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2011 Indians Preview: Another Rebuilding Year

Darin Brown

Darin Brown

Darin Brown writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Another Rebuilding Year

The Indians had a quiet offseason, the first for new general manager Chris Antonetti, and will need a number of things to break right if they have any thoughts of contending in the AL Central. They'll need some young bats take a step forward, get some key players back to full health and have some of the young arms prove that the gains made in the second half weren't a fluke.

Offseason moves

Activated Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana from the 60-day DL.

The Indians had a quiet offseason but getting Sizemore and Santana back would have been significant even in an active offseason. Santana is expected to be ready to roll once exhibition play starts following knee surgery but the Indians are expected to proceed with caution with Sizemore. Sizemore's made steady progress in his offseason rehab program but still might not be ready when the season starts.

Lost Carlos Rivero on a waiver claim by the Phillies.

Rivero has another disappointing season at Double-A Akron so perhaps an organizational change will help kick start what's left of his career.

Signed Anthony Reyes to a minor league contract.

Reyes is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery but could impact the rotation by the middle of the season or sooner if he can get back on the mound.

Signed Jack Hannahan and SS Adam Everett to minor league contracts.

Hannahan and Everett both come with strong defensive reputations but neither offer enough offensively to warrant consideration for everyday roles. Both will compete for a utility role with the Indians.

Signed Austin Kearns to a one-year, $1.3 million contract.

Kearns could see time as a reserve corner outfielder or DH against southpaws depending on the health and effectiveness of Michael Brantley and Travis Hafner.

Signed Travis Buck to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Buck will have a hard time earning a reserve spot with the Indians as he'll likely need to beat out Trevor Crowe for a roster spot but gives the team a veteran bat for organizational depth at Triple-A.

Signed Paul Phillips and Luke Carlin to minor-league contracts with an invitation to spring training.

The Indians are expected to go with Lou Marson as the backup to Carlos Santana so Phillips and Carlin will give the team some organizational depth at Triple-A.

Outrighted Wes Hodges, Jordan Brown and Chad Huffman to Triple-A Columbus.

Hodges and Brown haven't lived up to their expectations but both will compete for roster spots this spring with Brown possibly earning a spot as Matt LaPorta's backup at first base. Huffman came over to the Indians in a September waiver claim and is tickted for Triple-A.

Outrighted Hector Ambriz to Triple-A Columbus.

Ambriz underwent Tommy John surgery in September and will be sidelined for most, if not all, of the 2011 season.

Acquired Joe Martinez in a trade from Pittsburgh.

Martinez saw some time with both the Giants and Pirates last season but faces an uphill battle for landing a bullpen spot with the Indians.

Invited Justin Germano and Doug Mathis to spring training.

Germano has a better chance than Mathis to land a bullpen spot this spring but neither will see enough work to warrant fantasy consideration in most formats.

Lost Chris Gimenez to the Mariners.

Gimenez was designated for assignment and subsequently signed a minor-league deal with the Mariners. He's more versatile than your typical backup catcher, seeing time at first base and left field occasionally in his time with the Indians.

Lost Drew Sutton to Boston.

Sutton didn't spend much time with the Indians after coming over to the team in a waiver claim from the Reds. Sutton could compete for a bench spot for the Red Sox but is likely headed to the minors to start the season.

Lost Andy Marte to the Pirates.

And so it ends. Marte never has lived up to expectations but perhaps a fresh start in a new organization will help resurrect his career.

Signed Orlando Cabrera to a one-year deal.

Cabrera spent way too much of the 2010 season batting either leadoff or second for the Reds, despite an OBP that was below .300 most of the season. While he had a few clutch hits, Cabrera regularly set up Joey Votto with too many nobody-on, two-out situations in the first inning. He'll take over the starting second base duties for the Tribe, presumably, but he probably will not bat towards the top of the order.

Projected Lineup/Rotation:

Lineup (vs RH/LH)

1. Michael Brantley LF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera SS
3. Grady Sizemore CF
4. Shin-Soo Choo RF
5. Carlos Santana C
6. Travis Hafner DH / Austin Kearns DH
7. Matt LaPorta 1B
8. Orlando Cabrera / Jason Donald 2B
9. Jayson Nix / Jason Donald 3B

A healthy (and effective) Grady Sizemore would give the Indians a contender-worthy middle of the lineup but the Indians aren't going to force him back if he's not fully recovered from microfracture surgery on his left knee. The Indians seem content to let Michael Brantley sink-or-swim against southpaws so the only nightly lineup decisions figure to hinge on the health of Travis Hafner and the eventual outcome of the playing time battles at second and third base. The Indians really need Matt LaPorta to develop into the middle-of-the-order power bat they thought they were getting from the Brewers to give the lineup some much needed power from the right side.

Rotation:

1. Fausto Carmona
2. Justin Masterson
3. Mitch Talbot
4. Carlos Carrasco
5. Jeanmar Gomez/Josh Tomlin/David Huff/Anthony Reyes

The Indians staff posted the fourth best ERA (3.89) in the American League in the second half of the season so there's certainly some upside here. Fausto Carmona and Justin Masterson will head up the rotation with Mitch Talbot and Carlos Carrasco needing to pitch their ways out of the rotation this spring. We'll handicap the fifth spot later in the article but none of the options are particularly attractive.

CL: Chris Perez

Perez got a brief trial to close out games when Kerry Wood was slowed out of spring training and inherited the role on a full-time basis following Wood's trade to New York. He dominated in the season's second half (16 saves, 0.63 ERA, 0.872 WHIP, 32 Ks in 28.2 IP), allowing just two runs after June 28. There's very little reason to not expect a 30-save season from Perez in 2011.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:

1. Are Carlos Santana and Grady Sizemore expected to be healthy to start the season?

All indications have Santana recovering nicely from knee surgery and he should be on schedule when pitchers and catchers report. Look for the Indians to give him some time at first base like they used to do with Victor Martinez in an effort to keep his bat in the lineup while still giving him a break from the catching duties.

Sizemore is progressing well in his rehab but the microfracture surgery is considerably more difficult to recover from than Santana's surgery and does cast a shadow on Sizemore's long-term outlook. Sizemore was a dominant force in 5x5 leagues in his prime and he's still just 28 years old so there's room for a rebound if he can get back to full health. The Indians would rather have him get off to delayed start and be completely healthy upon his return so don't be alarmed if he's moved along slowly this spring as long as the health reports are encouraging.

2. Can the Indians score enough runs to compete in the AL Central?

Getting Santana and Sizemore back would certainly help but only the Orioles and Mariners scored fewer runs in the AL than the Indians did last year. They'll need both Brantley and Cabrera to take another step forward at the top of the lineup and have LaPorta and Hafner provide some punch in the bottom half as they'll be giving away a bunch of runs at second and third base unless Jason Kipnis earns a spot this spring.

3. Who wins the fifth starter spot?

As noted above the fifth starter battle figures to come down to a battle between Jenmar Gomez, Josh Tomlin and David Huff with Anthony Reyes being a possibility if he can get back to full health.

Strengths: Sizemore/Choo/Santana could give the Indians a potent middle of the order, Chris Perez gives the team a solid closer.

Weaknesses: This team figures to struggle to score runs and the starting rotation could be inconsistent

Rising: Carlos Santana - It doesn't take a genius to realize Santana's potential as he bludgeoned his way to a promotion in June, posting a 1.045 OPS at Triple-A. He was more than holding his own at the time of his knee injury, hitting .260 with six homers and 37 walks in 150 at-bats for the Indians, so his bat appears to be big-league caliber immediately. He'll give you plus-power and an excellent OBP from the catching position.

Falling: Luis Valbuena - Valbuena burst onto the scene with a 10-homer campaign in 2009 but struggled mightily last season, eventually losing his starting job. The Indians have large holes at both second and third base but Valbuena is now seen as more of a utility player rather than a candidate to grab either starting job. He doesn't offer enough speed or power to warrant much of a look in most formats even if he were to land a starting role.

Sleeper: Austin Kearns - Kearns had a serviceable year (.272/8/42) for the Indians before getting traded to New York and finds himself back in Cleveland after inking a one-year deal in the offseason. Shin-Soo Choo is going to be an everyday fixture in the lineup but Kearns could spell Michael Brantley against southpaws or see regular at-bats if Grady Sizemore is slow to recover from microfracture knee surgery. Travis Hafner will likely need regular days off as well so it's not hard to envision Kearns seeing regular action against southpaws even when everyone is fully healthy. He could be a source of some cheap power in deeper formats.  

Super Sleeper: Jason Kipnis - Kipnis figures to get an extended look this spring to see if he's ready to make the jump from Double-A to the majors after just one full season in the minors. He showed enough defensively at second base in the Arizona Fall League to get a look this spring. The second base job is very much up for grabs (though the signing of O-Cab closes that quite a bit, at least initially) and Kipnis could surprise this spring. He'll provide above average power from the keystone once established.

Roster

Here's the rundown of players not mentioned above:

Michael Brantley - Brantley got jerked around between Triple-A and the majors in the first half but did hit .284 with 10 steals after his final promotion from Triple-A after a dismal showing (.118 average) in the season's first half thanks to a near 200-point jump in his batting average on balls in play. He's the Indians' everyday left fielder and likely leadoff hitter heading into spring training and he offers you speed on the basepaths, but limited power.  

Asdrubal Cabrera - Cabrera's season was derailed by a broken forearm in mid-May that kept him sidelined until late July as he failed to follow up on his breakout season (.308 average, 68 RBI, 17 steals) of 2009. He no longer offers second-base eligibility as he's moved over to shortstop on a full-time basis now, but he should easily improve over last year's line now that he's healthy as he anchors a spot in the top third of the Indians lineup.  

Fausto Carmona - If there was a silver lining to what was a tough season on the shores of Lake Erie it was the bounce back of Fausto Carmona after two disastrous seasons. Carmona's K/9IP (5.3) picked up as the season went along but he's still awfully reliant on luck and the defense behind him. He'll be back as the team's ace and while he may never recapture the magic of 2007, he's light years ahead of where he was 12 months ago.  

Carlos Carrasco - Carrasco caught fire in the second half at Triple-A Columbus and earned himself a promotion to the Indians in September. He pitched well enough (2-2, 3.83 ERA, 1.366 WHIP in seven starts) to all but guarantee a spot in the starting rotation this year and enters the season as the team's likely No. 4 starter. There's more pedigree here than you might think, as Carrasco was once regarded as the top prospect in the Phillies farm system before the Indians acquired him in the Cliff Lee deal in July 2009. With an ability to induce groundballs (2.27 G/F) and an ample 7.66 K/9IP mark, he could surprise as the rebuilding efforts in Cleveland continue.  

Shin-Soo Choo - Choo set career highs in homers (22), RBI (90) and steals (22) last year, his second straight 20-20 campaign. He even earned a military exemption by winning gold for South Korea in the Asian Games this winter, eliminating the possibility of losing some of his peak years to military obligations back home. He'll anchor the middle of the Tribe lineup again as its everyday right fielder. Expect similar numbers from him at age 28 as the Indians continue their rebuilding efforts around him.  

Trevor Crowe - Crowe hit just .251/.302/.333 in 122 games for the Indians in an expanded role following the injury to Grady Sizemore but did manage to swipe 20 bases so it wasn't a total loss. He'll be back in a reserve outfielder role.  

Jason Donald - Donald enters the season with the inside track on the starting second base job and could give you some speed and a little pop from the keystone, but has two prospects in Jason Kipnis and Cord Phelps zeroing in on big league playing time in the Indians system so his shelf life could be limited.  

Jeanmar Gomez - Gomez struggled when pressed into duty (4-5, 4.68 ERA, 1.647 WHIP in 11 starts for Cleveland) after some struggles at Triple-A Columbus (5.18 ERA, 1.473 WHIP in 20 starts). He's certainly better suited for a repeat year at Triple-A, but figures to battle Josh Tomlin and David Huff for a spot at the end of the Cleveland rotation. Expect some bumps along the way.  

Travis Hafner - Hafner's changed his swing to keep himself in the lineup four to five times per week but it's come at the expense of his power. He did slug .523 in the second half, but most of the gains came thanks to a .404 batting average on balls in play. Sure, there's still a chance for a small rebound at age 33 but don't pin your hopes on it. He'll be back as the team's primary DH when health allows.  

David Huff - Huff got his brains beat in again at the big league level, posting a 6.21 ERA and a 1.695 WHIP in 15 nightmarish starts for the Indians. He simply doesn't miss enough bats to have much success in the majors unless his command and control are near perfect. He's been bypassed by some other arms in the Cleveland system and will need to have an excellent spring to crack the starting rotation. 

Justin Germano - Germano returned to the States after a season in Japan and might have done enough to stick around a big league bullpen until his arbitration eligibility kicks in. He's not going to see enough high-leverage innings to make a fantasy impact though, so he's much more valuable to his major league team than to rotisserie players.

Aaron Laffey - Laffey dealt with some midseason shoulder fatigue while bouncing between the majors and Triple-A which didn't help but it's tough to ignore the disappointing overall numbers. He just doesn't miss enough bats (4.4 K/9IP in his major league career) to have much success as a starter so he'll likely be back as the team's long reliever out of the bullpen.  

Matt LaPorta - LaPorta got off to a slow start and was demoted to Triple-A before the trade of Russell Branyan opened up regular playing time. His overall numbers weren't pretty and he slumped badly in the season's last two months. He'll be given every chance to fulfill the promise he displayed as a minor leaguer as Cleveland's regular first baseman to open 2011.  

Jensen Lewis - Lewis finally solved his long ball woes, allowing just one in 36.1 innings for the Indians, and saw his ERA drop to 2.97 as a result. He'll give the Indians some decent innings out of the bullpen but be wary of an ERA jump if the gopheritis resurfaces again. 

Lou Marson - Marson draws a fair amount of walks but doesn't hit for average or power. If Santana is slow to recover from knee surgery, Marson would likely start the season as the team's catcher. Even with that opportunity, there's nothing here to get excited about.  

Justin Masterson - Masterson had another disappointing season for the Tribe even though his control improved a bit (3.7 BB/9IP). It's still a concern and while the strikeout total is nice it's tough to swallow the WHIP and ERA damage. He did get better as the season wore on (1.320 WHIP, 3.84 ERA in the second half) and was dominant in seven September appearances (2.14 ERA, 0.952 WHIP, 19:2 K:BB in 21 innings as the team limited his workload) and he'll be back as the team's No. 2 starter.  

Jayson Nix - Nix showed some pop (13 homers in 78 games) for Cleveland after joining the team midseason despite a .234 batting average. He's been working out as a third baseman this winter and has the inside track on the starting job as spring training opens. He might provide cheap power in a full-time role, but Nix figures to hurt your batting average as he's never been a great contributor in that department throughout his professional career and is nothing more than a stopgap until Lonnie Chisenhall is ready.

Rafael Perez - Perez rebounded a bit from some early-season struggles but it was still his second straight disappointing season (1.590 WHIP, 5.3 K/9IP) despite a 6-1 record and a 3.25 ERA. The precipitous drop in his strikeout rate (10.9, 9.2, 10.1, 6.0, 5.3 the last five years) has to be cause for major concern as he continues to struggle to find the form he flashed from 2006-2008. He could surprise and be a nice endgame staff filler, but don't be afraid to cut bait early if he comes out of the gate struggling again.  

Vinnie Pestano - Pestano earned a September callup after a dominant season at Triple-A (46.1 IP, 35 hits, 59:14 K:BB). His three-quarters delivery and mid-90s velocity gets groundballs by the bushel, but he'll need to beat out some established arms to earn a spot in the Cleveland bullpen.  

Tony Sipp - Sipp's overall numbers last season were skewed by a couple of horrific appearances (nine earned runs in one inning) but he's working his way into a setup role from the left side, especially if Rafael Perez continues to struggle. Sipp is not going to wrestle the closer job away from Chris Perez, but could make for a nice staff filler in deeper formats in leagues that count strikeouts.  

Joseph Smith - Smith got off to a slow start last season thanks to a knee injury but got back on track, posting a 3.83 ERA and a 1.350 WHIP in 53 appearances out of the Cleveland bullpen. He eats up righties, but has enough trouble against lefties (.925 OPS in his career) to limit his usage and value. He'll be back in a non-closing role for the Indians again this year.  

Mitch Talbot - Talbot had mixed results with Cleveland (10-13, 4.41 ERA, 1.494 WHIP) after earing a rotation spot in the spring. He enters the season as the team's No. 3 starter but walks too many and doesn't miss enough bats to offer much upside.  

Josh Tomlin - Tomlin made a dozen serviceable starts for the Indians after a midseason callup but continued to struggle with the long ball, allowing 10 homers in just 73 innings. It's been an issue in his minor league career as well, and his low strikeout rate (5.3 K/9IP) means a lot of balls are being put in play against him. He'll battle for a rotation spot again this spring.  

Top Prospects

Lonnie Chisenhall - Chisenhall rebounded nicely after being slowed by a shoulder injury, hitting .278/.351/.450 at Double-A with 17 homers. He's never had that jaw-dropping season that screams stud in the making but he'll give you decent power and batting average once he arrives. He'll need a heck of a spring to start the season with the Tribe but should be up by midseason if he handles the transition to Triple-A smoothly.

Jason Kipnis - see above.

Drew Pomeranz -  The Indians selected Pomeranz fifth overall in the 2010 amateur draft, but he didn't sign until the August deadline and was unable to make a professional debut last season. He already has two very good offerings in a low-90s fastball and a knuckle-curve. His control is still a work in progress, but he has the ability to miss a lot of bats and develop into a potential No. 1 or No. 2 starter if he's able to polish up a third offering -- likely a changeup -- in his arsenal. Pomeranz may pitch as high as Double-A this season, and with reasonable progression could reach the Indians' rotation at some point in 2012.  

Alex White - White advanced to Double-A Akron in his full-season debut and did very well as a 21-year-old. He features a nice sinking fastball and a split-finger but needs to add a third pitch to his arsenal. If he can't develop an offspeed pitch he could always be groomed as a future closer, but for now the Indians are hopeful he'll be able to handle starting duties with the addition of a third pitch. He could struggle at Triple-A with just a two-pitch arsenal so developing that third pitch is the key to his development. He'll spend most of the year at Triple-A Columbus, but may get a taste of Cleveland at some point after the All-Star break.

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