It has been quite the offseason for the Indians. From the day Manny Acta was fired, the Dolan Family Ownership pushed forward with a new era for their downtrodden organization. Many scoffed (me included) when it was decided that Team President Mark Shapiro and GM Chris Antonetti would stay on board to oversee the changes that were about to come. Just over three months later, Antonetti has come through with a vengeance.
The hiring of Terry Francona changed everything for this organization. He was quoted as saying he only took the job because of the the opportunity to work with two men who would be his bosses, Shapiro and Antonetti. It was never said, but it is widely assumed now that Francona received some sort of assurances from ownership that there would be money to spend to upgrade the roster. Armed with Tito’s sterling reputation as a manager everyone wants to play for, the Indians began the transformation.
Mike Aviles was brought in as an uber-utility man. They chased Shane Victorino at the winter meetings. Mark Reynolds was added to be the team’s first baseman and right-handed power threat. Then, the big moves came. Fan favorite Shin-Soo Choo was sent packing to Cincinnati in a deal to that brought OF Drew Stubbs, relievers Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers, and the biggest piece of the Tribe’s future, top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer. Up next was the biggest free agent signing in Indians history, former Yankee OF Nick Swisher took $54 million and arrived with the biggest smile that any of us have seen here in years. The enthusiasm in his Welcome to Cleveland press conference was something special. That day it really felt as though the Indians were truly on their way back.
Things wrapped up last week with the addition of starting pitcher Brett Myers.
There has been a roster change, but most importantly within three months, a culture change down at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. It’s hard to fathom that without Francona being brought in, any of this would have happened. People seem excited again about Indians baseball in Cleveland.
So what’s next?
The Asdrubal Cabrera trade rumors seem to have subsided for now and it looks as though he will be the Tribe’s starting shortstop on opening day. Chris Perez’s value is still high, but with free agent closers like Brian Wilson, Jose Valverde, and Rafael Soriano still on the market, its tough to see the Indians getting market value for him if they choose to deal him.
If you look at the roster as it stands, there are still holes to fill. The rotation will be headed by Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Myers. Zach McAllister is said to have a “leg up” on the fourth spot, but I can’t imagine him not being there. The final spot looks to be a battle between Carlos Carrasco (coming off of Tommy John Surgery), Corey Kluber, and Bauer. The Indians would love for Bauer to spend more time in AAA to start the season and that seems to be their plan. David Huff may be tried out as a left-handed reliever, as he is out of options and down on the starting rotation food chain.
Speaking of the pen, the Indians are loaded with good options and could use one of them to deal for another bat. If Perez is on the roster, he is locked in as the closer, with Vinnie Pestano as the eighth inning guy. Joe Smith, Albers, and Shaw, along with lefty Nick Hagadone are pretty much guaranteed spots. That leaves Cody Allen, Frank Herrmann, Scott Barnes, and Huff battling for one or two spots.
The biggest question mark as we sit today is clearly the DH spot and how the Indians will use it.
When Aviles was brought over from Toronto, Antonetti said the plan was to use Aviles all over the diamond. The Tribe hasn’t been able to figure out the infield utility spot for the past couple of years. Jason Donald was a failure and the Brent Lillibridge experience wasn’t to anyone’s liking. Aviles, a veteran who played for and was a favorite of Francona, should quell that issue. He can play second, short, and third, and hits right-handed. As things go today, Aviles will be rotated in the three spots, allowing Jason Kipnis, Cabrera, and Lonnie Chisenhall to rest their legs in the DH spot, which I think is a smart move. We all have seen how Cabrera in particular has worn down the past two seasons in the second half. Kipnis struggled in the second half of 2012 as well, moving from .277/.345/.764 to .233/.322/.650 after the break. Chisenhall’s glove, while improved, is still a work in progress.
With the second Russ Canzler DFA coming last week, in-house candidates to win the DH job should the Indians decide to go a different direction that the Aviles route discussed include Rule 5 draftee Chris McGuiness, and former Blue Jays Mike McDade and Yan Gomes. Gomes is the most intriguing and has a great shot at making the opening day roster as a bench guy. He plays both corner infield spots but spent most of his time catching for AAA Las Vegas last year.
Another name has been kicked around of late in the Indians search for a DH – Travis Hafner. Yep, good ole’ Pronk is still out there and available, probably for peanuts. While when healthy, Hafner can still get on base, we’ve seen that movie 1,000 times. Having Hafner clogging up a roster spot when he can do nothing but hit against right-handed pitching when he actually stays healthy, makes zero sense. The guy hasn’t played more than 118 games in a season in six years. They finally walked away from Grady Sizemore. Turning their backs on a Pronk return is the smart play. Two other names have been floated as well – Luke Scott and Jim Thome. But at this point, neither is a better option than the Aviles plan.
Will they go out and add another bat? Will they potentially add another starting pitcher like say, Shawn Marcum? Will they hold Perez and Cabrera? We will find out soon enough, but the Indians have proved that in their most important offseason in a decade, they mean business.
photo via AP/David Richard