2011 Cleveland Indians: Is there anything worse than being a Cleveland sports fan?

2010 Record: 69-93, 4th AL Central
2010 Prediction: 66-96, 5th AL Central
Diff: 3
2011 Prediction: 4th AL Central

Impact Player: RF Shin-Soo Choo
Impact Pitcher: RHP Carlos Carrasco
Best Reliever: RHP Chris Perez
Top Prospect: 3B Lonnie Chisenhall

General Manager: Chris Antonetti
Manager: Manny Acta (69-93, .426)

Significant Acquisitions:
SS/2B Orlando Cabrera, OF Austin Kearns

Significant Departures:
None

WARNING: At some point in the near future I will post on the abhorrent racism that is the “Chief Wahoo” logo, but this is not the time to do it.  Just be warned, the controversy’s-a-comin’.

It’s hard to believe that just over three years ago, the Indians were up three games to one on the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, heading into a game five to potentially capture their first pennant in ten years.  The wheels fell off and the Red Sox went on to win the next three games, and then the World Series.  The proverbial wheels are still somewhere other than Cleveland as the team has been terrible ever since.

The sad-sack Indians were 69-93 in 2010 after going 65-97 in 2009; the worst two-year stretch for the franchise since 1914-15.  Orlando Cabrera is virtually the only addition and that is not nearly enough to make this team any better in 2011.

The Indians do boast a deep farm system as a result of solid drafting and trades, but the impact of those young players probably won’t be felt for a couple years.  Carlos Santana and Carlos Carrasco are ready to become impact players, but until prospects Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, Alex White and Drew Pomeranz are ready, the Indians will continue to be marred by losing.
Starting Rotation
Fausto Carmona was one of the brightest young pitchers in the game after 2007 when he turned in a 19-8 performance with a 3.06 ERA and 3.94 FIP.  Since then he has posted FIPs of 4.89, 5.36 and 4.11.  That last number suggests that there was a bit of a rebound for Carmona in 2010 an indeed there was.  He posted a 3.77 ERA and continued to induce groundballs at a ridiculous rate, but Carmona’s K/BB ratio was still a pedestrian 1.72 and the Indians are in trouble if they really think he’s their number one pitcher.

Analysts constantly say that Justin Masterson’s value lies in the bullpen, where he was lights out while with the Red Sox organization, but Masterson was not as bad as his 6-13 record and 4.70 ERA would have you believe.  He had a ridiculous 59.9 GB% and solid 7.00 K/9 rate which combine to give you the impression that Masterson rarely lets things get hit hard.  His lousy numbers in 2010 probably have more to do with the fact that the Indians had the worst infield defence in baseball last year.  A staff full of groundball pitchers and a porous infield a good team does not make.  Masterson posted a decent (and team leading) 3.93 FIP and if he gets any defence, could be a solid number 3 or 4 pitcher.

Carlos Carrasco looked okay in seven starts with the big club in 2010 and the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee deal is primed to become the best pitcher on this team.  With a 56.8 GB%, it’s clear that the Indians love groundball pitchers, which again only makes them as good as their terrible defence, but Carrasco also gives up a lot of homeruns for a guy who keeps the ball on the ground so well.  He’s still only 24 so there is plenty of room to grow.

The final two spots will likely be taken by Mitch Talbot and a number of potential pitchers.  Those pitchers include Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Hector Rondon, Anthony Reyes and Josh Tomlin as well as Zach McAllister who might have the highest ceiling of that bunch.  McAllister was once the top pitching prospect in the Yankees organization and was acquired last season for Austin Kearns.  His struggles in AAA last year have knocked a few pegs off of his potential.

Former Tiger Jeremy Bonderman has been rumoured to be coming to Cleveland for a few weeks now, but the Indians are only interested in giving him a minor-league deal which has stalled negotiations.  The team also has interest in Kevin Millwood.  It’s unlikely that they would sign both veterans, but either one is likely to be a stop-gap option until guys like White and Pomeranz arrive.

Bullpen
Chris Perez threw himself into the spectrum of elite relievers last season, but no one noticed.  Perez will be the closer again in 2011 after posting 23 saves and a 1.71 ERA.  He walks a few too many batters but still managed a 3.54 FIP and 2.18 K/BB ratio.  He’s probably the best pitcher on the entire staff right now, which is obviously not a good sign.

The Indians will carry a very solid back-end with lefty-righty setup combination Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis holding over.  Perez, after a disastrous 2009 that saw him post a 7.31 ERA, rebounded in 2010 with a 3.25 ERA and 3.77 FIP.  His below-average K/BB ratio does indicate that he could experience a setback again in 2011.

Lewis, on the other hand is coming off a year where he missed significant time but still posted a 2.97 ERA and 3.41 FIP.  His rather unimpressive 4.71 BB/9 rate, however, means he’s as volatile as Perez.

Left-hander Tony Sipp gives up way too many homeruns and walks but will fill out the rest of the ‘pen with command-specialist Frank Hermann and command-avoider Joe Smith, both righties.  Left-hander Aaron Laffey provides some starting depth and could be the last bullpen member as a swing-man, but he will have to duke it out with Josh “The Judge” Judy, Corey Kluber, Joe Martinez, Vinnie Pestrano, and Jess Todd who were all impressive in the minors last season.

Catchers
Santana appears to have recovered from his knee surgery so it appears he will start the year as the everyday catcher in Cleveland.  The talented young backstop posted a .868 OPS and .382 wOBA in 46 games last year and could step in and be an immediate All-Star.  The concerns about his defensive ability have waned some after he looked solid in that regard last year.  He also threw out over 35% of the baserunners who attempted to steal on him.

Lou Marson enters camp as the likely backup, but his .195 batting average and .262 wOBA mean that he’ll have to prove himself to keep the job.  Non-roster invites Luke Carlin and Paul Phillips could also be in the mix for the backup job.

Infielders
The Indians confused some of us late last week when they signed veteran shortstop Orlando Cabrera to a one-year deal.  It’s unknown how he’ll fit into the infield scheme considering the team already has Asdrubal Cabrera, Luis Valbuena and Jason Donald on the team as middle infielders.  Speculation is that Orlando will play second, which doesn’t make too much sense since he’s easily the best defensive shortstop on the team.

Jayson Nix appears to be the main option at third going into the spring considering he has the most major-league experience there, but it might be more productive of the Indians to start Orlando Cabrera at short, bump Asdrubal Cabrera to third (where he’s played 11 pro games) and keep Donald or Valbuena at second.

At any rate, it’s probably a bad sign when your best infielder is a veteran who would probably be a utility player on most other teams.

Chisenhall could also eventually become the starting third baseman in 2011, but he hasn’t played past AA.  Jared Goedert was decent at AAA-Columbus in 2010 and could play his way into the third base job as well.  Non-roster invite Jack Hannahan could also be in the mix.

The first base job will be Matt LaPorta’s to lose.  If he does lose it, Shelley Duncan or Canadian prospect Nick Weglarz could take over.

Outfielders
Rightfielder Shin-Soo Choo is easily, easily the best player on this team.  He had another very good year in 2010 posting a team best (by far) 5.6 WAR to go along with a .300/.401/.484 slash line and a .388 wOBA.  He was also one of only three AL players (along with Alex Rios and Bobby Abreu) to post a 20/20 season with 22 homeruns and 22 stolen bases.  He was also 10th in the AL in walk-rate.

In centerfield is one-time perennial all-star Grady Sizemore who can no longer stay off the DL long enough to be a quality player.  When healthy, he’s still very good, but he hasn’t been healthy in a few years.

In leftfield will likely be Michael Brantley who should get his chance to be an everyday player.  He posted a -0.7 WAR with Cleveland last year but had an .820 OPS in AAA.  He’s not a very good fielder.

Kearns will be the fourth outfielder again in 2011.  He was traded from Cleveland to the Yankees last season for McAllister and then brought back as a free-agent after the season.  He’s still a solid offensive player who may also DH for Travis Hafner when there’s a lefty on the mound.

If Brantley struggles or Sizemore sees DL time again, Weglarz can also play the outfield.  Trevor Crowe and Ezequiel Carrera (who was acquired from Seattle for Russell Branyan last season) will also provide outfield depth if someone gets hurt or falters.

Designated Hitter
Hafner will simply never be the player he once was and the Indians are patiently waiting for his large contract to be up.  He was still serviceable in limited time last year, but will platoon with Kearns in 2011.

For the usual lineup and roster chart, click here.

Overview
A solid farm system means that Cleveland could be competitive in the AL Central in a few years, but 2011 has all the markings of another disaster season.  If they top last year’s win total of 69, it should be considered an astounding success.  There isn’t one area in Cleveland that is set going forward, besides maybe the catching situation.  As with all other sports, Cleveland deserves better.
Final Prediction: 65-97, 4th AL Central.

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