It's time to look ahead. Right now this franchise may be in more trouble than we ever have been!
Clearly, the entire 2011 season rests on two knees, one belonging to Grady Sizemore and one belonging to Carlos Santana. Without the two of them healthy we have no chance of winning and, with Sizemore, he has to come back even if the other 23 pieces to the roster puzzle don't come into alignment, just so that we can get maximum trade value out of him if we can't re-sign him to a reasonable multiyear deal.
Let's assume, however, that these guys come back strong just so that we can continue this discussion. So how does the rest of the 25 man roster look for next year. First up is starting pitching:
Here we go 9 deep going into spring training (much deeper by mid-season) and, given how injuries go, we will need it:
Fausto Carmona: Is Fausto really growing as a player? This year will tell. My hope is that he is and, with his stuff, he should be able to dominate. He needs to be a weak (top 15-30 starting pitcher in the AL) #1 starter for us to have a chance.
Carlos Carrasco: To me it is puzzling that people upside him as a #4-5. I think his upside is as a #2-3 and he needs to at least be a #3 this year for us to be successful. DEFINITELY he has to reach that or a middling #2 for us to be competitive in future years.
Justin Masterson: Here, in my opinion, is the biggest lock of all of our starters. Justin is really fortunate that he was traded here. Cleveland is one of the few places where he could be on a team that has a true chance to be competitive in a couple of years AND that he gets the time to work through the transition back to being a starter. I think he will shine by the end of the first 3 months of the ML season in 2011, which he needs to do not to be sent back to the bullpen. The latter would be a mistake as we have plenty of Justin Masterson types in our system. Maybe not quite as good but, IMHO, major league quality set up men nevertheless.
Mitch Talbot: Here is the guy I think will disappear relatively quickly. I think his stuff doesn't play up at all and, in trying to make it play up as big as it needs to even to be a weak #4 or a strong #5, he will end up hurting himself. I think that people need to NOT count on him for anything in 2011 or beyond.
David Huff: I still believe in him. I think we need for him to come through to help balance the rightsidedness of this rotation. He was a mess in 2010. I don't know why as I am not an expert in pitching mechanics. The stuff appears to still be there but the command has gone away. I will write it off to the sophomore jinx andpredict, if healthy, he will be better than his rookie season and be a solid #3 or good #4 starter here.
Other options/long relievers/AAA depth:
Aaron Laffey: I think to count on him for 160 innings is crazy. He should be a long reliever/spot starter who can give you some starts in the middle of the season once his stamina is built up...and THAT is if he is even healthy, which, after the end of last year, is questionable.
Josh Tomlin: The righthanded Laffey but with more durability, he is a poor team's #5 starter, a guy who can give you some innings and an occasional good start, but not much more. As a swingman in the bullpen (long/middle relief) he could be much more valuable.
Jeanmar Gomez: Another guy who can give you innings but not much more at this point, he needs more seasoning but may end up in the rotation by default. If we can't muster a competitive team this year, there are worse things than giving Jeanmar on-the-job-training.
Zach McAllister: Another guy like Gomez and Tomlin - someone who is durable but doesn't have stuff that screams #3-4 ML starter, the only difference with him and Tomlin/Laffey is I don't see McAllister in any relief role. He is ML depth and a probable anchor of the AAA roster for at least half a season, much like Carrasco last year.
Also in consideration at some time during 2011:
Paolo Espino: Assuming he survives the Rule 5 draft (not a sure thing) he provides quality depth and, given how the rest of the rotation looks, if he remains healthy and performs at any reasonable level, he will make his ML debut in 2011. I would start him off in the bullpen if I am the Indians as his relatively diminutive size plays up more as a reliever (see David Riske).
Yohan Pino: If he re-signs with us, just based on persistence and being in the right place at the right time, he could be one of I am sure dozens of AAAA guys who could get a chance for a ML cup of coffee or a little more if injuries strike in 2011. He is good ML depth at AAA but not a long-term answer to anything except "Who did we get when we traded Carl Pavano?".
Corey Kluber: I vote him most likely to crash and burn in 2011. His numbers after the trade to Cleveland were beyond pathetic (WHIP of 1.82 in Aktron, 1.45 in Columbus). He, to me, rates lower in potential than any of the above EXCEPT for Pino, and that is not a good thing. Nevertheless, the FO likes him and if he is breathing and putting up Jeanmar Gomez 2010 AAA numbers (5.00 ERA with flashes of brilliance), he could get a shot at any point in the second half of 2011 if we are non-competitive.
Scott Barnes: Given that he is left-handed, breathing and in a system devoid of much left-handed starting pitching AND with his AFL numbers this fall, he is a mid-season option, as well.
Alex White: A mid-season possibility but I hope not. Unless we are in competition and need his arm and there are no other options available, why rush him, start his arbitration clock, etc.
Drew Pomeranz: Yeah, he may go all Mike Leake on us and be in the majors with little or no minor league experience but, with his past command issues, I think we give him time in the minors and don't turn him into the next Jeremy Guthrie, who was on the 40-man roster about two years too early...something I said at the time about his ML deal. Looks good on paper to get an experienced college pitcher into the majors but, more often than not (see Steve Dunning for a blast from the past example) it doesn't work out.
Hector Rondon, Jeremy Sowers, .Kelvin de la Cruz , Matt Packer, Joe Gardner: None of these guys, due to inexperience, injury or poor ability to perform, look like they will make it to Cleveland in 2011. However, if all the stars align for them, any of these guys could get ML time this coming year in Cleveland.
I'll start off by saying that the bullpen is the most difficult area for ANY team to predict, especially teams with young closers. Relievers tend to go in cycles but, for the most part, quality, young relievers who the league has not yet gotten a book on tend to be pretty effective. That being said, the Indians have a chance to have a good bullpen this year, a really good bullpen. Let's talk about how this may shape up:
Closer - Chris Perez
Setup men - Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez
6th/7th inning guys - three of Frank Herrmann, Jensen Lewis, Josh Judy, Joe Smith, Justin Germano, Vinnie Pestano
Long man/spot starter - Josh Tomlin or Aaron Laffey
AAA Depth: Jess Todd, Zach Putnam, Paulo Espino, Bryce Stowell, Alex White and two of the 6th/7th inning guys who don't make it and maybe one of the long men.
Lower level depth: Eric Berger, Connor Graham, Chen Lee, Bryan Price, Rob Bryson, Jason Knapp
This group of 20 guys provides excellent depth for a 7 man bullpen. Given that all of the lower level depth guys have very little, if any, AAA experience, the 14 guys ahead of them provide these guys time to develop in AA and AAA in anticipation of maybe being needed by mid-season.
Even though I favor dumping Joe Smith and Germano in the right deal, keeping them makes sense as it cushions the intro to ML baseball for the younger guys.
Yes, this bullpen will be young but, historically, the element of surprise (from the league never seeing a young pitcher) in the bullpen has been very effective. Let's hope it is for us, as well.
This is the most solidified position for 2011. If Carlos Santana is healthy, he starts. If Lou Marson is healthy, he backs up. If one of those guys is injured, Luke Carlin will back up whoever starts. If two of those guys can't go we're in deep do-do. There are absolutely no catching prospects in the entire organization higher than Kinston and the ones at Kinston and lower are really, really questionable. They could use one of their AAAA catchers in a pinch or maybe use Matt McBride, who came up as a catcher, in a pinch. But losing Chirs Gimenez and, I think, Wyatt Toregas, really hurts as they lost ML catching depth.
So, look for the Indians to sign a minor league catcher although that would be a difficult sell to someone as they might only be the backup or split time at AAA due to Carlin's presence. Greg Zaun (how old is he?) and Ronny Paulino (suspended for 50 games in August due to PED use) make some sense but, as MLers with lots of experience, might be tough signs and will come in very expensive compared to a typical minor leaguer. Still, Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro have to feel very uncomfortable right now with their ML depth in catching. Heck, Roberto Perez is next in line, in my opinion, right now after Carlin and he played at low A Lake County last year.
Here is where it gets interesting. We either have too many guys or zero guys at every position but SS, and there we are already set.
Third base: At this position we look like a typical rebuilding team. We have AAAA guys (Nix, Joel Hanrahan) and inexperienced guys (Jason Donald, Cord Phelps and Jason Kipnis) and not- or quesitionably-ready minor leaguers (Lonnie Chisenhall, Jared Goedert). This one position will be, IMHO, the most boring for the Indians this year...and the most pathetic, assuming Carlos Santana is completely healthy by the start of the season. That the Indians are even talking to Nick Punto because they might have to move Donald or Nix to 3B shows you the pathetic state of this position. Our big hope is that Goedert can hold the fort until and IF Chisenhall gets here. Unless he is a total hack I would give Goedert the job with Nix as the fallback option. That's what a rebuilding team would do as Nix is the classic AAAA player who flashes just enough that he will sucker team after team into giving him another opportunity only to find, every time, that he is a AAAA guy who gets hot once in a while and flashes above average power for a middle infielder, but not much else in the five common tools.
Shortstop: Interestingly, a year ago we all thought we were set for several years. However, from what I have read, the Indians appear to not be sold on ACab any more. That being said, Mr. Cabrera will be the starting SS and his backups will be Jason Donald, Punto if he signs (I hope not) and, if he somehow survives the Rule 5, Josh Rodriguez as ML depth in AAA. After that we are thin but, as you all know, ML depth in AAAA shortstops is available for pennies in the minor league free agent market. Look for the Indians to sign 1-2 of these guys as they tend to be OK, especially the Latin players, to play even as low as AA or high A as they wait their next ML injury-driven opportunity.
Second base: There are so many options here it is amazing. Jason Donald, Jayson Nix, Cord Phelps, Jason Kipnis and, of course, the scary Luis Valbuena. Out of this group will come our ML starter, a backup and 1-2 AAA depth guys, either of whom could step in by June 1st to be the full-time starter at 2B...possibly with one of the others being DFA'd or thrown to the curb emotionally, at that point.
First base: Again, an embarassment of riches. Matt LaPorta and Jordan Brown in the majors, Matt McBride and Jared Goedert in AAA. We are set here for the foreseeable future. Plus, there's always Travis Hafner in a pinch and Wes Hodges and Beau Mills as minor league depth.
Assuming Grady Sizemore is healthy, we are set in the majors with 5 outfielders: Sizemore, Choo, Brantley, Shelley Duncan and Crowe. Jordan Brown will probably also get some time out there and, in the minors, we have Matt McBride. Jared Goedert will get time out there. McBride and Goedert are ML depth as is Nick Weglarz who, if he stays healthy, may be ready by July. Ezequiel Carrera provides depth in CF but no power at all (he is the ultimate slap hitter), even less than Brantley. The problem with this arrangement is that there is no depth in RF and an overabundance of LFers, including a number with no power at all. Most AL teams want power out of their LFers. Sizemore is the only true centerfielder although Brantley and even Crowe can play there, albeit much less effectively and with no power and Carrera is adequate minor league depth. All three of our current ML CF options have rag arms making our lack of RF depth particularly alarming if Choo would go down. Teams could then almost run on the the Indians' outfield at will. Given that if Santana catches our opponents will probably be able to steal bases at a more than average pace, this could add extra pressure to the pitching staff to be very effective or you could see a lot of "1" innings for opponents where they manufacture runs, nickeling and diming us into 4 to 5 runs a game even without the benefit of a big inning. .
The Indians are surprisingly set for spring training with adequate bodies at most positions. Their gaping hole is at 3B and I hope to heck they don't trade some excess talent OR overspend on a mediocre free agent just to do a temporary fill at that position until Chisenhall gets there. As always, I would like to trade that excess talent for another team's excess talent. Our long-term question marks are in RF and maybe starting pitching with an additional question mark at 3B if we assume that Chisenhall is not a sure thing. As always, we could use more starting pitching in the mid- to high-minors. We have depth at 1B, LF and in the bullpen that we could trade. If we trade, we should 'trade down' meaning we trade major league and AAA talent for a couple of stud AA guys who might be ready in a year or two.