Winter Report Card: Cleveland Indians
With little less than three weeks before pitchers and catchers report, we're checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there's still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2014. You can find all previously published Winter Report Cards here.
2014 Results: 85-77 (.525), third place in AL Central (Hot Stove Preview)
After snapping a streak of four straight sub-.500 seasons to win 92 games and snag a Wild Card berth under new manager Terry Francona in 2013, the Indians backslid in 2014. For five months of the season, they were one of the AL's best teams — going a division-best 74-60 from May 1 onward — but they were done in by an 11-17 start. Danny Salazar, who was anointed to start that '13 Wild-Card Game after just 10 regular-season starts, flopped to a 6.04 ERA in April, and Carlos Carrasco, Justin Masterson and even eventual Cy Young winner Corey Kluber were knocked around as well. Carlos Santana dug himself a .151/.313/.280 hole amid an ill-fated experiment at third base, with key bats such as those of Nick Swisher, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis going limp, too.
To their credit, the team did rebound, but it was a rough lesson for one of the league's youngest squads, particularly in a season when another AL Central team, the Royals, stepped up to snatch the brass ring. Minus Cabrera and Masterson — both traded in midseason — as well as a few more minor pieces, the Indians are betting largely on the same nucleus to jell, with better health from Swisher and Kipnis and full, productive seasons in the rotation from Carrasco, Salazar and Trevor Bauer.
General manager Chris Antonetti hasn't sat entirely still. His biggest move was a straight-up trade that sent Double A second baseman Joe Wendle to the Athletics in exchange for Brandon Moss. A sixth-round 2012 pick who hit .253/.311/.414 in 87 games in his age-24 season — a broken hamate bone cost him nearly two months — Wendle doesn't figure to be particularly missed. The 31-year-old Moss, meanwhile, could fit into the lineup much as he did in Oakland, as a moving-part option at first base, DH and either outfield corner, with occasional shielding from lefties as part of Francona's multi-position platoon system.
After batting a combined .269/.345/.550 in 2012-13 and carrying a very similar .268/.349/.530 (with 21 homers) into the All-Star break, Moss hit just .173/.310/.274 with four homers the rest of the way. There was little mystery why: He played through a right hip labrum tear so severe that he had bone-on-bone issues, and needed surgery in October. Fortunately, it was not of the microfracture variety, which would have required a longer recovery period. Moss has started running and as of last week had yet to pick up a bat, but barring a setback, he shouldn't be too far behind schedule. He’ll make $6.5 million and has one more year of club control.
The other significant move was the addition of free agent Gavin Floyd via a one-year deal that includes a base salary of $4 million and another $6 million worth of incentives that begin at the 19-start and 160-inning levels. Given that the 32-year-old righty made just 14 starts in the previous two seasons due to May 2013 Tommy John and flexor tendon surgery and then June 2014 surgery following an olecranon fracture (the bony tip of the elbow), there's no guarantee he reaches those plateaus. He hasn't completed a full season with an ERA+ above 100 since 2010, but Floyd's nine starts with the Braves were encouraging, with a 2.65 ERA and 3.77 FIP in 54 1/3 innings.
Floyd is one of many options in a unit where only one starter with a full season in a rotation under his belt is returning. Last year that was Masterson, and in this case, it's the breakout sensation Kluber, who posted a 2.44 ERA with 10.3 strikeouts in 235 2/3 innings in his age-28 season. Also in the mix are the 24-year-old Bauer (4.18 ERA and 4.01 FIP in 26 starts), the 25-year-old Salazar (4.25 ERA and 3.52 FIP in 20 starts), the 28-year-old Carrasco (2.55 ERA and 2.44 FIP in 14 starts and 26 relief appearances totaling 134 innings), 30-year-old Josh Tomlin (4.76 ERA and 4.01 FIP in 16 starts and nine relief appearances totaling 104 innings), 27-year-old Zach McAllister (5.23 ERA in 15 starts and seven relief appearances, after a 3.75 ERA in 24 starts the year before) and 25-year-old T.J. House (3.35 ERA and 3.69 FIP in 18 starts and one relief appearance totaling 102 innings), the lone lefty of the group. The current handicapping has Kluber, Carrasco, Bayer and Floyd as the front four, with the rest in the mix for the fifth spot — having been encouraged to show up to camp in better shape than last time around, ahem — but injuries can happen, and a trade isn't out of the question.
As for Cleveland's other moves, 44-year-old Jason Giambi has probably reached the end of the line after hitting just .133/.257/.267 in 70 PA and spent most of the year stashed on the disabled list with a rib fracture, a calf strain and knee inflammation. He has aspirations to coach and manage and has been offered a non-playing role in the organization. Also gone from the roster are outfielder J.B. Shuck and infielder Justin Sellers. A year removed from a solid rookie showing with the Angels, Shuck cratered to .145/.168/.209 in 114 PA, only 26 of which came with the Indians after being acquired in September; he was lost on waivers to the White Sox. Sellers went 3-for 16 in 17 games and remains a free agent at this writing.
The only other addition of note is going-on-39-year-old lefty Scott Downs, who signed a minor league contract with a non-roster invitation to spring training. Downs split his season between the White Sox and Royals, pitching to a 4.97 ERA in 38 innings, but he's just a year removed from a 2.49 ERA in 43 1/3 innings for the Angels and Braves. Something will have to go wrong among lefties Marc Rzepczynski, Nick Hagadone and Kyle Crockett for him to make the cut, but it pales by comparison to the postapocalyptic wasteland required for fellow NRIs Anthony Swarzak and Jeff Manship to wind up going north.
Unfinished business: Bullpen, bench
The Indians don't have any major needs for their roster, but via CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, they're looking for both relief help and another righthanded option, presumably for the bench. Currently, the team has Cody Allen as closer, with Bryan Shaw and Scott Atchison in the righty setup roles as well as the aforementioned dogpile of lefties. If they wanted to go big, they could add another righty with experience closing to the mix; Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano would be the best of those options, but they won't come cheap.
The best available non-closer option may be Burke Badenhop, who posted a career-best 2.29 ERA with a 3.08 FIP in 70 2/3 innings for the Red Sox. Badenhop doesn't strike out many batters (5.1 per nine in 2014, 6.3 per nine career), but he's an extreme groundballer who rarely gives up homers (just one in 2014). Other propositions — Joba Chamberlain, Brian Wilson, Matt Lindstrom, Jesse Crain, Jose Veras, Jamey Wright — are dicier with regards to health and performance.
As for the righty bat, upgrades on infielder Mike Aviles, who hit just .247/.273/.343 in 374 PA, and/or Ryan Raburn, who hit .200/.250/.297 in 212 PA, would be good places to start, though both players, who will be in their age-34 seasons, are signed for 2015 ($3.5 million for the former, $2.5 million for the latter). Aviles has been delivering similarly low-grade production for most of his career and isn't going to turn over a new leaf at this stage. Raburn, who hit 16 homers in 277 PA in 2013, has flatlined in two years out of three and has no defensive value.
Beyond the names of lefty mashers who have seen better days — Scott Hairston, Reed Johnson and Nate Schierholtz, et cetera — one player who's mildly intriguing is 32-year-old ex-Brewer Rickie Weeks, who hit .274/.357/.452 in 286 PA. He would need to learn a new position, having played his way off second base with a whopping -62 Defensive Runs Saved over the last three seasons, though like any player who's jobless as of Groundhog Day, he needs to consider such options. Switch-hitting shortstop Everth Cabrera could help serve as a placeholder for überprospect Francisco Lindor, who could be up by midseason, but Cabrera's off-field issues probably make him more trouble than he’s worth. Beyond that, perhaps Antonetti could clear out some of the back-rotation logjam with a trade.
Preliminary grade: B-
The Indians entered the offseason without glaring weaknesses, didn't lose anybody of importance, and made a couple moves that could pan out in adding Moss and Floyd. They're banking on holdovers — youngsters and veterans alike — to get them back to October baseball, not unreasonably.