Posts By Craig Gifford
A lot of years it seems as though the Cleveland Indians go into spring training with countless veteran and minor league pitchers looking to fill the void of several open bullpen spots.
This 2017 spring camp is not exactly like a lot of years.
As in past offseasons, the Tribe did invite a good number of veterans looking for work, as well as young hurlers, to Goodyear, Arizona, for spring training. Part of the infusion of a large number of arms was due to the recently ended World Baseball Classic and the need to fill the void left behind by players going off to represent their countries in the event that goes on every four years.
Unlike past Februaries and Marches in the Arizona sun, there is not much of a void for the Indians to fill in a loaded bullpen that rates among the best in the game. There are a lot pitchers in camp looking for a job, but that opportunity is very elusive.
There has not been a lot of good news for Michael Brantley and his injured right shoulder since a fateful, late-season attempt to dive for a ball at Target Field on September 22, 2015. Since then, he has undergone two surgeries, multiple setbacks and appeared in just 13 games. Things seem to be headed in a better direction for Brantley these days, however.
Two of those 13 contests he has played in since the initial shoulder woes began came at the end of the 2015 campaign. He missed 10 of the final 12 games that season. Last year, a comeback attempt lasted but 11 games as the one-time All-Star and MVP candidate could not get his ailing shoulder to a point where there was not pain when he swung the bat.
His 2016 numbers – 43 plate appearances, nine hits, two doubles and seven RBI – were more a tease for Tribe fans than anything else. It was a window view of the player the Indians missed during an otherwise unforgettable year that saw the club get so agonizingly close to its first World Series title since 1948.
The Cleveland Indians are going to need one extra outfielder and perhaps two when the regular season starts in April.
Right field is the only spot among the three positions currently fully settled. Lonnie Chisenhall will roam the spot when the opposition sends a right-hander to the mound, while it will be Brandon Guyer who will take over against an opposing lefty. That outfield position is known and well-manned.
The other two spots in the Tribe outfield have question marks. Tyler Naquin, who finished third in last year’s American League Rookie of the Year balloting, has done nothing this spring to suggest he is in danger of losing his spot in center field. However, he mostly plays against right-handed pitchers and was used in a platoon last year. His platoon partner was Rajai Davis, who is now gone to the Oakland Athletics. There is a door open there.
The word “platoon” can sometimes be a red flag word when referring to a player. A manager can oftentimes see that word as a burden. However, when it comes to the Cleveland Indians right field situation, it is more the term for something of a perfect marriage.
On August , last season, Brandon Guyer and Lonnie Chisenhall became joined at the hip as the co-right fielders for the Tribe. Alone, each has a fatal flaw. Together, they form something of the perfect right fielder for Indians manager Terry Francona to trot out to the position each day.
Chisenhall, a left-handed hitter, has been with the Tribe organization since he was tabbed as a highly-touted 19-year-old prospect in the first round of the 2008 amateur draft. He started as a third baseman, where he could barely cut it in the field. Late in 2015, the Indians converted Chisenhall to right field, where he has seemingly found a comfort zone. He’s not the most graceful of athletes, but covers a lot of ground.
Over the last couple of years, the Cleveland Indians have done well in finding veteran free agents no one else wanted and watching them become diamonds in the rough, so to speak.
Dan Otero last year and Jeff Manship in 2015 were both free agent relievers the Tribe was able to bring to spring training on minor league contracts. Both had histories of past success but were trying to rejuvenate careers that had fallen off in the seasons before joining the Indians.
Both veteran relievers proved to be strong contributors to Cleveland’s bullpen. Manship spent two seasons with the Indians before being casualty of management deciding not to make him an arbitration offer this past winter. Part of the reason was the emergence last year of Otero, giving Cleveland a deep bullpen without Manship. Both hurlers were important parts of an Indians club that went to the 2016 World Series.
The concept of the World Baseball Classic is a good one. The execution of when it is played out could use some work.
Spring training is supposed to be an important time for baseball teams to gel together, get to know each other, learn how to play with and integrate new teammates, and get ready for the long grind of a 162-game regular season schedule to come in less than two months.
Every four years, the WBC robs teams and their players of that important time. Not only that, but it puts key members of a regular Major League Baseball roster at unnecessary risk of a preseason injury.
Pitchers and catchers are set to report to Goodyear, Arizona, today for the start of Cleveland Indians’ spring training. It puts an end to the shortest offseason in team history and kick starts a year that is as filled with hope as any in nearly two decades.
After playing in a seven-game World Series that saw their season end in heartbreak on the second day of November, the Tribe is looking to get one more postseason win in 2017 than it did in 2016. Cleveland’s management did its part in the offseason to help the team improve.
When it comes to the Cleveland Indians and their pitching staff, there are few weaknesses to be found. After last season’s big trade-deadline of left-handed super reliever Andrew Miller, the only real issue that plagued the Tribe’s pitching staff was injuries and depth. Player-for-player, however, their rotation, plus bullpen, could match up with most in Major League Baseball.
There was one flaw, however. That was the likes of a trusted southpaw in the relief corps outside of Miller. Indians manager Terry Francona did not have a lefty he could trust as a situational pitcher against tough, left-handed hitters. With Miller being a setup man/closer, there was not another trusted left-hander to turn to in the middle innings.
Other than figuring out the first base/designated hitter situation, adding a solid lefty to the bullpen seemed like the next biggest need for the Tribe this offseason. In December, the Indians answered the first need with the signing of the slugging Edwin Encarnacion. He will replace the departing Mike Napoli as the Tribe’s main power source and cleanup hitter.
Rajai Davis and his 43 stolen bases have gone off to Oakland. Superstar left fielder Michael Brantley is not a 100 percent guarantee to rebound from multiple shoulder surgeries to regain his form that made him an MVP candidate in 2014.
Cleveland, looking to bolster its outfield depth, could end up with a major steal – pardon the pun – in this free agency class. Veteran outfielder Austin Jackson was inked to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training on Wednesday. If he can rebound from a knee injury that cost him the second half of the 2016 campaign with the White Sox, he will be a fine replacement for the 36-year-old Davis.
Jackson, who will turn 30 on Wednesday, does not steal quite as many bases as Davis, but has proven to be good for 20 or so per season throughout his seven-year career. He has exhibited a little more power and ability to get on base than the elder Davis. An ability to play all three outfield spots, as he showed in 2015, makes him a great fit in an outfield that will see a lot of platoon play, regardless of whether or not Brantley is fully healthy all year.
The latter half of the 1990s were certainly a fun time to be a baseball fan in Cleveland. The Indians were a consistent championship contender for eight straight seasons. The league had numerous players breaking records and doing things never before done. Baseball hit something of a peak, both nationally and locally during that time.
Now, fans are being reminded about all that was good during that period of baseball. Over the last few years, a number of players from that period have gained entrance into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown with enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame. This past Wednesday, Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez, and Tim Raines were named the newest inductees. Bagwell and Rodriguez were at the tops of their games during the Tribe’s memorable run of success from 1994-2001. Raines’ best seasons came a little earlier.
Starting next year, Indians fans will really get to take a trip down memory lane as two of the team’s all-time greats will be eligible for induction alongside the best who have ever played the game.
Last season, Carlos Santana finally put on the power display that Indians fans had been expecting since his Major League debut in 2010.
As a catcher in the minor leagues, Santana had the kind of pop in his bat that most baseball pundits believed he would settle perfectly into the heart of an MLB batting order. While showing some power with the Indians, hitting 27 bombs in 2011 and 2014, he has never consistently been quite the middle-of-the-order hitter that the Tribe may have expected.
There have been numerous theories as to why Santana has not been able to maintain a consistent level when it comes to mashing the long ball. In five full seasons before his big burst of power in 2016, Santana hit more than 20 taters only those two times. He once hit exactly 20 and was at 18 and 19 the other two seasons. That 19-homer campaign came in 2015, right before he hammered a career-high 34 out of the park last summer.
The Indians are saying “goodbye” to a pair of popular veterans who played integral roles in helping the Tribe reach Game 7 of the the 2016 World Series. It was the first Fall Classic for the Tribe in 19 years. Gone are the power-hitting Mike Napoli and base-stealing Rajai Davis. Both veterans were signed to one-year deals before last season and both proved there was still a little something in the tank.
Napoli has yet to sign on the dotted line with another team. However, Cleveland’s big free-agent addition of first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion means there is no room for Napoli. Encarnacion, who is a more consistent hitter over his career, is an upgrade there. The middle of the Tribe’s batting order got better on Thursday with the official announcement of the contract agreement.
Davis and his 43 stolen bases are also gone. The Indians did not sign an upgrade or a similar player as they did for the first base/DH job. Instead, the speedy 36-year-old shortstop inked a one-year, $6 million pact with the Oakland Athletics last week. Unlike Napoli and his power, it is unlikely the Tribe will reach outside the organization for a replacement to Davis’ feet.