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Will Indians' Lack of Activity This Offseason Cost Them a Playoff Spot?

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Will Indians' Lack of Activity This Offseason Cost Them a Playoff Spot?
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The Cleveland Indians have been rather inactive over the 2013-14 offseason. The team has made a few additions, but outside of signing David Murphy and John Axford, none of the Indians' moves carry legitimate significance.

To this point, the Indians have made just two additions to the big league roster—Murphy and Axford. The chart below is a complete listing of the Indians' signings this offseason.

Indians' Offseason Signings
Player Name Position Minor League/Major League Deal
John Axford CL Major League - 1 year, $4.5 million
David Murphy OF Major League - 2 years, $12 million
Shaun Marcum SP Minor League Deal
David Cooper 1B Minor League Deal
Jason Giambi DH Minor League Deal
J.C. Ramirez RP Minor League Deal
David Adams 3B Minor League Deal
Tyler Cloyd SP Minor League Deal

Multiple Sources

In this article, we'll look at the Indians pitching and offensive situations, and discuss how the team's inability to address key needs could keep them from returning to the playoffs in 2014.

 

Pitching

The Indians made two signings of significance this offseason, and only one of them addressed an actual need.

When the Indians cut Chris Perez, they created a void in their closer's spot. Instead of re-signing Joe Smith—an issue we'll discuss shortly—and working with in-house options, or signing a legitimate closer, they chose to sign Axford.

Axford may find rejuvenation in Cleveland under the tutelage of pitching coach Mickey Callaway, but don't hold your breath. Over the past two seasons, Axford has gone from being one of MLB's most feared closers to a reclamation project for the Indians.

Consider the statistics for both pitchers over the past two seasons. 

Chris Perez vs. John Axford 2012-13
Splits G SV% WPA/Li ERA ERA+ WHIP K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
Chris Perez 115 88% -0.7 3.95 97 1.27 9.1 3.0 3.05 1.4
John Axford 150 69% -1.8 4.35 93 1.48 10.6 4.4 2.43 1.3

Baseball-Reference.com

Perez may not have been the team's best option to close, but recent track records suggest that he may have been a better option than Axford.

As previously mentioned, the Indians also made a rather large blunder in not re-signing Smith. Smith was, by far, the team's best reliever in 2013, posting a 2.29 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP over 70 appearances and 63 innings pitched. In addition to those outstanding numbers, Smith's ratios included 7.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 2.35 K/BB and 7.7 H/9.

The former Indian made his desire to re-sign with the club clear early on. The 29-year-old told MLB.com's Jordan Bastian, "Everybody in this clubhouse knows I want to be back."

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

That statement comes from Jordan's Oct. 18 article. Just one month later, Smith signed a team-friendly three-year-deal with the Los Angeles Angels, totaling three years and $15.75 million.

Allowing Smith to leave was an inexcusable balk on the part of the Indians front office.

Sticking with the Indians and their pitching staff, the team failed to address the departures of starters Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez. While the possibility remains that Jimenez returns to the team, as he is still a free agent, Kazmir has already signed on to pitch with the Oakland A's over the next two years. 

While Kazmir's two-year, $22 million contract would have been a lot for Cleveland to commit to, the team is now relying upon a starting rotation whose 1-4 starters consist of Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister.

Consider those four pitchers and their contributions at the MLB level in 2013.

Indians' 1-4 starters in 2013
Splits G GS IP W-L ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 K/BB H/9
Justin Masterson 32 29 193.0 14-10 3.45 1.20 9.1 3.5 2.57 7.3
Danny Salazar 10 10 52.0 2-3 3.12 1.14 11.3 2.6 4.33 7.6
Corey Kluber 26 24 147.1 11-5 3.85 1.26 8.3 2.0 4.12 9.3
Zach McAllister 24 24 134.1 9-9 3.75 1.36 6.8 3.3 2.06 9.0
Totals 92 87 526.2 36-27 3.61 1.25 8.5 3.0 2.87 8.3

Baseball-Reference.com

While the four pitchers referenced above combined for a solid core, the team's fifth spot has become a huge issue. The Indians have two in-house options, Josh Tomlin and prospect Trevor Bauer. Additionally, the Indians signed veteran Shaun Marcum to a minor-league deal in order to bring some additional competition to spring training.

Tomlin, a 29-year-old veteran, would be a decent option to fill that fifth rotation spot, if not for the fact that he's coming off a season in which he made just one big league appearance. Tomlin underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2012, and it's unclear as to whether he'll be a viable option for the 2014 season.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Marcum is in a situation similar to Tomlin. Marcum has been a solid contributor to the Blue Jays' and Brewers' rotations over the three seasons between 2010 and 2012, allowing a 3.62 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP over 520 innings pitched.

The problem with Marcum is that he's had issues staying healthy. The 32-year-old missed the entire 2009 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and in 2013, Marcum suffered through a season afflicted by an injury called thoracic outlet syndrome—detailed by Corey Dawkins and Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus.

Pitchers returning from this injury generally experience a drop in velocity—e.g. David Cone and Matt Harrison.

This is of particular concern for Marcum, whose fastball had little room to drop. According to Brooksbaseball.net, Marcum's fastball topped out at 86 mph in 2013.

Due to his inability to put a fastball past a big league hitter, Marcum may miss out on making the big-league roster. However, that gives way to an even bigger problem, Bauer.

To this point in his career, Bauer has made a total of eight Major League starts. In said eight starts, the 22-year-old owns a 5.67 ERA with a 1.74 WHIP and per-nine ratios of 7.6 K/9, 7.8 BB/9, 7.8 H/9 and 1.4 HR/9.

In his career, Bauer owns a K/BB ratio of just 0.97, hardly indicative of a big-league-ready starting pitcher. Additionally, his 57 percent strike rate sits firmly below the big-league average of 64 percent over his career.

Fewer strikes means more pitches thrown, fewer innings and a greater taxation of the bullpen.

Bauer still holds some of that tremendous upside that once netted him the title of Baseball America's No. 9 prospect in 2012, but noted attitude problems have led to a near standstill in his progression as a prospect. If the Indians are forced to start him every fifth day in 2014, it's going to be a long year in Cleveland.

 

Offense

Offensively, the Indians were an above-average team in 2013. The chart below details where the Indians ranked in key offensive measures among the rest of the American League's offenses.

Indians' Offensive Rankings
Splits R RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS K BB SB
AL Ranking T-4th 5th 8th 5th 8th 7th 11th 4th 4th

MLB.com

The Indians ranked in the AL's top half in most statistical measures, and also cracked the top five on multiple occasions. However, despite the success of the offense in 2013, the Tribe still had holes to fill this offseason.

The Indians received paltry contributions from their starting third baseman. Additionally, if the team hopes to compete with the Tigers and Royals for the AL Central crown, then adding power production needed to be a focus this offseason.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Unfortunately, the Indians chose to address neither of those concerns, as their only notable offseason signing on this side of the ball was Murphy.

Murphy is a solid player with a career slash line of .275/.337/.441 and 162-game averages of 16 home runs, 31 doubles, 69 RBI and 69 runs scored. While it certainly won't hurt to add Murphy to the Indians outfield, the move did not address either of their biggest needs.

Murphy will be an upgrade over Drew Stubbs, who managed just a .233/.305/.360 slash line in 2013. The signing also gives the Indians an opportunity to continue to bring Ryan Raburn off the bench in high-pressure situations.

The problem with the signing though is that it does not address the lack of power on the team's roster. The team's nonpitcher .411 slugging percentage is indicative of a team who needed to add either a power-hitting outfielder, or corner infielder.

I've promoted the idea of signing Kendrys Morales this offseason. The move could have given the Indians additional power—Morales carries a .480 career slugging percentage—and would've given the Indians the opportunity to start Nick Swisher in right field.

Swisher's production at the plate is far more valuable in the outfield than it is at a premium corner-infield position. Swisher's per-162 game average of 28 home runs is slightly higher than Morales' 27, but that can largely be attributed to an ankle injury that cost him most of 2011, and all of 2012.

Even so, adding Morales and moving Swisher would've netted the Indians a greater return—in terms of power production—than signing Murphy.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Indians also had a need at third base. The team is reportedly interested in free agent Wilson Betemit, but recent reports have the team experimenting with catcher/first baseman Carlos Santana at the position. 

Betemit is a career backup, coming off a gruesome injury that cost him nearly the entire 2013 season. Even if he were to rebound fully, Betemit has played 100-plus games in a season only four times over his 11-year-career.

Moving Santana to third base would alleviate some of the concerns surrounding the position's offensive production over the past few years. However, defensively, it's unclear if Santana can make the transition without becoming a detriment to the team's defense.

Santana played a total of 58 games at third base as a minor leaguer, and totaled a .887 fielding percentage, a RF/G of 2.29, and a -8 Rtot (Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average). By comparison, over 88 2013 games, Lonnie Chisenhall managed a .955 fielding percentage, a RF/G of 2.15 and a Rtot of 1.

Chisenhall is the more competent third baseman, and in the Paul Hoynes report linked above, that seems to hold true in Santana's Dominican League games as well. Over five games at third base with Leones del Escogido, Santana has already made three errors, two of which came in one game.

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While it appears the Indians are at least trying to address the offensive issues at third base, moving Santana there and damaging the defensive integrity of the left side of the infield is hardly a proper response.

To this point, the Indians front office hasn't looked particularly strong. The team allowed both the bullpen and starting rotation to take substantial steps back, and offensive concerns around power production and third base still persist.

Unless the Indians make a move to bring in a power threat, a front-end starting pitcher or a third baseman, then the team could very well miss the playoffs on the back of a strong 2013 season.

 

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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