Ranking the final 2013 Cleveland Indians' roster: Part two
Surprising new additions help Cleveland surge to playoffs
By Jim Piascik
October 8, 2013
Playoff baseball returned to Cleveland this year as Terry Francona and company surged to a 92-70 record and a berth in the wild card playoff game. That berth makes 2013 a success for Cleveland, even though the team lost in the one-game playoff. Given where this team was at the end of last year, the turnaround is just tremendous.
As I do at the end of every year, here is part two of me ranking all 49 players who logged time for the big league club in 2013. I previously ranked the roster before the season, at the 40-game mark, at the All-Star break, and before September callups, so click on those links if you want to check them out. Plus, here is the first half of the rankings from Sunday if you want to check them out. If not, here are the current roster ranks.
Also note that each player's stats are now located here instead of under the players' capsule. It's just much, much easier to have it all in one place.
#24 Jason Giambi, DH (Previous Ranks: 26, 26, 22, 24)
When it was announced at the beginning of the year that Giambi was going to make the big league roster, I said it would be an acceptable move as long as he did not play frequently. Well, we have reached the end of the season and Giambi played the equivalent of one-third of a full season -- or a little over twice a week. Francona managed to keep Giambi as a bench option and not a full-time starter, a good move considering his .183/.282/.371 line on the season. Giambi helped as essentially a player-coach and provided some of the best highlights of the year (his walk-off homer against the White Sox, his headfirst slide into first, etc.), so I will not be too hard on him. He struggled overall, but as the 25th man on the roster, Cleveland did pretty well.
#23 Carlos Carrasco, RHP (Previous Ranks: UR, 35, 30, 27)
Carrasco went through a pretty rough start to the season -- including more headhunting and a suspension -- but the right-hander might have found his niche in the bullpen going forward. No matter how often the team says they want to see someone with Carrasco's stuff pitch in the rotation, he is out of options next year and does not have a clear spot as a starter on next year's team. That electric stuff could play up even more in the bullpen and, given that the likely absence of Chris Perez in 2014, Cleveland will need a new closer. If Carrasco can be like many failed starters before him and reinvent himself as a flamethrowing ninth inning option, that would be a pretty good outcome considering where Carrasco's career seemed to be heading early on in 2013.
#22 Marc Rzepczynski, LHP (Previous Ranks: UR, UR, UR, 22)
It was an underrated acquisition at the time, but brining in Rzepczynski at the July trading deadline was huge for the bullpen down the stretch. That 0.89 ERA the left-hander posted is pretty unsustainable, but Rzepczynski's 3.14 FIP and 3.49 xFIP in 20.1 innings suggest he will continue to find success going forward. It is important not to go too overboard on Rzepczynski -- he was only available midseason because of his 7.84 ERA in 10.1 innings in St. Louis -- but the left-hander should be a solid contributor in 2014. Rzepczynski owns a 3.95 ERA, 4.02 FIP, and 3.65 xFIP in 264.1 major league innings, a solid line that should give Francona at least one reliable left-handed option in the bullpen next year.
#21 Matt Albers, RHP (Previous Ranks: 22, 27, 19, 23)
Albers is heading to free agency is a good position, posting a 3.14 ERA and 3.49 FIP in 63.0 innings in 2013. Despite not overpowering anybody -- Albers' 5.00 SO/9 was the worst on the team of anyone who pitched more than six innings -- the right-hander managed to get results. That said, I do not expect to see Albers back in 2014. Pitchers with low strikeout totals tend to really limit walks, yet Albers' walk rate was a pedestrian 3.29 BB/9. Albers was decent in 2013, but given Cleveland's right-handed relief depth, the organization does not need to pay for a reliever like Albers. There was nothing wrong with Albers' 2013 season but it should not be enough to have him return next year.
#20 Mike Aviles, INF (Previous Ranks: 10, 10, 14, 16)
All of Cleveland seems ready to trade Asdrubal Cabrera and allow Aviles to bridge the gap to Francisco Lindor, yet I am not sure that is such a good idea. The bar offensively for shortstop is pretty low, yet I am not sure I am ready to run Aviles' .252/.282/.368 line out there every day. Aviles' WAR totals were not pretty (0.3 fWAR, 0.6 rWAR) and his defense did not rate out well, two things that make me hesitate on making Aviles a starter. The ideal role for Aviles is the one he filled this year. The versatility Aviles brings to the board makes him an ideal bench player and I would keep him in that role in 2014. Cabrera may be maddening at times, but (as we will go into later) it may be worth bringing him back next year.
#19 Drew Stubbs, OF (Previous Ranks: 17, 19, 11, 15)
To me at least, it feels like Stubbs is better than he actually is. He was well below-average this year and only posted a .233/.305/.360 line. Traditionally he hits left-handed pitching well, yet his stats against them this year do not really impress. Stubbs posted a .266/.361/.357 line against left-handers, a line that lacks power and was propped up by a .371 BABIP. While his defensive ability should give him value, Stubbs rated out poorly this year in the field. It is possible that this was an overall down year for Stubbs and he will rebound in 2014, but given he will get another raise through arbitration (he made $2.8 million in 2013), I would not mind if Cleveland non-tendered Stubbs. By all means, try to bring him back at a cheaper rate, but losing Stubbs would not hurt that much.
#18 Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (Previous Ranks: 15, 22, 15, 17)
With an ugly .225/.270/.398 line in 2013, it might be time to move on from Chisenhall as the third baseman of the future. While the strong .173 ISO makes up for some of Chisenhall's deficiencies at the plate, his extreme issues getting on base consistently make it hard to justify running him out at third base every day. Plus, while Baseball-Reference likes Chisenhall's defense a lot in 2013, I tend to agree more with Fangraphs and call him slightly below-average. Overall, this leaves Chisenhall well below-average at the hot corner and is a position Cleveland could easily look to upgrade in the offseason.
#17 Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (Previous Ranks: 4, 7, 9, 20)
Cabrera actually played much better down the stretch, improving his spot in these rankings, though his season line of .242/.299/.402 leaves quite a bit to be desired. As disappointing as Cabrera's year was, however, there is hope for 2014. Before 2013, Cabrera had never posted a major league BABIP below .300; this year, Cabrera's BABIP came in at .283. While that will not solve everything -- Cabrera's strikeout rate jump from 16.1 percent in 2012 to 20.3 percent in 2013 -- some BABIP regression could make Cabrera look much better. Either way, there is no use selling low on Cabrera. Shortstops are hard to come by and, with Aviles not necessarily the most appealing option, one more year of Cabrera might not be all that bad.
#16 Bryan Shaw, RHP (Previous Ranks: 23, 21, 20, 18)
In terms of relievers, I have Shaw as the third-best in Cleveland this season. The right-hander did well in ERA, FIP, and xFIP (3.24, 3.07, and 3.58 respectively) and logged a bullpen-high 75.0 innings. At the time it looked like Shaw was a throw-in to the Shin-Soo Choo trade, but in the end, Shaw was the best acquisition for Cleveland when looking at 2013 alone. All of that, plus the fact that Shaw is under team control through 2017, makes the right-hander a big piece going forward. Relievers are very unpredictable from year to year, but there is nothing wrong having someone as talented as Shaw on the roster for the long haul.
#15 Danny Salazar, RHP (Previous Ranks: UR, UR, 27, 19)
We only got to see 52.0 regular season innings out of Salazar (and 4.1 playoff innings), but from what we saw, I have no problem slotting Salazar in as the #2 starter behind Justin Masterson in the 2014 rotation. Sure, Salazar still needs to work on keeping the ball in the park (seven home runs allowed in 52.0 innings), but that is not terribly bad. Salazar's overwhelming fastball, demoralizing split-change, and developing breaking pitch already carried him to an ace-like 65:15 SO:BB and establish how dominant the right-hander is. While I would like to see Salazar not pitch up so much (as that is what leaves him susceptible to home runs), the truth is he can get away with it for the most part thanks to his fastball. As Salazar learns to become a more complete pitcher -- something that should come with time based on what I have seen out of him -- the rest of the league had better watch out.
#14 Zach McAllister, RHP (Previous Ranks: 14, 8, 12, 11)
Even leaving McAllister's finger injury aside (something I am not willing to do; remember, remember Adam Miller, Alex White, etc.), McAllister's 4.53 xFIP raises some questions going forward. Even though McAllister owned a 3.75 ERA in his 134.1 innings, xFIP is a better predictor of what is to come for a pitcher. The pitchers last year in the neighborhood of a 4.53 xFIP? Kevin Millwood, Clay Buchholz, Jeremy Hellickson, Jason Vargas, Derek Lowe, Randy Wolf, Henderson Alvarez, and Ervin Santana. Of those eight, two were above-average in 2013, three were serviceable, one was bad, and two were out of baseball. All told, there is a decent chance McAllister bounces back, but it is far from a given that he should be counted on in 2014.
#13 Joe Smith, RHP (Previous Ranks: 11, 12, 16, 14)
Smith's career ERA: 2.97. Smith's career FIP: 3.71. While Smith has only pitched 378.2 innings in his career -- the rough equivalent of one and a half full seasons for a starter -- this sample is large enough to begin to believe that the sidearmer has the ability to outperform his peripherals. Using rWAR instead of fWAR (since rWAR gives more credit to the pitcher for outperforming peripherals), Smith was worth 1.8 WAR this season, third-highest on the team. I still think that fWAR and regressing Smith's raw ERA a bit is worthwhile, but clearly FIP will not tell us everything we need to know about the right-hander. Smith is an interesting free agent in that I do not like paying for relievers (since they are all erratic), but at the right price, bringing Smith back could work.
#12 Cody Allen, RHP (Previous Ranks: 13, 13, 13, 12)
Allen announced his presence on the big league stage by posting a 2.43 ERA and 2.99 FIP in his first full major league season, establishing himself as a legitimate back-end option in the bullpen. While Francona pitched Shaw in the most relief innings, Allen was called upon for the most relief appearances on the team with 77. Now, we all know how unpredictable relievers are, and using any reliever 77 times in one season seems risky. But of the 12 relievers used 77 or more times in 2012, nine appeared in 60 or more games in 2013. There were three who did not -- led by Mitchell Boggs and Shawn Camp's implosions -- but what is clear is Allen easily could be fine for 2014. Never bet on relievers long-term, but just for next year, Allen looks like he will be okay.
#11 Scott Kazmir, LHP (Previous Ranks: 21, 16, 18, 13)
The comeback of Kazmir is one of the things that makes baseball so amazing. The left-hander's last good season was in 2008, when he posted a 3.49 ERA, 4.37 FIP, and 9.81 SO/9. Kazmir posted a 4.89 ERA in 2009 (with his strikeouts declining), a 5.94 ERA in 2010, and only pitched 1.2 innings in 2011 and 2012 combined. The story has been told many times already, but Kazmir got his mechanics right, pitched well in winter ball, and made good on his minor league contract. Now the question is whether or not to re-sign the left-hander for 2014. In this case, the front office has the knowledge we need: Kazmir's medicals. If he is back because of his mechanics and there are no red flags, sure, sign him. If there are warning signs and potential problems, considering that whole "out of baseball" things, do not. It is as simple as that to me.
#10 Corey Kluber, RHP (Previous Ranks: UR, 17, 7, 7)
The finger injury concerns me (same as McAllister), but provided Kluber comes back healthy, he is set up to continue his remarkable run into 2014. Among starters with 140.0 or more innings, Kluber ranked 12th in xFIP, one of the best predictors of future performance for pitchers. Once again, provided that finger injury does not linger like some others the organization has experienced in the past, a Masterson-Salazar-Kluber top of the rotation has some great potential. Kluber came into the season as a Quad-A depth option, but now, he is striking out plenty of batters, limiting his walks, and has turned himself into a legitimate starting pitcher at the major league level.
#9 Michael Bourn, OF (Previous Ranks: 2, 6, 6, 8)
Even though Bourn missed some time with injuries, the center fielder ended the year with a 2.0 fWAR and 2.4 rWAR, firmly establishing himself as an average contributor to Cleveland's season. Even though the does not seem like an accomplishment, it is given that Bourn's defense rated out as simply average in center field (despite being well above-average in most years). While betting on Bourn long-term is risky due to what will happen when he loses his speed, I do not think we are there yet. Bourn can be frustrating at times (see the wild card game) and should not be hitting leadoff (he owned a .316 on-base percentage in 2013), but he does bring value to the team.
#8 Michael Brantley, OF (Previous Ranks: 6, 9, 4, 9)
So how do we feel about Brantley's defense? Baseball-reference rates it as slightly below average, while Fangraphs has it well below-average. His errorless streak aside (because really, rating outfielders on errors is pointless), I think Brantley is a serviceable defender in left field who is hurt by the offensive expectations of that position. Brantley may have a nice swing, but in execution, his line is not that impressive (.284/.332/.396, 104 wRC+). That on-base percentage is not all that high and Brantley does not have much power in his bat. The whole package works decently, and being average has a lot of value at the major league level, but overall, Brantley is just an average contributor at the major league level.
#7 Ryan Raburn, INF/OF (Previous Ranks: 24, 11, 8, 5)
A big part of why the 2013 season went well for Cleveland was unexpected contributions from players like Raburn. The utility man was horrendous in 2012, yet in Cleveland this year, he turned things around. It would be foolish to expect Raburn to post a .272/.357/.543 line again next year, but provided that Francona continues to limit Raburn's playing time and always put him in the best position to succeed, he should do well. Like Aviles, Raburn is not someone I want to see starting every day, but coming off of the bench, Raburn is perfect. Teams need depth to make it through the long major league season and having someone like Raburn available on the bench is huge.
#6 Nick Swisher, 1B/OF (Previous Ranks: 5, 3, 5, 6)
Swisher is another player with wide splits in how his defense is viewed by the numbers, with Baseball-Reference rating him as average and Fangraphs rating him well below-average. Since watching Swisher play first always gives me a heart attack (I am not a fan of how he receives the ball), I am going to side more with Fangraphs here. Despite the defense, while Swisher did not have a great year, he was not truly awful. By wRC+ (one of the best overall hitting statistics), Swisher only dropped from 128 in 2012 to 116 in 2013. Even though he dealt with a shoulder injury all year, Swisher still managed to produce at an above-average level and help the team. It was not always pretty, but Swisher did do pretty well in 2013.
#5 Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP (Previous Ranks: 16, 15, 17, 10)
Things that would have shocked you before the year: Jimenez finished the season with a 3.30 ERA, a 3.43 FIP, a 3.62 xFIP, and that the team would look to bring him back for 2014 and beyond in the offseason. Something finally clicked for Jimenez in 2013 that finally allowed him to pitch like the guy Antonetti thought he was acquiring in 2011. The poor state of starting pitching in the free agent market will allow Jimenez to get paid; MLB Trade Rumors pegged Jimenez's next contract at either three years, $39 million or four years, $52 million. That price is steep and raises the question of whether or not Jimenez can keep up the pace he set in the second half of this season. He might be able to. He might turn back into the Jimenez from 2012. Like always with Jimenez, who knows? All we know is he was absolutely great in 2013.
#4 Justin Masterson, RHP (Previous Ranks: 8, 1, 2, 2)
The list of 2012 starting pitchers who were in the ballpark of Masterson's 2013 3.45 ERA, 3.35 FIP, and 3.33 xFIP are a who's who of aces. While Masterson is still a step below Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, David Price, Stephen Strasburg, etc., the mere fact that he is in the conversation is amazing. Masterson would have ranked higher on this list if not for the oblique injury that knocked out a chunk of September, but either way, Cleveland knows who is pitching at the top of the rotation in 2014. Signing Masterson to a long-term deal will be explored -- something that might be necessary despite how scary it is signing pitchers to such deals. We will see how the offseason proceeds, but right now, Masterson is heading a fairly formidable Cleveland rotation heading into next season.
#3 Yan Gomes, C (Previous Ranks: UR, 20, 10, 4)
With 322 plate appearances, Gomes played in what amounts to half of a full major league season in 2013. The results in that time were overwhelming: a 3.7 fWAR and a 4.0 rWAR, two stats that might even be low. Properly rating catcher defense is still not within our abilities and, by all accounts, Gomes rates out well behind the plate. The question going forward is can Gomes keep this up. Now, projecting Gomes' 2013 season out to a full slate of games makes him an MVP candidate, something I am not willing to do. But with a four-win season under his belt, the idea that Gomes could play 140+ games and maintain a 3-4 WAR is not out of the question. Gomes may have been the throw-in to the Esmil Rogers trade, but ultimately, he should be a key piece of the future.
#2 Carlos Santana, C (Previous Ranks: 1, 2, 3, 3)
Even though Gomes is likely to eat into his time behind the plate going forward, there will be a place for Santana's bat in the Cleveland lineup. Santana actually outhit Gomes this year (135 wRC+ for Santana, 131 wRC+ for Gomes) as his 14.5 percent walk rate buoyed his .268/.377/.455 line. That power-patience combination is what makes Santana special and should play at first base or designated hitter with Gomes likely to play more catcher in 2014. The hope is that by taking Santana out from behind the plate more -- and thus taking away the immense mental burden of catching -- his bat will continue to develop into something more. Santana's bat at the catcher position gives him All-Star level value, but it still is solid at first base or designated hitter.
#1 Jason Kipnis, 2B (Previous Ranks: 3, 4, 1, 1)
Considering everything he brings to the table, how could Kipnis not be the #1 player in these rankings? His stats are simply a collection of impressive numbers: 17 home runs, 30 steals, 86 runs, 84 RBI, a .284/.366/.452 line, and a 130 wRC+. The only players with more home runs and steals in the majors this year? Mike Trout, Carlos Gomez, and Alex Rios. On offense, Kipnis brings something to the table in every facet and is extremely well-rounded. Add in Kipnis' solid defense and you have one of the premier players in all of baseball. As bad as the mid-2000s drafts were for Cleveland, things have been much better recently, headlined by bringing in and developing a player like Kipnis.
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Another "why not try it" in spring training scenarios. Worst that happens is Raburn looks god-awful there and you scratch the idea.
On the otherhand...what message does that send to future free agents that you'll trade a guy 1 year after signing him to a long-term deal? Wouldn't expect the kind of backlash that Miami had as they shipped just about everyone, but still. Plus, his value is down. As said, I'm not a big fan of him but do think he can and will improve next year. May be best to wait a year to trade him.
Guess it would depend ultimately on what kind of offers you got.
As far as replacing Kipnis in the 3-hole...I don't think Brantley is a bad internal option. Doesn't have quite the power you'd want (then again neither did Baerga) but showing he could be a 10-12 HR guy in the future, hits well with men on base and with 2-outs (which you see a lot in the 3-hole).
I've long been an advocate of moving Carlos to RF (I think his arm would be wasted at 1B) or even 3B (played there in the minors).
Still has pop and rediscovered his plate discipline the last 6 weeks. We nearly signed him a couple years ago too...with Acta as our manager and a sub-.500 team. Now we have Francona and a playoff team...
Questions are...can you afford him, and how many years are you willing to go at this point? Will he take 2 years again?
I would like to see Kipnis moved up to the leadoff spot next year. Keep Swisher 2nd. That would mean going out and finding a middle of the order bat to hit 3rd with Santana 4th.
That would have ranked 6th at 1B (if you count Moss, Lind, Encarnacion all as 1Bs)
That would have ranked 2nd at DH (behind Ortiz).
That would have ranked 3rd in the OF in the AL! (behind only Trout and Bautista).
Still want to see Santana in RF or LF next year. His arm is strong...just his mechanics behind the plate and footwork that kill him when throwing out runners. Not the greatest athlete but not a truck either. Don't see him being any worse than some of the guys we've tried out there in the past (Sexson, Broussard, Branyan, Garko, Duncan, Ramirez, etc). Played more OF in the minors than 3B and 1B combined too.
I'd take less speed int he leadoff spot if it meant the leadoff guy would be on base more. IMO Kipnis is the better option to hit leadoff next year. Drop Bourn to 7th where his bat really belongs.