Cleveland Indians 2012: 3 Moves That Commit to Contending in the AL Central

Jantz SpaldingContributor IIJanuary 26, 2012

Cleveland Indians 2012: 3 Moves That Commit to Contending in the AL Central

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    You don't crown a prince until he becomes the King.

    There is absolutely no question that the Detroit Tigers' acquisition of Prince Fielder makes them the early favorites to win the American League Central Division, but in no way does it cement it. Even though it is increasingly popular to claim championships in preseason (see: Miami Heat, Philadelphia Eagles), you can't. If you could, Las Vegas would be broke.

    There isn't mention as to how the Detroit Tigers are on the verge of having one of the worse defensive teams in the history of baseball, but there is plenty of attention as to how many back to back home-runs will be hit between the three and four hitters.  Major League Baseball gets overlooked as a sport that hinders on team successes because of the overwhelming adoration for individual statistics.

    Having Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in your lineup brings an incredible advantage to your ball club, it gives the rest of the hitters the ability to see better pitches, deeper counts and protection.  Regardless of these three perks there is still 27 outs to be had, and opportunity to obtain these outs. 

    Even with the same deep-rooted baseball ideologies at hand, this combination has spread fear in the hearts of Cleveland Indians fans that had hoped their window of opportunity opened up slightly more with the injury to Victor Martinez. Well, there was a draft coming in—the window was adjusted, but not closed.

    The fans that had hoped so much for a strong, contending season of Cleveland Indians baseball need to keep the same mentality. The team has a strong bullpen, better defense, and when completely healthy a more competitive and complete 1-9 lineup.

    For the Indians to commit to contending the method is rather simple: Counter. 

    There are more than enough intelligent baseball minds within the walls of Progressive Field to understand the statistical strategy a contending team like the Indians must make to address a signing like Prince Fielder.

    Consider the projected stats of the 2012 season as per baseball statistician Bill James:

    Victor Martinez: 17 HR's / 76 R's / 100 RBI's / .320 BABIP / .304 AVG / .371 OBP

    Prince Fielder:  38 HR's / 93 R's / 117 RBI's / .300 BABIP / .285 AVG / .404 OBP

    Briefly reviewing the projections, it is safe to assume that what Prince Fielder provides the Detroit Tigers offensively is a +15-30 run differential compared to what Victor Martinez would have provided. An improvement of roughly 3-5 wins. 

    In the AL Central that could mean a playoff birth or an early offseason.  To avoid an early offseason the Indians must take away those 3-5 wins with countering the move statistically.

    To avoid an early offseason, the Indians must commit to contending. The next three moves should be appropriate steps towards that commitment.

Removing Roberto

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    The pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona is set to make $7 million dollars after the Indians picked up his option for the 2012 season.  There are too many cons with keeping Carmona on the staff for the season, and most of them have nothing to do with his off the field issues.

    His strikeout ratio (K/9) has decreased every year since 2008, his ERA remains unbearably inconsistent, and with the revelation that he is in fact three years older than originally thought, well, I wouldn't plan on that velocity coming back.

    Fausto is set to be the Indians third or fourth option, but for the money he is set to make compared to the talent still available, it just isn't worth it to risk it on him.

    To think that his offseason issues are not going to play a part in this season's performance is ridiculous. If Fausto had the ability to battle his personal issues as well as he had battled the conditions of the 2007 ALDS then consistency wouldn't be an issue.

    In addition to the offseason issues, him missing Spring Training is an even bigger issue. It would take Fausto almost two months to regain regular season form. For a team hoping for a start similar to that of 2011, the organization doesn't have two months to wait.

    Use this money elsewhere. In fact, use it on this next option.

Commit to Cespedes

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    To provide a statistical analysis on the Cuban star Yoennis Cespedes would be irrelevant. His stats are phenomenal, but the pitching he has faced makes them a non-factor.

    Cespedes is a player that you will either love or you will hate—the same way most Major League scouts seem to feel. The most appropriate analogy would be to Cam Newton in the NFL. The physical attributes are there, the mentality is there, the credentials are all in line—love or hate.

    The Indians should love Cespedes. His ceiling is too high to pass on, and would only have to give up money from restricting Roberto Heredia.

    Cespedes is listed as a center fielder, but can play each corner outfield and first base. This one transaction could seemingly answer all of the questions about the offensive gaps in the Indians organization. 

    What is brilliant about signing Cespedes is it not only involves the right now, but also the future. Specifically life after Grady Sizemore.

    It could be the one move that saves the offseason and cures Indians fans of their Fielder hangover.

Fill the Middle

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    The Cleveland Indians have two front-of-rotation starters in Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. They also have two back-of-rotation starters in Josh Tomlin and Derek Lowe.

    Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez are both projected to be mid-3 ERA pitchers with 170-plus strikeouts. Josh Tomlin and Derek Lowe are both projected to be 4.1 to 4.4 ERA pitchers with 120-130 strikeouts, and a relatively attractive WHIP. The Indians rotation is built for success in a weaker division, but can only be as good as what their middle rotation pitcher brings. This is the most important part between now and spring training for the Cleveland Indians to counter the Detroit Tigers. 

    The Indians need someone who will log 180 innings, have an ERA of 3.8-4.1 and strike out 150 batters. There are options out there, and all of them are an improvement over Roberto Heredia.

    Free Agent Options: Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt, Rich Harden

    It seems that Edwin Jackson will end up with the Boston Red Sox and Roy Oswalt with the Texas Rangers. Rich Harden was somebody that the Indians had actually traded for at the deadline last season.  His health has been a concern for some time, and would most likely be a last resort option for them.

    Trade Options: Homer Bailey, Jeff Niemann, Vance Worley

    Each player mentioned is on teams that are fortunate enough to have starting pitching depth. If they have that much starting pitching depth, one would think there are holes to be filled elsewhere. The Indians have pieces in Jason Donald, Jemnar Gomez and David Huff that could make a deal work (with the right filler players).

    Chris Perez is a very attractive trade piece that could bring a great middle rotation starter, but that will be saved for another article.

Commit to Contending

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    Regardless of any of the suggestions, the true commitment must be from three specific players already on the Cleveland Indians roster: Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner and Shin Soo Choo. When healthy, these three players are more effective than any hitter on the Detroit Tigers roster outside of Cabrera, Fielder and Martinez.

    General Manager Chris Antonetti has done an excellent job of fixing one gap that held the Indians back from continuing their contention at the end of last season—injuries. He has added incredible veteran depth to both the infield and the outfield to avoid any kind of experiments that Manny Acta had to try in the later months of 2011.

    The Indians are in a better position than most. Their top two prospects, Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis, are both up and effectively hitting Major League pitching. Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera showed All-Star abilities in 2011 and are expected to carry over to 2012. In addition to this and their balanced rotation, the Indians have one of the strongest bullpens in Major League Baseball.

    There are still pieces out there, as mentioned in this article, that can not only help the Cleveland Indians contend but counter the Detroit Tigers.

    If the Cleveland Indians are truly interested in playing baseball in September, they must be aggressive in filling the remaining gaps they have in their roster. They must be as quick and aggressive as the Tigers were with their most recent gap.

    Ultimately, the Cleveland Indians need to not shut their own window—they need to open it further and commit to contending.