Compare and contrast: Tribe today and 365 days ago

Michael Brantley

Nick SwisherWe are getting close! I don’t know about you, but I am beyond excited for Indians baseball to begin. The pieces are starting to come together. On Wednesday, the final 25-man roster was revealed. There weren’t many surprises, but there has been some small but important tinkering. When you compare this club to the one which left Goodyear for Cleveland a year ago, you can see that top to bottom, Terry Francona’s bunch looks better.

I thought a good way to view this was to lay it all out for you by groupings.  I love the Indians depth and ability to move guys all over the diamond. The bullpen looks solid. Yet, there are still concerns. But on paper, the 2014 club looks improved from this time last year. 

Rotation:

2014: Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAlister, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco

2013: Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Brett Myers, McAlister, Scott Kazmir

Heading into last season, the single biggest question mark surrounding this team was easily the starting rotation. Nobody truly had any idea how this group was going to fare. Masterson was coming off of his worst season as a starter. Jimenez was beyond iffy. The Myers signing was a complete head-scratcher considering he was a reliever a year earlier and was brought on to be a middle of the rotation veteran innings eater. McAlister was looking to build off of a season in which he made himself a legitimate Major League starter. Then there was Kazmir who hadn’t pitched in the majors in essentially three years.

This year’s rotation seems a bit more stable with less mystery surrounding it. Masterson is in his contract year and had a solid 2013 season. I don’t think he is a true ace, but I see a big year from Masty. Kluber has come out of nowhere to become the team’s number two starter. Corey is more Jake Westbrook than Ubaldo Jimenez, but his consistency last season before his finger injury could not be denied. McAlister is back for his second full year as a regular and needs to show his pre-finger injury stuff. It is imperative he gives the Indians more length than he did in 2013.

Salazar is the wild card. The kid came up last year throwing gas and showing a real presence on the mound. Danny has star potential and is the future ace here in Cleveland. How will that translate in his first season in the bigs? Carrasco is on his final shot as a starter. He won the fifth spot this Spring, beating out Josh Tomlin, but it wasn’t on straight performance. Everyone knows the story by now – Carrasco has the tantalizing power arm, but has never been able to put it all together and is now out of options. Before his Tommy John surgery two years ago, Carlos flashed some real signs of brilliance. The Indians are giving him the shot to prove he can be a part of the future. Should he fail, Carrasco will be put in the bullpen and be replaced by Tomlin.

Bullpen:

2014: John Axford, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Vinnie Pestano, Blake Wood, Scott Atchison, Marc Rzepcynski, Josh Outman

2013: Chris Perez, Pestano, Joe Smith, Allen, Shaw, Matt Albers, Rich Hill

As much as we questioned the rotation heading into last season, the bullpen was looked at as the rock of the club. Back for a third time was the three-headed monster of Perez, Pestano, and Smith. Youngsters Allen and Shaw would be back them up with a pair of ex-Francona cast-offs Albers and Hill on as the veteran long man and matchup lefty respectively. The plans were laid out, but the results didn’t match. Roles were changed later in the year.

There has been a changing of the guard from this time a year ago. Perez and his act have been replaced by Axford, who comes in with a so/so history of closing. The Indians coaching staff thinks they have solved his mechanical issues and Axford should be back to his old Milwaukee form. The Smith/Pestano late inning duo has given way to Allen and Shaw, who both were terrific down the stretch and helped the Tribe get into the playoffs. The hope is that a healthy and more focused Pestano will get himself back to the dominant guy he was for two seasons prior to last.

Another member of the set up staff will be Rzecpynski who took over the late inning lefty role from Hill in August. A second lefty, Outman, was brought over from Colorado for outfielder Drew Stubbs. Josh will be more of a true left on left matchup pitcher. Atchinson could be this year’s Albers, a guy who pitched for Francona in Boston and can give him length. Wood is fascinating. The right-hander can dial it up to triple digits and could play a key role later in the season. He does have an option left and could end up in Columbus when Jason Giambi and/or Michael Bourn return from the DL.

Everyday Nine:

2014: LF Michael Brantley, CF Michael Bourn, RF Ryan Raburn/David Murphy, 1B Nick Swisher, 2B Jason Kipnis, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, 3B Carlos Santana, C Yan Gomes DH Raburn/Jason Giambi/Lonnie Chisenhall

2013: LF Brantley, CF Bourn, RF Drew Stubbs, 1B Swisher, 2B Kipnis, SS Cabrera, 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, C Santana DH Mark Reynolds

The real major transition to the every day lineup came last year when the Indians threw big money at Swisher and Bourn. Reynolds was also given $6 million to be a right-handed power bat who played first, third, and would be the primary right-handed DH. Brantley would be back in left where he was at his best. Stubbs was originally brought in as part of the Shin-Soo Choo deal to play center, but when Bourn signed just before Spring Training, he was moved to right field. The hope was that the “three center fielder” outfield would be where fly balls went to die. Questions though did surround Stubbs’s bat. Cabrera, Kipnis, and Santana were back as the up the middle trio who would be hitting in the middle of the order.

With last year’s spending spree, the funds for 2014 has already been allocated. Only minor tinkering to the lineup would be coming with the jumps in year two of the Swisher (from $11 million to $15 million) and Bourn (from $7 million to $13.5 million) deals and the raise for Cabrera (from $6.5 million to $10 million) in the final year of his contract. But as always, GM Chris Antonetti found ways to be creative.

Santana spent all winter working on a conversion to third base, the position he came up playing with the Dodgers organization before they moved him behind the plate. Carlos did well enough for Francona to announce yesterday that he will be the regular third baseman to start the season. It will not be a platoon situation. With Santana’s abilities to play both third and first while remaining as the backup catcher, there are plenty of options for Tito. Gomes was a breakout player for the Tribe in 2013, so much so that the Indians were able to make the Santana experiment happen. The Yanimal is now your undisputed catcher of the present and the future.

Kipnis is coming off of his first All-Star campaign but needs to take that next step after a second half in which he slowed down. Speaking of slow second halves, Cabrera is notorious for them. He turned into somewhat of a whipping boy locally after a porous 2013 campaign where many were looking for his replacement. This is more than likely Asdrubal’s swan song campaign in Cleveland with top prospect Francisco Lindor on the horizon. I think we will see an more focused and better Cabrera in 2014. Swisher split time between first and right field last year which put a strain on his sore shoulder. He will be the regular first baseman this season. Like Cabrera, I think a better and more relaxed Swish will arrive in Cleveland next week. He tried too hard to live up to his contract last year. That weight is now off of his shoulders.

The outfield will have a similar look. Brantley returns in left with a newly signed contract extension in hand. He was easily the most clutch Wahoo in 2013 and has been tearing up the Cactus League this spring (.522). Bourn is nursing a sore hamstring which will have him on the DL to start the season. However he may only miss four games. Bourn was perhaps the biggest disappointment of last year’s regulars. His defense was as advertised, but his speed on the base paths was never fully utilized. Too many strikeouts marred his year. If the Indians are going to overtake the Tigers, Bourn has to improve. Right field will have a platoon of Raburn and the newly acquired Murphy. Raburn was the Kluber of the hitting variety in 2013; a player who completely came out of nowhere to make himself an indispensable member of the team. Murphy comes over from Texas on a two-year deal and is looking to find his pre-2013 form. His subpar season made the Rangers decision to let him walk an easy one. I worry that Murphy is the second coming of David Dellucci.

Bench:

2014: Mike Aviles, Elliot Johnson, Chisenhall, Giambi/Raburn/Murphy, Nyjer Morgan*

2013: Mike Aviles, Giambi, Raburn, Gomes

Ah, the Goon Squad. What a crew Francona had coming off of the bench last year. All four guys played major roles in the Indians renaissance. Aviles played second, short, third, and both corner outfield spots and was one of the most engaging members of the team. Raburn was reborn as a beast against left-handed pitching. Gomes went from backup catcher to “the man” down the stretch. Then there was Giambi, essentially a player/coach and a team leader. The young players looked up to him, also revering the then-42 year old. His popularity in Cleveland was never higher than the night this happened.

This year’s bench will have a different look, but the same feel. Aviles returns as the jack of all trades and will have a running mate of sorts with Elliot Johnson joining Goon Squad. Johnson, like Aviles, can play second and short, and has worked in all three outfield positions. Johnson’s big Spring really opened Francona’s eyes and forced his way onto the ballclub. Chisenhall won’t be the everyday third baseman, but he should still get plenty of at-bats with Francona’s system. Until Giambi returns from the DL, I could see Lonnie as the DH against right-handed starters. As of Opening Day, Morgan will be on the 25-man roster. His hustle and willingness to tone down the “Tony Plush” persona helped him become an extra while Bourn is out with his hamstring issue. My guess is he will get a start or two to open the season.

Four. More. Days.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I like Kluber but that doesn’t mean I’m sold. I’d be cautiously optimistic about him. As for Salazar the kid came out of nowhere a year ago and now he’s of course a media favorite. But for me there’s a big difference between Salazar who has already had one major arm injury who did have success all be it in a limited and very protected season a year ago and a top prospect like Gray or Ventura. How about Apel? Or what about Gerrit Cole?

  • mgbode

    Unlike Boston, Detroit has never been in this stratosphere of spending before and they do not have the network $$$ like the Red Sox have (or nearly the regional support structure). Add in Illitch funding some things for the Red Wings coming up too and do not be surprised to see them clamp down a bit. Not a ton, mind you, but perhaps getting things back under $150mil/year.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    As always time will tell I just don’t see it being wise to expect Salazar to be able to carry this rotation which is another reason the Masterson talks are important. Like I said I like Kluber but he has to do it again for me.

  • nj0

    Salazar has ace stuff. I’m not going to blow smoke and say that Kluber and McAllister have the same. Thus the qualification. All have shown the ability to be top-to-mid rotation MLB pitchers.

    Classify Salazar as you want. I’m just saying – if you’re saying the hype for him is the same as the hype for White/Pomeranz, you’re (quite frankly) wrong. No disrespect intended.

    I would make the distinction thusly:

    Pomeranz has the tools to develop into an effective MLB starter.

    Salazar has developed into an effective MLB starter and has the tools to develop into a true ace.

    That’s a major distinction.

  • mgbode

    Appel just made it to spring training and just signed last summer. Let’s pump the brakes a bit until he gets some minor league time.

    Cole is in the NL.

    Gray only pitched 64IP for the A`s last year.
    Ventura 15IP for the Royals.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Well again time will tell and will “clamping down a bit” equate to opening the door enough for someone like the Indians? I say no but again time will tell. Like I’ve said repeatedly it would have been nice to see the Indians follow up last years offseason with another investment. I understand they did, well kind of, but honestly I was hoping for more…more as in another SP and/or a power hitting right handed stick.

  • nj0

    If you follow roster moves closely, Salazar didn’t come out of nowhere. He’s been on the 40 man roster for a while because the Indians (and other teams in MLB) knew the kind of stuff he had.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Appel will be up sooner rather then later and Cole is a stud.

  • nj0

    So with 117 IP, Cole is a stud. Yet Salazar 52 IP show nothing? Seems like a double standard.

    As for Ventura, this is from a FG chat today with Eno Sarris (one of those national writers):

    Why are people now comparing Ventura to Salazar? Theres no comparison, right?

    Eno Sarris: No. Salazar has a wicked split-change, a strong slider, AND that cheese. I feel like I can see Ventura’s curve coming, and though his change gets good whiffs, I haven’t seen it much and he doesn’t throw either of his offspeed pitches much.

  • mgbode

    Sigh. I said top3 AL young pitchers poised for a 2014 breakout. Cole does not compute.

    Perhaps Appel will come up soon, but I don’t think Houston wants him to get “super” status and will keep him down even if he is tearing it up. Astros are not winning this year and they want to control his arbitration years.

  • nj0

    Success and “stuff” > pedigree

  • mgbode

    if we build our rotation well, then noone needs to carry it, they can all complement each other.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    First who said Salazar showed nothing? Second 117 IP is 2x 52 IP so yes there is a difference. Third, I put Gray and Appel ahead of Ventura mgbode included him not me.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Great point on the later I keep forgetting winning is slave to the length of controlling a young player under contract.

  • nj0

    Fair enough on all points (though both amounts of IPs are small sample sizes).

    Just wanted to point out another national writer who thinks highly of Salazar. He really does have great stuff.

    I think Salazar flew under the radar a bit since he was an international signing vs. college/high school draftee.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Hey if you want to crown Salazar as having ace stuff and being the savior after 52 IP that’s your business. It just amazes me how people are so quick to anoint when it comes to Cleveland sports. It’s not like your not setting yourself up for disappointment is it? Salazar will be monitored, rested and tended to throughout this season but maybe next year he’ll be ready to become the Indians ace/savior. He can replace Masterson.

  • mgbode

    Having ace stuff is different than being an ace. It just means he has the potential. Jaret Wright had ace stuff too.

  • nj0

    I don’t think we need a savior. I think we need a rotation of positive value pitchers like last year. If Salazar is an ace this year, that’s a bonus

    And, yes I do believe his stuff is “ace caliber” as do many other smart people in baseball. I think that’s all we’re saying. It’s impossible to know the future, but all indicators reveal Danny Salazar to be very, very good and very likely to succeed at a high level.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Not sure whoever debated the stuff Salazar possess it wasn’t me. I was questioning his ability to be counted on regularly not part time and warning people to be cautious.

  • nj0

    Being cautious and predicting future performance based on metrics and scouting are two different things. To say any player is going to be really, really good is something to take with a grain of salt. I still think fans should do it.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Well lets hope you and all those “other smart people in baseball” are right. I will try not to remember the slew of young pitchers who were the darlings of “smart people in baseball” who flamed out for one reason or another. I mean because when it comes to Cleveland there isn’t another city who is a sure thing for players living up to expectations!!!!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Sounds good.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Don’t get me wrong son I would like to see Salazar become a rock star I’m simply trying to be cautious as are I believe the Indians which is why they are using Salazar like they did and will this year. To count on him being able to duplicate what he did in a very limited 52 IP is being greedy.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Wright was anointed too how’d that work out? His best year was that rookie season after that he wasn’t anything. There’s just to much of a history and track record when it comes to starting pitching and the Cleveland Indians. To their credit they did draft CC Sabathia and traded for Cliff Lee both who would go on to win Cy Youngs and have great careers but name me a third. If you want to, right here right now, proclaim Salazar or Kluber I’m listening. Are you or should we hedge some more like is popular by so many posters?

  • nj0

    If he does duplicate it, great. But, much like Raburn and Gomes, I think he doesn’t have to live up to those high expectations to still be a valuable guy for this club. I don’t think he has to be an ace for us to have a shot at the playoffs. We need an above average offense and above average pitching/defense (just like we did last year) to make the playoffs.

  • nj0

    Anyone saying “this guy will undoubtedly have a great 2014″, whomever the guy, is a liar. What you call hedging, I call being honest.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Ugh Raburn don’t even get me started on him or that deal he got which was followed up by the big move of having to bring in a platoon partner for him.

    As for Salazar I personally think the Indians need him to be just as good but for twice the amount of innings. Unless Kluber and or McAllister can step up and deliver. I have no idea on Masterson he’s never predictable but at least he eats innings. As always everything will start with the pitching. Hopefuly Calloway’s Crew can pick up where they left off last year because if they don’t we won’t have anything to debate!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Anyone saying “this guy will undoubtedly have a great 2014″, whomever the guy, is a liar. What you call hedging, I call being honest.

    LoL I wasn’t talking to you son! But of course I don’t expect mgbode to stand on his light blue shaded milk crate and proclaim his faith in one Daniel Salazar, of course not.

  • nj0

    We disagree on all these points. I like the platoon (as well as the concept in general) and think it’s a cheap(er) way of getting above average production than signing one player. Also easier to rectify if/when a player under performs.

    Think if we keep going on this path, we’ll just be going around in circles.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Cheap being the operative word. You platoon because you have to not because you want to had they had a legitimate RF there wouldn’t be a platoon. Raburn has no history of what he did a year ago but the Indians paid him. They followed up paying him by bringing in another guy to split time with him. Why? Because despite paying Raburn they don’t think he is capabale of being a full time RFer and they would be right.

    Add up the yearly amount for both Raburn and Murphy (I don’t remember what each get this year) and it won’t be far off from what 1 starting RFer should be or is whichever you choose.

  • mgbode

    v. LHP
    2013 Raburn .308/.403/.617
    2012 Raburn .165/.224/.253
    2011 Raburn .274/.321/.486
    2010 Raburn .295/.363/.566
    2009 Raburn .278/.382/.594

    Could Raburn revert to 2012 numbers? Sure. But, outside of that year, he seems like a pretty safe bet to crush LHP, no?

  • mgbode

    ?? What am I saying about Salazar that is any different?

  • Kildawg

    Still have one more year of Asdrubal Cabrera though…

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Hang on I thought I we were debating another issue and it was nj0 and I discussing Raburn? I see how it works! ;-)

    Thanks for the numbers but I need to know # of ABs too. If I remember right many of those years were with the Tigers and if I remember correctly Raburn came off the bench and played less games. No? If so this of course would impact his batting average but even so if I give you those splits what were the rest of his numbers? I’m going to go look him up so no need for you to post I’m simply stating the questions.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You said he was going to win the Cy Young with 20 wins did you forget?

    Psych just messin’ wit ya homey. I don’t know I was hungry and needed food what were we debating? Oh who cares you were right I was wrong I’m sleepy now.

  • nj0

    But what if that platoon provides more value than one “regular” right fielder? And for less money too? That’s a realistic possibility this year. Think outside the box!!!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Well it better or at least that’s the hope right? Francona has liked platoons in the past I’m just not sold on the dynamic duo of Raburn/Murphy in RF. I like Murphy as a 4th outfielder but that’s about it. Lets see how it plays out.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    10 years $292 million extension to Miguel Cabrera – yep Detroit is on a budget now lol!

  • mgbode

    I did not see that coming. Wow.