RSS Twitter Facebook YouTube
Expand Menu
IBI Scoreboard for July 31, 2014
MLB
SEA 6
CLE 5
Triple-A
LOU 6
COL 2
Double-A
AKR 9
HAR 10
High-A
CAR 3
SAL 4
Low-A
LC 4
WM 5
Short-A
MV 7
TC 6
DSL
IND 3
AST 2

Tribe Happenings: The importance of the Indians "Fab Five"

Tribe Happenings: The importance of the Indians "Fab Five"
The Indians may look to Trevor Bauer to fill a rotation spot if Justin Masterson departs via free agency. (Photo: AP)
February 24, 2014
Share via: Share: Facebook Share: Twitter Share: Google Share: Pinterest Share: Print Share: Email

Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Indians need the “Fab Five” to come alive

Scott Kazmir? Gone.

Ubaldo Jimenez? Gone.

Justin Masterson? Probably on his way out.

Those three pitchers along with Corey Kluber and Zach McAllisterwere the main components of a strong Indians starting rotation last season, but questions loom about the present and future of the Indians starting rotation.

Jimenez and Kazmir departed as free agents this offseason, and Masterson is set to be a free agent at the end of this coming season. History suggests he will be hard to retain, which means by the end of this season the Indians could have three gaping holes in the rotation that need filled from within.

That is a lot of turnover to the most important area of the team and what was the true strength of the team last season, particularly down the stretch.  It was an area of great concern last spring which worked out thanks to the return to form of Masterson and Jimenez, the comeback of Kazmir and the emergence of Kluber and McAllister, but suddenly it is once again full of question marks not just for this season, but the future as well.

If there ever was a time for the Indians to catch a break for once with their young starting pitchers, now is the time because they have some very strong candidates from within that could effectively fill all five spots in the rotation for the foreseeable future.

Last season Kluber and McAllister solidified themselves as long term options for the rotation.  McAllister has the most big league experience having made 50 starts with the Indians (15-18, 4.12 ERA, 3.1 BB/9, 7.1 K/9) and could potentially be the Jake Westbrook of the staff given his reliability as a starter and ability to haul innings.

Kluber had a breakout campaign (11-5, 3.85 ERA, 2.0 BB/9, 8.3 K/9) and finally put it all together at the Major League level after years of Indians staffers in the minors raving about him having the best stuff in the organization. His ceiling appears higher than McAllister and if last season does not prove to be an aberration and he remains healthy, then he looks like a great candidate to be a number two or three starter for a long time.

Including this season the Indians control both Kluber and McAllister for at least five more seasons. The earliest they could become free agents is after the 2018 season. That is two big building blocks to the rotation from which to build upon that the Indians were very fortunate to have step up last season, but now they need a few more to take the same leap forward at the Major League level this year.

Enter Danny SalazarCarlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer.

Salazar has already impressed in his short time in the big leagues and is assured a spot in the rotation to start the season, though he comes with some durability concerns because of his smaller size and elbow injury in the past. There is no question he has the stuff to be a front of the rotation type of pitcher, but there is a long way to go for him to prove that over time he can be durable and effective enough as a starting pitcher for the next five to seven seasons. He is under team control for at least six more years through the 2019 season.

Carrasco is sort of the anti-Salazar in that he is just as talented, if not more talented, but has never been able to put it together at the Major League level. He has shown flashes of it in the past with a nice showing in 2011 before he injured his elbow and in the bullpen last season, but now he needs to put it together and show he can be consistent with his outings and compete. He is under team control for four more years through the 2017 season.

Bauer is the young phenom that came out of the 2011 Draft very highly regarded and is one of the best starting pitching prospects in baseball, but has struggled with his command and consistency the last two years. He probably won’t factor into things this season except as a spot starter or if injuries crop up to one of the regulars in the rotation, but he is extremely important to the future of this rotation with Masterson potentially departing less than a year from now. He is under team control for at least six more seasons through the 2019 season.

As you can see, this is a pivotal season for the Indians to develop their young starters and to have some luck both with health and performance at the Major League level. All five of Bauer, Carrasco, Kluber, McAllister and Salazar are under club control for at least four more seasons, and considering how expensive just average starting pitching is in free agency it is very important that at least four of these pitchers work out for them and bring stability to the rotation.

There are also some good depth guys like Josh Tomlin and T.J. House and some interesting prospects on the come like Cody Anderson which could factor into things the next few years. But there is little doubt that the “Fab Five” of Bauer, Carrasco, Kluber, McAllister and Salazar are going to have the most impact on the Indians success the next few seasons.

The Indians need things to go right for once. If they do, then they have a good group of starting pitchers that have good stuff and the ability to compete and pitch deep into games, everything you want from a front to middle of the rotation starter.  Those five starters may be the biggest key to the Indians success not just this season, but over the next four to five years as well.

No outfield for Swisher

Of no surprise this spring is the Indians letting it be known that Nick Swisher will probably not play much outfield this season.  Right now the expectation is that he will be the full time first baseman and that he will not play the outfield except on an emergency basis, if they need to reconstitute the team to fit a player on the roster or fill for an injured or underperforming player.

The way things set up at the moment the Indians will have Michael Brantley in left field, Michael Bourn in center field and David Murphy in right field. Ryan Raburn is expected to mix into the outfield mix against left-handed pitchers and the Indians may also have one of Jeff Francoeur or Nyjer Morgan make the team as an extra outfielder. Mike Aviles can also play a little outfield, and Elliot Johnson is another versatile infielder that can play the outfield if he gets makes the team.

In other words, the way things sit right now there is no reason to even play Swisher in the outfield, which of course is just fine considering he is coming off a season where he battled an injury to his left shoulder – his throwing shoulder. His value to the team is the leadership and energy he provides on and off the field, but also his consistent bat, so the Indians need to keep him healthy and in the lineup and first base is the best way of achieving that. He’s also a pretty good defender at first base, so it just makes all the more sense.

Last season Swisher logged 112 games at first base, 27 games in the outfield and another 17 as the designated hitter. If he stays healthy the time at first base should jump to about 130-140 games and he should spend the rest of the time as the designated hitter or get a rare day off. When he is not at first base the Indians could use Raburn there as he has been working out a little at first base this spring, and of course Carlos Santana could be an option there as well if needed. They should also have Jesus Aguilar and David Cooper as options for them at Triple-A Columbus.

Swisher toughed it out last season and played through the shoulder injury even though he probably should have gone on the disabled list for a month or so to give it rest and let it heal, but he still had a solid season hitting .246 with 22 HR, 63 RBI and .763 OPS in 145 games.  He got off to a good start the first two months of last season with a .210 isolated power for April and May combined, but his bat really tapered off in June and July (.098 ISO) and then came back to life the last two months in August and September (.209 ISO).

Swisher did not have surgery and instead used rest in the offseason from the wear and tear of games plus a good strength and conditioning program to get him ready for this season.  The hope is that by playing him only at first base it will take some of the stress off his left shoulder and not hurt his production at the plate because when he is healthy he has proven to be a consistent performer.

McAllister adds another dimension

While a lot of attention has been paid to the fifth starter competition and whether Carlos Carrasco can finally put it all together and run away with the spot this spring, another interesting rotation question mark going into the season is that of Zach McAllister.

Barring injury, McAllister no doubt will be in the opening day rotation, but there is some concern whether the finger issue that plagued him last season is truly behind him or whether it may resurface once again this season.  He suffered a right middle finger sprain throwing a curveball which sidelined him for about six weeks in the middle of last season, so it remains to be seen if it was a one-time freak thing or becomes a recurring issue like that of former phenom Adam Miller.

McAllister has come a long way since the Indians acquired him in a trade from the Yankees for Austin Kearns late in the 2010 season. He’s proven to be a workhorse starter who can eat innings, and the addition of a splitter to his repertoire last spring was a separator for him as it added a much needed dimension to his pitching to get swing and miss with two strikes.

Now, McAllister is working on perfecting a new power slider which he worked on incorporating into his pitch mix in the offseason. The slider has replaced his inconsistent cutter and the Indians hope that it adds another pitch into the equation to put away hitters with two strikes and give them a different look since he really pitches off his fastball a lot.

If McAllister stays healthy like he has for most of his career and proves that injury last season was but a minor hiccup, and the splitter and slider are both there, then he suddenly has more upside and could no doubt end up a good number three in the rotation, maybe even more.

Thoughts on Nelson Cruz

The Orioles signed free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz to a one-year $8 million deal over the weekend. It was a surprising signing given that he was offered and turned down a one-year $14.1 million qualifying offer at the outset of the offseason and was expected to land a lucrative multi-year deal.  But he never got a deal he liked, and in time found himself scrambling for a team, hence his low cost signing with the Orioles.

Naturally, I have received several questions whether the Indians missed an opportunity to add Cruz into the fold at a low cost. I will admit, signing him for just one year and for $8 million is intriguing, but there is more to it than that when weighing the cost of signing him.

First off, Cruz is coming off a PED suspension and there is a significant question mark not only how he responds to the controversy with his play on the field, but also how much his play in the past was enhanced because of PED use. Does he continue to hit as he has in the past? Or, does he see a step back or two with his bat that makes him rather ordinary as a hitter?

For me, if this was the only question mark, I’d have taken the gamble and see what he can do this season. It is just a risk of $8 million for one year, and if he struggles then you just let him go after the season.

But that is not the only issue as to sign him to that favorable contract the Indians would have had to forfeit their first pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, number 21 overall. Regardless of their previous draft history or the miss-rate on prospects being so high, that is still a lot to give up to sign him for one year, which is ultimately why the Indians and 28 other teams passed on signing him even for that low of a financial risk.

For anyone who suggests the Indians could just offer him the qualifying offer next offseason and get that pick back in the 2015 Draft, note that the qualifying offers will probably approach $15 million next offseason and players will probably start to accept them. Also there is no guarantee he has a season worthy of extending him the qualifying offer.

Cruz has been an above average run producing bat for the last several years, and his overall value determined by wins above replacement (WAR) has mostly been dragged down because of his questionable defense. He certainly would have provided the Indians a much needed right-handed power bat to insert into the middle of the lineup, a problem I have written about many times over the past year as a big issue with the construction of their lineup. They lack very many options to hit in the middle of the order, and he would have fit well hitting fifth right behind Carlos Santana, or vice versa.

In the end, they really could not sign Cruz as they already signed David Murphy earlier in the offseason to fill their outfield void and they want to free up the designated hitter position to give their regulars time off from the field and keep their bench fresh. It is hard to argue with that thought process as it worked perfectly last season. Even if they wanted to consider him as a designated hitter option, the loss of a first round pick for one year of production is a steep price to pay.

Spring training TV schedule

The Indians begin Cactus League play on Wednesday. Here is a listing of the games that will be televised this spring (all times Eastern):

February 26: Reds @ Indians, 5pm (tape delay) – MLB Network
February 27: Indians @ Reds, 3pm – STO (5pm, tape delay on MLB Network)
March 9: Brewers @ Indians, 4pm – STO (3/10 at 7am, tape delay on MLB Network)
March 10: Angels @ Indians, 4pm – STO (3/11 at 12am, tape delay on MLB Network)
March 11: Indians @ Diamondbacks, 4pm – STO (3/12 at 4am, tape delay on MLB Network)
March 12: Padres @ Indians, 4pm – STO and MLB Network
March 13: Royals @ Indians, 4pm – STO (3/14 at 10am, tape delay on MLB Network)
March 15: Indians @ White Sox, 12am (tape delay) – MLB Network
March 17: Indians @ Reds, 4pm – STO and MLB Network
March 23: Indians @ Angels, 4pm – STO and MLB Network
March 24: Indians @ Reds, 4pm – MLB Network
March 29: Indians @ Padres, 10am (tape delayed from 3/28) – MLB Network
March 29: Indians @ Padres, 4pm – MLB Network

Parting shots

On Thursday right-handed reliever Matt Capps was sidelined with a right shoulder strain which will keep him out of action for two to three weeks and has probably set him behind about four weeks. He is coming off shoulder surgery last June and is expected to open the season in extended spring training. … Michael Bourn is expected to be limited at the start of Cactus League play, not because of injury but because the Indians will be overly cautious with him in the early going this spring. He has no restrictions this spring from his offseason procedure to repair his left hamstring, but the Indians just want to gradually mix him into games at the start of the Cactus League season. … Right-handed pitcher Kyle Davies has been signed to a minor league contract with no invite to Major League spring training. He will report to early minor league camp this week with the hopes of earning a rotation or swing starter spot at Triple-A Columbus and get him back on the paths to the big leagues.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Hermie13
February 26, 2014 - 8:57 AM EST
"Lineup should be.
Bourn
Ascab
Kipnis
Santana
Brantley
Swisher
Murphey/Raburn
Gomes
Chiz"


Very curious to hear the rationale behind this lineup...
Jwahoo
February 25, 2014 - 7:54 PM EST
Lineup should be.
Bourn
Ascab
Kipnis
Santana
Brantley
Swisher
Murphey/Raburn
Gomes
Chiz

You are a hundred percent right about how important the fab 5 are. The Indians need a good draft. I would focus on drafting the best LH pitcher in college. Someone who could come up relatively and be here for 17-18 seasons when I think we will really take off.

pathofkindness
February 25, 2014 - 11:12 AM EST
Yea, thanks for the article Tony.

Still, I'll stick with my sense that if Gomes is the right person to hit fifth, then he won't hesitate to put him there. IMO Francona's words in the article were very Santana-specific. He way trying to rationalize not having Carlos hit #4 and working it with the public perception so as not to seem like a demotion, something that Terry is very sensitive to and does very well.

I think Francona is the ultimate pragmatist, and he looks at every player, not according to some predetermined philosophy or paradigm, but from the perspective of what will bring the best out in a player and what will help the team best, balancing the short-term and the long-term. That makes it very difficult to say that he'll always do this, or never do that, as he's quite flexible and to a great extent he let's each player's unique abilities and capacities at that particular time determine a decision.
Hermie13
February 25, 2014 - 8:13 AM EST
Thanks for that article Tony.

Guess we'll have to wait and see on Gomes then....he won't hit cleanup with Santana there....is batting 5th as opposed to 6th (where Santana hit early last year) considered too much for Gomes in Francona's eyes though?
Hermie13
February 25, 2014 - 8:11 AM EST
It depends on what you mean by "solid" season obviously.

He did hit 20+ HRs yet again and had an fWAR of 2.4. OBP was disappointing for him at .341 but not terrible (better than the career numbers of Bourn and Brantley for example). Definitely want/need to see more from Swisher but if he's stuck as that player for the next 3 years it actually isn't that bad. Was "worth" $12.1M last year...
Tony
February 24, 2014 - 6:34 PM EST
Ha, good catch Devin! You are right in how I was thinking....I have corrected.
Devin
February 24, 2014 - 6:16 PM EST
Minor correction, Tony... (you may have had the Orioles on your mind)... in the Nelson Cruz section you say the Indians would have had to give up the #17 overall pick. They have the #21 pick. Great article though, sir!!
Walter
February 24, 2014 - 6:01 PM EST
I believe is an important year for the development of other potential pitching prospects such as Baker, Plutko, Kime, Lugo, Colon,Araujo that could add depth behind Anderson, House and Tomlin.

I also think the Indians need to hit a home run with upcoming Draft.
Tony
February 24, 2014 - 5:58 PM EST
Francona explains it all about defense first for catchers and trying to limit expectations for bat in a key role in the lineup here:

http://cleveland.indians.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130816&content_id=57212680¬ebook_id=57216018&vkey=notebook_cle&c_id=cle

"We've tried to tell our catchers, 'Defense first,'" Francona said. "Then, if we turn around and hit the guy cleanup, that's kind of sending the wrong message." ... "The reason we really didn't [hit Santana fourth] early," Francona said, "and I was pretty open about it, was the fact that he was catching. ... But we've been catching Gomes more now, and with Santana either playing first or DHing, I don't feel like maybe we're sending the wrong message. Hopefully, we can use his offensive skills and not take away from the defense."
pathofkindness
February 24, 2014 - 5:56 PM EST
To call Swisher's 2013 "a solid season" is stretching it quite a bit for me. His season was anything but "solid" and more like wildly inconsistent and borderline disaster. I am sure that CA was pretty disappointed in his $14m investment, and if it weren't for coming through and hitting pretty well in the final months of the year, I think that we would be calling it a terrible signing. I am sure that they are hoping for more consistent production from a healthy Nick this year, and in fact, if they want to take a step forward they are going to need him to hit better. He is a very agile fielder at 1B, but does tend to make some kinda screwy plays now and then. Glad to hear that he won't be running around the OF though, the more we can limit guys like him and Raburn in the field the better.

I agree with Hermie re Gomes.

Unless he falters big-time in his sophomore season, his bat can play in the middle of the line-up, and don't think that Francona will hesitate to put him there. I can't imagine that Terry has a philosophy about where to hit catchers, at least I never heard him say so, and I think he was just trying to protect Santana last year by not putting him in the four-hole while trying (as best he could!) to focus on his catching. This made sense for Carlos, but it is not Yan's issue.

Also, Raburn can easily hit fifth against lefties, no problem. He's proved that.
pathofkindness
February 24, 2014 - 5:52 PM EST
To call Swisher's 2013 "a solid season" is stretching it quite a bit for me. His season was anything but "solid" and more like wildly inconsistent and borderline disaster. I am sure that CA was pretty disappointed in his $14m investment, and if it weren't for coming through and hitting pretty well in the final months of the year, I think that we would be calling it a terrible signing. I am sure that they are hoping for more consistent production from a healthy Nick this year, and in fact, if they want to take a step forward they are going to need him to hit better. He is a very agile fielder at 1B, but does tend to make some kinda screwy plays now and then. Glad to hear that he won't be running around the OF though, the more we can limit guys like him and Raburn in the field the better.

I agree with Hermie re Gomes.

Unless he falters big-time in his sophomore season, his bat can play in the middle of the line-up, and don't think that Francona will hesitate to put him there. I can't imagine that Terry has a philosophy about where to hit catchers, at least I never heard him say so, and I think he was just trying to protect Santana last year by not putting him in the four-hole while trying (as best he could!) to focus on his catching. This made sense for Carlos, but it is not Yan's issue.

Also, Raburn can easily hit fifth against lefties, no problem. He's proved that.
Hermie13
February 24, 2014 - 4:38 PM EST
"Gomes is essentially replacing Reynolds ABs from last season"

That's how I view Gomes in 2014 as well. Can't see him being worse over the course of the year as Reynolds was. If he gets some games in at DH as well think he could easily hit 20 dingers and have a .750-.775 OPS. Not bad numbers for a non-cleanup middle of the order guy...
Themaven
February 24, 2014 - 4:22 PM EST
I'll be happy if Gomes defense wasn't a mirage,hitting will be a bonus.
Gomes is essentially replacing Reynolds ABs from last season and if he catches 125 games he'll hit 15 dingers by accident with that compact stroke of his.They'll get more production over the season with Gomes.
Hermie13
February 24, 2014 - 3:00 PM EST
Swisher's defense at 1B is key for me on keeping him on the infield and all the other reasons should be secondary. Positive UZR (both in 2013 and career), good DRS (both 2013 and career), good TZ (both 2013 and career) and even plus FRAA for career. I know a lot of people hate metrics for defense but when they all agree, they tend to be accurate. Plus simply looks good there too. Love having a lefty at 1B as well.

I may be wrong, but if he wasn't good there I think we'd have seen the Tribe consider him in the OF again and looked at improving 1B or DH instead of getting Murphy.
Tony
February 24, 2014 - 2:07 PM EST
I agree on the effectiveness of Raburn against lefties. I'm just not much of a fan of inserting a platoon player into the top 5 spots in the lineup. I prefer consistency in the front five spots and then the last four spots are interchangeable if needed.
Hermie13
February 24, 2014 - 1:59 PM EST
Raburn hasn't really been that inconsistent though. Over the last 5 years he's hit 16 HRs, 15 HRs, 14 HRs, 1 HR, and 16 HRs. He had an absolutely terrible 2012. No way around that, but outside of that has constantly shown the ability to hit lefties.

vs Lefties:
2009: 158 PAs, 12 HRs, .278/.382/.594/.976 and .316 ISO
2010: 146 PAs, 7 HRs, .295/.363/.566/.929 and .271 ISO
2011: 157 PAs, 7 HRs, .274/.321/.486/.807 and .212 ISO
2012: 124 PAs, 1 HR, .165/.224/.253/.477 and .088 ISO
2013: 124 PAs, 7 HRs, .308/.403/.617/1.020 and .308 ISO

Again, outside of 2012 he's been damn consistent against lefties...

I mean maybe he won't be 2013 good against them again but see no reason why we shouldn't expect at least 7 HRs and an OPS over .800 against lefties again this year. 2012 clearly has been the outlier of late. Want to clarify too that I'm saying Raburn is a middle of the order RH bat against lefties...not overall. Hit righties well last year but that I'm not willing to bet on again...though with Murphy hopefully don't need it.


Fair point on Gomes needing to prove himself, and don't expect him to hit that high to start the year. Don't agree with the Francona and catchers hitting in the middle of the order thing though. He hit Martinez in the middle of the order in Boston. Santana's inexperience/minor struggles in 2012 are what kept him out of the cleanup spot, not his position. Obviously Gomes is inexperience, but should he start off hitting like he did in 2012....I expect him to move up as the season progresses.
Tony
February 24, 2014 - 1:34 PM EST
Not big on either Raburn or Gomes hitting much higher than 6th. Look, for as good as Raburn was last year, he has been an inconsistent player throughout his career and never has been a guy who should hit in the middle of a lineup. Perhaps he continues his success this year, of which I would be fine with using him occasionally in the 5-hole....but I still think its rather early to consider him a solution to the middle of the order need. Gomes very well might be a middle of the order bat, but he needs to prove himself over a full season. Also, you have to consider Francona's reluctance to hit his catcher in the middle of the order as he wants him to have the #1 responsibility of taking care of his pitchers. That was a big reason Santana took so long to slide up in the order last year, and probably will be a big reason Gomes hits 7-9 in the order for most of the season.
Hermie13
February 24, 2014 - 1:27 PM EST
Maybe I'm too high on Gomes....but think he can/will be that RH power bat in the middle of the lineup that people seem to want.

Raburn also can be a big RH bat in the middle of the lineup against lefties. Not saying Cruz wouldn't have helped, though glad we passed.

Your Name:
Leave a Comment:
Security Code:

IBI Videos

Available IBI Books

The 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider book featuring the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is now available. Also, previous editions from 2008-2012 are also available at a discounted rate. Just click on the book image for more information. Thanks again for all the support!

 

RSS Twitter Facebook YouTube
News   |   Teams   |   Players   |   Reference   |   Rankings   |   Depth Chart   |   Payroll   |   Boards   |   Privacy
Admin Login
All Rights Reserved 2014, Indians Baseball Insider   |   Affordable web design by Ohio Connect