A few weeks ago, when the playoffs were anything but assured, someone on twitter asked whether or not Pauly C. and I would combine for a joint, mega-edition of Lazy Sunday if the Indians made the playoffs. Well wouldn’t you know it, but the wi-fi down in Del Boca Vista was working this week, and what started out as an innocent e-mail exchange turned into what you see before you here today. We’re heading into the most important offseason for the Indians since the winter of 2007-08, when the 96-win Indians took the Red Sox to the brink of elimination in the ALCS, falling just one game short of a World Series berth (and eventual win over the Rockies, and no one will ever convince me otherwise). That club made only minor tweaks to what we all thought was a pretty solid roster, then promptly went out and fell flat on their faces in 2008, stumbling so badly that reigning Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia was dealt in early July. Even a 22-3 (167 ERA+!) season from Cliff Lee couldn’t save that club. There’s a lot of pressure on Chris Antonetti and company to avoid a similar fate in 2014, as the Cleveland fanbase has shown an unwillingness to trust the front office and ownership group despite a playoff* season in 2013. So with that level of gravity established, it is with great pride that I bring to you the return of THE DiaTribe, The Westside Kid, the biggest Pat Tabler fan outside of the Tabler family…that’s right, none other than Paul Cousineau himself! Time and schedule permitting, Pauly and I will try and get together for a little offseason miniseries, so consider this installment one of several still to come in the fall/winter months ahead.
Paul Cousineau: So if you're down at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, what "levers" are you pulling?
Al Ciammaichella: To start, they need to figure out whether Ubaldo will pick up his end of his option (which he won't, unless he's crazy). After he declines it, I think they need to figure out if he'll sign for a reasonable #, or if they just offer him the qualifying tender and move on with a draft pick. I think that's the most likely scenario. As good as he was in the 2nd half this year, that delivery still has a lot of moving parts, any of which can break down at any point and he turns back into 2012 Ubaldo. I just think he's better off being someone else's risk, especially at the $$ he'll command on the open market. Everything hinges on that decision though, and with the remote chance that the Big U will offer a big “hometown” discount for the team that kept giving him chances until he got himself right, that scenario has to be given a little bit of time to play itself out.
Next comes Kazmir. Is he worth 2 years/$17 million? Yeah, probably, especially considering he'd be the only lefty in the rotation and there are no sure things to step up from the farm next year. They almost have to resign one of them, and I think Kazmir will come cheaper and with less risk (and lower upside). So after Ubaldo (likely) leaves, they need to do what it takes to bring Kaz back into the fold for next season.
Step 3 is feeling out the trade market for Asdrubal. Even if they have to trade him for $.75 on the dollar, I think they have to move him to free up $$$. You can't pay him $10 million next year to be a replacement-level SS. By B-Ref's WAR, he was worth 1.2 wins last year. That's a CAREER LOW, including his rookie year when he only appeared in 45 games. Yikes. He reports to camp in lousy shape, is always dinged up throughout the season, and doesn't seem to be a team leader. With the raises coming to Bourn and Swish, they're going to need every dollar to maximize payroll. I'm not in love with Aviles, but he can keep SS warm until Lindor (who I am madly in love with) is ready. And I think Lindor will be ready at some point in 2014, and will be able to contribute enough with his glove that he’ll be able to provide the value of Asdrubal at a fraction of the cost, and be 10 times more adorable while doing so.
What do you think they'll look to do?
PC: Absolutely agree on those 3 being the first steps, in that order.
Ubaldo's walking to greener pastures, so you put in your qualifying offer and take the pick. As good as he was, let him be someone else's constant project.
Kazimir is the guy I'd keep for the reasons you point out. I don't think he gets more than that and he (unlike Ubaldo) would have some loyalty to the team giving him a shot. The presence of Tito and Callaway (plus the fact that he's made more than $30M in his career) won't hurt.
If you get Kazimir locked up, the rotation is pretty sound although some of that I attribute to the steps made by Kluber/McAllister/Salazar and what I’ll call the “Tao of Mickey”. The wild card could be Masterson if he doesn't seem interested in an extension (that the team is sure to approach him about) at all. By that I mean, do the Indians pull a Rays-esque move with Shields...and can the fanbase handle that? I don't think so…on both counts (at least I can't - even if they'd get a king's ransom for him), so I hope that Masterson is willing to do a CC-type deal where he gives up some FA years or maybe one year and an option for some security. And, yes...CC did that at one point before the 2005 season.
Even separating emotion from it as frustration was the norm for him all season, you try to move Asdrubal. Maybe you don't get as much for him, but I've LONG been of the opinion that Aviles can at least hold ground there until Lindor is ready. I was ready for that in July of 2013, so a couple more mediocre months...and a BRUTAL GIDP in the WC game haven't changed that.
To me, the interesting spots are 3B/SS and RF/1B and how they think they're going to utilize Raburn and Aviles for next year. Ideally, they're still bench guys (and they're getting paid like bench guys at $4M combined for 2014) and I'm OK with Chiz at 3B to start the season with Swish taking one of RF or 1B, but what they do in RF and at SS (or Utility IF, if Asdrubal is traded and Aviles is the starting SS) are the spots to watch.
Oh, and building a bullpen without Smith, Perez, Pestano (assuming he's not healthy), and Albers...
AC: Ever notice how every year that the bullpen is supposed to be the strength of the team it ends up blowing up in our faces? I'm primarily referring to 2008 in addition to last year of course; it just seems like no matter what, that's the most volatile part of the club and you can never really know what you're getting from season to season. Pestano is the best example; WBC guy prior to the season, coming off of two seasons where he averaged a 161 ERA+, and he ends up getting sent to AAA in 2013. YCPB could stand for You Can't Predict Bullpen. But I also share your opinion that a bullpen is the easiest (and cheapest) part of a team to construct. Trade or DFA Perez, slide a (healthy) Pestano into the back end of the bullpen along with Cody Allen, mix with a dash of Scrabble and a pinch of Bryan Shaw and you've got the start of something promising. I think C.C. Lee is a full-time member of the bullpen next season, and he can fill the Joe Smith role capably. I still refuse to believe that the Nick Hagadone experiment is a failed one; his stuff is just so much better than the results indicate. I'm still holding out hope that the light bulb goes on for him at some point next year. Preston Guilmet, Trey Haley, Scott Barnes and Austin Adams are all internal options that could appear at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario at some point in 2014, so before you even throw in random vet signing(s) and minor league signings with invites to big league camp, you have the makings for a solid cadre of bullpen arms. Adams especially; his fastball still sits in the upper 90’s and routinely touches 99. I think he becomes a significant contributor to the major league bullpen as soon as 2014, with future closer© potential.
So...you're just going to bring up the idea of a Masterson trade with no warning like that? Give a guy a chance to brace himself. While I stew over that nugget, what are your thoughts on the bullpen? Do you think they offer CP arbitration?
PC: Nah, Perez is gone.
Even engaging him in arbitration seems unlikely, given the raise that he’s due via the arbitration process and with the “stats” that they look at and value. They’ll probably put feelers out to move him, then non-tender him because you just don’t tie up that much $ that can be spent elsewhere when you’re a team like the Indians.
As for the 2014 pen, you remember those "odd year"-"even year" bullpens?
I get sick just thinking about what those 2006 and 2008 bullpens did to those seasons by mid-May as the same gas cans were trotted out there as the season frittered away. But if you think back to those bullpens, there were names like Masa Kobayashi, Brodzoski (The Close), Brendan Donnelly, Guillermo Mota, Danny Graves, and Scott Sauerbeck that were all supposed to contribute when seasons started and, when they didn't, the team scrambled - MUCH too late - to find suitable replacements, with few options readily available. You could say that this happens with every team every year as it takes a while to sort these arms out, but what impressed me about the handling of the 2013 bullpen was how nimble the organization seemed to be - from the Front Office to Tito's usage patterns.
Think about the fact that the 3 relievers that elicited the most confidence when October hit were Joe Smith, Shaw, and Scrabble...who had that “Trust Troika” in April, or even mid-August? Essentially, Francona slotted pieces and parts around to ride the hot hand - whether it was Allen in the middle of the season, or Perez when he was actually good (and he WAS, basically for the whole month of July), or even a Cookie Carrasco late in the season - to maximize effectiveness. That's what elicits confidence for me, in that there are a lot of guys that you mention that are young, dynamic, and could move quickly in a bullpen that seems to FINALLY be designed to allow quick movement into different spots in particular situations...and a lot of the names that you mention are already on the parent club or are knocking at the door. And if the team is lacking in a particular area (as they were for a LOOGY last year), the Front Office has shown that it can and will make a quick and smart move to add a guy that their analysts or scouts are high on, like a Scrabble, with little given up to net that piece.
So I'm not all that concerned about which players makes up the bullpen, but who is putting it together and managing it calms me. Maybe we see some sort of combination of Allen, Carrasco, Shaw and a surprise like an Austin Adams come August or September 2014 or maybe it's something that would be as surprising as the 2013 late season triumvirate of Smith/Shaw/Scrabble...but I think (or maybe it is hope) that they could have this bullpen thing figured out as well as anyone could reasonably hope to and the exit of Chris Perez this off-season will signal the end of a hard-and-fast closer for this organization as they move into the growing column of teams that figures out their bullpen mix as the season develops. Maybe they don't go as far as Jonah Keri suggested after Opening Day of 2012, but I think what we saw down the stretch in 2013 (that AC so accurately wrote about) is what we're going to start to see in the bullpen...and that's a welcome change.
Now, as for that reliever-turned-starter, you want to dive into the Masterson thing?
AC: I had forgotten about Brendan Donnelly and Scott Sauerbeck. Reading that paragraph gave me bullpen PTSD and harkened back to the days of Derrek Lilliquist, who is probably still my all-time least favorite Indians reliever.
As for Justin Credible, IF Masty makes it clear to the front office that he's going to test free agent waters and IF the right deal presents itself, I guess I could understand moving him prior to the season. It'd be a shock of epic proportions to a fan base that still bears the scars of the Sabathia/Lee deals, and something tells me that few if any would understand nor appreciate it. But if for some reason the St. Louis Cardinals decided that they'd rather have Masterson than Oscar Taveras...well, I'd have a hard time saying no to that deal. Remember, Wil Myers was a consensus top-5 prospect in all of baseball when he was dealt, and he was basically major-league ready at the time. So Taveras is the best comparison I can come up with. Since it's all hypothetical at this point, we could even work out a mega-trade; Asdrubal and Masterson for Taveras, Martinez and Wacha. Who says no? Probably the Cardinals, that’s who. But if the Twins are offering up Buxton or Sano, that's a tough offer to turn down as well. Now is a good time to remind our hyperventilating readers that this is all hypothetical, and the Rays did make the playoffs this year even after trading away James Shields.
PC: Looking past my frustration at seeing these young St. Louis arms in the playoffs that’s been exacerbated by HOW they’ve pitched while realizing that Asdrubal’s value is at a near-low right now, that was the point of bringing up Masterson as a wild card this off-season. Reason being that Shields-Myers deal is the precedent given that Shields was a top-tier SP with 2 years of club control remaining (identical to Masterson right now) and Myers was that “Can’t Miss” 22-year-old ready-for-MLB prospect that hadn’t even started his service time clock.
That said, by NO MEANS is this me advocating a trade of Masterson as I think that the organization is smart enough to realize that moving Masterson (regardless of who is coming back for him) basically gives all of the dullards in the Cleveland Sports Media another reason to say “see, this is what they do when they have a good player – they trade him for ANOTHER prospect…there’s NO way to support this team” over and over until it becomes the accepted ethos, regardless of the fact that this Front Office has now put together three teams with 90-win seasons in the past nine years.
But if you think about what Tampa did with Shields and what Oakland did after the 2011 season (trading their two best starters in Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, plus their best reliever in Bailey), those teams remove that emotion or fear of public backlash from their decisions, maximize their assets and try to continually build on the fly, and trust in their ability to do so…with the results in recent years speaking for themselves. As much as people in Cleveland point to TB and OAK as examples of small-market teams that continue to contend on a shoestring budget, I’m fairly certain that the high rate of roster turnover simply wouldn’t be accepted by a fanbase that is always ready to grab those pitchforks.
Again, don’t take this to mean that Masterson should be shopped here as Tampa was in a different situation last off-season, with Price (who will be traded THIS off-season) still around and a litany of young arms ready to ascend still able to make up for the gap that Shields left. But the Indians have to be very honest about their expectations for their rotation next year and whether Danny Salazar really has the potential to be (gasp) some sort of modern-day Pedro Martinez while making reasonable assessments of Kluber and McAllister after making decisions on Ubaldo and Kazimir.
And so we go back to your first three steps here as where Ubaldo and Kazimir end up affect the rotation, just as any move/non-move with Cabrera affects what they do not only at SS, but also at 3B, due to the presence of Aviles as a stop-gap measure/fill-in for either spot going forward. To me, I’d prefer that trade of Asdrubal that moves Aviles to SS and gives Lonnie some time to attempt to (again) settle in at 3B.
AL: You know me; I’ve been on the “Trade Asdrubal” bandwagon since November 2012, including at the trade deadline this past season. Watching Wacha, Martinez, Rosenthal and company go out and dominate in the NL playoffs is incredibly frustrating. If I could ask put Antonetti on truth serum and ask him just one question, I’d ask him what trade offers (if any) were on the table for Asdrubal, and when.
Heading into this season, I thought Salazar was one of the four most talented pitchers in the organization. But I never expected that, still coming off of Tommy John surgery, he’d make it to the big league club and feature the fastest fastball among major league starting pitchers. I predicted that he’d be a bullpen weapon after the all-star break, and I’ve rarely been happier to have been so wrong about something. His starts were mandatory viewing this year, and I think he’s the Indians #2 starter behind Masterson (provided you don’t trade him away in the offseason) in 2014. Danny Salazar and Yan Gomes are my two favorite players right now, and I couldn’t be happier that Salazar snagged #31 for himself.
As one of the final remaining members on the Lonnie Chisenhall bandwagon, I'm also good with him starting the season as an everyday 3B. Give him one last chance to sink or swim, with the Aviles safety net behind him (provided the Aviles safety net hasn't already been deployed next to him at SS).
Since we're in the predicting mode, what do you think Jason Giambi's role will be with the 2014 Cleveland Indians? Player, coach, or interested observer from another locale?
PC: For whatever reason, I think he’ll be back in Cleveland…in (how’s this for avoiding a direct answer) some capacity. Giambi’s role will I think (oddly) be determined by whether Sandy Alomar gets a managerial gig this off-season. The musical chairs on the coaching staff left Sandy back out of the dugout and at 1B, which is probably where a guy like Giambi would start off if he’s going to get into coaching. As much as there might have been a groundswell for Giambi as hitting coach, Van Burkleo is still in place for now and hitting coaches can find themselves on the chopping block for a bad start. Ideally, I would think that Francona wants him to continue to be a presence in the clubhouse, perhaps without the stress of being in the tenuous position of hitting coach.
As for playing, while I know that Giambi says he wants to play and the Indians are saying that they’d welcome him back with open arms, both parties have to realize his abilities and limitations at this point. Certainly, having guys like Raburn and Aviles on the team would allow them to carry Giambi again because they’re able to play so many positions, just as Gomes’ emergence should allow them to have their “second” catcher in Santana playing 1B or (preferably) DH, but Giambi’s playing career has an expiration date at some point…and everyone involved knows that.
It goes back to the other things that happen first though, as whether they can carry a guy like Giambi will likely be determined by whether Sandy’s still coaching 1B when managerial vacancies are filled and what the Indians do at SS and some other positions, because it will dictate how Aviles and Raburn will be used, which either opens up a role for a part-time player like Giambi or creates a need for a player much more versatile and usable than what Giambi is at this point.
AC: For anyone who claims that the front office is “too sabermetric,” I point to Jason Giambi as exhibit A as to why that can’t possibly be the case. By any sort of raw statistical measurement, Jason Giambi was utterly useless to the 2013 Cleveland Indians. He hit .183/.282/.371, albeit with 9 HR in 216 AB. He had an 85 OPS+, and actually had a negative oWAR (-0.6). But not only was Giambi a fixture on the roster and in the clubhouse this year, you had Tito Francona (who is firmly on the same page as Antonetti and company) calling him the team’s MVP. I think that may be a bit of a stretch, but his value to the club comes more from his leadership and acting as a de facto hitting coach in the dugout.
When I was in Goodyear last year, I spent most of my time down in minor league camp. Virtually every position player I talked to, from Tony Wolters to Dwight Childs, commented on how awesome it was to have Giambi around the team. They all loved talking to him about hitting, watching him work in the cage and apply his craft. Giambi wasn’t just helping out guys in the big league clubhouse, he was taking the time to work with the minor leaguers as well. For the 18-22 year old guys who are still trying to make it to The Show to see a guy like Giambi, a 42-year old who has made over $130 million in his baseball career, working to get one more season out of what was already a 17-year major league career; that’s something that can’t be replicated with any sort of coaching. Giambi is a lever, not just for the 25 guys in the ML clubhouse but for the 200+ minor leaguers throughout the organization.
So for that and the reasons you pointed out, I think he’s back next year as well. It’s even possible that he starts out as a player and transitions to the coaching staff in mid-stream. Would the Indians have made the playoffs this past year if Giambi wasn’t on the roster and in the clubhouse? I have no idea. I know they probably wouldn’t have won that game against the White Sox down the stretch. And I know that Tito doesn’t think they would’ve made it without him. So that’s enough for me to want him back next year. Plus, he only needs one more SB to get to 10 for his career, so that’s a milestone he’s closing in on.
As for next year, seeing as we’re already closing on the 4,000 word mark, we’ll save some of the further offseason prediction talk for next time. We still need to talk about the outfield, rotation options, potential free agent moves and a whole lot more.