The Indians had a very uneventful offseason in terms of impact moves as the team's rebuilding phase appears to be in full effect. They decided to bring Grady Sizemore back on an incentive-laden deal and added some depth to the starting rotation by acquiring Derek Lowe from the Braves and Kevin Slowey from the Twins but that troika of moves are the only ones that figure to have any meaningful impact on the major league roster. Perhaps the biggest news of the offseason was the discovery that the player formerly known as Fausto Carmona was discovered to actually be 31-year-old Roberto Hernandez Heredia. We'll delve into his situation a little later on in the preview and how it might impact the Indians' rotation plans for 2012.
Acquired Derek Lowe from the Braves and Kevin Slowey from the Rockies. Placed "Fausto Carmona" on the restricted list.
Lowe was already expected to grab a rotation spot this spring, particularly with Carlos Carassco sidelined for the season following elbow surgery, but the uncertainty of Carmona's situation could open up a spot for Slowey. Lowe's made 32 or more starts a season dating back to 2002 and the Indians will count on him to do so again. He's a decent bet to improve on last year's numbers (9-17, 5.05 ERA) but the Indians' infield defense won't do him any favors so don't expect a huge rebound.
Slowey will hope to put last year's injury-filled season with the Twins behind him and his flyball tendencies will certainly play better in Cleveland than they would have with the Rockies. He's flashed enough command and strikeout rates in the past to make it a worthwhile gamble for the Indians but his eventual role with the Indians will hinge on the eventual outcome of the Fausto Carmona situation.
The Indians have placed Carmona (Roberto Hernandez Heredia) on the restricted list so they don't have to pay him until the situation resolves itself but still remain hopeful that it'll get resolved at some point during spring training. He's been trending downward in recent seasons to begin with and adding three years to his age certainly won't help reverse the trend. He was a marginal gamble in deep formats to begin with and his uncertain situation certainly clouds his future.
Acquired OF Aaron Cunningham from the Padres. Signed OF Felix Pie, OF Fred Lewis and OF Ryan Spilbourghs to minor league contracts with an invite to spring training. Acquired 1B Russ Canzler from Tampa Bay.
It's no secret that the Indians are frustrated with the lack of development shown by Matt LaPorta at the plate and they've kicked plenty of tires this offseason in an effort to upgrade at that position. It's also no secret that the team is also looking to add a right-handed bat to a lineup that leaves heavily to the left side. Add to the fact that the team's projected starting outfield (Michael Brantley, Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo) missed 193 days between seven stints on the disabled list last year and you can see the reasoning behind the glut of non-roster invitees listed above.
Pie and Lewis both hit from the left side of the plate so they're unlikely to carve out much of a role outside of an injury to one of the regular starters. Spilbourghs hasn't hit much outside of Coors (.239/.313/.366 for his career) but hits southpaws well enough (.273/.357/.443) to at least warrant some consideration for a reserve role this spring. Cunningham has never been able to put the pieces together at the big league level despite some decent numbers in the minors but perhaps a change of scenery will do him some good.
By far the most interesting name among the lot is Russ Canzler, who was DFA'ed by the Rays after they signed Carlos Pena. He's coming off a nice season at Triple-A (.314/.401/.530 with 18 homers) though he did strikeout in over 23 percent of his plate appearances. He can handle both infield corners and both outfield corners, but Casey Kotchman figures to take over the majority of time at first base. Canzler figures to get a serious look at earning a bench spot this spring. He does have minor league options remaining whereas Cunningham and Duncan do not which will put him at a small disadvantage as the roster crunch finalizes.
Traded Luis Valbuena to Toronto. Signed 2B Argenis Reyes, 2B Jose Lopez, 2B Gregorio Petit and SS Chin-lung Hu to minor league contracts with an invite to spring training.
Valbuena never lived up to expectations and the Indians are not hurting for a utility infielder with Jason Donald, Jack Hannahan and Cord Phelps around. These will help fill the organizational gaps but won't impact the big league club.
Lost Josh Judy on waivers. Signed Robinson Tejeda, Chris Seddon, Chris Ray, Willy Lebron, Jeremy Accardo, Jose De La Torre and Dan Wheeler to minor league contracts with invites to spring training.
The Indians don't have much of a need for bullpen arms but some of the names above could factor into the mix for the final spot if the team wants one of their younger arms to get more consistent work at Triple-A.
Signed Michael Hernandez and Matt Pagnozzi to minor league contracts with invites to spring training.
Carlos Santana and Lou Marson are expected to handle the catching duties but Santana could see more time at first base, particular when Casey Kotchman sits if he continues to struggle against left-handed pitching. Hernandez and Pagnozzi give them some organizational depth but nothing more.
Signed Andy LaRoche and Ryan Rohlinger to minor league contracts with invites to spring training.
Jack Hannahan and Lonnie Chisenhall will handle the third base duties for the Indians with LaRoche needing to beat out the incumbent Jason Donald for a utility spot.
Lost Kosuke Fukodome, Chad Durbin and Jim Thome to free agency. Lost Mitch Talbot to the Japanese League.
Travis Hafner's contract never gave the team a chance at keeping Thome. The others won't be missed by the rebuilding Indians.
Projected Lineup (vs. RH/LH)
1. Grady Sizemore, CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
4. Carlos Santana, C
5. Travis Hafner, DH
6. Casey Kotchman/Shelley Duncan, 1B
7. Michael Brantley, LF
8. Jack Hannahan/Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
9. Jason Kipnis, 2B
As noted earlier, the Indians have a very left-handed heavy lineup assuming everyone stays healthy. The team could also turn the leadoff spot over to Michael Brantley if they feel like Sizemore's days as a leadoff hitter are behind him. Expect Shelley Duncan to work his way into the lineup against southpaws with Casey Kotchman playing regularly against righties.
1. Justin Masterson
2. Ubaldo Jimenez
3. Josh Tomlin
4. Derek Lowe
5. Kevin Slowey
Fausto Carmona's situation obviously muddies the picture a bit as he'll likely be given a spot if and when he returns despite a pretty ugly set of downward trends lately. Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Scott Barnes and Zach McAllister will also compete with Slowey for the fifth spot if Carmona doesn't enter into the picture.
Closer: Chris Perez
Perez is coming off a 36-save season despite a less than stellar strikeout rate (5.88 K/9IP) and somewhat shaky control (3.92 BB/9IP) and does have a flame-throwing setup man in Vinnie Pestano ready to step in but it's hard to imagine the Indians turning away from Perez barring an injury. Perez is a likely trade target at the deadline however.
Notes of import, fantasy and otherwise
What will the outcome of the Fausto Carmona situation be?
The biggest story for the Indians this spring will center around Carmona's situation after his arrest this winter for falsifying his identity. If he's not cleared to return to the United States or has to report late it obviously opens up a spot at the backend of the rotation for someone like Kevin Slowey.
What has happened to Matt LaPorta?
The Indians signed Casey Kotchman to handle the majority of starts at first base, and LaPorta's time in Cleveland could be nearing an end. The Indians have a couple of other in-house options (Carlos Santana, Shelley Duncan) to share time at first with Kotchman if LaPorta continues to disappoint so he'll need to impress this spring if he wants to make the Opening Day roster.
Are Lonnie Chinsehall and Jason Kipnis here to stay?
Kipnis impressed more down the stretch and has virtually no in-house threats to take away his playing time so he'd have to completely fall on his face this spring in order to not break camp with the team. He's got above-average power potential at second base. Chisenhall had his share of struggles at the plate and didn't make the necessary adjustments as the season wore on and has Jack Hannahan to contend with for playing time so his path to a full-time job is considerably more cloudy than Kipnis' is.
Cleveland figures to have another strong bullpen with Chris Perez getting excellent setup work out of Vinnie Pestano and Tony Sipp. Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana should anchor the middle of the
An outfield of Michael Brantley, Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo could be a real liability offensively if Sizemore's decline continues and Brantley fails to progress. A lack of power from the corner infield and outfield bats will puts lots of pressure on Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana to give the team some offensive firepower.
Rising: Jason Kipnis - Kipnis isn't an elite prospect given his advanced age but hit his way into the Indians' plans last season with a strong start (.280/.362/.484 with 12 homers) as a 24-year-old at Triple-A Columbus. He hasn't stumbled in any of his minor league stops since being drafted out of Arizona State and continued the trend with a fine debut for the Indians, hitting .272 with nine doubles and seven homers in 36 games after a July callup. He showed enough improvement at second base defensively to remain at the keystone and figures to offer above average power at the position. He'll be Cleveland's everyday second baseman entering the season and should be a threat for double-digit homers and steals in his first full big league campaign.
Falling: Asdrubal Cabrera - It's hard to determine if Cabrera's breakout season (.273 average, 25 homers, 92 RBI and 17 steaks) represents a step forward for the 25-year-old or whether it was a one-year fluke. He really struggled in the second half (.244/.310/.419 though it should be noted that he was still hitting for power despite the downtick in batting average), perhaps due to a litany of nagging injuries to his ankle, knee, back and wrist and while his command of the strike zone (44:119 BB:K) is solid it certainly doesn't represent a change in approach at the plate that would support his huge power increase. He had never hit more than six homers in a season prior to last year's outburst so one has to wonder if he'll be able to approach the 25-homer mark again. He'll be back as Cleveland's starting shortstop but a repeat performance seems unlikely despite entering his age-26 season.
Sleeper: Shelley Duncan - Duncan spent most of his time getting shuttled back between Triple-A Columbus and the Indians before getting regular playing time in September where he made the most of his chances, belting seven homers in September and October. The continuing struggles of Matt LaPorta have certainly opened the door for Duncan and there's some cheap power upside to be had here if he can work his way into the lineup more often. Right now, he's ticketed for a backup role to both Michael Brantley in left field and Casey Kotchman at first base.
Supersleeper: Vinnie Pestano - Pestano quietly emerged as Cleveland's top setup man to Chris Perez as the season wore on and would likely step into Perez's shoes in the event of an injury to the team's closer. He absolutely chewed up right-handed batters (.115/.218/.192 with 70 strikeouts in 147 plate appearances) and handled lefties well enough en route to a very fine season including a 12.19 K/9IP in 67 appearances out of the bullpen. Perez is beginning to get expensive due to his arbitration status and might make a very attractive trade target at the deadline to a contender which would seemingly vault Pestano to the closer role. He's got enough value as a staff filler even in his setup role to warrant consideration in deeper formats on draft day and could turn into a very nice lottery ticket if things break right.
Chun Hsiu Chen - Chen's bat is coming around in a big way after a few quiet seasons in the minors, and he hit .262 with 24 doubles and 16 homers as a 22-year old at Double-A Akron. He needs to command the strike zone better (43:122 BB:K in 467 plate appearances) but that's not entirely unexpected as he's still pretty raw after signing as a free agent from Taiwan back in 2007. He's still a work in progress behind the plate defensively and would be best served with another year at Double-A to work out the kinks in his game. The Indians don't have many catching prospects in their system, but Carlos Santana's presence should afford Chen extra time. The Indians will likely give Chen every chance to succeed as a catcher, and he's worth keeping an eye on again this season.
Nick Hagadone - The 6-foot-5 power lefty finally put his control issues behind him, as he ironed out his mechanics and put together a fine season of relief between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus, allowing just 56 hits and 22 walks, while fanning 77 in 71 innings, after a disastrous 2010 season. The move to the bullpen is likely permanent and could make Rafael Perez trade bait as the Indians look to fill needs elsewhere on their roster. He'll compete for a spot in the bullpen this spring, but the Indians might decide to send him to Triple-A for regular work if they're unable to move Perez during the offseason.
Francisco Lindor - The Indians selected Lindor with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft, and he was limited to just five games in the New York-Penn League as a 17-year-old last summer. Despite his age, Lindor already ranks as the top prospect in Cleveland's system. The switch-hitting shortstop should be a steady contact hitter and eventually develop some pop to go along with some speed potential.
Zach McAllister - McAllister made a few spot starts for the Indians, but spent the bulk of the season at Triple-A Columbus, going 12-3 with a 3.32 ERA, 1.203 WHIP and a 128:31 K:BB ratio in 25 starts. In addition to increasing his strikeout rate at Triple-A (7.47 K/9IP), McAllister's walk rate (1.81 BB/9IP) was the lowest he's turned in since making the leap to Double-A with the Yankees in 2009. Just 24, he'll be among the candidates considered for the Cleveland rotation if injuries create an opportunity at some point this season but his stuff doesn't project to anything more than a fifth starter.
Nick Weglarz - Weglarz once again had a season derailed by injuries as a torn meniscus in March kept him sidelined until June. He struggled upon his return, hitting .179 and slugging just .306 in 172 plate appearances at Double-A Akron. The excellent batting eye remains but his complete lack of power has to be of some concern. He'll look to get things back on track again this year and figures to see some action at Triple-A, but needs at-bats under his belt if he's going to have any chance at turning his raw talent and power into a meaningful career.