For the first half of the season last year, the Indians were looking pretty good. They were sitting at the top of the division and playing well. Things started to spiral down hill though in late May, in large part due to injuries. They acquired Ubaldo Jimenez in the middle of the season but he turned out to really disappoint and the second half of the season did not go well for him or the club. There were some positives to take out of the season though as Justin Masterson really emerged and the rest of the performed pretty well. Asdrubal Cabrera also really stepped up and was one of the top offensive shortstops in the league.
This offseason the Indians have made some nice moves to improve their team. They resigned Grady Sizemore for a relatively low risk, one year deal at $5MM and that could work out well, especially if Sizemore is healthy. They also acquired pitcher Derek Lowe from the Indians toward the end of October.
In December the club signed Felix Pie to a minor league deal with a spring training invite and he could be a useful piece. They just recently signed Ryan Spilborghs to a minor league contract with a spring training invite and he could be a nice outfielder off of the bench. Yesterday the Indians acquired Kevin Slowey from the Rockies who will provide some nice pitching depth. While those acquisitions are not huge, I think they bolster a team that has potential in 2012.
Looking at the potential guys in the lineup, there is an interesting mix of talented prospects, guys that broke out last year, veterans coming off of injuries, and young guys that haven’t quite lived up to expectations. At catcher they could possibly have Carlos Santana but he may have to play first base allowing Lou Marson to be the starting catcher. Santana is still very young and was very promising last year. He hit 27 homeruns with great walk numbers and he has the potential to be the best offensive catcher in the game. Lou Marson was solid last year but I think he is more of a good backup than a starter. If the Indians can keep Santana at catcher, I think that would be the best situation.
For first base, as I mentioned Santana may have to move there but there are other options. Matt LaPorta, the once top 30 prospect, just hasn’t lived up to expectations. He is now 27 and he could start at first base if he impresses people this spring. There are some very good options available via free agency though and that is Derek Lee or Casey Kotchman. Both are good, veteran fielding first baseman but the Indians could use Lee’s right-handed bat more.
Second base is all set in stone with Jason Kipnis who could be the rookie of the year this year. He had a fantastic year in the minors last year and really improved his prospect status. I think he’ll put up 20-20 numbers with a solid average and OBP. At third base, I think that the Indians will go with the promising the left-handed bat in Lonnie Chisenhall. That leaves them with Jack Hannahan off the bench and he is a great fielder to have. Shortstop is looking great with Asdrubal Cabrera there who really broke out last year hitting .273/.332/.460 with 25 homeruns and 17 stolen bases. I think he is capable of putting up those numbers again.
Left field looks to be manned by Michael Brantley who had a solid year last year. He’s still young at 24 and should to continue to develop. We could also see guys like Felix Pie, Fred Lewis, or Ezequiel Carrera have strong springs and make a bid for the starting left field job. Grady Sizemore should be the man in center field and if he can stay healthy, he will be huge for the Indians. We won’t see him posting WAR seasons in the 7 or 8s anymore but I think he will be solid in center. Choo will be the starting right fielder and I wrote an article on him yesterday on how I expect him to really bounce back this year. He could be one of the biggest contributors to the Indians lineup this year.
The rotation looks to be good this year, especially if Ubaldo Jiminez can get back to putting up the numbers that he was putting up with the Rockies. I think he should post an ERA in the mid 3s with good K and BB numbers. Justin Masterson really emerged last year posting a 3.21 ERA and 3.28 FIP. I think he will post similar numbers again and be a great number 2 behind Jimenez. The rest of the rotation looks to be filled out by Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin, and Kevin Slowey. You may number where Fausto Carmona is but he was just arrested in an identity case. He is actually 31 years old, not 28, and named Roberto Hernandez. It is unclear on his situation for 2012 but he would be a huge loss to that rotation.
The bullpen last year was one of the best in the bigs and earned the nickname of the “Bullpen Mafia.” Chris Perez had a 3.43 ERA with 35 saves. Vinnie Pestano had a 2.29 ERA with 23 holds. Tony Sipp held a 2.83 ERA with 23 holds also. Joe Smith had a 1.82 ERA and 16 holds and Rafael Perez had a 2.95 ERA and 12 holds. That is a very strong group, who are all returning, and they should be just as good in 2012.
If guys can stay healthy and produce as expected, then the Indians should be a serious contender in the AL Central this year. It really helps that the White Sox are in rebuilding mode and we aren’t really sure what is going on with the Twins. The Tigers just lost Victor Martinez which is a huge blow but both the Tigers and possibly the Royals should be their biggest competition in that division this year.
Filed under: Digging Deep - Analysis Tagged: | Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Casey Kotchman, Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians, Derek Lee, Derek Lowe, Ezequiel Carrera, Fausto Carmona, Felix Pie, Fred Lewis, Grady Sizemore, Jack Hannahan, Jason Kipnis, Joe Smith, Josh Tomlin, Justin Masterson, Kevin Slowey, Lonnie Chisenhall, Lou Marson, Michael Brantley, Rafael Perez, Roberto Hernandez, Ryan Spilborghs, Shin-Soo Choo, Tony Sipp, Ubaldo Jimenez, Victor Martinez, Vinnie Pestano