Ranking the 2012 Cleveland Indians’ Roster, Part 1
By Jim Piascik
October 29, 2012
Now that the season is over and we all have had some time to digest everything that happened, it is time to roll out my rankings of the Cleveland Indians' roster.
If you have read the previous editions of these rankings (before the year, at the 40-game mark, at the All-Star Break, and in late-August), you know that this is no easy task. There is no easy way to compare a hitter who only had a few at-bats to a starting pitcher who struggled all year, but I am going to attempt to do it anyway.
Going into these rankings, know that I tend to favor players with more playing time than those whose playing time was limited. The rationale for this is that if a major league team has chosen to give this player significant action, it must value him on some level.
Basically, if the Indians keep running a player out there, despite what the statistics available to me say, they must know something I do not. I find it hard to believe the front office is incompetent (despite what some may think) and defer to them.
With that introduction complete, it is time to move on to the rankings. Today's rankings will cover the bottom half of the 48 players who appeared in a game for Cleveland, with the top half coming out later this week.
Previous ranks are their rank before the year, followed by at the 40-game mark, followed by at the All-Star Break, followed by in late-August.
#48 Dan Wheeler, RP (Previous Rank: 23, 28, 35, 43)
I have no issue with the process that went into the Dan Wheeler signing. Bringing in veteran relief pitchers on minor league contracts is exactly how a team like the Indians should go about filling out a bullpen. In Wheeler's case, we ran into a good-process, bad-result situation. Wheeler was downright awful in his 12.1 major league innings, allowing 12 runs, 17 hits, seven walks, three home runs, and only striking out two.
Things got better for Wheeler in AAA Columbus (2.32 ERA, 4.14 FIP in 42.2 innings), but he will only get another minor league contract, if anything, this offseason.
#47 Scott Maine, RP (Previous Rank: NR, NR, NR, NR)
The Indians claimed Scott Maine on August 29 after the Chicago Cubs placed him on waivers. As with most scrap-heap pickups, Maine did not have much to give the Tribe. He only pitched six innings for the Indians, allowing seven earned runs, 13 hits, and a home run.
Maine does have being a left-handed pitcher on his side, but with numerous lefty relievers ahead of him (Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez and Nick Hagadone to name a few), I find it hard to believe he will still be on the 40-man roster come spring.
#46 Luke Carlin, C (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, 33, 39)
Nothing against Luke Carlin, but there is a reason he only had 14 plate appearances with the Indians this year. Carlin makes for a great AAA catcher/emergency major league backup, but he is not much more than that.
After the season, Carlin chose to become a minor league free agent, but I am not sure if he will find a much better situation. Carlin turns 32-years old in December and still only has 156 major league plate appearances; another third catcher on a 40-man roster situation is probably the best Carlin can hope for this offseason.
#45 Juan Diaz, SS (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, 32, 37)
Like Carlin, Juan Diaz barely played for the Indians this year, spending most of his time with the Akron Aeros. Diaz only had 17 major league plate appearances, but he did reach base in six of them.
Diaz's callup was simply a depth-issue with the big league club as he is not ready to play in the majors just yet. Unlike Carlin, though, Diaz may still have a major league future. His range at shortstop is fairly well-regarded and he seems to be coming into his own in the power department (.162 ISO in the minors). Diaz is not a long-term answer, but he should be a utility infielder at worst and could bridge the gap to one of the Tribe's higher-profile prospects if Asdrubal Cabrera is traded.
#44 Vinny Rottino, UTIL (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, NR, 40)
The Indians likely saw all the Vinny Rottino they needed to see after claiming him from the New York Mets on June 27. Rottino spent most of his season in Columbus, but the little time he got in Cleveland was not pretty. The utility player went 3-for-28 with one home run in his 18 games for the Tribe, striking out eight times while only walking once.
Rottino does bring some nice flexibility to the table, as he plays catcher, first base, and left field, but he really cannot hit enough to be on a major league club. Despite playing the specific positions the Indians need to fill the most, he will likely be designated for assignment at some point this offseason.
#43 Cord Phelps, 2B (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, NR, NR):
At this point it is hard not to feel bad for Cord Phelps. The switch-hitting second baseman has done everything he can in 298 games at AAA, posting a .291/.375/.477 line with 36 home runs and 156 RBI, but there is still no clear path for him to make it to the majors.
He will have no starting spot as long as Jason Kipnis is on Cleveland's roster, as Phelps has never played the outfield in the minors and has only played one game at third base. I do believe that Phelps can develop into a major league player, but right now, it does not appear he will get that chance on the Indians. His showing in limited major league time is not helping (.212/.235/.303 line in 34 plate appearances this year), but given time on a rebuilding team, Phelps might be able to establish himself.
#42 Thomas Neal, OF (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, NR, NR):
Like Diaz, Thomas Neal spent most of his time in Akron this season, making the extremely difficult AA-to-majors jump. As such, it is not shocking that Neal went 5-for-23 in very limited time, often not being allowed to finish games he started.
I remain higher than most on what Neal could ultimately be, but at worst, he is a depth-option for the Indians in left field. He needs to spend a good deal of time in AAA next year, as he has only spent 70 games at that level in his career. There is a chance Neal can develop into a major league outfielder, but I do not think he can start the season as Cleveland's answer to the left field problem.
#41 Roberto Hernandez, SP (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, NR, 24)
I am not sure what anyone was expecting out of Roberto Hernandez by the time he made his debut on August 15, but I do not think it was this. Hernandez only made it through three starts and 14.1 innings before injuring his ankle and missing the rest of the season.
It was a long-shot for Cleveland to pick up Hernandez's $6 million option for 2013 before he only gave the Tribe three terrible starts (12 earned runs, four home runs, 2:3 SO:BB) to evaluate him, but now he will certainly hit free agency. Hernandez could come back to Cleveland on a reduced one-year deal, but he definitely will not be relied upon next year.
#40 Aaron Cunningham, OF (Previous Ranks: 24, 23, 31, 42)
Here is what makes ranking all 48 players that donned an Indians uniform difficult: what do you do with a player as bad as Cunningham who managed to appear in 72 games? I know that Cunningham ended the year with an abysmal .175/.245/.247 line and had a popgun for an arm, but surely he must have more value than Diaz or Carlin, who combined for nine games.
The end result of Cunningham's time in Cleveland is that this was probably his last major league action; I do not see anyone giving him a real shot of making a 25-man roster next year. Yet Cunningham did supply decent range for a fourth outfielder and he stayed on Cleveland's roster until July 25. That does not count for much, but it counts for something.
#39 Matt LaPorta, 1B/OF (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, 30, 36)
So this is how the Matt LaPorta era likely ends in Cleveland, not with a bang, but with a whimper. The Indians were in desperate need of three things offensively last year: a first baseman, a left fielder, and a right-handed power bat. Despite being all of those things (or at least two), LaPorta never got a real shot in Cleveland last year.
That really tells us all we need to know about LaPorta. His largely meaningless 60 plate appearances do not matter; what matters is the below-replacement level production he had in parts of the last four seasons. I think that the Indians will designate LaPorta for assignment in the offseason and he will go unclaimed on waivers, allowing Cleveland to put him in AAA next year.
But in all actuality, the chances of LaPorta contributing to the big league club are basically nonexistent. That ship has sailed.
#38 Rafael Perez, RP (Previous Ranks: 21, 18, 25, 28)
It is not Rafael Perez's fault that he is this low in these rankings; it is completely a byproduct of the lat, shoulder, and ankle injuries he suffered at different points of the season. Perez was not overpowering in the 7.2 innings he threw before missing the rest of the season (3.52 ERA, 5.31 FIP), but he was not awful either.
Going forward, I am not sure what the Indians will do with Perez. He will likely be owed $2 million in 2013 through arbitration, a high price for a reliever coming off of a lost season. Perez is a solid guy to have, but when every penny counts like it does in Cleveland, I am not sure they can allot that much for him.
#37 Jason Donald, INF (Previous Ranks: 16, 29, 34, 35)
Jason Donald was surprisingly effective in 2011, with a .318/.364/.402 line in 39 games. That good feeling is gone now after posting a much lower .202/.246/.282 line in 43 games in 2012. Donald does not rate out well defensively as a shortstop and now is not hitting well enough to make up for it.
As much as I want to see Donald succeed so the Cliff Lee trade can show some dividends, it might be time to let him go. Donald has basically played a full season now in his major league career (170 games, 603 plate appearances) and he owns a .257/.309/.362 line with a 0.4 fWAR. That is not terrible, but it is certainly not starter-worthy. At 28-years old, this is probably Donald's prime; it is not getting much better from here.
#36 Nick Hagadone, RP (Previous Ranks: NR, 15, 28, 32)
Things started off well enough for Nick Hagadone in 2012, but when they went downhill, they went down hard. Hagadone rapidly lost his command (15 walks in 25.1 innings) and then lost his cool (fracturing his left radius after losing his temper after a bad outing).
Despite Hagadone's ugly 6.39 ERA and anger management issues, there is still quite a bit of upside for the left-hander. Hagadone has a 9.17 SO/9 in 36.1 major league innings and will be very effective if he can limit his walks. He is still a power arm that can pitch in the back-end of the big league bullpen and Hagadone will help the 2013 Indians as long as he gets himself together.
#35 Jairo Asencio, RP (Previous Ranks: 25, 20, 27, 30)
For what he was, Jairo Asencio was not all that bad. As the last man in the bullpen, Asencio did a decent job in 25.2 innings, striking out 21 batters while only walking eight. Asencio ran into trouble with the long ball, allowing four quick home runs that inflated his ERA to 5.96 at the time he was designated for assignment.
After being picked up by the Chicago Cubs, Asencio lowered his ERA to 3.07 while watching the rest of his peripherals balloon. In the end, Asencio's 2012 season was about as replacement-level as they come (4.91 ERA, 4.76 FIP, -0.1 fWAR). The Indians have plenty of relief prospects who can pitch at that level at worst and they will not miss Asencio in 2013.
#34 Josh Tomlin, SP (Previous Ranks: 11, 9, 20, 34)
There is no getting around that Josh Tomlin's 2012 was bad, but now that it appears he was pitching through an injury, maybe we can cut him some slack. Tomlin's low-strikeout, low-walk, high-home run rate combination was far from effective (6.36 ERA, 5.09 FIP) and pitched at Fangraphs' replacement-level for 103.1 innings. That really does not mean much, but it does take some talent to do that for over 100 innings.
It is possible Tomlin will not pitch at all in 2013 after having Tommy John surgery, but hopefully he will come back as the No. 4 starter he was in 2011, not the disaster we saw last year.
#33 Jose Lopez, INF (Previous Ranks: 22, 21, 15, 41)
Jose Lopez found a way to shoot up these rankings, but it was not on his own merit. Lopez is helped by the fact that he played 66 games for the Tribe and I value that more than the late-season callups who only appeared in a few games.
That is not to let Lopez off the hook for a pretty bad season. He showed almost no power during his time in Cleveland (four home runs, .117 ISO) and almost never got on base (.272 on-base percentage). Add in that Lopez is not a good defender and you have a recipe for a fairly useless major league player. Lopez can surprise you from time to time, but for the most part, he does not add anything of significance to a big league roster.
#32 Brent Lillibridge, UTIL (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, NR, 26)
Along with Lars Anderson, Brent Lillibridge was one-half of Cleveland's vaunted trade deadline acquisitions. Lillibridge's best quality is his ability to play almost every position on the field, though advanced fielding statistics do not rate him very favorably at most of them. I guess that is what the Indians saw in Lillibridge, as his bat is nothing special either (.216/.276/.342 line for Cleveland this year).
Lillibridge's flexibility and status as right-handed batter may allow him to stick around as a utility guy, but I do not think the Indians would be missing much if they let him leave. Lillibridge seems to do a little bit of everything below-average and does not profile to me as someone who can really help Cleveland in 2013.
#31 Shelley Duncan, OF (Previous Ranks: 15, 25, 21, 18)
As it turns out, relying on a then-32-year old to finally become a major league-caliber player is not a good business model. Shelley Duncan struggled all season, posting a .203/.288/.388 line in 81 games before being designated for assignment on August 29. He did still flash some power, hitting 11 home runs, but they are not enough to make up for the rest of what Duncan lacks.
Duncan chose to become a minor league free agent after the season and some time may choose to take a chance on his power, but he will likely disappoint. After 310 games, the book on Duncan has been written.
#30 Jeanmar Gomez, SP (Previous Ranks: 19, 10, 24, 23)
Similar to Tomlin, Jeanmar Gomez had a surprising 2011 campaign, posting a 4.47 ERA and 4.12 FIP in 58.1 innings. That built upon his 4.68 ERA and 4.73 FIP in 57.2 innings in 2010 and set Gomez up as a starter who should have been good for decent production at the very least.
Well, 2012 obviously did not go well for Gomez. In 90.2 innings, Gomez cratered to a 5.96 ERA and a 5.47 FIP, including a midseason demotion to AAA. Gomez is still young, turning 25 this offseason, but last year's struggles make it harder for him to make the major league roster out of Spring Training next year. I think that Gomez can still be a major league pitcher, but the odds of him being anything other than a back-of-the-rotation guy are now significantly lower.
#29 Johnny Damon, OF (Previous Ranks: NR, 22, 17, 27)
If Duncan was not the answer in left field for the Indians, Johnny Damon certainly was not either. After joining the team in May, Damon limped to a .222/.281/.329 line and did not do anything to solidify Cleveland's hole in left field.
Damon turns 39-years old next week and it is hard to see him getting another major league job. The rumor at the beginning of the season was that Damon wanted to stick around long enough to get 3000 hits (he is at 2769 currently), but I do not see that happening. No one picked up Damon after the Indians designated him for assignment in August; apparently only Cleveland was desperate enough to try him.
#28 Casey Kotchman, 1B (Previous Ranks: 9, 24, 23, 19)
No player epitomizes how badly the front office missed this offseason than Casey Kotchman. If Kotchman had simply posted his career marks before 2012 this season, he would have been good for an average .268/.336/.398 line. Instead, Kotchman had an awful season, posting a .229/.280/.333 line and a team-low 1.5 fWAR.
Now, I do not buy that Kotchman was as bad on defense as Fangraphs' defense rates him, as first base defense is still difficult to measure. However, there is no denying that Kotchman did not hit nearly well enough for a first baseman and will not be an Indian in 2013. Kotchman should have been a solid piece to a contending puzzle in 2012, but that simply was not the way things broke.
#27 Jeremy Accardo, RP (Previous Ranks: NR, 27, 19, 29)
I do not think that Jeremy Accardo was all that bad with the Indians this season, but he could have been better. No team wants a reliever with a 4.58 ERA in its bullpen, but Accardo's 3.97 FIP suggests he was a little unlucky in Cleveland.
Accardo was given a chance in Oakland after the Indians designated Accardo for assignment in August, but he only pitched two innings before he was cut there as well. A team like the Indians with plenty of relief depth in the upper levels of the minors does not need a guy like Accardo, but I think some team in need of relief depth should give him a minor league deal this offseason. Accardo is not flashy, but he is a solid reliever for the front of a bullpen.
#26 Scott Barnes, RP (Previous Rank: NR, NR, 29, 31)
Scott Barnes did not get a lot of time at the major league level this season, but he made the most of his limited exposure. In 19.0 innings, Barnes managed a respectable 4.26 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and 16:7 SO:BB and set himself up well headed into 2013.
Long-term, Barnes is still considered a starting pitcher. Coming off of an ACL injury in 2011, the Indians chose to let Barnes relieve this year to limit his workload and to get him to the major leagues faster. After his success in 2012, Barnes should start in AAA as a starter to build his stamina back up so he is ready to take a crack at being a starting pitcher in the major leagues sometime in 2013.
#25 Frank Herrmann, RP (Previous Ranks: NR, NR, NR, 38)
For a while, it looked like Frank Herrmann was destined to become the forgotten-man in the Tribe's bullpen. After the 19.1 innings Herrmann had in 2012, however, I am not ready to write him off just yet. Small sample size caveats apply, but Herrmann was very good last year, posting a 2.33 ERA, 2.94 FIP, and 14:4 SO:BB. Herrmann is not overpowering, but he looked like a decent middle-inning guy.
The best thing Herrmann has going for him is he has two options left and can be sent to AAA, but I would not be adverse to him making the Opening Day roster next year. He is still making the minimum and should not be much worse than whatever other pitchers Cleveland will look at as last guys out of the bullpen.
That does it for today's rankings. Come back later in the week to see the top half and who gets the honor of being in the top spot.
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As for Cabrera being a Sizemore-esque signing, that's what I'm all for. Payroll isn't jumping that much and Cleveland has limited money. It will take two or three risks like this to win in 2013 and I'm all for it. Speaking of Bartolo Colon, I would really like him on a minor league deal. Why not?
If I were a GM, for anyone who tested positive, I would view their entire career as suspect. So I would not only view Melky's 2011 performance with suspicion, but also his previous performance with the Yankees. And I think GMs do view it that way, and that Melky will be lucky to get more than a short-term, low base salary contract. But it's akin to them signing Sizemore last year; you're taking a shot on someone with lots of upside but your downside risk is also high.
I know baseball players like to say that steroids didn't make them hit the 70 HRs, it was their natural talent and they took the 'roids for fun, just looking at what guys like Bonds and McGwire did, and the inflated offense as a whole in the pre-testing era, and just the common sense logic that if you are stronger, you can increase your bat speed and hit a baseball a lot farther. The opposite is also true, if you don't work out at all and get out of shape (like Melky in 2010, or, say, Carlos Baerga) your performance moves sharply in the other direction. And the out-of-nowhere explosion of a previously replacement-level guy like Melky into an All-Star would simply look like another example of the dramatic effect PEDs can have on performance.
Plus, the big key with Melky is he is in what is considered a player's prime right now. Even if he had not been busted this year, he easily could have made the jump he did. After so many years in the league, it really could be that he was simply figuring things out.
Obviously, we can't unravel exactly which part of Melky's breakout was PED-influenced and which part was due to him entering his prime, but I am willing to bet on his prime. I would not be surprised if he posted his 2011/2012 numbers in 2013. I don't think the PEDs had as much of an effect as popular notions say.
Pre-2011 Melky was basically an okay 4th-outfielder. I would bet that he performs about like he did in 2009 with the Yankees, but it wouldn't be shocking to see something more like 2010 Atlanta, i.e. no better than Shelley Duncan, depending on whether he's been doing legal things to keep in shape or not. Since before 2011 he wasn't exactly known for his dedication to fitness, a non chemically-enhanced Melky who hasn't swung a bat competitively for 9 months could be a disaster. I mean, I guess signing Melky would be better than signing no one for left field, but I'd prefer pretty much anyone else.
He had 18 home runs, 102 runs, 87 RBI, 20 steals, a .305/.339/.470 line, and a 4.2 fWAR for the Royals in his age-26 season. That is when he should be entering his prime.
As for 2012, in about 3/4 of a season, he had 11 home runs, 84 runs, 60 RBI, 13 steals, a .346/.390/.516 line, and a 4.6 fWAR. That line also jumps in coordination with an abnormally high BABIP.
BABIP should not be effected by steroid use, so I actually don't know how much PEDs helped Melky. If he is the player he was in Kansas City two years ago, he would be better than at least 90% of the 2012 Cleveland roster.
I agree of Phelps, though. He should be something for this team. I just hope he gets the chance/gets over the AAA-major league hump.