by Jason Martinez
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CLEVELAND INDIANS 2012-13 OFFSEASON PREVIEW
Manny Acta was recently fired after his team posted a losing season for the third time during his three-season tenure as the Indians' manager. An inconsistent lineup that couldn't seem to get its best players hot at the same time didn't help. And the fact that 121 of the team's 159 starts have been made by pitchers with an ERA currently over 5.00 didn't help much either. The "Bullpen Mafia" was still pretty good but that nickname doesn't mean much when your team loses over 90 games and your main job is to keep opponents from extending leads.
On the bright side, the bullpen could return intact and has a lot of depth in the upper minors ready to help out. The lineup can also be very good, especially if Asdrubal Cabrera (.832 OPS in 1st half; .669 OPS in 2nd half) and Carlos Santana (.675 OPS in 1st half; .909 OPS in 2nd half) can be good at the same time. The starting rotation ... well, there's not much on the bright side. Carlos Carrasco will be back after missing the season while recovering from Tommy John surgery but that's not nearly enough if Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez aren't much better than they were in 2012.
STARTING LINEUP ANALYSIS
Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, coming off of an injury-plagued season, has an .880 OPS from the leadoff spot, where he's been getting regular at-bats for the first time in his career. Heading into his last season of team control, the Indians could trade him if the price is right. They may have to sacrifice some offense if they can get some starting pitching in return. Jason Kipnis, like Cabrera, has struggled in the 2nd half after a strong 1st half (.764 OPS). The 25 year-old should be able to handle a spot in the top third of the order ahead of Cabrera and Santana for years to come. Michael Brantley doesn't have the power to hit in the middle of the order but he has a .796 OPS from the 5th spot, where he's gotten the majority of his at-bats.
Designated hitter Travis Hafner has a club option for $13 million, a steep price for an injury-prone 35 year-old who hasn't been that productive since 2007. The Indians will likely decline the option. He currently has 199 HR with the organization. Finding some power internally probably isn't an option, although Lonnie Chisenhall's .815 OPS in September is encouraging. Russ Canzler, Matt LaPorta, Lars Anderson, and Ezequiel Carrera will be just some of the names in the mix for the open 1B/LF/DH jobs. Don't be surprised if the Indians try to fill all three spots via free agency or trade(s).
If there's one area where the organization is in terrific shape, it's in shortstop depth. Cabrera is signed through 2014 and then it will be interesting to see how close their shortstop prospect quartet of Francisco Lindor, Dorssys Paulino, Ronny Rodriguez, and Tony Wolters -- four of the top five prospects in the organization, according to MLB.com's adjusted Top 20 list -- are to replacing him. With most teams in the majors lacking a quality shortstop prospect, it will be very interesting to see if the Indians are willing to include any in a deal that would help the 2013 major league team.
STARTING PITCHING ANALYSIS
Carrasco, the former Phillies prospect acquired in the Cliff Lee deal, appeared to finally be coming into his own in 2011 before a torn ligament knocked him out of action. He's expected to return to the Indians' rotation next April, along with Masterson, Jimenez, and Zach McAllister, who has been the team's best starter in 2012. Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, and Corey Kluber will also be in the mix. Finding a #1 starter could be the top priority, however, since plan B would be for the front office to cross their fingers and hope that Masterson and Jimenez can regain their previous top-of-the-rotation form. After this season's debacle, it's hard to count on that happening.
Pitching prospect Austin Adams, who missed the season due to a shoulder injury, could get a shot at some point in 2013 if he's healthy. In 26 Double-A starts in 2011, the right-hander posted a 3.77 ERA in 136 innings with 63 BB and 131 K. If you're looking for a dark horse rotation candidate, how about former Rockies pitcher Esmil Rogers? His inconsistency did not allow him to keep a spot in the Rockies rotation so he spent 2012 in a long relief role, where he struggled until he was designated for assignment and acquired by the Indians. In 42 relief appearances with the Indians, all he's done is post a 2.44 ERA with 12 BB and 52 K in 51.2 innings. With the lack of rotation depth, it's worth giving the 27 year-old a look as a starter in Spring Training.
RELIEF PITCHING ANALYSIS
It almost makes too much sense for the Indians to trade some of their relief depth to shore up some areas of need this offseason. They have the arms to plug in if they were to trade setup man Vinnie Pestano, who would likely give the team the biggest return in a trade. Chris Perez is an established closer but will make at least $6 million in 2013 and possibly around $8 million in his last year before hitting free agency after the 2014 season. Pestano, a 27 year-old sidearmer, who has 59 holds and 158 K in 130.1 innings over the past two seasons, is not yet eligible for arbitration and is under team control through 2016. Expect the Indians to try and trade Perez. It won't be surprising, though, if they end up trading Pestano after realizing how little they'd get in a deal for Perez.
TOP OFFSEASON PRIORITIES
1 Starting Pitching
2 First Baseman
3 Left Fielder or Center Fielder (M. Brantley would play other spot)
4 Designated Hitter
2012 HITTING STATS
2012 PITCHING STATS