Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Minnesota Twins Fan Previews the 2014 Cleveland Indians

The Indians were one of the five worst teams in baseball in 2012.  They finished just two games ahead of the Twins, avoiding the cellar of the AL Central but still losing a bunch of games.  The Twins are in a full rebuild, but the Indians decided to reload instead.  The made a series of intelligent moves after the 2012 season and saw growth from a few key young players.  Carlos Santana, Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jason Kipnis all turned in great seasons, much better than their showings in 2012.  As a result, the Indians went from 94 losses to 92 wins and the AL Wild Card game.  Are the Indians in a position to continue their climb, or will 2013 be a one-year bump that they cannot maintain?

Key Acquisitions

"Key" Acquisitions

Josh Outman, Jeff Francoeur, Nyjer Morgan, Shaun Marcum, David Aardsma and Aaron Harang

Notable Losses

Matt Albers, Scott Kazmir, Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Drew Stubbs

My favorite offseason move?

I'll probably always have a soft spot for Shaun Marcum.  I played fantasy baseball one time, back in 2008, and I grabbed Marcum as a free agent and he pitched really well.  I was so proud of myself; I nearly exploded.  Of course, Marcum missed all of 2009 and major parts of 2012 and 2013 since then, but I'll always remember 2008...

The Indians could get a steal if Marcum can return to health.  That's a huge "if" at this point in Marcum's career, but there's a chance.

More importantly, are they better than last year?

No and I'm not sure it would be possible to say otherwise.  They lost Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, who combined to give the Indians 61 starts last season.  The rotation got worse and the bullpen did as well, as the Indians lost Joe Smith and Matt Albers.  Both Smith and Albers were great for the Indians in 2013.  While the Indians have some young players on the upswing, I think it is fair to say that both Carlos Santana (137 OPS+ in 2013) and Jason Kipnis (133 OPS+ in 2013) had their breakout seasons last year.   

Awesome Name from the Organization

Enosil Tejeda.  There is an "I" in Enosil.  Enosiiiiiiil.

Former Twin Alert!

Duelin' Matts!  Matt Capps and Matt Carson.  Neither guy will play a significant role, but we'll always have the memories. 

Depth Chart

Justin Masterson
Jason Kipnis
Carlos Carrasco
Vinnie Pestano
David Murphy
John Axford
Carlos Santana


The lineup looks pretty good.  Kipnis and Santana are outstanding players.  Santana's value takes a slight hit if he can't make a successful conversion to third base and that's not looking great right now.  Of course, Santana's power and plate discipline play anywhere.  Kipnis is one of the most underrated players in the Majors.  Michael Brantley is much better than I ever thought he would be.  Nick Swisher is still a capable hitter as well. 

The rest of the lineup?  Well...it's not great.  Asdrubal Cabrera has come crashing down to Earth.  Lonnie Chisenhall doesn't seem to have the ability to hit at the MLB level.  Michael Bourn is officially on the wrong side of 30.  David Murphy and Ryan Raburn could form a decent platoon, but Murphy was brutal against all pitching last year and Raburn's 153 OPS+ was 124 points higher than his 2012 figure.  I'm guessing he's somewhere in the middle of those numbers.  If either Santana or Kipnis regress even a little, this offense could be very disappointing. 


Yan Gomes rated as a good defender last season.  Michael Bourn is solid.  Jason Kipnis gets the job done.  The rest of the defense is not great.  No one is a complete train wreck (unless you trust defensive stats, in which case you can count the flashy Asdrubal Cabrera), but no one is very good either.  If Santana transitions to third base, the defense will get even worse.  Defense will not be their calling card in 2014.


I like their rotation, but I worry that they are relying too heavily on young, unproven guys.  Even Justin Masterson, who was excellent last season, is wildly inconsistent from year to year.  He had a 79 ERA+ in 2012 and 109 ERA+ in 2013.  His performance improved due a heavier reliance on his nasty slider and a subsequent spike in his strikeout rate.  If he can't maintain that growth, he could regress to the league-average pitcher he was for most of his career (2011 being the exception).

Corey Kluber could be great.  His strikeout, walk and ground ball rates are all right around league-average and the combination of the three at that level is very impressive.  He had a 3.85 ERA in 2013, but a 3.10 xFIP, a figure that points toward some potential upside.  Carlos Carrasco looked good prior to missing all of 2012 with injury and Danny Salazar looked dynamic last season.  Zach McAllister was solid as well.  No one mentioned in this paragraph threw more than 150 innings last season.  Their rotation has upside, but there's downside too.  There's always Shaun Marcum!   


Is John Axford as good as he was with the Cardinals at the end of last year, or as bad as he was with the Brewers for most of 2013 and all of 2012?  He's certainly good at picking Oscar winners, but can he still close games?  Well, if he pitches well, he can close games; it's really quite simple.  The dip in his strikeout rate is concerning, but the Indians do have the very solid Cody Allen waiting in the wings if Axford falters.  Vinnie Pestano lost his control a bit in 2013, but he was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2012.  Bryan Shaw is good.  Mark Rzepczynski gets the job done.  if Axford and/or Pestano can bounce back, the Indians could have a swell bullpen. 

World Series aspirations?

I'm sure they'd like to make the World Series, but it won't happen.  The Indians deserved their playoff spot in 2013, but they will be lucky to be in the same situation in 2014. 

Can the Twins finish ahead of them?

I think there's at least a non-zero chance.  The Indians and Twins could both finish right around 75 wins and it wouldn't surprise me.  On paper, the Indians are certainly better.  Masterson would be the Twins' best starter and Kluber might be as well.  Offensively, I think these teams could be somewhat similar.  The Twins only currently employ one offensive force (Joe Mauer) compared to the Indians' two (Kipnis and Santana).  However, the Twins have multiple players who could join Mauer, while the Indians do not really have a true breakout threat.  Defense and bullpens are close, but I slightly prefer the Twins in both instances.  If the Twins' young offensive players develop like the Indians' young offensive players did in 2013, the Twins could surpass the Indians.

Projected AL Central finish - 3rd

The Indians had a wonderful season in 2013 and even though they only played a single playoff game, it was a hugely successful turnaround.  I don't see similar fortunes in 2014.  There are too many question marks in the lineup, rotation and bullpen.  If everything breaks right, they could return to the playoffs.  Didn't everything break right in 2013?  Does that happen in consecutive years?  I don't think they crater back to the 90-loss realm, but it wouldn't shock me if they finish below .500.  

If you're interested, here is the whole lot of AL Central team previews (in projected order of finish):

White Sox


  1. Ah, yes, Matt Capps memories. I was trying to repress those. Thanks for bringing those back. Glad that the Twins will get to tee off on him this year.

    1. They are bloated memories, that's for sure!