*Disclaimer: This is the third installment in a look at what the Minnesota Twins are going to encounter in the AL Central next year. Again, I know roster implications hinge on the smallest things and will probably change between now and the end of this season -- much less before next year -- but this is my best prognosis. Also, all numbers are from '09 unless otherwise specified.
The Cleveland Indians, the AL Central team with perhaps the most racially discriminating mascot in active sports, were thought by many to be contenders to take the AL Central this year. Instead, they have found their postseason hopes dashed. What was supposed to be a winning year has instead become the penultimate rebuilding year, where fixtures like Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Rafael Betancourt, and Ryan Garko got shipped off in cost-cutting measures.
The new-look Indians have surprisingly played very well the past several weeks, and so it begs the question if they might be able to make a surprising run next year despite all the new faces. Let's take a look:
Jake Westbrook, RHP***
Westbrook is under contract through 2010 before becoming a free agent, and maybe because it's a contract year he'll have something to prove. (Although if the Indians don't seem like they're doing well he could very easily be shipped before the trade deadline.) He went on the DL in May of 2008 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and the best case scenario is that he could be ready by the start of 2010, although that's definitely not set in stone. Consequently, his '08 and '09 numbers are kind of skewed, and who knows what to expect when he gets back, but he does own a career ERA of 4.31 and WHIP of 1.38 through 200 games.
Fausto Carmona, RHP, 2-7, 6.37 ERA, 1.74 WHIP
Where most players have an aberration in a bad year, you could almost say the opposite for Carmona. After unsuccessfully getting his feet wet in the majors as a reliever in '06, Carmona began the transition to becoming a major league starter and had a breakout year in '07. Since then, however, it's all been downhill. I don't know how long of a leash he has in Cleveland, but if he were in Minnesota this year we'd probably be calling for his head alongside Blackburn, Perkins, et al. Best bet is that he gets another year (or at least part of it) to prove himself as the Indians are simply rebuilding now anyway.
Scott Lewis, LHP, 4-0, 2.63 ERA, 1.08 WHIP*('08 numbers)
Lewis arrived in Cleveland in '08 and wowed. Moving into '09 he had a place locked up in the rotation and was the pitcher to take the mound in their home opener. In the home opener he went 4.1 innings giving up 4 earned runs on 7 hits and generally didn't live up to his expectations. 2 days later he was on the DL and visiting Dr. Yocum of the Angels (sound familiar?). As with our pitcher, there was nothing structurally wrong with Lewis that required surgery, and basically he has been forced to find a way to pitch around the pain he's experiencing. This past week he made a rehab start for their AAA Columbus Clippers team and did very well through 3 innings, so hopefully for his sake things go well and he's able to rejoin the rotation next year and find his form.
Aaron Laffey, LHP, 7-3, 3.38 ERA, 1.42 WHIP
Jeremy Sowers, LHP, 4-8, 4.88 ERA, 1.46 WHIP
David Huff, LHP, 7-6, 6.55 ERA, 1.65 WHIP
Anthony Reyes, RHP, 1-1, 6.57 ERA, 1.64 WHIP
Laffey has been a nice surprise for them. He's actually pitching about the same this year in terms of K-BB ratio and WHIP, just with better results in terms of ERA. Sowers has had a few years to prove himself but his numbers have been consistently mediocre. David Huff could just need more time to adjust to the majors as his WHIP was considerably lower before. Anthony Reyes's numbers are only from 8 games this season as he's undergone 2 elbow surgeries, the last of which was in June and will keep him out for a year. If anything he'd be a late-year impact for their rotation in 2010. His K-BB ratio in '09 was a horrible 22-23, which probably accounts for his unsightly numbers, and in all likelihood his elbow problems had an impact on his ability to miss bats at a better rate.
Hector Rondon, RHP, 11-7, 2.61 ERA, 1.11 WHIP***(AAA/AA in '09)
Carlos Carrasco, RHP, 10-9, 4.83 ERA, 1.28 WHIP***(AAA)
Justin Masterson, RHP, 2-3, 5.27 ERA, 1.57 WHIP***(As a starter, 8 games)
These are some guys to keep an eye on. Carrasco and Masterson were each key pieces in the Lee and Martinez trades respectively, and they both could have major upside as a starter. Masterson (not pictured) has actually had some decent success as a reliever. Over 28 games he's posted a 4.08 ERA with a 1.24 WHIP and a 43-13 K-BB ratio. With the rush for spots in the starting rotation already becoming clogged, he could see some additional time out of the bullpen and probably find some success there. If Rondon and Carrasco don't win a job out of spring training, they'll be two of the first to get a look should injuries or ineffectiveness rear its head.
My best guess is that breaking camp they'll feature a rotation of Carmona, Lewis, Laffey, Carrasco, and Sowers. I think Westbrook will need a little bit longer to recover and could replace Sowers at some point. Masterson will probably be in the pen with Huff and Rondon waiting for a call at Columbus.
C: Lou Marson, .302/.386/.372, 1 HR, 29 RBI***(AAA numbers)
1B: Andy Marte, .194/.310/.222, 0HR, 3 RBI
2B: Asdrubel Cabrera, .309/.358/.448, 5HR 48 RBI
SS: Jason Donald, .238/.303/.332, 2HR, 18 RBI***(AAA numbers)
3B: Jhonny Peralta, .272/.335/.402, 9HR, 62 RBI
LF: Shin Soo Choo, .291/.396/.474, 14HR, 65 RBI
CF: Grady Sizemore, .242/.335/.444, 17HR, 60 RBI
RF: Jordan Brown, .331/.375/.526, 12HR, 58 RBI***(AAA numbers)
There could easily be a lot of question marks here. The majority of the players the Indians have been trotting out since the trade deadline probably would be back-ups at best on most major league rosters. I highly doubt the Indians are going to be big spenders this offseason as they've already announced that they are looking long term right now. Thus, why not start playing some of their prized prospects -- especially the ones who are ready at AAA?
Currently the Indians have Kelly Shoppach as their primary catcher with career minor leaguer Wyatt Toregas as his back-up. Toregas really has no future in the majors and everyone knows that. Meanwhile, one of the top prospects in the trade for Cliff Lee -- Lou Marson -- is a great AAA catcher. He doesn't have much pop but has a solid average. Power comes over time (just look at Mauer). Shoppach is not the catcher they're going to build a team around so I see no problem in them breaking camp with Marson as the starter and Shoppach as the back-up.
Jason Donald was also brought over from the Phillies. You may remember his name when the Twins were considering acquiring him instead of resigning Punto this offseason. He hasn't really been lighting it up this year, but if they're going young they should probably see what he's got at the majors. He has nothing left to prove at AAA, and Peralta is more suited for 3B anyway -- Donald very well could be too, which might be the problem.
The right field spot was a toss-up for me between Jordan Brown and Matt LaPorta. LaPorta is by far the more hyped prospect, but he really hasn't distinguished himself in his stints in the majors. In AAA he's hit .301/.389/.372 with 17HR and 60 RBI, but is that much better than Jordan Brown's line? And Brown has yet to show what he can do against pitchers in the majors. I see Brown getting the nod, but I'm very easily wrong here.
Peralta is easily projectable and should hit with similar stats next year (the variance every year is very slight). Sizemore is hitting a little below his means but should be similar (he's never had an outstanding average). Choo has been holding his own with more consistent playing time and is looking more and more like a solid major leaguer. Cabrera's stats aren't dissimilar from pervious years although they are more or less career bests. Marte is the biggest question mark. Like LaPorta, who has struggled to even come close the sick minor league numbers he's shown, Marte has been a solid prospect from the minors since he went from Atlanta to Boston (for Renteria), and from Boston to Cleveland (for Crisp and others). He has the perfect opportunity to get it together with no one knocking at the immediate door behind him, but that doesn't mean his leash will extend forever.
Kerry Wood, RHP, 4.71 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 49-21 K-BB ratio, 42IP in 45 games.
Wow, the Indians would love to have this contract back. They owe an aging and rather ineffective closer a good 10.5 million dollars next year when they probably aren't even planning on contending -- and even if they were, do they want him in the 9th? He'd be a hard trade in the offseason if they don't eat most of his salary, and if they're willing to eat that money why not just leave him there for some "veteran stability"?
Chris Perez, RHP, 8.59 ERA, 2.18 WHIP, 22-20 K-BB ratio, 29.1IP in 35 games.
Perez came from the Cardinals when the Indians shipped off Mark DeRosa. He's posted a 2.62 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 4 seasons in the minors and projected to be a great reliever at the majors. Unfortunately things haven't gone so well for him. I have to believe that he'll get every chance to take over the closer's role from Wood in spring training as well as during 2010, and should he fail to do so I don't know how long they'll be patient with him.
Tony Sipp, LHP, 4.18 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 26-17 K-BB ratio, 23.2IP in 29 games.
Jensen Lewis, RHIP, 4.87 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 41-17 K-BB ratio, 44.1IP in 32 games.
Joe Smith, RHP, 2.97 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 27-13 K-BB ratio, 30.1IP in 33 games.
Jess Todd, RHP, 2.62 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 86-24 K-BB ratio, 75.2IP in 48 games.***(AAA)
Rich Rundles, RHP, 4.06 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 34-15 K-BB ratio, 37.2IP in 40 games.***(AAA)
Zach Jackson, LHP, 9.35 ERA, 2.08 WHIP, 10-4 K-BB ratio, 8.2IP in 3 games.
R.J. Swindle, RHP, 1.52 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 93-20 K-BB ratio, 83IP in 60 games.***(career AAA)
Adam Miller, RHP, 4.01 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 92-36 K-BB ratio, 98IP in 26 games.***(career AAA)
Tony Sipp, Jensen Lewis, and Joe Smith all seem to have found a role in the bullpen and will by all accounts be there next year as well. Jess Todd has been horrible in his short stint in the majors but his numbers at Columbus are beautiful, and he might simply need a little bit more time to adjust to the major league level before he begins to thrive. Rich Rundles is simply bullpen filler that can be stashed at AAA and perform adequately when needed. Zach Jackson was disappointing in his short stay in the majors, but since being sent down to the minors they've been trying to convert him to a reliever this August, and over a handful of appearances he has had mixed results. Given some more time he may be able to harness his pitches to the point where he becomes a dominant bullpen presence. R.J. Swindle is well-traveled, having hopped from Milwaukee to Tampa Bay and now to Cleveland via waivers. His stints in the majors have been unpleasant, but in a pinch he could be called up.
The real enigma might be Adam Miller. For 3 seasons at AAA he's appeared in only 26 games. WTF??? Oh yeah ... he keeps getting injured. He's a former 1st round draft pick from 2003 who has issues with his middle finger when pitching. In fact, he's having reconstructive surgery on the tendon in his middle finger. If he survives that process still with the ability to pitch as he's shown in the minors, he'll have AL Central hitters shaking their heads in the batter's box. But that's if. Time is running out on his clock as a top prospect, and this isn't his first injury setback, so even if he makes it to the majors he could still prove more fragile than Michael Cuddyer.
Travis Hafner, DH, .275/.357/.477, 11HR, 31 RBI
Kelly Shoppach, C, .224/.351/.423, 10HR, 33 RBI
Luis Valbuena, INF, .233/.291/.410, 6HR, 18 RBI
Chris Gimenez, C-1B-OF, .167/.269/.289, 3HR, 7 RBI
Trevor Crowe, OF, .208/.271/.283, 0HR, 10 RBI
Josh Barfield, INF, .236/.252/.298, 1HR, 30 RBI***(AAA)
Matt LaPorta, OF, .301/.389/.534, 17HR, 60 RBI***(AAA)
*I can only imagine how Pronk and Sizemore feel watching all their teammates get traded away while they're kept around for the rebuilding efforts. Hafner's the highest paid player on the Indians next year at 11.5 million and he's stuck with them through 2013, though he has a long way to go to prove he can play another whole season without injury ... at the DH spot no less. Oddly, the top 3 highest paid players on the Indians in 2010: Hafner (11.5m), Westbrook (11m), and Wood (10.5m) are the three most oft-injured or irrelevant players on their team. Hafner's a dangerous hitter, but the real talent is coming up through their system in Donald, LaPorta, Marson, and several other players who I'll mention momentarily...
*Shoppach is a solid catcher, but Marson is their future. I have Shoppach as the backup simply because if this team is going to go young they need to give the playing time to the core they're trying to build around. That core is not Shoppach. In fact, I would be surprised if Shoppach is around on the team in 2011...
*Valbuena, Gimenez, Crow and Barfield are simply the most major-league ready filler for the bench. LaPorta could very well win the starting RF job with a strong spring training. I think that's the biggest position battle and will come down to how he or Jordan Brown fares out of spring training.
*The upcoming core of players to have your eye on is currently clustered together at AA with the Akron Aeros. SS Carlos Rivero (.237/.308/.344, 7HR, 46 RBI), 3B Lonnie Chisenhall (.276/.346/.492, 18HR, 79 RBI), 1B Beau Mills (.260/.301/.400, 11HR, 64 RBI) and this man:
Catcher: Carlos Santana (.290/.412/.540, 20HR, 84RBI). Santana is the future (why I think Shoppach won't be with the team in 2011) that allows Mark Shapiro and the Cleveland front office to sleep soundly at night despite looking at images of Victor Martinez in a Red Sox uniform.
The Indians are certainly not going to be the best team in the AL Central next year, but the moves they made have primed them to be dominant in a few years. When Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall, Carlos Rivero, Hector Rondon, and Carlos Carrasco hit their stride in the majors and team up with Grady Sizemore (under contract through 2012), Shin Soo Choo (under control through 2013) and whoever else the Indians hold on to or sign in the meantime -- they will be looking very scary. But for now, they will experience some growing pains, and they should be prepared for it. But they can take some solace: they should be better than the Royals...
Ludicrously early prediction:
72-90, 4th place, AL Central