August 26, 2014

Sunday Tribe Notes: Target Field, lefty relievers and 2014 salaries

kevin correiaThis was not how the Indians front office wanted their team to begin the second half. Entering the break at 51-44 and riding a four-game winning streak, there were high hopes for the immediate future, especially with Minnesota and Seattle the first two teams on deck.

After back-to-back disheartening 3-2 losses at Target Field, the Tribe might have gotten a desperate wake-up call. In the two games, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall has two (nearly three) errors, the Cleveland bullpen has blown it both times and the Indians offense has hardly had any traction against Twins relievers.

Fortunately, the Detroit Tigers also have lost their first two games in Kansas City to start the break. But it hasn’t been pretty for the optimistic baseball fans in Cleveland.

Target Field woes: In the first inning of last night’s SportsTimeOhio broadcast, they shared a fascinating statistic about Cleveland’s recent struggles at the new park in Minneapolis. Dating back to July 27, 2012, the Indians are 1-8 in their last night contests on the road against the Twins. They won last year’s first two such games, a two-game sweep on May 14-15, then the streak began.

Cleveland pitching stats: 6.35 ERA, 6.4 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, .283 avg, 17/18 steals
Cleveland hitting stats: .171/.266/.254, 5 HR, 34 RBI, 52 left on base, 3/5 steals

Those are some gruesome stats against one of the worst teams in baseball. Obviously, the Indians were dreadful down the stretch last year and these are their first two games at Target Field in 2013, but the numbers are just brutal. The steals, the men left on base and the extent to which Minnesota has simply dominated the team.

There’s a new Cleveland manager and lots of fresh faces in the visiting dugout this time around, but the results have been the same: Disappointing losses that seem too harsh to believe.

The left-handed reliever issue: TD just wrote about this topic on Friday, yet this series has again made it painfully obvious that this is a series long-term problem for the Indians.

In game one, there was the controversial decision to have set-up man Joe Smith face All-Star lefty-hitting catcher Joe Mauer in the bottom of the eighth inning. There were two outs and a runner on third. The score was tied at 2-2. Struggling lefty Justin Mourneau was on deck, followed by switch-hitting Ryan Doumit. As the story goes, Mauer delivered the RBI single, Mourneau doubles, Doumit was intentionally walked (!!) and then the inning finally ended.

Last night in game two, manager Terry Francona went with his own lefty to even more disastrous results. Rich Hill came in during the bottom of the sixth to face Mauer, Mourneau and Doumit. He quickly walked the first batter and allowed the second one to single to right, making it a tough first-and-third situation. Then, Chisenhall’s throwing error plated the run and kept the inning going, flipping the switch right after the Tribe offense took a 2-0 lead.

On the year, Cleveland lefty pitchers not named Scott Kazmir have a 5.94 ERA with a horrendous mark of 5.1 BB/9. They are not getting the job done and it has cost the team at least a couple wins already. It’s time to try something else rather than just treading out the same replacement-level veterans.

Salary cap math for 2014: With the ongoing trade talks surrounding the Indians, a Twitter conversation broke out on Friday related to the future salaries owed by the team. It’s often forgotten and misconstrued how the team purposefully spaced out money.

For the bulk of the players on the Cleveland roster, they’re still under cheap team control with their early years or in arbitration eligibility. The team has yet to actually go to a full-blown arbitration case in ages, so no matter what, we’re dealing with cheap labor, which is the most efficient form of baseball production. All that means for those players unlisted is that they’ll be receiving incremental raises, somewhere in the range of $6-10 million total combined1.

Here’s the first crop of players that are signed to various deals extending to at least 2014. All figures listed are in millions and the resource used for the information below is www.baseball-reference.com.

indians salary math 1

Next, we have these players who more logically could be gone by next season.
indians salary math 2

Thus, while only looking at the players making actual money with planned changes in their salary structure in 2014, here are the changes: Add $18.2 million in raises, lose up to $23.65 million in free agents. So while on the surface it might seem easy to just add in salary to replace Jimenez, Myers, et al, it’s not necessarily practical given the raises due for 2014.

That’s also not considering the caveat above of raises to the young talent as players like Jason Kipnis, Chris Perez and Michael Brantley will get their money eventually. The team also will have to fill in the bench again, with minimally paid players Ryan Raburn, Rich Hill and Jason Giambi not listed either.

My point: Unless something drastic happens with Asdrubal Cabrera or Chris Perez, the Indians don’t appear to be players in the 2014 free agency market. Assuming the Dolans have the same general salary number in mind for next year, the players on roster already will be making up the money lost of the team’s free agents. This also affects the team’s ability to go out and grab a Matt Garza, as their 2014 flexibility isn’t all that great.

Final points: For as back-and-forth as the Indians bullpen has been in 2013, credit is due to at least this one player. He’s allowed just one run in his last 10.0 innings since June 28. He has eight strikeouts against just three walks in those innings, for a pretty 0.90 ERA. His season ERA is now his lowest since 2010. Who is it? That’d be Chris Perez, who has converted seven straight saves since returning from the DL. He’s certainly not the problem right now.

… The Mark Reynolds catastrophe continues. He’s now batting .173/.268/.238 since May 10 after going 0-for-4 in the last two contests, including a brutal pinch-hit ninth-inning strikeout on Friday night. It’s worth repeating: He’s been the worst player in baseball over this stretch. He was slotted at the No. 8 spot in the order on Saturday, yet who knows how much patience manager Terry Francona has anymore for him. He’s been streaky throughout his career, but this is as bad as it gets.

… Francisco Lindor is 5-for-15 with seven walks and five steals in his first five contests with the Double-A Akron Aeros. He received the promotion last week, despite the fact that the organization balked at the move earlier this month. Just 19 years old, his plate awareness is outstanding as he has seven walks and zero strikeouts in 22 plate appearances against the best pitching he’s even seen. His speed isn’t labeled as being elite, but it’s quite good and with his smarts, he should be able to steal 20-30 bases regularly.

AP Photo/Jim Mone

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Footnotes:

  1. This is pending any long-term contract agreements that occur in the next few months, such as those rumored for Jason Kipnis or Michael Brantley. []
  • Ed Carroll

    Perez has certainly been better since he hasn’t been pitching injured, but I still think he’s a prime non-tender canidate at the end of the season. He’s overpaid at his current $7.3 million salary, and will make a bump in arbitration regardless of how the rest of the season goes. If I’m running the team, I’d make a two-year $11 million one-time offer to him, if he says “no,” non-tendered.

    I think the team should seriously consider trading Ubaldo before the July deadline, but other than him none of the second-chart players should return. I think Asdrubal is traded before Opening Day 2014.

    Maybe Kazmir’s recent “flare-ups” will move him to the LHRP role for the team.

  • JacobWFNY

    I wouldn’t so freely characterize Perez as being over-paid. He certainly makes an unproportional amount for a closer on an $80 million payroll team. That’s true. But some team would easily pay him in the $8-12 mil range. That’s his value.

    Don’t think the Indians would get any return for Ubaldo. He’s a known commodity to the Indians and the way he’s been pitching since late April, at least he’s a No. 5 starter who knows the coaching staff.

    Eventually, the team will again have to fill in the bench. One of the biggest reasons for the team’s success is the improved bench. So whether Raburn, Giambi, etc, all return or not, others will have to fill the gaps. It’s not that easy.

  • Ed Carroll

    I’m not sure who returns from the bench, if anyone. Raburn will at least get a one-year major league deal from someone, and while he’s been a pleasant surprise on the bench, I’d rather not pay him. I think Stubbs could be non-tendered; I like him, and he’s tantalizing, but he’s now in arbitration and would need to produce more to justfiy paying him.

    Good point on Ubaldo, was more hoping someone got desparate and offered the Tribe a lottery ticket.

    As for Perez, you’re probably right, but that team should not be the Indians. Let someone else overpay him, the money is better allocated elsewhere, epecailly after seeing how little wiggle room the team will have in 2014. The only position the Indians have been able to consistenly develop in the minors is RP, so use the advantage (I also must admit I feel this is where Salazar ends up long-term, hence why I’m completely not worried about the pen, if he remains a starter, I’m only slightly not worried about the pen). It’s absurd to pay him any more due to as you said, what he makes porportionate to the rest of the team but also cause we’re talking about a guy who as of today, has pitched fewer than 27 innings this season, and will probably not hit 65 IP. The team kinda made their bed with Perez, but they actually don’t have to lie in it, they don’t HAVE to keep sinking money into him.

  • Harv 21

    Jacob: on a side note, do you need someone to fetch Craig from NY so you can get a day off already? You are like the Forrest Gump of WFNY – everywhere.

  • woofersus

    I think the issue with Ubaldo is less that he doesn’t have value and more that contenders aren’t looking for a #5 starter for the most part. Somebody will sign him next year if we let him go, but he doesn’t make a great trade asset. Beyond that, though, we’ve seen the numbers on McAllister’s fill-ins in the last 6 weeks. Trading Ubaldo makes the team worse for the rest of the year, no question. I don’t know that we should pay him the price of his option next year (and I hope one of our AAA guys will be ready) but he’s actually been a valuable piece this year.

    As for Stubbs, I hear you on his arbitration year coming up, but I’m hoping they find a way to keep him. He’s above average in RF with a big arm, can play CF when needed, has good speed on the bases, and has been at least decent offensively. He does strike out, but he doesn’t hit into double plays, which we did a ton of last year. Plus, he’s only 28. I’m not sure a good replacement is out there in our price range. If we had a 1B prospect knocking on the door we could move swish back out there, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case at the moment. I don’t know what arbitration is likely to yield for him with his current stats after making 2.8 million this year, but with a year of team control left I’m thinking they try to buy out some of those arbitration years at a reasonable price and it will be cheaper than finding a replacement on the open market.

  • Natedawg86

    Swish has had problems with his shoulder though and unless he can strengthen it, you probably want to minimize the throws he has to make so he is a healthy hitter.

  • Steve

    I will bet quite a bit that neither Perez nor Stubbs are non-tendered. Neither may be around next year, but non-tendering legit major league players is Loria level cheap. Arb guys are still underpaid compared to their equivalents on the FA market. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find comparable talent for cheaper, but its unlikely.

  • Ed Carroll

    Non-tendering a player is only cheap if the player is productive enough to justify the salary. Jury is still out on Stubbs, but he’s most likely gonna make more than you want to pay a 4th outfielder. As for Perez, he’s already overpaid, and they already have cheap replacements for him on both the big-league club and in the minors. Keep in mind, any money you give to guys like Stubbs, Perez, Masterson and any of the arb elligible guys cuts into the little the team could spend in free agency, where the team could fix far bigger problems than a 4th outfielder and a reliever.

  • Steve

    It might be news to Francona to hear that Stubbs is the team’s 4th OF. He’s getting less than 3 million now, and will certainly get less than 5 million in arbitration. There’s no one that close to that number from last winter, but the year before, that got you . . . Juan Rivera. You’re not fixing the hole you create (Stubbs is on pace for over 500 PAs this season) with less than $5 million.

    People around here may think Perez is overpaid, but the prices people are paying for back end relief talent suggests that they may be improperly valuing Perez. The replacements for Perez looked to be Pestano and Smith. You want to roll the dice with those two instead?

  • Ed Carroll

    I’m not sure what you mean about the news to Francona bit, but Stubbs would most likely be the outfielder in 2014, unless Swisher’s shoulder has deterorated to the point where playing in RF isn’t an option (and if that’s the case, yikes!) . Again, jury is still out on that one.

    I don’t think Perez is overpaid, I know he is. Teams that pay for RP end up regretting it the vast majority of times. Smith will likely be a free agent after this season, and should not be re-signed. And I would rather roll the dice with Pestano, Allen and someone else pulled from the minors than pay Perez $9-10 million for fewer than 70 IP of barely-above-replacement production. That money is far better spent elsewhere.

    Again, any money you pay those guys cuts into what you could theoretically spend in free agency on things that matter, like starting pitching. If the team needs to roll with Tim Federoff as its fourth OFer for 2014 so be it.

  • Ed Carroll

    If Swisher can’t play RF at all going forward that contract looks a lot worse though. I’d hope they haven’t given up on that, the flexibility does wonders for the lineup.

  • mgbode

    “He’s been the worst player in baseball over this stretch.”

    Let us not forget that Kozma has been worse. In fact, let us remind the Cardinals.

  • Natedawg86

    I would say, this year, with his previous injury this season, his lack of production at the plate, and our depth in the outfield, I can see him a lot more at 1st. I do think he can be used out there sparingly, but don’t see the need.

  • Ed Carroll

    Yeah, this year it’s not as big an issue, but if he’s strictly 1B/DH going forward, well, that contract loses a log of flexibility, could really hinder the team down the line.