Author Archive

Indians begin spring workouts

BullpensThe sun was shining and gloves were popping. Players have been trickling into Arizona for weeks, but Thursday marked the first official workout for pitchers and catchers.

Indians general manager Chris Antonetti was asked how much he enjoyed the first real day of Spring Training.

“I’d much prefer to be in 5-degree weather and shoveling snow in my driveway,” Antonetti quipped. “No, it’s always a great day to have that first workout and have guys out there throwing and some guys out there hitting. It’s an exciting day.”

At this time, I’d like to issue a formal apology to anyone back home is actually is braving the 5-degree weather and shoveling the snow in their driveway. I won’t bother you with any lines about how sunny it is here. Oh, wait. First sentence above. Whoops!

Many of Cleveland’s arms went through mound sessions. That included Trevor Bauer, Justin Masterson, John Axford and C.C. Lee (in the photo to the side). Those who weren’t throwing off the bump were on one of the practice diamonds working on fielding drills.

Position players are not required to report until Saturday. Their physicals are Sunday and the first full-squad workout is slated for Monday. There are a handful of players who are not in camp yet, but Indians manager Terry Francona made it clear that he’s not keeping score.

“It’s not a test. There’s enough trust built already. Guys know what to do,” Francona said. “If they’re here, great. It’s fun to see them. It’s a relaxed atmosphere where they can get their work done. The guys that aren’t here, that doesn’t mean they’re not working. Jason Giambi, he doesn’t need to be here. Guys know what they need to do.”

After all, reporting one day earlier isn’t going to win the World Series.

———————————————

Photo of the Day

Cabreras

Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera watches his son, Meyer, fielding a grounder on Thursday.

———————————————

Some notes from Tribe camp….

  • The Indians formally announced their four-year contract extension with left fielder Michael Brantley and held a press conference on Thursday. Check out Brantley’s comments, the details of the deal and more on Indians.com.
  • In case you missed it: here is Wednesday’s feature on Carlos Santana’s plan to work on third base this spring. On Thursday, and for the next few days, he’ll work as a catcher before joining the infielders next week.
  • Lefty Nick Hagadone said he’s happy to have his grievance in the past and he’s looking forward to competing for a bullpen spot this spring. Hagadone said he’s widened the stance of his delivery and is working on having a better tempo, all with the idea of improving his walk rate. The changes were made after discussing it with pitching coach Mickey Callaway after last season.
  • Francona said right-hander Bryan Price, a Minor League reliever who was added to the 40-man roster over the winter, tweaked a hamstring during drills on Thursday. It didn’t sound serious, but we’ll have more information on Friday.
  • Antonetti was asked if the Indians might have a Michael Bourn-esque acqusition in the works for this spring. Here’s the GM’s reply: “We’re continuing to look for ways to improve the team, wherever those opportunities might be,” Antonetti said. “But I really do feel good about the group we have in camp. I feel like we have what we need to contend for the Central and earn a postseason berth, and hopefully compete for a World Series.”
  • Francona, who managed plenty of games against Derek Jeter in the AL East, raved about the shortstop one day after it was announced that this would be his final season: “If you’re a baseball fan, he is the walking example of what’s good in baseball. You respect him so much, and yet you want him to have as little to do with the outcome of a game if you’re his opponent. That’s probably the biggest compliment you can give him. He’s going to find a way to beat you, whether it’s on the bases, on defense or at the plate. And, again, because I was in that division, I saw it too much. He ranks right up there with the most respected players. I’m glad he’s walking away on his own terms. We’ll probably get to see him seven times this year. I hope he goes 0-for-28 and we give him a nice plaque or something.”
  • The Indians are doing their part in trying to help save the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa. The museum, which has closed its doors during the winter to save money, is working with the team on possibly sending some items to Cleveland. “Bob Feller was the engine that powered the museum,” said Bob DiBiasio, the Indians’ senior vice president of public affairs. “Unfortunately, since his passing the business model for the Bob Feller Museum has not been working. As we move forward, our primary objective is to foster Mr. Feller’s legacy in the two places he called home, Van Meter, Iowa, and Cleveland.”
  • The Indians will go to an arbitration hearing with pitcher Josh Tomlin on Friday. He’s seeking $975,000 and the Indians are offering $800,000. Said Antonetti: “Our clear preference is to always negotiate a settlement. And I think we have a very long track record of demonstrating that and trying to do it. But it has to be an equitable settlement and one we think makes sense. In both Vinnie and Josh’s case, we felt we made very earnest efforts to try and reach an agreement. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to. So, at this point, the arbitrators can decide and then we can move on. I think that’s the most important thing. We can get it behind us and move on. Weve now done it with Vinnie. It’s in the past. And as of Saturday, it’ll be in the past for Josh as well.”

More from Goodyear on Friday…

–JB

Greetings from Goodyear

SantanaI shoveled my driveway at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning, caught a cab and took off from Cleveland without delay. Now, here I am, covering Spring Training for the 10th time (fourth on the Tribe beat).

It’s not a bad gig, especially for those of us who get to escape real winter, and the extended time away from family is certainly easier these days with FaceTime, Facebook and Skype. The best part about it, though, is simply knowing that baseball season is back.

With the exception of a one-week break in March to see my wife and kiddos, I’ll be here for the duration, and then off to the West Coast for Opening Day in Oakland.

As laid out on Indians.com a few days ago, there is certainly no shortage of storylines in Tribe camp this spring, and there are obviously heightened expectations. Terry Francona’s Wild Card-clinching Wahoos won’t be taking anybody by surprise during the 2014 season.

You can keep checking MLB.com and Indians.com for all the latest from Spring Training, and I’ll use this space for a regular round-up of what’s going on with the team, too. Also, if you’re not already, follow me on Twitter (@MLBastian) and Instagram (bastianmlb) for even more updates, quotes, tidbits and photos from Arizona.

Here are some links from the first few days of camp:

More on Thursday, when the pitchers and catchers will run through the team’s first official workout.

–JB

Projecting the Tribe’s 2014 offense

BPSThere are less than five weeks remaining until the Indians’ pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. That makes this a good time to dive into my annual projections for the club.

Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti hasn’t said he’s done tweaking his offense, but it looks pretty set, barring an unexpected trade. I’m going to stick with the hitters for this post, because I’m not as certain that the Tribe’s pitching staff has taken its final shape.

I did this exercise last offseason with varying levels of success when the ’13 season was all said and done. No projection method is without its flaws. Looking at statistical trends can’t predict the shoulder injury that plagued Nick Swisher, or that Michael Bourn’s steady stolen-base numbers would take a nose dive in the American League. It can’t predict the out-of-nowhere seasons of guys like Ryan Raburn or Yan Gomes, neither of whom were in my projections last winter.

All of that said, I’ll stick with a similar approach as last year, averaging the past three years of production against last season’s performance for each player. In a few cases — bench guys or players with thin career samples — I took some liberties to try to get as accurate a projection as possible.

I won’t go deep into the details, suffice to say the numbers I arrived at run similar to many of the projections you might find on fangraphs.com or other sites. At the bottom of this post, I’ll note the projections from last season and compare it to the actual production turned in by Cleveland’s players. Let’s run through each player one by one (I did 12 this time) with a comment on the numbers.

2B Jason Kipnis
Slash: .277/.355/.447/.802
Stats: 157 H, 34 2B, 4 3B, 18 HR, 82 RBI, 88 R, 29 SB, 69 BB, 137 K

Comment: Kipnis’ otherworldly June last season gave his overall numbers a decent boost. It’s fair to assume that, without the assistance of that kind of incredible spike over a brief amount of time, the second baseman’s overall showing will suffer a slight dip over 2013. Still, having a middle infielder with an .800-plus OPS to go along with 15-plus homers, 80-plus RBI and around 30 stolen bases is a luxury for the Tribe.

CF Michael Bourn
Slash: .270/.328/.374/.702
Stats: 153 H, 24 2B, 8 3B, 6 HR, 51 RBI, 82 R, 33 SB, 47 BB, 137 K

Comment: It’s hard to know what to make of Bourn’s showing in 2013. He didn’t take advantage of his stolen-base chances as much as in the past, but that could change with more experience in the AL. Bourn also dealt with hamstring woes late in the year. Given his production over the past three years combined, it’s fair to assume there will be an uptick in performance by Bourn in ’14. He’ll certainly be motivated to return closer to his career norm.

1B Nick Swisher
Slash: .252/.350/.440/.790
Stats: 137 H, 29 2B, 2 3B, 23 HR, 72 RBI, 76 R, 2 SB, 80 BB, 137 K

Comment: Swisher downplayed how much his injured shoulder hurt his offense last season, but there is no denying it was a factor. If he stays out of the outfielder (except for on occasion) and is healed up after the offseason, the switch hitter should see improvement over last year’s numbers. Barring injury, you can usually book Swisher for 20-plus homers, 70-plus RBI and 80-plus walks. Keeping Swisher out of the cleanup spot could help, too.

LF Michael Brantley
Slash: .283/.333/.399/.732
Stats: 152 H, 28 2B, 4 3B, 9 HR, 67 RBI, 65 R, 16 SB, 41 BB, 67 K

Comment: The slash line is nearly identical to what Brantley posted for the Indians last season, but the left fielder is also arguably the most consistent hitter on the team. It’s tempting to predict more power, but Brantley is a safe bet to continue on as a gap-to-gap hitter who can steal a few bases and drive in runs while bouncing up and down the lineup. He has one of the top contact rates in the Majors, giving Cleveland a solid protection hitter.

C/1B Carlos Santana
Slash: .261/.372/.454/.826
Stats: 140 H, 37 2B, 2 3B, 21 HR, 75 RBI, 76 R, 4 SB, 94 BB, 113 K

Comment: Knowing that Santana might see more time in the field this season actually makes me want to assume the slash line will be even better. He hit much better last year when he wasn’t catching, and Gomes will be taking over as the starter behind the plate. Santana is always a good bet to walk 90-plus times and his breakout showing in 2011 makes 25-30 homers seem possible, if he finally puts the whole package together.

SS Asdrubal Cabrera
Slash: .254/.313/.417/.730
Stats: 135 H, 35 2B, 2 3B, 16 HR, 70 RBI, 70 R, 11 SB, 40 BB, 113 K

Comment: I think the Indians would be thrilled if Cabrera returned to this type of production. Last season was discouraging for the shortstop, but he’s not being counted on to carry the lineup and he’s entering a contract year. That could be the kind of situation that helps get the most out of Cabrera, who has the ability to be the team’s best overall hitter. That said, a third straight tank job in the second half is a bad trend. Cleveland needs more from Cabrera in ’14.

C Yan Gomes
Slash: .284/.337/.474/.811
Stats: 130 H, 27 2B, 3 3B, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 67 R, 3 SB, 29 BB, 110 K

Comment: Gomes’ brief career and outstanding showing in 2013 inflates this projection, in my opinion. He’ll be dealing with the learning curve that goes along with being a starting catcher in the big leagues for the first time. Yes, he did that in the second half last year, but this is from Opening Day on. There will likely be wear and tear, so I’d expect the average and slugging to drop some more. That said, Gomes has a funny way of proving people wrong.

3B Lonnie Chisenhall
Slash: .235/.277/.409/.686
Stats: 106 H, 26 2B, 1 3B, 17 HR, 55 RBI, 49 R, 3 SB, 24 BB, 90 K

Comment: The problem with this projection is that it assumes 450-plus at-bats. If Chisenhall is hitting around .230 with a sub-.280 on-base percentage, I doubt he’s going to get that many at-bats in the big leagues. The Indians might also use him primarily against righties, which has the potential to boost the slash line. I agree that Chisenhall is capable of 15-plus homers, 25-plus doubles and 50-plus RBI over a full season, but he needs to earn that full season.

RF David Murphy
Slash: .244/.308/.401/.709
Stats: 106 H, 25 2B, 2 3B, 13 HR, 48 RBI, 53 R, 4 SB, 39 BB, 62 K

Comment: Murphy has the ability to hit for a higher average and on-base percentage than this projection, especially if Cleveland limits him primarily against right-handed pitching. That said, last season’s rough showing really drags the numbers down when trying to predict performance. Being in a new offense and in a platoon role could benefit Murphy, who has hit .300 in the past, but it’s just hard to project that kind of rebound at the moment.

INF Mike Aviles
Slash: .251/.300/.385/.685
Stats: 94 H, 18 2B, 1 3B, 10 HR, 47 RBI, 51 R, 10 SB, 16 BB, 48 K

Comment: Aviles garnered 361 at-bats in 2013, which included a stint as the starting shortstop when Cabrera was injured, and this projection is based on around 375 at-bats in ’14. That seems like a fair range (he’s averaged 386 at-bats over the past three years) and the projection looks about right to me. Aviles isn’t going to be an on-base machine, but he’s an adequate hitter capable of spelling starters at multiple positions.

UTIL Ryan Raburn
Slash: .251/.325/.466/.791
Stats: 86 H, 24 2B, 1 3B, 16 HR, 59 RBI, 49 R, 1 SB, 31 B, 96 K

Comment: This projection assumes a jump of roughly 100 at-bats for Raburn over his 2013 showing. He enters the year as the right-field platoon partner for Murphy, and could see time at other spots (DH, third base, second base). His incredible showing last season, which earned him an extension, will likely lead to increased playing time. More playing time will likely cause Raburn’s numbers to lag some compared to last year.

DH/PH Jason Giambi
Slash: .199/.305/.410/.715
Stats: 32 H, 7 2B, 0 3B, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 19 R, 0 SB, 22 BB, 49 K

Comment: Big G isn’t on the roster at the moment, but he wasn’t on the roster when Spring Training began last season, either. With the versatile Raburn and Aviles still in the fold, and a catching alignment that could mean the Tribe doesn’t have a true backup catcher on the bench, Cleveland appears to have room to carry Giambi again. He’d fill the same pinch hitter/DH role as last year and these numbers look about right to me.

Overall slash line: .260/.328/.423/.751
Overall stats: 1,428 H, 314 2B, 30 3B, 176 HR, 712 RBI, 745 R, 116 SB, 532 BB, 1,159 K

Comment: Obviously, injuries are going to be a part of the season. There’s no avoiding that, so this perfect-world projection of these dozen players amounts to roughly 5,500 at-bats (a tick under average for  American League teams in 2013). It doesn’t account for the 300-500 at-bats that unlisted players will probably fill in the coming season. The projection is an improvement on last season’s offense nearly across the board, but with the same amount of runs scored. So, essentially, we’re looking at nearly an identical offense for ’14, a year after it was a Top-five offense in the AL.

Last winter’s projections and actual results

1B Mark Reynolds
Projection: .217/.331/.440, 27 HR, 25 2B, 1 3B, 75 RBI, 71 R, 3 SB, 75 BB, 174 K
Actual: .220/.306/.393, 21 HR, 14 2B, 0 3B, 67 RBI, 55 R, 3 SB, 51 BB, 154 K

2B Jason Kipnis
Projection: .259/.335/.391, 15 HR, 24 2B, 4 3B, 77 RBI, 86 R, 30 SB, 64 BB, 110 K
Actual: .284/.366/.452, 17 HR, 36 2B, 4 3B, 84 RBI, 86 R, 30 SB, 76 BB, 143 K

SS Asdrubal Cabrera
Projection: .272/.336/.421, 17 HR, 33 2B, 2 3B, 69 RBI, 72 R, 11 SB, 49 BB, 102 K
Actual: .242/.299/.402, 14 HR, 35 2B, 2 3B, 64 RBI, 66 R, 9 SB, 35 BB, 114 K

3B Lonnie Chisenhall
Projection: .264/.303/.426, 17 HR, 24 2B, 2 3B, 53 RBI, 57 R, 6 SB, 24 BB, 97 K
Actual: .225/.270/.398, 11 HR, 17 2B, 0 3B, 36 RBI, 30 R, 1 SB, 16 BB, 56 K

C Carlos Santana
Projection: .250/.364/.432, 20 HR, 30 2B, 2 3B, 75 RBI, 74 R, 4 SB, 93 BB, 106 K
Actual: .268/.377/.455, 20 HR, 39 2B, 1 3B, 74 RBI, 75 R, 3 SB, 93 BB, 110 K

OF Michael Brantley
Projection: .280/.337/.390, 6 HR, 34 2B, 5 3B, 58 RBI, 67 R, 14 SB, 50 BB, 67 K
Actual: .284/.332/.396, 10 HR, 26 2B, 3 3B, 73 RBI, 66 R, 17 SB, 40 BB, 67 K

OF Drew Stubbs
Projection: .226/.294/.357, 16 HR, 16 2B, 3 3B, 47 RBI, 80 R, 31 SB, 47 BB, 171 K
Actual:  .233/.305/.360, 10 HR, 21 2B, 2 3B, 45 RBI, 59 R, 17 SB, 44 BB, 141 K

OF Nick Swisher
Projection: .273/.365/.476, 24 HR, 34 2B, 1 3B, 90 RBI, 78 R, 2 SB, 76 BB, 136 K
Actual: .246/.341/.423, 22 HR, 27 2B, 2 3B, 63 RBI, 74 R, 1 SB, 77 BB, 138 K

INF Mike Aviles
Projection:
.260/.292/.390, 13 HR, 27 2B, 2 3B, 59 RBI, 61 R, 16 SB, 24 BB, 76 K
Actual: .252/.282/.368, 9 HR, 15 2B, 0 3B, 46 RBI, 54 R, 8 SB, 15 BB, 41 K

Overall projection: .251/.325/.404, 280 2B, 28 3B, 169 HR, 679 RBI, 756 R, 141 SB, 575 BB, 1,304 K
Actual production: .255/.327/.410, 290 2B, 23 3B, 171 HR, 711 RBI, 745 R, 117 SB, 562 BB, 1,283 K

Note: At the time of the projections last season, Bourn and Giambi weren’t in the fold and no one knew Raburn or Gomes were going to play such an important role during the season.

I’m going off the grid during the upcoming week, but keep checking Indians.com for updates on the club.

–JB

Tribe Winter Meetings round-up

photoGreetings from the Winter Meetings at the Swan & Dolphin resort. Keep checking back here for a round-up of reports and rumors involving the Indians. Cleveland’s primary need heading into these Meetings was pitching, both for the starting rotation and for the bullpen. Here are the rumblings from around the hotel:

Wednesday:

  • There are still rumblings about teams inquiring about Justin Masterson (Bob Nightengale of USA Today says the Yankees would love to have him), but it just doesn’t make sense for the Tribe to deal the big sinkerballer right now. Indians GM Chris Antonetti addressed such discussions — while being careful not to specifically talk about negotiations with or about Masterson — on Tuesday. In short: the Indians listen on any players. Click the link for more.
  • The Indians have yet to talk about an extension with Masterson, but his camp is not alarmed. The pitcher’s agent, Randy Rowley, is currently preparing case for one-year arbitration talks, but would welcome long-term discussions, too. Such talks can often be included in arbitration negotiations, and often are initiated after Jan. 1. Masterson’s camp is simply interested in a fair deal with respect to the current market for starting pitchers.
  • The Indians have a surplus of outfielders (Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn, David Murphy, Drew Stubbs, Ryan Raburn) and are willing to listen on any of them, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Stubbs still remains the likely odd-man out given his role and arbitration status.
  • Indians are rumored to have interest in veteran infielder Jamey Carroll, according to John Heyman of CBS Sports. He named the Rays and Rangers as other suitors.
  • Indians first-base prospect Jesus Aguilar launched two more home runs in the Venezuelan Winter League on Tuesday. He’s now hitting .318/.378/.619 with 16 homers and 45 RBIs in 176 at-bats in the VWL. In 2013, between MLB Spring Training, Double-A and winter ball, all Aguilar has done is post a .287/.357/.476 slash line with 32 home runs, 34 doubles, 152 RBIs, 75 walks, 99 runs and 145 strikeouts in 687 at-bats. Expect him to be at Triple-A this season.
  • Rather than a pile of bullet points with updates on Masterson and much more, here’s a one-stop shopping link to a roundup of items from manager Terry Francona and Antonetti. Click here for today’s Winter Meetings notebook.

Tuesday:

  • Word is the Indians are willing to listen to trade proposals for Masterson. There is no reason to overreact to this right now. Cleveland is doing its due diligence, gauging value for a pitcher in the final year of his contract. Consider that the White Sox are open to listening on Chris Sale and the Rays are doing the same with David Price. The starting pitching market is getting extremely expensive and, if the Indians are considering signing Masterson to an extension, it makes sense to first see what return might be available in a trade.
  • The same applies to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, though the situation is a little different. Masterson is leading a staff that stands to lose 350-plus innings with Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir hitting free agency. Cabrera is coming off a down year, and another subpar second half, and is due to earn $10 million this season. With shortstop Mike Aviles in the fold, and Cleveland needing arms, it makes sense to listen to offers for the shortstop.
  • Masterson and Cabrera are a part of Cleveland’s Opening Day plans right now — Masterson, especially — but having such talks now can also lay groundwork for future discussions. In theory, if the Indians endure a terrible first half and 2014 goes off the rails, it would make sense for the Tribe to then resume talks with teams around the Trade Deadline.
  • The Indians have interest in free-agent reliever John Axford, who has also been linked to the Cubs, Mariners and Orioles. Axford has closing experience, but might come a little cheaper than free-agents such as Balfour and Fernando Rodney.
  • Pitching coach Mickey Callaway, Francona and bullpen coach Kevin Cash met with Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco at the Meetings on Tuesday. Carrasco (out of options) has first crack at the fifth spot in the rotation, as the roster currently stands. If he doesn’t wind up in the rotation, Carrasco could also transition to the bullpen. Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer are also in the fifth-starter mix right now. The rotation landscape would obviously change if the Indians sign a free agent or add an arm via trade.
  • Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reported that the Indians are trying to re-sign righty Tyler Cloyd to a Minor League deal after designating him for assignment to clear room for OF David Murphy. Hoynes also reported that the Indians were impressed by Cuban shortstop prospect Erisbel Arrubarrena in a workout, but noted that the Dodgers, Cubs and Yankees are also involved.
  • Former Indians prospect Drew Pomeranz, and Minor League righty Chris Jensen, were traded to the A’s in exchange for lefty Brett Anderson.
  • Tribe fans hoping to land Mark Trumbo will also be disappointed to learn he was dealt to the D-backs in a three-team trade involving the White Sox and Angels. L.A reeled in pitchers Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, Arizona netted Trumbo (plus two PTBNL’s) and the ChiSox landed outfielder Adam Eaton.
  • Was able to confirm a report by Rosenthal that the Indians have expressed interest in reliever Joba Chamberlain. Rosenthal named the Tigers, D-backs, Rockies and Cubs as other clubs showing varying levels of interest in the pitcher.

Monday:

  • We already knew Carlos Santana was going to try his hand soon at third base, but on Day 1 of the Meetings, Antonetti noted that the team is still evaluating how much time the catcher will spend behind the plate. Cleveland is definitely in the market for a third-string catcher with big league experience, but the club might also consider backup options if it is determined it is best served with Santana in a 1B/DH/3B-exclusive role.
  • The Indians made two announcements on Monday: they signed first baseman David Cooper to a Major League contract and infielder Jose Ramirez might need surgery after injuring his left thumb in winter ball. Cooper will continue an incredible comeback story with a shot at earning a bench job for the Indians this spring.
  • The Indians recently lost out on signing reliever Edward Mujica (two-year deal with Red Sox) in their search for bullpen help. On the first day of the Meetings, Cleveland was reported to have interest in Grant Balfour. If an available arm has late-inning experience, the Tribe is looking into it.
  • Cleveland expressed interest in free-agent right-hander Jason Hammel (to the point that Callaway spoke with the pitcher). Hammel is reportedly seeking a three- or four-year deal, though, which likely takes the Indians out of the running.
  • Former Indians closer Chris Perez — a free agent — was on hand at the Swan and Dolphin on Monday to meet with interested teams. Former Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore is also expected to be at the Meetings this week to do the same thing.
  • Indians outfield prospect Tyler Naquin (selected by the Indians with the 15th pick in the 2012 Draft) was named to the Arizona Fall League’s 2013 Top Prospects Team. In 27 games, Naquin posted a .339/.400/.417 slash line with six extra-base hits, 18 RBIs and 22 runs scored.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Pre-Winter Meetings chat with Antonetti

Chris AntonettiCome Monday, the who’s who of Major League Baseball’s decision makers will be on site at Swan and Dolphin Resort. They’re going to Disney World! For the annual Winter Meetings.

Between official MLB meetings, general managers and agents gather to discuss free agents and trades, and plenty tends to get done given the face-to-face aspect of the event. For the Indians, the goal now is fairly specific.

“Pitching,” Indians GM Chris Antonetti said. “We’re still focused on trying to improve our pitching alternatives. We come into the offseason in a much better position than we have in prior offseasons with the quality and quantity of our alternatives that we currently have on our roster and within the organization. That said, we’re going to continue to try to find a way to improve it.”

That goes without saying, considering Cleveland stands to lose the 559 1/3 innings logged last year by Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, Joe Smith, Matt Albers, Rich Hill and Chris Perez. Kazmir (A’s) and Smith (Angels) have already headed West, and the rest could be gone via free agency as well. That’s a considerable chunk of innings to replace, whether that’s via internal or external options.

Antonetti discussed the coming Meetings and a wide array of topics during a lunch sit-down with Indians reporters on Friday afternoon. There was no hard news, but there were plenty of notes about the team and its approach as the Winter Meetings draw closer.

Here are some highlights from Antonetti’s Q&A session…

On landscape of American League Central:

“Every team is going out to try to improve themselves heading into the following year. So far this offseason, it’s been no exception. The Tigers and the Twins and the Royals have all made moves to improve themselves. The White Sox added a really good player in [Jose] Abreu, too. I expect it to be a very competitive division. Hopefully we’ll be right there in the mix.”

On perception that Indians have been relatively inactive:

“We went into the offseason with a defined set of needs, and in a much better position than maybe the last few offseasons. Really, some of our strategy last offseason was to put ourselves in a stronger position this offseason, where we acquired players that would fit and impact our roster beyond just the 2013 season. So now that we’re looking at 2014, some of those same players we acquired last year, we expect will impact us going forward. That’s lessened some of the needs going into this offseason.”

On approaching last offseason with this offseason’s market in mind:

“We try to do the best that we can to look forward. There were a lot of factors that pointed to this being a … [pause] … free agency is an expensive process and a challenging process to work through for a lot of reasons. This offseason, there were even more factors probably contributing to that.”

On losing Jimenez and Kazmir to free agency:

“Well, only one has happened so far, with the loss of Kaz. But both guys made very meaningful contributions to our team last year and were a big part of our success. It’s going to sound redundant, but we feel like we have quality in-house alternatives. If you look at where our rotation is now compared to where our rotation was last year, we’re in a much better spot.”

On viewing it as losing one set of innings, not two, due to emergence of Danny Salazar:

“Right. And hopefully we get more innings from Corey [Kluber] and more innings from Zach [McAllister]. Josh Tomlin is going to be unrestricted coming into this year. Carlos Carrasco will come into the year unrestricted. We feel like we’ve got a number of alternatives and a number of quality alternatives.”

On having success with reclamation projects such as Kazmir:

“We’ll spend time trying to find those guys again this offseason. Really, our medical staff and our coaches do a really good job of working together. Our medical staff, our strength and conditioning staff and our on-field staff have a coordinated approach to try to put those guys in the best position to be successful.”

On adding from outside organization to improve rotation and bullpen:

“I’m not sure we need to. Our preference would be, if we find the right guys at the right value, to try to improve our alternatives.”

On possibly acquiring more position players:

“I think we addressed what we felt was one of our primary offseason objectives, improving against right-handed pitching, by signing David Murphy. Now, we’ll continue to look at options to try to find ways to improve, but our focus right now is on pitching.”

On trades possibly being more feasible given free-agent asking prices:

“The trade prices haven’t been inexpensive, either. We’re engaged in both. We’re engaged with both free agents and trades. Which one is more likely, it’s hard to say. We actually have outstanding offers both ways, on trades and free agents. So we could go either direction, or both.”

On current bullpen:

“It’s a youthful group, but we have guys that we feel are capable of pitching and capable of absorbing some of those innings. Some of those guys are guys we’re hopeful will have bounceback years, guys like Vinnie Pestano. And other guys from our Minor League system who we expect to contribute and take up some of those innings. But again, if we can find some guys externally to fortify that group, that’s certainly something we’ll look to do.”

On solving closer role internally:

“We could. With Bryan [Shaw] and Cody [Allen], we feel both of those guys have not only the stuff, but the makeup to pitch in the most highly leveraged innings. They did that last year and excelled in those roles, but they weren’t the ones primarily responsible for getting the 27th out. But we feel that they are both well-equipped to do that. But they don’t have the experience.”

On potentially signing a free-agent to be the new closer:

“There are a number of alternatives out there externally that have experience at the end of games. Now, whether or not we’ll align on those values, it’s still too early in the offseason to say. But there are a number of guys out there with that experience.”

On Pestano’s progress this offseason:

“He’s doing well. His mindset is in a good spot. He’s anticipating going to the complex and working hard to put himself in a better position coming into this season. He is set on having a much better year this year than he did last year.”

On what the organization learned about Trevor Bauer last season:

“That he cares a great deal about being really good, and he’s willing to work really hard to do it. … We’ve always had good dialogue with Trevor from the day we acquired him, and that’s continued through today. I think it’s one thing to know what you want to do, and it’s another thing to be able to accomplish it. Pitching at a high level is really hard to do. I think Trevor got to t level pitching one way, and was very successful doing it, but he undertook considerable delivery adjustments that he initiated last offseason, and I think maybe we and he, if anything, underestimated the magnitude of those adjustments and maybe how long it would take him to get to the point where he’s comfortable executing that delivery consistently. … The videos that we’ve seen, he’s continued to work toward our joint vision of what we think his delivery should be.”

On Michael Bourn’s recovery from hamstring surgery:

“He’s doing well. His recovery is on track and he’ll come into Spring Training without restrictions. He’ll have a relatively normal offseason, too, in terms of conditioning.”

On Carlos Santana playing some third base in winter ball:

“We’ll see. We were really encouraged by the approach Carlos took. He really is passionate about wanting to find a way to impact the team any way he can. He said, ‘Hey, I’ll do what I can to try to find a way to find a way to play another position.’ He recognized how well Yan [Gomes] caught, and how important  Yan was and the contributions he made to our team. So Carlos took it upon himself and said, ‘Hey, I’ll not only catch, but if I can be serviceable at third base, that gives Tito [manager Terry Francona] potentially another option. So, to his credit, he’s down there, he’s worked at it, he’s been at the complex, he’s taking ground balls there and now he’ll progress into games at winter ball for a to-be-determined amount of time, but for at least a month.”

On Asdrubal Cabrera’s showing last season:

“It was probably less consistent than Asdrubal’s performance have been in the past, but the one thing about Asdrubal is he never wavered in how he approached the game, the teammate he was. Throughout the course of the season, he worked hard to find a way to contribute. Last offseason, he worked hard, came into Spring training in good shape. He just may not have had the numbers he had in other years, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.”

On Carrasco’s role within the pitching staff:

“He’ll be on the team. He’s going to be on the team either way — he’s out of options. We think he’s got a chance to still be a very good Major League starting pitcher. So he’s going to condition this offseason as a starter. That obviously gives he and us the flexibility to adjust from there. If we determine as a team that we’re better served having him in the bullpen, we can make that adjustment in Spring Training. But he’s been a very successful starter in the Minor Leagues and, prior to his injury, at the Major League level was a successful starter. We think that he’s certainly capable of doing that again.”

On importance of this spring for third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall:

“Every winter is important for every player and every spring is important, especially for any young player With Lonnie, it coms down to just he has a ton of ability. That’s clear. That’s been evident. He needs to work to figure out a way to become a consistent Major League player. I have no doubt that, if Lonnie puts in the work — offensively, defensively, conditioning — that he’ll be a really good Major League player.”

On continuing to give Chisenhall chances in light of struggles:

“I think it’s about us trying to build the best team and best organization, and figuring out how Lonnie fits into that. We’ll have a better sense of that once we get through the offseason, about what our options are. But Lonnie can’t control any of that. The only thing that Lonnie can control is what he does this winter, how he prepares for Spring Training and take advantage of the opportunity that’s there in front of him. Without question, regardless of what the role is for Lonnie to start the year, we’ll be a much better team if he’s contributing to our Major League team next year the way we think he’s capable of doing.”

On possibly continuing to limit Chisenhall’s at-bats against left-handed pitching:

“That’s a possibility. I think a lot of it will depend upon what our roster construction is, and also how things go this spring for Lonnie. It’s always a balance. Our goal is to win as many games as we can next year, to get back to the playoffs and to advance further than we did this past year. That’s what we’d like to do. That will be our primary motivation. With that, we’ll try to balance the individual development of the younger guys on the roster, including Lonnie.”

On Salazar’s ceiling as a starting pitcher:

“I wouldn’t want to set any ceiling on Danny. Danny deserves a lot of credit for the way he worked through his [elbow] rehab. He made considerable adjustments to his delivery as he was progressing through the rehab process to put him in a better position to be durable long term. I think we’ve seen the benefits of that. He’s a really athletic guy that works hard and has a lot of ingredients to be a really successful Major League pitcher. Where that settles for him, I wouldn’t want to limit it.”

On going 4-15 against the Tigers last season:

“We don’t really look at any one way about a particular opponent. Inevitably, there are going to be teams in a given year that you fare better against others. I think I joked about this before, is anyone asking the Tigers why they couldn’t beat anyone but the Indians? Because our record against everyone else was better than the Tigers. Again, when you look at the balance of a 162 game schedule, a lot of different things can happen. I would expect us to better against the Tigers next year, but maybe not go 17-2 against the White Sox. I don’t think when you play a team 19 games against a team, you can expect it to be that lopsided either way.”

On his reaction to the Tigers trading Prince Fielder and Doug Fister:

“That I expect them to be a better team next year. Dave Dombrowski is extraordinarily good at what he does, at building a roster and an organization. I’m quite confident that they will once again build a very strong team for next year. And they got a lot of good players back.”

On not having to face Miguel Cabrera and Fielder back to back in Detroit’s lineup:

“Well, yeah, but there are other guys you need to face. Individually, am I happy that we don’t have to face Prince Fielder? Yeah. But now we have to face Ian Kinsler instead, and there are other guys that will fill that lineup. I know and am very confident that Detroit is going to have a very good and very formidable lineup. They already do.”

On Justin Masterson’s showing last season:

“It was a really good year. Justin, I think, if you reflect back on the year that he had this year, he was one of the better pitchers in the American League for a large portion of the season. He ended up transitioning to the bullpen at the end of the year, because we had an opportunity there and it as really a selfless thing for Justin to do, to try to figure out  a way where he can help impact the team while he was not yet built back up to full strength. I think Justin deserves a lot of credit for that.”

On younger players vying for bullpen jobs:

“They’re all viable. As it stands now, we’ll have considerable competition in our bullpen going into Spring Training with only a handful of guys probably locked into roles, maybe less than a handful actually.”

On any virtual locks for the rotation behind Masterson:

“[Kluber and McAllister] are in a good spot heading into Spring Training. And then [Salazar], if he continues to work and comes into Spring Training in a similar place as he has in the past, then he’s in a good spot, too. But again, maybe not a certainty. And then we have other guys in that group with Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer.”

On prospect Francisco Lindor’s recovery from his back injury:

“He’s fine. He has a relatively normal offseason. He’s down working on his strength and conditioning. He’s got a pretty good offseason routine. His back is fine.”

–JB

Murphy’s law (of averages)

MurphyRight field will have a new look for the Indians in 2014. Cleveland has agreed to a two-year, $12-million contract with outfielder David Murphy, and the deal includes a club option for 2016. Things will be made official once Murphy completes a physical.

You can expect Murphy — a veteran of eight Major League seasons between stints with the Red Sox and Rangers — to play a lot of right field. What that means for Ryan Raburn or Drew Stubbs remains to be seen. As of right now, a lefty-righty platoon of either Murphy-Raburn or Murphy-Stubbs makes the most sense.

What might the production of those platoons look like? We’ll get to that in a moment. First…

Could the Indians carry Michael Brantley (left field), Michael Bourn (center), Murphy, Raburn and Stubbs on the roster? The flexibility of players such as Raburn (corner outfield, second and third base, DH), Nick Swisher (first base, right field, DH), Carlos Santana (catcher, first base, DH) and Mike Aviles (corner outfield, all over the infield) make it possible.

Cleveland could also clear up this perceived outfield logjam by attempting to trade Stubbs, who is arbitration eligible this winter. The Indians might also consider non-tendering Stubbs prior to the Dec. 2 deadline for offering a contract to arbitration players. That would provide some salary relief for the pursuit of other roster needs.

For now, the outfield in Cleveland is crowded, and that leaves everything else up to speculation.

The heart of this signing is Murphy’s consistent track record, experience in all three outfield spots and his numbers against right-handed pitching. Yes, the 32-year-old Murphy had a down year in 2012 (.220/282/.374), but he also seemed to fall victim to some hard luck (.227 BaBIP compared to .302 for his career). Consider that Murphy actually saw improvement in his strikeout-to-walk ratio, had nearly an identical groundball-flyball ratio (.79) as his career rate (.80) and posted a line-drive percentage (22) near his career rate (20). Murphy’s contact rate (85 percent) was also in line with his career performance (84 percent).

Taking all of that information into account, along with Murphy’s slash line of .283/.346/.449 over the 2008-12 seasons, and it’s easy to see why he’d be a strong bounceback candidate for 2014.

It might not be fair to judge Murphy only on his subpar production in 2013, just as it’s not entirely fair to look at Raburn’s 2013 (.901 OPS) or 2012 (.480 OPS) in a vacuum. As for Stubbs, well, his 2013 slash line (.233/.305/.360) was pretty close to his career rate (.239/.310/.381). At this point, Stubbs is what he is: a better center fielder than right fielder, and a player with plus speed and a solid ability to hit lefties.

True, Stubbs was less exposed as a No. 9 hitter for Cleveland than he was as a leadoff man for the Reds in previous seasons, but putting the outfielder in an everyday role cost the Tribe some offense against right-handed pitching. Over the course of his career, Stubbs has hit .274 (.796 OPS) against lefties, compared to .226 (.652) against righties. In 2013, his showing vs. right-handers dipped to .216 (.637).

On the season, the Indians saw right-handers 67.5 percent of the time (4,163 plate appearances out of 6,665). Among Cleveland’s right fielders in 2013, Stubbs drew 50.5 percent of the plate appearances (318-of-630). The Indians went into the season hoping Stubbs’ speed and defense could help make up for the expected performance against righties as an everyday right fielder. That wasn’t the case, and that’s why a free-agent signing like Murphy comes into play as a possible way to upgrade.

So, again, what might a Murphy-Raburn or Murphy-Stubbs platoon look like? Hang with me now…

Over the past five seasons, the Indians had a 69.8/30.2 percentage split when it came to plate appearances against righties and lefties. With that in mind, I projected based upon a 70/30 line. Cleveland’s right fielders (Stubbs, Raburn, Swisher, Matt Carson, Jason Kubel and Ezequiel Carrera) accounted for 630 plate appearances in 2013, though the average for all nine positions was 675 PAs. Right field was lower due to the position being lower in the lineup most of the time.

The three main right fielders (Stubbs, Raburn and Swisher) accounted for 610 plate appearances. With that in mind, I projected based on 600 PAs for a Murphy-Raburn or Murphy-Stubbs platoon. That leaves anywhere between 25-75 plate appearances for other players, which we’re tossing out for the sake of this experiment. Using the 70/30 split, that creates a PA split of 420/180 for the platoon. To project the numbers, I used the combined 2011-13 production of Murphy (vs. RHP), Raburn and Stubbs (each vs. LHP). A three-year sample tends to be more accurate than looking at one isolated season.

Cleveland Right Field total production 2013:

PA/AB: 630/562
Slash: .247/.325/.432/.757
Stats: 139 H, 30 2B, 1 3B, 24 HR, 79 RBI, 59 BB, 243 TB

Stubbs, Raburn and Swisher in RF in 2013:

PA/AB: 610/546
Slash: .242/.317/.425/.742
Stats: 132 H, 29 2B, 1 3B, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 56 BB, 232 TB

Murphy-Raburn platoon projection for 2014:

PA/AB: 600/541
Slash: .266/.333/.457/.790
Stats: 144 H, 36 2B, 2 3B, 21 HR, 66 RBI, 53 BB, 247 TB

Murphy-Stubbs platoon projection for 2014:

PA/AB: 600/535
Slash: .275/.346/.445/.791
Stats: 147 H, 28 2B, 3 3B, 19 HR, 67 RBI, 58 BB, 238 TB

The goal is to upgrade the production from right field and, whether going with Raburn or Stubbs as a pairing with Murphy, the signing projects to accomplish precisely that. Granted, there are flaws in the projection, because it goes without saying that Murphy would also face lefties in spots and Raburn or Stubbs would also see at-bats against righties. The projection is that of a platoon in the purest sense, and it’s just to give you an idea of what the expected performance could look like in 2014.

This might not be a “wow” move that excites the fan base, but it’s a reasonably-priced move that should result in an improved offensive showing out of right field. If you like intangibles, Murphy also has veteran leadership skills, playoff experience and a history with manager Terry Francona. Things like that can’t be quantified, but they are also important for a team that is trying to take the next step after winning 92 games and tasting the postseason.

Now, about that rotation…

—————————————–

FIVE ADDED TO TRIBE’S 40-MAN ROSTER

Wednesday marked the deadline to add Rule 5-eligible players to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from exposure to the annual selection process. Cleveland purchased the contracts of RHP Bryan Price (Triple-A Columbus), RHP Austin Adams (Double-A Akron), 1B Jesus Aguilar (Double-A), OF Carlos Moncrief (Double-A) and INF Erik Gonzalez (Class A Carolina). In order to add all five to the roster, infielder Cord Phelps was designated for assignment.

Tribe GM Chris Antonetti discussed each player with reporters after the 3 p.m. ET announcement.

Antonetti, on Price: “In Bryan’s case, it was a guy that really thrived this year at Triple-A. He made a lot of progress in how he attacked hitters. He features a good fastball and two good secondary pitches. He was one of the more effective relievers in all of Triple-A.”

Antonetti, asked if Price could compete for MLB bullpen job this spring: “He could, yes. He’ll come into camp and we’ll have to see how things shake out in our bullpen, but he could b a guy who comes in and earns a spot.”

Price (Double-A/Triple-A) in 2013:
47 games, 2.04 ERA, 75 IP, 92 K, 16 BB, .206 average

Antonetti, on Adams: “Austin bounced back from his shoulder surgery extraordinarily well. He worked really hard to get back to where he was pre-surgery. He’s got one of the best arms, not only in our system, but throughout the Minor Leagues. He has a good complement of secondary pitches as well, and misses a lot of bats. He’s another guy who we feel isn’t too far from contributing at the Major League level, if he continues to make progress.”

Adams (Double-A) in 2013:
45 games, 2.62 ERA, 55 IP, 76 K, 29 BB, .215 average

Antonetti, on Aguilar: “He’s getting closer. He made a lot of progress from last year to this year. The Double-A level is always a good test, especially for position players, and Jesus did a really good job of anchoring that lineup. He’s continuing his work down there in winter ball and is off to an extraordinary start down there. He’s continued to work hard. He has a really bright future and he’s on a good path developmentally.”

Antonetti, asked about Aguilar playing some third base in winter ball: “They had a lot of injuries on their winter ball team, so Jesus has gone over there and played some third base. It’s always good to increase your versatility.”

Antonetti, asked if Indians might consider more time at third for Aguilar: “We’d have to see how that continues to go. It wasn’t something that was top-of-mind for us as the season ended. But the fact that he’s gotten an opportunity and experience down in winter ball, it’s something we’ll look to see and maybe continue as we head to Spring Training. But right now, we still view him primarily as a first baseman.”

Aguilar (Double-A) in 2013:
.275/.349/.427, 16 HR, 28 2B, 105 RBI, 66 R, 130 games

Antonetti, on Moncrief: “He was one of the highlights of our development system this year. He’s a guy that’s made a lot of progress, really, if you look at what he’s done, and how he continued his development as a hitter. He really cut down on his strikeout rate, and really continued to improve his defense in the outfield to the point where he’s now a very good outfielder with a well above-average arm with good reads and routes. That’s now become a strength for him and he’s continued to improve as a hitter. Given his limited experience as a hitter, because he started his professional career as a pitcher, it’s been encouraging to see the progress he’s made.”

Moncrief (Double-A) in 2013:
.284/.354/.470, 17 HR, 26 2B, 7 3B, 75 RBIs, 77 R, 129 games

Antonetti, on Gonzalez: “He’s another great development story. Erik’s one of the hardest workers and best teammates in our organization. He did a tremendous job of improving himself as a player. He’s a guy that’s always been a really good defensive player, and he’s worked hard at every position he’s played on the field. We gave him the opportunity to play some shortstop and he really excelled there. We think he’s got a chance to be an above-average defender no matter where he plays defensively, whether that’s shortstop, second base, he can play the corners on the infield, he can play the outfield, and he continues to improve as a hitter. As much as any player in our system, he’s made progress through his hard work this year.”

Gonzalez (Class A Lake County/Carolina) in 2013:
.254/.293/.417, 9 HR, 32 2B, 12 3B, 76 RBI, 75 R, 132 games

Who is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft?

Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons. Clubs pay $50,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, slated to take place on Thursday, Dec. 12. If that player doesn’t stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000.

In other words, an international player or high school draftee signed in 2009, assuming they were 18 or under as of June 5 of that year, must be protected. A college player taken in the 2010 Draft is in the same boat.

Among the Rule 5 eligible players for the Indians are right-handers Joseph Colon, Tyler Holt, Bryce Stowell, Enosil Tejeda and Giovanny Urshela; lefties Elvis Araujo, Matt Packer and Giovanni Soto; first baseman Chun Chen; outfielder LeVon Washington; and catcher Alex Monsalve.

–JB

Covering the Bases: Offseason edition

AllenFIRST: Awards season is also, inevitably, debate season. Especially since the BBWAA began disclosing the ballots of its voters, extreme scrutiny has come into play.

One of the voters of the Cleveland chapter, Chris Assenheimer of the Chronicle-Telegram, took some heat for the ballot he turned in for the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award. His top three: 1. Dan Straily, 2. Chris Archer, 3. Cody Allen.

Assenheimer, a friend and fellow Tribe scribe, took some flak for his picks, mostly due to the fact that he was the lone voter to leave Wil Myers (the AL RoY winner) off his ballot. My hope, however, is that people were not scoffing at the idea of Allen being in the top three (the Indians reliever finished sixth).

I wrote in this space a few posts back that Allen would’ve been my top pick for Rookie of the Year. The New York Times’ September awards preview story also chose the young righty as the league’s top rook. Allen’s role as a reliever (and not a closer), created an uphill battle for recognition, though.

This season, no AL rookies had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title or enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Myers only had 335 at-bats, so I can understand Assenheimer putting more of a premium on starting pitching, considering Straily (152.1 IP) and Archer (128.2 IP) were rotation staples for much of the year for postseason teams.

The thin field, in terms of total playing time, could have (should have?) warranted more consideration for Allen, who set a franchise record for appearances (77) for a rookie. In fact, Allen logged the second-most games for a pitcher in team history, and his 88 strikeouts were the most for a Tribe reliever since Paul Shuey had 103 in 1999. It is also worth noting that Allen became a stabilizing aspect to a bullpen that endured and overcame the struggles of setup man Vinnie Pestano and former closer Chris Perez.

If you break down the AL rookie pitchers down to the group that had at least 60 innings (or 15 or more starts), you’ll find that Allen led the way in ERA+ (155), strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.38), pitching runs (10.43), strikeouts per nine innings (11.26) and ERA (2.38). Allen ranked fourth in WAR (1.4), behind Archer (2.2), Yoervis Medina (1.9) and Martin Perez (1.6). Allen ranked third among AL rookie pitchers (starters and relievers) in strikeouts behind Straily (124) and Archer (101).

I get the argument for Myers. He had a strong season: .293/.354/.478, and his traditional numbers would project to 23 homers, 41 doubles and 94 RBIs in a 600 at-bat sample. His OPS+ of 132 also topped AL rookie hitters. Was he the WAR leader among AL rookies? No, that was David Lough at 2.7. Myers actually comes in third at 2.0 (tied with Seattle’s Brad Miller).

In a down year for the American League rookie class, Myers was a perfectly acceptable choice as the top performer. Allen would’ve been a fine pick as well. Certainly, leaving one or both of those players off the ballot would also be fine given the proper argument. One voter might value 125 innings more than 350 at-bats.

SECOND: Assenheimer had nothing on Asuka Iinuma Brown of the Jiji Press (Seattle chapter). Brown left both Indians manager Terry Francona and Red Sox manager John Farrell off the ballot for the American League Manager of the Year. Yikes.

Francona took home the AL honor in light of Cleveland’s incredible comeback showing in 2013.

After sitting through the MLB Network special that announced the award, Francona joked that he felt like he was on an episode of the “Dating Game.” Tito also had another classic quip after being asked if he planned on celebrating the win.

“Well, I have a load of laundry in,” Francona said with a chuckle. “No, I have nothing planned. I’m not going to celebrate. I think the way I celebrated it was the whole year. I got to live it. That means a lot more to me than a trophy or a plaque.”

Indians infielder Mike Aviles, who has played for Francona in both Boston and Cleveland, had this to say about the manager:

“Just look at what he did with the bench. The starters are going to be the starters. They’re going to go out and play, and they’re going to put up their numbers. But the way Tito utilized the bench, utilized the bullpen, even the Minor Leagues with guys coming up and down, the way he utilized everybody, those are the things that people don’t understand and don’t get to see. They just see, ‘Oh, we won.’ Or, ‘Oh, we lost.’ They don’t see what goes into.

“Being around Tito for a couple years, I’ve seen how the guy prepares. The guy prepares more than anybody I know. He’ll have a lineup ready two or three days in advance. He has options in his head already about what would happen, if this happens. When a manager does things like that, it shows you that he’s ready to win a ballgame. When you know you have a manager that prepares so hard to win that ballgame, how could you not do the same?”

Giambi also took some time to discuss Francona’s first season with the Indians:

“He definitely deserves [the award]. When you look across the board, John Farrell did an incredible job, don’t get me wrong. But, let’s be honest, Boston is a Ferrari. They’re always going to walk in and put the best guys out there. It’s like being with the Yankees. To handle all the guys and the egos and the city, there is a lot that goes with it. But what Tito did in Cleveland, from where he took over from the past, it’s unbelievable. What a turn in just one year that he had. Basically, he took a dozen brand-new guys on the team and turned it into a winner.”

THIRD: The AL Most Valuable Player Award was won once again by Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, who beat Angels outfielder Mike Trout for the honor for the second straight year. Once again, the cry from the naysayers was that narrative defeated analysis. Considering the voters are also professional storytellers, falling victim to the narrative tends to happen from time to time.

I wrote here few posts ago that my pick would’ve been Cabrera and, in looking at the numbers in the time since then, I began thinking Trout was actually the correct pick after all. The data clearly says that Trout is the better all-around player. Oh well. Let’s be honest, both players are deserving of the MVP trophy.

For those scoring at home, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis and catcher/first baseman Carlos Santana finished 11th and 16th, respectively, in AL MVP balloting. Kipnis had 31 points, and received one fifth-place vote. Santana had one eighth-place vote.

MVPsThere were some strange ballots within the voting, though. One, for example, had Trout ranked seventh. Castrovince texted me and said, “Even Hayden could vote Trout seventh,” referring to my 4-year-old son.

And an experiment was born.

I quickly printed out the head shots of the top 10 vote-getters for the AL MVP, mixed them up and handed them to my son. I instructed him to put the baseball players in any order he wanted. Before he did so, he asked me to tell him their names and the teams (some he already recognized by the hats).

My son’s MVP ballot was: Josh Donaldson, followed by Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Cabrera, Trout, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Evan Longoria.

Why Donaldson first?

“His name’s funny,” said my son, who then cackled.

Machado and Davis second and third?

“I like the Oriole.”

Cano was originally first, but after he gave the grouping a close inspection, he said, “Wait, I don’t like the Yankees,” and moved the second baseman down to five.

Hayden held up Cabrera and said, “I don’t like the Tigers,” but he still put Miggy ahead of Trout.

And, as Castrovince predicted, even a 4-year-old could vote Trout seventh.

HOME: The AFL has wrapped up and a number of Cleveland’s prospects, including outfielder Tyler Naquin, were on the championship team from Surprise. You can check out Monday’s story on Indians.com about the players who took part.

More interesting might be 23-year-old first-base prospect Jesus Aguilar, who is currently playing for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League. Due to a team need, Aguilar has been playing some third base for Caracas. It wasn’t something Cleveland planned, but it isn’t something the organization was against, either.

“They just didn’t have a third baseman and he had it in his past,” said Ross Atkins, the Indians’ VP of player development. “He played a little bit of third before he got to us, so they did it in a pseudo-emergency need. But he’s handled himself fine there. For us, there’s not much downside to it. It increases his athleticism and his versatility. You never know.”

Might Aguilar see some reps at third come Spring Training?

“It’s too early to say,” Atkins said. “But to say, ‘Absolutely not,’ I couldn’t. But that’s a very big decision.”

That’d also be GM Chris Antonetti’s decision to make.

Offensively, Aguilar has hit .315/.376/.583 with 10 homers, four doubles, 25 runs and 31 RBIs in 32 games in the VWL. In 2013 with Double-A Akron, he hit .275/.349/.427 with 16 homers, 28 doubles and 105 RBIs. Aguilar, a right-handed hitter, is also intriguing as a first-base prospect for the Tribe. Possibly adding third base to the mix is interesting. It’ll be something to follow up on this spring.

EXTRA: There were Mark Trumbo-to-Cleveland rumors swirling on Twitter late last week. I addressed that and more in a Friday edition of the Indians Inbox. … Also on Indians.com, the team is looking for nominations for the Mentor of the Year. … Indians will have an assistant hitting coach next season. … Catcher Yan Gomes was recently rewarded for his stellar defense.

–JB

No (Gold) Glove for the Tribe

OutfieldBack in the early days of Spring Training, during the press conference to introduce Michael Bourn as Cleveland’s new star center fielder, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti was asked for his thoughts on the team’s reconfigured, fleet-footed outfield.

Antonetti smiled and quipped: “We’re just going to move all the fences back. We’re going to make it 450 in left and 550 in center and 450 in right, so they can just go run and catch every ball.”

Antonetti and the Indians certainly had reason to be optimistic about the defensive potential of the new outfield alignment. Bourn up the middle, flanked by former center fielders Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs in left and right, respectively, gave Cleveland arguably one of the fastest outfields in baseball.

On Tuesday, though, the Indians came up empty-handed in the American League Gold Glove Awards in the outfield, and across the board. In fact, Cleveland did not have a single player among the three candidates at each position. Maybe that wasn’t much of a surprise after watching the team for the past six months, but the shutout would’ve seemed unlikely back in the spring.

The American League’s Gold Glove winners includes Royals catcher Salvador Perez, Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, Orioles third baseman Many Machado, Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino and Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey.

The one position where I thought the Indians might have at least a candidate was left field. Brantley finished with no errors (he now owns the Cleveland franchise record for consecutive errorless games at 245 and counting) and ranked fourth in the American League with 11 outfield assists. Brantley manned the left-field corner at Progressive Field beautifully, cutting down baserunners at second base, or at least convincing them to stay put rather than attempt an extra base.

The AL candidates for left field, however, included Gordon, along with Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes and Detroit’s Andy Dirks. Gordon took home the honor after ranking first in assists (17) and ARM (per fangraphs.com), ending with just one error and ranking fourth among AL left fielders (min. 700 innings) in UZR/150 and Def (defensive runs). Gordon was deserving of the nod and, after a closer look at the metrics, it was justified to leave Brantley off the list of candidates. Texas’ David Murphy actually had a better argument for inclusion over Brantley.

Among AL left fielders with at least 500 innings, Brantley ranked seventh in UZR/150 (-4.9) and 12th (out of 13) in Defense (-10.8), according to fangraphs. That was a step back from 2012, when Brantley served as the Tribe’s primary center fielder and posted a UZR/150 of -0.6 (ranked 14th among MLB center fielders with at least 700 innings).

Brantley’s showing reflected that of the Indians’ outfield as a whole. Bourn, Brantley and Stubbs combined for a 31.8 UZR/150 rating in 2012, when they were each center fielders for the Braves, Indians and Reds, respectively. In 2013, when Brantley and Stubbs each moved out of center, the trio combined for a -9.6 UZR/150. Keeping the outfield fences right where they were wound up being a good thing for Cleveland.

Bourn went from being ranked first among MLB center fielders (min. 700 innings) in UZR/150 in 2012 (23.8) to being ranked 8th in the American League (-0.9) in 2013. Stubbs was baseball’s fifth-ranked center fielder in 2012 (9.0 UZR/150), but ranked sixth among AL right fielders in 2013 (-0.2). Stubbs also made six errors, which marked the second-highest total in the league. Josh Hamilton and Alejandro De Aza were tied for first in that dubious category with eight apiece.

The good news is that Cleveland’s outfield did improve overall in 2013 wen compared to 2012, as did the Tribe’s defense as a whole. Cleveland’s team-wide -4.5 UZR/150 was ranked 13th in the AL this past season, but the club was dead last (-6.8) in the previous season. The outfield, specifically, improved to -2.2 from -7.0 in the previous year.

Let’s take a look at some other positions for the Indians:

Catcher: The Indians might have a future Gold Glove candidate in the up-and-coming Yan Gomes, whose 40.8 caught-stealing rate was second in the AL (per baseball-reference.com). Among catchers with at least 500 innings, Gomes was tied with Chris Stewart for third in the AL in Defense (11.9), trailing only Perez and Matt Wieters. Carlos Santana, who saw more time at first base and DH in the second half, had a 0.5 Defense rating in 2013.

Infield: Among those with at least 500 innings… Nick Swisher ranked seventh in UZR/150 (2.2) among AL first basemen. … Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera ranked 15th (out of 16) with a -16.8 UZR/150. … Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall ranked 11th (out of 14) with a -4.6 UZR/150. … Second baseman Jason Kipnis was second in the AL in double plays turned (45) and fourth in assists (395), but his -6.3 UZR/150 ranked 15th (out of 16) and he made 12 errors (tied for the second-most in the AL).

Gomes gives the Indians’ some defensive hope behind the dish, and the club has the potential to be solid up the middle if Kipnis focuses on improving his defense and Bourn can return to his career norm. Shortstop continues to be an issue with Cabrera, whose highlight-reel plays do not make up for the continued lack of range. Prospect Francisco Lindor should help shore up that spot within the next couple years. The adjustment to right field seemed to be a slight issue for Stubbs, though he might bounce back with a year of experience under his belt. Chisenhall certainly has plenty of room for growth at the hot corner. Swisher turned in some impressive plays at first base, where he was solid enough in his first year for the Tribe.

There is so much focus on the offense, but it’ll be interesting to see how the Tribe approaches upgrading its defense this winter.

–JB

Examining the Tribe bullpen with BER

UeharaIt doesn’t take too much number crunching to realize how good Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara has been this season. Just scan his pitching line. It’s all right there in front of you. What this postseason has done, though, is help the country realize just how historically great the righty has been this year.

Examining Uehara’s numbers got me thinking again about a stat I’ve been contemplating for a couple seasons. I’m calling it Bullpen Efficiency Rate. Basically, a reliever’s job is to get in and get out as quickly and efficiently as possible. I wanted a number that summed that up and wasn’t hard to calculate.

Here’s what I eventually settled on: (Outs + ROE) / (Batters Faced – IBB)

The goal here is to determine the percentage of time a reliever is efficient in creating the desired result. I added Reached On Error to Outs, because — generally speaking — a pitcher did his job in an ROE situation, whether that’s inducing a ground ball or creating a fly ball that is then misplayed by the fielder. For the second part, I subtracted Intentional Walks from Batters Faced, because that stat is extremely situational, and often called by the manager and out of the pitcher’s control.

After poring through both good and bad seasons by a wide range of relievers, here is the scale I came up with for the results:

86-90% = Unhuman
81-85% = Elite
76-80% = Great
71-75% = Good
66-70% = Poor
61-65% = Send Help

Here are the 2013 numbers for the Indians’ most-used relievers:

1. Joe Smith 74.7
2. Bryan Shaw 73.9
3. Marc Rzepczynski 73.8 (STL/CLE)
4. Matt Albers 73.6
5. Cody Allen 71.9
6. Nick Hagadone 71.2
7. Chris Perez 68.0
8. Vinnie Pestano 67.1
9. Rich Hill 65.9

That is why, in an earlier post, I went with Smith over Allen as my pick for the Tribe’s best reliever for 2013, even though their other numbers were very similar across the board. Shaw is a great example of how including ROE and IBB can alter the stat. Without ROE and IBB, his BER would be 71.2 percent. Shaw was a little snakebit, though, with seven ROE this past season. Take that and IBB into account and his BER spikes by 2.7 percent.

For comparison, Uehara posted a BER of 85.2 in 2013, giving him one of the greatest relief seasons in baseball history. The closest I could find — in a search of single relief seasons from 1950-2013 (min. 50 innings) , sorted by highest FIP – was Dennis Eckersley, who posted an 85.1 BER in his incredible 1990 season. The best FIP since 1950 belongs to Craig Kimbrel in 2012, when he had an 82.3 BER. Behind Kimbrel on that list are Eric Gagne (2003; 81.6 BER), Eckersley (1990) and Greg Holland (2013; 80.3 BER).

Mariano Rivera had an 83.0 BER in 2008, which was arguably the best season of his Hall-of-Fame-caliber career. And the long-time Yankees closer had a 77.1 BER during his time in the big leagues.

On the other side of the equation, John Pacella posted the worst FIP in the sample I pulled from 1950-2013, back in 1982. His BER that year was 63.3. Another rough season was Mike DeJean in 1999, when he had a 66.4 BER. For Indians fans who want to forget all about the Brett Myers Experiment, his BER in 2013 for the Tribe was 67.0. As well as Hill did with inherited runners, his 65.9 BER shows how much trouble he got into throughout this past season. In theory, a lefty specialist should have a high BER, because he only faces a hitter or two before being pulled. Randy Choate (76.6 BER in 2013) comes to mind.

How did Cleveland compare as a team to other American League bullpens?

Here are the 2013 BER team rankings:

1. KC 75.5
2. TEX 73.9
3. MIN 73.8
4. TOR 73.5
5. BAL 73.4
6. TB 73.3
7. OAK 72.7
LEAGUE AVERAGE 72.3
8. NYY 72.1
9. BOS 71.8
10. CLE 71.7
11. CWS 71.5
12. DET 71.4
13. LAA 71.3
14. SEA 70.2
15. HOU 68.9

You’ll find that the league WHIP rankings come close to how BER shakes out for the American League. You could also run BER for a starting pitcher, or for a team’s pitching staff as a whole, but my goal here was to limit it to relievers. I wanted something to throw lefty specialists, closers, middle men, long men and other bullpen arms together with one stat to show the efficiency of their work. For a starting pitching, given the high volume of innings, the BER scale would likely include slightly lower percentages to gauge success. For example, Clayton Kershaw was at 79.4 percent this past season.

What does this mean for the Indians’ bullpen for 2014? It could mean that the back end will be fine in the hands of guys like Allen, Shaw and Rzepczynski, if Smith and Albers leave via free agency. It also shows how re-signing Smith and/or Albers has the potential to help stabilize things, and that improving the lefty relief options should be a priority. If Cleveland is in the market for a new closer (Perez isn’t a lock to return, or regain that role), it’s easy to run the candidates’ BER to see if it’s the kind of efficiency needed in the ninth inning.

Feel free to provide feedback. No stat is without its flaws.

UPDATE: A few readers have pointed out that this stat is essentially 1 minus on-base percentage against. That’s true and I’m not claiming to have reinvented the wheel here. It is a slight variation of that concept, and is simply a different way to look at it. Taking ROE and IBB into account changes the result by a small margin, but enough to arguably be deemed significant, especially in certain cases (such as the Shaw example given above).

–JB

“… and is livid with a fan!”

BartmanI put my head in my hands, my Cubs hat pushed back over my hair, and stared at the table. I don’t remember where I was exactly, or who I was with at the time. I do remember what I said.

“That was it. That was the moment.”

Cubs fans are fatalistic at heart. I remember. I was a diehard in my youth. You don’t look for the breaks that are going to go your way. Instead, you know the moment it will all fall apart.

My friends told me there were still five outs to go, that there would still be a Game 7 if the Cubs somehow lost this one. It didn’t matter. The Babe. The goat. The black cat. And, now, this fan down the left-field line.

“That was it. That was the moment.”

I wasn’t surprised when Alex Gonzalez booted the ground ball. I didn’t blink in eye as Mark Prior was left on the mound. When Kerry Wood couldn’t save Chicago in Game 7, I just accepted that I was going through what so many generations of Cubs fans had experienced before me.

The Cubs last won a World Series in 1908. In a cruel twist of fate, my Grandpa Bastian was born in 1909. He was a big a Cubs fan as they come, and he never saw them win a title. My dad was born in 1941, so he doesn’t remember their last trip to the Fall Classic in ’45. I came along in 1982 and now have a son of my own.

Four generations without knowing what it’s like to cheer on a champion.

These days, I live in Cleveland, covering the Indians for MLB.com. I no longer live and die with the Cubs. I don’t even consider myself a “fan” any more. I am, however, a fan of baseball more than I probably ever was throughout childhood. I just don’t root for one team. This freedom allows me to not only do my job objectively, but to find beauty in the nuances within any game I watch.

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Bartman Game: Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. This is what we call “burying the lede” in my line of work. I didn’t mention Steve Bartman high in this post, because this isn’t really about him. He became an unfortunate symbol for more than a century’s worth of misery. Bartman became my generation’s Billy Goat. He was just someone to blame.

That’s human nature. Ten years can bring plenty of perspective, though.

It was so easy to blame Bartman at the time for reaching out and possibly interfering with a foul ball that Moises Alou may or may not have caught. When Alou slammed his glove to the ground and yelled, though, the outfielder made it clear where the fault rested: Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113.

“Again in the air, down the left field line. Alou… reaching into the stands…. and couldn’t get it and is livid with a fan!”

It didn’t matter that other fans reached out for the ball, too. And the rest of us practically ignored the mistakes that followed on the field. The Cubs had the Curse of the Billy Goat and now the team had its scapegoat. That night, during my walk back to our house off Michigan State’s campus, I physically tore my Cubs hat apart in frustration.

One of my professors actually sent out an e-mail to our journalism class with the subject line: “Jordan needs a hug.”

I wasn’t angry at Bartman, specifically. Bartman just provided the moment, the moment after which everything fell apart. I was frustrated for my grandfather. I used to lie on my belly, feet up in the air, chin in my hands, watching Cubs games on WGN while my grandpa sat quietly in his recliner. There was a silent bond there, and I felt pain for him and the rest of Chicago’s fans that night.

It seems fitting that I’d wind up a baseball writer in Cleveland, which hasn’t had a World Series winner since 1948. Believe me, Tribe fans. I can reach back to my days as a fan and relate.

On Sunday night, when David Ortiz launched a game-tying grand slam into the Fenway Park bullpen — with Torii Hunter tumbling over the wall and a bullpen cop thrusting his arms into the air in celebration — I was reminded of just how awesome baseball can be. One day later, on this anniversary of that game in ’03, I’m reminded of how miserable it can be as well.

No one should still blame Bartman, though. He was a true fan with a great seat, listening to the game on his headphones while watching it unfold before him. I can’t imagine what kind of feelings ran through him as he listened to the broadcast moments after he reached for the ball. It’s easy to say we wouldn’t have lunged for it. I won’t say that. I probably would have tried to make the catch, too.

I remember being disgusted that he left Wrigley Field with a jacket over his head like a criminal, and that one of Chicago’s papers printed his personal information in the following days. As painful as that moment was, he didn’t deserve that kind of treatment.

The reality is that the anniversary stings because the Cubs haven’t won a playoff game since ’03 and the franchise has slipped back to its familiar ways. It stings because — two years later — the crosstown rival White Sox won the World Series. It stings because my generation of Cubs fans now had their own moment of misery.

Someday, this will all make things that much sweeter when the Cubs finally do win a championship.

I just hope Bartman is alive to see it happen.

–JB

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 83 other followers