Throughout the off-season, when teams make trades and sign free agents to improve their ballclubs the Cleveland Indians signed only Austin Kearns to a major league deal. After a near-last place finish there have been no major improvements. So what are they really trying to do? What is the plan? What are the Indians trying to do to go back to the playoffs? There is a plan. But this plan is filled with potholes, unanticipated slumps and delays, and no backup plan. If the plan works the Indians can possibly win the division. What if the plan does not work? The lack of a backup plan makes it an extremely risky gamble. It is a gamble so risky that if the right pieces do not play the way the Indians need them to play (i.e. Matt LaPorta, Justin Masterson, Carlos Santana) then the Indians could have a farm system so empty that they could be in the American League Central cellar for many, many years. So let’s take a look at where the Cleveland Indians are now position by position. Then I will give you the dream of where they will be and then the reality of where they will be by the end of the 2011 season.
Now: Carlos Santana (.260, 6 home runs, 22 RBIs in 2010)
Dream: Carlos Santana (.290, 25 home runs, 110 RBIs)
Reality: Carlos Santana (.275, 16 home runs, 65 RBIs)
Carlos Santana is seen as one of the primary building pieces of the Indians for many years to come. The front office picture Santana as a power hitter that can hit for average and drive in runs. To them 30 home runs per season in his prime is likely not out of the question. In reality Santana will indeed be one of the better players on the team. But the problems are two-fold. First the lack of offense will deeply hamper Santana’s run and RBI totals. Secondly when teams adjust to Santana, he will likely deal with that notorious sophomore slump at some point during the season. Luckily it should be late enough in the season so that his numbers are not affected drastically. In the end Santana’s average and power totals will not live up to the Indian’s expectations, much like Victor Martinez and Grady Sizemore’s power expectations have never lived up. However this year will prove to be a good stepping stone to a solid career as a top-10 catcher.
Now: Matt LaPorta (.221, 12 home runs, 41 RBIs in 2010)
Dream: Matt LaPorta (.310, 40 home runs, 120 RBIs)
Reality: Matt LaPorta (.260, 18 home runs, 60 RBIs)
Matt LaPorta is another primary building piece for the Indians. The Indians envision LaPorta as a Manny Ramirez or Albert Belle type going into 2011 with great power and average. But LaPorta will encounter many problems, the biggest being that during his first year he has shown great ability to hit AAA pitching but has struggled to hit major league pitching. Unfortunately if this continues look for LaPorta to become less of a Manny Ramirez type and more of a Kevin Kouzmanoff type. He will still put up moderate numbers this year and may even break 20 home runs but the power will not be there yet. It still needs to develop. He has the potential however to develop into a 40-home run hitter.
Now: Orlando Cabrera (.263, 4 home runs, 42 RBIs in 2010)
Dream: Jason Kipnis (.280, 6 home runs, 25 RBIs)
Reality: Jayson Nix (.245, 15 home runs, 55 RBIs)
Orlando Cabrera is one of the few free agency acquisitions. Nearing the end of his career Cabrera is reaching that time where he is playing for a different team every year, as he has now played on 6 teams over the last 5 years. The Indians will say he will compete against the likes of Jayson Nix, Adam Everett, Luis Valbuena, and Jason Donald. However because he is the veteran free agent and likely earning more than any of the others, he will win the job. That will only last part of the year. When the trading deadline comes Cabrera will serve as a trading chip that will bring in a young AA pitcher. Cleveland hopes that top prospect Jason Kipnis will make the jump around the middle of the season and give the Indians promising rookie numbers to show his star potential as a future building block. However in reality not all prospects progress as expected. Will Kipnis make the majors as a second baseman of the future? Most likely, but he has only played professional ball for 2 years and will likely not be ready just yet. Lonnie Chisenhall, who has been put on the fast track for 3rd base will push Jayson Nix across the diamond to second base to finish out the season. 2012 will be more realistic for Kipnis.
Now: Asdrubal Cabrera (.276, 3 home runs, 29 RBIs, 6 SB in 2010)
Dream: Asdrubal Cabrera (.300, 6 home runs, 60 RBIs, 20 SB)
Reality: Asdrubal Cabrera (.280, 6 home runs, 45 RBIs, 15 SB)
Asdrubal Cabrera, alongside Shin-Soo Choo is essentially the most consistent player the Indians will have going into the 2011 season. He will not provide much power and will not steal 30 bases, but he can hit consistently for average and does have a burst of speed on the basepaths. He may not have that much more of an upside, but what you see is what you get. On a team in Cleveland’s low-budget situation a position that has some consistency is very much needed and appreciated.
Now: Jayson Nix (.224, 14 home runs, 34 RBIs in 2010)
Dream: Lonnie Chisenhall (.270, 10 home runs, 40 RBIs)
Reality: Lonnie Chisenhall (.240, 5 home runs, 25 RBIs)
Unlike Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall has had time to steadily advance through the minor league system and will start at AAA Columbus this season. In an ideal season Chisenhall will plow through AAA pitching and find his way to the majors by mid-season. In reality he will most likely struggle through his first experience in AAA. However he will find his way to the majors anyway for two reasons. First Chisenhall is the jewel of the hitters in the minor league system and is already considered a cornerstone for the club. The faster he is seen in an Indians uniform the better it is from a personal relations perspective for the Indians. Secondly the alternatives to third base for Cleveland are Jayson Nix, who will start there to begin the season, Jack Hannahan, Jared Goedert, and Wes Hodges. None of these players should be starting. Nix and Hannahan are at best bats off the bench. Goedert and Hodges need more seasoning at the minor league level and are unlikely to be in the Indians’ plans even if they have good seasons much like Jordan Brown who failed to receive much playing time even after winning the International League batting crown. Chisenhall will develop into a good player but will take longer than the Indians would like to.
Now: Michael Brantley (.246, 3 home runs, 22 RBI, 10 SB in 2010)
Dream: Michael Brantley (.290, 10 home runs, 50 RBI, 30 SB)
Reality: Austin Kearns (.255, 10 home runs, 40 RBI)
Michael Brantley will be guaranteed a starting job in the outfield. He shows promise as a slick-hitting outfielder with speed at the top of the lineup. No matter how he plays Brantley is unlikely to lose that starting job or the lead-off spot in the lineup. The Indians see him as a Kenny Lofton-type hitting for average as well as being a monster on the basepaths. Reality is he will be a decent lead-off hitter just not nearly as good as many others in the league. The only question is where he will start. With Grady Sizemore healthy and playing he will play left field. If Sizemore is injured or traded, which is likely, then Brantley will be moved to center field. The gap in left field would then be filled by a platoon of Austin Kearns and Trevor Crowe, neither seeing significant at bats.
Now: Grady Sizemore (.211, 0 home runs, 13 RBI, 4 SB)
Dream: Grady Sizemore (.310, 35 home runs, 100 RBI, 35 SB)
Reality: Michael Brantley (.260, 5 home runs, 40 RBI, 20 SB)
Grady Sizemore is the biggest question mark. If Grady Sizemore is healthy, which all signs are pointing towards, he will have the center field spot. Since Cleveland first got him in the Bartolo Colon trade he has been forseen as the great .300-30 home run-30 stolen base perennial All-Star. From those expectations he has failed miserably without ever reaching that plateau. The power and speed may come close but the average will unlikely ever hit that high. To the Indians they would love to see him finally reach that potential and then sign him to a long-term contract. In reality Cleveland will be out of the playoffs chase by mid-season and will be left with little choice but to trade him for prospects much to the detriment of the fans. Michael Brantley will be moved over from left field to fill the void.
Now: Shin-Soo Choo (.300, 22 home runs, 90 RBI, 22 SB)
Dream: Shin-Soo Choo (.300, 25 home runs, 100 RBI, 25 SB)
Reality: Shin-Soo Choo (.290, 22 home runs, 85 RBI, 20 SB)
Shin-Soo Choo will man right field in 2011. Choo is the Indians' one proven, consistent All-Star caliber player. He will hit in the .285-.300 range with a steady 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. No worry with him barring injury.
Now: Travis Hafner (.278, 13 home runs, 50 RBIs in 2010)
Dream: Travis Hafner (.290, 35 home runs, 100 RBIs)
Reality: Travis Hafner (.260, 15 home runs, 60 RBIs)
Something has happened to Travis Hafner and no one seems to know what it is. In 2006 Hafner hit .308, 42 home runs, 117 RBIs but ever since then he has regressed and then fell off the end of the cliff. After a sub-par season Cleveland is quick to blame it on injuries, which most likely have played a part. However he is now or should soon be healthy so what do we expect? Will we see a Hafner with the level of ability that he had in 2006? Definitely not. Instead we will see one that is a shell of his former self that could easily be one of the biggest busts the Indians have had in a long time. After all, is it worth is to pay $13 million to a player who will only hit .260-.270 and less than 20 home runs? Ideally Cleveland would love to trade him long before Grady Sizemore but alas no one will take him unless the Indians eat up a good portion of his salary. If Cleveland must do that then they will be better off keeping him.
Now: Lou Marson (.195, 3 HR, 22 RBI in 2010), Adam Everett (.185, 0 HR, 4 RBI in 2010), Trevor Crowe (.251, 2 HR, 36 RBI, 20 SB in 2010), Austin Kearns (.263, 10 HR, 49 RBI in 2010)
Dream: Lou Marson (.250, 5 HR, 30 RBI), Jason Donald (.270, 10 HR, 50 RBI), Jayson Nix (.275, 16 HR, 55 RBI), Trevor Crowe (.270, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 25 SB)
Reality: Lou Marson (.200, 5 HR, 20 RBI), Jason Donald (.250, 5 HR, 30 RBI), Luis Valbuena (.200, 3 HR, 20 RBI), Trevor Crowe (.255, 6 HR, 35 RBI, 15 SB)
The bench, like with any other team will mostly be in flux all season. Starters will become injured or bench players can have a good year, both of which can change the makeup of the bench throughout the season. But the four players that will occupy those places for most of the year will begin with Lou Marson as the backup catcher. He will be used as nothing more than a situational catcher seeing a couple spot starts. Luke Carlin could also see some time, but he and Marson are interchangeable. Of the free agents signed to minor league contracts, Adam Everett stands the best chance of making the team. But because of his sub-par offense in past years he will only last for roughly three months into the season. Trevor Crowe and Austin Kearns will fill up the final two spots on the bench and will most likely stick with the team for the year. They will be seen often filling in for the starters when they are injured, taking over for Brantley when he slumps, and filling in as a platoon when Sizemore is traded. Ideally Kearns will be a valuable asset off the bench and be traded for a prospect by the trading deadline. Realistically he will be needed to start when Sizemore is traded. Also it would be ideal that Jason Donald and Jayson Nix will take the bench when Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall are ready to contribute. Realistically Donald will take the bench due to lack of production leading to a rotating door at second base, of which will include Luis Valbuena, until Nix is moved there to end the season.
Now: Fausto Carmona (3.77 ERA, 13-14 in 2010)
Dream: Fausto Carmona (3.00 ERA, 18-8, 220 INN)
Reality: Jeanmar Gomez (5.00 ERA, 3-5, 80 INN)
The starting rotation will be anchored by Fausto Carmona, who is a legitimate number one starter. But despite the dreams of him becoming a 20-game winner, Fausto Carmona has simply become too expensive. He will likely be traded away as part of the annual Cleveland fire sale when the trading deadline approaches. On the plus side his talent should bring back a very good package of prospects that will be ready to play in Cleveland within a couple years. Upon his departure there will be a rotating door of pitchers to take his spot headed by Jeanmar Gomez and Josh Tomlin but can also include David Huff, Corey Kluber, Paulo Espino, Doug Mathis, and Aaron Laffey.
Now: Justin Masterson (4.70 ERA, 6-13 in 2010)
Dream: Justin Masterson (3.80 ERA, 16-7, 210 INN)
Reality: Justin Masterson (4.50 ERA, 9-11, 200 INN)
Justin Masterson will open the season as Cleveland’s number two starter. He has the tools to become a very good starting pitcher and will likely have some very good streaks this season. However Masterson will likely continue his inconsistency and his season-ending numbers will be less than impressive. Nonetheless he could end the season as Cleveland’s number one starter.
Now: Mitch Talbot (4.41 ERA 10-13 in 2010)
Dream: Mitch Talbot (3.50 ERA, 12-5, 180 INN)
Reality: Mitch Talbot (4.75 ERA, 6-8, 160 INN)
Mitch Talbot will open this season with a starting spot in Cleveland’s rotation. He had a very good rookie year and has a promising career as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. However Talbot will have some growing pains this year before he continues to see success.
Now: Carlos Carrasco (3.83 ERA, 2-2, 44 INN in 2010)
Dream: Carlos Carrasco (4.00 ERA, 12-7, 150 INN)
Reality: Carlos Carrasco (4.50 ERA, 7-10, 140 INN)
The final two spots will consist of a competition between Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Jeanmar Gomez, and David Huff. Carrasco’s spot will be his to lose and is hard to imagine it going to anyone else. But the expectations on him will not be high. Carrasco will be given the year to find his way to adjust to the major leagues but will be kept on the typical innings limit seen with rookies so he does not wear out.
Now: Josh Tomlin (4.56 ERA, 6-4, 73 INN in 2010)
Dream: Alex White (4.00 ERA, 8-2, 80 INN)
Reality: Alex White (4.80 ERA, 2-5, 80 INN)
Between Josh Tomlin, Jeanmar Gomez, and David Huff, Tomlin has the best chance to win the fifth starter outright. But the spot will most likely be flip-flopped between the three of them with no one standing out. Fortunately none of them will be needed to stand out because top prospect Alex White will be with the rotation before September, which is very likely. White seems to have the tools and the success to become a top-of-the-rotation starter. If White shines now the Indians will have more leverage to trade Fausto Carmona.
Now: Chris Perez (1.71 ERA, 23 Saves in 2010), Rafael Perez (3.25 ERA, 13 Holds in 2010), Tony Sipp (4.14 ERA, 15 Holds in 2010)
Dream: Chris Perez (1.50 ERA, 40 Saves), Rafael Perez (3.00 ERA, 25 Holds), Tony Sipp (2.80 ERA, 25 Holds)
Reality: Chris Perez (2.85 ERA, 28 Saves), Rafael Perez (3.50 ERA, 15 Holds), Tony Sipp (3.75 ERA, 15 Holds)
The bullpen will begin this season in much the same way it ended last season as the strength of the club. Chris Perez will begin and end the season as one of young up and coming closers in the league. Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp have the potential to be very effective set-up men leading up to Rafael Perez.
Now: Joe Smith (3.83 ERA, 17 Holds in 2010) and Frank Herrmann (4.03 ERA in 2010)
Dream: Joe Smith (3.30 ERA, 15 Holds) and Frank Herrmann (3.20 ERA)
Reality: Joe Smith (4.00 ERA) and Frank Herrmann (4.50 ERA)
Because relievers are the most unpredictable of all players, there will always be relievers that have bad or inconsistent years (Rafael Perez 3.54 ERA in 2008, 7.31 in 2009, 3.25 in 2010). Joe Smith, as the veteran of the bullpen could be periodically placed into the setup role but due to his ineffectiveness will be relegated to be a situational reliever. The biggest chance for the other situational reliever role will be given to Frank Herrmann who has the record and talent to succeed.
Now: Jensen Lewis (2.97 ERA in 2010) and Aaron Laffey (4.53 ERA in 2010)
Dream: Jensen Lewis (2.80 ERA) and Aaron Laffey (3.80 ERA)
Reality: Vinnie Pestano (4.10 ERA) and a combination of Aaron Laffey, Jess Todd, Joe Martinez, Doug Mathis.
Any team's dream are for all the relievers to succeed for the entire season. This never happens. Cleveland will start with Jensen Lewis and Aaron Laffey. However these are the most likely to be moved around. Lewis will see several trips to the minor leagues. Laffey will either be shifted back forth to the starting rotation or possibly to AAA as well. Vinnie Pestano, the AAA Columbus closer, will also find his way into the bullpen and possibly even a set-up man eventually. As with any team this will leave the final one or two spots in flux. The last one or two spots will be in flux with players like Aaron Laffey, Joe Martinez, Jess Todd, and Doug Mathis among others as various players slump and become injured throughout the season.