IPI Roundtable: 2012 Indians and MLB predictions
April 5, 2012
Today we post part two of our IPI Roundtable. Yesterday the focus was on the minor leagues, and today we pooled together 12 writers on the site to give their thoughts and predictions on the state of the Indians, what happens to them this season, who makes the playoffs, and more.
I have not included my own thoughts, but did provide my predictions in the chart below. I’ll sum up my feelings on the Indians in this way: If they are healthy and guys just play up to their capabilities – I am not saying career years, just play as expected - they will be playing meaningful games in September. At that point anything can happen with a trade pickup in July or August or because of injuries to other teams. I think the barometer is 83 wins, and if they are bitten by the injury bug it could drop to 76 wins or if they experience a little luck or a few guys surprise this season they could reach 90 wins.
Anyway, here is what the rest of the IPI staff had to say:
Charlie Adams: 2012 outlook: Maddeningly Inconsistent.
Despite some articles touting the potential of the Indians lineup, there are going to be some major ups and downs in 2012. I think the same holds true for the pitching staff. Whether or not we are treated to a hot streak to start the season (like 2011) is really irrelevant because the bad team will come out sooner or later and bring everyone back to Earth. Likewise, this team will surprise at times by playing neck and neck with some of the best in the AL. It isn’t hard to envision a series where Ubaldo and Masterson shut down the Tigers potent lineup and Tomlin grits out a win that is punctuated by a horrible gaffe by Cabrera over at the hot corner. By the same token, it is easy to see Gomez and Lowe getting kicked around by the Twins in a mid-week series and ruining all the momentum built up. Developing the consistency needed to regularly win series’ against both good and bad teams is going to be the Achilles heel of this young and inconsistent/old and inconsistent team.
That being said, I think some serious building blocks will get put into place: Kipnis will establish himself as a well above average everyday player with All-Star potential. Choo will return to his old self and be four or so wins above replacement and the Indians will lock him up for 2-3 more years before it is all said and done. Chisenhall will get some plate appearances and show glimpses of what he is capable of, but will end up with a .240/.320/.400 type stat line when the dust settles. I also think that Cabrera actually changed his swing last year and will hit for more power than the ten or so homers that many are projecting. Finally, Santana will raise the average and become a near unanimous choice for best offensive catcher in the game. Travis Hafner will nearly play himself into being a tradable asset, but nagging injuries will scare away any suitor from giving anything besides organizational filler prospects and salary relief. Jack Hannahan will excel in the field and be valuable because of his glove, but he will hit so poorly that fans will call for his head. The phrase “you can’t have a third basemen who hits .260 with 6 HR at the All-Star break” will be uttered across sports talk-radio ad nauseam.
Finally, the Indians will finish with 84 wins but never really be in contention late in the season. Fans will be optimistic though, as the lower level prospects will start to creep into Akron and some projectable pieces at the big league level will get locked into place. I am already excited for 2013, anything I get this year is a bonus.
Jim Berdysz: While the offseason could have been better, I felt it was a step forward in the right direction. I really liked the trade to add a veteran leader like Derek Lowe to the rotation, but I wanted the Indians to move in another direction on Grady Sizemore. For the $5 million they gave him I just think we could have put the money to better use, even if the money was used to lock up a player like Justin Masterson or Shin-Soo Choo to a long term contract. Adding Casey Kotchman I felt was a good move to shore up their defense at first base as well, certainly becoming an asset with a heavy groundball staff.
Ubaldo Jimenez is without a doubt the single most important player on this team. If he can be anything like the pitcher he was back in 2010, there’s no question the Tribe will be playing in October. Even though we did not see any progress from him this spring, I believe Jimenez will figure it out and have a bounce back year with the Indians as they contend for the Central Division title. Besides Carlos Santana on the offensive side, a player to watch out for this year is Jason Kipnis. I don’t think the Indians or opposing teams know just how much of a role and impact he will play toward the Tribe’s success in 2012.
The bottom line is this: If this team can stay healthy for the entire season, I honestly believe the Indians can tangle with the Tigers and come out on top in 2012. Yes, Detroit may have added Prince Fielder, but the thing I like about the Indians besides the talent they have around the diamond is their team chemistry. There are so many similarities at the outset between the 2012 Indians and the 2007 Indians where Detroit was the heavy favorite going into the ’07 season as they are this year. Could 2012 really be 2007 all over again? You bet!
Kevin Dean: The Indians' offseason was a polarizing one, wasn't it? It was disappointing to many, but not for a lack of trying on the part of team executives. Personally, I thought it was an adequate enough result. I felt like a B.J. Upton acquisition made all the sense in the world, and bringing Grady Sizemore back was a mistake that absolutely couldn't be made, but otherwise, no complaints. The transition toward becoming a better defensive team was one that needed to be made, and Casey Kotchman was a large step in that direction. The quality of minor league signings and low-key trades was better than what most teams in similar economic climates could have done, and that is a testament to a strong scouting department.
Of course, how seriously the Indians contend will be directly related to how healthy they can stay. I think the fans deserve a few good breaks after last year, but if the spring was any indication, it could be another long summer. I certainly don't think the Tigers are as untouchable as most seem to believe, but as it stands, the good guys are a rung below. The reality is, nobody really knows how well this team can play as a cohesive unit because they were so rarely at full strength. No matter what, a fast start again is a must, particularly because of the weak April schedule.
As far as specific players go, I want to highlight two. Ubaldo Jimenez is, without a doubt, going to be the most telling player on this team. If he can even find a middle ground between how dominant he was in 2010 and his disappointing 2011, the Indians can play meaningful games all season. If his command continues to be shaky and his velocity remains down, changing his whole repertoire and how hitters approach him, I don't know that they can take the next step. On the offensive side, it just feels like there is no way that Michael Brantley doesn't become a much better player than anyone ever expected. His ability and makeup are that of a potential game-changer. Remember, he had injuries that lingered well after he returned to the lineup last year, affecting his play. He will be a huge factor.
Jeff Ellis: This was an offseason that was a hard one for Tribe fans. The problem is they were stuck because of the huge raises that occurred in arbitration. They watched the market and made small but smart signings. Kotchman if only for his defense and mediocre production would still be a huge upgrade at first base, and if he hits like last year then he should have a larger impact on Cleveland than Prince on Detroit when one looks at production at the position from the previous year. Wheeler is a smart, proven vet who they got cheap instead of last year when they over paid for Durbin. It might not have been flashy, but it was an offseason of improvement.
In terms of breakout candidates, I am going to predict that Choo returns to his All-Star form. Some people are way down on him, but everything shows that last year was a mirage and that he is the five tool player that he showed the previous two years. He is going to be rededicated especially because a new contract is nearing. The player who I think will regress is Asdrubal Cabrera. The stats say he should not and that he could actually have a better year, but the problem that has been there for Asdrubal much of his career has been conditioning, and by all accounts he did not report to camp in great shape. He could prove me wrong, but in years where he previously reported in bad shape he has struggled with injuries.
One last predication for the year is that I expect the Indians to be involved in more than one trade since they have so many assets and a lot of needs as well. I expect the front office to be busy most of the year trying to flip assets for needs, and trying to keep this team contending, Since the new system is in place there are even more slots for teams to make the playoffs, and I expect the Indians to view 2012 as post-season or bust.
Lianna Holub: The 2012 edition of the Cleveland Indians is going to be an interesting team to watch. Not much was done in the off-season to make the roster better. Yes, they did sign Casey Kotchman and brought in many players as non-roster invitees but I do not think that will be enough to stop the Tigers (I realize you have to play the games, but Detroit is going to be an offensive machine). I like what Kotchman brings to the table; great defense and it moves Carlos Santana back behind the plate. Jose Lopez is going to be a guy I keep my eye on as he had a good spring, but you have to wonder if the Lopez that played with Seattle is going to show up or the one of the past two seasons.
The bullpen is going to be the strength of the team. Most of the Mafia has returned and some new faces look to help build on the success that the bullpen had last season. Dan Wheeler was brought in on a minor league contract and about a week ago they traded for Jairo Asencio. Both will help stabilize an already strong bullpen. The rotation is what worries me. Justin Masterson had a great year in 2011, but will it carry over into this season? Was it really worth trading for Ubaldo Jimenez? Those are some of the questions I have that will hopefully answer themselves by the first week of June. Just to be clear, I do think Masterson will be just fine and Jimenez is going to be the guy we acquired last season at the deadline.
Overall, I think the Indians will finish in second place in the Central (behind the Tigers) with a record of 85-77. An improvement from last year, but not enough to warrant a playoff berth. I think the Tigers did a lot to help improve their team (i.e. Prince Fielder) and the Indians essentially just stayed put. I would not mind being proven wrong in this instance but I think with the lack of moves in the offseason, it really hurt the Indians.
Sean Mahon: Regarding the offseason… sigh. A Prince signs with Detroit. A King signs with the Angels. The Rangers got Yu. And you got nothing, and you’ll like it. Well, beyond a battered up Sizemore and Casey Kotchman. Perhaps the team we wanted we've had all along...
Devil’s advocate: The real question is what the Tribe will do if it all falls apart, a la ’08 & ’09, considering they’re expected to contend this season and attendance will be incredibly valuable… Thus, you cannot start another “reload” period. There are no Cy Young winners to trade. And the only big contracts on the team are set to expire at season’s end. So if Ubaldo loses 15 games, Masterson loses his touch, Tomlin gives up 40 homers, Derek Lowe has a 5+ ERA, and the fifth starter spot is a revolving door for vagabonds, the Indians will be simply lost in terms of the organization’s direction. Choo hits .250, Asdrubal falls to ’08 form, Hafner flops out of 100 games, Sizemore doesn’t play, and Perez and the Bullpen Mafia fall susceptible to fatigue for the worst case scenario.
Angel’s advocate: Ubaldo goes streaking likes it’s 2010, Masterson matches his 2011, Tomlin wins as many games as hitters he walks (15), Derek Lowe becomes a staff anchor and leader, and the fifth starter spot scripts a scene like that from 2007 when little known rookie Fausto Carmona pitches to a Top 5 Cy Young finish. Choo is an All-Star, Asdrubal proves his power is for real, Hafner plays 100+ games, Sizemore goes 10/10 (wow, has the bar fallen for him?), Jason Kipnis hits .285/.350/.450, Lonnie Baseball comes up in May to stay, Pure Rage goes and saves 90% of his games, and the Bullpen Mafia comes back with a vengeance.
Casey Blake’s advocate: (This section, of course, denoting the mediocrity midpoint between the best and worst case scenarios) Here’s where we really fall—somewhere in between the two extremes: Choo will fall back to his career norm with a .300 average, .400 OBP and maybe even boost up to 25/25 (comeback player of the year, anyone?). Asdrubal hits .300 but only hits 13 homers, Pronk hits .290/.390/.490 and plays his scheduled 95 games, Masterson wins more games in ’11 though his other stats slide a bit as lefties hurt him once again, Kipnis hits .270/.330/.420 and Chisenhall actually stays in AAA until August. And the bullpen’s staples (C. Perez, R. Perez, Tony Sipp) remain consistent while the others struggle for that ever challenging bullpen consistency, inviting AAA arms like C.C. Lee and Hagadone to the Show.
So here’s to hoping the 7-22 spring record continues to distort any grasp people can get on the season’s outlook… and I’m not noting the Indians as my playoff team because every time I do that, they sour out of the gate (and hoping placing them 2nd will spur a memorable run).
Indians MVP - Choo; Lives up to reputation in ’12 - Brantley; Break out pitcher - Gomez; Falters – Tomlin
Andy Nichols: The first few months of the 2011 season were as exciting and memorable as any Indians fan could ask for. The bullpen, arguably the strongest part of the team, returns nearly everyone from their 2011 “Bullpen Mafia”. The rotation projects to improve with the emergence of Justin Masterson as an ace, and the acquisitions of Ubaldo Jimenez and Derek Lowe. The offense should be much better, with the returns of Shin-Soo Choo and Michael Brantley, and a full season of rising-star Jason Kipnis. Add to all of that the fact that the Indians have the easiest first month schedule of any American League team, and there's reason for Cleveland fans to be excited.
However, me being a lifelong pessimist, I have talked myself into being rather worried about the Indians chances this season. I'm a strong believer in the saying, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” That's the mindset I take into every season, and this season is no different. I remember watching the Indians 2007 season end in heartbreaking fashion at the hands of the Boston Red Sox, and believing I'd be watching another dominant season in 2008 that would see the Indians make a World Series run. Well, we all know how that 2008 season turned out. So I try to not get my hopes up, and I think Cleveland fans understand why I take this approach.
I loved GM Chris Antonetti's idea in the offseason of bringing in depth to keep the team afloat if injuries struck again. With that being said, I disagreed whole-heartedly with the re-signing of the oft-injured Grady Sizemore. On top of that, I still believe the Jimenez trade won't work out in the Indians favor, and I truly think Drew Pomeranz (the main piece the Indians sent to Colorado to acquire Jimenez) will end this season with more wins and better overall numbers than Jimenez. I can't put into words how badly I hope that I'm wrong on that.
I see this upcoming season being a roller coaster ride. One month, fans may think the Indians are legitimate World Series contenders. The next month, the Tribe may look like another rebuilding stage is in order. In my mind, inconsistency will be the theme of the 2012 season. Again, I've never wanted to be wrong as badly as I want to be wrong about this upcoming season, but as a lifelong Cleveland fan, I've learned to play the “I'll believe it when I see it” card. However pessimistic I may be, one thing is for sure; I will be sitting in front of my television all season, eyes glued to the STO broadcasts of my beloved Indians, hoping and praying they prove me wrong.
Jim Pete: The Indians didn't make any major moves this offseason, adding Derek Lowe, Grady Sizemore and Casey Kotchman. Instead, when the Indians management struck out on trades and signings this offseason (Carlos Beltran and Pena), they focused on shoring up their pitching and defense. GM Chris Antonetti worked under the assumption that improvements within the organization were going to be enough under the budget constraints placed on him via the Dolans to make a playoff push.
This team will live and die with their pitching. Their starting rotation of Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez should be a solid foundation. While I could pick apart each and every one of them, you are looking at a staff built to induce ground balls, with a defense built to field them. Don't forget about Roberto Hernandez (the former Fausto) and Scotty Barnes, who both could make a difference with this club come mid-July should the Indians need them. The Bullpen Mafia stands strong, with Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp, Joe Smith and Rafael Perez as the anchors of arguably the best bullpen in baseball. Watch out for Nick Hagadone and C.C. Lee in Columbus. They may have the best stuff in the system, and may become major pieces down the stretch.
Offensively and defensively, this club could be sneaky. Look for a breakout season from Michael Brantley, who is perched to finally take that final step in his development as the straw that stirs the Tribe's drink. Shin-Soo Choo should return to form as well, providing stability in an outfield filled with question marks. The Indians will have Shelley Duncan in left field as it stands, but I do believe the Indians will make a move prior to Grady Sizemore's return in mid-June. Casey Kotchman was a solid defensive add at first, and can bring more offense to the table than people think. Jason Kipnis is the back-bone of this team, and should really break-out in his first full season. Asdrubal Cabrera will likely return to his pre-2011 form, which is similar offense, minus the power. Defensive-minded Jack Hannahan will start the season at third, and continue to provide no offense. Look for Jason Donald to make an impact and make a run at third, and don't forget about Lonnie Chisenhall in Columbus. At the end of the day though, the Indians will hang their hat on catcher Carlos Santana, who I believe will be the best offensive catcher in baseball.
This team should come out of the gates winning games. Their first game against a team with a record above .500 from 2011 comes on April 27 when they play the Angels, and 21 of their first 24 games are against teams that were right at .500 or worse. Sure, this makes their late season schedule more difficult, but this team is better prepared to handle it. Cleveland will make the playoffs this year, surprising everyone...except me...of course.
Jim Piascik: To me, the Indians' offseason could have gone better, but it could have been much worse. The success or failure of the Indians in 2012 will come down to how well they stay healthy, how well their players rebound, and how well their young players grow. Honestly, I like their chances.
On the health front, sure it hurts that Grady Sizemore is hurt already, but it's possible he'll come back and be good to go in June and help the rest of the season. I do believe that some players are injury-prone, but I also believe that there is a good amount of luck involved. The Indians were woefully unlucky with injuries in 2011, so hopefully the injury bug will be a bit kinder in 2012. Pair that with what should be great bounce-back seasons from Shin-Soo Choo and Ubaldo Jimenez along with growth from young players like Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, and Michael Brantley and I think you have a team that will win a good amount more games than it did in 2011.
I wish that the Indians had been able to bring in a player like B.J. Upton to add some real spunk to the lineup, but I think that the Indians will be just fine. As long as they stay vigilant on the trade front and improve if they can (which I'm sure they will), 2012 could easily end with a playoff berth for the Cleveland Indians.
Jason Ruggiero: I think this is a pivotal season for the Indians and player development is paramount. Players like Michael Brantley, Josh Tomlin, and Carlos Santana are the key to remaining competitive but players like Jeanmar Gomez, Jason Kipnis, Shelley Duncan, Aaron Cunningham, and Lonnie Chisenhall are vital to building a solid core for continued success. Basically this season comes down to one thing, if these players continue to tread water, so will the Indians, if they develop into solid major leaguers, the Indians will develop into a solid major league team.
There are certainly plenty of question marks heading into the season. Will Ubaldo Jimenez return to ace form or will he continue to struggle? Can Asdrubal Cabrera prove that last year was no fluke, or will he scuffle after coming into camp out of shape? How long will Hafner’s shoulder hold up? How long can Jack Hannahan and Shelley Duncan hold on to starting jobs? Will the Tigers’ infield defense be bad enough to balance out their offense?
But all of these questions factor directly into my belief that this is a pivotal season for the Indians franchise and for the narrative that accompanies it. There are plenty of Indians “fans” who do nothing but complain about the front office’s decisions and players’ performances. If Jimenez breaks out of his funk, Duncan holds down left field and Hannahan really did figure something out at the end of last year, all of a sudden Chris Antonetti gains some leverage. But if Jimenez continues to struggle and Duncan and Hannahan struggle to stay over the Mendoza line there will be talk of rebuilding again, before anything was ever really built and there will be plenty of “I told you so’s” floating around the north coast. I believe last year was no fluke and that good ball teams are built around pitching and defense, both of which the Indians worked to shore up this offseason. I think these changes take the Tribe farther than over-paying for an average outfielder would have and the window of contention stays open another year.
Andrew Zajac: Grady Sizemore? Oh. Bobby Abreu? Oh, wait... That may sum up the Indians off-season in which many fans felt was underwhelming. While they also added Aaron Cunningham, Casey Kotchman, Derek Lowe, and Dan Wheeler, the Indians failed to add a power bat at a corner outfield position and potentially also a right handed hitter to a left handed hitting heavy lineup. However, one of the main concerns for this team is simply being able to stay healthy. As we've already seen this spring, it's a tough task to accomplish. The Indians have the talent, as well as a lot of up and coming young players. If the Indians are in contention come the trade deadline, they could still look to add a bat or two.
Speaking of contention, there's no doubt the Tigers are the clear front runner to win the division. From there, all bets are off. The way I see things shaping up are as follows: Tigers, Indians, Royals, Twins, and White Sox. The Indians will get off to a fast start, much like last year, before falling to the Tigers in late May/early June and never regaining first place. This team will go through growing pains. There's veteran leadership there, but by and large, this is a young team that will take its lumps.
Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis are primed for huge years. With Santana, you'll see a slightly higher batting average with an increased on-base percentage and home run total. For Kipnis, I expect something near .275/18/75, which I would gladly take. I'm anxious to see Shin-Soo Choo back out there and healthy. If the offense can stay healthy, it'll produce, especially if the front office can add a bat around the trade deadline. My biggest question is the pitching staff. Can Ubaldo perform as a #2? How effective can Derek Lowe be? Can Masterson and Tomlin perform at the levels they did last season? Will Roberto Hernandez pitch this season? Which Chris Perez will we see? Those are all huge questions in my mind that will ultimately determine this team's fate.
|Tony Lastoria||Charlie Adams||Jim Berdysz||Kevin Dean|
|AL East||Rays||Red Sox||Yankees||Yankees|
|AL Wildcard||Yankees||Rangers||Red Sox||Angels|
|AL Wildcard||Red Sox||Rays||Angels||Rays|
|World Series||Phillies over Rays||Phillies over Red Sox||Rangers over D'Backs||Reds over Yankees|
|AL Cy Young||David Price||Jered Weaver||Jered Weaver||Jered Weaver|
|NL Cy Young||Roy Halladay||Roy Halladay||Clayton Kershaw||Cole Hamels|
|AL MVP||Albert Pujols||Albert Pujols||Albert Pujols||Miguel Cabrera|
|NL MVP||Joey Votto||Troy Tulowitzki||Giancarlo Stanton||Joey Votto|
|AL ROY||Matt Moore||Matt Moore||Yu Darvish||Matt Moore|
|NL ROY||Drew Pomeranz||Devin Mesoraco||Bryce Harper||Zach Cozart|
|AL Manager of Year||Joe Maddon||Mike Scioscia||Manny Acta||Joe Maddon|
|NL Manager of Year||Charlie Manuel||Kirk Gibson||Kirk Gibson||Dust Baker|
|Jeff Ellis||Lianna Holub||Sean Mahon||Andy Nichols|
|AL Wildcard||Rays||Red Sox||Angels||Yankees|
|AL Wildcard||Indians||Rays||Blue Jays||Blue Jays|
|World Series||Phillies over Angels||Rays over Reds||Rays over Phillies||Angels over Phillies|
|AL Cy Young||Jered Weaver||C.C. Sabathia||Jered Weaver||James Shields|
|NL Cy Young||Clayton Kershaw||Roy Halladay||Roy Halladay||Clayton Kershaw|
|AL MVP||Jose Bautista||Albert Pujols||Jose Bautista||Jose Bautista|
|NL MVP||Justin Upton||Ryan Braun||Troy Tulowitzki||Joey Votto|
|AL ROY||Jesus Montero||Yu Darvish||Yu Darvish||Matt Moore|
|NL ROY||Devin Mesoraco||Bryce Harper||Yonder Alonso||Devin Mesoraco|
|AL Manager of Year||Mike Scioscia||Joe Maddon||John Farrell||John Farrell|
|NL Manager of Year||Charlie Manuel||Dusty Baker||Clint Hurdle||Davey Johnson|
|Jim Pete||Jim Piascik||Jason Ruggiero||Andrew Zajac|
|AL Wildcard||Indians||Red Sox||Angels||Yankees|
|World Series||Rays over Reds||Rays over Phillies||Rangers over Giants||Rays over Giants|
|AL Cy Young||Felix Hernandez||C.C. Sabathia||C.C. Sabathia||Felix Hernandez|
|NL Cy Young||Cliff Lee||Roy Halladay||Roy Halladay||Roy Halladay|
|AL MVP||Evan Longoria||Evan Longoria||Albert Pujols||Miguel Cabrera|
|NL MVP||Joey Votto||Pablo Sandoval||Troy Tulowitzki||Joey Votto|
|AL ROY||Matt Moore||Matt Moore||Matt Moore||Matt Moore|
|NL ROY||Drew Pomeranz||Devin Mesoraco||Bryce Harper||Drew Pomeranz|
|AL Manager of Year||Manny Acta||Joe Maddon||Mike Scioscia||Joe Maddon|
|NL Manager of Year||Fredi Gonzalez||Davey Johnson||Ron Roenicke||Davey Johnson|
Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his new book the 2012 Cleveland Indians Prospect Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2013 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
Sizemore must return and hit 15 HR's or more in 2nd half.
This could be a disastrous season.
Indians may bail out halfway through and dump players.
Hafner, Sizemore, Lowe, C. Perez, R. Perez, Hannahan, Duncan.
Survivors of the Great Game to eliminate will replace them.
Mills, LaPorta, Canzler, Aguilar, Weglarz, & Chisenhall are all candidates.
Hafner (age), Sizemore (health), maybe Aguilar (experience) are probably longshots.
I hope I'm wrong, but I am usually not.
If Jimenez could return to ace form they could be decent, but we might as well hope that Sizemore returns in May and hits .290 with 25 HRs the rest of the way.