The Indians wild ride has come to an end. The 2013 season was one that nobody expected. A 96 loss team turned into a 92 win club that advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. GM Chris Antonetti and Manager Terry Francona helped changed the culture of the organization and has our baseball team on the rise. There is a buzz in the city about the Indians again. It was a season to remember with so many great moments and the arrival of some new fan favorites.
Each day this week, we will look back at a different portion of the club and see where we are today, a plan for 2014, and so on. We began with the starting rotation, and then we moved onto the relievers. Next we looked at the infielders and catchers. In the final installment, the outfield and DH spots are examined.
Michael Brantley -556 AB/.284/.332/.396/10 HR/73 RBI/40 BB/67 K/17 SB/.288 vs. righties/.276 vs. lefties/.375 with RISP in 120 ABs
Michael Bourn - 525 AB/.263/.316/.360/6 HR/50 RBI/40 BB/132 K/23 SB/.257 vs. righties/.277 vs. lefties/.311 with RISP in 90 ABs
Drew Stubbs – 430 AB/.233/.305/.360/10 HR/45 RBI/44 BB/141 K/17 SB/.216 vs. righties/.266 vs. lefties/.232 with RISP in 99 ABs
Ryan Raburn - 243 AB/.272/.357/.543/16 HR/55 RBI/29 BB/67 K/.243 vs. righties/.308 vs. lefties/.289 with RISP in 83 ABs/.378 with RISP and two out
Matt Carson - 7-11 (.636) 1 HR/3 RBI/3 SB
Jason Giambi - 186 AB/.183/.282/.371/9 HR/31 RBI/23 BB/56 K/.191 vs. righties/.271 with RISP in 48 AB
The outfield and DH group of the 2012 Indians left a lot to be desired. It was no secret that a major overhaul would be required after the 96 loss season. Left field was a black hole that saw the likes of washed up Johnny Damon, Shelley Duncan, Russ Canzler, and a whole host of others taking turns. Michael Brantley patrolled center field and Shin Soo-Choo owned right. With Choo facing a walk year, Tribe GM Chris Antonetti had a major choice in front of him; keep Choo around for the final year of his contract and hope he played well enough to deal him for a big haul at the trade deadline or attempt to get peak value for him in the winter. But whatever route they would take with him would go a long way with shaping the 2013 roster.
There was no point in hanging onto Choo any longer. Scott Boras was going to have him looking elsewhere and the Indians did not want to be held hostage any longer. So in early December, Choo was the centerpiece in a three-team trade that sent him to Cincinnati and brought centerfielder Drew Stubbs, and pitchers Trevor Bauer, Bryan Shaw, and Matt Albers to Cleveland. At the time of the deal, the thought was that Stubbs, a former first round pick of the Reds who was a high strikeout, plus defender with speed, would take over in center with Brantley sliding over to left, where he had played in 2011. Nick Swisher was signed in early January and was supposed to be the right fielder. That all changed when the Indians stunned the baseball world and snagged free agent Michael Bourn on a four-year, $48 million deal right before the club hit Goodyear.
The outfield was all but set – Stubbs would move to right field, Brantley would handle left, with Bourn in between them. After years of average outfield defense, the Tribe’s “three-centerfielder” alignment would be the place where fly balls would go to die. All three starters covered major ground, a huge plus for the pitching staff. Swisher could mix in at times in right field and Ryan Raburn, signed to a minor league free agent deal, used a great Spring to make the team as an extra. The final roster spot would be snagged by 42-year old DH Jason Giambi, who would become essentially a player/coach.
Bourn was the biggest name in the outfield, but his impact wasn’t nearly as large as the Indians would have hoped. He spent three weeks in April and May on the DL after a fluky finger gash injury. Upon his return he continued to play solid defense and his was giving the team the igniter it was looking for at the top of the order. After the break, Bourn slumped. The strikeouts went up and the on-base percentage went down. He has to do better than the .232/.299/.354 line that he produced. On top of it, we were all told about what a great base stealer Bourn was. But in 130 games he stole just 23 bases while getting thrown out 12 times. The previous two seasons he stole 61 and 42 bases respectively. For the Indians to continue their playoff push next season, they are going to have to get more from Bourn at the top of the lineup.
Though Bourn had a disappointing season, his outfield-mate Brantley had a breakout year. There may have been no more consistent player on the team than the Tribe’s left fielder. No matter where Terry Francona put him in the lineup, Brantley delivered. He never had a steady home and moved around quite a bit, but the big at-bats always seemed to find him. Dr. Smooth was a clutch hitting machine, leading the team with a whopping .375/.411/.458 line with 59 RBIs in 120 ABs. With runners in scoring position and two-out, Brantley hit .364/.432/.500. He dramatically improved his approach against lefties, which was once his bugaboo, hitting .276 in 174 ABs.
Defensively, Brantley was among the lead leaders in outfield assists and regularly made the tough plays look routine. He just seems to glide out there, another of the many reasons he has been dubbed “Dr. Smooth.” People can be up in arms all they want about the failures of Matt LaPorta, but the CC Sabathia trade was a win for the Tribe because they found themselves a terrific player in Brantley, who starts his arbitration clock this offseason. Sabathia was walking in three months regardless of the situation.
The word out of Cincinnati was that Stubbs was a guy who needed a change of scenery. He showed 20 homer power along with major wheels and solid defense in center field, but as his strikeouts mounted, the Reds lost patience with a guy they took #6 overall in the 2006 draft. With their top prospect Billy Hamilton a year away from the majors, Choo made more sense for a team in win now mode. So they sent the Indians Stubbs as a part of a package to get Choo. What we saw from Stubbs was pretty much what advertised.
Moving to right field was not an issue for the athletic Stubbs who flashed some solid leather. His arm in right made nobody miss Choo. He was clearly the Tribe’s best base stealer, swiping 17 in 19 attempts, but he just wasn’t on base enough. Drew struck out 141 times, second only to Jason Kipnis’s 143, but he did so in over 100 less at-bats. A .305 on-base percentage just wasn’t cutting it. Nobody flew out of the box faster though and his speed kept him out of even more trouble at times. But as the second half got tight, Stubbs was close to an automatic out at the bottom of the order. With Yan Gomes’s ascension to every day status, someone was going to lose at-bats. That turned out to be Stubbs. Down the stretch, Francona chose to use Ryan Raburn in right when he could with Swisher getting time as well. Stubbs is arbitration eligible and at best, looks like a fourth outfielder. I know the Indians love his attitude, speed, and defense, and he could fit in as an extra, but his role all depends on how Francona wants to use Raburn in 2014.
He was brought in as an afterthought and turned out to be one of the unsung heroes of this team. Raburn arrived in Goodyear after a career worst season in Detroit. All he did was hit in March and broke camp as the fourth outfielder who could fill in at both second and third if needed. The key for Raburn was how Francona picked his spots. Seemingly every time he was called upon, Raburn was a beast. Early in the season, Tito saw something and rode it out. The highlight came in when Ryan went 11-13 with four homers in a three game stretch (April 29-May 1). Against left-handed pitching, Raburn was usually in the lineup, hitting either third, fourth, or fifth. I thought Francona was insane to do this. But just like everything else with the Tribe skipper, he was proven right.
Raburn’s production was nothing short of astonishing. In only 243 at-bats, Raburn hit 16 homers, drove in 55 runs, and finished the season with a .900 OPS. Against lefties he raked to the tune of .308/.357/.543 – that’s an OPS of 1.020. He was solid from April through September and only sore calf and ankle problems held him back in August and early September. The Indians offered Raburn a two-year contract extension during the season and he took it. Cleveland was the place for him and the Indians are happy to have him back as a Goon Squad member next season.
When Raburn couldn’t go, the Indians needed an extra outfielder and turned to Matt Carson, a 32-year old journeyman who was roster filler in Columbus. He wasn’t doing anything special in AAA, but the brass liked his professional approach to the game. He got the call up and in spot duty, went six for eight which included a walk off RBI single against the Astros in a game the Indians had to win. When Raburn returned, he and Carson kind of became a duo. When Raburn would start in the outfield, he would usually get three or four at-bats and get replaced in the field by Carson. He is most likely not part of the Tribe’s future, but Carson played well and earned the trust of this coaching staff in September. So much so that he was on the playoff roster for the Wild Card game.
This leaves us to discuss one last player who made a lasting impression in both the clubhouse and amongst the fan base; Jason Giambi. When the Indians brought him in on a minor league deal in Spring Training, most people thought Francona was just trying to do his friend a favor. But within a week of being in Goodyear, the superlatives about the 42 year old were flying from teammates and coaches. The “veteran’s veteran” as Francona called him did enough this Spring to make the ball club. Many in town scoffed at keeping a part time DH on the roster, but with Aviles and Raburn being so versatile, Francona had the luxury to keep him.
Yes, his batting average was below .200, but as you know by now, none of it mattered. Giambi seemed to come up hit after hit when the Indians needed them the most. None were bigger than the two walk off homers he hit against the White Sox in July and in the final week of the season. The latter was the most memorable moment of the 2013 season. With the season potentially on the line after Chris Perez gave up two home runs in the ninth to leave the Tribe trailing by a run, Giambi crushed a two-run, back-breaking, walk off. You have never seen a group of players so happy for one particular guy.
His on-field exploits paled in comparison to what he gave the team in the clubhouse. It has been talked about ad nauseum, but it cannot be undersold. Giambi was the most popular and respected player amongst his teammates. He was the one taking the young players aside and keeping the team together when times got tough. Jason says he wants to play one more year in Cleveland if possible, but you can bet that if he doesn’t, a managerial job somewhere is in his future.
Bourn and Brantley will be locked into their spots in the outfield in 2014, but right field is still up in the air. Raburn was at his best when Francona didn’t over use him. Stubbs could be a non-tender candidate, but could also be back as an extra. Swisher could also see more time in right with Yan Gomes catching more and Carlos Santana getting at bats at both DH and first base.
So here we are, looking at an extremely important off season for the Indians. The front office knows they have some momentum and need to keep this going. The playoff berth will bring back some of the casual fans that have been lost in years past. They have to know they can’t stop here. While I don’t see them adding any significant free agents, the trade route is one that will be strongly looked at. A power middle of the order big bat must be brought in one way or another. You also can never have too much starting pitching. The closer’s role is up for grabs. Question marks remain with Lonnie Chisenhall at third base. There is a lot of work to be done.
I have faith that the Antonetti/Francona duo will get things done.
(SIDE NOTE – I just want to thank everyone who followed along, read, and commented on my recaps all season long. I couldn’t have done it without you all!)
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)