How much money are the Cleveland Indians willing to put toward their vaunted bullpen?
That is something Tribe fans may find out this offseason. Arguably the best relief corps in baseball, the team has two key free agents in Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith. The bullpen would definitely have a different feel to it without Shaw, but to what lengths should the Tribe actually go to keep a reliever who is not one of its top two pitchers?
The Cleveland Indians did something for the first time on Friday night since August 23 – they lost.
A back and forth ball game went in favor of the Kansas City Royals, who ended the Indians’ 22-game winning streak in a 4-3 contest at Progressive Field.
As if playing two games was not enough excitement for one day, the Indians and Tigers flirted with the possibility of extra innings in the series opener Friday afternoon from Detroit. After twice letting the Tigers tie the game up, Detroit loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in a one-run game, but Cleveland reliever Joe Smith got the always-dangerous Miguel Cabrera to line out sharply to Francisco Lindor at short to give the Indians a 3-2 win in game one of the day’s doubleheader.
It was fitting that Lindor retired the final out after coming through with the go-ahead hit in the top of the inning to give the Indians (77-56) their eighth straight win.
A four-run ninth inning by the Red Sox broke open a one-run game to give Boston a big victory over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night from Progressive Field, 6-1.
A game featuring a pair of 12-game winners in Cleveland’s Corey Kluber and Boston’s Drew Pomeranz lived up to the billing as a close contest took place between the two starters. Pomeranz would get run before completing six innings, but he kept the Indians off of the scoreboard in the process. His bullpen teammates would do the same until the bottom of the eighth, but a mess of a ninth by the Tribe relief staff erased any chances of a comeback by Cleveland on this night.
The trade deadline bar in Cleveland was set to unexpected highs last season, as the Indians trended against the company line and made a big splash on the trade market when they acquired reliever Andrew Miller from the New York Yankees for four prospects, including a pair of top minor leaguers in Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield. The team also had a proposed deal in place for Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy in what would have been considered another giant and uncharacteristic deal. Frazier is now in the big leagues and making an impact in the Bronx, but Miller’s value throughout the second half and the postseason of last year and so far this season borders on immeasurable.
Those hoping for a second consecutive year with a deadline blockbuster were disappointed as the Indians made a minor move to strengthen their bullpen, adding right-handed reliever Joe Smith from the Toronto Blue Jays for Double-A starter Thomas Pannone and short-season second baseman Samad Taylor. Throughout the trade period, the Indians had been linked to several of the biggest names available, including a pair of starting pitchers in Sonny Gray and Yu Darvish and southpaw reliever Zach Britton. The club was also reportedly in on outfielder J.D. Martinez before Detroit dealt him to Arizona for a small collection of middle infield prospects.
Injuries to Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall may have helped push for an offensive upgrade, while the injuries to Boone Logan and Miller make the Britton pursuit make all the more sense. But in the end, only Smith joined the Tribe.
Joe Smith’s Major League career blossomed while a member of the Cleveland Indians during a five-year stint from 2009 to 2013. He will get a chance to return to his former Progressive Field home, once again as a member of the Tribe, as the side-arming right-handed reliever was re-acquired by Cleveland in advance of Monday’s trade deadline in a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.
To obtain Smith, the Indians dealt Double-A left-handed starting pitcher Thomas Pannone and short-season second baseman Samad Taylor. Right-handed reliever Perci Garner, who had spent the season between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus, was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Smith.
While both the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox could have been big buyers at Monday afternoon’s trade deadline, each club made just minor tweaks to its roster as the league prepares for the final two months of the regular season schedule. Both very much in contention, the two teams will play each other this week for the first time since the Indians swept the Red Sox in the American League Division Series last October.
The Indians (57-46) have turned around what looked like a frightening start to the second half of their season after opening 1-5 against two of the worst teams in baseball in the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants on a west coast road trip. Since then, they rattled off nine straight wins, including sweeping a perfect seven-game homestand, before they were finally slowed down by the Chicago White Sox, 3-1, on a walk-off homer on Sunday afternoon.
In 2011 and 2012 the Cleveland Indians had a bullpen that was good enough to develop a nickname. The 2014 Tribe bullpen does not have any special monikers but may well be better than those pens that were the backbone of struggling baseball teams.
After a 2013 season of bullpen question marks and implosions, the Indians are enjoying a fantastic relief season this year. The pen is again arguably the strongest and deepest part of the club, this time a club that will go into September with playoff aspirations still alive.
Cleveland’s relief corps of 2011 and ’12 called themselves the Bullpen Mafia. Both seasons saw five relievers put up strong numbers. Those groups were headed by closer Chris Perez and setup men Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith. For two seasons, that trio was as good as any late-game group in the game. In 2011, Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez put up good numbers to complement the group. In 2012, it was Frank Herrmann and Esmil Rogers.
The Cleveland Indians entered the 2013 season with an alarming lack of apparent ability in the starting rotation. With the turnaround of Ubaldo Jimenez, the comeback of Scott Kazmir, and the emergence of Cory Kluber, the starting rotation became a source of strength for the Indians. Kazmir moved on to the Oakland Athletics and Jimenez seems destine to sign with another team as well. With the loss of two key players, the big question is whether or not the Indians can repeat their playoff season.
In order to look at where the Indians could be in 2014, we must look at what they have lost and gained in this current off season. In addition to this, we have to look at the loss and gain of the other teams in the American League Central. Using a statistic known as Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, we can project how many wins each player is, or could be worth. If we add up the cumulative WAR of the players the Indians lost, and the WAR of the new additions to the team, we can project how many wins the Indians lost or gained with through free agency and trades this winter.
All we, as Cleveland fans, really wanted for Christmas was a winning team. Scratch that, that’s all we ever want as Cleveland fans. And now, we have even less time to wait for that next – hopefully – winning season.
Christmas is one of the last major events that stands between the end of baseball season and spring training. As of today, there are only 46 days left until Cleveland’s pitchers and catchers report on February 11. 2014 will soon roll around and we will be talking about prospects and who has potential and who is going to carry the team through the season. We will be looking at other teams and deciding who we need to beat – but before that, we need to solidify the team that we are running with for next season, whether that is through trades, adjustments to the existing roster, or off-season signings.
Although off-seasons are always filled with controversy and differing opinions, and trades are always subject to both criticism and excitement, none this season have come as close as the upset occurring from the attempted 1947 trade of Lou Boudreau.
Criticism of the Cleveland Indians’ lack of activity this offseason has not just come from fans of the ball club. It has also come from the national media, where some have gone so far as to call the Indians losers of the annual Winter Meetings while others have opined that the team’s lack of aggressiveness and free spending could end the upcoming season before it even begins due to other upgrades within both their division and league.
The Indians, who finished just one game in back of the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central and exited the postseason after a one-game AL Wild Card loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, have been an almost non-existent and irrelevant player in the free agent and trade markets so far this offseason.
For many fans, this is a significant problem.
Coming off a huge turn around season in 2013, one in which the Indians refused to lose down the stretch and bulldozed their way into the playoffs, there are a lot of holes to be filled in the new Indians roster.
With the loss of the excellent Joe Smith, as well as arms like Matt Albers and Chris Perez, the Indians have a lot of innings to replace before the start of the 2014 season. Internal options will arise in players like Preston Guilmet and a hopeful return to dominance from Vinnie Pestano, but the free agent market cannot go untapped. Several solid right-handed arms can be acquired at bargain prices, an aspect that will appeal to a small market team like the Cleveland Indians.