Posted on March 3, 2011 at 1:01 PMTwo years ago, I started a series I called Playing Pepper, where I asked questions of bloggers of each major league team about the season to come. Not only was that informative and entertaining, it led to the spawning of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. With spring training coming up, it's time to get back into shape by again playing a little pepper.
Filed Under: Cleveland Indians
| Playing Pepper
Cleveland Indians (69-93, 25 GB and fourth in the AL Central)
For a while, the Indians were the laughing stock of baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates of their day. Then a new stadium and a great rebuilding plan put them into the World Series and on a path of regular success.
Lately, though, the Indians have slipped back down the path toward mediocrity. As talk of "Major League 3" gets bandied about, I talked to a couple of Cleveland bloggers about the state of Indians baseball.
After the jump, we talk about just how smooth Carlos Santana is.
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C70: What was your opinion of the Cleveland offseason?
TD: I think the Cleveland offseason was what it needed to be. They didn't give in to giving anyone more money than they deserved. They could have easily panicked with not having a set fifth start and gave Jeremy Bonderman a major league deal or Kevin Millwood $4-5 million he didn't deserve. They have a bad situation at third, needing someone to be a stop-gap but not having many options. Their solution was to get someone like Orlando Cabrera (on the cheap, by-the-by) who can not only be a regular starter at second, but also provide veteran leadership. It doesn't fill the hole at third for the time being, but it eliminates the potential one at second that opens up if the one at third continues to be a problem. I didn't think the Kearns signing was that necessary, but with Sizemore's rehab it certainly can't hurt to have someone back who likes the team and the city.
TS: Chris Antonetti has made it abundantly clear that the Indians will live or die in 2011 on the strengths of the prospects accumulated in the Sabathia/Lee/Martinez trades, so I didn't expect any significant free agent activity this offseason. Austin Kearns, Orlando Cabrera and, now, Chad Durbin were signed inexpensively and could bring more talent into the farm system as fodder for trade deadline deals, which is the correct approach to take at this stage.
The Indians were reportedly interested in low-cost, potentially high-upside players like Andy LaRoche and Lastings Milledge, both former prospects who might yet benefit from (another) change of scenery. But with Lonnie Chisenhall and Nick Weglarz ready for AAA, the Indians have no room for either to become Andy Marte v2.0.
C70: What kind of season do you expect out of Carlos Santana?
TD: It isn't fair, but I would expect him to put forth a season in where he is the second best offensive player. He hasn't had that much major league experience, but his bat is so advanced. He's such a patient hitter and looks so seasoned that Acta had no issues sticking him in the middle of the lineup right from the get-go. If he remains healthy all season, I would not only expect a fantastic year, but an incredible increase in Shin-Soo Choo's already stellar numbers. Choo won't be the only guy pitchers have to worry about anymore.
TS: Santana is an incredible talent, and early reports of his recovery have been encouraging, but my expectations for him are tempered by his pre-injury fade: From July 1 to August 2, he hit just .207/.367/.315. Asking him to be an impact bat while learning a new position may be a little much for a player in his first full MLB season. A full, healthy season with a batting line of .250/.350/.450 would be a tremendous start.
C70: Can Grady Sizemore reclaim his spot as an upper-level player?
TD: That's the question everyone is looking for an answer to. It would be easy to say that there is no answer to that question but really, in this case, that is the answer. Sizemore underwent microfracture procedure on his knee that not many baseball players have underwent. He really is a test-subject in terms to how successful this type of surgery is for a baseball player, especially one who plays center field and relies on baserunning as a major part of his offensive game. Last year, Sizemore looked, according to Mark Shapiro, better than he has ever looked during spring. Then towards the end he tweaked a few things and didn't hit a home run all year aside from in a game that got rained out. He's officially homerless since 2009. So, assuming everything else is fine and this knee surgery hasn't seriously impacted the way he plays the game, then yes, I believe Sizemore can come back and be an upper-level player. That's a lot to assume though.
TS: Sizemore's days as a 30/30 player are likely over, but if his knees allow him to remain in center, he should rebound enough to make him an above-average player at the position. A shift to left field might keep him on the field more but make his bat look ordinary by comparison.
C70: Is there an Indians prospect that will make a significant impact this season?
TD: The high-end prospects in this organization are all closing in on their major league debuts. In fact, I'd venture to guess Alex White, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, Nick Weglarz, and Nick Hagadone could all be in Cleveland by the end of 2012 with Drew Pomeranz in hot pursuit. This season though? Kipnis will probably not see Cleveland, even though he starts in Triple-A. The club wants him to get seasoned at the upper level some more. I do think we'll see all of Chisenhall, White, and Weglarz by the end of the year. Will any make a significant impact? I'm not sure, because the timetable is kind of blurred. Weglarz may not get a shot early because of the outfield options currently around, Chisenhall may be under the Santana plan, and White probably won't be the first guy up in the rotation. I think the one guy that could make a significant impact is utility guy Cord Phelps. The second baseman out of Stanford has a way of getting on base and plays a tough-defense, wherever he is. The Indians are grooming him as a utility player and I think he may be a guy they turn to at third if things go really south. He may also be squeezed out of Columbus just based off how many people need at-bats down there. I'd also look in the bullpen and pinpoint Vinnie Pestano and Josh Judy, both relievers could get a shot and make some headway.
TS: Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis should receive opportunities by June or July, when the results of the Orlando Cabrera and Jason Donald Experiments will be known, but neither is projected to be a superstar. Alex White could come quickly, as the Indians fifth-starter candidates are underwhelming. With a hot start at Columbus, a healthy Weglarz could force his way into the LF/1B picture.
C70: What is your prediction on Cleveland's record and divisional finish?
TD: Darn, the prediction question. I just hate giving a definitive thing because you just never know. Optimistic, best case-scenario finish is 3rd in the Central with something around a .500 record. Worst-case scenario, doom and gloom kind of look at it, dead-last with around the 95-losses the Royals had last year. I think this team has a lot of potential and with a lot of the pieces that ended last year coming back with some experience and battle wounds, I think it could be a better year than people think. That said they could also get injured in more than several ways and be absolutely crap yet again. The rotation has matured, the bullpen seems to have some stable pieces and if some people around Choo can just pick things up, they could do some damage.
TS: The Tribe won just 69 games last season, but likely played well enough to win one or two more. Given healthy seasons from Sizemore and Santana, continued excellence from the bullpen, and contributions from some of the Tribe's young talent, they could improve to 75-87. Good enough to stay ahead of the rebuilding Royals (for now), but not enough to escape another fourth-place finish.