Fan Mailbag Kicks Off Spring with Swisher, Starting Pitching and DH Questions
By Mike Brandyberry
The Did The Tribe Win Last Night staff is so excited for Spring Training, pitchers and catchers reporting and our coverage, we are kicking off a day early with reader mailbag. Like most Indians fans, the roster shake up has created many questions and a lot of excitement among our staff. Before we begin with our spring coverage tomorrow, we’ll try to answer your questions heading into spring training.
As always, thanks for the questions…
We talked about this a couple weeks ago on our Wahoo Watch podcast, but I would hit Swisher fourth. Personally, I’m a big fan of Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis at the top of the lineup because of their speed. Brantley has improved every year and I expect the same in 2013. He doesn’t have the high on-base percentage you’d like from a leadoff hitter, but he is outstanding at putting the bat on the ball. With Brantley and Kipnis at the top, I’d follow with Asdrubal Cabrera third and Swisher fourth. Swisher provides a consistent cog in the middle of the Indians’ lineup. If you look at his career statistics, you can pretty much pencil him in for around 25 home runs every season. With those three in front of Swisher, hopefully you make the most out of those 25 home runs he hits.
I never pretend to be a, “Baseball Insider,” or pretend I have sources when I really don’t, but I do have a source who is very close to Thome and he and the Indians have not had serious talks this winter. Thome would like to play another season in the right situation and considers Cleveland one of those right situations.
I think the better question to be asked, is what is the point in having Jim Thome on the 2013 Indians? He’s a 43-year old, with a bad back, who can’t play every day and doesn’t have the power he had even three or four years ago.
Personally, I think the Indians are much improved, but I don’t think they are a serious playoff contender and I don’t think Thome’s presence changes that. I think 2013 is a season built to create momentum toward 2014, where the Tribe can really compete and contend. If that’s the case, Thome doesn’t fit with a franchise that is building for a year down the line. He won’t be on the Indians in 2014, so let guys who could be a part of the future play.
Continuing with the DH-talk, @newsheraldjah says, “I hope they don’t sign an old washed up DH. Let the young guys get at bats and others occasional day off.”
I completely agree! I agree for a couple reasons. The first, and most important in my opinion, is that this team is in transition. The roster has had major turnover since last fall, but it is still a franchise in transition toward a different core than what was set up with the 2011-12 Manny Acta-led teams. With that in mind, I would rather see Lou Marson, Mike Aviles, Yan Gomes and others get the opportunity to play more than bench players normally do. If any of them prove they deserve to play on an everyday basis, with no true DH, they can easily fit into the lineup. Also, it leaves the door open for any minor league players at the upper levels, like a Jesus Aguilar, to progress to the starting lineup if the organization deems they are ready for a big league opportunity.
Secondly, the DH position is changing in baseball. Since drug testing has become more extensive, every team doesn’t have an extra home run threat like they did seven years ago. Combine that, with the new interleague play design and I don’t know why a team would want a true designated hitter unless they were a 30 home run threat. How many times did Travis Hafner negatively affect the Indians lineup when he could not play the field during interleague games? What if that was during September? With every day interleague play, the DH position is changing.
Finally, if you look at the last two seasons and compare each first half against the second half of the season, you will see that Acta over played his core players in the first half of the season. For most of the first half last year Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis played with no back up. Kipnis only had one day off in the second half. Regardless of the DH position, that’s going to change. With no true DH, it makes it easier to rest players.
Our #1 fan @Princesswikki doesn’t really ask a question, but since she’s followed and contributed since our birth, we’ll address her statement, “I am a little scared by the Indians’ pitching, but I think we are going to sneak and surprise the MLB this year.”
Starting pitching is the biggest question mark on this team heading in to 2013. To be fair, the starting pitching staff hung in during the first half of 2012, then was the biggest part of the second half collapse. It probably is not as bad as it was at the end of 2012, but I’m not sure it has the capability to be good enough to contend. I think the biggest question or concern is to see how Justin Masterson rebounds from a poor season. Masterson transitioned from reliever to starter in 2010, then had a nice 2011. After regressing last season, his 2013 season could really define if he is a front of the rotation starter or just a starter who had a good year in 2011.
Masterson, and the development of Trevor Bauer, will dictate the quality of the Tribe’s pitching staff for 2013 and moving forward. I think all the other starters will fall into a role behind them.
If I had that answer for sure, I’d probably be on the Indians’ payroll. Like I said previously, I think Masterson’s bounce back and Bauer’s development are the most important stories to watch in terms of the rotation, and sadly, I think Ubaldo has become a non-factor.
New Manager Terry Francona and Pitching Coach Mickey Callaway have each traveled to the Dominican Republic and met with Jimenez and studied his mechanics to try and help him be the pitcher he was with the Colorado Rockies. The organization is doing everything they can to try and improve Jimenez, but the biggest problem remains that his velocity has never been the same since the first half of the 2010 season.
I was as big a fan as anyone (except maybe General Manager Chris Antonetti) when the Tribe traded for Jimenez. I saw it as an attempt to win immediately, and in the future. It was a deal Mark Shapiro never made during his time as GM. However, if you accept the idea that the Indians will be better in 2013, but not contenders, then Jimenez is just filler to the Tribe’s roster for this season. He is a free agent at the end of the season. If he pitches well, some team will offer him way too much money via free agency next winter and if he pitches poorly, the Indians won’t want him. I just can’t see a reasonable situation where Jimenez returns in 2014 to a Tribe that will contend.
Sadly, I think there is a fair chance Jimenez is not on the Tribe’s roster when they play Game #162 this year. If the Indians are out of the playoff race by the trade deadline—and Jimenez has pitched well—they may opt to deal him for whatever they can get since they know they won’t resign him. If he is pitching poorly and the Indians are out of the playoff race, don’t be surprised if he is designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for a young starter who has earned a big league chance.
Good question Max! At this point, Lindor has not been given a formal invitation to Major League camp and I would not expect him to receive one. Sometimes the big league club will pull some minor league players up for a day or two if injuries occur, or for split-squad games, but that is much more likely with pitchers. I doubt you will see Lindor in any spring action this year. He’s probably a year away from that opportunity.
If you want a non-roster, non-invitee player to keep an eye on, I would suggest Shawn Armstrong. He is a hard-throwing, right-handed pitcher who has quickly climbed through the Indians’ system. He finished 2012 pitching in Akron. He’ll likely begin the season at Triple-A Columbus and probably get a chance to pitch in Cleveland at some point in 2013.