It’s Christmas time here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, and what that means for the Pete household is a respite before loading up the Pete Family Truckster for a criss-crossing, 2000 mile trek up and down the East Coast, taking my family to both Florida and Pennsylvania over the next two weeks.
Trust me when I say that I’ll enjoy the respite of Christmas day with just my family, opening presents, watching 24 hours of a Christmas Story, and hopefully falling asleep at some point around 5:00 P.M.
Hopefully you’ll be doing the same.
With all of that said, it’s Wednesday, and the column must go on. I’ve decided to take a much more relaxed tone this week, and have delved into the land of theme.
With Christmas Day finally here, I’ve decided to go the route of the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas for the 2014 Cleveland Indians.’ Oh, I could have rehashed the 2013 season (it certainly would have been easier), but thought it would be fun to take a look into Christmas’ future, rather than Christmas past.
Jeez, I just hope I, or the Indians, don’t bump into the Grim Reaper along the way.
Let’s give this a whirl…
On the first day of Christmas, Francona gave to me, a Santana MVP
I could get really long-winded about this, but I truly believe that Carlos Santana can both satisfy the sabermetrics brood, as well as the old-school, traditional fan base as well. How?
He’s figured out how to be consistently good from the four-hole, which will immediately improve his RBI total.
Realize, I understand the luck involved in RBI totals, but that would be to miss my point.
What I’m saying here is that by just doing what he can do in the #4 hole consistently, he should appease those that truly don’t appreciate Santana for the offensive prodigy that he really is.
What am I basing this on?
Part of it is for the simple fact that he’s entering the prime of his career.
Part of it is that he’ll be a better hitter NOT playing catcher, as he’s been for his entire career already.
Part of it is because I think the top of the lineup will be more consistent throughout the year, differing greatly from last season.
I think Santana is primed to do something special in 2014.
On the second day of Christmas, Francona gave to me, two playoff games
I suppose that this is a bit pessimistic after making a bold statement like a World Series championship during the first day, but c’mon, how’s about a second game?
I could go round-and-round about the irony of a Cleveland team making the playoffs after one of the worst seasons in their team history the year prior, only to get bounced out in the first year in which there’s a one-game playoff.
Do I have to thought? Anyone reading this already understands the irony. It’s a part of our DNA. You have to admit that this team did make a pretty amazing turnaround from 2012, going from a 68-win season to a 92-win season. They went from a no hope team to a team that had hopes of making a playoff run, and bring with it some hope.
With it come expectations. I’ll keep them simple for the second day. Yes, our goal is the World Series Championship, but for the sake of one day at a time, let’s set the floor of the 2014 two playoff games…mmkay?
On the third day of Christmas, Francona gave to me, a Yan Gomes repeat
I have high hopes this season for Mr. Gomes. The one thing that I’ve found frustrating in sports these days is the incessant necessity to be right all of the time. It so goes against the grain of Major League baseball, that has been ripe full of surprises and unexplainable phenomena.
If I were to use a singular word to describe Yan Gomes heading into 2014, it would be regression. I’ve heard the metrics and seen the trends and understand why there’s a believe that in his sophomore season and with a full boat of games, his numbers should come down to earth.
I get it.
I also understand that there really isn’t a metric for some players. I so hope that Gomes is one of those players going forward.
What if Gomes is maturing into something that nobody else saw?
What if Gomes is a blossoming superstar?
Imagine what this line-up looks like if that’s the case. Seriously, what happens if Yan Gomes impacts this team with the same authority as last year’s team, but as a starter from day one?
Look, it’s Christmas, just go with it.
On the fourth day of Christmas, Francona gave to me, four legit all-stars
Let’s get the obvious out of the way here. Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana are two of the top 20 or so players in baseball, and they still haven’t reached their potential. I think they will in 2014, but that’s not too much of a stretch.
Justin Masterson is also in a contract year, and barring an unforeseen signing between now and the beginning of the year, which could happen, I think Masterson is primed for his best season since coming to the Indians. Even if he has plateaued, if the Indians defense improves a bit, and if he continues to showcase the ability to show strikes and avoid the big inning, I think he could really have a special season.
The surprise player here for many will be Danny Salazar. He shouldn’t be.
I’m not saying there aren’t questions about him. Of course there are.
You can point to his past history with injuries or the simple fact that he’s never thrown more than the 145 total innings that he threw in 2013. I get that.
But don’t question his stuff, or his ability to just obliterate Major League hitters.
If he throws at least 175 innings, you are going to see something different. I’m looking forward to that, so we can stop quibbling over the term ace.
On the fifth day of Christmas, Francona gave to me, ONE WORLD SERIES RING!!!!
For fear of being repetitive, it’s time that this Cleveland Indians team won the big one. The question you are asking yourself right now is whether or not I’m crazy thinking that they could this year, or if I’m even being serious.
I am, and I am.
I know the Indians will always have their naysayers, and deservedly so.
I know the Indians still have serious questions heading into 2014, and deservedly so.
What I also know is that if the players that they have now have good seasons, matching their best season (for veterans) and their potential (for the youngsters), this team could be a major 2014 factor. I also believe that if they are a factor heading into the trade deadline this year, things will happen, and I’m not necessarily talking about a trade either. There are a bevy of youngsters that could make an impact THIS YEAR. We may start seeing them produce, and that could be a game changer.
Let me rephrase that.
It will be a game changer.
On the sixth day of Christmas, Francona gave to me, a cost-effective shortstop
The one name that probably brings the most rancor on this team right now is Asdrubal Cabrera.
You have two camps.
The first camp are the Cabrera apologists who believe that his recent play is based on laziness, and that the simple fact that his contract year is in 2014 will allow him to flip the switch and turn into that effective offensive player that he has been in the past.
You know, baseball is easy and all that.
The second camp are the Cabrera haters who believe that his recent play is based on a trend of degradation that will continue in 2014, making him a massive black hole in the offense, and is a lock to suck defensively.
If you are in the first camp, you want to ride him out this year, then either trade him in July, or offer him a qualifying offer next year, assuming he wouldn’t take it.
If you are in the second camp, you want to deal him now, and get whatever you can for him, even if it’s just a sandwich for lunch.
The camps mean nothing to me. The Indians should move him if they get the right offer, or keep him if they don’t. If he’s still with the Tribe during spring training, then they should have him compete with Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor for the job, and truly see if he can either figure things out because of the competition, or if Ramirez and/or Lindor are ready.
Yeah, I know that it kills his value as a shortstop, but perhaps they could throw him into that third base platoon with Chisenhall. He’s a career .286 hitter from the left side of the plate.
The Indians need the shortstop position to be solid, and how they do it is really secondary.
What about Jose Ramirez and/or Francisco Lindor? One or the other will be the shortstop of this team by the end of the year.
C’mon, it’s the Christmas edition full of joyful tidings.
On the seventh day of Christmas, Francona gave to me, Michael Bourn rebounding
I don’t have any answers as to the real reason that Michael Bourn didn’t play up to his past standards. Like Gomes, the term regression is often placed next to his name. I do understand that he’s at the age in which speed players go to die. Of course, he also was playing in a new league for the very first time, and I do believe there were injury issues that weren’t necessarily made available to the general public.
Even if none of that was true, Michael Bourn could truly be the key to the 2014 season.
He’s going to be the lead-off hitter, and he’s going to be given the keys to kick this team off in the right direction. If he can somehow manage to turn things around and return to the player that he was prior to signing with the Indians, the offense takes on a whole different look.
I often talk about “lengthening” both the line-up and the rotation, and that’s exactly what he would do. If you have Bourn rebound, and have Gomes continue his progression, this offense really begins to have some options up and down the line-up.
I often ponder why, other than age, Bourn may have struggled with the Indians in 2014. Obviously, there’s the new league, but perhaps it was more than that. Perhaps Bourn was bothered by the fact that he hadn’t signed a contract heading into February. Now I’m not saying he isn’t a pro, and I’m not saying he didn’t stay in shape, and I’m not saying that he didn’t think he was going to make his money, but I do wonder how that affected him in the long term.
Now he’s a member of the Indians and he’s making $13.5 million. Perhaps he’s going to show people just how much he’s worth.
On the eight day of Christmas, Francona gave to me, Pestano dominating
Vinnie Pestano is the Michael Bourn of the bullpen. If he can somehow manage to regain his pre-2013 form, he could really transform a bullpen that already looks pretty solid with their recent additions.
As it looks now, John Axford is the closer, with Cody Allen as his primary set-up guy, and Bryan Shaw playing the glue. I’m not massively crazy about Shaw in that role, as I think he’s still prone to bad stretches.
Now add Pestano to the mix as a dominant reliever. If that happens, you could then see a scenario in which Pestano lays a legitimate claim on the closer role, which would in turn move Axford to a set-up role, which he was very adept at with the Cardinals last year.
The other alternative would be to allow Pestano, Axford, Allen and Shaw to inter-mingle amongst the roles as they become available, based on match-up and need. I don’t think Francona will do this because of his past affinity towards closers, but you just never know.
Either way, having Pestano clarifies the rest of the roles in the pen, for both righties and lefties, and seemingly makes a good bullpen potentially great, and takes pressure off of Axford to be the best pitcher in the pen.
On the ninth day of Christmas, Francona gave to me, fingers staying healthy
Can I even begin to tell you how sick and tired I am of hearing the phrase, “sprained middle finger?”
There are multiple jokes that I could follow that up with, but will allow them to fade away with the allusions already floating around in your Christmas-addled minds right now.
With that said, both Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber went down with that very injury last year, and it essentially derailed two very good seasons. Zach McAllister is forgotten right now, since his injury happened earlier in the season. McAllister missed six weeks, making his last start of the first half on June 2, and not returning until late July.
Prior to the injury, and it was speculated based on a drop in production from his curveball that his finger was injured a start or two prior to going on the DL on June 8th, McAllister was pitching as well as anyone on the staff. Then came his six week layoff, and things changed.
He was never quite the same, and he never again really committed to throwing that pitch with the same decisiveness that made him an interesting start in April and May.
Kluber missed a month, from August 5th through September 7th, with the same injury.
Perhaps there was less of a struggle from Kluber upon his return, but he clearly wasn’t quite the same, and again, there’s a belief that he didn’t really trust his stuff after returning in such a quick time.
With Salazar coming into his first full season, it’s monstrously important that both McAllister and Kluber come back as good as they were prior to their strained middle finger injuries. If they don’t I’m sure many of us may be straining OUR middle fingers in response.
Yeah, I went there, and on a holy day.
On the tenth day of Christmas, Francona gave to me, a brand new starter, starting
I’m fairly sure that the Indians have at least one more major move to make, and I think it could be for a starter.
Of course, I said “brand new,” but it could be a former Indians’ starter taking on that role, and in this case, that pitcher could and possibly should be Ubaldo Jimenez.
It could be the already signed Shawn Marcum.
I just have a feeling that they aren’t done shoring up the rotation with a starter that could add pedigree to a starting four that already has some solid potential.
Here’s where Ubaldo Jimenez comes in. He’s far from won me over, but I would love to give him that chance at the right price. I could equally see the Indians decide against a long-term deal like that with Ubaldo by waiting and seeing what happens throughout spring.
If Marcum, Carrasco, Bauer and/or Josh Tomlin fail to grab a spot, look for the Indians to utilize some capital, either on their major league club or their minor league organization to bring someone in.
Either way, I feel like there are moves out there that are yet to be made…
…NOW MAKE THEM!!!
On the eleventh day of Christmas, Francona gave to me, a Bro-hio-ing Swisher
There is nothing about the term Bro-hio that I don’t love. Some may hate the kitschy-ness of the term that Nick Swisher brought to the Cleveland Indians in 2013, but I chalked it up as something that the Cleveland Indians’ clubhouse desperately needed.
When the Indians hired Terry Francona, it ushered in a new philosophy for the Tribe’s front office, and at the heart of that philosophical transformation is one Nick Swisher.
I know the importance of Jason Giambi in the clubhouse, but there’s something special about what Nick Swisher brings to the club.
I’ve always said that playing professional baseball is the one job that really is kid-like. What I’ve hated over the years is that the business-side has swept over the boyhood charm that used to be the heart and soul of the game of baseball. That mentality has been all too apparent in Cleveland over the past ten years or so as the fiscal dynamics in American sports have buried Cleveland sports, and in particular, baseball.
Enter Nick Swisher.
Yes, Swisher signed a mammoth deal to come to Cleveland, but there’s something that he brought with it.
Like Terry Francona, Swisher has an Ohio history, and not only does Swisher embrace that past, but he actually loves doing it. He loves playing the game of baseball, and that behavior has rubbed some major leaguers the wrong way over the years, but it’s the perfect mentality for not only the Indians, but for the local Tribe nation as well.
…and he struggled for much of 2013.
Imagine what happens if he’s healthy, and he maintains that consistent .800+ OPS for the entire season?
On the twelve day of Christmas, Francona gave to me, prospects making headway
This is the year that we finally see the developmental side of things really start to take shape.
Let’s start with Jose Ramirez, who really has gotten a bad rap with the followers of this club, based on…well…I’m not even sure what it’s based on to be honest.
I read an interview that Francona gave while managing the Boston Red Sox in ’06 or early ’07 when he was asked about what he thought of certain minor league players. He responded simply by saying something to the effect of, “Don’t listen to what I say, watch what I do.” He has consistently given youngsters a chance when they’ve been ready to perform.
By all indications, he absolutely loves Jose Ramirez, as does the front office. I do have some access to members of the Indians’ organization from my waypoint here in Cleveland, and every indication that I’ve gotten over the past year with regards to Ramirez is of the positive variety. Now, what position that ultimately entails is beyond me at this point, but Francona thinks highly of the youngster, and I think he could really make some noise right from the start in 2014. Of course, that’s all predicated on the simple fact that he’s healthy.
If he is, he’s going to be playing a role with the Indians, and he will get playing time.
You can’t mention Ramirez without mentioning Francisco Lindor. I don’t need to say a thing about how good he is, but there is a bit of a shroud of mystery around the youngster thanks to some alleged back issues at the end of the 2013 season. What does that mean for 2014? Your guess is as good as mine, but prior to the injury, I would have said that Lindor is a lock for May at the latest. There’s certainly some question there, though, going forward.
Either way though, Lindor will be with the Indians in 2014, even if it’s only a September call-up.
Jesus Aguilar is blossoming right before our eyes. In my professional life as an educator, I often talk about how different students mature at different times, and take instruction in different ways. Sometimes they learn information being taught right away, and sometimes they bank it for later use.
Aguilar seems to be the type of player that learns a skill at a time, and really hones in on that skill. I’ve seen tangible evidence over the past three years that Aguilar has worked on shortening his swing, taking more pitches, hitting to all fields and working on making good contact.
He’s always had good power.
The frustration as a fan has been not seeing all the skills being put to use at once.
Enter Winter Ball: 2013.
Aguilar seems to finally be pulling out all the skill that’s been ramrodded into his brain of late, and putting on the table all at once. In other words, he had banked it, and has not put it all together. That certainly doesn’t mean that he’s a lock to be a star, but it does lead me to believe that there is more there than has previously been thought by lots of experts that comment on such things.
Of course, he’s not there yet, but if there’s an injury to anyone at the DH or the first base position, there’s a pretty good likelihood that he’s going to be the first or second guy called up. Who knows how good he is, to be honest. I can evaluate athletes pretty well, and when I watched him, I thought, there’s some athleticism there. I based that on nearly a year of watching him play. Then I hear national pundits say that “he’s not athletic.” I am not saying he’s LeBron James, but he’s certainly more capable athletically then people give him credit for.
My point? The Indians have some cost-effective fill-players right in the organization. I’m not saying they are superstars, but they are certainly capable.
So now, to see how this “song” plays out.
Queue up the music, and I’m just going to go from the twelve verse, but feel free to sing it at home, from verse one, at your leisure:
On the twelve day of Christmas, Francona gave to me,
prospects making headway,
a bro-hio-ing Swisher,
a brand new starter, starting,
fingers staying healthy,
Michael Bourn rebounding,
A cost effective shortstop,
ONE WORLD SERIES RING…
Four legit all-stars,
A Yan Gomes repeat,
Two playoff games,
…and a Santana M-V-P!!!!!!
From all of us here at Indians Baseball Insider, as well as Cleveland Sports Insiders, Happy Christmas to all…and to all…a Good Night!!!!