Can the 2014 Indians Be Built to Lose?

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The Tribe needs a right fielder and some power, with Drew Stubbs likely leaving and power always being nice to have. Last year they made due with Stubbs and Swisher rotating through right before Nick’s shoulder all but put an end to that, and the appearance of Ryan Raburn on the team home run leaders list got him a deal for a few years. But we can’t realistically expect Raburn to post an isolated slugging nearly 100 points above his career number as he did in 2013, .272 compared to .187 career.

Sep 4, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Chris Perez (left) and first baseman Nick Swisher (33) celebrate a 6-4 win over the Baltimore Orioles at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Still, an outfielder with a bat would be nice, and as Dave Cameron noted over at Fangraphs the other day the biggest mistake the Indians could make is turning that Chris Perez money into any amount of Nelson Cruz. Sure he hits long homers and hit like seven in one series during the playoffs, but outside of a tremendous 2010 when he was a 29-year old with a .318/.374/.576 he’s been kind of mediocre in all things save homers AND he got popped for steroids. Add to all that his -4.8 career defensive WAR, you have a perfect storm. With the Rangers extending a qualifying offer to him he’d cost a draft pick as well as more money than would be worth it, and despite his presence in the lineup as a 25 homer right-handed outfielder, he’d bring nothing but misery to Tribe fans. But he’d excite for the month of March.

Second and third are kind of set, due to youth with potential, but shortstop could be special. I say trade Asdrubal Cabrera whenever possible and move Jose Ramirez there if we really want hand wringing in August. He’s got a fine glove but a questionable arm and can’t hit worth a damn. You might wonder why they won’t just call up Francisco Lindor, but that would do the kid a disservice, and we’ve got the best of intentions here. Lindor will probably see a little action in September, but his Rookie of the Year award isn’t coming until 2015. Bringing up Ramirez would create a gaping hole in the lineup and probably force Francona to play Mike Aviles more than is proper, again causing offensive issues. If the front office doesn’t decide to go to the Ramirez route, they could pull the trigger on something equally horrid.

Jhonny Peralta.

Peralta’s time in Cleveland can be highlighted in the realm of homers and a 99 OPS+, not too bad for a shortstop, but his decision to install lead weights in his shoes was a poor one. Seriously though, whether through the eye test (hideous) or the numbers (only one year with a positive UZR/150, 2.6 in 2009) he was an issue defensively. Though he’s turned it around a bit in Detroit, notching a positive UZR every year save 2010 with a -0.5, it should be noted he’s not getting to as many balls – his most plays made in a Detroit uniform is 286, while making comfortably over 300 every year from 2006 on in Cleveland. The Indians could shell out for him and he’d replace A-Cab at short and more, but this team needs gloves first, especially with all the ground ball pitchers they have. A defensive improvement up the middle must be made, and Peralta isn’t that. Of course, it’s not hard to improve over Cabrera, but it’d be nice.

Worst case with Peralta you could even move him into the outfield like the Tigers did last season, which would displace Michael Brantley either off the field or to right, since Michael Bourn has center on lock. Defense suffers again. Losing mounts. Sadness permeates the Cuyahoga River valley. It’s perfect.

If Cleveland rolls out a 2014 starting lineup of Bourn, Swisher, Kipnis, Cruz/Peralta, Santana, Brantley, Raburn, Chisenhall, and Ramirez, I wouldn’t be unhappy at the moment. I even caught myself nodding my head as I read it. But that’s not something you want to see, especially combined with a bullpen backed by Cody Allen with Hymes, Capps, Hawkins and the others, that’s starting to give me a stomach ache, because it could happen, somehow. Add in Hudson and Chen in the rotation, I worry because all of this is so plausible and it could all turn out so badly.

That’s the point – I think these are all logical moves that I’d likely write about as a positive for the Indians because I love the team and think Terry can do no wrong, but in the razor thin margins the Indians operate within, one slip up could mean the difference between 75 and 90 wins. The winter is for hope, optimism and wildly high expectations, I know I’ll greet whatever the Indians do with excitement and expectation. It’s part of the heartache of baseball.