to lick their wounds with action on the field since November 2nd.

Second, it’s an early sign of spring, the promise of warmer weather to come, looking forward to warm, summer nights at Progressive Field.

We don’t believe any other sport can offer the regeneration of warm weather to follow.

And Tribe fans are even looking forward more to the beginning of spring training this year because of last year’s success, but also because of the tremendous off-season Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff had, signing perhaps the most prominent free agent this winter in 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion.

They also added to an already strong bullpen by inking lefty Boone Logan as a free agent.  They did have to say goodbye to two large contributors to last year’s success in Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, but overall it appears the Indians are stronger than they were when they ended the season.

Baseball fans will be awaiting the first pictures from Goodyear, Arizona, particularly pics of the newest Indians, seeing Encarnacion in Tribe togs for the first time.

We also want to see how our old favorites look in camp, even through many of them were just in town for Tribe Fest at the end of January.

And we are all very anxious to see reports on those players recovering from injuries, mostly Michael Brantley, who missed virtually the entire regular season with shoulder issues.

Brantley’s recovery would be huge, adding another solid bat to an everyday lineup that finished 2nd in the American League in runs scored in 2016.

We will also be interested in the progress of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, two stalwarts of the starting rotation, who missed most of  the post-season fun with injuries.  Neither should be a problem long term, but until they are on the mound in exhibition games getting hitters out, you can’t be sure.

It is also fun to follow the progress of the top prospects in the organization, to get your first look at catcher Francisco Mejia and outfielder Greg Allen, both of whom should get some “A” game at-bats.

And we will get a newer look at OF Bradley Zimmer, who will likely start the season in Columbus, and should be on track to make his big league debut this summer.

Those are just some of the reasons why baseball fans look forward to hearing “Pitchers and catchers report”.  It’s the beginning of eight months of a commitment to the sport.

It’s a sign that winter will soon be over…baseball is back!

MW

 

Tribe Trade Miller? We Say No Way

Since the World Series ended, there have been several national baseball writers who have speculated that the Indians might try to move their post-season star, Andrew Miller, during the off-season.

We feel this should be filed under the same grouping as writers saying the Cavaliers are going to move Kevin Love, and the Browns will fire all of their coaches again this winter.  Meaning, it’s a reflex move for writers, low hanging fruit, if you will.

Look, anyone can be traded.  We love when Tribe fans will say to us things like the team will never trade Jason Kipnis or Jose Ramirez.  Our response is always, if the Angels called and offered Mike Trout, a deal would be reached pretty quickly.

When Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff acquired Miller from the Yankees at the trading deadline last July, one of the reasons he was so appealing, besides that he may very well be the best reliever in the game, was he was under contract for two more years.

That’s the biggest reason the Indians were willing to move two of their top ten prospects.

The national media speculates in this way because they can’t believe the Tribe would be willing to pay $9 million for the next two seasons on a relief pitcher, and combine with a likely $6-7 million payday for Cody Allen, there is certainly no way Cleveland, little small market Cleveland, would spend close to $20 million on their bullpen.

They forget that the Indians are in a win now mode.  Most of their key players are in their prime, and they have a very good starting rotation that is paid well below market value compared to their ability.

And yes, we have been critical of the franchise’s spending habits over the years, but with post-season ticket revenue and an expanded season ticket base, we think the front office won’t be as frugal this winter.

When you get to the seventh game of the World Series, your organization has to think they can win the world championship the next season.

Also, the Indians’ farm system is in pretty good shape right now.

When they made the deal with the Yankees, they had two top outfield prospects in Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier.  They still have Zimmer poised to be in Cleveland by the end of the 2017 season, and Greg Allen keeps getting better and better too.

They also moved Justus Sheffield, a top starting pitching prospect.  Mike Clevinger is the next man up if an injury occurs next season, and the organization has Ryan Merritt and Adam Plutko in the upper levels of the system, and Triston McKenzie, Juan Hillman and others in the lower levels.

So, Miller will be an Indian on Opening Day, 2017 in Texas unless the front office is absolutely blown away by a trade offer, which we doubt will happen.

The Indians intend to get back to the post-season next fall, and if they do, what better weapon to have than the guy who was this fall’s ultimate weapon…Andrew Miller.

On the other hand, if something happens and the season goes south, Miller could be on the move in July, and then, and only then, will Antonetti and Chernoff consider making a deal and will command the same kind of haul Cleveland gave to New York.

That’s the only scenario where Miller gets moved.

MW

 

Tribe Goes To Series, Thankfully It Didn’t Take 41 Years Again.

For just the sixth time in franchise history, which spans 116 seasons, the Cleveland Indians are American League Champions!

For most of our life, at the beginning of baseball season, we would buy the Street and Smith’s Baseball Issue, and look at the composite World Series standings.

Every year, it would show Cleveland:  2 wins, 1 loss.

In those days, and we are talking the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, we wondered what it would be like to get to the Fall Classic and change those numbers.

Then came the 90’s and Jacobs Field, and the Tribe got to two Series in three seasons, but they couldn’t get it done.

The composite standings changed to Cleveland:  2 wins, 3 losses, and will have stayed that way until the end of this year’s World Series.

It been 19 years since the heart breaking loss to the Florida Marlins in the seventh game.  However, for fans of our generation, it is pretty damn cool that the Indians will be in their third Fall Classic in the last 21 years.

That may sound odd, but when you go 41 years between appearances in the Series, not having to go through another drought that long is great.

And although the players celebrated the six pennant in club history with gusto, to a man, and not surprisingly, they know they haven’t accomplished anything yet.

Terry Francona all but clinched a spot in the Hall of Fame as a manager, winning his third American League title, and doing it with two teams.

He did it losing two key pieces of his starting rotation, the strength of the team coming into the season, in September.  He lost another starter to a drone injury just prior to the first game of the League Championship Series.

Tito did it because he managed unconventionally, particularly with the use of his bullpen, although part of that is due to the unselfish nature of the LCS MVP Andrew Miller and the Tribe’s closer Cody Allen.

Both told the skipper to use them whenever he needed them, and that speaks to the ultimate trust the players have in their manager.

The Tribe doesn’t have the big names of the Red Sox and Blue Jays, the two teams they defeated to get to the Series, nor are they known nationally like many players on the Cubs and Dodgers, the two teams who are playing to face Cleveland next week.

It was fitting that Miller mentioned Francisco Lindor after game one, saying he deserves more notice nationally than he’s been getting.  The young Tribe shortstop is one of the up and coming stars in the sport.

And speaking of Miller, the best deadline trade acquisition we can think of in recent years, we wonder if the man who used to run the Indians, current Blue Jays’ president Mark Shapiro, would have pulled the trigger on getting the big lefty.

Our guess is he wouldn’t have, because he never had made a move that big.  Perhaps that’s due to the barren nature of the Cleveland farm system (which falls at Shapiro’s feet), but it doesn’t feel like Miller would be an Indian.

Which leads us to a tip of the hat to president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff.  Besides Miller, they went out and got Brandon Guyer (three hits in ALDS Game 2), and Coco Crisp, who has been all over the post-season, including homers in both clinch games and a great catch in game three of the LCS.

So, this team, which has overcome injuries to perhaps its best player coming into the year in Michael Brantley, their starting catcher in Yan Gomes, and the aforementioned two starters, needs to win four more games to break its own 68 year world title drought.

It will no doubt be difficult, but we wouldn’t bet again another title for the Cleveland area, just four months after the Cavs broke the 52 year span without one.

MW

Tribe Can’t Mortgage Future Either

It is funny to listen to fans of the Cleveland Indians these days.

Granted, 68 years of waiting for another World Series title will make you irrational and downright crazy, especially when the franchise is poised to make such a run this season.

This is particularly true in terms of the July 31st trading deadline.  There are many people willing to give up prospects, and a lot of them, to get a piece guaranteeing a spot in the Fall Classic.

But baseball doesn’t work that way.  In fact, there is no move out there that will cement the American League pennant this season.  That’s the nature of the game.

The farm system is deep enough to move one or two prospects for players who can help this season, without a doubt.

Remember, though, there were people who wanted the Indians to trade Francisco Lindor in 2013 to make a run at the post-season.  The front office (and us, patting ourselves on the back) saw his special talent and realized he shouldn’t be moved.

We see the same short-sighted thinking in terms of the major league roster, particularly when it comes to Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis.

Since both players have contributed greatly to the success of this year’s edition of the Tribe, we are already hearing media and fans alike talking about extensions for both players.  Usually around a three year deal.

This would be a horrific mistake.

Napoli has made himself a big part of the Tribe clubhouse, and is having his best season since 2013.  And that’s terrific, but he’s also 34 years old and will turn 35 on Halloween.

A three year deal, which would probably cost the Indians over $10 million per season, would have the first baseman/DH in Cleveland through his age 37 season.

If he has his 2014 season (.248, 17 HR, 55 RBI, 789 OPS), do you want to pay $10-12 million for that?  Neither does the Cleveland front office.

The same applies to Davis, who will turn 36 years old sometime during the post-season (October 19th).  Davis has probably played more than the brass thought when they signed him last winter, but he has also helped in a big way.

He has already achieved a career high in home runs (9) and should also reach a career high in walks (he has 23 now, his high is 29).

If either player were willing to sign another one year deal, with a club option for a second season, we would do that, but after the solid 2016 seasons they’ve had, our guess is someone will give them a better contract than that.

Remember, the Tribe’s core is Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, and Lindor, with players like Clint Frazier, Bradley Zimmer, Yandy Diaz, etc. on the way.

The Indians could be set for another long run at the top of the AL Central Division, just like the one in the 1990’s.  It doesn’t make sense to be hampered by some bad contracts.

The smart move for Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff is to find a couple of other players in similar situations to Napoli and Davis this off-season, and give them one year deals.  It’s simply a less risky proposition for the front office.

If the powers that be on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario play their cards right, they will be a contender perhaps through the end of the decade.

Fans can’t think about that, but the management has to.

MW

Last Night Reminds You Tribe Needs Help.

The Cleveland Indians have a comfortable 6-1/2 game lead in the American League Central Division, yet last night’s contest was one of the most frustrating in recent weeks.

The Tribe had a 4-2 lead going into the bottom of the 7th inning against the Twins when some curious decisions were made, albeit some of them by the constraints of the roster.

Trevor Bauer wasn’t sharp in the six innings he worked and gave up a run on back-to-back two out hits in the last frame he worked.  He was also over 100 pitches for the night.

But Terry Francona sent him back out for the seventh, even though the Tribe is coming off the All Star break and the bullpen is rested.

Based on what happened in the inning, it looks like Tito and Mickey Callaway wanted Bauer to pitch to Joe Mauer, because as we all know, Cleveland doesn’t have a lefty in the bullpen right now.

Bauer gave up a deflected single to the leadoff hitter, Edwardo Nunez, and then walked Mauer to put the tying run on base with no one out.

Our question would be why not have Jeff Manship or Dan Otero come in and start the inning clean.  As it was, Manship was victimized by a error by Carlos Santana, and gave up a single to Brian Dozier to tie up the game.

Otero came in and got out of the two on, nobody out situation without any more runs scoring.

Our point is since Bauer wasn’t sharp, he should’ve called it a night after six innings of work.  And this isn’t a second guess, we are stunned he came out for the seventh.

Not that T.J. House was setting the world on fire (he allowed six hits in 2-1/3 innings), but you need a southpaw in the bullpen.  Francona got burned in the Yankee series bringing in Otero to face Brett Gardner with a 5-3 lead, only to see the slap hitter bang a three run triple to give New York a lead.

And that the Twins tied the game made Francona use Bryan Shaw for two innings on the second night of back-to- back appearances, meaning he likely cannot be used today.

The next odd decision came in the bottom of the 7th, with a man on first and two outs, when Francona sent Erik Gonzalez to the plate in his first major league at bat in a tie game and a runner on first, over Tyler Naquin, who had two hits on the night, and if 5 for 20 in his limited at bats vs. lefties.

Yes, Fernando Abad, the Twins’ reliever is tough on left handed hitters, but why take the bat out of Naquin’s hands in favor of a rookie in his first career at bat in the bigs?

If Tito would have had Juan Uribe on the bench and used him in that situation, there is no question. We would have had less of a quizzical expression had he used Abraham Almonte there. But Gonzalez?

Again, this is why the Indians need bullpen help.

They don’t have a reliable lefty to get tough left-handed hitters out. They also need more people that Francona trusts, because he clearly doesn’t want to use anyone but Allen, Shaw, Otero, and Manship in high leverage situations.

It is incumbent for Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff to do something quick. The Indians don’t want to give the Tigers or Royals any hope of getting back into the race for the division title.

KM

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.

MW

 

Tribe Wants Good Start? Maybe Get Younger

It would seem appropriate on Super Bowl Sunday to write something about football today, but for fans of the Cleveland Browns, that game is a myth, something along the lines of a unicorn.

So, instead, with spring training starting in less than two weeks (how great is that to say), we will discuss the Cleveland Indians, a time with a chance to make the playoffs in 2016.

Unfortunately, that chance is slimmer than it could have been if the front office would have been more aggressive this off-season, instead of its normal philosophy of “wishin’ and hopin’.

There is no doubt the Indians have a championship pitching staff, their starting rotation is one of the five best in major league baseball, and may very well be #1.

But team president Chris Antonetti and new GM Mike Chernoff didn’t do Terry Francona any favors by signing two players with plenty of age on them, Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, as the only additions to the lineup.

And of course, rumors have them pursuing another aging veteran hitter in Juan Uribe.

This isn’t to say none of these guys can help the Tribe, in fact, we believe Napoli in particular could be a big help this season, but as a whole, the rampant conservatism that permeates the front office was en vogue again this winter.

In our opinion, one of the reasons the Indians get off to slow starts is they begin the season playing veterans who don’t have much left, and by the middle of May or early June, the management finally realizes that and replaces them with younger, more productive players.

Last year, it was Michael Bourn (Nick Swisher was hurt).  Francona wrote Bourn’s name in the lineup 95 times last season, and his 608 OPS dragged down the offense.  We would have moved the centerfielder after his ’14 season showed he was declining.

In 2014, Ryan Raburn was struggling after an excellent ’13 campaign, and he and Swisher, who was struggling physically, hampered the offense.

And don’t forget the Indians started playing better when Asdrubal Cabrera was traded and Jose Ramirez was inserted as shortstop.

Also, remember Orlando Cabrera, Jack Hannahan, and Johnny Damon?

That’s why we would pass on Uribe and let Giovanny Urshela and Jose Ramirez platoon at third base.  What are the odds that Uribe will be much better than the two youngsters, who will probably improve with regular playing time.

It’s also why if Tyler Naquin hits .420 (or thereabouts) in the Cactus League, we would have him make the Opening Day roster and give him regular playing time.

After all, the Tribe’s current starting outfielder consists of 35-year-old Davis, a journeyman in Abraham Almonte, and Lonnie Chisenhall, who in his brief major league career has demonstrated wild inconsistency.

We would rather see Naquin than Collin Cowgill, Shane Robinson, or Joey Butler, because Naquin will get better.  It’s hard to see the other three doing that.

And if one or all of them go to the minor leagues, you have a fallback if the rookie struggles in the bigs.

The fear in Cleveland is that a young player will be ruined by early career struggles.  We believe if the rookie is tough mentally, he will overcome that.

Remember, Francisco Lindor was hitting around .210 after his first month in the majors.  Was he crushed by it?  No!

We understand that Lindor is a special talent, but why not give more young players a chance?

It may just help the Indians get off to better starts to seasons.

KM