Post-Deadline Mailbag Has Eyes Toward Youth and Pitching

It’s been an up and down week for the Cleveland Indians, just like the rest of the season. After a disappointing road trip to start the second half and losing two out of three to the Seattle Mariners at home, the Indians traded veterans Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera for Triple-A players. While Indians manager Terry Francona insists they aren’t waving the white flag, clearly there is an eye toward next season as the Tribe has just 50 games remaining.

Then the Indians sweep the Texas Rangers and find themselves just three games back of the final Wild Card spot by this morning. It’s been that kind of strange year for the Indians, and like a lot of people, I’m full of frustration, remaining guarded optimism and a dose of reality.

I couldn’t possibly put all my thoughts into one column at this point, so instead I welcomed our readers to fire questions and topics my way. I like this from time to time because I get a feel for the things readers have the most concern about and it’s a great way to fill one column full of links that might give you even more insight to your questions. Hopefully, you enjoy. 

Leading off, @boomhauertjs asks, “Is it safe to say 2017 is the next realistic year of contention since the Swisher/Bourn contracts are off the books?”

It’s a great question that probably has about 10 different layers to it, but I think they’ll try to contend even in 2015. Indians manager Terry Francona is signed through 2016 and trying to sell him on a full rebuilding project would not go over well. Francona is no longer a young man, has a very bad back and is clear that he isn’t going to manage forever. I think the Indians organization knows what they have in him and knows asking him to not contend for two years and then extend his contract would not go over very well.

The Swisher and Bourn contracts are definitely going to hamstring the organization moving ahead. The duo each will make $15 million in 2015 and 2016 and the Indians already have over $62 million dedicated to payroll in 2015 and that’s before you add in guys who are arbitration eligible that the team would likely want to bring back (Marc Rzepczynski, Scott Atchison, Bryan Shaw, Lonnie Chisenhall and Carlos Carrasco). If they bring those five back, on top of the $62 million in payroll commitments, you’re conservatively up to about $72 million. Nothing has changed to indicate the Indians will exceed a $85 million payroll, so fixing all their ills—especially the starting rotation—will be very tough on a $13 million budget for the offseason.

What I think it really means is that the Indians are going to be forced to “re-appropriate some funds” when it comes to payroll. Maybe not as drastic as the 2012-13 winter but you could see a fair roster shake up headed the Indians way this winter. I won’t be surprised to see some players dealt that can bring back starting pitching—both immediate and young—to help the 2015 roster, with the idea of filling in vacancies with some players from their minor league system. For the first time in nearly a decade, the Indians have some players at both Double-A and Triple-A that can contribute to the big league roster.

With Bourn and Swisher’s contracts—and a commitment to a core of guys like Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Yan Gomes—don’t be surprised to see a player or two contributing to this roster to help bring pitching depth. Of course, one big help to getting the Indians back into contention would be if Swisher and Bourn played much better.

Maybe @boomerhaustjs isn’t the only one thinking the Indians are headed to rebuilding mode, or maybe others see some “re-appropriation of funds” headed the Indians way like I do, because both @Nominataur and @jamestbailey89 both want to know, “What prospects outside of Francisco Lindor do you think could have an impact in 2015?”

The good news is that I think the Indians do have some players at the Double-A and Triple-A level that can be contributors to the Tribe’s 2015 roster. The bad news is that other than Lindor, I don’t know that any of them are future stars.

I’ve watched Lindor for the last three seasons and can’t thoroughly explain how mature and mentally prepared he is for the big league level. I’ve tried, and feel like I’m still not doing him his due. Lindor will immediately help the Indians putrid defense the moment he runs out to shortstop and assumes the full-time job.

Looking to this winter, I think the Indians have very little choice but to try and get better pitching and defense. While the offense has been up and down this season, I think it will magically become more consistent when they aren’t giving runs away on a regular basis.

Someone like David Murphy, despite his great game yesterday, is a player I think could be traded in an attempt to re-appropriate funds. Murphy makes $6 million next season, hasn’t had a great season or a real bad one either. He’s only signed for 2015, with an option year for 2016, so he isn’t a long-term commitment for someone willing to take on his salary. Cleveland likely won’t get much in return for him other than minor league depth, but it will get freedom of his salary to be used elsewhere to try and bring in more starting pitching. James Ramsey, the player they just acquired from St. Louis for Masterson, will probably get a strong look to contribute at the big league level in 2015, along with Carlos Moncrief. Ramsey is just getting his first dose of Triple-A since his trade to Cleveland’s organization, while Moncrief has played the entire season in Columbus. Ramsey is a little younger and strikes out less, Moncrief probably has a little more power at this point. Unfortunately, they both hit left-handed, so a platoon between the two seems unlikely. I’d include Tyler Naquin into this scenario, except that he was hurt in late June and suffered a broken hand. He’ll likely miss the rest of this season, slowing his development down a bit. I think he could still contribute at the big league level in 2015, just maybe not in April.

The Indians will have some changes in their bullpen, likely non-tendering John Axford this winter, and I think they’ll try to fill that void internally. C.C. Lee and Austin Adams have already seen a little big league time, but the guy I would keep my eye on is Shawn Armstrong. After a very disappointing 2013, he has rebounded and had a very nice 2014 at Double-A Akron. He’s a right-handed reliever, who like most at the upper levels, has big league stuff but needs to consistently locate. When he locates, I think he can get big league hitters out.

But the player I think that could maybe come from a little off the radar, and have an impact, is third baseman Giovanny Urshela. There may not be a player in the Indians minor league system to improve as much as Urshela has over the last two seasons. Defensively, he has had a big league quality glove, but the 22-year old has really filled out through weight training and developed into a strong offensive player. At the beginning of 2013, he looked very overmatched at Akron. It was night and day by the second half of last season. He started at Akron this year, but looked like a man among boys, and was quickly promoted to Columbus where he has had a very nice season. While physically growing up, his power has developed and his plate awareness. His strikeout rate has dropped this season and on-base percentage has risen. Again, defensively, the Indians would be much improved at third base with Urshla over any other current option. Like I said, I couldn’t promise that any of these names—not named Lindor—will hit the ground running at the big league level or have All-Star potential, but I can see several of them getting a shot in 2015.

One of the reasons I like doing the occasional mailbag is for the crazy question. Without asking for it, @danny_madden helps provide it this time around when he asks, “who is the best looking writer on the site?”

If the questions would have been, who has been the best, new edition to the DTTWLN staff in 2014, it would have been hands-down Madden. He writes a great Akron RubberDucks profile that posts every Tuesday at 1 p.m. If you haven’t checked out his work, you should. But that wasn’t the question. Since he asked the question, it seems a little self-serving, and no girl likes that so he immediately disqualifies himself.

I’m giving props to myself (@didtribewin) and @eebs2k because we have combined to lose about 140 lbs. since Jan. 1. But since we are both married and with children, even though we’ve lost the weight of an average 14-year old, we are still pretty lame and unattractive. Much of the same goes for @vinceguerreri, but he brings a baldness to the table that Steve and I are still working on. Our Columbus Clippers writer, @2011wings, is single and very tech-saavy, but the dude ate 2011 wings in 2011 and blogged about it. I’m not sure a lady is looking for that type of thing.

That leaves @TheBobToth and @laurelwilder. Both are young, funny and very intelligent. Their Twitter street-cred brings each of them a myriad of followers and hashtags. Bob was a part of the #BobTothZoo and Laurel is widely famous for her #bustweets and often takes over our site with #LaurelThursday with her morning column and afternoon Lake County Captains profile.

That’s basically the tale-of-the-tape at DTTWLN, a trio of mid-30-year old married guys with children, a couple of mid-20-year olds and Bob (Hopefully, my plug to include all our writer’s Twitter handles wasn’t too obvious). What it indicates to me, is that we could use a couple more writers. If you’re interested, shoot me an email.

On Facebook, Patrick Tripp, asks, “All the Twins gave up for Tommy Milone was Sam Fuld? Why didn’t the Tribe get him? Milone has (number) 2 or 3 starter potential and it seems we need pitchers more than left-handed hitting Double-A outfielders. 

Well, Patrick, I think this is a case of blaming Oakland, not the Cleveland. I liked Milone too, and I discussed him with Jerry Mires on The Sports Fix before the trade deadline. But, I always encourage people to not look at trades from the Indians’ perspective, but from the other team’s perspective. For Oakland, the moves they made clearly have put them in “all-in,” mode for 2014 and 2015. They’ve definitely made short-sighted moves to try and win the World Series in the next two seasons. I don’t think they had any interest in Masterson since they already landed Jeff Samardijza and eventually got Jon Lester. Masterson probably wouldn’t be in their rotation. Oakland and Cleveland did have dialogue concerning Cabrera according to several reports and I’m sure the Indians inquired about Milone. Oakland has an immediate need for a center fielder since Coco Crisp is injured and Minnesota had Fuld, who can fill that hole and can be controlled moving forward by the Athletics.

You can’t put just anyone in center field, especially in that cavernous Oakland Coliseum. I think Oakland decided they were best to overpay for Fuld’s defense to aid their pitching, instead of Cabrera’s bat. Pitching and defense, it’s a crazy concept that seems to have been effective in baseball for about 114 years. Unfortunately, Cleveland couldn’t talk Oakland into breaking away from that model. It’s not always about the Indians when it comes to trades. It takes two to tango.

Since @jamestbailey89 had his first question asked by someone else, he also asks, “Do you see Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar being at the top of a rotation that can win in October or are more moves needed next year?”

In short, yes to both parts. In long answer, if the Indians are going to contend in 2015—or pull out some miracle 2014 run—it is going to be with Kluber and the continued development of Bauer and Salazar. All three have made strides in 2014, including Salazar who has looked better since his recall, but all have a way to go to be a true top 3 in a rotation that can win in the playoffs. Compare the three of them to the top 3 in Oakland, Detroit, Los Angeles and even Toronto and Baltimore. I don’t think the Indians three starters could match up with any of those team’s three starters. If you’re starting rotation is an underdog, it’s tough to win playoff series in October. I think the Indians will acquire a veteran starter over the winter, but I don’t think it’s going to be a high-dollar arm because of their financial restraints. It’s more likely to be a quality, innings-eater that will provide depth. How quickly the Indians return to October rests squarely on the shoulders of Kluber, Bauer and Salazar. Kluber has to continue what he’s done in 2014 and Bauer and Salazar have to continue to grow. I think Bauer and Salazar each have the potential to match up with the top starters around the league, but they definitely are not on that level yet.

Finally, @vinceguerreri asks, “why do we subject ourselves to this year after year?”

The simple answer is the cliché because fan is short for fanatic. The less simple answer is probably because someone special to us took us to an Indians game as a kid and we enjoyed it. We have childhood memories of great times at the ballpark and even though the Indians have terrible defense and mediocre-at-best starting pitching, we see a quality manager and group of core players that give us hope of a championship run that allows us celebrate with those special people and create a moment that we’ll never forget for the rest of our lives.

That’s at least why I subject myself to this. It isn’t for the fireworks, hot dogs or bobbleheads, but in the meantime those are nice, too.

Photo: Getty Images

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