Year in Review: the 2015 Cleveland Indians

The calendar year that was 2015 reminded Indians fans of the plight of also being a Cleveland fan. Rarely mentioned when you unknowingly apply for membership in that fan club is the pain and anguish and torment to be received as the result of up and down play, dreams squandered, and hopes faded.

The Indians made sure to stick to the status quo this season, despite appearing to be in a good spot to contend in the mess that was the American League Central Division after once again landing on the outside of the postseason at the end of the 2014 season. That team finished 85-77, five games in back of Detroit in the division and just three games in back of the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card chase.

With the division appearing up for grabs for 2015, their offseason was quiet and set the trend for a year that the team would regret.

The addition of Brandon Moss in a trade with Oakland last December turned out to be the last significant offseason move made by the club, whose final moves were the signings of free agent pitchers Michael Roth and Anthony Swarzak in January and utility guy Michael Martinez and pitcher Bruce Chen in February.

March hit and injuries began to chip away at the roster picture. Gavin Floyd, who was signed in December to a one-year, $4 million deal and was supposed to be part of the rotation, was lost for the majority of the year with a fractured elbow. Nick Swisher too found himself on the shelf, as recovery from double knee surgery in the offseason had taken longer than expected, and Josh Tomlin (April), Yan Gomes (April), and T.J. House (May) would join him on the disabled list in short order.

While all were blows to the club, the bigger news in spring camp was that both young pitcher Danny Salazar and star prospect Francisco Lindor would not be joining the Indians to start the season. Lindor played well in the spring, hitting .297 in 16 games with three doubles, a triple, two homers, and five RBI, but he was deemed to need to cook a little longer in the pot in Columbus, where additional seasoning was said to benefit Lindor and his “litany of things”, per then-general manager Chris Antonetti, that he needed to refine.

Lindor’s seat-holder, Jose Ramirez, was desperately trying to play his way south from Cleveland to Columbus, only emphasizing the missing presence that was the Indians top prospect. Lindor was slashing a .302/.380/.429 line through his first 17 games with the Clippers when it became apparent that he would not be helping the Indians with the litany of things going wrong at the Major League level.

Namely, the team sputtered off of the starting line. A 7-14 start was highlighted by the .238 batting average from the offense, including Ramirez’s .175 mark, Michael Bourn’s .200 line, Jason Kipnis’s .218 start, and Lonnie Chisenhall’s .221 number of his own. Corey Kluber was 0-3 in his Cy Young defense and was averaging two runs of support.

Swisher returned in May and the team played better, but the two were not related. The team still had a sizeable hole in the left side of the infield from both the offensive and defensive sides of the game and had questions in the rotation after losing Floyd, Tomlin, and House to injury and Zach McAllister to one last ditch trial in the rotation. While Salazar returned from purgatory and more-than-adequately plugged the hole in the dam, the fifth starter was a revolving door of desperation tactics.

A six-game winning streak towards the end of May salvaged the month for the club and gave them a 17-12 record in the stretch with what would be a season-high 146 runs scored. It pulled their season record to 24-26, but they remained six and a half games in back in the Central and had yet to return to the .500 mark. Kluber had a game to remember, striking out 18 Cardinal hitters in eight innings and surrendering just one seventh inning single to former Indian Jhonny Peralta as they shut down St. Louis in the middle of the month.

The roller coaster took another dive down in June, as the team scored just 79 runs and seemed to be leaking from every facet. Poor offensive production was supplemented by another trip to the DL for Swisher, the demotions of Chisenhall and Ramirez, and the revolving door bullpen lost Scott Atchison, who was ineffective, injured, and then released. There were a few bright spots in the 11-15 month – Lindor finally got the call from Columbus, as did his buddy Giovanny Urshela. The Tribe also found a surprise effort from rookie pitcher Cody Anderson, who allowed just one run on eight hits in 15 2/3 innings of two highly successful starts against the Tampa Bay Rays after just three starts at the Triple-A level.

July was more of the same after an incredible run at history from Carlos Carrasco to start off the month. He chased a no-hitter within its final strike before Tampa outfielder Joey Butler just cleared the glove of a fully extended Kipnis for the Rays’ first knock of the night. A 13-13 record left the Indians 13 games out of the division. Just six days were spent with the gap at less than double digits. The club had crashed to the cellar of the Central and the fire sale was on. Gone were Moss, outfielder David Murphy, and reliever Marc Rzepczynski to the Cardinals, Angels, and Padres, respectively. Returning were minor league prospects Rob Kaminsky (Cardinals) and Eric Stamets (Angels) and outfielder Abraham Almonte (Padres).

August brought a Kipnis shoulder injury, but also brought the returns of Chisenhall and Ramirez, who both played at a level not seen throughout the season with the Indians. Chisenhall had surprisingly quick-converted to a right fielder and to say he impressed would be an understatement. Ramirez contributed in a utility role.

It also brought about the needed trade sending Swisher and Bourn to Atlanta with cash for corner infielder Chris Johnson. While Johnson had a bad contract of his own and would be severed from the club in December, removing the dead weight that had been the largely disappointing, highly detrimental and costly signings of the two veterans was more important. The move spread around the financial damage to the Indians roster, while opening up another needed roster spot.

The moves seemed to help the Tribe, who finished with a 16-12 record and outscored their opponents by a season-best 35 runs. It also thrust them back into the outskirts of a very crowded AL Wild Card race.

The Indians survived injuries to Johnson, Anderson, and Carrasco through August, getting a stellar supplement from their little cowboy, Tomlin, who had returned from his injury issues. As the Indians charged to the finish, they rode their two most recent rotation members to a 17-14 September and October, finally pushing over the .500 mark in the middle of the month and ending the season on the plus side with an 81-80 record. Anderson was 5-0 in six starts in that span, posting a 1.38 ERA. Tomlin was 4-1 with a 2.97 ERA in six starts and tossed a pair of complete games. Carrasco was 2-3, but threw a one-hit complete game gem against Kansas City, the third time he took a one-hitter or less into the ninth inning in a game in 2015.

While the club ended on a positive note, the offseason has seemingly been quiet in the first opportunities for Mike Chernoff as the team’s general manager and Antonetti as the team’s president, replacing Mark Shapiro, who bolted north of the border while making few new friends of a new feather with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The most notable moves have been the additions of outfielder Rajai Davis in December and the pending announcement of the addition of first baseman Mike Napoli. Butler and Collin Cowgill are new minor 40-man roster additions in the outfield mix to help replace Michael Brantley, who was lost for at least the first month of the season recovering from shoulder surgery. The bullpen has added Kirby Yates and Dan Otero from Tampa and Philadelphia in cash swaps.

Gone from the end of the season roster are Mike Aviles, Ryan Webb, and Floyd, who were all free agents. The Indians have also parted ways with Nick Hagadone, Jerry Sands, Jayson Aquino, and Johnson through offseason roster crunches, and lost minor league pitcher Josh Martin to San Diego in the MLB portion of the Rule 5 draft.

With the final hours and minutes of the 2015 year ticking away, the Indians left us a little light on results and lacking in hope moving forward given the absence of urgency this offseason. They will undoubtedly look to ride the strong starting rotation and the core offensive pieces of the roster as they look to battle in an AL Central that now houses the champions of the MLB, the Royals.

Here’s hoping that the bulk of the club’s renovations are not to Progressive Field this winter and that the club finds the final missing pieces that they need to revamp the roster into one of a contender over the next seven weeks before spring training resumes in Goodyear.

Happy New Year from Did The Tribe Win Last Night!

Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer

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