It's clear the Indians are going to have to depend heavily on their pitching staff to carry the team in 2012. The Indians had one of the best bullpens in the majors last season, and they will be one of the few major league teams that will go to spring training with their starting rotation already set.
Barring injury, the Indians figure to open the season with a rotation of Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, Ubaldo Jimenez, Fausto Carmona and Derek Lowe. The key could be Jimenez, who in 2011 was a disappointment after being acquired in a mid-season trade with Colorado.
In 11 starts with the Indians after the trade, Jimenez was 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA. That's a far cry from his numbers with Colorado in 2010, when he was 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA. In hopes of getting Jimenez back to his 2010 form, he will pitch in a limited number of winter ball games for the Licey team in the Dominican Republic.
Jimenez's first winter ball start will be on Dec. 20. Indians officials believe there are some mechanical adjustments Jimenez can make to allow him to be more consistent. "We didn't want to make any drastic changes when he came over (following the trade)," said manager Manny Acta. "We let him pitch and tried to let him find out a few things."
One of the mechanical adjustments Indians officials want Jimenez to work on in winter ball is his stride.
"We feel if he's able to control his lower half and be more consistent with the length of his stride, then the strike throwing department will improve," said Acta.
Consistent strike throwing was a problem for Jimenez in his 11 starts for the Indians in 2011. In those starts he averaged nearly four walks per nine innings. Jimenez's inconsistent control also led to high pitch counts early in games, with the result being that he was frequently unable to pitch deep into games because he was nearing 100 pitches by the fifth inning.
Jimenez's history suggests that he tends to pitch much better in a major league season after pitching winter ball in the previous offseason. Prior to his 19-8 season for the Rockies in 2010 he pitched a full season of winter ball. However, prior to his disappointing 2011 season he did not pitch any winter ball at all.
Jimenez will not pitch a full winter ball season this year. However, Indians officials are hoping that by having him make a few starts in the Dominican he will be able to work on some mechanical adjustments that will allow him to be more consistent in 2012, when, in order to be a contender, the Indians are going to need productive seasons from most, if not all of the pitchers in their starting rotation.
--OF Felix Pie agreed to terms on a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians, the Baltimore Sun reported on Sunday. The deal would include an invitation to attend spring training with the big-league club, and Pie would have the right to opt out of the pact if he did not make the Indiana's Opening Day roster.
--RHP Hector Rondon was designated for assignment on Dec. 6 in order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for OF Grady Sizemore, who was signed as a free agent. Rondon underwent surgery to repair a fractured right elbow on Nov. 15. Rondon made five relief appearances for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League, before sustaining the injury. He missed all of the 2011 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Rondon, 23, was the Indians' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2009, when he was 11-10 with a 3.38 ERA in a combined 27 starts at Class AAA Columbus and Class AA Akron.
--C Matt Pagnozzi, the nephew of former major league catcher Tom Pagnozzi, has been signed to a minor-league contract and invited to the major league training camp as a non-roster player. Pagnozzi, 29, spent most of the 2011 season playing for Colorado's Class AAA affiliate at Colorado Springs, where in 178 at bats he hit .275 with 3 home runs and 29 RBI.
--RHP Ubaldo Jimenez is scheduled to make his first winter ball start Dec. 20 for Licey in the Venezuelan Winter League. Indians officials want Jimenez to start a few games this winter in order to work on some mechanical adjustments which hopefully will help Jimenez regain his form in 2012. In 11 starts for the Indians after being acquired in a mid-season trade with Colorado, Jimenez was 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA.
--C1B Carlos Santana only hit .239 in 2011, but he also drew 97 walks which helped lift his on-base percentage to .351. He also hit 27 homers, with 79 RBI. Manager Manny Acta said he didn't dwell on Santana's batting average. "We didn't make much out of the batting average, because he walked 97 times," said Acta. "Batting average is only relevant if you don't walk at all."
--1B Matt LaPorta, who failed in his opportunity to win the first base job outright last season, will have to come to spring training in 2012 and win the job, according to general manager Chris Antonetti. In 352 at-bats in 2011, LaPorta had just a .299 on-base percentage, and his right-handed bat was really missing in action against left-handed pitchers. Because the Indians' lineup is heavy with left-handed hitters LaPorta, a right-handed hitter, was counted on to do some damage vs. left-handers. Instead, LaPorta hit just .207, with a .263 on base percentage vs. lefties.
BY THE NUMBERS: 40 -- Number of players on the Indians' 40-man major league roster, with the addition of OF Grady Sizemore.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Just because your division doesn't have three powerhouses like New York, Boston and Tampa Bay doesn't mean that your division is weak." -- Manager Manny Acta, when asked for his evaluation of the AL Central.
The Indians finished the season with a rotation that is much less of a question mark than it was at the start, but they began to address it by acquiring RHP Derek Lowe from the Braves. RHPs Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin both won 12 games, and the midseason acquisition of RHP Ubaldo Jimenez gives the Indians a solid top three to their rotation. The bullpen was playoff-caliber all year. Offensively, Cleveland has question marks in the outfield and at first base. The team also must decide on whether Carlos Santana, who played both catcher and first base in 2011, is better suited to play one position or the other full-time, or if he should continue to split time between the two spots.
ARRIVALS: OF Felix Pie (minor league free agent), RHP Derek Lowe (trade with Braves).
DEPARTURES: INFOF Luis Valbuena (traded to Blue Jays), DH Jim Thome (free agent, signed with Phillies). RHP Hector Rondon (designated for assignment).
BIGGEST NEEDS: A productive hitter, preferably with a right-handed bat, who could play the outfield andor first base would bolster an offensively challenged lineup. Such an acquisition would take some pressure off two starters, 2B Jason Kipnis and 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, who will be in their first full seasons in the major leagues next year.
FREE AGENTS: OF Kosuke Fukudome, RHP Chad Durbin.
Fukudome was a useful player after being a acquired in a trade with the Cubs, but there is no way the budget-conscious Indians will offer him anything close to the 13 million salary he made this year. Durbin will not be re-signed because the Indians have multiple, and more economically priced minor league prospects who can fill Durbin's role.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Chris Perez, LHP Rafael Perez, RHP Joe Smith, OF Shin-Soo Choo, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, 3B Jack Hannahan, RHP Justin Masterson.
The Indians may try to sign Cabrera, their MVP this year, to a multiyear deal, which would buy Cabrera out of his last arbitration year and beyond, although the club has of late shied away from such long-term deals. Choo and the Indians had preliminary discussions on a multiyear deal in spring training this year, but those talks went nowhere.
IN LIMBO: OF Shelley Duncan.
Duncan had a big September and was a valuable fourth outfielder and pinch hitter. Whether he's back next year probably depends on whether the Indians acquire an outfielder in the offseason.
--RHP Justin Masterson (arthroscopic left shoulder surgery in October 2011) should be ready for spring training.
--RHP Carlos Carrasco (Tommy John surgery in September 2011) will spend the offseason rehabbing. He is expected to miss the entire 2012 season.
--LF Michael Brantley (right hand surgery in August 2011) will spend the offseason rehabbing after having the hamate bone removed. He should be ready for spring training.