Ranking the Best Remaining Players Indians Could Bring In for Spring Training
The Cleveland Indians have a couple of needs to fill prior to the start of the 2014 season, namely in the starting rotation and on the bench.
The Indians' rotation, as it currently stands, has four pitchers who will definitely be included, those being Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister. After that—barring any moves—the fifth spot will be decided through a spring training battle between Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Shaun Marcum.
Given their youth, Bauer and Carrasco have some upside, but both may benefit from further seasoning at Triple-A. Marcum and Tomlin are looking to restart on injury-riddled careers, and at this point, there's no telling what either brings to the table.
The safe bet for the Indians, who are hoping to make another run at the postseason in 2014, is to bring in another starter.
The bench is currently composed of Ryan Raburn, Jason Giambi and Mike Aviles. The team may choose to incorporate recent addition David Cooper, and in-house Jose Ramirez, but some additional depth to choose from would be a plus.
The six players in the list that follows are the best—and most realistic—remaining options to fill the voids on the Indians' roster. These six players are ranked from the worst option to the best.
Let's get started.
6. Elliot Johnson
As mentioned in the introduction, the Indians could use one more utility player. Additionally, given the state of their current defensive alignment—something I discussed in this article—they could benefit greatly from the addition of a versatile utility player with plus-defensive skills.
Elliot Johnson fits that bill.
Johnson's hit tool is weak, and it'd be wrong to rely upon him as a pinch-hitter in a late-game situation. Over 311 career games, Johnson owns a .218/.273/.319 slash line with a 65 OPS+ and a .101 ISO. In short, Johnson's not a great hitter
However, in the right role—defensive replacement and sometimes spot starter—the 29-year-old could be a very useful asset.
In his four-year career, Johnson owns a Baseball-Reference WAR of 2.7, which is remarkable when you consider his porous offensive game. The Indians have enough bench players capable of making offensive contributions—Ryan Raburn, Mike Aviles, Jason Giambi—to make the addition of Johnson less of a burden on the team's capacity to produce runs.
5. Michael Young
Over his 14-year career, Michael Young has been one of Major League Baseball's most consistent hitters. Though he's reportedly considering retiring prior to the 2014 season, he remains an attractive option looking to bolster their team's bench depth.
The 37-year-old owns a career slash line of .300/.346/.441 with season averages of 13 home runs, 32 doubles, 74 RBI and 81 runs scored.
As expected, Young's skills have begun to deteriorate, but not as much as detractors might have you believe. As he advances in age, Young has remained a very viable option. In fact, over the past three seasons, Young has averaged a .299/.343/.415 slash line, nine home runs, 31 doubles, 73 RBI and 73 runs scored.
Young brings with him a vast wealth of playoff experience as well. Though some tend to scoff at the level of importance assigned to playoff experience, it's hard to discount the fact that Young has played in 43 postseason games. His numbers in the postseason may not be pretty—.231/.261/.364—but he's been to the World Series twice, and the League Championship three times—ALCS twice, NLCS once.
Young's deterioration is most evident in his defense. Young has clearly lost a step, and his range has decreased as he's aged. Young at one point could play any position in the infield, but at 37 years old, he's now relegated to corner-infield positions.
Even so, Young can play the occasional middle-infield inning—seven innings at shortstop and 10.2 innings at second base—and he's a serviceable first baseman. Young could be used as a bit of an insurance policy against Lonnie Chisenhall, who has clearly been an inferior offensive option over his three big-league seasons.
4. Suk-Min Yoon
Suk-Min Yoon is a difficult player to pin down. The 27-year-old righty could be a starter, but he may be better served in a relief role.
Yoon may have missed his chance at gathering huge interest by waiting until 2014 to come to the United States.
Yoon posted solid seasons in both 2011 and 2012. In 2011—Yoon's breakout season—as a 24-year-old, Yoon managed a 2.45 ERA, a 1.05 WHIP and season averages of 9.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 4.05 K/BB and 7.2 H/9 over 172.1 innings pitched. In 2011, over 153 innings pitched, Yoon allowed a 3.12 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP with season averages of 8.1 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 4.15 K/BB and 7.1 H/9.
Unfortunately for Yoon, he suffered a shoulder injury in 2013.
According to MLBTraderumors.com's Tim Dierkes, not much is known about the extent of his injury, but it's clear that it effected his performance in 2013. Over 11 starts last year, Yoon managed just a 4.16 ERA with the KIA Tigers of the Korean Baseball Organization.
In that same MLB Trade Rumors article, Dierks notes that prior to the injury, Yoon was touted by agent Scott Boras to be a Kyle Lohse-type pitcher. If that comparison holds true, Yoon could be a great bargain as the team's fourth or fifth starter.
Even if the shoulder injury pigeonholes him into a relief role, Yoon could be an effective reliever. According to Yahoo.com's Jeff Passan, Yoon's fastball sits around 93 mph, and he partners it with a "hard slider" and an above-average changeup.
As discussed in the introduction, the Indians have needs in both the starting rotation and the bullpen. Signing Yoon could help to fill either of those two roles depending on the determination as to which role he's better suited for.
Yoon's KBO stats come courtesy of MyKBO.net.
3. Bronson Arroyo
If the Indians are looking for consistency and mass quantities of innings pitched—and who isn't?—then Bronson Arroyo is one of the best bets on the market.
The 36-year-old pitched his last eight seasons as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, and he reached or exceeded the 200-inning mark in seven of those eight—only 199 innings in 2011. In that time, Arroyo worked to a 4.05 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP, while averaging 5.9 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 2.57 K/BB and 9.1 H/9.
With Justin Masterson and Danny Salazar set to fill in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the 2014 rotation, Arroyo could slot in as the team's No. 3 starter and provide the Tribe with some consistency and dependability.
Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister both had fine 2013 campaigns, but according to early predictions*, both are set to experience some statistical regression in 2014. Kluber, who posted a 3.85 ERA in 2013, is projected to allow a 4.02 ERA in 2014. McAllister, who also had a successful year, allowed a 3.75 ERA in 2013 but is projected for a 4.05 ERA in 2014.
Masterson and Salazar—the team's projected No. 1 and No. 2 starters— are expected to regress, as they are projected for 3.78 and 3.71 ERAs, respectively.
Arroyo isn't going to wow anybody with his production. According to ZiPS, Arroyo is projected for a 4.33 ERA over 166 innings pitched. Arroyo's projections are based on his predicted role with the Reds, hence the 166-inning prediction.
With a slightly increased workload and the consistency of starting opportunities that come with it, we could expect to see Arroyo's statistics improve toward his Cincinnati averages. That's something the Indians could really use in the middle or back-end of the rotation next season.
Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections for the Indians' 2014 season can be found at Fangraphs.com.
2. Ubaldo Jimenez
Ubaldo Jimenez spent the last 2.5 seasons with the Indians, and "mixed results" is probably the description most fitting of his time in Cleveland.
Over 74 starts with the Tribe, Jimenez worked to a 4.45 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP, while averaging 8.5 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, 1.98 K/BB and 8.9 H/9. Despite that uninspiring stat line, there is some reason to be optimistic about Jimenez's prospects moving forward.
In 2013, through his first 10 starts, the 29-year-old managed a 6.04 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP, while averaging 9.5 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 2.14 K/BB and 8.1 H/9.
Over his next 22 starts, Jimenez looked like the ace the team thought they acquired back at the 2011 trade deadline. In said 22 starts, Jimenez totaled 138.0 innings, allowing a 2.41 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP, while averaging 9.6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 2.53 K/BB and 8.0 H/9.
The Indians chose to extend a qualifying offer to Jimenez, which he turned down in favor of searching for a multi-year deal. Given the need for another starter in Cleveland, Jimenez may not have to search too far for that lengthy deal.
There are some concerns surrounding Jimenez and whether or not he'll be able to keep up the torrid pace he set through the final 22 starts outlined above. Those concerns come from the disappointing showing he had as a member of the Indians' starting rotation.
Jimenez may have concerns surrounding his reliability moving forward, but those concerns are less disturbing than the mysterious Suk-Min Yoon shoulder injury discussed in the prior slide. For a team with legitimate playoff—and possible division championship—aspirations, gambling on Jimenez is a far safer bet than gambling on Yoon.
1. Matt Garza
As Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer writes, the Indians have had talks regarding Masahiro Tanaka and the possibility of trying to sign him this offseason. Unfortunately, in the same article, Hoynes makes the logical assumption that the Indians will be outbid by the likes of the Yankees and Diamondbacks—he references these two teams specifically.
If that's the case, then the Indians may want to sit out on the bidding war and try to snatch up Matt Garza.
Garza's numbers after leaving Chicago weren't the prettiest, but that's to be expected when you move a fly-ball pitcher to a hitter's paradise. Garza, over his career, has allowed a GB/FB ratio of 0.71—the league average in that time is 0.80.
With The Ballpark at Arlington generally ranked as one of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in baseball, it's no wonder Garza's ERA shot up over a full run between the first and second half of 2013.
Garza would benefit from the move to Progressive Field, which, in terms of 2013 park factor was pretty neutral in favoring pitchers or hitters—1.078 (12th in MLB).
Garza owns a career ERA of 3.84 and a WHIP of 1.28. In addition to that, Garza has averaged 7.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 2.55 K/BB and 8.6 H/9 over the course of his career.
To put his career averages in perspective, Garza's numbers best all Indians' starters who have a full-season's worth of starting experience.
Garza has the capability of pitching like an ace in a neutral ballpark. With the Indians on the hunt for another starter, Garza is the best available option not named Tanaka.