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Indians Release Francoeur

2014/03/22

The Indians announced the release of OF Jeff Francoeur this morning. Francoeur had been in camp as a non-roster invitee on a minor league contract. The roster move was somewhat surprising because left-handed hitters Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn, and David Murphy comprise the Indians starting outfield and Francoeur bats right-handed.

In his career, Francoeur has hit .285/.335/.465 against left-handed pitchers, but his performance had fallen off in recent seasons. In 2012 and 2013, he hit just .224/.291/.346 in 278 plate appearances versus left-handers.

Francoeur has a somewhat undeserved reputation as a good fielder, thanks to the solid range and powerful arm that earned him a Gold Glove with the Braves in 2007. His arm remains a powerful weapon, ranking second to his former teammate Alex Gordon in Runs Above Average from 2011-2013. But his range has deteriorated in recent seasons, enough to offset the value of his arm.

Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer tweets that Francoeur’s release means that utilityman Elliot Johnson has made the team. Johnson is a switch-hitter who can play anywhere in the field, but he has batted poorly against pitchers of either handedness in his career. Presumably, Indians manager Terry Francona values Johnson’s speed and defensive versatility over Francoeur’s comparatively stronger bat.

Playing Pepper: Previewing the 2014 Indians

2014/02/25
Ubaldo Jimenez

Ubaldo Jimenez (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

Spring Training is upon us, and on fields across Florida and Arizona, baseball players are gathering for games of pepper as they prepare for the upcoming season.  So too with baseball writers: fellow Baseball Bloggers Alliance member Daniel Shoptaw invited several Indians bloggers to answer questions about the 2014 Tribe for his “Playing Pepper” series. You can read my responses below, but be sure to stop by C70 At the Bat tomorrow for the full story.

How would you grade the offseason?

Ownership made it clear that they spent any new revenues to be realized from local and national TV deals last year on Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, making departure the theme of the Indians’ offseason.

Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, collectively responsible for 61 starts and 340 innings of 3.65 ERA, departed for the greener pastures of Baltimore and Oakland. Setup man Joe Smith signed a lucrative 3-year deal with Los Anaheim. The Indians front office sent Drew Stubbs and Chris Perez packing before either could reap the benefits of arbitration, in Stubbs’ case swapping him for left-handed reliever Josh Outman.

Several credible in-house candidates to replace Smith exist in Vinnie Pestano, Cody Allen, and Bryan Shaw. New addition David Murphy will be an upgrade over Stubbs, whose poor plate discipline and struggles against right-handed pitching the past three seasons should have relegated him to a fourth-outfielder role. John Axford was brought in to close, and his reasonable one-year deal and three remaining years of control make him the best acquisition of the offseason.

The Tribe did little to address the gaping hole in the rotation, signing only a project (Shaun Marcum), a reject (Aaron Harang), and the usual suspects (Tyler Cloyd and Kyle Davies) to fill the void. If any end up pitching significant innings in 2014, the season will not have gone well. Instead, the Indians will hope that Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, and Zach McAllister can replace much of the missing innings, in not only quantity but quality. The rest will have to come from Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin or Trevor Bauer.

GM Chris Antonetti did well to avoid signing any lucrative, long-term contracts with mediocre free agent starters such as Ricky Nolasco or Ervin Santana. Moreover, by signing Axford, he didn’t commit guaranteed money to any of the aging closers on the market. Signing Murphy to platoon with Ryan Raburn seems like a cost-effective solution in right field. The Indians won their first two arbitration cases in 22 years, and avoided two others by extending Michael Brantley and coming to terms with Justin Masterson before his hearing. Yet the offseason was disappointing because the Indians treaded water, failing to make any significant improvements to capitalize on their first playoff appearance since 2007.

Grade: C+

Given the Cardinal connection, I have to ask what are you expecting to get from John Axford?

Axford credits his late-season success to the Cardinals’ coaching staff, who corrected a tell in his delivery that tipped hitters off to his pitch selection. He still possesses the blazing four-seamer and two quality off-speed pitches that enabled him to dominate the NL in 2010-11, but the control issues that have plagued him throughout his career will likely provide Terry Francona some white-knuckle moments along the dugout rail. Still, Axford should easily better the numbers of Perez provided he can navigate through the pitcherless lineups of the big boy league.

Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?

Yan Gomes‘ surprising bat and superior pitch framing have pushed Carlos Santana out of the starting catcher’s job and into a battle with Lonnie Chisenhall at the hot corner.

Santana has the jump on Chisenhall, playing 29 games at third in the Dominican Winter League to prepare for spring training, but results there were mixed. Santana at times showed good range, but committed nine errors and allowed nine infield hits.

Chisenhall, 25, has the first-round pedigree but his major league career has sputtered through three false starts. Still, he has just over a season’s worth of plate appearances to his name; should he manage to put his offensive and defensive games together, Chisenhall has the potential to become a league-average third baseman.

The possibility of Santana becoming the regular third baseman has some Indians fans excited, though a more realistic scenario has him spelling Chisenhall at third versus tough left-handers and spending the rest of his time filling in around the diamond as needed (DH, C, 1B).

Chisenhall has the surer glove of the two, making him the likely starter when groundballer Justin Masterson is on the mound, and his splits against RHP, while not inspiring, are playable.

What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?

The most-rumored departure of the offseason–that of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera–never occurred, delaying the ascension of top prospect Francisco Lindor until mid-season at the earliest. Lindor would improve the infield defense dramatically, but he is still refining his offensive game. Should the Tribe fall out of contention, Antonetti will be tempted to find Cabrera a new home by the trading deadline so the Lindor Era can begin in earnest.

If the Indians are still in the thick of things come July, however, the greatest rookie contribution may come from Bauer, who has retooled his delivery and refined his command this winter at the Texas Baseball Ranch. Ranked among Baseball America’s Top 100 for three years running, Bauer could justify that status if his hard work leads to a rotation spot this spring.

What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

The Indians were one of baseball’s surprise teams last season, improving by 24 wins over 2012. As is often the case with surprise teams, the 2013 Tribe overachieved, bettering their third-order wins by more than five. Given the defections from the pitching staff and the reliance on rebounds from aging players such as Bourn and Swisher, I expect the Tribe to slip by as many as 10 wins this season. That could be good enough for second place in what should be a more competitive, though depleted, AL Central.

Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?

With every pitch, Danny Salazar walks a high wire, daring hitters to swing at 96-mph fastballs up in the zone then defying them with an 86-mph split-change that drops off the table. Win or lose, each matchup is electric.

Thanks to Daniel Shoptaw and C70 At The Bat for giving TribeScribe the opportunity to get up off the mental couch and stretch some writing muscles.

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Kluber’s Big-League Stay Likely a Short One

2013/04/11
Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Carlos Carr...

Carlos Carrasco (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

In the wake of the debacle versus the Yankees, the Indians optioned Tuesday’s starter Carlos Carrasco to Columbus to work on command of his fastball and, presumably, control of his head-hunting impulses.

Tito’s proclaimed bullpen savior (and Wednesday’s scheduled starter) Brett Myers worked 5-1/3 innings in relief of Carrasco, necessitating the call-up of Corey Kluber from Columbus to take Myers’ turn in the rotation.

Yesterday’s rainout spared Kluber a likely beating from the suddenly potent Yankee bats, but cost him his chance to start. Zach McAllister will take the ball as scheduled in tonight’s series finale.

Kluber, who made 12 starts for the Indians last season, will stick around to provide mop-up innings in case the Yankees get the best of McAllister, but his stay will likely be a short one barring further injury and incompetence. The Indians will not need a fifth starter again until April 20 against the Astros, which is three days after Scott Kazmir is eligible to be activated from the disabled list.

Jason Giambi was eligible to come off the DL on April 9, so Kluber’s roster spot may soon be needed to accommodate the Indians’ elder statesman. Here’s hoping Giambi can deliver some of his Yoda-like wisdom to build the confidence of our young Jedis, who have taken a thrashing at the hands of baseball’s Evil Empire.

Whatever Swisher Wants, Swisher Gets

2012/12/20
The 1955 Original Cast Recording

The 1955 Original Cast Recording (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the musical “Damn Yankees,” the Devil sends the seductress Lola to seal his deal with slugger Joe Hardy by stealing him away from his wife. How fitting then that Mark Shapiro chose Chef Michael Symon’s Lola Bistro as the setting for his own seduction of erstwhile Yankee Nick Swisher Monday night.

Shapiro might need the services of the Dark Lord to sway Swisher, who reportedly would prefer to play in Los Angeles where his wife, the actress Joanna Garcia, makes her living. Cleveland, for all its charms, undeniably lacks career opportunities for Mrs. Swisher.

But no job openings seem to exist in L.A. for her husband either. The Angels have no room in the outfield after signing Josh Hamilton, who might know a thing or two about Faustian bargains. And the Dodgers, who have more money than God, can’t seem to find a taker for Andre Ethier and the contract extension they signed him to last June. Perhaps the Lord does work in mysterious ways.

Of course, the demands of marriage are not the only influence on Swisher’s decision.  As a young ballplayer with the A’s, Swisher once told a roomful of fans at Fanfest that, while loyalty was nice, he would play for whoever paid him the most money. Now 32 years old, Swisher might not get another chance at a long-term, big-money contract.

Who could blame him, then, for balking at the Indians’ reported offer of four years and $52 million when his statistical inferior Ethier got five years and $85 million? And Hamilton’s deal just provides 125 million more reasons for Swisher to keep looking.

They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but could the contents of a man’s stomach betray what’s in his heart? If Chef Symon knows, he isn’t telling. Symon said in an email that “we don’t ‘kiss & tell’ with our customers…go tribe!!!”

Playing Pepper: 2011 Indians

2011/03/03

TribeScribe fielded a few questions about the 2011 Indians with fellow BBA blogger Nino Colla of TribeDaily in C70 At the Bat‘s “Playing Pepper” series.

You Might Be an Indians Fan If…

2011/03/02

If you are looking for a team to root for, this flowchart may have the answer for you.  According to Paul Caputo, you might be an Indians fan if:

  1. You have a soul.
  2. You care if your team ever wins another game.
  3. You are not watching baseball to pass the time until football training camp.
  4. You do not use sports to distract yourself from the drudgery of your horrible life.
  5. You do not cheer when the Jumbotron says so and not a moment sooner.
  6. You do not believe it’s racist to make a race of people a sports mascot.
  7. You grew up in [Cleveland] rooting for [the Indians].

 

Flowchart courtesy of InterpretationByDesign.com

Required Reading: The Manny Effect

2011/02/11

I’m a little late in recommending this Jonah Keri post at FanGraphs, but not too late for you to revel in some Manny Ramirez nostalgia:

Whenever the Indians were on TV, the whole family would gather around to watch. When Manny would do something particularly amazing, everyone would go nuts. “Manny Ramirez! Manny Ramirez!”, they’d all yell. The family’s King Charles spaniel was your typical cute little lap dog, rarely making noise or bothering anyone. But every time anyone exclaimed “Manny Ramirez!”, the dog had the same reaction: YIPYIPYIPYIPYIPYIPYIPYIPYIPYIP

More importantly, Keri points out that despite his skill erosion, Manny is still a very bad man:

Are you a skeptic who thinks Ramirez isn’t the same since his 50-game PED suspension in 2009? You’re absolutely right. In 167 games (631 PA) since then, he’s hit well below career norms, with a line of .284/.399/.476. That’s still better than anyone the Rays had before last night.

Keri also points out that Manny has an OPS+ of 156 for the years 2008-2010, second only to Albert Pujols.

Ramirez signed with the Rays for $2 million, a steal for a DH with that production and just $700k more than Austin Kearns signed for. And in the past, Manny has publicly stated his desire to return to the Indians.

So forgive me if I wax nostalgic and wonder if, with a little more interest, Manny could have been Manny in Cleveland again.

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