2019 Indians: In For A Penny, In For A Pennant

Ford Frick's Asterisk

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For a team that sleepwalked to a division title in 2018 and expect to reign again in 2019, the Indians are looking at a lot of upheaval. Beyond Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis, every position on the field is likely to be held down by a different player than last season, and even Ramirez and Kipnis could be holding down new positions. They'll fill a lot of holes (after creating some of them for purely budget minded reasons), all with an eye on Larry Dolan's profit margins. Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley, Yonder Alonso and Yan Gomes are out. Only Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers have replaced those vacancies, and Bauers at least formally has to earn the starting job. Roberto Perez, a catcher who hasn't hit his weight since his rookie year, and Leonys Martin, who was the starting center fielder for one week in July before he nearly died, are the next closest things to known commodities.

The starting rotation is the one thing that still looks the same, and likely guarantees another division title against a mixed bag of rebuilding teams that all failed to post a winning record last year. After surviving two rounds of trade rumors, it seems Corey Kluber is likely to stay and anchor a rotation that also includes Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber. After surgeons rooted around in Danny Salazar's shoulder last summer to see what they could find, he's likely to return sometime in the first half, but any future is probably in the bullpen. All of these pitchers are under team control through at least the 2020 season, after which Bauer and Salazar could reach free agency.

The back of the bullpen is as much of a mystery as the outfield at this point, with Brad Hand as the only late-inning guy under contract. Andrew Miller left via free agency without any negotiations. However, the lack of rumors surrounding Cody Allen lead me to believe there's at least a 50% chance he remains with the club. He sabotaged his free agency with the worst season of his career, but much of that was identified as mechanical issues (front shoulder flying open). Still, it placed him well outside the group of Kimbrel, Miller, Robertson, Britton and Ottavino the big spenders have been jockeying for. Unless one of those teams comes up with nothing from that group and overreacts, it seems doubtful Allen's market will ever rise above what Cleveland would be comfortable spending to keep him. Adam Cimber, Tyler Olson, Dan Otero and a healthy Nick Goody are expected to help the front of the pen, and there's mutual interest in the return of Oliver Perez, giving them three lefties. Goody has the stuff to earn a larger role, whereas Otero, in the last year of his contract, has to be on shaky ground.

Although there are a lot of questions to be answered in Cleveland between now and April, I expect the team to remain relatively quiet until late January. They've freed up some spending money, but still aren't going to jump into negotiations with the top tier free agents or get in a bidding war with more aggressive large market teams. They'll wait for the market to start crumbling on some of the second tier players. Their problem is that the second tier outfielders just aren't that enticing. However, I think their advantage here is the positional flexibility already on their roster, plus an uncompetitive division. While Kipnis isn't an ideal outfielder, it's something he can handle, and they could give him a 2-month trial in left field while seeing if this is going to be one of the years when he actually hits. Then they can reassess the situation before the trade deadline. Moving Kipnis and Ramirez around the diamond allows the Indians to take advantage of an undervalued free agent in either the outfield or infield. Just as an example, they could sign Mike Moustakas to play 3B, shift Ramirez to 2B and Kipnis to LF without much impact to team defense.

I could prattle on awhile, but I'll come back later to take a closer look at the current outfield situation, the trades that went down, and NRIs who might be a factor.

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Ford Frick's Asterisk

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Trades and payroll...

The only real plan the Indians have yet to reveal this winter is clearing payroll by letting their free agents walk without a serious offer (Michael Brantley, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Lonnie Chisenhall), and a series of trades:

• Nov. 30: Traded Yan Gomes to Nationals for Daniel Johnson, Jefry Rodriguez and Andruw Monasterio.
Impact on 2019 payroll: -$7M

This registers as a slightly defensible salary dump. Rodriguez has a 95-mph fastball he hasn't been able to get past major league bats yet. He figures to ride the Columbus/Cleveland shuttle a few times this year as a swing-man, but his versatility is better than his talent. Johnson is a toolsy AA outfielder, who will probably never reach base enough to be more than a 4th outfielder. Monasterio is 21-yo low-level infielder, who in a few years could be 24.

• Dec. 13: Traded Edwin Encarnacion and a competitive balance pick to the Mariners, and Yandy Diaz and Cole Sulser to the Rays. Received Carlos Santana and $6M from the Mariners and Jake Bauers from the Rays.
Impact on 2019 payroll: -$4.67M
... assuming they buyout Santana's option for 2021 now rather than Encarnacion's option for 2020, this commits the Indians to an additional $16.33M beyond 2019.
This is the one thing Cleveland has done this off-season that I'm excited about. They managed to save money while replacing Encarnacion's bat with a very similar one in Santana, except Santana is still a useful 1B rather than simply a DH. Bauers, a top 50 prospect a year ago, will report to spring training with the opportunity to earn full-time at-bats, splitting 1B/DH duties with Santana. Yandy Diaz is a physical specimen who can get on base, but he's a liability anywhere on the field, and at age 27 it's questionable whether he's ever going to buy into the launch angle revolution to make use of his physical strength.

• Dec. 15: Traded Yonder Alonso to the White Sox for Alex Call.
Impact on 2019 payroll: -$8M

This was a pure salary dump with a show of confidence in newly acquired Jake Bauers. It clears the way for Bauers to start and shows his future is most likely at 1B/DH rather than the outfield. No one in Cleveland is going to miss Alonso, who was unpopular with the fans from the day he signed as Santana's replacement. Call is a right fielder at AA whose only plus seems to be that everyone thinks he's gritty. He won't have a major league career to speak of.

The Indians also made one noteworthy trade based strictly on talent and need:
• Nov. 14: Traded Erik Gonzalez, Dante Mendoza and Tahnaj Thomas to the Pirates for Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff.
The Indians traded their utility man here for a guy who will have an opportunity to win a spot in Cleveland's outfield in 2019. Gonzalez might be able to hold down a starting infield job, but he was blocked in Cleveland and lacks the plate discipline to be more than a placeholder. Luplow, 25, will need his power to translate to the majors to make it as a corner outfielder, but aside from switch-hitter Greg Allen, he's the only right-handed outfield bat on Cleveland's 40-man roster, so he's a good fit. He should platoon or ride the shuttle in 2019. Moroff is the leading utility infield candidate on the 40-man roster, but that's a minor role in Cleveland and he'll never be more than that.

...We're left guessing what the team is willing to spend in 2019, but it's been reported they went "overbudget" in 2018 with a payroll around $143M. The current roster projects to about $121M (with today's re-signing of Oliver Perez), but the team's championship window will probably expire after 2020, so if they aren't willing to spend now when will they? They've lost Brantley and Chisenhall in the outfield, and Miller and Allen from the bullpen, and have yet to sign any replacement to a major league contract.

I'll try to look at the outfield situation yet this weekend.

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jon abbey

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Awesome stuff, man, thanks.

I have a question: Oliver Perez was so effective last year and somehow even better against righties, so with all the bullpen issues CLE had, why did he only face an average of around two batters per game?
 

Ford Frick's Asterisk

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I really don't know, but I could see that role changing in 2019. In 4 of his first 8 appearances with Cleveland last year he went 1+ innings, but that may have simply been because they had few arms who could even get outs at that point. He only recorded 3+ outs in 25% of his games after that. Tyler Olson had been their LOOGY, but due to injury and ineffectiveness, he only made 20 appearances after Perez was acquired, and half those were after the roster expanded in September. If Olson can be an effective part of the pen again, it would make sense that Perez would be used based more on the situation than the matchup.

Perez is a lot of fun to watch... like late career Luis Tiant or a more likable Pascual Perez... he seems to make up his pitches and deliveries as he goes along and clearly has a blast doing it. Since his delivery and release point is constantly changing, I would think that would lend to him being more than just a LOOGY. Of course, it could also mean that him finally discovering his control at age 36 isn't a repeatable skill.

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Ford Frick's Asterisk

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Cleveland's Outfield or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Derek Dietrich

When your surest thing in the outfield is a guy who's less than six months removed from a close call with death, you might have some problems. We're three weeks away from position players reporting to spring training, and yet the only thing we know about the Indians outfield is that Leonys Martin will open the year as the starting center fielder... I think. Martin played six games for the team before a life-threatening bacterial infection ended his season. After that it gets complicated. The next best options in the outfield are also center fielders, light-hitting but speedy Greg Allen and injured former top prospect Bradley Zimmer. Here's a look at what they need to sort through in-house:

40 Man Roster
Leonys Martin
Greg Allen
Bradley Zimmer
Tyler Naquin
Jordan Luplow
Oscar Mercado

Jason Kipnis

Non-Roster Spring Training Invitees
Brandon Barnes
Trayce Thompson
Mike Papi
Daniel Johnson

We can dismiss the group of non-roster players right off the bat. Barnes is a "break in case of emergency" candidate. Thompson had a nice rookie month in 2015, but has hit .179/.249/.346 in 416 MLB at-bats since. Papi is organizational filler and Johnson is more than a year away.

Mercado is an interesting candidate, not likely to help in the first half, but an under-the-radar trade acquisition last summer. He's a base-stealing threat and good defender, who has looked better as he's climbed the minors. Whether his bat can make one more step will determine whether he's ultimately a starter or fourth outfielder. It's a high floor, with a ceiling that reminds me of Coco Crisp (another minor league outfielder the Tribe acquired from St. Louis 16 years earlier). However, it's going to take me at least a year to stop calling him Orlando.

Zimmer is the wildcard. He has 5-tool potential, but lost a crucial year in 2018 where he should have been establishing himself as a major leaguer. He struggled in Cleveland and demoted to AAA, where he soon aggravated a shoulder injury that likely originated with a collision with the wall in Yankee Stadium. The 8-12 month recovery time from labrum surgery means they weren't counting on Zimmer in the spring, but he's checking off the boxes for an early return and believes he'll get into spring training games. Zimmer is a potential gold glove in center but could fit in right field alongside Martin, perhaps as self-preservation.

Naquin and Luplow would be a worst-case scenario platoon for right field, with Kipnis available for such a need in left if they find an infielder they prefer instead. I can't even guess what the outfield would look like if the season started today, because they simply can't enter the season with the current situation.

Free Agent Outfielders
Marwin Gonzalez
Denard Span
Curtis Granderson
Derek Dietrick
Adam Jones

Gonzalez's agent certainly hit the publicity trail hard in November and has gone quiet since, but I assume he's waiting to sell himself as the best position player available after Machado and Harper sign, and won't drop down into Cleveland's market. Span and Granderson fit the mold of what Cleveland likes to sign to 1-year deals as the 4th outfielder (see Austin Jackson and Rajai Davis), but Greg Allen already fills that role for less.

I haven't seen any recent rumors linking Dietrich to Cleveland, but it almost makes too much sense to not happen. He's the youngest (29) free agent outfielder available, a Cleveland native, and offers the positional flexibility the team covets. The Indians are no strangers to platooning in the outfield, and Dietrich can face right-handed pitching (career .258/.343/.432), filling Lonnie Chisenhall's vacated role, while Luplow (or Mercado) faces lefties. Dietrich isn't a good defender but has a season's worth of experience at each of LF, 2B and 3B, which would also make valuable on a team that has no established utility infielder. Since Jose Ramirez can play any of 3B, 2B and SS, their biggest need for depth on the infield is 3B. Dietrich's grandfather Steve Demeter even had 5 hitless at-bats for the 1960 Indians.

I've never been an Adam Jones fan, but his recent willingness shift right field should make him more valuable than he was last season. There have been no reported negotiations between Jones and the Tribe, but like Dietrich, they were connected in trade talks last July. At that time I was dead set against a Jones acquisition, but given the current lack of alternatives, I'd now consider him a step up from the alternatives.

Barring any additions through trade, I'd be satisfied with an outfield of Dietrich/Luplow-Martin-Jones with Greg Allen coming off the bench and Zimmer soon challenging the weakest link. Presuming they have around $20M available to spend, I'd think Dietrich and Jones should require little more than half that, possibly without being contractually obligated beyond 2019. That would also leave them with enough payroll space to comfortably add another bullpen arm or two and an experienced utility man.

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Ford Frick's Asterisk

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A couple things I missed or should clear up...

Somehow I completely overlooked one trade:
Jan. 6: Indians trade Sam Haggerty and Walker Lockett to the Mets for Kevin Plawecki
Impact on 2019 payroll: +1.137M

This is a nice addition to a team that lacks a catcher with the ability to reach base. True, Plawecki hasn't shown much aptitude for that through his first 700 MLB at-bats himself, but at least it's something he theoretically might accomplish yet. He's hit .296/.364/.451 over his minor league career, and he wouldn't be the first catcher to still be developing his offense at age 28. Roberto Perez will likely start the year getting the majority of the playing time based on his comfort with the pitching staff and defense, but he's never really hit at any level beyond rookie ball. Lockett was 7th or 8th on Cleveland's starting depth chart and had been in the organization less than 2 months. Haggerty is organizational filler.

The payroll numbers I used were from b-ref since I was already looking up numbers there, but those are the highest reported. Other sites are projecting between $115.7M-$119M for the current roster. Management has stated that they can't match the $135M range they opened at last season. In short, I'm going to be disappointed with the starting outfield that opens the year, as even my idea of Adam Jones is probably a pipe dream. They're also going to take the slow hand approach again this year... rest easy that they'll win the AL Central based simply on having perhaps the four best starters in the division, and see what their priority acquisitions will be in July. Still, there's no justification for not adding someone like Dietrich plus a couple veterans to lengthen the pen or bench for a total of $6M-$7M.

I never bought into the idea of trading Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer this winter. It may have created more balance, but it's hard to believe a rookie outfielder would offset the drop off from Kluber/Bauer to Adam Plutko. It also would be a PR disaster for a team that struggles for attendance even when they're winning division titles. I am completely convinced though that this will be the final season in Cleveland for one of the two. If Shane Bieber continues developing in Cleveland and top prospect Triston McKenzie continues his development to where he's a viable major league option late this summer, someone will be departing in exchange for a major league ready outfielder. There's also the chance Danny Salazar (shoulder surgery) can return to the rotation by this summer, although I suspect any future of his is in the bullpen.

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Gdiguy

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Good luck with Plawecki - I always had hopes for him and he seems like a nice guy, but every time D'Arnaud would go down he'd get a chance to start and potentially win the position, and he'd promptly hit an empty .210.
 

Ford Frick's Asterisk

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An empty .210 will certainly be a step up from Roberto Perez's offense, although it's a little disconcerting that Plawecki shows up 4th on Perez's similarity scores (Sandy Leon comes in a close 5th).

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Ford Frick's Asterisk

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I'd still like to see the Indians pick up another veteran righty for the bullpen, but they have enough quantity that I don't see them adding multiple MLB contracts.

Brad Hand
Oliver Perez
Nick Goody
Adam Cimber
Neil Ramirez
Tyler Olson
Dan Otero

That gives them enough warm bodies but involves a lot of praying someone will step up in the setup roles. I think a healthy Goody could do that, as he's looked great for a couple months at a time in the past. He missed the majority of 2018 due to arthroscopic elbow surgery but should be good to go out of the gate for 2019.

If Olson can also maintain his health and effectiveness he reclaims the situational lefty role, and Oliver Perez will likely see extended usage where he faces more right-handed hitters. Cimber will probably never be more than a Steve Reed type situational righty, but pitching coach Carl Willis is going to have to rediscover the Cimber from San Diego, who struck out 26.6% of the batters he faced, instead of the guy in Cleveland who only struck out 7.6%.

Neil Ramirez was impressive for stretches, but his home run rate also made him unusable for stretches. Considering that's been a career-long problem, I don't see him ever being a reliable setup man. Likewise, Otero's inability to keep the ball in the park nearly got him released in August when his 2019 contract was probably the biggest factor in keeping him over Zach McAllister.

There are two non-roster invitees who could be in the mix for the opening day roster: Justin Grimm and James Hoyt. Personally, I don't see it with Grimm, who walks too many and has little success since his career year in 2015. Hoyt's stuff and story is at least interesting. He's an undrafted indy ball graduate, who made 65 appearances for the Astros over 2016-17 with mixed results. Cleveland acquired him for a minor league arm last summer when their bullpen was in shambles, but Hoyt himself only lasted 2 weeks in AAA before a knee injury ended his season. He gets a lot of swing-and-misses with his slider, which is his primary pitch, and then he'll use a mid-90s fastball as a secondary pitch. He might not open the season in Cleveland, but I'll be surprised if he isn't on the Columbus-Cleveland shuttle a few times this year. Brooks Pounders would be the one other guy with an outside shot.

Similar to the Red Sox, the Indians are probably doing due diligence on the list of remaining relievers who can be plucked from the bargain bin, but with Hand, Perez and Olson already in-house, they can probably disregard the lefties. The resulting list would look something like:

Nick Vincent
Sergio Romo
Tyler Clippard
Tony Barnette
Adam Warren
John Axford
Bud Norris
Ryan Madson
Alex Wilson
Brad Boxberger

If Barnette's shoulder is healthy, I think he's the most interesting name on the list, but considering the relief hungry Rangers didn't retain him, I have my doubts about that. Warren and Clippard seem the safest choices, although Clippard's home run rate seems a bit too familiar for Cleveland's bullpen. Been there, done that with Axford... no thanks.

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Ford Frick's Asterisk

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The Indians have continued to add candidates without adding any guaranteed contracts. At this point, it looks like Oliver Perez might be the biggest free agent signing of the offseason.

That's not to say they haven't added anyone else of significance. Alex Wilson, who signed last week for the opportunity to earn $1.25M-$2M, seems like a roster lock. He could very well be their top right-handed reliever. Less than a week earlier, Cleveland had traded a 27-year-old AA reliever for Marlins reliever Nick Wittgren. This throws another fungible arm into the mix for the 6th/7th innings. Wittgren is the definition of mediocre (aside from his mustache, which is fabulous) but had a half-season of success last year. Aside from Brad Hand, Oliver Perez and Dan Otero, no one is a certainty in the pen, and Otero only holds that status because of his contract and service time. Neil Ramirez and Tyler Olson should be the most worried.

Francisco Lindor is likely to miss a week or two to open the season, placing a bit more emphasis on the seeming afterthought of a utility infielder. The addition of Ryan Flaherty at least gives the team an experienced option. Prospect Yu Chang is the only candidate for the job who can play shortstop, but that's not necessary since Jose Ramirez is 2nd on the depth chart at short. Cleveland no doubt hopes Chang will seize the opportunity and get some regular playing time in April to preview his abilities. However, Max Moroff remains the top candidate to collect dust on the bench most of the summer if Flaherty looks finished.

Cleveland did add a veteran left-handed bat to the outfield mix, but it wasn't my prediction of Derek Dietrich. Matt Joyce will have a chance to win a platoon job. Honestly, I don't see the point. He can't help out on the infield like Dietrich could and seems like a worse bet to beat out Tyler Naquin for the same outfield role.

It seems they're also cornering the market on AAAA catchers. Yesterday they signed Tim Federowicz to a minor league deal, exactly one week after signing Dioner Navarro, who put up a .299 OBP for the Long Island Ducks last year. I assume the plan is to boost Roberto Perez's confidence by surrounding him with guys who are even worse. It's hard to imagine either of these two beat out Perez or Plawecki for a MLB job, and since Eric Haase will be the starter in AAA, at least one of them won't survive spring training.

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Ford Frick's Asterisk

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The Indians finally signed a star player... or at least they would have if it was still 2010. Hanley Ramirez is an odd addition. It might make some sense as a platoon with Jake Bauers, except there will almost certainly be at least one platoon in the outfield, and they already have 1B/DH covered with Bauers and Carlos Santana. Unless they think Bauers or Santana really can play the outfield on a regular basis, I think this is a waste of time. It's an out of character move for a team that has clearly valued defensive flexibility over the past few years. Hanley doesn't play a position they don't already have covered (it doesn't change their need for a utility infielder or fifth outfielder), so one of those guys would have to play some outfield if he makes the roster.

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Ford Frick's Asterisk

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I think the article overstates the "24 plus Trevor" clubhouse chemistry, but the rest seems accurate. Bauer and Clevinger are an odd couple routine, and Bauer and Carrasco (the class clown of the team) were the ones making baseball artwork in their teammate's likeness last year. Bauer definitely isn't like the typical professional ballplayer, and I think it took him longer than most to fit in with his teammates, but I don't recall him ever having a public dispute with a Cleveland teammate. Miguel Montero, who played a significant part in running him out of Phoenix, has also since revealed himself to generally be an awful teammate.

Anyway, if Bauer has half the success improving his changeup that he did in turning a mediocre slider into one of the best secondary pitches in baseball in one off-season, he should be a frontrunner for the Cy Young. After that, he's right, he'll likely be pitching for some other team in 2020. If Shane Bieber locks up a rotation spot and Triston McKenzie appears to be major league ready by the end of 2019, one of the current starters will certainly be dealt for a long-term investment package built around a MLB-ready position player (OF, 2B/3B or C)... even if just one of those things happen, they'll probably do it to balance the team's talent. That pitcher could be Corey Kluber, but the Indians will still have two club options on him, and since Bauer will play his entire career year-to-year, he's likely to make as much as Kluber in 2020 through arbitration. After that, he'll surely sign with a higher bidder in free agency.

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Ford Frick's Asterisk

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The Matt Joyce era ended predictably quick in Cleveland. Now we'll see if the CarGo era lasts any longer. I hated the Joyce signing from the beginning, and he looked completed cooked. He'll get a chance to play in Columbus if he wants it, but he's clearly no longer in their plans. I'm only slightly more optimistic about Gonzalez, but it makes the plan a little clearer. They seem to have little confidence that Tyler Naquin can be even a Lonnie Chisenhall type (heavy side of a RF platoon). Greg Allen looks to be starting against lefties, whether it's in RF or LF, since the switch-hitter is the only outfielder who can hit from the right side. Since Gonzalez likely won't be ready by opening day, Naquin can still make the team but will have to fend off Trayce Thompson.

Hanley Ramirez is still the wildcard since his presence will determine where Jake Bauers spends most of his playing time. Ramirez hasn't shown enough either way at the plate, but they're happy with his bat speed. I feel like he'd have to play his way off the roster. If he's the starting DH, that sets up a likely outfield of Bauers-Martin-Gonzalez, with Allen relieving someone against lefties. Oscar Mercado makes sense as the 5th outfielder, but more likely will play every day in Columbus. He's actually been the best news of spring training, but his name is still being left out of reports about Cleveland's outfield. His right-handed bat and speed make him useful short-term off the bench, and after working with the coaching staff on his swing over the winter, he's flashing power that might make him more than that. Jordan Luplow has been a complete disaster and needs to build a case for himself in AAA.

Although Yu Chang, the team's only legit infield prospect at AAA, is having a nice spring, the utility job will still probably come down to the veteran (Ryan Flaherty) or the other young guy (Max Moroff). Since Francisco Lindor will probably miss the first week or two, it's likely they both make the roster, with Moroff then having the small advantage -- they acquired him by trade and he's out of options.

Pitching: I'm not sure anyone in baseball is having a better spring than Shane Bieber (1 run on 3 hits across 14 innings).

NRI Alex Wilson is a lock for a prominent bullpen role. Tyler Clippard is probably guaranteed a spot, but he'll most likely start the season on the DL with a strained pec. Brad Hand, Oliver Perez and Dan Otero are just gearing up for opening day. Tyler Olson seems like a front runner, which would leave Adam Cimber, Nick Goody, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez and Nick Wittgren vying for two, possibly three spots. The depth is there. Cleveland has had better bullpens, but I'm not sure Columbus has.

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Ford Frick's Asterisk

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Obviously I had no idea what I was talking about in regards to the bullpen. Alex Wilson didn't even make the team and is now pitching for the Brewers. Justin Grimm, another veteran NRI they said a lot of nice things about when they signed him also had a good month of March... also now pitching in another organization. The one guy who did win a bullpen job in March was Jon Edwards, a 31-year-old with less than 33 innings of MLB experience. However, here's why Edwards is worth rooting for:

• Drafted in the 14th round of the 2006 draft by St. Louis as a power-hitting high school outfielder.
• Spent 5 seasons in Rookie and A-ball before being released.
• Hit .227 in 23 games for the indy league San Angelo Colts in 2011.
• Former Tribe manager Doc Edwards saw him making throws from the outfield and asked him to take the mound for him.
• He had a 95 mph fastball.
• Edwards signed with the indy league Alpine Cowboys as pitcher, pitched two games (to earn $100) and pulled his groin.
• He pitched for a friend of his, Luis Ortiz, who was from his hometown and a hitting coach in the Rangers system at the time.
• Ortiz made a call and the Rangers offered him a contract.
• Learning the basics of pitching already in the pros, Edwards climbed the ladder in 3 years, making his MLB debut in 2014 at age 26.
• During the 2014-15 offseason he discovered he had testicular cancer and had surgery for it the same week.
• A few months later he and his wife were expecting their first child.
• He was recalled from the minors in 2015 and had a flat tire on the way to the park, but pitched that night.
• A few weeks later he was traded to San Diego as the PTBNL in a trade for Will Venable and pitched in 11 games for the Padres.
• He injured his arm in spring training 2016, pitched one inning in the minors, and needed Tommy John surgery by June.
• 9 months into a year+ rehab the Padres released him.
• He spent the 2017 season selling real estate with his wife.
• He impressed Indians closer Cody Allen, who he worked out with during the offseason in Arlington.
• The Indians signed him in March 2018 after being impressed by the video Allen sent them.
• After allowing him to finish his rehab, Edwards climbed the ladder from AA-AAA-MLB from the end of May to the start of September.
• In Spring Training 2019, he pitched 9.2 innings, shutting out the opposition on 5 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 11.

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The Indians have to be thrilled with a 5-3 start despite ranking last in the AL in all three slash rates (.180/.266/.269). Aside from a couple of bombs from Hanley Ramirez and several bases-loaded walks from the rest of the cast, Carlos Santana has accounted for all of the offense (.444/.516/.593). This is a bizarre scenario for Tribe fans since Santana, who's noticeably using the entire field more, is a notoriously poor hitter in April/May.

Personnel decisions will be reevaluated during the next series, and barring setbacks, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Gonzalez will likely join the team by next weekend. The batting line could certainly look better for Jake Bauers, but he's not gotten the results despite some good ABs (only 3 K in 22 AB)... he also just missed his first Cleveland home run by a couple of inches a few minutes ago. He's been a surprisingly good left fielder, and much more athletic than I expected. He's made adjustments to playing the 18 ft. wall at Progressive Field, and already has three highlight-reel catches. Jordan Luplow seems like the one to go when CarGo is activated, but he also makes more sense for platoons than Tyler Naquin. Both have options.

Jose Ramirez seems to finally be hitting with his legs again and is coming out of the funk that has plagued him since the beginning of last September. When Kipnis returns it's a question of whether they stick with Eric Stamets at short for his glove or move the utility combo of Brad Miller and Max Moroff there. Stamets did hit a double off the wall for his first MLB hit on Saturday, but might be the least talented hitter (non-pitching variety) in the majors. Francisco Lindor is probably still out until the end of April, but the high ankle sprain has healed enough he was running full speed on the field yesterday.

The rotation has been phenomenal except for one start each from Kluber and Carrasco. They happen to be the two pitchers who were slow played during spring training due to their workloads last year. Carrasco recovered nicely from his bad start, while Kluber faulted a problem with his mechanics in his last game, so his next start will be one to watch. Opposing batters hit .024/.196/.071 against Trevor Bauer in his first two starts.

Adam Cimber, who struggled after the Indians acquired him last season, is off to a great start -- allowing no baserunners through 3⅓. Neil Ramirez is not off to a good start, and I honestly can't wrap my mind around how a guy with a career home run rate almost as high as Josh Tomlin's made the bullpen over the last 3-4 candidates who were cut or demoted.

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As the Indians offense has been nonexistent this weekend outside of a Tyler Naquin solo home run against the less-than-vaunted KC staff, I'm digging deep for something fun to watch...

James Karinchak doesn't hold a high spot on Cleveland's list of top prospects (#28 on the MiLB Top 30), but then relievers selected in the 9th round, who aren't on the fast-track to closerdom, rarely are. The 23-year-old righty might be on the fast track to Cleveland nonetheless. Entering 2019, righty Nick Sandlin, the 67th overall pick in last year's draft, was expected to be the next impact reliever to reach Cleveland (and the first 2018 draftee to reach the majors). However, Sandlin has been sidelined with an injury, and Karinchak may have taken the lead.

Thirteen AA batters have faced Karinchak this season. One drew a walk, one reached on an error, the other 11 have struck out. He's always been able to throw his mid-90s heat and hammer curve past batters (14.6 K/9 career), but keeping them in the vicinity of the plate is a new phenomenon (5.5 BB/9 career). However, he's also thrown 2 wild pitches (keeping in mind he's only twice had a baserunner), so his catcher still has his fingers crossed back there. If he can continue to avoid handing out free passes, he should be in Cleveland's bullpen before the end of the year.

In other news, I never thought I'd say this, but thank God the CarGo era in Cleveland begins today! Also, Francisco Lindor is a little ahead of his recovery from a high ankle sprain and should begin his rehab stint in the next week. From a health standpoint, Jason Kipnis is ready to rejoin the Indians, but despite the team stating last week that his rehab was more about getting in his reps than worrying about performance, he remains in Columbus where he's gone 3-for-22.

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Cleveland doesn't seem to have any solution to their Hitless Wonders in the foreseeable future. Adding Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Gonzalez to the lineup has resulted in a combined effort of .204/.267/.313 over 147 AB. The lineup is healthy, it's simply not very good. They're a team that can draw a few walks (9th in AL) and steal some bases (6th), but ranks last or next-to-last at nearly everything else. The only potential help in-house is AAA center fielder Oscar Mercado, who has cooled off lately himself (.277/.376/.477 on the season) and isn't the extra-base hitting bat the team sorely needs anyway.

The rotation will be at 60% until at least June 7th. Mike Clevinger's trip to the IL has only become more confusing. He left his April 7th start with back tightness that imperceivable to anyone watching, stated it was precautionary and he'd be making his next start during the post-game interview, and then was placed on the 60-day IL within 24 hours. Now he's back to throwing and baseball activities in half the time they predicted, but is still over a month away from being eligible to pitch.

They've been more tight-lipped about predicting Corey Kluber's timetable. Kluber's fractured ulna will be immobilized in a cast for the next 3 weeks, so there won't be any updates until it's reexamined after that, but he's certainly out until sometime well into the second half of the season. Cody Anderson will rejoin the Indians on Sunday to take Kluber's rotation spot, but this will his first major league start after needing two years to recover from Tommy John surgery, and his first couple starts will basically be bullpen games since he didn't have enough time to build up his pitch count in Columbus.

While there are no positive signs to be found in Oliver Perez's performance and Neil Ramirez never had any business making the roster in the first place, I'm feeling optimistic about the bullpen. Nick Wittgren (1.96 FIP / 530 ERA+) has seized his opportunity to become one the team's 8th inning setup men for Brad Hand, and when you look past the bad luck, Adam Cimber (3.12 FIP, but only 110 ERA+) has exceeded all expectations. They also have an interesting group of in-house candidates who could make their debuts sometime this season.

I mentioned James Karinchak in my previous post, who made his AAA debut last night by striking out 3 of the 4 batters he faced. He's now fanned 27 of 40 batters faced on the season, allowing just 2 hits and 3 walks in 11 innings. Karinchak's replacement on the Akron roster was Kyle Nelson, a 22-year-old lefty who threw 2 shutout innings in his AA debut. He's combined for 11.1 shutout innings, 3 hits, no walks and 18 K's between two levels this year. Nelson's new bullpen mate, 22-year-old righty Nick Sandlin, who drops down and throws from multiple arm slots, has the highest pedigree of their relief prospects, as Cleveland's 2nd round pick last year. He's struggling with his command in the early going (5 hits & 4 walks in 4.1 innings) but entered the year as the odds on favorite to be the first major leaguer from the 2018 draft.

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Cody Anderson's long journey back to the majors from Tommy John surgery lasted 3.2 innings across two starts (6 runs on 5 hits & 6 walks). Considering his low upside, I'm surprised he made it that far. On Saturday, Adam Plutko rejoins the staff to try plugging the hole left in the rotation until Mike Clevinger returns in a few weeks. Jefry Rodriguez will have to compete with Plutko for the final spot in the rotation at that point.

It seems likely Rodriguez will make 20+ starts this year with Corey Kluber out for most of the season, but I could see him being part of the bullpen long-term. He's a hard thrower who at his best gets weak contact on his sinker (it's not a swing-and-miss pitch), but he lacks an effective off-speed pitch or ideal command, so he'll probably top out as a serviceable innings-eater. All of this reminds me of a starter the Indians had 25 years ago named Jose Mesa. Maybe focusing on two pitches and command for an inning at a time could also be the key to Rodriguez having success.

I can't find a source for this, but I believe Carlos Gonzalez's split MiLB/MLB contract is non-guaranteed until he's been on the 25-man roster for 45 days. I think I heard this when Brad Miller was released because it was the same type of contract. If so, then CarGo might be under the microscope right now. He's hit just .244/.299/.322 through his first 90 ABs, and Wednesday will mark his 45th day with the club. Releasing him would presumably save the penny-pinching team $1.5M.

Jordan Luplow would be the main beneficiary if they do pull the plug on CarGo. Luplow is getting regular ABs right now in the absence of Tyler Naquin anyway and showing legit power. Last week he hit one into Heritage Park (the Tribe's outdoor version of its team hall of fame) beyond right-center. That area will be a popular target during this year's All-Star Home Run Derby. It would also open up a longer look for Oscar Mercado who made his MLB debut this week. Considering Naquin (who's battling multiple leg issues) doesn't provide much or speed, Luplow should get a lot of opportunities the rest of the season.

Next in line for at-bats from Columbus could be Bobby Bradley. The former Top-100 prospect has hit 114 HRs over his four full pro seasons, but batting just .214 in AA last year sank his prospect rankings. He's unlikely to ever hit for a high average, but something has clicked for him this season, as he's currently batting .291 in AAA with a .922 OPS. He also hit the longest home run in Huntington Park history with a 500-foot poke out of the park earlier this month:


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It's hard to say a team needs a sweep in early June, especially with 50+ games remaining within the division, but if the Indians lose any more ground to the Twins, the logical move is to trade some pieces and reload. Trevor Bauer will be dealt by next spring anyway. He's claimed he had an issue with falling off too much towards first base, which he seems to think he solved (with 7 little leaguers playing behind him in his last game it was hard to tell from the stat sheet). If he strings together a few good starts while they stumble along with their piecemeal rotation, they need to establish a bidding war for him. They also have some setup men they could get some lottery tickets for, with guys in AAA/AA ready to audition for next year's roles. Of course, they could sweep the Twins and have Mike Clevinger back next week, but six of their top eight starters have missed time to injury this year. TINSTAAHP [There is no such thing as a healthy pitcher]…

Corey Kluber (struggled with mechanical issue before getting injured)
Trevor Bauer (struggling with mechanical issue, was vague as to whether it was injury related)
Carlos Carrasco (struggled in half his starts, and now we have an idea why)
Mike Clevinger (was absolutely dominant for 2 starts before getting injured)
Shane Bieber (the one guy who has exceeded expectations all year)
Jefry Rodriguez (inconsistent before getting injured)
Adam Plutko (his call-up was delayed by injury, good first game, then pummeled)
Cody Anderson (very limited by TJ recovery, couldn't get anyone out)
Zach Plesac (has looked great in 2 starts, but wasn't considered a prospect in April)

All that said, just get healthy Cookie.

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The Indians finally mercifully DFA'd Leonys Martin. Regardless of what direction the team takes the remainder of the season, this was a move that probably should have been made a few weeks ago. They need to see what Oscar Mercado can do in center, and give Jake Bauers the opportunity to play every day, especially getting more reps in left, to sink or swim. Tyler Naquin has been playing better, and Jordan Luplow will be in the lineup every time a lefty is on the mound, either in place of Naquin or Bauers or as the DH. Even with Bradley Zimmer's setbacks in rehab, Martin was simply in the way... and even his usually solid defense has deserted him this year.

For today, Aaron Civale takes the roster spot and makes his major league debut, but with Mike Clevinger expected back by next weekend, Civale will go right back to Columbus in favor of a position player. The question is do the Indians bring back Greg Allen on Sunday to serve as Mercado's safety net in center field, or do they believe in Mercado and Luplow enough there to bring up their top slugging prospect Bobby Bradley, who's having a break out year in AAA, for a trial run as the DH?

The only winning team the Indians face until the day of the trading deadline is when the Twins open the second half with three games in Cleveland. If the Tribe is going to make a playoff run, it happens now.

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Ford Frick's Asterisk

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This weekend reminds me of why I love baseball. I go to quite a few more minor league games than majors... it's a cheaper, shorter trip, I love the atmosphere, and it keeps me more informed of the whole organization. I mostly go see Cleveland's AA team in Akron, but I usually make at least one trip to their Lo-A team in Lake County and have been to AAA Columbus a few times. I work in an office with mostly women, and I'm pretty good friends with a few of them. Last summer two of them went to Akron with me for their first minor league game. The one has at least a basic understanding of the game, the other was more entertained by the atmosphere, but she was the first to ask if we can go again this summer. They even got to immediately experience something they recognized as unique when Tim Tebow homered against Akron. Since we're currently figuring out our plans for a game next month, the other one was asking me questions the other day about the whole process of going through the minors to reach the majors.

Yesterday the Indians promoted Aaron Civale, and he shut the Tigers down for 6 innings to win his MLB debut. Civale was the starting pitcher for Akron in the game we went to last summer... the first player in that game to reach the majors. Since Mike Clevinger will be rejoining the rotation at the end of the week, this was just a spot start for Civale, but he pitched so well yesterday, he's sticking around for at least the immediate future. Instead they sent extra bullpen arm Josh Smith back to Columbus to promote Bobby Bradley, the Indians top power-hitting prospect, and the guy who was batting clean-up in that game for Akron last summer. So now my friends can say they've seen two major league players before they made the show. If I really want to confuse them, I'll try to explain how two weeks after that game the Indians traded Akron's shortstop to acquire Leonys Martin, and how the failure of that trade led to the release of Martin, which led to that roster spot opening up for Civale and Bradley, and how that shortstop will soon be playing for the Tigers (to take the place of another former Akron shortstop who the Indians released a couple years ago).

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Ford Frick's Asterisk

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Thanks... and yeah, I had to double-check that before I typed his name because I knew Boston still had a pitcher of the same or similar name. Cleveland has the lefty, Boston the righty.

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It took 10 innings and a 2½ hour rain delay, but the Indians won their 9th game in 11 tries on a Jason Kipnis home run. Kip has always been a streaky hitter who could rack up 40+ hits in a month in his prime, but his last two weeks are probably the hottest stretch he's enjoyed since 2016. He's now hitting .385/.472/.745 over his last 14 games. Jose Ramirez is now batting a season high .217. In his last 11, he's .326/.388/.558 with only one strikeout.

Between now and July 30th, the Twins have 19 games against teams with a winning record. The Indians have 3 -- when they host the Twins coming out of the All-Star break.

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The Twins lead is down to 6. The Indians have a ridiculous Friday off-day and then send their two best starters against the Reds two worst. Minnesota has 3 against Texas, who are fighting for a playoff spot themselves. Then the Twins come to Cleveland to open the second half.

Even if July doesn't work out for the Indians, I don't see them giving up and selling. They have no significant trade-or-lose-him candidates, as Tyler Clippard is the only UFA this off-season. They're still almost certain to trade Trevor Bauer before next season, but a team like San Diego might be more likely to run up his value this winter, especially if Bauer has more consistent success over the remainder of the year.

The Indians should be able to add some payroll now... it almost seems like a moral obligation after Dolan screwed the team and their fans over in the off-season. At the very least they could add someone like Nick Castellanos without giving up a valuable piece of the future. Someone like Eric Haase -- an MLB-ready catcher who probably won't bat above .225 but has legit power -- should be able to land a modest outfield upgrade on an expiring contract. The Indians already have two cost controlled catchers for the next 3 years, when Haase will be 29. If they're willing to go bigger, they were rumored to like Domingo Santana when he was with Milwaukee, and while he's leading the league in RBI and has 2 years of team control left, his poor defense and league-leading SO total should still keep his value down to a single decent prospect (Yu Chang? Seattle needs capable infielders) and maybe a low level lottery ticket. They may also look for a more reliable innings eater, but as long as they're getting by with what they already have and expect at least one of Kluber/Salazar/Carrasco to be back by September, I don't think they'll pick up anyone whose price will make us flinch.

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