This time around, the guys talk about more Spring Training stuff, including, but not limited to; Justin Masterson's one year deal, Ubaldo Jimenez's four year deal and Max Scherzer's upcoming induction into the billionaire's club. Also covered is premature discussion on the final make-up of the 25 man roster with an emphasis on the last pitchers to make it in. Finally, a Spring Training primer is given to show Tribe fans where to park, how to get autographs and what time to show up to the games in Goodyear.no comments
In 2011 the Indians had one of the top five bullpens in franchise history, a group that was largely intact through the 2013 season. As often happens with bullpens, however, they were inconsistent from year to year and, despite a strong 2012, things totally fell apart in 2013. The players that had been great the previous two seasons, mostly Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez, dealt with injuries and struggled with effectiveness. The players who were great were mostly new pitchers like Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw.
The 2014 relief corps will be considerably different than even the 2013 squad. Perez and Joe Smith are gone after being together since 2010 and minor role players from 2013 Matt Albers and Rich Hill are also out. This has created some turmoil from within and there are multiple relief roles up for grabs this Spring. To start, there are a few known players to get through first. This will only consider the usual seven man bullpen that most teams use, with a separate post to discuss the 25th man, who could be a reliever. John Axford will close with Shaw and Allen as primary set-up men and Josh Outman and Marc Rzepczynski coming in from the left side. This leaves two (or three with an eight man bullpen) spots open for a number of relievers too large to mention.
While there are many players who could technically win the role, it can be boiled down to a few legitimate options. First, there are the returning relievers from 2013 including Pestano, Scott Barnes, C.C. Lee, Nick Hagadone, Frank Herrmann and Preston Guilmet. After that come the starters, only one of whom can make the roster as the fifth starter. These include Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Shaun Marcum. Finally, there have been many minor league signings and Spring Training invites given to relievers, the most likely to make the team of which are Matt Capps, JC Ramirez, Mike Zagurski, Tyler Cloyd, David Aardsma and Scott Atchison. There are also minor league pitchers who will be in camp like Bryan Price, Trey Haley, T.J. House, Colt Hynes and Blake Wood, but with so much competition, these players will likely stay in AAA.
The competition for the first job should be the easier of the two to figure out. Assuming this will not be starter and will be a veteran, the top contender is Pestano. Other top contenders for this role include Hagadone, Herrmann, Zagurski and Aardsma. A curious note here is that two known members of the bullpen are already left handed and two top contenders, Zagurski and Hagadone also pitch from the left side. In addition, Barnes is also a lefty, giving the Indians far more left handers in camp than they will ever need. The Indians don't play in a particularly left handed heavy division with the best hitters on most other teams (Miguel Cabrera, Brian Dozier, Josh Willingham and Jose Abreu) generally being right handed.
It is hard to see Pestano not winning this spot as long as he is healthy and at least decent during Spring. He has the longest tenure with the Indians and has the greatest raw talent of all players listed above. As listed above, his primary competition should be from the other veterans, especially the most recent pick up, Aardsma, since it is hard to picture the Indians keeping three or more left handed relievers on the roster.
For the final spot, the Indians have almost as many options in strategy as they do in pitchers. If they fear the durability and consistency of the starting rotation on a regular basis, they could carry a veteran starter as a long man, like Tomlin. If they want to just have an extra starter, Bauer or Carrasco could also be an option, although they will likely not want Bauer to pitch irregularly. They could also use this as a way to bring up another young reliever in preparation for a bigger role in the future, including the Indians top relief prospect from last season, C.C. Lee, Preston Guilmet, Trey Haley or others. As mentioned before, they could use it to carry an extra left handed reliever or a veteran that signed a minor league deal.
This role is almost impossible to figure out at this point, so there is little reason to go much further into it. Almost certainly, multiple competitors for the job will get injured and some will play themselves out of the job. The youngest of the prospects will be left in AAA to extend their time with the team, with the exception of Lee, who spent some time in Cleveland last season. BurningRiverBaseball will continue to follow this race as it continues this Spring as players will be eliminated a long time before a winner is announced. This will likely be the wildest competition this Spring and could possibly go on until the end of March.
Vinnie Pestano is working hard to regain his top spot.no comments
Normally, individual match-ups between Spring Training teams are less important to a team than their actual players performances, but the Indians have grown a slight rivalry with the Reds since they started playing at the same stadium during Spring Training. Not only do the two teams share the facilities in Goodyear, but they play against each other more than they play any other teams during February and March. While most Spring Training match-ups are individual games, the Indians and Reds will play an opening series again this year with the Indians playing the home team on February 26th and 28th with the Reds playing at home on the 27th. The two teams will also compete on the 17th and 24th to find the 2014 champion of Goodyear Ballpark.
In addition, the two teams battle for the Ohio Cup during the regular season, a fight which ended in a tie in 2013. Since it's beginning in 1997 (the contest was originally called the Battle for Ohio), the Reds have won four series and the Indians have won six with six ties. After losing or tying each series from 2006 through 2010, the Indians have won or tied the last three.
The Reds will be returning a very similar roster to last season. In fact, all the changes to their depth chart to this point have been internal promotions. Despite trade talks surrounding Brandon Phillips, the star second baseman is still with the team, making their only major departure that of Shin-Soo Choo, who left through free agency for Texas. Choo has been replaced (at least for the moment) by the speedster Billy Hamilton while the incredible, 2013 rookie Tony Cingrani is expected to join the starting rotation on a permanent basis.
If consistency is important, the Reds have the complete advantage over the Tribe here. While the Reds will be returning their closer, Aroldis Chapman, and top relievers, Jonathan Broxton, J.J. Hoover and Sean Marshall, the Indians will be losing three of their most used relievers from 2013 of varying importance. While it's possible that Cody Allen can be an equivalent replacement for Joe Smith and John Axford can fill in for Chris Perez, the chances are not very good. Even with those two (now much wealthier) relievers, the Indians had a significantly worse bullpen than the Reds in 2013. It is hard to see that changing this year with the changes the Indians have made.
As with the bullpen, the Reds rotation should be very familiar. They are returning Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake with the new addition of Cingrani, who was incredible last season (2.92 ERA, 120K's in 104.2 IP). The Indians aren't without their own 24 year old flame thrower and will be getting their first full season from Danny Salazar (65K's in 52 IP). The problem is, he will likely be the third starter for the Indians while Cingrani is the Reds fifth. After losing Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Salazar have all been bumped up in the rotation, weakening the rotation as a whole. This is another case where the Reds were better in 2013 and maintained their quality while the Indians are slightly worse.
This may be a similar theme, but again, the Reds were a fantastic defensive squad last season (they were third best in the Majors), and made few changes. In fact, the one change they made, replacing Choo with Hamilton, gives them even more outfield speed where they need it, in center field. Phillips is likely the flashiest second baseman in the league while both Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier are solid at their position (and significantly better than the Indians options at short and third). In the end, the only two positions the Indians are obviously superior defensively are where their two best defensive players play, catcher and left field.
This is the closest the Indians and Reds are in any category and the only place the Indians were actually better in 2013 (by about 50 runs). The two teams are of a similar age and can expect significant improvements from the players they are maintaining, especially young players like Jason Kipnis and Frazier. Here is where the disappearance of Choo from the line-up will really hurt the Reds. Hamilton will likely fill in as a more prototypical lead-off hitter, but now the Reds will only have Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick as power hitters that are better than everybody on the entire Indians squad. While the accuracy of that statement will bear much on how Carlos Santana plays this season, so will the the overall Indians offense. If Santana, Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera all have career years and Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn don't deflate too quickly, the Indians could possibly outproduce the Reds assuming Cincinnati has another average season.
Luckily for the Indians, evaluating teams on paper (or a computer screen) doesn't always equate to on the field performance. There is absolutely a way that the Indians could have a better bullpen, defense and offense than the Reds this season, just by having the players they already have play at their absolute best, but right now, things don't look great. It is exciting, however, that both the Reds and Indians are hitting their peaks at the same time as Ohio baseball fans can continue to hope for that elusive "Battle for Ohio" World Series.
This is what it's all about...kinda.no comments
Each positional battle will affect the next and this battle for the normal reserve catcher spot will be greatly affected by the fight for starting third base, DH and right field. Depending on who wins those roles, there could be at least 20 different players competing for this single roster spot. To reduce the confusion and number of options, we will assume that Lonnie Chisenhall will be the starting third baseman, Carlos Santana the starting DH and Mike Aviles the utility infielder. While none of these are guarantees by any means, all three should make the team in some capacity, so they shouldn't effect this position. Santana himself is the reason why there is so much confusion here. The Indians have yet to announce whether or not they will be making use of a third catcher, but if they don't it could save a valuable roster spot for an extra bat, defensive replacement or pinch runner.
Just to get them out of the way, there are a lot of players who will be in camp who really have no chance to make the team. Chun Chen, Carlos Moncrief, Luke Carlin, Jake Lowery, Tony Wolters, Roberto Perez, Chris Wallace, Erik Gonzalez, Tyler Naquin and Joe Wendle are mostly minor league players on the 40 man roster or minor league invites. With the depth of competition for this role, these guys don't have a chance, but could be kept around in AAA as depth options.
The first discussion has to be whether or not the Indians should carry a third catcher. Yan Gomes will be catching the majority of games with Santana either DHing, playing first or third on those days. Gomes off days are in question, but the easiest solution would be for the Indians to use Santana at catcher and Aviles or Ryan Raburn somewhere in the field with another starter at DH to give two players a day off at once, without hurting the offense. Helping to make this choice is the fact that there is really only one MLB option at catcher, Matt Treanor. Treanor looked like he might turn in to something special back when he started out with the Marlins, but never played more than 82 games in a season and missed 2013 entirely. Even though none of the players up for this job are super stars, many of them stand far above Treanor.
The Indians have made it very clear that they want to give this job to Jason Giambi, despite the fact that he has amassed an incredible WAR of -0.8 over the past two seasons, essentially marking him as less valuable than the average AAA hitter. There is no other example in recent memory of a team signing such a terrible 43 year old player even when loyalty is taken into account. Generally, the Indians have been very intelligent in making roster decisions, but it looks like they may make the same mistake they made last year all over again.
If the Indians come to their senses and leave Giambi to pasture, they could use this roster position in a couple different ways. It could be used for a pinch hitter (that will bat over .200 and be able to play in the field), a pinch-runner, a defensive replacement or someone who can be all three. The top hitting choices are prospect Jesus Aguilar and David Cooper, the top runners are Matt Carson and Jose Ramirez and the best defensive replacements would be Francisco Lindor and Nyjer Morgan. There is one player in camp that can do all three, however, and could possibly do them better than all the other players listed. Jeff Francoeur.
Francoeur is the best chance for the Indians to pull of another Raburn from 2013. He is in camp with the same deal as Raburn and Scott Kazmir from last season (minor league, $1M MLB contract if he makes the 25 man roster) a far distance from the $7.5M he made last season. While his 2013 campaign was very disappointing, he hit 20 home runs in a season just two years ago and is only 30 years old. Not only does he have 140 career home runs, but he also has decent speed (22 steals in 2011) and is a fantastic defensive outfielder. Every year except 2013 he came in first or second in the Majors in assists right field and he is the active career leader. While there is always the risk his career is over, the fact that he was recently great means that he has a much better chance of turning things around than Giambi, who hasn't been great since 2008 or Treanor, who hasn't been great ever.
Of course, short sighted Indians fans would really love to see the job go to one of the younger players, particularly Lindor with Aguilar and Naquin as other options. There are two major issues with this. First, if a rookie starts at the beginning of the season, rather than coming up in July or later, it essentially removes a full season of team control, wasting it at the wrong time in his career. It boils down to whether the Indians would prefer six months of Lindor at 20 now or a full season later at 28. Even not considering the financial reasons, the Indians would prefer all three players listed above stay in AAA, where they can play every day, instead of being relegated to just pinch running and late inning defensive work. With Asdrubal Cabrera still on the roster, there is no way Lindor would start, if he is even ready already.
This position will likely boil down to three players and the decision will have little to do with production during Spring if it is anything like last year. If Terry Francona decides he needs another catcher, it will almost certainly be Treanor as Wolters and Roberto Perez are nowhere near ready. If they want the best player available, it will be Francoeur, who can hit for power and a better average than most of the roster while playing fantastic defense. Of course, if the Indians want to waste this spot and give it to Giambi, no one can stop them, but it really would be a waste. Not only would it cost the Indians outs during the season, it would also hurt their versatility as he is completely incapable from playing in the field or running the bases. Finally, to help this former steroid using 43 year old make it to 20 seasons, it would cost the come back attempts of all those veterans in camp, including Francoeur, who has a real chance to return to the Major Leagues.
If the Indians decide they have too much versatility,
they could give the job to this aging utility man.
|Name:||Luscious Luke Easter||Position:||First Base|
|Accolades:||1952 Top 13 MVP||DOB:||08/04/1915|
|Best Season (1950)||141||540||96||151||20||4||28||107||263||70||95||.373||.487||.280||.860|
Every Indians fan knows Larry Doby and most baseball fans are aware of Satchel Paige, but far fewer know about Luke Easter, the third player to make the jump from the Negro Leagues to the Cleveland Indians, just two years after Doby broke the American League color barrier. Like most NLB players, Easter made his MLB debut late in his career and had just a short time with the Indians, but he should not be shortchanged because of racism in the 1940's and earlier.
Easter started with the Homestead Grays in 1947 at 31 and actually used the Negro Leagues as a kind of minor leagues in preparation for becoming a Major League star. After seeing the success of Doby and Paige first hand, the Indians took advantage of the other teams moving slowly in grabbing the NLB stars and prior to the 1949 season, they signed Easter. He made his debut later that year and played sparingly in right field behind starter Bobby Kennedy. It was the following season where he made it big, however.
In 1950, the Indians needed a first baseman and Easter made the switch from right to first. In his new position, he excelled, becoming a top offensive producer, joining Al Rosen and Doby in knocking in more than 100 runs that season. In what was essentially his rookie season, he came in second in RBI and home runs on the Indians.
From 1951 through 1952, Easter continued his prime, despite the fact that he was well into his 30's. Each year from 1950 through 1952 Easter knocked in about 100 runs, hit 30 home runs and batted better than .270. The Indians hadn't had a solid first baseman since the late 1930's and Hal Trosky, but finally Easter had taken over that mantle. Despite just three seasons starting at first, Easter trails just two Indians in home runs (Trosky and Jim Thome) at the position and is unquestionably one of the best first basemen in Tribe history.
In 1952, Easter finally got some recognition for his three straight excellent seasons and received 40 vote points for MVP that year, which would have been much more impressive if the Indians didn't have seven other players receiving votes that year, including five getting more votes than Easter. Things flamed out as quickly as they ignited and Easter played just 68 games in 1953 and then just six the following season. The Indians were returning to the World Series again, with Rosen and Doby leading the way this time, but Easter wouldn't be making the trip. He played in his final game that season on just May 4th and never returned to the Majors again.
Despite being out of the Majors at 38, Easter wasn't done playing baseball. First, he played for the independent San Diego Padres, the team Easter made his MiLB debut with in 1949 when they were affiliated with the Indians. He continued playing, generally in the International League (AAA) until 1964 when he finally retired for good. Luke Easter died just 15 years later at the age of 63.no comments
The Indians only have three competitions for starting jobs on the team and this is the only one that really affects who will and won't make the 25 man roster. Last season, the Indians had a main rotation of Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber. Of these, the Indians lost Kazmir and Jimenez, but already replaced one of them with Danny Salazar, so there is only one spot remaining going into the next season.
While the Indians have been looking out all off-season for an external replacement while watching players like Matt Garza, Bronson Arroyo and many more mid-level starters sign elsewhere. While hopes have somewhat maintained about signing either Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez who have remained on the market much longer than expected, those have now dwindled as well. The Indians will have to go with the players they have already in camp.
In whole, the competitors for the job are off-season pick-ups Shaun Marcum and Aaron Harang along with current Indians Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer. All five of these have shown signs of greatness, but all are also coming off serious issues from last season. These problems can be broken down into two overly simplified issues as Marcum and Tomlin are both coming off injuries while Harang, Bauer and Carrasco have had issues with control.
Besides missing all of 2009, Marcum has been a top of the line starter from 2007 through 2012, but all that ended in 2013. Last year with the Mets, Marcum dealt with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, eventually ending his season with surgery for this in July. Free of this non-baseball related injury, there is no reason Marcum shouldn't return to his old form (averaged a 3.67 ERA and 135 strike outs per season from '07-'12). He averaged 27 starts and 166 innings per year over that stretch, all numbers that the Indians would be incredibly happy with this season out of their fifth starter. This makes him a favorite for the job as long as he can get through Spring unharmed.
The next best option may be Tomlin, who was forgotten for most of the last two years as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. He made it into a single game in 2013 after having the operation at the end of 2012, so we already know that he is ready to throw from day one of camp. While he was largely forgotten, he is still a pitcher who can make 20 to 30 starts per season and hold an ERA about 4.00. As a young player just entering his prime (age 29) season, it is likely we haven't seen the best of Tomlin yet. In addition to his opportunity to become the fifth starter, a long relief role could also suit Tomlin as it would allow him to slowly increase his innings and get him used to facing Major League hitters again. This way, if he isn't named the fifth starter at the beginning of the year, he will still be around for the inevitable injuries during the season, ready to step right into the rotation.
A favorite of upper management, Carrasco may have a better upside than either of the two pitchers already mentioned. He is the youngest to this point at just 27 going into this season and hasn't made enough starts (just 40) to really know what to expect. He is decent at striking out batters (6.2 career K/9), but has a major issue with the long ball, including 19 allowed over his last 170 innings. The biggest drawback with Carrasco is that he is out of options, meaning he will need to be exposed to waivers if he doesn't make the opening day roster. With so few open roster places in the rotation and bullpen, it would take a tremendous Spring in addition to some bad luck for the other competitors for Carrasco to earn a spot.
Bauer is someplace between superstar of the future and total bust, a quality that will be largely decided during the 2014 season. As the third overall pick in 2011, the Diamondbacks thought he was ready for the Majors just one year later and used him in four games before completely giving up on him. The Indians thought he needed a little more time in AAA last season, but he still made four spot starts, where he showed a complete lack of control. In just 17 innings, Bauer walked 16 batters including a record four in a row to start his Indians career. As the season progressed, things seemed to get better, but in his final spot at the end of June, he allowed five runs in just 0.2 innings. If he can get things under control, he could be not just a presence this season, but a strong number two behind Danny Salazar for the foreseeable future.
Harang was a last minute addition to camp, being signed after pitchers and catchers officially reported. He had the best track record of the competitors, but is also the oldest, so getting a late start in camp, even by a few days, could lead to a slow start. His career numbers of 325 games, almost 2,000 innings pitched and more than 1,500 strike outs with a 4.28 ERA are numbers that can't matched by youngsters like Tomlin and Carrasco. He may be the best option for this season (although at 36, he might not have many more after it), but he will have to prove he is past 2013, when he struggled with the Mariners and Mets with a 5.40 ERA in 143.1 innings.
While Marcum seems to have a slight advantage in the race, it is only just beginning. Each competitor will get starts and innings during early Spring Training and things should sort themselves out. As the only option with options, Bauer is most likely to get left behind, but a strong Spring would make him a prime candidate for mid-season call-up. Depending on how the Indians decide to make up their roster, two of the players listed above could make the team (one as a long reliever), but this would likely cost the team a bat or some infield versatility. Either way, at least one, and possibly three of the players could be gone from the team for good if they don't make the 25 man roster out Spring Training. Because of this, this competition is of much more importance than similar ones in previous seasons.
A large part of this decision will be deciding to place importance on winning now, or winning in the future. Carrasco would be under team control through 2017 and as mentioned before, he may have the best upside, but would likely be the worst option for winning in 2014. Marcum could be the best choice for winning right now, but could cost them both Tomlin and Carrasco, severely limiting the options for even 2015. The situation with the upper rotation could also affect this decision. If Masterson signs a long term deal, the Indians may feel confident enough in their future rotation to let Carrasco go. The same is true if Salazar, Kluber and McAllister look particularly dominant. This competition will definitely be one to watch this Spring and is possibly the most important of them all.
Marcum is ready to compete for a starting job.no comments
The Indians had a few high level free agents leave during the off-season, something that hasn't happened in a long time. It may not be news at this point, but now that the final Ubaldo has fallen, it's time to look back and see where everyone ended up in the order they got there.
Smith was the player the Indians would have most liked to keep around, but was the first to sign elsewhere. He signed a $15.75M, three year deal with the Angels, just slightly (likely by a single year) more than the Indians were willing to give him. It is interesting that Smith went for the greater stability as he will likely see a decrease in importance. Had he stayed in Cleveland, the Indians would likely have not signed John Axford, but instead would have made Smith the closer. In Los Angeles, Ernesto Frieri will remain the closer, so the veteran Smith is already being valued less than he was with the Indians.
The Indians knew they weren't going to be able to re-sign Kazmir as soon as he was still pitching well into July. Kazmir is an incredibly high risk/high reward player and was given a $22M, two year deal from the Athletics. The Indians were smart to stay away for that amount of money as there is an equal chance that Kazmir will blow out his elbow and end his career as there is he will become an All-Star again.
Albers earned what was probably the most fair contract to both sides in free agency with a one year, $2.45M deal from the Astros. He will likely continue in a similar role to what he did in Cleveland last season and has a team option for 2015. While his deal is relatively inexpensive, it wasn't a good fit for the Indians to resign Albers as they have many relievers who are equal or better, like C.C. Lee and Preston Guilmet who will play for the league minimum.
While he wasn't an Indian long, Cleveland still had control over Kubel when the season ended. The Indians gave up Matt Langwell to get Kubel, who went unseen for the last two weeks of the season. The Indians also had to buy out Kubel's $7.5M option for $1M when the season ended. Essentially, the Indians got a couple weeks of poor, part time baseball for Langwell, plus a million dollars. Declining the option was obviously the right choice as he signed a minor league deal with his original club, the Twins, worth just $2M if he makes the team.
Marson is finally someone else's problem as he was released at the end of the season and signed by the Phillies to a minor league deal. The worst part about this is that protecting Marson and David Huff last off-season cost the Indians two great young pitchers in Hector Rondon and T.J. McFarland. Marson was with the Phillies prior to being traded for Cliff Lee and hopefully he will bring to them the results they missed after trading him, a .180 average and below average defense.
The Indians still had control over Perez, but were wary of his upcoming arbitration and tired of his attitude, so he was released shortly after the season ended. This caution proved wise, as he would have likely made at least $8M in arbitration, but was only signed to a $2.3M deal with the Dodgers. The Dodgers have almost completely revamped their bullpen through free agency and will be using Perez in the seventh inning at the latest with Brian Wilson likely taking the ninth. Perez should be a cautionary tale to all professionals as his mouth likely cost him a multi-year deal and at least $5M a year.
Even though he wasn't officially an Indians free agent as he ended the season with the Yankees, some Tribe fans may be interested in where the DH that looked like a superstar last April and May ended up. The answer to that is Milwaukee, where he will make at least $2M. After a long winter with teams being rumored to be involved with Reynolds, then denying that they were, Reynolds was given this surprising deal to be the Brewers starting first baseman if he isn't completely terrible this Spring.
The least missed of all Indians free agents, the left hander who couldn't get out left handers has signed with the Red Sox with a one year minor league deal worth $840,000. It is surprising any team was interested in Hill after his struggles in 2013 because they had little to do with luck and everything to do with command. He seemed to walk at least one batter per appearance, often times the left hander that he was brought in to get out. If the Indians have any luck, Hill will still be on the team when Boston plays Cleveland and the Red Sox will bring Hill in to face Jason Kipnis.
It took long enough, but Jimenez has finally found a home away from Cleveland. After all this time, his patience has finally paid off, and he will be getting exactly what he wanted the whole time. After denying the Indians initial qualifying offer of $14M for 2014, he has finally received a four year deal from the Baltimore Orioles. In addition to the tremendous risk of signing a player who only had one good half season in his 2.5 years in Cleveland to a multi year deal, the Orioles will also be giving up a draft pick. The pick will be the 17th overall, giving the Indians two picks in the first round (they will get the 24th for the success in 2013). There is little question that with their drafting success in recent years, that the this draft pick will be worth incredibly more than Jimenez at that price.
|Name:||John Thomas Allen||Position:||Starting Pitcher|
|Accolades:||1938 All-Star, Top 28 MVP (1937-38)||DOB:||09/30/1904|
|Best Season (1937)||15||1||0.938||2.55||24||20||14||173.0||157||49||4||60||87||1.25||4.5||.232|
There is always a guy before the guy and for the Indians and Bob Feller, that guy was Johnny Allen. Allen originally came up with New York and in a case that would be reversed in the future, the Yankees were a farm system for the Indians. Allen came to Cleveland in exchange for Monte Pearson and Steve Sundra and immediately became the Tribe's ace in 1936.
That season, Allen showed his uncanny ability to win games without amazing stuff or an incredible team behind him. The Indians in 1936 were barely above a .500 team and yet, Allen won twenty and lost just ten of his 36 games. This was a time of transition for Cleveland as they were past the great pitching teams of the 1920's and were reloading for another run at the World Series. Behind Allen in the rotation were Mel Harder, Oral Hildebrand, Lloyd Brown and George Blaeholder with a young starter making his debut named Bob Feller.
In addition to leading the team in wins, Allen also lead the team in ERA with a 3.44. In the following season, he turned it up a notch. Allen dropped the ERA to a career low 2.55 and set a Major League record for winning percent (.938) by winning 15 games to just one loss. This record has since been surpassed by Roy Face, who went 18-1 in 1959, but it remains an Indians record (Cliff Lee is second with a 22-3 record from 2008). For his efforts, he was awarded the Sporting News MLB Player of the Year Award, despite the fact the Indians finished in fourth place. Even with Allen's poor later seasons, he still remains third all time in career winning percent as well.
Feller took over as ace in 1938, breaking a record for most strike outs in a single season and pushing Allen out of that role all the way back to the third most used starter, behind Harder as well. Even though it was Allen's worst season as an Indian, the team was actually better off as the rest of the rotation had been improved. Those three starters combined for 43 wins and the Indians moved into third place in the American League.
Allen was further overshadowed by Feller in the next two seasons, both because Feller was quickly becoming the greatest pitcher in Indians history and because Allen was only a shadow of his former self. Far from his first two seasons when he went 35-11, he finished his Indians career going 18-15. With Feller, Al Smith, Jim Bagby, Jr. and Al Milnar set to go in 1941, Allen was no longer needed in Cleveland and he was sold to the St. Louis Browns for $20,000. He played just a partial season with the Browns before being released and never really regained his prime, although he did have a decent season in 1942 with the Dodgers. After a short 1944 season and an attempted comeback with Philadelphia in 1945, Allen retired from baseball for good. He died less than ten years later in Florida in 1954.no comments
For baseball fans who have not been paying attention to the Indians this off-season, there might not seem to be competition for who will start at third this Spring, but that doesn't make it any less real. Lonnie Chisenhall is the incumbent and was once considered a top prospect, but has struggled during his first three partial seasons and hasn't been able to keep his starting role throughout an entire season despite being given multiple chances. This has generally been a situation where if he had just taken over with authority, there would be no question. While he will almost certainly get another real chance this Spring, there are a few serious contenders. Mike Aviles finished last season as the regular starter and is back in the running again. Carlos Santana has also been working out this Winter at third after seeing a way he could possibly stay in the field after being removed as the starting catcher. In addition, the Indians are bringing about every single infielder they can find in their minor league system or free agency.
The best place to start this discussion is with Aviles, because he is likely the best defensive and one of the best offensive options at third. Comparing him directly to Chisenhall, Aviles has been much more consistent, but lacks the power and is considerably older. Age could be a big factor in keeping Chisehall around as he won't be a free agent until after 2017 while Aviles will be a free agent after this season. This should make the Indians want to keep Chisenhall at least on the roster if they think he has any future at all. The second part of the Aviles discussion is his use as a versatile utility infielder. With trade rumors always swirling around Asdrubal Cabrera and Francisco Lindor not quite ready yet, Aviles could be needed in a starting role at short stop, which would make him unable to also fill the hole at third. All of these arguments make it seem that even if Aviles is used at third more often than Chisenhall, both should remain on the roster.
The Santana experiment was his own doing after finding he was replaced as starting catcher by Yan Gomes and was facing a season off the field as the starting DH. He is obviously the best hitter among the contenders, but as has been seen many times before, baseball players generally struggle with their offensive production when learning a new position. While initially it seemed no one was taking the transition very seriously, the Indians have since helped him along and have said recently that he will be given a chance to compete for the job this Spring. Of course, just like with Aviles, this is not a competition for a roster spot, just to decide who will play more games at third.
Looking at these three main options, there would be a way for Santana and Aviles to both do their regular jobs and still completely replace Chisenhall. If Aviles was considered the regular starter at third, Santana could take over one or two times a week when Aviles would be playing short or second. This would allow the Indians to rotate the DH, spreading off days to Cabrera, Gomes, Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher. While this would be complicated and leave the Indians weak in the case of injury, it would give them an extra roster spot which Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona would like to give to Jason Giambi.
Outside of the obvious choices, the Indians are bringing a plethora of options into Spring Training. A quick glance shows Ryan Rohlinger, David Adams and Elliot Johnson coming into camp as minor league free agents with Erik Gonzalez and Jose Ramirez coming up from the Indians system. None of these are real solutions for starting third baseman, but all could be used as a utility man if Aviles is promoted.
Starting with the outsiders, Rohlinger, Adams and Johnson have one thing in common: none of them are anywhere near as good as Lonnie Chisenhall already is and all but Adams have less years of team control. It is possible that they are in camp as an incentive to Chisenhall to get his act in gear, but none look like a suitable replacement. Of them, Adams is the youngest and looks the most promising after playing 43 games with the Yankees last season. Of course, New York lost Kevin Youkilis to Japan and Alex Rodriguez to suspension this off-season, so if there was ever a team that shouldn't be getting rid of talented third basemen it is the Yankees. Most likely, they knew what they were doing when they released him.
The Indians internal options are much more attractive. Jose Ramirez spent a short time with the Tribe in 2013, but brought a ton of excitement with him. Primarily a base stealing second baseman, Ramirez has spent time at all three athletic infield positions and has been solid defensively. He brings a completely different game than Aviles, who is an all-around average hitter and Santana and Chisenhall, who focus on power. The Indians have no room at second, since Kipnis will be with the team at least through 2017, and no permanent place at short because of Lindor. With this being the case, Ramirez's only chances are at third, utility man or with another team. The combination of Lindor, Ramirez and Kipnis would be incredibly athletic, bringing a kind of speed to the Indians infield perhaps never before seen. They have tried lately with a more power based infield (Jhonny Peralta, Asdrubal Cabrera and Luis Valbuena from 2009 through 2010) and been unsuccessful, so maybe a speedier version is the way to go in the future.
Even with this fast future in mind, it seems a terrible waste to look past Chisenhall so soon. Already in his young career he has shown incredible power at times and that is a thing hard to come by on the current Indians squad. While his success has been limited, that is often the case in young players and possibly, the immediate success of Kipnis and Cabrera has jaded the Indians and their fans. Many times in the past, the Indians have given up on a top prospect too soon because there were no immediate results and this could be another one of those times. Chisenhall deserves to start at third no matter how his Spring goes with Aviles ready to back him up if things go wrong in April. The Santana experiment may work out, but don't expect him to fill in for more than a few games. He should already be spending at least two days at catcher each week to relieve Gomes and will likely play some first as well. With a place in the lineup every day, there is no reason for him to play third with other options available. As the Spring progresses, this situation will become clearer, but expect all three main participants to start the season on the 25 man roster in some capacity.
If none of the other options work out, the Indians have been working
Danny Salazar at third as well, just in case.
The Indians have a few battles coming up this Spring, but most are the typical utility men, competing for a roster position out of camp. There are only two starting positional roles on the 2014 Indians that are uncertain going into Spring Training third base and right field. Likely, the main contenders for these roles will make the team no matter what, making these competitions much less serious than the other ones. Even if a player is named definite starter before Opening Day there will be nothing keeping them in that position if they struggle early on, so this article will be mainly to point out the contenders and speak of their chances of winning the role.
At the end of last season, Drew Stubbs appeared the obvious choice for starter, but as the off-season progressed, it seemed the Indians were ready to move on. After signing David Murphy, a free agent out of Texas, the Indians were freed to trade Stubbs and they did, to Colorado for Josh Outman. To replace him, the Indians will likely use some combination of Murphy, who signed a two year $11M deal and Ryan Raburn, who signed a two year, $4.75M extension prior to the end of last season. There is no guarantee for this however, as the Indians have brought in a group of contenders in for the role on minor league deals as well, including Jeff Francoeur, Nyjer Morgan and Matt Carson.
Money often becomes a deciding factor in baseball, so as said, the most likely pair of contenders are Murphy and Raburn. Last season, both players were complete surprises in opposite manners. Raburn had a tremendous year, bringing 2.1 WAR for just $1M. He started the year as an occasional back-up infielder, but quickly made himself so indispensable he was used in the lineup almost every day. By the end of the season, he had largely supplanted Stubbs as starter to the point that he was used as the starter in the one game play-off against Tampa Bay.
Murphy was not so lucky. Exactly the opposite of Raburn, he had been a talented, consistent starter for years going into 2013, then proceeded to have the worst season of his career. After a career .275 average, Murphy batted just .220 last year, although he did maintain his power, hitting 13 home runs. Morgan and Francoeur are also on this level, although they didn't have as solid of a career as Murphy did to start their careers. They also had considerably worse seasons in 2013, giving good reason that they are in camp with minor league contracts while Murphy has a guaranteed $11M.
The perfect scenario right now seems to be to use Murphy as a starter with Raburn platooning against left handed starters. Of course, it depends on what is used to predict next season. Obviously, the Indians are expecting Murphy to rebound or they wouldn't have paid him, so we will look at career stats for the moment.
|Vs RH SP||Vs LH SP|
Here, Murphy seems the better overall hitter, but the difference is much more pronounced against right handed hitters, which fits perfectly within the baseball norm. Last season, Raburn's numbers were even more slanted towards left handed pitchers (.308/.403/.617) and the Indians took advantage, starting him 43 times against righties and just 24 against lefties. Again, the opposite is true of Murphy. He started 99 games against right handed pitchers (just 15 against LHP), but contrary to the rest of his career, he batted just .209 in that situation. It is this conundrum that brings a few more names in consideration.
The Indians will use the Spring to see if Murphy can turn things around, and if he plays well, the job is his. However, if he struggles, the Indians at least have a back-up plan. Jeff Francoeur was a superstar early in his career with the Braves, but has struggled off an on since. Overly simplified, he had two fantastic seasons, followed by three average seasons, one more fantastic season (with Kansas City), another average one and finally a very poor season in 2013. It was this bad season that made him available to come to Cleveland, where the Indians are taking a chance that he will return to his .800 or greater OPS, like in 2011 and depart from the .536 OPS he held in 2013.
An extra benefit of Francoeur is that he is almost certainly the best defender of all the options. He has lead the league in assists as a right fielder five times and has come in second each other year from 2005 through 2012 (he is also the active leader in career assists from right). If Francoeur does come back with a great offensive Spring, this defensive edge could be enough to earn him the starting role, besides the financial difference. His right handedness could clash with Raburn, who will be on the team in some capacity no matter what. If Francoeur (or any other option) takes the starting right field job, Murphy would likely become the fourth outfielder while Raburn would retain a more general utility role. While he flew in under the radar, Francoeur is actually a very exciting option.
A later signing, Nyjer Morgan is slightly less exciting. He spent all of 2013 in Japan, but a minor league deal has lured him back to North America. He has never been the hitter that any of the other three options have been, although he likely has better speed than any of them. He is much more comparable to the exiting Stubbs, minus the strike outs and power. Plane crashes on the way to Phoenix aside, it is hard to imagine Morgan breaking through.
The reason the competition for right is so strong has a lot to do with the stature of the players in the other two outfield positions. With Michael Bourn in center and Michael Brantley in left, there is no room for any of the group to start anywhere but right. There are two definite spots open (with a third possible) for these four players. The favorites for those spots remain Raburn and Murphy in one fashion or another, but it is certain to be interesting to see what kind of noise the other players in camp can make.no comments