It's not hard to get excited about the 2012 Cleveland Indians.
With the Cleveland Indians sitting at home again in October, all thought has turned to who will make the roster for the 2012 season. It's still early, but things will start to take shape over the next months.
Once a month this offseason, in order to pass the long, dreary five months until spring training, I'm going to project the Opening Day roster the Tribe will roll out in 2012. This will obviously involve a ton of guesswork, but subtle things will change from month to month. Aside from free agency, trades and options being picked up or declined, news about whose injuries are or aren't recovering impact what the team will look like next season.
This article will mostly deal with who will and won't be back/starting next year, since it's far too early to tell what the Indians will do in free agency and trades. I will hint toward what I think they might do on some slides, however.
(And note, this slideshow is shortened as much as possible, the opposite of what I did with my end-of-the-season rankings. I promise this one will be far less to digest.)
Will the Indians bring Fausto Carmona back?
1. Ubaldo Jimenez
2. Justin Masterson
3. Mystery Man
4. Josh Tomlin
5. Fausto Carmona
The first obvious question here is who the Mystery Man will be. I do think that the Indians will go out and get another starter for next season. As they should. We need to have more next year than those four guys and Jeanmar Gomez/David Huff/Zach McAllister in our rotation. 2012 is supposed to be a contending year for the Indians and we'll need a rotation that'll strike at least some fear in our opponents.
My ideal guy for the Mystery Man spot is Wandy Rodriguez (3.49 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 3.72 xFIP, 7.68 SO/9, 3.25 BB/9, 2.41 SO:BB in 2011). He gave up too many home runs this year (1.18 HR/9), but he would be helped by moving from the seventh-best offensive park this year in Houston to the 16th in Progressive Field.
We'd be banking on him getting closer to the 8.40 SO/9, 2.93 BB/9, 2.87 SO:BB pace he set from 2008-2010, but I think he's capable of it. His xFIP was consistently around 3.60 during that span, not far off from his 2011 number. In the No. 3 hole, he'd be tremendous.
Others I could see the Indians going after would be Erik Bedard, Mark Buehrle, Chris Capuano, Rich Harden and Edwin Jackson, but given how free-agent pitching deals often work out, none of those pitchers necessarily excite me. They're probably on the radar, however.
The second obvious question (or answer) is yes, I think the Indians will pick up Carmona's option. Even if I'd rather see him go at this point, the Tribe does believe in his arm and will likely give him one more chance. He could face pressure from the Gomez/Huff/McAllister group, though.
Chris Perez should be back as the Indians closer in 2012.
Closer: Chris Perez
Setup Men: Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp
Middle Relief: Joe Smith, Rafael Perez, Nick Hagadone
Long Relief: Frank Herrmann
Personally, I don't think Chris Perez had a great season. He didn't strike that many people out (only 5.88 per nine), walked too many (3.92 per nine) and should be due for some regression (a 3.32 ERA compared a 4.47 FIP and 5.01 xFIP). He did convert 36 of 40 saves, however, and seems to have the proper mentality for pitching the ninth inning. Your closer doesn't have to be your best pitcher, and in the Tribe's case it hasn't been.
Pestano and Sipp should handle the setup role in 2012, but I worry about Sipp's future. He can't stop giving up home runs and may be better suited for middle relief. If Smith, Rafael Perez or Hagadone are impressive in spring training and April, I'd have no problem giving them some chances in the eighth inning.
Finally, I think Frank Herrmann gets another chance in the bullpen, but his spot is very tenuous. The Tribe could easily give the long-relief spot to a free-agent signing, a surprising minor league arm (Chen Lee, Zach Putnam and Cory Burns are some possibilities), or the loser of the Gomez/Huff/McAllister race to get them some major league experience. He's the seventh guy in this bullpen and it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't make it through 2012 on the major league roster.
Grady Sizemore may or may not be back with the Tribe in 2012.
1. Michael Brantley, LF
2. Jason Kipnis, 2B
3. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
4. Carlos Santana, 1B
5. Travis Hafner, DH
6. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
7. Grady Sizemore, CF
8. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
9. Lou Marson, C
To me, I think the Indians will choose to convert Carlos Santana to 1B to fix the hole Matt LaPorta's struggles have caused. I'd love to see them go after Prince Fielder, Kevin Youkilis or Joey Votto (article will hopefully be posted on Wednesday), but the safe bet is that the Indians will fix this problem without spending extra money.
As for the rest of the lineup, having Choo, Sizemore and Chisenhall hit sixth through eighth would put less pressure on them in 2012 and allow them to relax and reach their full potential. I do think that Choo will bounce back from a less-than-stellar 2011, Sizemore still has the old Grady inside of him and deserves one more chance and Chisenhall can still show the stuff that made him the No. 25 prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America's 2011 list.
If those three regain any semblance of their previous forms, then this lineup will actually be quite impressive. There is hope for the 2012 Indians offense to be better than this year's.
Will Matt LaPorta even make the Opening Day roster in 2012?
LF/CF/RF Ezequiel Carrera
2B/SS/3B Jason Donald
1B/LF/RF Shelley Duncan
1B/3B Jack Hannahan
So where's Matt LaPorta? He's not in the starting lineup or on the bench, meaning I can see him starting next season at AAA Columbus. It seems preposterous that the centerpiece of the CC Sabathia trade could be starting 2012 in the minors, but follow my logic:
The Indians will need someone who can play the outfield—mainly center field—on the bench. That figures to be Carrera (or Trevor Crowe, but I think that ship sailed a while ago). They need someone who can play the middle infield positions (Jason Donald), and Shelley Duncan's bat makes him too good to leave in AAA.
The final spot would then come down to LaPorta or Hannahan. Two factors give Hannahan the edge. First, LaPorta has a minor league option left, while Hannahan does not. If Hannahan isn't on the big league roster, the Indians would risk losing him. The other factor is Hannahan is a plus defender while LaPorta is not. When you're constructing your bench, it's good to have defensive ability in your reserves.
So I think (at this point) that LaPorta might just be the everyday first baseman in 2012—for the Columbus Clippers. The people there now (Nick Johnson and Beau Mills) aren't going to stop him from playing everyday and it just might do him good.
Starting in the minors would give LaPorta one final chance to put it all together. He needs to improve every facet of his game if he's going to be a successful major leaguer, and if he can't put it all together in AAA in 2012, then it seems unlikely he'll be able to do it in the big leagues.
2012 could be special for the city of Cleveland and the Indians.
It's next to impossible to predict all the tiny, subtle things that will affect next year's roster, but I've done my best to work through everything here. By next month, things will be radically different (we'll know for sure if Sizemore and Carmona's options will be exercised, for example), but for now, this is my best guess. I'll update this list sometime in November, when that information has become clearer.
Feel free to comment below your thoughts on next year's roster and what you think the Indians should do this offseason. This is all speculation and the more the merrier. There are many issues the Indians have to decide on, so we all might as well voice our opinions.