Author Archive

Bye, 2015: Your Top 10 List

It’s New Years Eve. It’s a time for reflection, resolutions and, of course, lists. Everybody looooves year-end lists.

Rather than just post my favorite moments of 2015, I thought I’d share what were your favorite moments… from my Twitter feed. With a hat tip to @Indians for the idea, here were my Top 10 Tribe-related tweets from 2015, based on interaction (clicks, retweets, likes, etc;).

One thing this little exercise showed me? There was a lot of optimism about this team in the spring, as half of the tweets on this list came during the preseason.

Thanks for following along. Have a great New Year celebration and an even better 2016!

10. Trevor Bauer imitates his teammates (July 3)

10Bauer

9. Sad fireworks guy is sad (Sept. 15)

9FireworksGuy

8. Swisher takes a swing (Feb. 18)

8SwishSwing

7. Tito’s ill-time bathroom break (June 17)

7TitoQuote

6. Kipnis does a unique spring drill (Feb. 18)

6Kipnis

5. Teammates prank Jose Ramirez (March 26)

5RamirezCar

4. Kluber preps for the season (March 1)

4Kluber

3. The slow march to Opening Day (Jan. 23)

3Countdown

2. Lindor gets the call… err, text (June 14)

2Lindor

1. Pitchers in sync (Feb. 28)

1Pitchers

Other notable tweets outside these 10 from 2015…

Most retweets:

https://twitter.com/MLBastian/status/602811463359664128

Most likes:

https://twitter.com/MLBastian/status/640544298988015616

A personal favorite:

https://twitter.com/MLBastian/status/651967749338611712

Happy New Year, everyone.

–JB

The Tribe Awakens

Tweet

Whenever I take a week of vacation, I always post a little note on Twitter so followers don’t think I disappeared off the face of the Earth. Using one of my weeks right after the Winter Meetings is good, because it gives you some time to readjust to the world outside of the Opryland Hotel. Of course, there’s also the risk that news happens in the immediate wake of baseball’s annual gathering.

Welp, @ClevelandPhil hit the nail on the head. While I was away (and I don’t think the Indians orchestrated all of this because I was away. Then again, the timing was fishy. Hmm…) Cleveland made a handful of moves. While none of the additions stole national headlines, they were the kind of complementary adds the Indians had been looking to make, especially in the wake of some trade talks going nowhere.

I’ll run through some here with my thoughts:

ADDITIONS

OF Rajai Davis

This signing makes perfect sense, especially on a one-year contract. With left fielder Michael Brantley out at least a month, Cleveland needed someone capable of filling in as an everyday player, but willing to maybe slide into a backup role upon Brantley’s return. Enter Davis. He can handle left field out of the gates and then can be worked in as a backup for left and part-timer in center when Brantley comes back.

Last year, Davis slashed .258/.306/.440 with 35 extra-base hits, 30 RBIs, 18 steals and 55 runs in 112 games for Detroit. He actually hit better against righties (.267/.312/.426) than lefties (.245/.298/.460), but that is not the norm for his career (.255/.298/.356 against righties and .296/.351/.448 against lefties). I’d lean more toward the career track record in terms of expectation.

Davis, who bats righty, could be a good complement for Abraham Almonte when Brantley returns. Before Brantley is back, Collin Cowgill can also help off-set some of the versus-LHP issues for Almonte, or even right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall. Almonte hit an even .250 against LHP and RHP last year, but his OBP/SLG were much different vs. LHP (.319/.459) than RHP (.281/.267).

Defensively, Davis has been best in center and left field, though his year to year results at those positions has varied. He actually performed better in left and center in 2015 than over the course of his career as a whole. Now, sample sizes for defense are best when expanded beyond a single year. That being the case, it’s fair to say Davis has been better in center (1.3 UZR/150 in his career) than left (minus 9.4) on the whole, but he can certainly handle himself in the corner (1 DRS and 9.0 UZR/150 in 2015).

1B Mike Napoli

Now, this one isn’t official yet, but it was reported last week that the Indians inked Napoli to a one-year pact. Napoli underwent a physical on Friday and sounds like everything went OK. Injuries and health issues have been a consistent issue for Napoli, who dealt with a hip problem in the past, had surgery to help with sleep apea before last year and had a finger issue in ’15.

Some of that might explain why Napoli slashed .236/.348/.415 in 2014-15 after posting an .842 OPS in 2013. Napoli hit .224 (.734 OPS) last year with the Red Sox and Rangers, but posted a strong showing (.278 with a .954 OPS) against left-handed pitching. He hit just .191 (.603) against right-handers. For his career, Napoli has a .917 OPS against LHP and an .804 OPS vs. RHP. So, at the very least, Cleveland has a strong versus-lefties bat. Right now, it looks like Napoli would be a regular in the lineup.

Over the course of his career, Napoli has logged 20 DRS and a 5.6 UZR/150 at first base. Last year, he had 3 DRS and a 5.5 UZR/150 at first. Bringing him into the fold essentially pushes Carlos Santana into regular DH duty. Santana has below-average marks at first base, but his bat is valuable enough to play as an everyday DH, no matter what the anti-Santana crowd is shouting.

LHP Tom Gorzelanny & LHP Joe Thatcher

OK, so these additions didn’t technically happen last week. The Indians announced Monday that both lefties were signed to Minor League deals with spring invites. I would’ve thought at least one of these pitchers could’ve signed a Major League deal, so consider these signings a pair of wins for the Tribe. Lefty relief was on the to-do list and both Gorzelanny and Thatcher offer veteran options.

Thatcher has held lefties to a .232 (.645 OPS) showing in his career and held them to a .245 (.686) showing last year with Houston. Gorzelanny has limited left-handed batters to a .230 (.662) mark in his career and .222 (.664) last year, when he had a bloated 5.95 ERA with Detroit. This is where it must be noted that the Tigers exposed him to righties a lot and Gorzelanny gave up a .354 average and 1.063 OPS in that unfortunate sample. As lefty specialists, both pitchers are good possibilities.

Both Gorzelanny and Thatcher are Article XX-B free agents. What that means is they signed Minor League deals as six-year free agents who ended last season on Major League deals. If they do not figure into the Opening Day roster plans, both pitchers will be eligible for a $100,000 retention bonus and a June 1 opt-out clause, if they go to the Minors. Cleveland also added outs for the end of Spring Training.

These additions take a little bit of pressure off young lefties Kyle Crockett and Giovanni Soto. Crockett took a slight step backward in 2015 and Soto has all of 3 1/3 innings under his Major League belt. If the Indians aren’t comfortable with them in the big league ‘pen out of the gates, Gorzelanny and Thatcher make it easier to start them off in the Minors. Also, Cleveland can keep lefties like Ryan Merritt and Shawn Morimando in the Minor Leagues as starting pitchers, rather than mulling having them make a career switch to relieving this spring.

RHP Dan Otero

Hey, sure. The Indians grabbed Otero from the Phillies in exchange for cash and the bullpen depth chart got a little deeper. Otera is under control for four seasons, so it’s a nice add in terms of long-term depth, too. Otero had an off year in 2015, posting a 6.75 ERA with an .887 OPS allowed to righties and an .884 OPS allowed to lefties. Not good. That said, the right-hander had a 2.01 ERA in 125 2/3 innings from 2013-14. He is a strike-throwing machine. Last year, he just happened to also be a hit-allowing machine. We’ll see if pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Jason Bere can work some magic on him this spring. Otero is out of Minor League options, so a strong spring showing would likely net a spot in the Opening Day roster.

Right now, the only pitchers who look like locks for the bullpen are Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Zach McAllister and Jeff Manship. Then, there’s lefties like Crockett, Soto, Gorzelanny and Thatcher. Righties in the mix would be Austin Adams, Shawn Armstrong, Kirby Yates and also Otero. Plus, Joba Chamberlain is in the fold as a non-roster invitee, too.

RHP Jarrett Grube

Added on a Minor League deal with a non-roster invite. Why not? What a great story here. I’m a sucker for cup-of-coffee players and Grube is a classic tale. On May 31, 2014, the righty was called out of the Angels bullpen to face Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Derrek Norris. Grube got two out of three. That ain’t bad. In between the outs, though, Cespedes drilled a three-run home run. The pitcher, taken in the 10th round of the 2004 Draft, returned to the Minors with a 13.50 ERA and was pitching for Quintana Roo in the Mexican League a year later. Cleveland signed him and Grube went 9-0 with a 2.26 ERA in 15 games for Triple-A Columbus. You know he’s itching to get another shot on the Major League stage.

SUBTRACTIONS

1B/DH Chris Johnson

Johnson was designated for assignment to clear room for Davis. This one was a bit stunning simply due to the financial implications. Cleveland had to take on Johnson and his contract in order to part with Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn last August. Now, Johnson is off the roster and still owed $17.5 million ($7.5 million in ’15 and $9 million in ’16, plus a $1 million buyout for ’17). The addition of Napoli made Johnson a bit redundant, especially since Johnson is not a good alternative for third base. With Santana and Napoli in the mix, the Indians had little use for another first baseman-slash-DH who hits lefties as his speciality. This move showed that the Tribe cares most about roster flexibility at the moment.

1B/OF Jerry Sands

Sands was DFA’d when Otero was acquired from the Phillies. Like Johnson, Sands became a bit redundant in light of Cleveland’s other moves this winter. The outfield additions (Cowgill, Davis and Joey Butler) plus the emergence of Chisenhall in right field, combined with Napoli entering the fold for first base, left little room for Sands. In Sands, Cleveland had a versus-lefty bat with some pop, capable of playing right field or first base. He hit lefties well (.297 with an .838 OPS) last year, but slumped hard as the season wore on. Sands hit .375 with a 1.028 OPS in his first 10 games and fans loved chanting, “JER-RY! JER-RY! JER-RY!” And then hit hit .202 in his next 40 games.

INF Mike Aviles

Aviles was a free agent and has agreed to a one-year deal with the rival Tigers. This led to some angered Indians fans in the social-media realms. First things first, I’ll miss having Aviles in the clubhouse, and I’m sure teammates will, too. He was a leader for the Tribe and a source of levity in tough times. Aviles knows how to keep things loose. On top of that, I can’t imagine going through what he did last year. With his daughter battling leukemia, Aviles played on, balancing the everyday life of a Major Leaguer with a very hard situation at home with his family. Seeing the Indians and their fans rally around Aviles this year was something I won’t soon forget. All of this said, it made sense for Cleveland to part ways with him this winter. The team has a younger bench option in Jose Ramirez, who can offer a similar super utility skill-set. Aviles also has a .281 on-base percentage over the past five years combined and his production slipped in each of the past three years (.663 OPS In ’12, .650 OPS in ’13, .616 OPS in ’14 and .599 OPS in ’15). Tough to see Aviles go? Yes. Did the move make sense? Absolutely.

SWING AND A MISS

3B Todd Frazier

Frazier would’ve looked great at third base and in the middle of the Tribe’s order — even with his history of second-half fades. That said, it wouldn’t have looked as good had Cleveland parted with what the Reds sought from the Indians. Cleveland.com reported last week that the Reds first tried for Danny Salazar or Cody Allen. Then, Cincinnati asked for outfield prospects Clint Frazier or Brad Zimmer. The Reds weren’t done, either. They also wanted two players from a grouping of Bobby Bradley, Mike Clevinger, Juan Hillman and Justus Sheffield. That’s a huge ask and I’m glad Cleveland held its ground.

Remember when Brandon Moss was acquired for infield prospect Joey Wendle in a one-for-one last winter? Moss was arbitration eligible for two seasons at the time. It was, at best, a two-year commitment to Moss. At worst, it was a one-year deal, or less if he was traded (which he was), in the event that things went south. Frazier is signed for one year and arb-eligible for 2017. Similar to the Moss situation, if Frazier excelled, this had the potential to be a two-year deal. If he fizzled, then suddenly he looks like a non-tender candidate or trade bait before ’17 even arrives. You don’t sell the farm for that kind of contract situation. Frazier wound up with the White Sox as part of a three-team deal including the Reds and Dodgers.

–JB

Winter Meetings: Day 3

WM3Hello again from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. On deck today on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings: Indians manager Terry Francona will hold his formal media session at 3:30 p.m. ET, a little ahead of local reporters’ daily sit-down with president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff.

Throughout the day, I’ll post updates and links here to Tribe-related developments.

Updates:

  • Here is the main Indians.com story from Tuesday: Tribe looking to add to offense without subtracting from rotation
  • According to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle, the Astros have inquired with Cleveland about right-hander Carlos Carrasco. At this point, it would seem more newsworthy if a team has not checked in on the Tribe’s starting pitchers. But, add Houston to the list of interested clubs.
  • Per various reports, the Indians, Twins and Rangers have all shown interest in free-agent outfielder Rajai Davis.
  • Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Braves have been “besieged” with calls about outfielder Ender Inciarte since acquiring him from the D-backs. It seems safe to assume that Cleveland is among the teams that has checked on his potential availability.
  • The Cardinals claimed lefty Jayson Aquino off waivers from the Indians, who designated the pitcher for assignment on Monday after acquiring outfielder Joey Butler.
  • The Braves acquired a big package from D-backs (Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair) for Shelby Miller. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported that Cleveland can’t duplicate that kind of return because the Indians are seeking MLB talent, not prospects, in trade talks for starting pitching.
  • Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Indians have talked to the Reds about third baseman Todd Frazier. MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon quickly followed up, reporting that it doesn’t look like a match. Reds’ asking price is high.
  • Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com reports that the Indians were one of four teams to bid at least $11M for rights to negotiate with Korean slugger Byung Ho Park. Twins won the bidding at $12.85M.
  • In talks for Danny Salazar, the Indians asked the Giants for Joe Panik plus four top prospects, per reporter Andrew Baggarly.
  • Francona and Chernoff noted Wednesday that the Indians are looking for lefty relief help.
  • Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com reports that the Indians have shown interest in 1B/OF/DH Steve Pearce.
  • Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com reportst that the Cubs have also talked to Cleveland about Carrasco and Salazar. Jorge Soler was discussed. “No momentum now” however.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Winter Meetings: Day 2

MLBcom

Aaand we’re back.

Welcome to Day 2 of the Winter Meetings from the Opryland Biodome Hotel here in Nashville. This will once again be your one-stop shop for Indians reports and rumors throughout the day, plus links to coverage on Indians.com.

Updates:

  • Chris Antonetti, the Indians president of baseball operations, addressed all those Michael Brantley whispers on Day 1 of the Meetings.
  • Antonetti also said the Indians have set a “high bar” in any talks for their starting pitchers. Translation: it has to be the kind of impact deal Cleveland can’t walk away from.
  • Included in that last link are some other tidbits, including reports that Cleveland is among the teams that have checked in on A’s infielder Brett Lawrie.
  • Here’s more on the claim of outfielder Joey Butler.
  • ESPN’s Buster Olney reported Tuesday morning that Cleveland doesn’t seem like a “natural landing spot” for Lawrie, though. Right now, Giovanny Urshela projects to be the Tribe’s starter at third base.
  • According to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, the Indians offered righty Danny Salazar in trade discussions for D-backs outfielder A.J. Pollock. Arizona, however, is not motivated to deal Pollock at the moment.
  • Cleveland.com reports that the Braves have inquired about catcher Roberto Perez, but it doesn’t look like there’s a match between the two clubs.
  • Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com reports that Indians have discussed a 1-year deal (with an option) with OF Rajai Davis.
  • MLB.com’s TR Sullivan reports that the Rangers have talked about a trade with the Indians. Texas is looking for starting pitching. The Rangers also have a stated need for catching, making Perez a possible target for Texas, too.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Winter Meetings: Day 1

OprylandHello from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. This space will be used to give updates throughout these Winter Meetings on any rumblings involving the Indians.

I’ll update throughout each day as rumors and reports surface, and following our sit-downs with Cleveland’s decision-makers, including president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, general manager Mike Chernoff and manager Terry Francona.

Worth noting:

  • On Sunday night, Peter Gammons said on MLB Tonight that Indians outfielder Michael Brantley could be out until August due to complications with his right shoulder surgery. Multiple sources within the Indians indicated that the report was not accurate. Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com hears Brantley could be out until June. The Indians say the timetable has not changed, meaning their projection of late April of some time in May is the expectation.
  • Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle has reported that the Indians are among teams who have expressed interest in infielder Brett Lawrie, who can play second and third base. Presumably, the Tribe would see Lawrie as an option mainly for third, where Giovanny Urshela is the projected starter at the moment. Slusser reported that the White Sox and Tigers have also shown interest.
  • Not surprisingly, ESPN’s Jayson Stark hears that the Indians might be leaning toward holding on to its starting pitching, rather than trading from a strength to address the offense. He quotes a source who opines that such a move could potentially be “shifting around your problems.”
  • ESPN’s Buster Olney reported Sunday that the Indians are open to exploring trades involving catcher Roberto Perez. This isn’t really surprising, either. It could be argued that Perez is the best backup catcher in baseball and he could be a starting catcher on a number of teams. There is value there worth exploring for Cleveland.
  • The Indians announced Monday morning that the scoreboard at Progressive Field is being upgraded for 2016. From the press release: “The new scoreboard, manufactured and installed by Daktronics, will feature premier high-definition technology for every fan at Progressive Field. It measures 59 feet high by 221 feet wide, amounting to 13,000 square feet of active display area.”
  • According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Indians are among the teams who have shown interest in Mike Napoli.
  • Wes Ferrell, who went 102-62 with a 3.67 ERA for the Indians from 1927-33, did not receive enough votes via the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Pre-Integration Era Committee to make it into the Hall. No one was voted in during Monday’s announcement.
  • OF Clint Frazier has been named to the Arizona Fall League’s Top Prospects Team.
  • Indians have claimed OF Joey Butler off waivers from the Rays. The Tribe designated lefty Jayson Aquino for assignment to vacate a roster spot. Butler is, of course, the player who broke up Carlos Carrasco’s no-hitter on July 1 with two outs in the ninth inning.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Indians fall short in Park bidding

Byung-Ho-ParkThe Indians are in the market for power and right-handed slugging has been seemingly an annual need for the club in recent years. One intriguing solution would have been Korean slugger Byung-ho Park.

The Nexen Heroes made Park available to Major League teams via the posting system last week, setting a deadline of 5 p.m. ET on Friday. Cleveland was among the teams that submitted a blind bid, though the Tribe did not win the right to negotiate a contract with Park.

Reports out of Korea indicated that the Heroes accepted a top bid of $12.85 million, though the winning club has yet to be revealed. MLB.com learned Saturday morning that the Indians fell short of that price, which will give the top team an exclusive 30-day window to try to sign the first baseman.

It isn’t immediately known how much Cleveland bid for the right to talk to Park.

This past season, the 29-year-old Park hit .343 with 53 home runs and 146 RBIs in 140 games for Nexen. He launched 173 homers and knocked in 492 runs from 2012-15, though he also had 510 strikeouts in that time period. Park was the KBO MVP in 2012-13 and will likely win another for his work this past season.

Bidding on a player like Park makes sense for the Indians, who are not expected to be major players in free agency. Park would come at a lower annual rate than a similar Major League free agent and would not be tied to any Draft pick compensation. Cleveland’s top pick for the 2016 Draft (16th overall) is unprotected, so any free agents who decline Qualifying Offers (20 received a QO on Friday) would not only come at a high price financially, but would eliminate that first-round selection.

At first base, the Indians have the switch-hitting Carlos Santana ($8.25 million in 2016) and Chris Johnson ($7.5 million) for the time being, but each are trade candidates this winter. If both Santana and Johnson are back in ’16, they would also project to serve as a designated hitter at times, with Johnson also seeing innings at third base and potentially in the corner outfield spots. Johnson would primarily be used against left-handed pitching.

Cleveland has little wiggle room financially for any major free-agent additions this offseason, so the club will be looking more toward the trade market to address its need for an impact bat. Taking a flier on a player like Park also made sense. Given the success of Korean infielder Jung Ho Kang (posting fee of $5.1 million, followed by a four-year, $11-million contract) with the Pirates, though, Park’s price exceeded Cleveland’s comfort zone in a blind-bid scenario.

–JB

Breaking down the Tribe’s payroll

Chris AntonettiThe Indians enter this offseason in a familiar position. Much of Cleveland’s core group is under contract and the payroll projects to be in the same range as recent years. That means little monetary wiggle room.

Chris Antonetti, the Indians president of baseball operations, has been upfront that the Tribe’s top priority this winter is upgrading the position-player side of the roster. To do so, under the usual restraints, it looks like the trade market is the most realistic route for the Indians to follow.

If the Indians had money to spare, maybe they would’ve picked up Ryan Raburn’s $3-million team option on Wednesday. He was one of baseball’s top hitters vs. lefty pitching last year (Raburn’s 1.004 OPS ranked behind only Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson in the American League) and his deal was affordable.

Instead, the Tribe declined Raburn’s option, will pay him a $100,000 buyout and Antonetti offered this reasoning: “In the end, a lot of this comes down to timing. With where we are in the offseason, we just felt that we were best served by not committing the $3 million at this point to that spot on our roster. That’s really what it came down to.”

That familiar word —  “flexibility” — was quickly in a subsequent quote. So, just how much flexibility does Cleveland have this winter? Perhaps not as much as people might have thought when the team dealt Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. It’s important to remember that that trade, which brought Chris Johnson and his contract to Cleveland, was more about loosening up the roster than the purse strings.

Let’s take a walk through the Indians’ current payroll situation.

GUARANTEED CONTRACTS FOR 2016

Carlos Santana, $8.25 million
Chris Johnson, $7.5 million
Michael Brantley, $7.38 million
Jason Kipnis, $6.17 million
Corey Kluber, $4.7 million
Carlos Carrasco, $4.5 million
Yan Gomes, $2.5 million

That group of seven players are slated to earn approximately $41 million for the upcoming season.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE

Cody Allen
Lonnie Chisenhall
Nick Hagadone
Jeff Manship
Zach McAllister
Bryan Shaw
Josh Tomlin

According to the educated guess work of MLBTradeRumors.com, that group could net $14.7 million through arbitration. Obviously, that’s not a firm number. So, for now, we have to assume that the arbitration cases, if everyone is retained, will account for roughly $13-15 million. That brings us to around $56 million on the high end.

PRE-ARBITRATION PLAYERS

While I don’t know Trevor Bauer’s specific salary for 2016 at the moment, it will be north of $1.5 million, in accordance with the Major League contract he signed at the time he was drafted. We’re currently at 15 roster spots. So, at this point we can put the other 10 spots in the range of $5.5 million. That’s around $7 million (and I’m probably a little short here) for the pre-arbitration section of the roster. Now, we’re at $63 million.

OTHER OBLIGATIONS

Now that we know the decision on Raburn’s deal, we know that we’re not adding $3 million to that total. But, assuming I was a little short on the pre-arb class, and accounting for Raburn’s buyout, we can say the payroll is around $63-64 million. This is where it gets a little tricky. We have to account for the cash sent to Atlanta as part of the trade that shipped Swisher and Bourn to the Braves. The Indians haven’t said the specific amount, only that they picked up “a majority” of the difference between Johnson’s contract and the Swisher/Bourn contracts. That money was deferred over the life of Johnson’s deal, which is guaranteed through 2017 ($7.5 million in ’16 and $9 million in ’17, plus a $1-million buyout if his $10-million option isn’t picked up for ’18). Again, I haven’t received specific details, but I have been told that projecting a current payroll status of $70-75 million puts me “in the ballpark” of where Cleveland is at the moment. That means, if the Indians are sticking to the $85-million neighborhood for its payroll, we can guesstimate that the team has $10-15 million worth of flexibility to play with this winter. So, don’t expect any major free-agent additions, but rather Cleveland targeting younger, controllable players through trades. And, obviously, trading away a contract or two from the current roster would alter the situation, too.

OFFSEASON NEEDS

Antonetti reiterated on Wednesday that the team plans on focusing more on its offense than its pitching, though I’d wager that we’ll see some depth adds on the pitching front. Cleveland could stand to shore up its lefty-relief situation and, let’s be honest, the rotation gets a little thing behind the Tribe’s talented front four. Offensively, the Indians could target right field, the corner infield spots and designated hitter as areas to use in an effort to add some offense. Cleveland’s preference is to keep Michael Brantley in left field, too. That probably means the Indians will look for alternatives for center field, potentially moving Abraham Almonte into a fourth-outfielder role. The Tribe likes Lonnie Chisenhall in right field, but he might be in a platoon-esque scenario.

–JB

A look back at Bobby

STOPLet’s STOP, and take a moment to reflect on the three-year stint of Ryan Raburn — affectionately referred to as “Bobby” by his teammates — as a member of the Indians. Tribe fans, you laughed. You cried, or at least cringed when he famously spiked the ball in left field. And you certainly admired when he’d belt homers off the likes of Chris Sale.

For reporters, Raburn was always accessible and accountable. That’s really all you can ask. Now, he’ll get a chance to provide some veteran leadership (not to mention a potent versus-lefties bat) elsewhere. On Wednesday, Raburn became a free agent after Cleveland declined his $3-million team option for 2016.

“He was a really good teammate, a guy that really had an impact in his time with us,” said Chris Antonetti, the Indians’ president of baseball operations. “That made the decision really difficult.”

In honor of No. 9, here are nine highlights from Raburn’s tour with the Tribe. Click on the photos for videos:

1. The Goon Squad

Goon-squad

2. The Balk-off

Balkoff

3. The Spike

KluberFrown

4. Raburn pitches

RaburnPitching

5. Raburn pitches… again!

RaburnPitchesAgain

6. A dive and a bomb

DiveBomb

7. Dirty diving

Dive

8. Can’t stop, won’t stop

STOP

9. Buy one, get one vs. Sale

RaburnHomers

–JB

How close are the Indians to a World Series? Kipnis: “We’re close.”

RoyalsWorldSeries

Wade Davis pumped a knee-high strike to Wilmer Flores. Home-plate umpire Alfonso Marquez turned and pumped a fist, signaling a strike. And the party was on. Davis tossed his glove high in the air as he raised his arms in a V. Catcher Drew Butera sprinted to the mound and jumped into a celebratory embrace with Kansas City’s closer. And a mob formed on the field, bouncing and splashing water as the stunned Mets faithful looked on, or filed out.

The Royals, following nearly two decades of futility and a recent rise defined by aggressiveness, fundamentals and a never-say-die spirit that was on full display this October, won the World Series. Here in Cleveland, Tribe fans probably felt a bit of a sting. This was, after all, the third time in the past four years that an AL Central rival reached the World Series, and one more year tacked on to Cleveland’s championship drought.

Kansas City, of course, won the pennant last year, too. The Tigers won the division and made it to the Fall Classic back in 2012. As for 2013? Well, no one needs to tell Indians fans what happened. They got a nine-inning taste of playoff baseball. What a tease. There’s always next year, right?

The Indians sure hope so.

“We’re close,” Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said at the end of the regular season. “We’re going to have to keep getting better and we’re going to have to keep growing. I think the front office knows that. We’re not far away. We’ve definitely got a good foundation here. We’ve definitely got good players and now, we could be just one piece away, one bat away, one pitcher away and I think it’ll be important for us to go out and get it.”

How close are the Indians? Well, when the Royals notch 95 wins and the Indians only collected 81, it sure doesn’t look that close on the surface. That said, examine what Kansas City did this season, and also take a look at how the Mets reached the World Series, and Indians fans should see that, really, the Tribe isn’t that far off.

“I think you see the core of the Mets’ rotation,” Indians GM Mike Chernoff said, “and you can feel that we have something similar in our core starters right now. And then you see the same thing with the Royals’ position players and feel like, with a core group of guys here for the long term, maybe we can replicate both of those things.”

Quickly, on the Mets’ and Indians’ rotations, here’s a snapshot comparison:

NYMCLErotation

Those numbers are fairly close across the board. Indians also ranked first in the Majors in average velocity (92.9 mph) — a tick above the Mets (3rd at 92.7). Cleveland led the Majors with a 11.3 swinging-strike percentage, while New York came in at ninth (9.8). Obviously, a good chunk of the Mets’ numbers include the ageless Bartolo Colon. If you swap him out and toss in Steven Matz, New York’s average age for their core four is 25, while the Indians’ sits at 26.5.

So, what does this all mean? Well, it means both teams have elite rotations, and the foundation for each is relatively young, controllable and set up to help their respective teams contend for the next several years. If we’ll sit here and say that the Mets will be back contending again due to the strength of their young, talented staff, well, then we should be able to say the same about Cleveland’s group, too.

What about Chernoff’s point about the Royals’ position players? Take a look:

KCCLEchart

The Royals had a slight edge in power production, but both teams were near the bottom in that regard. Now, I’m not going to sit here and say the Indians don’t need more power in the middle of the order. They do. It should be the top priority this winter. BUT, Kansas City showed that power isn’t everything. And, as much as the Royals put their baserunning on display in the playoffs, Cleveland rated better on the bases during the season. The Indians were more patient. The Royals put more balls in play. There were some slight differences here and there, but in the end both clubs came in around league average (wRC+) overall.

So, what made the Royals a 95-win, World Series-winning team, and the Indians an 81-win disappointment?

The biggest difference came in the defense, but this is where it’s worth noting that the Indians rallied in a major way in the second half in that area. Overall, the Royals led the AL with 56 Defensive Runs saved and a 56.9 defense rating, according to Fangraphs. Cleveland checked in at third in DRS (18) and second in defense (23.0). The Indians did not rate that high at the season’s midpoint. Most of that came after Francisco Lindor took over at short, Lonnie Chisenhall moved to right, Abraham Almonte manned center, Gio Urshela handled third and guys like Chris Johnson and Jerry Sands cut into Carlos Santana’s innings at first base.

There is reason to believe, then, that the Indians closed the gap some defensively on the Royals in the final few months. Heading into 2016, maybe Cleveland is still short of the Royals’ level in the field, but the difference between the clubs defensively is no longer as large as it was back in 2014, or even in April and May.

Pitching wise, Kansas City was a touch behind Cleveland in overall ERA (3.74) mainly due to the strength of the Royals bullpen (AL-best 2.72 ERA). Cleveland’s relievers were second in the AL with a 3.12 ERA this year. In terms of pitching fWAR, K/9 and K/BB, Kansas City was in the middle of the pack or in the bottom third of the league. The Indians had the better pitching staff on the whole, and should still for the next couple years.

While watching the World Series, Indians fans probably didn’t feel like their team was close to being on the same stage. And, I’m not here to say Cleveland is on that level, yet. The offense does need more thump, the bullpen needs more depth, the rotation is a setback or two from being really thin at the back end, and there are still so many questions surrounding the likes of Chisenhall, Urshela, Almonte and others.

Even with all of the unknowns, though, the knowns — the statistics, especially following Cleveland’s mid-season roster makeover — paint a positive picture for the Tribe. This team, as Kipnis stated so matter-of-factly, doesn’t appear to be that far off.

“We’re getting better,” Kipnis said. “It’s not like we’re at the tail ends of our career. We’re all entering our primes, a lot of guys, so there’s going to be reasons for excitement. That’s why I just think that if it is one piece or if it is one person that we need, or type of player that we need, I’m hoping we go get him.”

–JB

Breaking Down a 1.68-Second Pop Time with Yan Gomes

By: August Fagerstrom / @AugustF_MLB

CLEVELAND — Yan Gomes’ throw to second base that nabbed Brett Gardner in the ninth inning of the Indians’ 5-4 victory over the Yankees on Tuesday caused quite a buzz. As it should, it was an extraordinary effort from start to finish, and the Statcast numbers back that up.

Gomes’ pop time of 1.68 seconds was his fastest all season, and among the fastest by any catcher in 2015. But 1.68 is just a number. How does a catcher achieve such a time? Let’s walk through Gomes’ technique, step-by-step, with some visual aids and commentary from the man himself.

Step 1: The Setup

Gomer1

In the first frame, Gomes is simply in his normal squat position. Nothing out of the ordinary. But he’s aware of the speedy Gardner on his first base, and the idea of that he may be on the move is certainly in the back of his mind. In the second frame, two things are happening. The first is, of course, Gomes receiving the pitch. That’s always the first part of the equation. But the second thing that’s happening is Gomes has noticed that Gardner has broken for second base, and he subtly begins shifting is body — left hip forward — to enter the ready position to throw.

“When I see him going, I kind of want to beat the ball to the punch with a little bit of anticipation,” Gomes said. “I know what pitch is coming — if it was a curveball it would have been a different way of handling it. I have to make sure I catch it first. But especially with a ball like that, you almost want to take your time with it. You work so much on getting your quick feet or your hand exchange that you kind of just have to let that work. But once you see him going, you want to anticipate and then let it happen. I was a little turned, but in my mind I didn’t feel like it, I try to stay underneath it as much as I can.”

Step 2: The Footwork

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 6.12.53 PM

This frame shows the moment that Gomes’ back foot has lifted off the ground. Of course, by this point, everything is reactionary, but Gomes’ said his subconscious focus places the most importance on his back foot first.

“It’s really trying to get my back foot down, it’s my anchor foot,” Gomes said. “Once I have my back foot down, I can put some more strength into the throw.”

Step 3: The Exchange

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 6.13.11 PM

Two things have happened since the last frame. The first is that Gomes has already planted his back foot — his anchor. His front foot has also began moving forward, and it’s in his front foot that Gomes actually finds something wrong within this seemingly perfect throw:

“I think you can see in that throw, my left foot probably wasn’t as in position as to where I’m squaring my shoulder as much as I should have,” Gomes said.

The second thing that’s happened since the last frame is that Gomes has transferred his ball from the glove to his throwing hand. According to Statcast, this exchange took just 0.483 seconds, making it the fastest exchange of the season for Gomes.

“It felt like it was probably the quickest out of my hand,” Gomes said. “Especially with a guy like Gardner running, you kind of have to get rid of it as fast as you can.”

According to Gomes, the transfer is the most important part of a throw down to second. When something goes wrong, and Gomes doesn’t achieve a pop time with which he’s satisfied, the exchange is typically the culprit.

“Usually it comes down to the exchange,” Gomes said. “Sometimes that can mess up a fairly good throw. It can be throws going different ways, but it’s usually always about the exchange. During that exchange, you want to try to grip the ball as best you can and sometimes you don’t get a good grip or you try to change your grip while you’re bringing your hand back. That’s when you’ve got to try to slow down a little bit sometimes.”

Step 4: The Release

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 6.13.30 PM

This frame shows the moment that Gomes’ front food has landed and the ball has been released from his hand. His gripe about not being square in his base is revealed in this shot, as he’s not quite in the perfect position to deliver a throw to second base. Nevertheless, he still throws the ball at his average speed to second base of 78mph, and his lightning-quick exchange makes up for what his throw may lack in velocity.

“It’s something that we work with, Roberto and I, we work with Sandy [Alomar] to try to get the ball out of our glove as fast as we can and let our arm create some force and separation to gain some strength in the throw,” Gomes said. “That’s really what it’s mainly about. I think from then on you can figure out how to get the ball towards second.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 98 other followers