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Cleveland Indians: Projecting the 2012 Opening Day Roster, December Edition

Jim PiascikCorrespondent IDecember 19, 2011

Cleveland Indians: Projecting the 2012 Opening Day Roster, December Edition

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    With the Winter Meetings finished and many free agents finding new homes, the Cleveland Indians' Opening Day roster is pretty well set. That does not mean that Chris Antonetti and Co. will not find some ways to tweak the roster before Spring Training, however. 

    Most of the Tribe's roster are no-brainers, but there are still a few spots up in the air or changing. The Indians acquisition of Aaron Cunningham from the San Diego Padres is one that will have a definite impact on the future of some Indians' players.

    I've already predicted what the roster will look like back in October and November, but with the picture clearer now, let's take another stab at the exact players who will be wearing Indians uniforms at Progressive Field on April 5, 2012. 

Starting Rotation

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    1. Ubaldo Jimenez

    2. Justin Masterson

    3. Josh Tomlin

    4. Fausto Carmona

    5. Derek Lowe

    This part of the Indians' roster hasn't changed since my November predictions, but I'm becoming more certain this is how the Tribe's rotation will look for the start of 2012. As much as I would like to see Carmona traded, the truth is I think the Indians want to give him one more chance in 2012. 

    There is hope for Carmona, considering his decent xFIP (4.17) and SIERA (4.18) in 2011. Both of those numbers are better indicators of how a pitcher pitched in a year than their ERA. If Fausto had posted a 4.20 ERA as opposed to the 5.25 mark he actually put up, no one would be complaining. 

    All the Indians need out of Carmona is an average season. If he, Tomlin and Lowe can stay healthy and pitch at a decent level, Masterson pitches around the level he was at last year and Jimenez is half of what he was in 2010, the Tribe will have no issues with their rotation.

Bullpen

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    Closer: Chris Perez

    Set-Up Men: Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp

    Middle Relief: Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, Nick Hagadone

    Long Relief: Zach Putnam/Free Agent Addition

    As I see it, six spots for the Bullpen Mafia are set. The role of long reliever is the only one still up for grabs. 

    I postulated in November that David Huff might be better suited coming out of the bullpen, but it seems the Tribe values him more as a starter.

    This leaves Putnam as a very deserving candidate for the job (8.87 SO/9, 3.00 BB/9, 2.96 SO:BB, 3.65 ERA, 3.40 FIP in AAA), though the Indians may leave him in AAA to start the season and have him fill in when the first reliever gets hurt/is ineffective. 

    MLB Trade Rumors suggests the Indians may sign a minor free agent like Andy Sonnanstine or Clay Hensley dirt cheap and see if they can work better out of the bullpen. Considering how little impact the seventh man out of the bullpen will have on a full season, I'd be fine taking a flier on that spot.

    The Tribe's bullpen is deep enough that they could make more deals involving relievers (Chris Perez anyone?) to help the offense, but for now, it seems this is what the relief corps will look like in 2012.

Starting Lineup

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    C: Carlos Santana

    1B: Who Knows?

    2B: Jason Kipnis

    SS: Asdrubal Cabrera

    3B: Lonnie Chisenhall

    LF: Michael Brantley

    CF: Grady Sizemore

    RF: Shin-Soo Choo

    DH: Travis Hafner

    I think that every position except for first base is nailed down for the 2012 Indians. Each of these players should be on the field Opening Day, barring injury or some other unknown circumstances.

    The question of who will be playing first base remains unanswered, however. It seems unlikely that the Tribe will start Matt LaPorta, Jack Hannahan or Shelley Duncan there, and there are no minor-league players anywhere near ready for the job.

    I've speculated on the Indians chances at getting Kendrys Morales, Mark Trumbo, Carlos Lee, Yonder Alonso, Logan Morrison, Carlos Pena, Joey Votto, Kevin Youkilis or Prince Fielder to fill their huge hole at first base. With the Mat Latos-Alonso trade that went down this past weekend, I'll be looking into Anthony Rizzo's availability later this week. 

    Needless to say, who will play first base for the Indians is the biggest question still out there for this team. I think that the market for Pena is quiet enough he may end up an Indian or the front office will find a good trade partner in the coming months.

    If I had to bet, I'd say it'll be Lee or Pena, but for now, it's almost impossible to know.

Bench

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    Personally, I love all of the tiny moves that the Indians have been making or are in the process of making. Let's just take a look at them:

    Trading for Aaron Cunningham: .329/.398/.532 slash line, .402 wOBA, 9 HR, 63 RBI, 65 R in 87 games at AAA last year.

    Signing Jose Lopez: 25 HR, 2.5 fWAR in 2009. Still only 28 years old. 

    Signing Felix Pie: Baseball America Top 100 prospect every year from 2003 through 2007 and still only 26 years old.

    Maybe signing Mike Cameron: Still a very good defensive CF and still might have 15-20 HR pop in his bat. He would provide value if he approached his .249/.338/.444 slash line, .782 OPS (105 OPS+) and .344 wOBA.

    Maybe signing Andy LaRoche: Baseball America Top 100 prospect every year from 2005 through 2008, owns a very good minor league stat line (.291/.378/.503 slash line, .881 OPS, average of 28 HR, 102 RBI, 34 2B over a full season).

    These guys come with literally no risk and a chance at great upside. If they don't work out, who cares? If they do? The Indians can find great value. Jack Hannahan was a nobody going into Spring Training last year and ended up earning a 2.4 fWAR. You never know.

    As of right now, I don't see any of these players earning a spot, but they are totally worth the time and effort the front office has put into signing them. These won't be the only moves the Indians make this offseason, don't you worry.

    The bench, to me, will look like Lou Marson (C), Jack Hannahan (1B/3B), Jason Donald (2B/SS/3B) and Aaron Cunningham (OF). This leaves Shelley Duncan as the odd man out, but Cunningham is basically guaranteed a spot (he's out of options).

    Duncan's best shot at a spot on the Opening Day roster will be as the starting first baseman. Good luck to him, but I don't see him getting that spot. He'll likely open up the season at AAA. Same goes for Matt LaPorta.

Conclusion

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    I'll leave you with this path to get the Indians to 90 wins, what it will take to be in contention for a playoff spot. I'm basing these WAR projections not off of any special formula, but from looking at past performance from each player and performances from similar players around the league.

    I tried to be realistic with these and go low for players as often as possible to give them the maximum chance of accuracy.

    A replacement level team would win 45.5 games, so the Tribe have that no matter what.

    Starting Rotation: Jimenez (4.7), Masterson (3.5), Tomlin (2.0), Carmona (2.3), Lowe (2.5). This adds 15 wins to our total, putting the Indians at 60.5 wins.

    Bullpen: C. Perez (0.4), R. Perez (0.9), Pestano (1.0), Sipp (0.0), Smith (0.5), Hagadone (0.5), Putnam (0.5). These may be a little high overall, but 3.8 wins from the bullpen isn't a ridiculous amount. Now the Tribe is at 64.3 wins.

    Starting Lineup (sans 1B): Santana (6.4), Kipnis (3.0), Cabrera (2.9), Chisenhall (2.0), Brantley (1.6), Sizemore (2.0), Choo (4.7), Hafner (2.0).

    These numbers are expecting average production from Chisenhall, Brantley, Sizemore and Hafner, meaning they would exceed them with any progression/health. Those numbers are very possible. Santana's WAR may seem high, but that's what he has averaged over his young career. He's a stud and Cleveland fans should realize that.

    Adding the starting lineup's WAR together, we get 24.6 wins, putting the Tribe's total at 88.9 wins. Now, if the Indians can find a decent 1B (Carlos Pena or Carlos Lee project for around a 2.5 WAR), the Indians can easily find themselves around 90 wins. 

    The Indians' work is not done this offseason, but there is plenty of reason to be excited for the 2012 season. It may be a magical one for Tribe fans everywhere.

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