Welcome to Tribe Talk, where Bleacher Report's Cleveland Indians fans weigh in on the ups and downs of the club each week throughout the season.
This week, we start predicting what's in store for the Tribe in the second half of the 2011 season, from the players who will have the best and worst performances on the team to potential trades that could help keep the Tribe in contention.
I would like to thank this week's participant Lewie Pollis for his contribution. This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and pitch your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.
1. Before the break, we handed out some midseason awards for the Tribe's performance in the first half of 2011. This week, it's time to predict what we can expect in the second half.
First, let's take a look at the infielders.
Which infielder do you expect will have the best second half for the Tribe? Who will have the worst? Which infielder do you predict will show the most improvement on their first-half performance in the second half?
Lewie Pollis: Asdrubal Cabrera will definitely have the best. How do I not pick him? He leads the team in just about every major offensive category while playing shortstop, and he's more than two full WAR ahead of the next-best infielder. No-brainer.
For the worst, I'll also stay the course with Orlando Cabrera. He's been anemic on offense (a first-half OBP under .280) and hasn't looked too good with the glove, either. The sad thing is, he's not the Indians' only below replacement-level starting infielder.
As for most improved, I'm going to go with Cord Phelps, assuming he gets the proper chance. He's far better than what he's done to date, and 55 PAs is way too small a sample size to see what he can do at the big league level. Give him a regular starting job and thing could happen.
Samantha Bunten: Asdrubal Cabrera is the obvious choice for the best infielder. It isn't even close. He's head and shoulders above the rest of the infield offensively, and while his defense isn't perfect, it's pretty darn good for a guy who hits as well as he does.
The worst will unfortunately probably be Matt LaPorta. I hate saying this because I just adore LaPorta, but he just hasn't been getting better, and he hasn't shown the kind of power necessary to make up for the low average he's toting. I hope to be wrong about this, but LaPorta just can't seem to be consistent enough to get his numbers up.
I'll take Carlos Santana for most improved. He has to get better, right? As grim as it's looked in the first half and as much as Santana has fallen short of expectations, I still believe he's a better player than he's shown so far.
2. Which outfielder do you expect will have the best second half for the Tribe? Who will have the worst? Which outfielder do you predict will show the most improvement on their first-half performance in the second half?
Lewie Pollis: The best second-half outfielder will be the same as the best first-half outfielder: Michael Brantley. He's cooled off since his scorching start, but a roughly league-average hitter with good speed and defense ain't nothin'.
The most improved will go to Shin-Soo Choo once he comes back—assuming his luck turns around and he gets the mental break he needed—while the worst outfielder award will be shared collectively by Travis Buck, Shelley Duncan and Austin Kearns while they're filling in for him.
Samantha Bunten: With Choo and Sizemore both seriously injured, Michael Brantley has been and will continue to be the team's best outfielder. Given the way the other two played before injury, Brantley may well have been the best outfielder the team had even if they hadn't been hurt.
The worst has to be a three-way tie between the sad sacks the Indians have been using to sub for Choo and Sizemore: Kearns, Duncan and Buck. It's bad enough that none of them hit consistently, but they've been notably bad in the field as well. Yesterday someone told me they thought it would be a safe bet that if all three were playing left field at the same time, none of them would come down with a fly ball hit there. I'd laugh if it weren't so incredibly true.
As for most improved, we have to hope it will be Choo after he returns from injury, but I'd put my money on Brantley again here. He's already the best we've got, and I expect he'll hit another hot streak like the one he had to start the season.
3. Which starting pitcher do you expect will have the best second half for the Tribe? Who will have the worst? Which starting pitcher do you predict will show the most improvement on their first-half performance in the second half?
Lewie Pollis: Best will be Justin Masterson. No question. Leads the rotation in ERA, FIP, xFIP, innings pitched, strikeouts, WAR—I'm not worried about him at all.
Worst will be Mitch Talbot. He gives up too many walks and doesn't get many strikeouts. He's a contact pitcher who gives up good contact. That's a bad combo when your team has some pretty big holes on defense.
Most improved will be Fausto Carmona. There's a full 179-point discrepancy between his ERA and his xFIP. The way he's been pitching, I don't expect him to fully catch up to his luck-neutral numbers, but a gap this big means something's not quite working the way it should. Before you say he's the kind of guy who could consistently underperform his peripherals, remember that he actually outperformed them last year.
Samantha Bunten: With apologies to the ever expectation-exceeding Josh Tomlin, Masterson will have the best second half. He's been consistently dominant all season and shows no sign of slowing down. We haven't seen that kind of consistency out of one of our starters in a long time. He just doesn't have bad outings. Period.
Mitch Talbot is easily the worst. He's like the poor man's Jake Westbrook, which is pretty sad considering that Westbrook himself often looks like the poor man's Ricky Romero. The bottom line is that Talbot is a very inconsistent contact pitcher made worse by the suspect defense that backs him up.
I think the most improved will be Carrasco. He already started improving well before the break, and I expect him to continue on that path. He's always had great stuff; he just needs to get better at keeping it good for more than five innings. He's starting to do that already, and I expect he'll turn in more and more quality starts as the second half progresses.
4. Which relief pitcher do you expect will have the best second half for the Tribe? Who will have the worst? Which relief pitcher do you predict will show the most improvement on their first-half performance in the second half?
Lewie Pollis: I will never tire of singing Vinnie Pestano's praises. He's striking out nearly 13 batters per nine innings; think about that for a minute. His 2.97 ERA looks nice, but his 2.57 FIP and 2.41 xFIP are even finer. I feel really good when I see him trot out to the mound.
Unless he remembers how to strike people out, the worst will be Justin Germano. He has only five strikeouts after his first 12.2 innings, which is especially bad when you consider that he's also allowed five walks. Think his 5.68 ERA is bad? His 5.86 xFIP is even worse.
Most improved will be Chad Durbin. His 6.51 ERA is an illusion, caused largely by his .366 BABIP. His 60.3 percent strand rate is surely bad luck, considering he hasn't posted a below-average strand rate since 2004. His FIP? A solid 3.68.
Samantha Bunten: For now, the top of the top is probably Raffy Perez, though it's tough not to give some serious consideration to Joe Smith and Vinny Pestano as well. All three have been outstanding. Pestano is particular; he doesn't just get the job done and retire batters, he blows their doors off.
The worst will likely be either Chad Durbin or Justin Germano. Durbin isn't quite as bad as his numbers indicate and he's been better of late than he was at the beginning of the season, but the point is that the long relief is bad—very bad. This is going to be a huge problem come September when all of our starters are worn out from throwing too many innings.
I expect Frank Herrmann to be the most improved. Maybe it's just because I like the guy so much, but I just feel like he's capable of so much more than what we've seen from him thus far.
5. Finally, let's talk potential trades for the Tribe. Which Indians do you think might be on the trading block? Who do you see as the most likely player to be moved?
What position or particular skill set (e.g. hits for power, multi-position player, lefty vs. righty, etc.) do you think the Tribe should focus on the most when looking for a possible trade target?
Which player rumored to be on the trading block would you be most interested in seeing the Tribe acquire?
Lewie Pollis: The Indians aren't going to be actively shopping anyone important while they're still in contention, so unless they're trying to clear roster space by dealing someone like Kearns the only people I can see being traded are low-ceiling prospects.
As for kinds of players I'd like to acquire, my two priorities would be a solid veteran to help solidify the rotation and a proven outfielder who can take over right field for Choo while he's out and be the primary backup down the stretch. Specifically, I know we've been connected to Jason Marquis already, and I know he's a bit of a reach but I'd love for us to get our hands on Hiroki Kuroda.
Samantha Bunten: First, let's get one thing straight: The Indians are not going to go after Carlos Beltran. I don't care what the rumor sites say or how much of his salary the Mets are offering to eat; the Indians won't be in on Beltran. We can't afford it, and we shouldn't be taking anything from the Mets anyway since their propensity for turning gold into lead probably means Beltran would do more harm than good. We shouldn't be looking at any player whose contract could be a noose for us.
There seem to be a lot of rumors floating around about David DeJesus, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur as well. I would take any of those guys to help our outfield, but I doubt the asking price will be reasonable.
The players I would look most seriously at are Hiroki Kuroda and Hunter Pence. I'd be willing to send some high-ceiling A-ball players for either, depending on how who pays their salary is divvied up.
Mostly though, given our budget constraints and the value our most desirable prospects for other teams have to our own organization, the help is going to have to come from within. Historically, blockbuster deadline deals don't win teams a World Series, and a lot of the slightly smaller moves we're looking at may not be worth the cost.
I'd look for the Tribe to make some minor tweaks, but we won't be one of the teams involved in the major swaps at this year's deadline.