Cleveland Indians: The Offseason – Updated 12/18

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Remembering the miracle that was the final ten games of the Indians regular season in 2013 is a spectacular memory. All of these moments were incredible:

"IT'S MARDI GRAS IN SEPTEMBER!" - Tom Hamilton

“IT’S MARDI GRAS IN SEPTEMBER!” – Tom Hamilton

Also, remember that Justin Masterson, the team’s ace, was injured and had to come out of the bullpen during the final week just to see if he can pitch. It was one heck of a wild ride, that unfortunately ended with just one game in the playoffs. But you’ll never take away that feeling you get when watching Giambi’s game winning home run, or the team celebrating after their 10th straight win just to get in the playoffs. After every game, there was a rush of elation with a sigh of relief.

So how do you build off of such a crazy season? Well, ideally, you try to keep what got you there. Fortunately, that’s possible since manager Terry Francona isn’t going anywhere. Beyond that, it’s just finding the right pieces to fit where you were missing help. Easier said than done for a team on a tight budget, but possible.

This offseason, we have yet to see a big move like bringing in Francona, Nick Swisher or Michael Bourn, and you won’t. The money just isn’t there. What you’ll see are buy-low deals on guys coming off injuries or bad seasons. Signing David Murphy is a perfect example of this. If you haven’t read the story of how the news of Murphy signing with Cleveland was broke, do it. Great stuff.

Back on point, Murphy’s 2013 campaign was a rough one. He hit only .220, with a .656 OPS in 142 games. But in 2012, his average was .307 with an .859 OPS in 147 games. The Indians are certainly hoping he gets back to 2012 form, but he’ll likely fall somewhere in the middle. Still, even those numbers would be an improvement over Drew Stubbs, the right fielder he’s replacing and now a highly likely trade candidate. The Indians need more consistency in their lineup. Many are clamoring for a big power bat, but those cost a lot of cash, so good luck there. That chance in the clean-up spot will still be given to Carlos Santana and Swisher. Santana, after moving out of the everyday Catcher role, improved with his bat but still needs to get his average higher by cutting down on strikeouts. Swisher just flat-out slumped at the plate last season, and a bounce back season is fully expected.

Asdrubal Cabrera is also still on the block, but it seems unlikely that anyone will deal for him before the 2014 season starts, so that potential trade partners can see if he’s worth giving up assets for. Cabrera was maddening to watch last year, as it felt every time he came to the plate with runners in scoring position, he’d get the third out. But if no one was on, it’s time for a two bagger! That’s the fan in me speaking, of course, but it’s rough watching a guy make a big play at short, then making an awful one not long after. I’m hoping the Indians signing David Adams to help the infield is a sign of Cabrera’s potential trade, as that would push Mike Aviles into a starting role, costing the Indians a utility infielder, which is exactly what Adams can be.

Next season's goal: Beat the Tigers.

Next season’s goal: Beat the Tigers.

But so far, Murphy is the lone major signing, and really the team doesn’t need to sign more bats. Though they did retain Giambi (Player coach for the win) so that’s pretty big news. Losing Joe Smith out of the bullpen is going to hurt more than anything else, as he was the team’s best bullpen option along with Mike Rzepczynski (yes I had to look up how to spell that) and closer prospect Cody Allen. Starting Pitcher Scott Kazmir has already signed with the Oakland A’s to be closer to his fiancé, plus earning $22 million over two years helps, and Ubaldo Jimenez is also likely gone. But I urge caution on panicking over these two. Yes, they were a huge part of this team’s run, especially Jimenez when Masterson went down, but don’t forget that 2013 was a “prove it” season for them. Kazmir was signed cheap and was just trying to get back into the league following his brutal injury history, and Jimenez had struggled since 2010. Kazmir got his payday, so now it remains to be seen if he can pitch at last season’s level once more. Jimenez is demanding an even larger contract, and so far no one is willing to give it to him. If he gets out of the double digits, I could see Cleveland signing him at $8M per year, maybe $9M, but he’s looking for $15M for one good season out of the last three.

What Cleveland does have returning in the starting rotation is Masterson, the underrated Corey Kluber, phenom Danny Salazar, and Zach McAllister, who’s a great middle-of-the-rotation pitcher but dealt with injuries last year. You have four guys right there. It’s finding that fifth. It was thought that it could be former Brave Tim Hudson, but he went to the Bay Area as well with the Giants. There are trade options, but the Indians lack tradable prospects, at least ones worth giving up. So what do you do? Wait it out. See which guys get passed over, and pick them up cheap. Could be Jimenez. Could be someone else. You also have Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin as possibilities. Also, remember Vinnie Pestano and Nick Hagadone? Still with the team. Plus CC Lee spent some time in the majors, and he’s a strong prospect himself who did very well with the Clippers in Columbus.

If you said Trevor Bauer, you are forever banned from reading any article on this site. Forever.

So, with the field and batting lineup pretty much worked out, it’s all about adding arms right now, if the Indians are even that concerned. They need to, of course, but there’s no reason to overspend, or question the wisdom of Terry Francona. As of right now, every starting spot in the field is locked up, except for possibly third, because Santana wants some time on the field now that Yan Gomes is the main catcher and Swisher has first. Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley have yet to be mentioned in this article, but second base and left field are theirs, respectively. Also, don’t forget Michael Bourn dealt with nagging injuries as the leadoff hitter, so a better season from him is also possible. It’s all about the arms. You need a closer, you need set-up guys, you need another starter, and yet, it’s possible the answers are already on the roster.

As fans, it’s tough to know what the front office and coaches are thinking, but after a season like 2013, you have to trust them. Don’t panic, don’t overreact, and let them do their jobs. We know we need more pitching help, but again, this is a team on a tight budget. They’ve already proven they want to win, and last offseason went nicely, so in Francona we trust.

But, that won’t stop me from checking the rumor mill every day.

2014 can’t get here soon enough.

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Jason Giambi and Terry Francona changing Cleveland.

 

UPDATE 12/16: Cleveland is expected to sign RHP John Axford forr the bullpen. Axford won the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals last season after being traded by the Milwaukee Brewers. He struggled with the Brewers as a closer, but performed better with St. Louis, especially in the postseason. Don’t pencil him in as the closer just yet, but he’s definitely a solid addition to the ‘pen. This may be the last significant signing the Indians make, though one or two more arms could be in the works for cheap.

UPDATE 12/18: The Indians traded OF Drew Stubbs to the Colorado Rockies for LHP Josh Outman. (LINK) Stubbs became expendable with the signing of David Muphy, as that left Cleveland with five outfielders. A solid move for Cleveland, who  at worst gets a second lefty for the pen behind Mark Rzepczynski. The Tribe struggled to get out lefty hitters, and that’s exactly what Outman does. This also likely spells the end for Nick Hagadone in Cleveland.

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