Swinging for the Fences: 2013 Indians vs. 2009 Rangers
David Murphy's new team brings back memories of Texas
As players descend upon Goodyear, Arizona, many still wonder who and what the Cleveland Indians are heading into 2014 despite winning 92 games the year before.
After all, despite the fact that the Tigers may look weaker on paper, they are still the team to beat in the division and the Royals are suddenly not too far off the pace heading into the new year.
Given that and the fact that many early preseason projections haven't been to flattering to the Tribe, one would wonder if the pressure is mounting for the team to prove that last year was no fluke.
How have teams in the past who have been in this situation handled it and how have they fared?
Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com is currently in Arizona covering spring training and has spent time in Cleveland's camp trying to gauge an early outlook for the team.
In addition to talking shop with Terry Francona and being introduced to the word "thundercat", courtesy of Nick Swisher, Morosi chatted with new Indians outfielder David Murphy about his decision to sign a 2-year/$12 million deal with the Tribe this offseason.
"Looking at this team, from the outside looking in, they kind of reminded me of where the Rangers were in 2009," Murphy said. "It's nice to have that underdog mentality and be that team that's going to sneak in there and show, 'Hey, we can play with y'all'. We are going to be right there."
So what's the significance of a Rangers team that didn't even make the playoffs?
Well, for one thing, it was the year before they went to back-to-back World Series.
Now I've got your attention, right?
Many of the players on the 2009 Rangers roster either got their first big league break or were just beginning to gain more national exposure as some of the league's top talent.
The Rangers' success that year raised their hopes and, some may have thought lofty, expectations of potentially overtaking the established division powerhouse Tigers... er, I mean Angels.
As far as the roster, it's too bad we aren't talking about the 2008 Rangers because the parallels between Ian Kinslerback then and Jason Kipnis now are just scary. Both were at the age of 26 and able to earn their first All-Star selections with similar offensive production.
Still, the similar skillset and stages in career make this one of the closer comparisons of the bunch.
Back in 2009, Kinsler had his first of two major power surges in his career hitting 31 home runs, but outside of 2009 and 2011, he only averages between 15-20 dingers per season.
He also has speed and the ability to steal bases, like Kipnis. and finished 2009 with a career-high 31 swipes.
Kinsler has since earned two All-Star selections and will now be seeing Kipnis and the Tribe on a regular basis following his trade to Detroit in exchange for first base slugger Prince Fielder.
I should probably also mention for the fans of the WAR statistic, Kinsler had an overall WAR in 2009 of 6.0 while Kipnis had a 5.9 WAR in 2013.
Other comparisons include staff aces Justin Masterson and Kevin Millwood, the veteran presence and leadership from the bench in Jason Giambi and former Indian great Omar Vizquel, rookie starters Danny Salazar and Derek Holland, and although this is more of a look into the future, Francisco Lindor and Elvis Andrus.
One notable difference between the two clubs is the fact that outside of Milwood, the Rangers starting rotation wasn't all that much to speak about. The injuries of young pitchers Matt Harrison and Brandon McCarthy and disconnect between the team and veteran starter Vicente Padilla set them back somewhat.
Then again, until guys like Ubaldo Jimenez and Corey Kluber had established themselves in the rotation, the Indians had their own questions with the pitching staff. Brett Myers was not working out well, Zach McAllister went down with a sprained finger, Carlos Carrasco was ineffective for the most part as a starter and Trevor Bauer was dealing with mechanical issues.
So I guess you could say the Rangers had just as many, if not more questions about their starting rotation heading into 2010 as the Tribe does now.
Offensively, Texas had a bit of an advantage over the Tribe now with 784 total runs in 2009 against 745 for the Indians in 2013. They also were somewhat more consistent at the plate batting .260 compared to Cleveland's .255 mark. The average runs per game was a bit closer, though with 4.84 for Texas and 4.60 for the Tribe.
What about David Murphy, though, who originally made this comparison? Well, I've said before when the Tribe first brought him aboard that he reminds me of Michael Brantley. He hits for average, he gets on base, he has a little pop and a little speed on the base paths and he doesn't strike out a lot. Only big difference is Brantley has had more success with runners in scoring position.
Looking ahead to 2010, the Rangers offense exploded with Josh Hamilton putting up MVP-caliber numbers, sophomore shortstop Elvis Andrus getting on base at a healthy clip and putting his speed on display on the base paths and veteran sluggers Nelson Cruz and newly-aquired Vladimir Guerrero backing up Hamilton at the plate.
The pitching staff also came together despite the loss of ace Kevin Millwood via trade in the offseason with the somewhat unexpected emergence of former setup man C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis, whom Texas signed out of Japan after being away from the majors for two years, as the aces of the staff.
(FYI, The lesson here: don't write off anyone until you see them on the field.)
The Rangers boasted six All-Stars that season on their way to their first pennant in franchise history.
And the supposedly unbeatable Angels, who had won 97 games the year before and gone to the playoffs for the sixth time in the previous eight years were finally surpassed by the upstart Rangers club,
The point I'm making is as daunting as a rival may be, they can be beaten. And let's not forget that the Tribe beat the Tigers 10 times in 2012 even with a roster that lost 94 games.
But how can the Indians replicate the offensive production of the Rangers in 2010 or match six All-Star-worthy performances?
Well, just take a look at the roster.
Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana are firmly in the primes of their careers with potential left to tap into.
Former All-Stars Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn are poised to have better seasons.
Lonnie Chisenhall could still break out at any time.
The current top three projected starters in the rotation are Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar and Corey Kluber, who if they pick up where they left off in 2013 could all make a case for All-Star selections.
You could look at this roster and see a bunch of maybe's or what-if's, or you could look at its potential and see a slumbering beast just waiting for the right moment to arise.
While the 2009 Texas Rangers may have had a couple more established stars than the Tribe does now in Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, they were pretty much in the same situation as a ballclub that was just trying to establish an identity as a legitimate playoff contender after a decade of losing or mediocre seasons. Little did they know that two consecutive American League pennants awaited them right around the corner.
What's waiting around the corner for the Tribe?
Ubaldo Jimenez agrees to 4-year/$50 million deal with Orioles pending physical... Well, one of the "Frozen Five", as branded by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal in reference to the remaining free agents with draft pick compensation attached, has reportedly agreed to terms on a multi-year deal with the Orioles and has ended all discussion and speculation of a possible return to Cleveland for Big U.
I'm kind of in between of the two prevailing lines of thought on Jimenez. I don't believe he's being outrageously overvalued based on one good half of a season, nor do I think he should be judged based on his 2012 performance. However, I don't know if I would have been willing to make quite that big a commitment to him, so good luck to the Orioles.
Clearly if Jimenez was going to get the kind of payoff that he appears to be getting from Baltimore, he'd be crazy not to pass up on it, but I think his career would've benefited more from staying in Cleveland for another year or two to stay in a more friendly and familiar environment and get more time with Mickey Callaway, but baseball is a business and I won't stand in the way of him making the best living he can. Best of luck to him (and with his ERA of over six against AL East opponents other than Baltimore, he may need it).
Derek Jeter announces his retirement following the 2014 season... Since the announcement of The Captain's retirement first came out nearly a week ago, it's tough for me to say anything that hasn't been said already. But even at the risk of speaking in cliches, I have to express my utmost respect for Derek Jeter and his impact on Major League Baseball, and having me say that about a Yankee means a lot.
His illustrious career will come to an end after 20 years, which spans almost my entire lifetime. And I have to say, it will be very strange a year from now to be getting ready for a season without Jeter. Of course, as an Indians fan, I won't be too disappointed to not see him batting against Tribe pitching after this season with his career .338 batting average against them.
Still, his accomplishments won't soon be forgotten, nor will his impact on the Yankees and Major League Baseball. Again, nothing that hasn't already been said, but he deserves every bit of it.
Craig Kimbrel signs 4-year/$42 million extension, plus option with Braves... Despite the fact that they haven't made many major acquisitions, the Braves have had one of the more productive offseasons of any team in the major leagues by locking up their young core of players long term, the latest being All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel.
Now I'm not a big fan of how closers are valued today. Let's be honest, there's only going to be one Mariano Riveraand likely only a select group of pitchers that will ever come anywhere close to his level of performance as a closer. To me, the majority of closers today are quality relievers that can also pitch well in the closer role.
Kimbrel, on the other hand, may be one of the former. After only four years in the majors, the right-hander has not only proven himself to be a successful closer, but also one of the most dominant pitchers in the league. I don't blame Atlanta for wanting to keep him around for a while.
I was hoping the Indians would consider re-signing Jimenez, but it now appears after his signing with the Orioles that they never had any real interest in re-signing him. I speculate as to whether the two parties may not have been on good terms when he left Cleveland for free agency. Like perhaps he initially wanted to come back to the Tribe, but they didn't want to give him the contract he may have been asking for at the time. But that's just pure speculation on my part.
As far as where the Indians go from here, I would have to think they are not out to make another move for a starter other than via minor league deal or a low-base contract for someone like Chris Capuano. They have been linked toErvin Santana, but given the contract that Jimenez has received, it would be hard to imagine Santana not getting a similar deal, which likely won't come from the Tribe.
I will say this, though, keep an eye on three pitchers this spring by the names of Shaun Marcum, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. Each have their own hurdles to clear, as I've discussed in this feature before, but between them, I believe there's a more than decent chance of one of them stepping up and surpassing expectations.
Just another of the many things that I am looking forward to watching play out in spring training.
Follow me on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake for all the latest Cleveland Indians news and baseball chat.
You can go with the prevailing & overriding thought process:
... when you think you have enough pitching, go get some more..
I agree with this...but really we need two of them to step up and surpass expectations.
Last year we needed Kazmir to step up...but without Kluber also doing it we aren't even close to a playoff team. I mean sure there's a chance the foursome of Masterson, Kluber, Salazar, and McAllister stay healthy all year....but let's be real, it's Cleveland so nothing goes according to plan.
I do feel pretty confident one of Macrum, Carrasco, and Bauer can step up...but can two? That I'm not as confident on...which is why I would still like to add a established/healthy starter.