What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the Cleveland Indians entering 2015?
Sep 21, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman Mike Aviles (4) hugs left fielder Michael Brantley (23) in the dugout in the fifth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Welcome to the Weekly Wroundtable, where the Wahoo’s on First staff takes the liberal use of the word “weekly” and discusses a hot topic (or occasionally something suggested just to get us to argue with each other). As an aside, most of these responses came in prior to the official retirement of Jason Giambi and the Indians picking up left-hander Bruce Chen, but our answers probably aren’t affected too much. Former writer and longtime friend of the site Evan Vogel joins us this week as well.
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Evan Vogel: Biggest strength: Pitching depth. Out of Josh Tomlin, TJ House, Danny Salazar, and Zach McAllister, the Indians received 69 starts in 2014. There is room for only one of them in the rotation in 2015, barring injury. With Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Gavin Floyd locked in (if you consider Floyd locked in), the Indians have the depth to withstand a catastrophe and overcome adversity.
Biggest weakness: Left-side production. What are the Indians going to get out of Lonnie Chisenhall and Jose Ramirez at third and short, both offensively and defensively? The range that Ramirez brings defensively is an upgrade over the Asdrubal Cabrera years, but will he produce enough offensively to be league-average until Francisco Lindor is ready to come up? Who is Chisenall offensively, and is his defense bad enough that Giovanny Urshela should get an opportunity to win the third base job by June?
Merritt Rohlfing: Strength: Everyone is going to go rotation, but I’m going to say the bullpen. The starters are going to be great but with Terry Francona at the helm, those relievers are going to get used, and they’re good at what they do. He’s also made mentions of moving away from the traditional “closer is a ninth-inning job” in favor of using Cody Allen as a fireman when the biggest innings pop up, whether the sixth or the 12th. With Allen, the ageless (or rather age-full) Scott Atchison, a host of young power arms like Nick Hagadone, C.C. Lee and some solid vets in Marc Rzepcynski and Bryan Shaw, both of whom were fantastic in their respective roles last year, and the probable addition of McAllister or another loser of the rotation race, leads will be protected. It’s not the Royals of 2014, but that was insane and we all hallucinated that anyway (Editor’s note: #Yosted).
Sep 14, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians center fielder Michael Bourn (24) makes a catch against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Weakness: It has to be the outfield defense. The Tribe D was porous a year ago, and while having Ramirez at short and (hopefully) Jason Kipnis at full health will help the infield, we have to assume Michael Bourn is going to miss around 40 games, at least. He’ll tweak something, he always does. When he’s out there I’m much more confident in things but if Michael Brantley ends up playing center on the same day Brandon Moss ends up in right due to rest for someone else, well, I’ll hope for good luck and soft fly balls.
Justin Lada: Strength: Obviously the sexy pick is the rotation, for good reason. I’ll say the pitching staff overall. If Gavin Floyd can give them anything between the production Carl Pavano and Derek Lowe gave them, the Indians can season either House or Salazar in Columbus a bit longer, if neither win the fifth spot in the rotation. It allows them not to force McAllister in the rotation just because he’s out of options. It also gives them a chance to use Josh Tomlin as a sixth starter, which isn’t a bad thing. Obviously Kluber and Carrasco will be expected to perform close to last year and many expect Bauer to finally take that next step.
The bullpen is full of depth too. I worry that high-usage wears on the arms of Allen, Shaw, Rzepczynski and Atchison. They combined for 299 appearances last year. But with additions like Anthony Swarzak and possibly McAllister in the bullpen, as well as guys like Austin Adams, Shawn Armstrong and Kyle Crockett on the 40-man roster, they have guys who can provide depth and coverage. Hagadone also looked like he finally got it last year.
Weakness: If health counted as a weakness, that would be it. But without predicting health, I’ll say defense. It got better last year when Cabrera was jettisoned. But Chisenhall’s 18 errors return. How much can Ramirez hide him on the left side? Bourn is still an above-average defensive centerfielder, but for even that, they need to be healthy. Moss is the best defensive right fielder on the roster and that’s not really a compliment to him. But the Indians didn’t trade for him to win a Gold Glove. David Murphy and Nick Swisher aren’t fun to watch in the field and Ryan Raburn, after hurting his knee and wrist on crashes, and that throw from left field, needs to trade in his glove. Despite what defensive metrics may say, Brantley is still a solid outfielder with a great arm. Yan Gomes is a wizard. Carlos Santana worked his tail off so hard to play third base that his defense at first base is now well-above average. In fact, one of the biggest defensive improvements in 2015 will be the end of Santana’s catching career. I’ll give Kipnis a pass because of his injury last year and that he’s still in his prime and should be at least above average defensively.
Aug 5, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (8) takes a throw on a force play at third base in the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Heise: The biggest strength for the 2015 Indians will continue to be Francona. I wholeheartedly believe that a large part of the Indians’s success over the past two seasons is a direct result of his leadership. Yes, we’ve seen breakout performances from several players, but it’s Francona’s decision-making that has helped put them in positions to succeed. He’s one of the top managers in the game today and his experience, especially when it comes to decision-making in high leverage situations, will continue to give this team an edge over their competition.
As for a weakness, I’m still skeptical of the defense. Miscues on that side of the ball came back to haunt the Indians in 2014 and despite the insertion of Ramirez in place of Cabrera at short, the issues may not be completely resolved. It’s possible that the awfulness of last season was an anomaly that will naturally correct itself over time (Can a team be that historically bad two seasons in a row?), but I still feel like there is reason to be worried.
See the rest of the staff’s response on the next page!