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Playing Pepper 2012: Cleveland Indians

Posted on February 29, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Filed Under: Cleveland Indians | Playing Pepper
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad.  Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.

Cleveland Indians
80-82, second in the AL Central

Cleveland wasn't supposed to do much last year.  While the team had some interesting talent, they were still considered at least a couple of years from really contending for the divisional title.  Instead, the young Indians came out of the gate blazing hot and rode that wave to first place for most of the season before fading late and winding up 15 games behind Detroit.

The question then becomes, which is the team we'll see in 2012?  The hard-charging team that led the AL Central for a while or the fading team that's just not quite ready?

Thankfully, there are some great Cleveland bloggers that we can ask these sorts of questions.

Mike Brandyberry writes the wonderfully-named Did The Tribe Win Last Night, where you can find out, yes, if the Tribe won or lost.  You can also follow him on Twitter at didtribewin.

Nino Colla is the president of the BBA's Cleveland chapter and authors The Tribe Daily on a regular basis.  TheTribeDaily is also where you can find him on Twitter.

Keep reading to find out what Mike and Nino think of the 2012 Indians and all about that not-as-known-as-we-thought pitcher.

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C70: What was your opinion of the offseason?

DTW: If such a thing as "mixed disappointment" exists, that would be my opinion. The Indians made great strides in 2011 and contended into August before injuries and a hot Tigers team left them in the dust. I think fans knew they would stick with their young players in 2012, but felt Grady Sizemore would be elsewhere and the team would pursue a right handed bat. I feel like resigning Sizemore is a lukewarm move at best. He has been injury riddled for years, so to expect otherwise is a bit of a stretch. The organization made it clear at the end of the season that they were disappointed with Matt LaPorta at first base, but have yet to acquire anyone that can definitely take his job. I think the team has a lot of promise and potential, but the offseason left something to be desired. They are close and with some veteran leadership and stability, they could really contend. I just don't feel like those moves were made this winter.

TD: Just what I was expecting, if not a little more. The Derek Lowe move took everyone by surprise, but it was the first move of the offseson and he was had for a cheap prospect and with Atlanta taking on most of his salary. A lot of fans are bent-out-of-shape about Prince Fielder signing with the Tigers, but the Indians did try and aid their first base issue with Casey Kotchman, which if anything gives the Indians a stout defensive infield. That if anything is important with Lowe, Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. The most intriguing thing is perhaps the amount of veteran bullpen arms the team added on minor league deals: Dan Wheeler, Jeremy Accardo, Robinson Tejeda, and Chris Ray. If anything it reinforces an already bolstered pen that did lose some young guys (Josh Judy, Zach Putnam, Cory Burns) to fill other needs.

C70: While the Fausto Carmona flap made for good headlines, will it impact the Indians' season much?

DTW: I think it only impacts the Indians in the sense that their starting pitching depth is a little damaged. Carmona had a great 2007, but has been inconsistent since then. To expect him to regain his 2007 prowess is as naive as expecting 140 games from Sizemore. The only impact it has is that the Indians are now searching for a fifth starter and have to hope Derek Lowe can be consistent in the fourth spot. If Kevin Slowey is the pitcher he was prior to last season, know one will even remember Carmona's new name by Memorial Day. If anything, the Carmona fiasco could be a blessing in disguise because the team will most likely decline his option for 2013, since he is now a 31 year old pitcher with many question marks. If he misses this season, he certainly is not worth $9 million in 2013. It is time to end the Carmona/Hernandez era.

TD: It can... But no one knew what to expect from Fausto Carmona this season as is the case every season. It did force the Indians to trade Putnam for Kevin Slowey to fill that void and if the Indians do see someone go down in the rotation, it will force them to take more looks at David Huff and Jeanmar Gomez, but that is a likely scenario for any team. Carmona could have come out and had a good season, it really is difficult to tell. If I had to guess, Carmona does not pitch for the Indians in 2012. Maybe Roberto Heredia does though.

C70: Who are you most looking forward to watching this year?

DTW: I'm interested in watching several players this season. I'm really intrigued to see if Ubaldo Jimenez refinds his command and pitches like the player Colorado regarded so highly, and I want to see Alex White and Drew Pomeranz in the thin air. That trade was so un-Indian like, I think fans were immediately turned off by it. It isn't the Indians style to trade prospects, they usually horde them. Some emerge, others don't. I'd like to see Jimenez help this team and prove the trade valuable. 

Also, I'd like to see if Carlos Santana can really emerge into a quality middle of the order hitter. Last year, his batting average hung in the .220s most of the season. I don't care how many walks you draw, to be a quality middle of the order hitter, you have to hit for a higher average. I'd love to see him become a .270-type hitter. That would get him in the area of a .400 OBP and a feared hitter.

TD: The two kids, Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is really on a track for stardom as the fans love him, he has talent, and he plays hard. He could really make a name for himself in Cleveland and if he continues to improve (as he has done at every level) then he could be a real impact player for the team this year. Chisenhall's progression will be interesting to watch as he will likely platoon with Jack Hannahan, veteran third baseman with a great glove and a lot of fan support. Chisenhall and Hannahan could form a nice combo and hopefully "The Chiz" progresses enough defensively to where he can take over full-time by the end of the year.

C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season?

DTW: If we are considering Jason Kipnis a prospect still, then yes. If we are considering him developed, then the Indians' farm system is pretty dry at the top. Last season they had Lonnie Chisenhall, Kipnis, White and Pomeranz at the top of their prospect list. Two are gone and the other two are probably contributors. After those two players, Columbus is full of a lot of 4A-type players.

TD: I have an eye on two prospects: Nick Hagadone in the bullpen and Chun Chen. Hagadone could make an impact (with Putnam gone) and a spot potentially available. He's a starter turned reliever due to injuries and he has some great stuff. Chen is a catching prospect likely ticketed for Columbus and while he may not make an impact at the major league level, It will be interesting to see how the Indians move forward with him, Lou Marson, and Carlos Santana if they can't find decent production at first.

C70: Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited about for 2012?

DTW: I think the Indians are one of the most interesting teams in baseball this year because the range of possible win totals is probably about as wide as any team. If players like Santana and Kipnis develop, Asdrubal Cabrera has another season like last year, Shin-Soo Choo rebounds and the team has better health than last season, they could be a really good team that challenges the Tigers all the way to the end of the season. If players don't develop, if Jimenez doesn't rebound and the back end of the rotation struggles, they could finish fourth. In their worst nightmare, they could only win 72 games, in their wildest dreams they could win 92. Honestly, I think they win 87-89 games and push toward the playoffs all season, I'm just not sure if it is enough. 

I'm most excited to see Jason Kipnis play 140 games this season. He's produced at every level through the Indians' system and had success in a small opportunity last season. I think he can emerge to be a core player for years to come.

TD: Hopes are high that they can finish first, but it will certainly be tough to with the Tigers returning as division champs and just as good. The one thing about the Tigers though is that they do not have a great core of pitching if Verlander were to get hurt and it is also likely he doesn't repeat 2011. The likelihood of Jose Valverde saving every single game again is close to none and that defense with Fielder at first and Cabrera at third can cost as many runs as it will score offensively. That is just one part of the equation. I think the Tribe definitely has a edge on second place, but they'll need some more magic to get to first.

My thanks again to Mike and Nino for breaking down what promises to be a very interesting team going forward.  It's going to be tough for them to overtake Detroit, but that doesn't mean they can't stay in the race a lot of the year anyway!

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