Tribe Autopsy

This season sucked. The Tribe’s roster was pegged as a World Series contender not only the Cleveland Faithful, but a lot of Really Smart People nationally (and an obsolete magazine). Instead, it has fallen on its face faster than the artist formally known as Fausto Carmona. 

And even as we perform the autopsy with the still-living-only-5-games-back-of-the-Wild-Card corpse of this team – it’s hard to understand how we got here. Kipnis and Brantley are battling each other for the American League Batting Title. The rotation has been incredible, and mostly healthy, all year. Francisco Lindor has been sensational and the additions of Abraham Almonte and Giovanny Urshela have shored up the defense – once considered the team’s biggest weakness.

There’s a lot of interesting pieces on this team. And that may be the problem – individually, the pieces can be defended and even lauded – but when you put them together as a roster, the picture just doesn’t make sense.

I wanted to start the conversation on the roster and where we stand going into the 2016 season as we ride out this final stretch of watching Gavin Floyd lead us to a World Series win.

The Good 

Kipnis – Lindor – Brantley is a fantastic top of the order. A case can be made of the exact order they should hit – but these three give the Indians an incredible start to their lineup (even if Lindor’s bat falls back to earth a bit.)

Gomes should return to form. His defense is still incredible, and even if he doesn’t reach 2014 levels, he’s a former Silver Slugger who will be an important run producer for this team in 2016. The rotation looks set.

Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar, Bauer and any of the Tomlin, Anderson, House (RIP) types should give the Indians a top rotation again in 2016. There’s been rumors of the Indians looking to move a piece of the rotation (mostly Carrasco) for a bat, but I’m hoping this doesn’t happen. Trading a piece of the rotation and suffering even one injury could turn a strength into a weakness very quickly – and there isn’t enough in the upper levels of the minors to replace anyone. I’m also not sold a single bat will improve the offense enough to make up for losing someone such as Carrasco in the rotation.

The Respectable 

The bullpen has enough core guys and young guys in the wings that they should be able to cobble together a respectable pen. Let’s just hope they don’t keep an eight-man pen again.

Giovanny Urshela’s defense next to Lindor has been a welcomed addition. The team should be prepared should his bat become unplayable next year (similar to Chisenhall in 2015), but he looks like a respectable piece of the roster that should only be upgraded if the opportunity is too hard to pass up.

Jose Ramirez / Roberto Perez are quality backups. And this is an interesting situation – if the team a more complete team, these two would be incredibly valuable. Perez has a 1.1 WAR over 60 games after putting up a 1 WAR in 29 games (SMALL SAMPLE / BIG FONT) last year. He could start on a lot of teams. Jose Ramirez burst onto the scene last year, playing a bit above his head with a 1.8 WAR in only 68 games. Even with his awful start of 2015, he’s put up a 0.4 WAR in 69 games this year. Both of these players are under team control through 2021. For a small-market team like Cleveland, these are incredible values. But can a team without real options as full-time starters in center and right field afford these sorts of luxuries (not in terms of monies, but in terms of trade value)? With the offensive struggles this team has had going on two years now, could these sorts of players be turned into players that may have more value on this roster?

Carlos Santana is a good player who is probably miscast in Cleveland. For whatever reason, he’s as polarizing a player as has played for the Indians in years – but the truth is that he does a lot of valuable things while also having some deficiencies, especially in the role he’s asked to play. His defense might make him unplayable in the field, but his walks and power are extremely valuable, but his streakiness and lack of putting the ball in play make him struggle in the role of cleanup hitter. With the Indians already saddled to Chris Johnson for the next two years, suddenly there is a glut at this role. But Santana is valuable, and with his contract, it’s very unlikely the Tribe could get a return worth moving Santana. Oddly – Santana would benefit from being moved either up or down the order, as his walks would be valuable near the top of the order, or his power could be valuable if it were bumped down a few spots.

 The Bad 

Center and right field have a batting average of: sadness. Just trust my math here. Abraham Almonte has played well for the Indians and with guys like Tyler Naquin possibly entering the picture in 2016, but center may be a spot they just live with until Bradley Zimmer is ready. Neither inspires much confidence, but both seem to play respectable defense and have moderate upside as average offensive players. You can live with them – but only if you fix the cesspool in right field.

Jerry Sands and Ryan Raburn should not be options in 2016. Please don’t let them be options. Lonnie Chisenhall has played well since his return, and his defense in RF has been something of a revelation, but I simply don’t see his value as a platoon in RF. His splits aren’t drastic enough to think a strict platoon would make him a plus offensive player if he only faced righties, and his second half surge is similar to his first-half surge of 2014 in that it is mainly BABIP driven (.511 in the second half.) He’s also likely to make close to $3 million next season. He may have value as a backup and Urshela insurance, but if the Indians plan to rely on Almonte/Naquin in CF and Chisenhall/Sands in RF, it’s difficult to see how they can muster much offense. They need to fix one of the two OF spots.

This roster either has two first basemen or two designated hitters. Chris Johnson and Carlos Santana are both butchers defensively. Considering one a first basemen and the other a DH is just picking your poison. Johnson will likely start out as a platoon guy to face left-handed pitching, and Santana is an everyday player. So the Tribe likely needs to add a first basemen who can own and operate a glove to play 1st base when there is a right-hander on the mound. But suddenly this is a lot of roster spots to use up on 1B/DH when there are so many holes elsewhere. Maybe Chisenhall can play here some, but again, his bat isn’t exactly an answer, either.

The Offense. It’s bad. And so that’s the rub. The team needs another good bat. I’m not saying it has to be a power bat – I mean, a right-handed power bat - but they need a guy they can slot into the four-spot and drive in the fantastic top of our order and drop-down the valuable, but somewhat lacking remaining part of our order. They need prime Nick Swisher, honestly. But that dream, like Brohio, is dead. The free agent outfield market (Upton, Heyward, Gordon, Cespedes) is deep, but probably too expensive. There will be trade options (Puig? Ozuna?) but how much will they cost, and are they the answer?

This puts front office, or whatever version of this front office exists this offseason, given the recent rumors surrounding Indians President Mark Shapiro and the Toronto Blue Jays, is in a tough spot. 

There are interesting guys on this roster – JRam, Perez, Chisenhall, Almonte. I understand arguments for those guys in a vacuum (not literally).

But Kluber and Santana are 29, Kipnis, Brantley and Carrasco are 28. This is an extremely talented core, but we as fans probably need to reset our expectations after that 2013 playoff run. This team has regressed each year, even while adding talent. This team cannot go into next season wasting the primes of this rotation and the top two position players hoping that Abraham Almonte and Lonnie Chisenhall can take them to the promised land.

They need to add talent. And to do so, it’s probably going to require moving, or moving on, from a few guys out of the Ramirez, Perez, Chisenhall, Almonte, Santana grouping.
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