Tribe Sequel: Bullpen From Hell, Part Deux

Many baseball people believe you really can’t evaluate a baseball team until 40 games have been played, a quarter of the baseball season.

If that is true of the Indians’ front office, they would see a team that has a lot of potholes that need to be filled and the quicker, the better.

Chief among the holes is the bullpen, which according to ERA, is the worst in baseball.  It says something about the volatility of relief pitching that just two years ago, in 2016, the Tribe bully carried the team to the World Series.

To date, of the 185 runs given up by Cleveland pitching this season, 76 have scored in the 7th inning or later.  In Tuesday night’s debacle against the Tigers, five more were added to the total, all scoring in a disastrous seventh inning.

Really, no one is pitching well in relief, other than Cody Allen, and even he melted down in New York less than two weeks ago.

Andrew Miller just returned from the disabled list and still isn’t sharp, giving up the lead in two of this last three appearances.

Miller’s injury caused a major upheaval in the ‘pen, and it appears because of it, Terry Francona started handling his relievers like it was the post-season.

He started extending the starters, with several throwing more pitches than the normally threw in a game.

For example, last season, Carlos Carrasco threw more than 110 pitches in a game just three times.  In 2018, he has already done it four times.  It’s only May.

Mike Clevinger never reached the 110 pitch threshold in 2017, but to date this season, he’s done it three times.

How will this affect the starting pitchers as the season goes on?  It’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

The front office didn’t fill the holes created by the departures of Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith in the off-season, and that has caused a tremendous void.

The skipper tried Zach McAllister in Shaw’s seventh inning role to start the season, but the veteran has put up a 7.47 ERA and has allowed five home runs in just 15-2/3 innings.  Somehow, he remains on the roster despite never being trusted to pitch in high leverage situations.

Dan Otero, a reliable reliever over the last two seasons (ERAs of 1.53 and 2.85), has the same ERA as McAllister in the same number of innings.

Another holdover from a year ago, Nick Goody, is on the disabled list, but before he went out, he allowed four dingers in 11-2/3 innings, and had a 6.94 ERA.

Right now, the most recent good outings by relievers not named Allen, were by Oliver Drake, who just came over from Milwaukee in a trade, and Neil Ramirez, a veteran signed in the off-season on a minor league free agent, and just brought up from Columbus.

It is such a dire situation, that we would call on either of them if the Indians have a lead this weekend in Houston.  Guys like Otero, McAllister, and southpaw Tyler Olson would have regain trust by having a series of good outings.

The good news is bullpen arms should be plentiful at the trade deadline.  Unfortunately, the Tribe will have to give up assets that could have been used elsewhere to acquire them.

Right now, it’s a wet blanket on the entire squad.

MW

 

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Tribe Offense Needs A Boost Too.

With a recent surge last week, the Cleveland Indians moved up greatly in the offensive statistics for the American League.

After scoring more than 10 runs in three consecutive contests last week, they moved from near the bottom of the AL in scoring per game to 7th, where they are right now.

Still, it seems like the offense has sputtered more often than not.  The Tribe has scored three runs or less in 13 of their 34 games, which is slightly over 38% of the time.

When the Indians do score, they tally more frequently in the 8th inning (12 games) and next would be the 1st and the 4th innings (11 times), when the top of the order would most frequently hit.

One of the problems with the Tribe offense is right now it is filled with players who aren’t near the league average in OPS.

We consider above offensive players in baseball to be able to have an on base percentage of over .350 and a slugging percentage of over .450, which would be an OPS of 800 or more.

Outside of seldom used Erik Gonzalez (983 OPS in just 29 at bats), Terry Francona can only write three names in his lineup that meet that criteria:  Jose Ramirez (376/562/937), Michael Brantley (350/521/871), and Francisco Lindor (350/517/867).

The only other Cleveland player with significant at bats and an on base average over .350 is Tyler Naquin at .356, and that is more the result of a .316 batting average.  He has only walked three times in 73 plate appearances.

As for slugging over .450?  The only Tribesman doing that other than the previously mentioned trio is Yan Gomes at .451.

Those five players are the only Indians having OPS better than the league average of 732.

This means most rallies usually end because guys having below average offensive seasons thus far come up and make outs.

Edwin Encarnacion has a strikeout to walk ratio of 4:1 (40 Ks/10 BB).  Yonder Alonso has a career walk rate of 9.5%, this season, he is at 7.7%, meaning he is making outs more frequently.

The former should improve those numbers as the weather gets warmer, and the latter should correct itself as the season goes as well.

A growing problem is continuing to use Jason Kipnis in the #2 hole, breaking up the team’s three hottest hitters at leadoff (Lindor), #3 (Ramirez), and in the cleanup spot (Brantley).

Kipnis has hit is some tough luck, but he has an on base percentage of .252 and has just a .272 slugging percentage.

The other problem spot is CF.  Bradley Zimmer has played very good defense, but his OPS is just 645, and since he’s only getting on base at a 29.4% rate, he can’t use his great speed.

Neither can the other option, Rajai Davis, who has an OBP (.262), greater than his slugging percentage of .250.

It is going to difficult to continue to justify Davis’ roster spot with that kind of production. And remember, Melky Cabrera could be up here soon.

And we said earlier this year that we would not be surprised if Zimmer was sent back to AAA to get more seasoning at some point.

If the offense is going to get going, they are going to need more than three to five players contributing to the attack.

However, until then, a change in the batting order is needed.  Why not try Ramirez at the top, followed by Brantley and Lindor, then Encarnacion and Alonso?

Drop Kipnis down until he gets it going.

Really though, players just have to start hitting.  It may be just that simple.

MW

Tribe Isn’t Walking, And They Aren’t Scoring

The Cleveland Indians had one of baseball’s best offenses a year ago, finishing third in the American League in runs scored.

They were second in the AL in on base percentage, slugging percentage, and walks taken, and ranked eighth in the Junior Circuit in home runs.

Although it is very early this season, the Tribe is 12th in the American League in runs scored.  While certainly the cold weather has been a factor, Detroit and Minnesota have both scored more runs per game than Terry Francona’s club, and they have played in pretty much the same climate.

One area in which the Indians have slipped greatly so far this year is in patience at the plate, as they are currently second last in the AL in walks taken.

While some people may point at the absence of walk-master Carlos Santana in the batting order for the drop off, we would point out than Santana’s replacement, Yonder Alonso, is third on the team in walks, behind Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis.

The lack of walks is a big reason the Cleveland offense has been largely dependent on the long ball for scoring.  If you can convert three or four outs into walks during a game, particularly after a base hit, you have a rally going.  And the more rallies a team has, the better chance of getting that hit which scores a run and keeps pressure on the opposing pitcher.

Look at Francisco Lindor, for example.  Last year, he walked 60 times, striking out in 93 at bats.  This year, he has fanned 21 times, second on the squad, and walked just six times.

Edwin Encarnacion is another case in point.  Yes, the slugger struck out 133 times a year ago, but he balanced that by taking 104 bases on balls.  This season, he has walked just six times while striking out a team leading 24 times.

Platoon outfielder Austin Jackson joined the patience at the plate club last year for the Indians, drawing 33 walks in 318 plate appearances, one for every 9.6 at bats.  His replacement, Rajai Davis, has walked just twice in 35 times at the dish.

And while Michael Brantley doesn’t strikeout a lot, he did draw a walk every 12.1 plate appearances a year ago, compared to just one walk in 48 times up this year.

Add in the two youngsters on the Tribe, OFs Bradley Zimmer, who has fanned 19 times vs. just two walks, and Tyler Naquin, who has drawn just two bases on balls against 11 whiffs, and that isn’t helping the offense keep the line moving.

Conversely, the Indians’ leader in walks is Jose Ramirez with 13 (6 strikeouts), and the switch-hitting All Star is hot after a slow start, and is looking like the Ramirez from 2017.

That Cleveland is 5-6 when they score three runs or less is a tribute to the tremendous job the pitching staff, led by the starters, have done.

No doubt it is early, and a few weeks from now, the lack of walks could very well have corrected itself.  We are sure that hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo is stressing patience at the plate, and it will come to fruition soon.

Instead of being aggressive at the plate, maybe the Indians need to be more selective.  Drawing walks will start extending innings and will lead to putting crooked numbers on the scoreboard.

MW

 

 

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.

MW

Second Golden Age For Tribe Fans Is Now

With today being Opening Day, many fans of the Cleveland Indians remember wistfully the Tribe teams of the 1990’s, when Progressive Field, then known as Jacobs Field just opened, and the Indians were built around a powerful offense.

We all know the names:  Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, Hall of Famer Jim Thome, and Omar Vizquel.  They ruled the American League Central Division and went to two World Series, although they lost in both 1995 and 1997.

Now, Tribe fans are experiencing a second golden age for the franchise, with five consecutive winning seasons under the tutelage of Terry Francona.  They’ve won two division titles, a wild card spot, and won the American League pennant in 2016.

Yet somehow, it feels like this group of Indians doesn’t get the respect around the city that the guys who played in the 90’s get.

We heard a radio talk show expressing surprise that Francisco Lindor was one of the favorites in Las Vegas to win the American League MVP.

It wouldn’t be a shock around the nation.  Lindor is one of baseball’s best players, with two top ten finishes in the MVP voting before he turned 24 years old.  He’s a gold glove winner and a silver slugger winner in less than three full seasons in the big leagues.

We have said it before, but it bears repeating.  If the young shortstop plays ten seasons in a Cleveland uniform, he will be regarded as the greatest position player in Indians’ history.

Tribe fans also get to watch another of the young, exciting players in the sport in Jose Ramirez, who by the way, finished third in the AL MVP race last season.

The switch-hitter has been overlooked because he wasn’t the highly regarded prospect like Lindor, but over the last two seasons, he has batted .315 with 40 home runs, 159 runs batted in, and has 141 extra base hits.

All that while being moved around between second base and third base.

Those two give the franchise a solid base for excellence over the next several seasons.

Unlike those 90’s teams, this group has one of the major league’s best pitching staffs, led by Corey Kluber, who is the only Cleveland pitcher in history to win multiple Cy Young Awards.

A third such award puts Kluber among the all time great hurlers in the game’s history, and without question he is one of the four best starting pitchers right now in the sport.

We also get to witness a great bullpen, led by Cody Allen, and perhaps baseball’s best relief pitcher in Andrew Miller.  Miller and Kluber had the Tribe on the precipice of a world title in ’16.

Since being acquired from New York at the trade deadline that season, he has pitched 91-2/3 innings, striking out 141 and allowing just 45 hits.

We haven’t even mentioned Michael Brantley, who was in the top three of the MVP voting in 2014, Jason Kipnis, a two time all star, and Carlos Carrasco, who was 4th in the Cy Young voting last season.

Oh, and don’t forget Francona, who is probably headed to Cooperstown as a manager with two world titles in Boston, and a third appearance with the Tribe.

As someone who watched this team with great interest from 1965-1994, a horrible stretch of mostly losing baseball, it was great to see a fairly quick turnaround after the original Jacobs Field group disbanded.

The Indians are back as one of baseball’s best teams.  Now, about that World Series title drought…

MW

 

 

 

Tribe’s Window: How Wide Is It?

The Cleveland Indians have done very well recently.  In the last two seasons, they made it to the World Series before losing in game seven, and won the second most games in franchise history.

In the latter season, they had a 22 game winning streak.

Since Terry Francona came aboard as manager, the Tribe has reeled off five consecutive winning seasons, and qualified for the post-season three times.

Yet, all people talk about is the team’s “window”.  How long will this run of good play last?  That’s what we do in northeast Ohio, if we have good fortune, we wonder when it will disappear.

Some people feel the window is closing after this season, since the dynamic bullpen duo of Cody Allen and Andrew Miller will likely not be back with the Tribe in 2019 due to free agency.

Others point to the 2020 season as the last season of contention because Carlos Carrasco can leave via free agency, and the following year, the Indians could lose Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar.

We think the window is open through the 2021 campaign, meaning there are four more seasons of contention.  Why 2021?  That is when Francisco Lindor would be eligible to cash in via free agency.

We still hope the front office will pony up and keep Lindor in Cleveland, because, as we have said many times before, if the shortstop could play ten years in a Tribe uniform, he would be considered the greatest position player in franchise history.

The Indians have been very good as piecing together a good bullpen, so although Allen and Miller are among the game’s premier relievers, we have faith in the front office to fortify the bullpen before the beginning of next season.

Losing Carrasco would hurt, but in ’21, Cleveland will still have Kluber, Bauer, and Salazar, as well as Mike Clevinger, which would be a solid rotation for any team, assuming they all stay healthy.

Losing Lindor would be a crippling blow considering all he means to the franchise.  Although he’s played just two plus seasons, he is the team’s leader, and the along with Francona and Kluber, the faces of the franchise.

It was curious to see how much the roster has changed since the wild card team of 2013.  The only regulars still in prominent roles with the Tribe are Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Yan Gomes.

Corey Kluber, who was 11-5 in less than 150 innings, and Cody Allen were the only pitchers currently on the team who had an important role, although Salazar was called up late and started the post-season contest.

The point is the window can be extended if the farm system can continue to produce everyday players.

Since ’13, Lindor and Jose Ramirez have arrived and both are among the best players in the sport, and Yandy Diaz could make an impact as soon as this year.

Bradley Zimmer could join Lindor and Ramirez as big time players, and Francisco Mejia has the potential to be an elite hitter in the major leagues.

Mejia just joined the organization in 2013, hitting .305 in the Arizona Rookie League.  Zimmer wasn’t even drafted until the following year.

The point is this team is very talented, and continues to produce solid players who will be under club control for several more years.

Enjoy this season, but it is not the end of the road for the organization.  There still a few years left of contention to reach the playoffs.

MW

 

 

It’s Finally Here…Spring Training!

After four long months of winter, the words baseball fans have longed to hear can now be said:  Pitcher and catchers report to spring training.

It is just a matter of time before exhibition games will start, and isn’t it refreshing that baseball calls them that, instead of the pretentious “preseason” games like the NFL does, and may we add charges full price for them.

Unfortunately, in Goodyear, the spring got off to a sad start as Tito Francona, the father of Tribe skipper Terry, passed away.  As you may know, the Franconas were one of the several father/son combinations who both wore Cleveland uniforms.

On the field, the Indians are the two time defending American League Central Division champions, and led the AL in wins last season, compiling the second highest victory total in the history of the franchise.

So, this isn’t a club with a lot of roster questions.

Still, there are a few.  Most notably in the bullpen, where Francona and new pitching coach Carl Willis have to find a replacement for the durable Bryan Shaw and another right-hander, Joe Smith.

The back of the bullpen might be the best in the sport with closer Cody Allen, and perhaps the game’s best reliever, Andrew Miller usually handling the 8th and 9th innings.

The questions on those two won’t come until after the season, as both will be free agents.

The Tribe needs to find someone who can bridge the gap from the starters to Allen and Miller.  The frontrunners will be Nick Goody and Dan Otero, but if they were as good as Shaw, they would have been used more with the lead instead of him.

Both were solid last year, but neither pitched in more than 56 games or threw more than 60 innings.  Shaw pitched in 79 games last season, and led the AL in appearances in three of the last four seasons.

Perhaps one of the non-roster invitees, such as Preston Claiborne, Alexi Ogando, or Neil Ramirez, or perhaps farmhands Louis Head or Josh Martin can emerge as possible candidates.

The other area of interest is in the outfield where it remains to be seen whether Michael Brantley and Brandon Guyer will be healthy enough to start the season on the Opening Day roster.

Based on reports, neither is likely to be ready, so Francona needs to find a leftfielder and a platoon partner for Lonnie Chisenhall in rightfield.

In left, does the skipper use Abraham Almonte, Tyler Naquin, or Greg Allen there?  A dark horse candidate would be Rob Refsnyder, a former Yankee prospect claimed from Toronto over the winter.

To be sure, the leader to platoon with Chisenhall would have to be Yandy Diaz, who hit .263 in 156 at bats, and whose high exit velocity has many experts wondering what he could be if he could hit the ball in the air.

Diaz has a ton of upside and really has nothing to prove at the AAA level, leading the minor leagues in on base percentage.  He deserves a chance to get regular at bats at the big league level.  Heck, he played a lot during last year’s 22 game winning streak.

And there are still rumors of a trade or a free agent signing around the Indians too.  This roster could look different in a few weeks.

However, it’s good to see the boys of summer out on the field, even if it is spring.  Baseball is back, and it’s only six weeks until the regular season opener vs. Seattle on March 29th.

MW

Tribe Looks To Be Waiting For July To Make Moves

With spring training starting in two weeks, it would be fair to say the Cleveland Indians have had a very quiet winter.

Sure, they’ve been in the news in terms of losing players, as Carlos Santana signed as a free agent with the Phillies, Bryan Shaw went to Colorado, Jay Bruce to the Mets, and Joe Smith departed for Houston.

The front office did sign Yander Alonso to replace Santana at first base, banking that Alonso’s power surge last year is sustainable.

After never reaching double figures in home runs during the first seven years of his career (his high was 9 in 2012 with San Diego), Alonso crushed 28 dingers in 2017.

He slugged .501 last season after never reaching the .400 mark during his career.

If changing the launch angle of his swing can be carried forward, then the Indians have Santana’s replacement, at least vs. right-handed pitching, against whom he had a 900 OPS a year ago.

President Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff obviously feel the platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer or perhaps Yandy Diaz can handle rightfield, after all the Tribe was in first place before they dealt for Bruce.

In the bullpen, the organization is banking on Nick Goody to step up and hoping perhaps a non-roster invitee such as Alexi Ogando, Preston Claiborne, or Neil Ramirez can emerge like Jeff Manship, Ryan Webb, or Scott Atchison have in recent years.

We believe the Indians feel comfortable in their place in the division, after all they won the American League Central Division by 17 games a year ago, and will use the first three months of the 2018 season to see what they will need for the stretch drive.

This means the July 31st trading deadline will be more important to Cleveland than the off-season was.

Management is banking on a return to form from Jason Kipnis to boost the offense, and this is a solid move.  The second baseman has had an OPS over 800 in three of the four years prior to last year’s injury plagued campaign.

If Kipnis has was is an average season for him (.268, 17 HR, 74 RBI, 762 OPS) that will add offense for Terry Francona.

Don’t forget Chisenhall was having an outstanding season before missing most of the last two months.  The former first round pick was hitting .288, slugging .521, and had a career high OPS of 881.

We are unsure about replacing Austin Jackson, who had a rebirth in Cleveland (.318, 7 HR, 35 RBI, 869 OPS in 89 games) with Melvin Upton Jr., who didn’t play in the big league during 2017.

Upton does have a career 760 OPS vs. southpaws, but hasn’t hit over .250 in the bigs since 2008, and is prone to striking out.

As for the bullpen, we think Antonetti and Chernoff will do what they did in ’16 and see what relievers come available as the season progresses.

Remember, that’s how Andrew Miller came to the Tribe.  If you can get a bullpen piece of that magnitude to go with Cody Allen and the big lefty, you will be well suited for an October run.

This strategy also will show what you have in players like Diaz, Upton, Kipnis, and Francisco Mejia and Triston McKenzie.

And who knows, another minor leaguer may emerge as a piece other teams will covet.

Remember, the Cleveland Indians didn’t squeak into the playoffs last year, they had the best record in the AL.  Even a slight regression puts them in a great position going into 2018.

MW

 

Slow Moving Player Market Frustrating Tribe Fans

Spring training opens in about six weeks for the Cleveland Indians, and there are still questions surrounding the roster of the defending American League Central Division champs.

Off-season transactions throughout the sport are moving at a snail’s pace, except for relief pitchers, and the Tribe has lost two of them, Bryan Shaw to Colorado and Joe Smith to Houston.

A third, southpaw Boone Logan is rumored to be heading to Milwaukee, although the Indians probably believe they have filled that spot late last season with Tyler Olson.

So, the front office needs to find some bullpen help for a manager who loves plenty of arms in the ‘pen in Terry Francona.

There are still some options on the free agent market, but none are as accomplished as Shaw and Smith.  So, creativity may be needed by GM Mike Chernoff and president Chris Antonetti.

The bigger hit to date may be offensively with the loss of Carlos Santana to the Phillies, and an impending departure of late season hero, Jay Bruce.

Will the slow market allow the Indians to retain Bruce?  The longer he stays unsigned, you have to believe his demands will come down.  Will they come down to an area where the Tribe is comfortable?

When you are a contending team, you can’t have a lot of unproven players in your everyday lineup.

Right now, third base is a question mark and so is centerfield, despite Bradley Zimmer’s debut a year ago.  Zimmer has no track record, and had some swing and miss issues in 2017, so to say the team doesn’t need a back up plan is a big mistake.

We would like to think Yandy Diaz is the frontrunner at the hot corner, but the skipper frequently makes comments about his glove (despite good defensive metrics in the minor leagues), and he loves the defense of Giovanny Urshela, whose bat is suspect.

Right now, the lineup just isn’t long enough, but there is still a long way to go before the players start arriving in Goodyear.

We understand fans don’t like the inactivity, but really, outside of the bullpen movement and the Yankees trading for Giancarlo Stanton, what teams in the AL have done anything?

That’s right.  Nobody else has made a significant move, at least among the upper echelon of the Junior Circuit, and that’s where the Indians live right now.

Even though the Tribe has Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Edwin Encarnacion, besides the questions we already listed, they still have Jason Kipnis coming off an injury plagued, off year for him.

Michael Brantley didn’t play for much of the second half, and is coming off surgery on his ankle.

Lonnie Chisenhall missed a good portion of the season after the All Star Game, and Brandon Guyer was pretty much a non-factor either.

And don’t forget last year’s big surprise, Austin Jackson, is a free agent, and may not be back with the team.

Remember, this winter, player movement is moving at a glacial pace.  At some point between now and the middle of February, that will pick up.

With the slow movement could come bargains, which is to the advantage of the Cleveland Indians.  Something to keep an eye on in the next six weeks.

MW

 

 

 

 

 

Tribe Has Santana Hole To Fill

The Cleveland Indians we have known over the past two years, an American League Championship team in 2016, and a 102 win team a year ago is no more.

When we say that, we don’t mean the Tribe is no longer a favorite to make the post-season, and we certainly don’t mean the Indians are not one of the best teams in the AL.

With their starting pitching and the keystone combination of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, they have the potential to get back to the Fall Classic and win it.

However, some key pieces will be missing when the squad reconvenes in Goodyear, Arizona in February.

We’ve already talked about relievers Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith departing via free agency, but now a key part of the offense is gone too with Carlos Santana signing a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Santana, who has been with the Tribe since 2010, isn’t a superstar, but he is dependable and productive, the former being something overlooked by many.

In five of his eight years here, he had an OPS over 800, combining an excellent on base percentage (walking over 90 times every year from 2011-2016), with some pop (over 18 home runs in each full season with the Indians).

He also played in at least 143 games in each of the last seven seasons as well.

Because he’s a switch-hitter, Terry Francona knew he could put Santana’s name in the lineup everyday, and he worked hard to make himself a very good defensive first baseman.

That said, we felt the Phillies overpaid for Santana and we do not blame the Tribe front office for not paying him $20 million per year for three years.  Remember, Santana will turn 32 right after the 2017 season starts.

So, what does the Tribe do at first base for 2018?

We believe the logical move is putting Michael Brantley there, since Dr. Smooth’s defense has declined some in recent years, and Brantley has experience at the position in the minor leagues.

That move would open up leftfield for Jason Kipnis.

We know Kipnis is supposedly on the trade block because Ramirez is now entrenched at second, but he’s coming off an off-season due to injuries, hitting just .232 (705 OPS) with 12 home runs.

So dealing him means you will likely get 50 cents on the dollar.  We would put him in left and hope he bounces back to a good year, and then, if you want to move his contract (he would make close to $15 million in ’19), you might get a better return.

Another option could be Yandy Diaz, who has to play everyday someplace with his bat, as he has no more to prove in the minors after hitting .350 at Columbus (with the highest on base percentage in the minors) last season.

Diaz hits the ball hard and can work counts too.  If the staff can get him to hit the ball in the air more often, he could have a huge year for Cleveland.

Other options outside the organization a lot of people mention would be Logan Morrison (coming off a career year in Tampa), Matt Adams (really a platoon player), and Eric Hosmer (would likely cost more than Santana).

It will be interesting to see the market for Jay Bruce now.  The longer he stays unsigned, the more the Tribe could get back in the mix, with Lonnie Chisenhall either moving to first or leftfield with Kipnis being moved.

Many fans didn’t like Santana, but his departure leaves the offense with a big hole.  We are sure Chris Antonetti and his group are on the case.

MW