Though the Indians found success in 2013, they have some weaknesses they'll have to address before they're ready to take the next step in 2014.
The club managed a 92-70 record in 2013. However, with the impending losses of Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, combined with the disappointment of players like Lonnie Chisenhall, needs have arisen at third base and also in the starting rotation.
Although they spent relatively freely in 2013, signing players like Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Kazmir, the Indians will likely look to add through the trade market this season, making additions even more difficult. However, the team possesses enough big-league ready prospects to address their weaknesses by pulling off these two quick trade fixes.
The Indians' starting rotation was a pleasant surprise in 2013. The unit, as a whole, managed a 3.92 ERA with a .254/.322/.396 slash line against. The team's ERA, batting average allowed and slugging percentage allowed all ranked within the AL's top six teams.
With that said, the team faces substantial losses this offseason, as both Jimenez and Kazmir appear to be on their way out. The two earned 23 of the rotation's 59 wins, with a combined 3.65 ERA over 340.2 innings pitched.
The team's rotation, in its current state, without Kazmir and Jimenez, would look like this.
|2013 Statistics for Indians' Rotation Candidates|
|1. Justin Masterson||29||62%||193.0||3.45||3.40||3.33||9.1||3.5||2.57||1.20||1.45|
|2. Danny Salazar||10||20%||52.0||3.12||2.79||2.75||11.3||2.6||4.33||1.14||0.56|
|3. Zach McAllister||24||46%||134.1||3.75||4.49||4.53||6.8||3.3||2.06||1.36||0.61|
|4. Corey Kluber||24||42%||147.1||3.85||3.32||3.10||8.3||2.0||4.12||1.26||0.88|
|5a. Josh Tomlin||0||0%||2.0||0.00||6.41||6.46||0.0||0.0||N/A||1.00||0.60|
|5b. Trevor Bauer||4||25%||17.0||5.29||6.74||6.60||5.8||8.5||0.69||1.82||0.55|
|5c. Carlos Carrasco||7||14%||46.2||6.75||4.44||4.33||5.8||3.5||1.67||1.76||0.99|
The team would have to rely upon a rather volatile starting rotation. While Masterson is a legitimate ace and Salazar has the makings of a front-end starter in this league, the drop-off from there could be significant.
Both McAllister and Kluber turned in solid seasons, but they'll be relied upon more heavily in 2014 and it's unclear how they'll perform as their workloads increase. After that, the Indians would be looking to the oft-injured Tomlin, wildly inconsistent and headstrong prospect Bauer and Carrasco, who profiles better as a reliever.
For that reason, the team should look to acquire another starting pitcher.
Some options for the Indians include Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Jeff Samardzija and Rick Porcello. Of the four, it seems as though Porcello would be the best fit, and also the easier of the four to acquire.
Porcello would be a great acquisition for the Tribe. The 24-year-old righty is under club control through 2015, and although his numbers don't suggest it, he's a solid starter with top-tier capabilities.
Consider Porcello's numbers from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons.
|Rick Porcello—2011-2013 Pitching Stats|
Porcello has shown improvement across the board in statistical measures since breaking in with the Tigers back in 2009. The young righty has seen improvements in his xFIP and SIERA values, both of which are designed to measure a pitcher's true ability, while also predicting "future accomplishments"(per Fangraphs.com).
Porcello also does a masterful job of keeping the ball on the ground, as evidenced by his plus-1.00 GB/FB ratio. That quality is hard to come by in young starters, and as Porcello's GB/FB rate continues to improve, so should the rest of his measurables.
Aside from the fact that the Indians would have to strike a deal with a rival, the Indians and Tigers are a good fit as far as trade partners go. The Tigers are looking to replenish what is arguably the worst farm system in baseball—29th according to Baseball America's most recent rankings.
The Indians system ranks 23rd on that same Baseball America list, but big-league-ready talent like Trevor Bauer, Jose Ramirez and others could certainly bring the Indians another starter of Porcello's ability level.
The Indians have a clear weakness at third base.
Lonnie Chisenhall was supposed to step in as the team's everyday third baseman following the departures of Jhonny Peralta and Jack Hannahan, respectively. Unfortunately for the Indians, to this point, Chisenhall has proven unable to achieve the lofty potential that once landed him a spot as Baseball America's No. 25 prospect prior to the 2011 season.
Through 203 career games, Chisenhall owns a .244/.284/.411 slash line with 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 74 RBI and 73 runs scored.
It's becoming more and more clear that Chisenhall is not the answer for the Tribe at third base. Although he's young, the team is looking to compete for a division title in 2013, and weaknesses need to be addressed.
The hole could be filled by adding Padres third baseman Chase Headley. According to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, the "growing sentiment" is that Headley will be traded this offseason as the two sides have yet to work out a long-term deal.
Headley suffered through a down season in 2013, totaling a .250/.347/.400 slash line with 13 home runs, 35 doubles, 50 RBI and 59 runs scored. However, even Headley's down season is better than Chisenhall at this point.
Consider the two and their contributions over the past three seasons—remember that Chisenhall has never played 100 games in any season.
|Lonnie Chisenhall vs. Chase Headley — 2011-2013|
Headley is better in nearly every statistical measure, including on-base percentage, runs created, slugging percentage, and clutch hitting (WPA/LI) where he bests Chisenhall by a large margin.
The Indians ranked fifth in the AL in on-base percentage last year, and while that rank is certainly respectable, Chisenhall's .270 OBP was the lowest of any Indians position player with 10-plus plate appearances. Adding Headley and his career .350 OBP would be a significant addition to an already potent lineup.
As the following chart shows, Headley is no slouch in the field either and would prove to be a welcome upgrade in that regard as well.
|Chisenhall vs. Headley—2013 Fielding Stats|
Last season, Headley proved to be the more capable defender. Although there's a rather large discrepancy in the number of innings played, Headley bested Chisenhall in multiple defensive measures.
The only area where Chisenhall comes out on top is RZR, which measures "the proportion of balls hit into a fielder’s zone that he successfully converted into an out," per Fangraphs.com. This is due to the large gap in fielding opportunities between him and Headley. Given the rest of the data available, with more opportunities in the field, Chisenhall's RZR would have surely dropped.
Headley, with his current contract, would be a one-year rental. However, given the Indians' measly salary commitments heading into the 2014 season, a long-term deal is a legitimate possibility.
Given Headley's drop-off in 2013, the asking price for his services will have surely declined, making it significantly easier for the Tribe to acquire the 29-year-old this offseason.