Ranking the Most Valuable Indians: Part 3


Jul 20, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis (22) celebrates with center fielder Michael Bourn (24) after hitting a two run home run in the sixth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Breaking Down and Ranking the Indians Roster

In parts one and two of my most valuable Indians rankings, I broke down players 25 to 21 and then 20 to 11. Here in part three we take a look at the best of the best that the Indians have to offer. This time we examine the Indians top 10 players in full detail. Just who will deemed the most valuable Indians? I’m not giving anything away. Looks like you are going to have to read on to find out. So without further ado, here is part 3 of Ranking the Most Valuable Indians. You can find parts 1 and 2 here and here.

Most Valuable Indians 10-1

10. Michael Bourn: The Tribe’s signing of Bourn in February caught a lot of people by surprise, and you can count me among them. However, I loved the signing, especially the steep discount the Indians got as compared to the price that agent Scott Boras was originally seeking. In his first season in the American League, Bourn’s numbers — specifically his on-base percentage and stolen base total — took a huge dive from his career norms. I would expect those numbers to improve as he experiences year two of the Junior Circuit, but it should be known that players dependent on speed haven’t typically aged well. Bourn is still 31, which is fairly young, but it could be cause for concern in the near future. However, his presence alone does a lot for the Indians’ offense, as teams still plan around his potential to wreak havoc on the bases.

9. Zach McAllister: Clearly, McAllister isn’t the ninth-best player on the Indians’ roster. But the rotation will likely be what makes or breaks the Indians in 2014, so the club’s starting pitching is suddenly that much more important. McAllister posted a solid ERA of 3.75 in 2013, but a FIP of 4.03 and an xFIP of 4.53 suggest that McAllister could be the victim of some regression in 2014. He likely has a rotation spot all but guaranteed to him at this point, but that might speak more of the Indians’ lack of rotation depth than his true talent. That’s nothing against him — McAllister is certainly a good pitcher — but I’d be lying if I said he didn’t scare me a little bit.

Sep 21, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians left fielder Michael Brantley (23) hits a two-run home run during the first inning against the Houston Astros at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

8. Michael Brantley: My mom occasionally tells me that she thinks Brantley is handsome (it’s kind of hard to argue with that). So he has that going for him. In fact, Brantley has a lot going for him. He’s a good hitter, has good plate discipline, and he’s capable of hitting a few home runs. He’s also still just 26, so there’s certainly potential for more power. He’s a good defender, and he has a terrific arm from left field — plus he can play anywhere in the outfield. He has baseball bloodlines (his father, Mickey Brantley, played four seasons in the majors). In addition, he pretty much entirely salvaged the Indians’ return on the CC Sabathia trade. He can even steal bases. In short, he’s a terrific player. The only thing holding him back from a higher ranking is the Indians’ large amount of depth in the outfield. Other than that, there really isn’t much more you can ask for in a baseball player.

7. Yan Gomes: Essentially a throw-in from the Blue Jays in the deal sending Esmil Rogers north of the border (the Indians’ big acquisition was supposed to be Mike Aviles), Gomes was originally viewed as catching depth and not too much else. However, Gomes played his way onto the Tribe’s roster early in 2013, hitting .294/.345/.481 and adding 11 long balls and 38 RBI in 322 plate appearances. He also caught almost 41% of would-be base stealers, a figure second only to the one and only Joe Mauer (though Mauer will be a first baseman from now on). As a result, Gomes will be the Indians’ full-time catcher in 2014, while Carlos Santana will be moved to a semi-utility role. It’s yet to be seen if the Brazilian-born Gomes can repeat those numbers in 2014, but the Indians appear to be giving him every opportunity to do so. Catcher is one of the most important positions in baseball, and Gomes (who’s just 26) should be a big part of the Indians’ future.

6. Corey Kluber: Kluber came out of nowhere last season to emerge as a valuable contributor to the Indians’ rotation, as he posted a 3.85 ERA and a terrific 4.12 K/BB rate in 2013. Like Gomes, Kluber’s sudden success makes it questionable as to whether he can repeat those numbers, but pitching coach Mickey Callaway seemed to have a huge impact on the entire rotation — meaning that Kluber’s success may not be a fluke. However, if Kluber regresses, the Indians’ rotation will too.

5. Carlos Santana: After the strong season put up by Yan Gomes (and his subsequent displacement as the team’s catcher), Santana is now somewhat of a man without a position. He may still catch a little bit (though the Indians typically pitched better with Gomes catching), he can play first, and he can DH — and he’ll be given an opportunity at third base. Santana isn’t the first player that comes to mind when you think of a utility player, but his potent bat will assure that the Indians will get him in the lineup whenever they possibly can. Santana has always had a terrific eye at the plate (his career on-base percentage is .367), and it’s possible that he could hit more home runs without having to worry about catching as often. He also has a .290 career average over seven seasons in the minor leagues, so it’s at least possible that his average can climb as well. The Indians basically stole him from the Dodgers in a trade a few years ago (no offense, Casey Blake), and they made sure to sign him to a team-friendly contract. The only issue with Santana is that he isn’t a particularly strong defender, and he doesn’t really have a defined position.

Aug 30, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Nick Swisher (33) hits a double sixth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

4. Nick Swisher: Indians fans were thrilled to see Swisher come to Cleveland last offseason. Swisher was born in (br)Ohio and went to (br)Ohio State, which only added to the fans’ excitement. In addition, Swisher also carried a reputation as a terrific clubhouse presence, as well as the ability to hit and to get on base. After a fairly slow start to the season, the Indians moved Swisher to the second spot in the lineup. Although his .337 on-base percentage from the two-hole was slightly lower than his .341 mark on the season, his average and slugging percentage both improved (his average went from .246 to .256 and his slugging percentage went from .423 to .467). Swisher especially caught fire in September and October, hitting .263/.353/.515 while adding 7 home runs and 17 RBI in just 116 plate appearances. His hot ending to the season could help him to start of 2014 on a better foot. Besides, Swisher was a large part of the club’s strong clubhouse atmosphere, and without him, “Brohio” and the fan excitement that came with it wouldn’t have happened.

3. Danny Salazar: Salazar was always more of a good-but-not-great prospect, and he caught many by surprise with his overwhelming success in 2013. He posted a 2.71 ERA in 93 innings between AA Akron and AAA Columbus last season, but hopefully he won’t be heading back there anytime soon. After dominating in a spot start against the Blue Jays in July, Salazar joined the rotation full-time later in the season — with dominating (and I mean dominating) results. Salazar posted a 3.12 ERA in 10 starts for the Indians last season. He only pitched 52 innings in Cleveland due to a team-mandated innings limit (Salazar was returning from Tommy John surgery), but he recorded a whopping 65 strikeouts over that time, leading to an extraordinary strikeout rate of 11.3 K/9, which would have been second in the majors behind Yu Darvish (he posted a mark of 12.5 K/9 in the minors last season, so it shouldn’t be a fluke). His strikeout prowess and impressive control (2.6 BB/9) led to a jaw-dropping K/BB rate of 4.33. Oh yeah, and his fastball averaged over 96 miles an hour last season. Salazar looks to be a future ace, and would appear to be a huge part of the Indians’ future. Next year, the Indians will probably take the kid gloves off of Salazar, and the only people complaining about that will be the hitters that will have to face him. As long as Salazar can stay healthy, it’s difficult to find a reason why he won’t be one of the best pitchers in baseball. Keep in mind that the Indians trusted Salazar to start the AL Wild Card game (arguably the most important game the team had played since 2007), so it’s clear that the Indians have all the confidence in the world in Salazar.

2. Jason Kipnis: I personally feel that Kipnis is the best player on the Indians, and probably one of the five best second basemen in all of baseball. He’s a very good hitter, he gets on base a lot (and his on-base percentage went from .335 in 2012 to .366 last year), he’s stolen at least 30 bases in both of his full seasons in the majors, and he has the ability to hit 15-20 home runs. Talent like that is great at any position, but especially second base. Kipnis is also just 26, so there’s plenty of room for growth — the sky is the limit for Kipnis. The only problem for him has been putting up the same numbers in the second half of the season as he has in the first half. Before the All-Star break, Kipnis is a career .289/.364/.466 hitter, as compared to a .252/.332/.383 hitter after the break. His career numbers in the second half are nothing to sneeze at, but if he can sustain his first half performance for an entire season, Kipnis would probably be a perennial MVP candidate. He’s that good. I really want to rank Kipnis first (and it’s hard not to), but the Indians have other infield options. However, they don’t have many other starting pitching options, which brings me to number one (who just so happens to be a starting pitcher)…

Sep 2, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Justin Masterson (63) pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during the first inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

1. Justin Masterson: Ah, yes. Jedi Masterson. Big Masty. Whatever you want to call him, he’s the unquestioned ace of the Indians. After a down season in 2012, Masterson returned with a vengeance in 2013: his 3.45 ERA doesn’t scream “ace,” but his 3 shutouts (which tied for the league lead) do. His peripherals were impressive as well (9.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 in 2013). The tutelage of new pitching coach Mickey Callaway definitely made a huge difference. However, Masterson is one of those pitchers that’s better than his stats would suggest. When you look at his numbers, you’d probably think that he’s more of a mid-rotation starter. He’ll have a rough outing every now and then (which definitely affects his numbers), but he’s usually dominant otherwise. The three shutouts speak for themselves, and Masterson is the anchor of Cleveland’s rotation. Masterson made his first All-Star team in 2013, so he’s finally starting to get recognized by the rest of the league. Masterson is entering his contract year, and the Indians should do whatever it takes (within reason) to make sure that Masterson will continue pitching in Cleveland for the foreseeable future. As I said, I personally feel that Kipnis is a better player than Masterson (though not by a lot). But the Indians’ infield depth and lack of rotation depth would seemingly make Masterson the more valuable player. If you take away Masterson from the Indians’ rotation, what’s left is a collection of pitchers high on potential but low on prolonged major league success. Luckily, the Indians showed at the end of last season that they are capable of winning without Masterson. But Ubaldo Jimenez was still a member of the Indians then, and both he and the rotation pitched at an extremely high level to pick up the slack. While it’s certainly possible that the Indians could have rotation-wide success with Masterson, it’s not really something that I would like to find out.

The Indians didn’t make the playoffs last season for nothing. There’s clearly talent on this team, and that stems all the way from the manager down. Terry Francona is one of the best managers in baseball. It’s about time that the Indians have gobs of talent to work with, and it will be exciting to see how the team responds in Year Two of the Francona Era.

But don’t forget, no matter how much I might like to think that I’m an expert, I’m not one. My opinions are probably different from yours, and that’s okay. The Indians have a multitude of valuable players in their organization, and it’s nice to know that there are multiple appealing options here. That wouldn’t be the case if the Indians weren’t a good team.

And you don’t always need to listen to what other people say. The Indians are a good team.

They weren’t given much of a chance last season, but they still made the playoffs. Hopefully they can serve up an encore performance in 2014.