A Dose of Sunshine: Part one
Undoubtedly, watching and following the Cleveland Indians during the second half of the 2012 season has been unequivocally frustrating. In August, the club posted one of the worst winning percentages in a month (.172) in the history of the game.
This season has seen plenty of tribulations for both the players and fans of the team; yet, regardless of how poorly the ballclub finishes this season, they'll still be playing ball at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario come April 2013. Therefore, there is always insuperable hope to lean on. If you can't enjoy the present, you might as well look ahead to the future.
Thus, for all the long-faced fans of the Wahoos, a look at the positive aspects of the team is in order, as we look ahead to better days. This is the first installment in a two-part series designed to walk Tribe faithful back from the ledge. In this segment, I'll cover the middle of the field and a couple of trade chips at the team's disposal. In the second part, I'll examine the bullpen and young players who could be key contributors moving forward.
Middle of the field
One of the more important aspects to any team, especially defensively speaking, is its middle of the field (catcher, second base, shortstop, center fielder). Generally speaking, these players on most teams are less relied upon for offense, as opposed to the corner positions. However, the Tribe has capable-to-plus everyday talent at all four of these positions. Moreover, all of these players are 26 years old or under and three of the four are on their second or less full Major League season, so there is plenty to like here moving forward.
Carlos Santana – C – 26 years old, 2nd full MLB season: Santana battled an offensively underwhelming first half of the season, in which he hit .221 over 244 at-bats before the All Star Break. Additionally, coming off a 2011 campaign in which he clubbed 35 doubles and 27 home runs, Santana struggled over the first half of this season with extra-base hits, amassing just 13 doubles and five bombs. Thankfully, the Tribe catcher has started to curb some of the critics' concerns that he isn't an offensive threat. Since the All-Star Break, Santana's hitting triple slash sparkles with marks of .291/ .403/ .512, while notching season totals of 24 doubles, 14 homers, 61 RBI and a 76:89 walk to strikeout ratio. He boasts a keen ability to rack up the free passes, giving him a very solid .365 on-base percentage on the season.
The second-half offensive resurgence is crucial, given his work-in-progress defensive skills behind the plate. He's in the middle of the pack of everyday catchers in caught-stealing percentage (.270), to go along with the being tied for the 6th-most passed balls allowed (7), as well as tied for 2nd-most errors behind the plate (7). His starting pitching certainly hasn't helped him keep opposing base-runners off the paths, but the real key to Santana's long term success is avoiding his lapses of laziness. In a recent game, he was yanked in favor of Lou Marson for not running hard to first. It's part of being a twenty-something with a multi-million dollar contract, but if he wants to be amongst the game's best at his position he needs to continue to progress in all areas of his game, including the desire to get better.
Jason Kipnis – 2B – 25 years old, 1st full MLB season: Kipnis has shown some resolve by battling through a rather rough post-All Star break slump, in which he's hit .222, while amassing just two homers and 16 RBI in 171 at-bats. He's looked better at the plate over the last few weeks, but still has just a .241 batting average over the last 30 days. The underreported part of Kipnis' game that has lacked in the second half is his ability to steal bases. Before the break, Kipnis had 20 steals, while only being caught-stealing once. Since, he's only totaled six swipes, while being caught five times. Obviously, if he's on base less, he's not going to have as many steals, but the caught-stealing rate is a little troubling. Still, he's the team leader with 26 steals, which is particularly important since his fellow middle-of-the-field 'mates, Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Brantley have a combined 19 steals, while being caught 13 times.
All said, Kipnis has a .328 on-base percentage for the season, in addition to 17 doubles, 13 homers, 65 RBI, and 71 runs. One key stat: he leads the team in batting average with runners in scoring position (.315). A lot of people forget that this is only his first full season in the big show, which amplifies how impressively effective he's been on both sides of the ball.
His .991 fielding percentage is 2nd in the American League, amongst second basemen with 100 or more games played. Not too shabby for a player who was drafted as an outfielder out of Arizona State University in 2009. He may lack ideal range, but his throws are crisp and he's a shoe-in to always give the highest level of effort. Kipnis is the player I'd most like to see grow into a leadership role moving forward, especially with such few veterans on the current roster. This is a determined young player with plenty of room to boost his already impressive all-around numbers.
Asdrubal Cabrera – SS – 26 years old, 4th full MLB season: Cabrera is the longest tenured Indian up the middle, but is still plenty young. Offensively speaking, the good news is that the Tribe shortstop is mostly replicating his output from last season. In 2011, he hit .273/ .332/ .460 in 604 at-bats, with 32 doubles, 25 home runs, 87 runs, and 92 RBI. Thus far, Cabrera has a hitting line of .272/ .338/ .425 in 492 at-bats to accompany 31 doubles, 14 bombs, 60 runs, and 56 RBI.
From last season to this season, he has churned out virtually the same batting average and on-base percentage. While the slugging percentage is down, due to a dip in homers, he already has one less double in over 100 less at-bats. He's also walking more this season (45 in 492 at-bats, versus 44 free passes over 604 at-bats in 2011). Cabrera is an incredibly important stick in this lineup, so it's encouraging to see him maintaining a consistently productive output.
The underwhelming part of Cabrera's game that accompanies his offensive prowess is his defensive lapses. His .971 fielding percentage is 10th among American League shortstops with 100 games played. This signifies a step back from his .976 mark in that department in 2011. Again, defense is crucial for any team's players in the middle of the field, especially at this position; so, hopefully Cabrera can at least somewhat shore up these woes moving forward.
Regardless, his offensive output is critical to the success of this team. His .277 batting average and .353 on-base percentage with runners in scoring position makes him flexible enough of a bat to put in the heart of the lineup. Ideally, he's the most natural fit for a team leader role, given his relatively established tenure and importance to the Tribe. He flashed the ability to reprimand a younger, less experienced player over effort last season, when he got into a heated exchange in the dugout with Santana. Looking ahead, Cabrera could expand his significance to the ballclub if he can develop into a true team leader.
Michael Brantley – CF – 25 years old, 2nd full MLB season: In Brantley, Tribe fans have a player who has taken the largest step forward in the 2012 season. A juxtaposition of his numbers over limited action in 2010, a full, but injury-bitten 2011 campaign and this season is necessary to see his steady progression:
2010: 297 AB, .246/ .296/ .327
2011: 451 AB, .266/ .318/ .384
2012: 498 AB, .285/ .338/ .410
Remarkably, Brantley has improved his batting average, as well as his on-base and slugging percentages each season in his young career. That's what you call steady development. He has been the most improved player, while accumulating 36 doubles, four triples, 54 runs, 57 RBI, and an eye-popping 42:54 walk-to-strikeout ratio. He also has some ability to swipe bases, as he has twelve steals, but has been caught nine times.
Brantley will never be much of a home run threat (just six homers this season), but it's hard not to savor the 36 doubles. Furthermore, he's been the most consistent Tribe hitter over both halves of the season, with a .288 pre-break average and .280 post-break mark, so he obviously hasn't succumbed to the pressure of playing for a team in the middle of a horrid second half.
Again, with the defensive importance for these players in the middle of the field, Brantley has posted an impressive .997 fielding percentage, 2nd among qualifying American League center fielders. In spite of average arm strength, he has proven that he has the speed to cover the ground necessary for a center fielder, even demonstrating the ability to make a highlight reel defensive play. One could argue with both offense and defense in mind that Brantley has been the best all around player for the Indians in 2012, but you'd never know it based on his Peter Parker-esque low key nature. With question marks surrounding the future at the corner outfield positions, it's relieving to know that there is one rock solid, starting outfielder on the roster.
Two trade chips
With the Tribe set to enter another phase of rebuilding, or at the very least a serious retooling, there is the inevitable aspect of trading away players who might net the organization some cheap, young talent in key areas of need. Since Cleveland is unlikely to legitimately compete in 2013, a couple of players could be on the move in the offseason to bolster the starting pitching or right-handed hitting deficiencies on the team. To be clear, both of the Indians mentioned here would be important commodities if the team was competing now, but because of the unlikelihood that either remains with the team in the long term, there is a serious possibility of trading one or both.
Chris Perez: In his latest installment of poignantly candid comments, Perez lambasted Indians ownership as a huge part of the team's lackluster season. As is the case with any Perez sound bite, the validity or courage demonstrated isn't the crux of the matter, it's what he's trying to accomplish. Earlier in the season, he seemed to be merely exercising his right to free speech, but as the headlines have mounted, it's impossible not to analyze the intent of his comments. At this point, one has to wonder if Perez is attempting to talk his way out of Cleveland by forcing a trade.
At the least, he is clearly unhappy with the Tribe, so if an equitable trade opportunity should surface, then the organization would be acting in the best long term interest of the club by moving a player who stands to see a raise from his 2012 salary of 4.5 million dollars, heading into his second arbitration eligible offseason. As a closer who has converted 34 of 38 save opportunities, while pitching his way to a 3.51 ERA, .219 opponents batting average, and 1.02 WHIP in 48.2 innings pitches, Perez could fetch a decent return in a trade. With 10.36 strikeouts per 9 innings, he has the punch out rate that contending teams covet. Again, with the Indians entering a rebuilding phase, there is decidedly less need for lockdown closer of Perez's caliber, especially one who is making that kind of coin on a small market team that has Vinnie Pestano waiting in the wings.
Shin-Soo Choo: Set to hit free agency following the 2013 season, Choo's days with the club look numbered. Rumors have already surfaced that the Indians would consider fielding calls in the offseason for a trade of their right fielder. At the very latest, fans should expect to see him shipped out by the non-waiver trade deadline next season. Heading into his final arbitration-eligible offseason and already making 4.9 million this season, Choo, who is 30 years old, is not in the long term plans since he isn't expected to consider a long term contract with the Tribe.
He has the highest on-base (.368) and slugging (.451) percentages on the team (minimum 250 at-bats), so finding a suitor should not be a problem. His 37 doubles, 15 homers, 77 runs, 52 RBI, and 17 steals, to go along with plus arm strength on defense make him a multi-threat player. Hopefully, potentially trade partners will overlook his 128 strikeouts and .186 batting average versus left-handed pitching this season and focus on his 20-20 seasons in 2009 and 2010. If traded, he will undoubtedly leave a void in the lineup and in right field, but hopefully one of the pieces acquired in a potential Perez or Choo trade could fill one of the corner outfield holes.
That wraps up the first piece of this two-part feature. Be on the lookout over the next couple weeks for part two, where I'll extol the virtues of the bullpen and young players who could make an impact in 2013.
And I think it's an impossible sell to the fanbase. On a personal level, it would mean there's a good chance I would no longer follow this team. As it stands, I'll undoubtedly spring for a month of MLB.tv next spring to see what happens. If they traded Choo I would not, and from what I'd expect to happen post-2013, I can't see this team staying relevant. The Ubaldo trade in my opinion prevents them from going a "rebuild" route this year. You already traded your two best prospects so there's a giant hole in your roster. They have no one on the team who they can trade to get anything like the value that they gave up. And yes, there is the Antonetti factor. He'd probably trade Choo for Domonic Brown ... I can hear it now: "This guy was a top prospect, #4 ranked in baseball. In order to get a player of value, you have to give a player of value." T
The Pence comparison is a decent one, but comparing to previous year trades is only the starting point of negotiations. GMs don't say well they got this for this guy last year so that's what we're going to give you. It's two completely separate issues. Pence was on the market the same time as Beltran, WIllingham's name was out there, etc. etc.
Market dictates demand. It truly is that simple. There will be plenty of teams looking for OF bats, and if you look at the list of free agent RF's this offseason...none of them have anywhere close to Choo's track record.
John Steinbeck in "The Pearl" suggested it may not exist.
Not hustling is a collapse of energy brought about by severe
pessimism and despair.
No catcher is lazy; Santana has been despondent at times about his failure to live up to his own & others' expectations.
Acta did the right thing; you can't accept that behavior; you have to formally disapprove of it.
But Carlos is not lazy, just overwhelmed.
Play him as a 1B-DH, emergency C, from now on.
Don't be greedy and try to get all that offense from a position that is not normally a run producing one.
His offense may dramatically improve.
Also, move Cabrera to RF if Choo goes, LF if he stays.
Wolters & Lindor aren't far away with their gloves.
GMs are not looking at WAR, and you can even ask the authors at Fangraphs about that. GMs in baseball don't care what you did last season, they want to know what you're going to do for them once they sign you. WAR is purely descriptive, it has no predictive value whatsoever. Choo's offensive metrics put him in the top 3 in the league for RF's.
This team is not going to compete in 2013. I'm sorry, there is just no way it's going to happen. They need 3 starting pitchers at least, they need a first baseman, they need a left fielder and third base is still an unknown as well until Chisenhall proves something at this level. That's too many holes for this club to fill in one offseason.
It may not be what the fans want to hear, but a rebuild is the best thing for the franchise. You don't have to trade everyone, but you trade Choo, Perez, Cabrera, and Smith for the best group of AA/AAA prospects you can get. Put a high priority on pitching. Choo absolutely can and absolutely SHOULD bring back a major league ready bat. The Pirates balked because they wouldn't have a prayer of signing him when he hits free agency. A team like NY (likely losing Swisher), Boston, etc. that feels they can re-sign Choo after the season is going to be willing to give up a ML ready bat and IMO they should give up a pitching prospect as well.
Market dictates demand. This year's free agency market is incredibly thin, especially for hitters. There's not much more that's likely to be available in a trade either. I absolutely expect Choo to be one of the most sought-after hitters this winter.
It's hard to agree with Seth about keeping Choo. He may not be able to net a ML ready outfielder, but he can surely get us some good young prospects. We have a wave a prospects who will contribute to our next rebuild, and I would love to add a couple pieces to that wave, whether it be pitching or a couple of OF's. Keeping Choo will only help us break the .500 mark, he is not going to give us a chance to compete unless we manage sign a COUPLE (not just one) FA pitcher this offseason. We need to get what we can for Choo right now and hope it will improve our chances to win in the future.
The Pirates, correctly, didn't want to give up Starling Marte for Choo, even though as an Indians fan I would not have liked that trade (granted, someone like the Yankees would be more willing to trade a Marte type prospect than the Pirates, since they don't care about cost control). They could probably get a lower level minor league outfield prospect with upside this offseason ... but the Indians right now are caught in a limbo where "rebuild" doesn't make sense. Any prospects they do have are way down in the minors. You trade for prospects to advance the rebuilding process over the timeframe required to draft and develop, but once they traded Pom and White, they might as well hang onto Choo and take the comp pick after next season, because all of their up-and-coming prospects are 2-3 years out anyway.
That's why I think it's a very bad idea to trade Choo this off season. It would be an impossible sell to an already extremely jaded fanbase, and unless some team offered something crazy good for him, a major league ready outfield bat, it would be better to see how next year plays out in the first half. As crazy (pathetic?) as it sounds, I'd say next year is the Indians' best chance to contend any time in the foreseeable future, but if you trade Choo and have an outfield of Brantley and garbage, forget about it. Right now, the post 2013 makeup of this organization is a massive unknown. When Lindor and some of the other young guys have another half-year under their belt, and Kipnis, Chisenhall and Santana at the major league level, we'll have a much better sense of their needs, and the reality of if and when they can expect to contend in the future.
Hold onto Choo, acquire a passable veteran left fielder (Victorino?), and hope that Masteron regains his 2011 form and the June 2011 Carrasco is the performance of a healthy Carrasco next year. And that Kipnis adjusts, Chisenhall learns some plate discipline, etc, etc, etc.
Really until this year he has been stupidly inconsistent. Is him finding consistency this year the Real Chris Perez or the previous three seasons when he was lucky to hit the plate the real Chris Perez. Either it's likely his trade value will be at it's highest after this season. Get rid of him.
He may have had a point in what he was saying, but honestly it's not what the team needed. The Tribe doesn't need players questioning the roster. Remember for a guy like Willingham to be in the lineup someone in that clubhouse needs to be gone. CP Saying that stuff has got to do something to that clubhouse and it can't be positive.
Besides Vinnie P is more fun.
Teams aren't going to be looking at WAR when they decide whether or not they're interested in Choo. WAR tells a story, but it doesn't have any predictive value going forward. Choo has a relatively meager WAR because his defense has not rated well according to UZR, which is extremely fluid from one year to the next in many players. Fangraphs has him as a -12 fielder...but that is in stark contrast to his previous two seasons in which he has posted positive marks.
Teams are going to be looking at him for his offense, it's as simple as that. The only RF with better offensive metrics than Choo this season are Stanton, Bruce, and Zobrist (more of a utility player really). None of those guys are getting moved this offseason. If teams are looking for a RF bat, their first call is going to be to Chris Antonetti about Shin Soo Choo.
Choo may be one of the best Indians hitters, but he's been a very average to below average player the last 2 years. His WAR is 15th in the league for right fielders. The idea that you can trade Choo to fill a corner outfield hole that trading him creates is pure folly. Bill Bavasi isn't a GM anymore (would seem if MLB has a Bavasi now, it's Antonetti). If there is hope for the team it's that Santana, Kipnis, Asdrubal, Chisenhall, Choo and Brantley can all be good if not great hitters, and they can put together an average starting staff and above average bullpen next year, depending on what guys like Masterson and Carrasco bring.