Things the Indians Can Do to Avoid Another Collapse
At the end of May 2011, the Cleveland Indians were 32-20, having won 18 of 26 in April, jumping out to an early lead in the AL Central. Then...June and July brought misery for Tribe fans, as they watched the division lead disappear in the midst of a 21-32 record, as the team faded to an 80-82, second place finish.
This season, Cleveland is again in first place early, posting a solid 23-18 record (as of Sunday night), leading the Chicago White Sox by 3.5 games. However, on May 31st of 2011, the Indians were five games up and they ended the season 15 games back. So, besides winning more games and beating teams that they look better than on paper, how can the Cleveland Indians avoid another embarrassing collapse?
The Fans Can Stop Booing the Players
This isn't serious, but come on Chris Perez! Cleveland fans aren't as longing as the Chicago Cubs' fans, but 1948 was a long time ago. Certainly the booing can be frustrating, but maybe Perez could look at his roller-coaster save opportunities to consider what fans are thinking.
In 2011, Perez had a 5.19 ERA against the AL Central and a 4.44 ERA and three blown saves during the second half. In 2012, Perez has a 5.79 ERA at home in ten appearances.
The fact of the matter is, Perez scares fans and they voice their displeasure. Players don't sign with Cleveland because they don't offer the best contracts. The only fans that should scare players are in New York and Philadelphia.
Get Some Help at Third And/Or First
The Indians really need a right-handed power bat in their lineup.
There isn't a single every day player that hits right-handed, as Shelley Duncan platoons and Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana switch hit. When the Indians didn't sign Josh Willingham, a perfect fit for the club as a left fielder and first baseman, they were left to fend off opponents with nearly the same players that were on the roster last season.
Youkilis can play first and third, he is a right-handed hitter, and Youkilis would be a perfect fit for the Indians. He has a team option for 2013 ($13 million or $1 million buyout).
At 33, Youkilis should have enough left to be a difference maker for the Tribe this season, and they aren't locked into any long-term commitment with him if he falters.
Grab More Pitching for Late in the Season
Jeanmar Gomez has made 27 starts for the Indians since 2010. He has a 12-10 record, a 4.21 ERA, and has thrown 158.1 innings in that time.
While he is just 24-years-old, Gomez has already thrown 896.2 innings in his professional career. You don't have to worry about an innings cap on him, like some may think, but what about an injury to the rotation? Can Derek Lowe pitch this well all season and stay healthy?
The Indians could use another arm.
Josh Tomlin has missed several starts due to a wrist ailment, which could keep him out into June. Zach McAllister has done well in his absence, but would Chien-Ming Wang, Anibal Sanchez, or Brandon McCarthy, all free agents after the 2012 season be an upgrade?
If the Nationals look to move their pitching depth, the Marlins go into fire-sale mode, or the A's recognize that no one can catch the Rangers, the Tribe could swoop in for the upgrade and keep their rotation strong, avoiding a collapse.
Only Pitch Ubaldo Jimenez at Home
Ubaldo Jimenez has a 2.95 ERA in 61 innings at Progressive Field since being acquired from the Colorado Rockies on July 30, 2011. He has a 7.69 ERA in 30.1 innings on the road. That is a brutal split.
Jimenez hasn't really been the same pitcher since going 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA before the All-Star break in 2010. His fastball has dropped from an average of 95.8 mph in 2010 to 92.0 this season. He remains inconsistent, so to get the most out of him, is pitching him only in Cleveland within reason?
This could possibly be a solution to help his psyche and get him back to the pitcher he once was, so it's worth a shot.
Gamble on Grady
Grady Sizemore turns 30-years-old on August 2. It seems like he hasn't really played baseball since 2008, his last productive, healthy season.
Sizemore signed a one-year, $5 million deal this past offseason, with up to $4 million in incentives based on plate appearances. After back surgery this spring, he won't be reaching those incentives.
Sizemore was the face of the franchise and the reason why many women went to games, including my wife. His fall from grace was substantial and saddening, but he deserves an opportunity to produce upon his return to the lineup, which is expected to take place in June. He owes the Indians for the time that he has missed and the Indians owe it to the screaming "Grady's ladies."
Sizemore has a career OPS of .830 and a career OBP of .357. The Indians leadoff hitters are hitting .229/.289/.331 in 2012, though Shin-Soo Choo is hitting a robust .385/.448/.615 in 26 at bats since his move to the role.
Sizemore should probably slide over to left, where he won't be expected to endure too much physical labors like he would in center. Michael Brantley could stay in center if he continues producing.
Give Lonnie Chisenhall Another Shot
If the Indians miss out on acquiring Youkilis to play third, Lonnie Chisenhall should get another look.
Jack Hannahan has surprised many people with his .287/.365/.436 line and 18 RBI, but he is a career .236/.321/.364 hitter and he is 32-years-old and eligible for a raise through arbitration this offseason.
Chisenhall is just 23 and is, yet another, left-handed hitter. He hit .255/.284/.415 in 212 at bats last season, blasting seven home runs and 13 doubles. While he was known to struggle against lefties in the minors, Chisenhall posted an .888 OPS against lefties (just .640 versus righties) in his rookie season. He did have an abysmal 49 strikeouts in his 212 at bats, so there was work to be done.
BUT...Chisenhall, who just returned to action in Triple-A after missing nearly a month with a calf injury, has hit .337/.367/.576 in 23 games, with four home runs, ten doubles, and 13 RBI. His 17:4 K:BB still isn't great, but he continues to hit lefties, an .870 OPS in 38 at bats, while posting a .996 OPS against righties in 54 at bats.
It's a small sample size but Chisenhall is clearly more relevant for the future of the Indian franchise. He proved nearly ready last season, and once he gets going for Columbus again, he could add some solid punch at the hot corner.
Give Pronk a Rest
Travis Hafner is a large, aging veteran, who hasn't been healthy since 2007.
While he is hitting just .246 this season, it comes with an OPS of .824. He has been very productive and has appeared in 36 games. Hafner needs some more time off, though.
It isn't just to keep "Pronk" healthy, though. Carlos Santana isn't seeing nearly as much time at first this season (just 15 at bats as a first baseman), and he needs time off behind the plate to be productive late into the season.
Johnny Damon isn't the fielder that he used to be, and he still has the arm of a Williamsport Little Leaguer, so he could also use some at bats at DH.
Hafner seems to be healthy this season, so why not keep him that way.
He may not be impressing many with his batting average, but he has 12 extra-base hits and 19 RBI to go along with his .824 OPS. He is getting on base at a .390 clip, too, so he has that going for him.
Move Kotchman to a Reserve Role
Casey Kotchman hasn't been good offensively.
Always a gap-power type of hitter with solid on base skills, Kotchman has slipped to .208/.291/.320 through 125 at bats. His five doubles and three home runs aren't really enough coming from first base, where most teams have players capable of at least a 25 home run/80 RBI season.
Kotchman is a fine defensive first baseman, one of the best around. That is a useful player to have for a pennant run, but he isn't a player that starts every day. It was worth the short, small investment considering his .306/.378/.422 season in 2011 with the Rays, but Matt LaPorta could do better.
LaPorta could very well be a 4-A player, one who excels at Triple-A but just can't make the cut with the big club. He is 27, just two years younger than Kotchman, and has 1,800 fewer at bats. With that being said, LaPorta is hitting .321/.401/.657 line, with seven doubles, 13 home runs, and 28 RBI in 137 at bats in Columbus.
The Indians could not only use the right-handed bat in the order, but Kotchman's patience and 15 games of playoff experience could come in handy of the bench if the Tribe maintains success.
Johnny Damon has had a successful career.
In 17 seasons, he has accumulated 2,733 hits and two championships. He has also seen his career .285/.353/.434 line take a hit since joining Cleveland, as Damon has struggled to a .172/.284/.224 line in 58 at bats.
While the 6:9 K:BB is nice, Damon just isn't cutting it. At 38, he just isn't the player he used to be, and he isn't going to be capable of coming close to that player.
The Indians, first place or not, are not in a position to give at bats to these types of players.
Damon is on his last leg, hanging around only to try to reach a milestone, 3,000 hits. He isn't going to be doing it this season, and the Tribe won't want to give him enough at bats to let the incentives in his contract kick in.
This is another spot that LaPorta could play until Sizemore is healthy.
Another name that seems to be getting overlooked is for offensive help in left field is Jared Goedert. Goedert has been a solid minor league player the last couple of seasons and is putting together another fine year in 2012. He has a .397/.481/.603 line in 131 at bats between Double-A and Triple-A.
Goedert has never appeared at the Major League level and he will be 27 on May 25. With his hot hitting and right-handed bat, he also deserves a look.