I wanted to take a few weeks and step back before I made this list. The Indians successful 92 win Wild Card season in Terry Francona’s first year at the helm. It left us all wanting more. There will obviously be changes to the roster, but the 2013 roster needs a final examination. I normally hate so called “power rankings” pieces, yet here I am writing one. It is the offseason and not all of these guys will come back, but as the season closed, here are my final thoughts on each Tribe player and their future for 2014. These rankings are obviously subjective, but based on 2013 performance.
1. Michael Brantley – No matter where he was placed in the lineup, Dr. Smooth kept on hitting. .375 with runners in scoring position over an entire season says it all. Glides in left and has an accurate arm. GM Chris Antonetti needs to find a way to extend him. He was money all year long.
2. Carlos Santana – People killed him all season. Why? He was consistent throughout and his move to the cleanup spot certainly helped the lineup. Most patient hitter on the ballclub from both sides of the plate. Look for him to DH and play more first base in ’14. I still think there is a bigger breakthrough year coming from Santana coming soon.
3. Jason Kipnis – If we were making these rankings at the All Star break, Kipnis would easily have been #1. Another second half swoon raises questions, but he is still one of the best young players in the game. Have to find a way to rest him more in ’14.
4. Ubaldo Jimenez – The guy was money. Yeah, I said it. Ubaldo pitched like an ace after the break and with injuries to Corey Kluber and Justin Masterson, he carried the Indians staff. His 1.71 2nd half ERA was the best in the AL. A free agent to be, Ubaldo went from a guy I wanted to cut in April to someone who will get at least $50 million this winter. Tribe would love to keep him, but I just can’t see it happening.
5. Joe Smith – Another free agent who could walk, Smitty was the rock of a shaky back end of the bullpen. With Vinnie Pestano a mess all year and Chris Perez having his issues, Joe was arguably the most valuable piece Francona had. His consistency over the past three years has been under appreciated and he reportedly wants three more years guaranteed. Someone will give it to him. Will it be the Indians? With more young relievers in the pipeline, I think they let him walk.
6. Justin Masterson – The Tribe’s horse was pitching superbly until an oblique injury cost him most of September. He returned as a reliever during the last weekend of the season and looked great. Heading into his free agent year, the Indians brass will make it a top priority to try and extend him. Regardless, he will be pitching Opening Day for the Tribe in 2014, but will it be for the last time?
7. Cody Allen – There was a question of if he would make the club out of Goodyear because of the bevy of arms Francona had to choose from. In the end, he saved the Tribe’s skin seamlessly taking over as the late inning strikeout machine that Pestano used to be. He handled whatever role he needed to and struck out over 11 per nine innings. With Perez all but gone, Cody could become your new closer in ’14.
8. Nick Swisher – This may be high for you, but regardless of what he did on the field, Swisher signing here was part of a major culture change. In the clubhouse, he embraced his leadership role and kept everyone loose. Early in the season, he pressed, trying to live up to his massive contract. Swish battled shoulder issues most of the year, but still hit over 20 homers for the ninth consecutive year. Much improved when he was moved to the two-hole. I expect an improved year two with less pressure on him.
9. Yan Gomes – Easily the biggest surprise on the team. “The Yanimal” quickly became a fan favorite thanks to cannon arm and timely hitting. Took over as the regular catcher in August and didn’t stop hitting. Tribe pitchers loved throwing to him and base runners were scared to run on him. His walk-off homer in May against the Mariners in extra innings was one of the season’s top moments. Gomes should be your every day catcher in ’14 with Santana backing him up while DH’ing and playing first.
10. Ryan Raburn – Came to Cleveland on a minor league deal, made the club as an extra outfielder who could play second and third. Exited the season as one of the most trusted clutch bats. Francona used him perfectly all season, picking and choosing his spots and Raburn responded with 16 HR, 55 RBIs, and a .901 OPS in just 243 ABs. The Tribe locked him up with a two-year extension mid-season and Raburn could end up as more of a regular in ‘14 depending on what happens in trades and free agency.
11. Corey Kluber – Where would the Indians rotation have been if Kluber didn’t emerge to take the Brett Myers spot in late April? Kluber was a strike-throwing machine who at one point looked like he would be the Tribe’s #2 starter in a playoff rotation. A finger injury really derailed his promising season. He wasn’t the same pitcher when he came back to make four starts in September, but there is a lot to build on. Will be locked into the middle of the rotation for years to come if he keeps this up.
12. Scott Kazmir – Might as well put Kazmir and Kluber together tied at 11. Chris Antonetti unearthed Kazmir from the independent league and he made the team out of Spring as the fifth starter. By mid-season, he was a trusted stud in the rotation and looked like he had regained the form that made him an All-Star years earlier. The Indians would love to bring back the soon to be 30-year old, but the free agent could command a nice payday. Kazmir has said he owes the Indians a lot for taking a chance on him, but will Antonetti and his staff want to give him potentially a two-year, $16 million deal? I would love to see Scott return.
13. Bryan Shaw – Came over in the Shin-Soo Choo trade as kind of an after-thought, but became one of Francona’s most reliable arms in the bullpen, especially in September where he didn’t allow an earned run in 15 innings and won five games. I said at the time of the trade, Shaw would be groomed to take over for Smith, who would be a free agent after the season. Bryan may be the reason the Indians are willing to let Smitty walk. Could be the eighth inning guy in ’14 in front of Allen.
14. Michael Bourn – If you ask Bourn, he will tell you he had an off year. The on-base percentage and stolen bases left a lot to be desired for somebody who signed a $48 million contract built on being the igniter in the leadoff spot. Played a solid centerfield, but has to be better at the plate. Strikes out too much for my liking and needs to show more patience at the plate.
15. Mike Aviles – Handsome Mike provided exactly what the Indians hoped for when they acquired him from Toronto along with Gomes for Esmil Rogers; a jack of all trades who could be counted on when his number was called. Played three infield positions, corner outfield, and provided another veteran presence in the clubhouse where he was universally loved. The “Goon Squad” creator could become the everyday shortstop in ’14 should the Indians find a taker for Asdrubal Cabrera.
16. Danny Salazar – The future of the Tribe’s rotation came up and wowed everyone in his big league debut, no-hitting the Rangers into the seventh inning. With the Injuries to Kluber and Masterson, Danny became a rotation mainstay, though maintaining a strict pitch count and innings limit until the last week of the season. The team’s faith in him was evident when they gave him the Wild Card start. His power stuff is something we haven’t seen here in years. Should be the Tribe’s ace in the years to come.
17. Asdrubal Cabrera – If you had to give letter grades to the players, Asdrubal would get an F from me. He regressed in every aspect of the game, looked uninterested and frustrated at times, and was horrific in the clutch, hitting just .197 with runners in scoring position. His double play grounder in the Wild Card game with the bases loaded was a microcosm for his season. The Indians missed their chance and dealing him for any kind of decent haul last offseason. He is slated to make $10 million in 2014, which is his walk year. I think Antonetti would love to move Cabrera, but won’t be able to find any takers at his price tag. They will have to hope he can rediscover himself while playing for a new contract elsewhere.
18. Jason Giambi – You’ve heard this a million times – stats don’t tell the story about the value of “Big G.” He was easily the most popular player in the clubhouse. A defacto player/coach, Giambi was a true team leader. His walkoff homer against the White Sox in the last week of the season was the signature moment of the 2013 season. Jason wants to play one more year here in Cleveland.
19. Chris Perez – Well, what more is there to say about ole’ CP. His performance on the field was up and down, looking bad early then recovering for a two-month stretch of dominance which was followed by a season-ending implosion that cost him his job. Off the field, he was arrested on a Marijuana charge and stopped talking to the media, often leaving his teammates hanging after blown saves. He may have saved 25 games, but he has worn out his welcome here in Cleveland and won’t be back despite being arbitration eligible. Expect Perez to be non-tendered.
20. Zach McAllister – Like Kluber, it was a finger injury that ruined the season for Z Mac. He started off well, looking like a perfect middle of the rotation innings-eater who kept his team in every game. But after missing close to two months of the season on the DL, he was just so-so. Had the Indians advanced in the playoffs, McAllister most likely would not have made the roster. With that said, a healthy Zach Attack will be penciled into the 2014 rotation.
21. Matt Albers – Albers had the bullpen’s most thankless job – middle reliever. However, he handled his role well and was an underappreciated member of the club. Made 56 appearances and posted an ERA of 3.14. He’s a free agent who I would like to see back in the same role. He enjoyed his time here and Cleveland and has said he’d like to return.
22. Mark Rzepcynski – At the trade deadline, the Indians only made one acquisition that had an impact on the club. Nobody was excited when Rzepcynski came over from St. Louis, but the change of scenery served both he and the team well. Marc did what Rich Hill couldn’t do, take control of the matchup, late-inning lefty role. In 27 appearances, he allowed just two earned runs (0.89 ERA) with a WHIP of 0.84. He will be back in the same role next season.
23. Lonnie Chisenhall – I want to love Lonnie Baseball, but he makes it hard. He has that beautiful swing and looks like he should be a ball player. But Chiz was handed the third base job in 2013 and really struggled at the plate to the point where he was sent down to Columbus to find himself. Upon his return, not much changed and Francona decided to go with Aviles in the last week of the season. Interestingly, he got the start in the Wild Card game and had three hits. This will be the most pivotal offseason in Lonnie’s young career. The Indians may decide to use him as trade bait to add another big veteran bat or starting pitcher, or they may choose to give him one more chance to prove he can be an everyday player in the majors. As of right now, he is nothing more than a platoon guy at best with his struggles against lefties.
24. Drew Stubbs – Stubbs was supposed to be the Tribe’s centerfielder, but moved to right when Bourn was signed. He was given every chance to prove that he could be an everyday player after the Reds discarded him as part of the Choo trade. Like Chisenhall, Stubbs did more to hurt his cause in ’13 than anything else. The speed and defense make him an ideal fourth outfielder, but he doesn’t hit right-handed pitchers well and strikes out way too often. The Indians have an interesting decision on Stubbs who is arbitration eligible and will probably get around $4 million. He may be non-tendered or could be back as an extra.
25. Jose Ramirez – The 21-year old speedster was a September call up who made a nice impression, coming from AA Akron. A natural shortstop, Ramirez can play second and short and flies around the basepaths. Will be interesting to see how the Indians treat him next season. If Cabrera is moved, Jose could be the utility man. If not, he will be regular shortstop in Columbus and the first player called up in case of injury.
26. Carlos Carrasco – There may be no player that I am more curious about for next season than Carrasco. The Indians will give him another shot at being the team’s fifth starter, but as I wrote many times last season, Carlos has all the makings of a back end of the bullpen, power arm. He throws a high 90’s fastball and is just wild enough to scare hitters. At times he looks like a top of the rotation starter, others he looks like 4A. Carrasco is out of options and if he fails to make the rotation, the Tribe would be wise to put him in the pen, where he pitched well late in 2013 in eight appearances.
27. Rich Hill – The Indians brought him in on the recommendation of Francona, whom Hill pitched for in Boston. They were looking for lefty help and Hill impressed in Goodyear. He broke camp with the club, but he peaked in April. Hill was extremely inconsistent and battled control issues. The biggest indictment of Hill was the various lefties the Indians continued to try. Scott Barnes and Nick Hagadone both failed in Cleveland, Clay Rapada and JC Romero spent most of their time in AAA. Once they traded for Rzepcynski, Hill became a mop up guy. He’s a free agent and won’t be back.
28. Matt Carson – A career journeyman and 4A special, Carson came up at the end of August and did a nice job off the bench as a defensive replacement and bit player. He’s 32 and probably does not have a future with the team other than AAA filler, but he made a nice impression, going 7-11 with a homer and a walkoff RBI single in late September.
29. Vinnie Pestano – How the mighty have fallen. Vinnie started 2012 as the closer in waiting and as one of the best set up men in the game. I still believe the WBC experience hurt him physically and he was never the same. The velocity drop was a major concern and the movement was nil. Everything was flat and over the plate. Things got so bad for Vinnie that he couldn’t even handle mop up duty and was sent to AAA. He returned in September, but pitched just twice and was barely touching 90. Hopefully a full off-season will allow him to return to health. With Smith, Perez, and Albers all possibly on the move, a return to form from Pestano in 2014 would be a huge boost. Two years of overuse may have come back to haunt him and his bulky elbow.
30. CC Lee – We saw Lee only a handful of times this season, but the Indians will be counting on him to take a bigger role in 2014. Lee was once the top relief prospect in the system before missing most of 2012 after Tommy John Surgery. I think we will see a lot of CC next season.
31. Trevor Bauer – I didn’t want to put him on the list, considering he spent just a few weeks in the bigs, making four spot starts. But he will be in the cards one way or another in years to come. Many questions surround the enigmatic Bauer. Is his own over-analyzation of his mechanics the problem? Can he kick the walk problems that have plagued him back to his days at UCLA? Can he put it all together and become a member of the starting rotation in 2014? Imagine if Bauer could live up to the massive expectations and pitch right behind Salazar in the rotation in the upcoming years. I just don’t know if that is going to happen
32. Nick Hagadone – Hags has had every opportunity to become the late inning lefty over the last two seasons. Instead, his control issues haven’t subsided, and neither has his propensity to give up the long ball. Nick has all the physical tools to be the guy – he’s a big, strapping, hard-throwing lefty – but for whatever reason he can’t seem to harness his talents. Will he be able to figure it all out and make the club in ’14?
Not mentioned but in 2014 plans: Josh Tomlin, Preston Guilmet, Blake Wood
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)