Sunday, January 18, 2015

Still Celebrating on a Lazy Sunday

If you’re anything like me, this Lazy Sunday finds you still riding a bit of a high following Ohio State’s 42-20 victory over the Oregon Ducks in the first-ever College Football Playoff on Monday night. No, this is not a “Cleveland Championship” and no, I did not attend The Ohio State University. But I grew up a die-hard Buckeye fan, to the point that I skipped trick-or-treating as an eight-year old in favor of watching the Buckeyes game with my dad (they won, it was worth it, and I stole some of my younger brothers’ candy). But I recognize that not all of you reading this blog are Ohio State fans, and you’re probably wondering when one of your teams is going to finally break through and win it all (provided you’re a straight Cleveland ticket on the professional scene, as I am). The Browns, despite looking like the Browns! for the season’s first half, fizzled to be the same old Browns by the end of the season. The Cavs, who drew national (if not worldwide) attention with the return of LeBron and trading for Kevin Love, are floundering around .500 with a media frenzy surrounding the uncertain future of their first-year head coach. That leaves us with the Indians, who are a combined 30 games over .500 the past two years and employ the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, a top-3 2014 AL MVP finisher, and one of the best managers in the game (2013 AL Manager of the Year Terry Francona). Maybe Johnny Football takes football seriously and enters 2015 ready to play. Maybe LeBron switches off “chill mode” and goes off on the NBA playoffs the way he did against Detroit in 2007. But personally, I’m going to turn the majority of my sporting attention to what remains the best-run franchise in town (since at least 1993), our very own Cleveland Indians. I still feel like they represent this city’s best chance for a championship in the near term, and hopefully we all get to enjoy that feeling together very soon.

ESPN’s Buster Olney has been progressing through a seemingly never-ending list of top-10’s this offseason. He started off by going position-by-position around the diamond, recognizing Michael Brantley as the best LF in the game, but slighting CyKluber (in my humble and biased opinion) by naming him the game’s 8th-best SP behind three (very good) pitchers he beat out for the AL Cy Young Award in 2014. He called Cody Allen the 9th-best RP in the game today, a pretty nice honor for a guy who’s pitched in relative anonymity throughout his career (at least on the national scene, having only been a Closer© for part of one season). He pegged Jason Kipnis as the #6 2B, even coming off of an injury-plagued season (that probably says more about the state of the position than Kipnis). Yan Gomes clocks in as the 7th-best catcher, which seems low for the future 1st-ballot HOF’er (kidding…kinda). Interestingly, the Indians best hitter isn’t even mentioned in Olney’s rankings, as Carlos Santana didn’t rate even an honorable mention at 1B. Not sure if that’s due to the depth of the position or a simple oversight by Olney, as I’d prefer Santana to his 9th ranked 1B, Boston’s Mike Napoli.

The individual rankings are a fun offseason exercise, but I wanted to focus more on Buster’s group rankings, where he looks at teams’ bullpen, rotation, lineup and defense as a whole. No MLB team appeared in the top-10 of all four lists. Only two teams appeared in the top-10 of three out of the four categories; the Washingon Nationals and the Cleveland Indians. The Indians clocked in with Buster’s 9th-best lineup, then at #10 for both the bullpen and rotation. If you’re anything like me, you’re excited that the club is recognized by a leading, independent baseball writer, but a little miffed that he tagged the rotation as “only” the 10th best in baseball. Buster’s reasoning behind that ranking:

This would seem an aggressive ranking for the Indians, who finished 18th in starters' ERA last season, but after talking with rival evaluators, I think this spot might be too low for the Indians, whose staff ranked third in the majors in ERA in the second half. They just kept getting better and better, with Corey Kluber becoming a Cy Young Award winner at the front end of the rotation. The difference-maker could be Carlos Carrasco, as he was in the second half last season, when he lowered his ERA by two runs. Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar are high-end talents, and the Indians are hopeful Gavin Floyd can help after being limited to just 14 starts combined in 2013 and 2014.
Olney is correct that Carrasco is a potential difference-maker, as he’s a legit #2 behind Kluber if you get 2nd-half Carlos. If Cookie can play the Fausto to Kluber’s Sabathia (to use a 2007 analogy), the Indians have the potential to have the best rotation in the AL. But the fact that Buster has the Indians with the 3rd best rotation in the AL Central speaks volumes to the uncertainty surrounding the #2-5 slots in the rotation, and helps reflect GM Chris Antonetti’s mindset in signing Gavin Floyd to his incentive-laden deal earlier this offseason. Bauer and Salazar remain enigmatic talents who could still boom or bust in 2015. T.J. House, who Buster didn’t even mention, is a guy who found a lot more success last year than most talent evaluators predicted. NEW I think Buster is a little low with this ranking, but I can understand his reasoning. Hopefully at the end of the year, the Tribe will finish closer to #1 on this list than #10.

Speaking of Carrasco, the Indians avoided arbitration with all of their eligible players this week, including their potential #2 starter. Carrasco, Scrabble and Lonnie Chisenhall all agreed to deals between $2.25 and $2.5 million for next season. Then on Friday, Brandon Moss ($6.5 million), Bryan Shaw ($1.55 mil) and Josh Tomlin ($1.5 mil) agreed to terms as well. The Indians have re-started their streak of seasons without an arbitration hearing, which now stands at one (1). Per Jordan Bastian’s math (which I have no cause to doubt), the Indians 2015 payroll now stands at approximately $83 million, factoring in all pre-arbitration deals still to be handed out. I’ll again use this as a chance to remind you that Corey Kluber, a pre-arbitration player, cannot be a free agent until AFTER the 2018 season.

Baseball Prospecuts released their top-10 Indians prospects article this week, and there were a couple of surprises. BP is my go-to independent resource for stuff like this, and I was really interested to see how the 2015 iteration of the prospect countdowns would shake out. This is the first year that neither Kevin Goldstein (now in the Astros front office) nor Jason Parks (crosschecker for the Cubs) aren’t part of the prospect team, and BP has really tried to get a lot of up and coming baseball minds involved in what has become a collaborative process. So, first, let’s talk about the top-10 itself (free even to non-subscribers):

1.SS Francisco Lindor
2.C Francisco Mejia
3.OF Clint Frazier
4.OF Bradley Zimmer
5.CF Tyler Naquin
6.LHP Justus Sheffield
7.OF/1B Mike Papi
8.3B Giovanny Urshela
9.1B Bobby Bradley
10.RHP Mitch Brown

For starters, I’m surprised that Mejia is ahead of Frazier on this list. I (SPOILER ALERT) have them flipped on my list, because I think that they have similar ceilings but Frazier is less of a risk due to age, experience and the position they play. I also have Erik Gonzalez in my top-10, as I think he’s a potential impact defender with the age/frame/athleticism to suggest that he could take a step forward with the bat. But these are relatively minor issues. I’m just surprised and a little saddened that someone is higher on Mejia than I am. BP’s Mark Anderson handled the “Top 10 Under-25” portion of the list, and one of his comments really caught my eye:

The emergence of Lonnie Chisenhall in 2014 would have ranked him highly on this list had he not missed the eligibility criteria, and his breakout campaign serves as notice of his impending arrival in the earlier-mentioned group of core talents.

That’s pretty high praise for Chisenhall. Anderson is an experienced scout who also writes for a Tigers website, so you can be sure that he saw plenty of Chiz last year. I’m not sure if he built that opinion off of Lonnie’s big first half or if he just thinks that the post-June swoon wasn’t the Chiz that we’ll see moving forward. Either way, it’s nice to see someone outside the organization praising a guy that most see as a 2nd-division starter at best as a “core talent” on a quality baseball team.

Fox Sports Jon Morosi tweeted yesterday that the Indians were one of a few teams still “looking for a closer.” That seems odd on the surface, given that they have young power reliever Cody Allen anchoring the back end of a solid (and deep) bullpen. Morosi’s article made a little more sense than the tweet, clarifying that the Indians were looking for a backend reliever, not specifically a closer. Still, the Indians have Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Scott Atchison, C.C. Lee, Kyle Crockett, Austin Adams, Nick Hagadone, and Scrabble already established as bullpen options, with Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin likely to be out of the rotation, and Shawn Armstrong on the cusp of the big league roster. So it would seem like the last thing the Indians need is another bullpen arm. But I’d like to draw your attention to this article from Jordan Bastian on Friday talking about bullpen usage. Bastian points out just how much primary setup man Bryan Shaw has been used over the past couple of seasons relative to the rest of the league, and it’s a little concerning:

The fact of the matter, however, is no pitcher has a rubber arm. A high volume of pitches, innings and games can have a toll on any pitcher. Over the 2013-14 seasons, Shaw has given the Indians a 2.91 ERA over 150 games and 151.1 innings. In that span, he ranks second in the AL (third in the Majors) in games pitched and second in the Majors (first in the AL) in innings for pitchers with zero starts logged…
…Dating back to 2007, there have been 29 instances, excluding Shaw, where a pitcher has logged at least 150 games and 140 innings over a two-year span. Consider this: Cody Allen and Shaw were the only pitchers in baseball over the past two years to meet that criteria. At least in Allen’s case, his future as Cleveland’s closer should naturally lead to a decrease in innings in 2015 and beyond.
Bastian goes on to look at relievers who’ve experienced similar workloads, and the results are not pretty. I’ll let you read the rest of Bastian’s fantastic work for yourself, but the list is full of regression (in terms of both stuff and stats) and injuries, with only a couple of exceptions. So even if Shaw bucks the trend and pitches effectively in 2015, the Indians need to find a way to manage his workload. This isn’t a surprise to most Indians fans, and Jason Lukehart from Let’s Go Tribe was writing about the problem back in August of 2014. Offsetting his usage with another effective backend arm, whether it’s an internal option or a move to acquire another arm from outside the organization, has to be a goal for GM Chris Antonetti and manager Terry Francona. Tito loves managing his bullpen, so getting him another toy to play with out there should only serve to make him happy. Antonetti has basically said that he doesn’t see the club making any major additions before spring training, but are open to finding “depth” or someone to “compliment the players we already have.” A relief arm probably fits that bill, and while I don’t expect them to sign or trade for a big name, I wouldn’t be surprised if they went out and found another depth option or two.

The Milwaukee Brewers are doing something pretty cool for the 2015 season and beyond, offering fans a chance to buy a “timeless ticket” for $1000. What does Joe Brewer Fan get for his $1k investment? Well, for starters, you get this sharp-looking bronze commemorative ticket and certificate of authenticity. Then, you get a ticket to any 9 Brewer games (non-opening day or postseason) between now and…well, forever. But the real kicker here is this:

This unique opportunity allows the owner to redeem their Timeless Ticket for an actual ticket to any single future Brewers game at Miller Park, whether it’s in 2015 or 2050, or whether it’s Opening Day or the 7th game of the World Series…In addition, Timeless Ticket holders may purchase up to three additional companion tickets for the redeemed game at the single game box office price.
So you get a ticket to a potential future World Series game (because really, who’s going to use this on opening day?) and the chance to be a hero to three of your best friends by scoring face value tickets to that same World Series game. And you get to keep the bronze ticket to boot, which would be a pretty awesome souvenir if it came from your favorite teams’ World Series win. I’m shocked the Indians didn’t think of this, because it’s really the ultimate in dynamic pricing. If they came out with this, I’d buy one in a heartbeat. But can you imagine the stress over when to use the ticket? Say the Indians have home field advantage in the World Series (I know, I know, bear with me here). Game Six, and the Tribe hold a 3-2 advantage over the Dodgers. Kershaw is scheduled to pitch against Kluber in game 7, if necessary. Do you pull the trigger and go to game 6, knowing it might not be the clincher? Or save it for the potential game 7, knowing that Cookie Carrasco might shut out the Dodgers and you miss the series-winning game 6? Additionally, I’m not sure how the club handles this if, say, 3,000 people buy the ticket in 2015, and the Brewers go to the WS this year (unlikely but possible). Hypothetically, all 3,000 people could try to exercise their right to buy tickets to game 1, plus the 3 extras for their friends. I guess that’s what the fine print is for (*subject to availability*) but I’d hate to have to explain to a fan that shelled out a grand for this timeless ticket that his/her ticket is not in fact timeless and they can’t actually go to the game they selected. Still, I think overall it’s a really neat idea and I wouldn’t be shocked if the Indians decided to copy it at some point in the future.

I’m really happy to link to this article from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (yes, the AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees) because it directly impacts the life of a good friend. Former Carolina Mudcats broadcaster and 2013 Carolina League Broadcaster of the Year Darren Headrick was hired by the RailRiders to join their broadcast team, a well-deserved call-up to AAA if there ever was one. Headrick is an SEC football fan from Tennessee, but other than that is a fantastic guy. He’s an outstanding broadcaster who got along well with the players, coaches and media. He always had time to help me out whenever I was attending a Mudcats game, and I’ll be forever grateful. No disrespect to Al Palowski, but I’d love to see the Indians pick up Headrick and put him in the booth with Hammy. Congrats to Darren, and if you see him in Columbus when Scranton comes to town to play the Clippers, be sure and say hello (and remind him that THE Ohio State Buckeyes are the reigning national champions of the college football universe).


I’m going to close this weekend with this incredible piece from Anthony Castrovice on MLB umpire John Hirschbeck and his family. It was published on Tuesday, and hopefully most of you have already had a chance to read it. If you haven’t, please do so today. There’s nothing I can possibly add to Castro’s words here, so I’m not going to try. Just make sure you have a box of tissues nearby for this one. 


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Warming Up on a Lazy Sunday

It’s January, which usually means big-time bowl games (usually including the Buckeyes), NFL playoffs (rarely including the Browns) and cold weather/snow, particularly in our beloved Midwest. It also means that the countdown to Spring Training becomes much more real (just over 5 weeks!) and baseball writers all over the interwebs start to come out with their “rankings” for 2015. Fantasy baseball rankings, dynasty baseball rankings, pre-season award rankings, top prospect rankings…all over every sports site from here until real baseball begins in earnest this April, you’re going to see a multitude of rankings. I’m no exception, as I’m working to put out my 5th annual Indians prospect countdown sometime in early March (or at least that’s the plan). It’s quite the labor of love, with an emphasis on the “labor” part of the equation. So you probably won’t be seeing something from me every week in this space, but I’m going to do my best to make it worth it when the prospect countdown does finally come out later on this year. With that mea culpa out of the way, let’s set off to all the news that’s fit to link here on a (cold) Lazy Sunday…

Zack Meisel of the Plain Dealer had an…interesting cab ride in the waning days of 2014, and used it as a springboard to think up some “resolutions” for the Indians in 2015. One such resolution focused on Carlos Santana, who might well be the most important Indian for the upcoming 2015 season:

Now firmly entrenched at one position, produce a consistent year at the plate, one that doesn't include a .159 batting average and .628 OPS through the first two months. Santana's final numbers (.231/.365/.427 slash line, 27 home runs, 85 RBIs, league-leading 113 walks) looked fine at season's end, but imagine how they would sparkle if not for a miserable first two months.
Digging a little deeper on Meisel’s musings, Santana put up an impressive .266/.384/.488 line from June through the end of the season. That .872 OPS was fueled in part by Santana hitting 21 of his 27 HR during that timeframe, and despite a rather pedestrian .281 BABIP. If you want to stretch that June-Sept production over 162 games, Santana would’ve finished with 34 HR, 108 RBI and 112 BB (showing just how consistent Santana’s walk rate was throughout the season, even when he was struggling in April/May).

Let’s even say you’re one of those people who obsesses over Santana’s batting average (I’m most certainly not, but there are those out there who are). Looking back at his career, there’s a pretty predictable correlation between his batting average and average in balls in play:

Year
AVG
BABIP
2011
.239
.263
2012
.252
.278
2013
.268
.301
2014
.231
.249

When Santana’s BABIP is in the .250-.260 range, he hits around .230. As his BABIP (read; luck) rises, so does his batting average. This isn’t rocket surgery. More importantly, there’s one thing that’s remained consistent with regards to Santana, and that’s his OBP. Santana has never walked fewer than 91 times over a full season, and his OBP has ranged from .351 to .377. I don’t care if he hits .231, if he’s on base 35% of the time, Santana is basically slump-proof, regardless of how low his batting average is.

Why am I spending this much time on Santana? Well, as many of you have noticed, the Indians lineup is filled with left-handed hitters from top to bottom. Santana, a switch hitter, is going to be playing mostly 1B and DH this year, so the plan is to have him in the lineup pretty much every day. The only other right-handed power that one can take more or less for granted when looking at the Indians projected lineup is from catcher Yan Gomes, and as a catcher, he’ll have to take at least a game off every week. If you want to argue that Nick Swisher is going to bounce back and have another 20+ HR season, fine, but I’m not ready to pencil that in just yet. So Santana is going to be the most important hitter in the lineup, batting cleanup and representing the most consistent right-handed bat when a southpaw starter is on the mound for the opposition. The Indians aren’t going to ask Santana to play a new position in 2015 the way they did in spring and early 2014. They’re not even going to ask him to play the more difficult of his older positions. They’re simply going to ask him to go out and get on base every day, and drive in as many runs as possible.  If he’s healthy and in the lineup every day, and can match his June-Sept production over a full season (.266/.384/.488 with 30+ HR, 100+ BB and 100+ RBI), it’d be a huge step in ensuring the Indians offense doesn’t slip into the late-season doldrums that plagued them in 2014.

So if Carlos Santana is (arguably) the most important bat in the Indians lineup, who’s the most important pitcher? You could probably make an argument for pretty much any of the pitchers in the rotation, but I’m going with the reigning AL Cy Young winner. Corey Kluber was a dominant force in 2014, and much like Santana’s walks made him slump-proof, Kluber’s pitching helped to ensure that the club never fell off a cliff in terms of a long losing streak, even though there were times when we were afraid that was going to happen. The Indians had one streak of 5 or more losses (they dropped 6 in a row from April 25-30), but that was it.

It’s logical to think that Kluber will regress at least a little in 2015. After all, rarely do pitchers win back-to-back Cy Young Awards, and Kluber was almost exactly a league average (99 ERA+) pitcher in 2013. So there’s not exactly the sustained track record of success that you have with a Kershaw or a King Felix. What Kluber does have, however, are superior mechanics. Baseball Prospectus resident pitching expert Doug Thorburn recently broke down the best/worst mechanics in the AL Central in a variety of categories. Doug and Paul Sporer were two of the few national writers who were projecting a major Kluber breakout prior to the 2014 season (in their Starting Pitcher Guide), so Doug clearly knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the Klubot. He rated Klubers mechanics as the best in all of the AL Central, coming in just ahead of Tiger ace David Price:

Similar to the situation with Madison Bumgarner in the NL West, the case for Kluber was made before his Cy Young campaign of 2014 even got started. Kluber was one of just nine starting pitchers who received a grade of A- or higher in the 2014 Starting Pitcher Guide (out of more than 200 players that received report cards), and he found a way to improve his scores this past season. Kluber earns plus marks in every single category of the report card, and he was in the discussion for best in the division for all four subjects under consideration. David Price also received consideration for this award, and like Kluber, Price has plus marks in every category, but his stability took a small step backward while Kluber's improvements allowed him to leap-frog Price in the standings. The right-handed Kluber is a machine of mechanical efficiency, with a template for his delivery that portends a continued run of success.  
I’m not going to predict a repeat Cy Young award for CyKluber, but I will say that I’m confident that he’ll again rate among the best pitchers in the American League based on talent, work rate, mechanics and the continued presence of The Pitcher Whisperer in the dugout. In fact, Kluber’s mechanics are so clean that Callaway will be able to spend that much more time with guys like Carrasco, Salazar and Bauer, which only adds to the value of the Klubot at the top of the Indians rotation. This is where I remind you that Corey Kluber cannot become a free agent until AFTER the 2018 season.

While we’re on the topic of breakout 2014 seasons, a Fangraphs article from July of 2014 caught my eye this week and I thought it’d be fun to look back on it with the benefit of hindsight. Dave Cameron posted his top-50 trade value article back on July 18, and three Indians made the list; Kluber, Brantley and Gomes. That they made the list isn’t what I found interesting. Of course the 2014 AL Cy Young, MVP candidate and Silver Slugger backstop are on this list (especially considering their contracts). What I found fascinating was where on this list they clocked in. Gomes was lowest, at #50. Kluber and Brantley were right next to each other, coming in at #42 and 41, respectively. Contrast that with Jonah Keri’s yearly trade value column, penned in December 2014. On Keri’s list, the same three Indians are featured in the top 50. But Gomes clocks in at 25, and Kluber and Brantley at 15 and 16, respectively. Cameron and Keri both looked at the same factors when putting together their respective lists. Talent, age, projection and contract were all part of the equation. But perception of the Indians stars changed dramatically between July and December, and the young, talented, and relatively cheap core three became even more valuable than before. Leapfrogging 20+ spots on a list like that after just 2 ½ months of actual baseball is pretty remarkable, and shows just how impressive those three were in 2014.

This talk of value actually dovetails nicely into an article from November that I wanted to highlight here. I know it’s a little old, but I wanted to make sure to draw attention to it for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a really good article. Two, its author, August Fagerstrom, announced yesterday that he’d be joining Jordan Bastian on the MLB beat for the Indians this spring summer. I’ve long been a fan of Fagerstrom’s work at Fangraphs and the ABJ, so having him on the MLB beat is going to be a treat for all of us. Fagerstrom wrote this piece for Fangraphs back in November in which he makes a pretty convincing case that the Indians rotation (this is pre-Floyd, of course) is the most valuable in baseball based on their projected WAR and salaries for 2015. The entire article is a must-read, but I’ll draw your attention to Fagersrtom’s conclusions:

So in Cleveland, you’ve got a rotation projected to be one of the best in the MLB under contract for a grand total of about three and a half million dollars. For comparison, John Danks is set to earn $15.75 million in 2015. The Nationals will pay their staff an estimated $48 million. The Tigers, as they currently stand, will pay what projects to be an inferior rotation about $76 million.
Those five guys, who will earn less than $4 million dollars, are projected to be worth about 11 WAR in an era where 1 WAR generally gets about $7 million on the open market. That’s the definition of value, and a blueprint of how to run a small market franchise.
Again, this is all pre-Floyd. So the Indians rotation will now earn between $8 and $14 million, depending on how many incentives Floyd is able to hit in his contract (and the more the better, because that means he’s pitching well). But that’s still pretty good bang for the buck any way you look at it, and the flexibility that will give the front office in 2015 and in the future is priceless.

For those who missed it, former Indians GM Hank Peters passed away on January 4 at the age of 90. Peters is usually overlooked when people think of the Indians mid-90’s renaissance, but he was a key figure nonetheless. The GM immediately preceding John Hart, Peters made the first trade to acquire key pieces in the Indians’ run of sustained success, picking up catcher Sandy Alomar and 2B Carlos Baerga from the Padres (along with OF Chris James) in exchange for all-star OF Joe Carter prior to the 1990 season. Peters also hand-picked his successor in the GM role, convincing John Hart to give up his passion of managing and slide into the front office role that he occupied so successfully until 2001 (shades of Roosevelt convincing Marshall that he could do more for the war effort in Washington than in Europe, but I digress). Peters wrote the forward to and collaborated with George Pappas on “The Tribe Reborn” last year, a book that I read on my flight from DC to Phoenix for Spring Training 2014. It was a quick and entertaining read, and helped remind me of how some of the Indians building blocks slid into place to help that magical mid-90’s juggernaut come into existence. Peters’ contributions are also highlighted by Terry Pluto in his more recent “Glory Days in Tribe Town” about those same Indians teams, and both books are well-worth your time. Peters was an unsung hero for the Indians rebirth, and his passing is a loss for both the baseball and Cleveland sports worlds.

I try to stay away from Baseball Hall of Fame talk for the most part. I love the Hall itself; I’ll never forget the trip we took there when I was a kid, walking around the Hall with my dad, shopping for baseball memorabilia throughout the town and generally getting lost in all the nostalgia. But the writers who vote for the HoF are doing their best to ruin the entire experience for everyone. We have guys who intentionally submit blank ballots in some sort of bizarre protest against…well, I’m not sure what. We have guys who forget where their ballots are and don’t bother to submit one at all. We have guys who think that Lee Smith is worthy but Mike Piazza isn’t. We have people voting for Darrin Erstad. All of this just leads to frustration and anger with the process, and potentially worthy candidates like Kenny Lofton falling off the ballot entirely before their cases are even fully debated. I’ll admit that the Lofton thing makes it personal for me, as he was one of my favorite players growing up. But with all that said, I’m still going to point you to Jonah Keri’s article from earlier this week on future Hall candidacies, because it includes a look at the upcoming debates on Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome. Keri (and I) thinks Thome is a lock, but Ramirez is going to find a much tougher road due to his PED suspensions. Keri also includes a youtube link to Thome’s mammoth CF HR at the Jake, called by Tom Hamilton. That alone makes it worth a click.

Former Indians utility infielder John McDonald announced his retirement this week, bringing his 16 year MLB career to a close. McDonald was the Indians 12th round pick in the 1996 MLB draft, the only position player selected by the Tribe that June who would appear in the major leagues. He made his MLB debut with the Indians in 1999 as a light-hitting defensive specialist, and managed to turn that niche into a nice little career. Johnny Mac proved that if you had one elite MLB skill (his was defense), it’s possible to play in the major leagues for a long, long time. Anthony Castrovice put together a really nice piece detailing why four different clubs made it a point to simultaneously tweet the news of and congratulations in his retirement. Never a power hitter, he hit just 28 HR in 2434 MLB at bats. Back when Jordan Bastian covered the Blue Jays for MLB, Bastian talked to McDonald after his 16th and by far his most memorable career HR, back on Father’s Day in 2010. I won’t spoil it for you if you somehow haven’t heard the story yet, just click on the link and read Bastian’s excellent article. Just make sure you have a box of tissues nearby…it’s going to get a little dusty. McDonald is a certain bet to land a job somewhere in baseball, and has future MLB manager written all over him. All the best to one of the great guys in baseball, and hopefully he enjoys his retirement.

Finally, Anthony Castrovice put together a fun little “quiz” looking back on the year that was and the year that might be, and even helpfully links to the podcast that he and Jordan Bastian put collaborated on earlier this month. The quiz is mostly a joke, but it’s a fun enough way to spend 10 min of your Indians reading time this week, For the record, my answers were A, D, B, A, D, D, A, A, C, C, D, A. Is Castro trying to send us some sort of code? Just to be sure, I checked to see if my answers were an anagram for anything. The result? No. No they are not. While I continue to do my best Alan Turing impression on those letters, just to make sure Castro isn’t trying to tell us that Mike Trout is set on coming to Cleveland when he becomes a free agent, your time is probably better spent on thinking about the fact that Indians pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear in just 40 days…

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gathering Moss on a Lazy Sunday

So…anything much going on this week? The Indians fired the first salvo during baseball’s Winter Meetings a few days ago, consummating the much-rumored Brandon Moss for Joey Wendle swap on Monday. The trade was the worst-kept secret in baseball, and occurred as part of a flurry of moves from A’s GM Billy Bean that completely revamped his roster. Following the Moss trade, the Dodgers’ Andrew Friedman put his stamp on the very expensive and defensively inept roster he inherited, and now has a very expensive and defensively proficient roster to take into the 2015 season. The White Sox got in on the A’s fire sale, acquiring front of the rotation starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, and then shoring up their biggest weakness by signing closer David Robertson to anchor what was a very shaky bullpen. Not to be outdone by the Indians and White Sox, the Tigers sent pitcher Rick Porcello to the Red Sox in return for power hitting Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The middle of the Tigers order just got that much better, and Miggy, Victor and Cespedes are going to wear out a lot of pitching staffs next season. Even the Twins got in on the act, inking SP Ervin Santana to a 4-year, $55 million contract. The AL Central came to play this winter, and the only team that didn’t make a splash in San Diego was the reigning AL Champion Royals.

Getting back to the Moss deal for a second; as much as I like Joey Wendle as both a player and person, this trade looks like an absolute steal for the Indians as long as Billy Beane doesn’t know something we don’t about Moss’ surgically repaired hip. Moss is a legitimate middle of the order power bat, averaging a .254/.340/.504 triple slash line with 25 HR and 73 RBI in his three seasons in Oakland. He was an all-star in 2014 when he jumped out to a .268/.349/.530 line with 21 HR in 89 1st half games, but slumped to a .173/.310/.274 2nd half, limited by a hip injury that required surgery this offseason. Moss did his best to play through the injury, and even hit 2 HR in Oakland’s Wild Card loss to Kansas City. If he’d simply sat out after suffering the injury, it’s possible he wouldn’t have even been available this offseason. The trade is confusing enough that A’s fan sites are writing entire articles trying to rationalize exactly what Billy Beane was thinking, and really not coming up with much to go on other than “Trust in Billy”:
Don't get me wrong. I hadn't heard of Wendle before we got him, and I am as shocked as you are that he's all we got for Moss. But that doesn't mean he's automatically a bad return, and indeed the Indians seemed quite high on him. Billy has turned so many nobodies into quality players that I just can't get myself to give up on one of his prizes before I've even seen him play….
…It sucks to see yet another fan favorite go, and it sucks to feel underwhelmed by the return, but let's give Billy the benefit of the doubt before we assume he's absolutely lost it. There's a better chance than you might realize that this trade turns out to be a good one, and it wouldn't be the first time Billy proved the world wrong.
Speaking of Joey Wendle, I did want to talk a little about the player the Indians lost in the deal. I had Wendle ranked as my #9 prospect in the Indians organization prior to the 2014 season, coming off of a season where he posted an .885 OPS for high-A Carolina. Wendle struggled with injuries last year, but still managed to put up a .253/.311/.414 line with 8 HR and 50 RBI in 87 games with AA Akron. Wendle will turn 25 in April next year, and is a high-character guy who is always going to get the most out of his tools. He was a 6th round pick in 2012 out of Division II West Chester University, and was seen as a signability pick at the time. He was given just a $10,000 bonus, and the Indians were able to save over $100,000 of their bonus pool to take a run at high-upside high schoolers later in the draft like Nelson Rodriguez. Wendle has the potential to be an offense-oriented 2B in the major leagues at some point, but he doesn’t project to be an all-star. And regardless of his overall upside, turning a $10,000 investment into an all-star 1B/OF is a pretty solid flip by GM Chris Antonetti.

Over on Fangraphs, local writer August Fagerstrom put together an extremely comprehensive breakdown of the Moss trade and what it means for the Indians. Fagerstrom looks at both Moss and Wendle’s injuries in 2014 and how they could affect both players moving forward, then goes on to overlay Progressive Field with the Oakland Coliseum and Moss’ batted ball spray chart to try and see how his production could improve with the change in ballparks. Like pretty much everyone else, Fagerstrom likes the trade for the Indians and thinks Moss could be as good or better than he was in the first half of 2014 with the Indians next year. He sees the Indians as legitimate contenders in 2015, and feels like Moss could be the player that gets the Indians over the hump and into the playoffs. His bottom line on the deal:
Wendle could turn into a useful major league player, but the Indians are set up the middle for the foreseeable future, and Wendle is far from an elite talent. Moss’ second-half production and ensuing hip surgery could be worrisome, but the extreme change in parks could help offset any potential loss in production due to his Moss’ injury and age, and the history of players with similar hip procedures isn’t particularly concerning. And given what the Indians traded away, this is almost a no-risk deal. If Moss, for whatever reason, doesn’t hit, he’ll make just $7 million in 2015 and has the option to be non-tendered before the 2016 season. If he hits like Brandon Moss, a team that was already close to contending just added perhaps the best hitter on the team for two seasons in exchange for a fringe-level prospect.
I’ve seen some people on the interwebs (not many, but some) complaining because Moss plies his craft from the left side of the plate. These people are silly and need to start woodworking, fishing, gardening, basket weaving or some other relaxing hobby to try and occupy their clearly cynical and misguided minds. Yes, the Indians have several left handed hitters in their lineup. But Progressive Field favors left handed power over right handed power (as evidenced by the very large wall in left field). Jordan Bastian did a predictably outstanding job detailing how Moss might look in the Cleveland lineup (if you haven’t read this already, please do so now), and dissected and rejected any argument that his left handedness will somehow hinder the Indians moving forward. The Indians needed to improve their lineup going into next season, and fans have been clamoring non-stop for a “Big Bat”™. Now that the Indians have gone out and acquired a Big Bat™, some of those same fans are complaining because he’s not a Right Handed Big Bat™, or because he’s not Victor Martinez. The fickle, fringe elements of this fanbase will never cease to amaze and frustrate me.

The bigger takeaway is that the Indians could be dangerous contenders in 2015. This team won 92 games and earned a playoff berth in 2013, then followed up with 85 more victories in 2014. Though moderate pullbacks for breakout stars Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley are possible, and maybe even likely, those could be countered by a positive reversal of fortune for All-Star second baseman turned 2014 slumper Jason Kipnis. It’s also hard to imagine the Indians failing to improve on Murphy (who posted league-average offensive numbers, but played miserable defense that made him a replacement-level player) and Swisher (who hit a paltry .208/.278/.331), whether through bounce-backs for one of those guys or another lineup upgrade to pair with Moss.
Between their strong finish to the 2014 season, young and talented starting rotation, and solid start to the offseason, the Indians are becoming one of the media favorites heading into 2015. It’s a strange position to be in, and the rest of the Central Division isn’t going to make it easy for the Indians to make it to the playoffs, but I’ll take it.

One of the other significant moves that came out of the winter meetings last week was the blockbuster deal that saw the Dodgers send former MVP OF Matt Kemp to San Diego in return for catcher Yasmani Grandal and prospects Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin. Prior to the Kemp trade, Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron took a side-by-side look at Kemp and Moss and found that they were a lot more similar than their respective asking prices would indicate:
Steamer forecasts a 128 wRC+ and +2.3 WAR per 600 PAs for Kemp versus a 121 wRC+ and +1.9 WAR per 600 PAs for Moss. Toss in the risk associated with Moss’ hip problems, and maybe you think the gap is even a little bit bigger than that. And perhaps Kemp’s handedness is worth a premium, given how much more teams are paying for right-handed power than their left-handed equivalents.
But man, it’s hard to not like the Indians picking up Moss for a song when you see what the asking price for Matt Kemp is.
I could continue to link to national writers who love the Moss deal from the Indians perspective (both Baseball Prospectus and Keith Law think the Indians did well to acquire Moss), but I think you get the idea at this point. Needless to say, I like the trade as well. It creates a situation where Tito Francona is going to have to get creative in getting at bats for Moss, Swisher, Santana and Murphy, but that’s a good problem to have (as long as Swisher is healthy and better than last year’s disaster of a season). It also leaves plenty of time for Murphy or Swisher to be moved in a separate deal, if the Indians can find a taker for Swisher’s contract (which I still doubt). Francona is nothing if not creative though, and I’m confident that he’ll find a way to keep those guys as happy and effective as possible, even if it means he can only carry 20 bullpen arms instead of 21 (kidding, but only sort of).

Taking a break from the flurry of activity to look at players who are and have been on the Indians roster, Jonah Keri put out his always-fantastic Trade Value column this week, and three Indians are featured prominently featured on the list. Catcher Yan Gomes comes in at the #25 slot, and he’s behind both Michael Brantley and Corey Kluber (#’s 16 and 15, respectively). Jason Kipnis came in at #25 in the 2013 version of the column, but fell off of Keri’s list after his injury-plagued 2014. Keri has minor leaguers eligible for the list for the first time this season, but doesn’t list shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor on his top-50 or as an honorable mention. This might be the last list like this that doesn’t mention Lindor, at least until he signs a contract extension in 2018 or so. It’s one thing to have talented players contenting for (and winning) postseason awards like Cy Young, MVP and Silver Slugger. But those players are not only talented, but signed to team friendly deals (Gomes/Brantley) or still pre-arbitration (Kluber). Having those players, and the rest of the talented starting rotation, for that matter, under contract at such team-friendly rates helps allow for a move like the Indians made with Moss. Flipping a player like Wendle who wasn’t even on the 40-man roster for an arbitration-eligible all-star who projects to make at least $7 million wouldn’t be possible without the savvy exhibited by the front office prior to this offseason.

The winter meetings might be over, but the Indians aren’t done working to improve the ballclub this offseason. As I suggested earlier this offseason when I put on my GM hat for the day, Paul Hoynes reports that the Indians are showing interest in free agent pitcher Brett Anderson. Nothing has really changed with Anderson since my breakdown on him back in early November, and Hoynes doesn’t speculate on potential contract terms that the Indians may be discussing with the big lefty. He’s certainly nowhere near the Lester/Scherzer/Shields tax bracket, and will likely settle for a short term deal to rebuild his value.


Speaking of short term deals, former Indians ace Justin Masterson agreed to a one-year, $9.5 million deal with the team that drafted him, the Boston Red Sox. Masty was another guy that I thought would look good back in Cleveland, and there was reportedly some level of mutual interest in a reunion with Terry Francona and the Indians earlier this offseason. But if Masterson had signed with the Indians, he’d have had to win a spot in the somewhat crowded and talented rotation in spring training. With Boston, he’ll slide right into a spot in their depleted starting five and have a definite chance to show he can be healthy and effective over 200+ innings again. I’m pulling for Masterson to put together a solid season, even if it is back in Boston. If he helps pitch them to the playoffs (losing games 1 and 4 in a 4-game Indians sweep in the ALCS, of course), then so much the better. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Celebrating CyKluber on a Lazy Sunday

On June 6, 1944, the biggest invasion fleet in the history of the world set forth from the Eastern ports of England, bound for the beaches of Normandy, France. D-Day, as it is commonly referred to now, featured the combined arms of the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, all under the care of U.S. General (and later President) Dwight David Eisenhower. Ike was ultimately responsible for the lives of thousands of Allied soldiers, and ultimately the fate of the free world. The Supreme Allied Commander wrote two speeches in the days leading up to D-Day, one to use if the landings were able to secure a beachhead, and one to use if the liberating forces were thrown back into the English Channel in defeat. Thankfully for the men and women of occupied Europe, Ike never had to use that second speech. The landings were successful and the Allies would roll into Germany, crossing the Rhine in March of 1945 and bringing the War in Europe to a successful conclusion on May 8, 1945 (V.E. Day). What does D-Day have to do with baseball? Very little, to be honest. But earlier this week, I started writing this column and realized that I’d have to prepare two versions; one for Corey Kluber’s successful Cy Young campaign, and one if Felix Hernandez was selected as the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner. The stakes are a little (lot) lower than they were back in 1944, but anytime I can work Eisenhower into the opening of a Lazy Sunday (especially the week after Veterans Day), you can be darn sure I’m going to take advantage.

So as all Indians fans are surely aware, Corey Kluber is your 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, completing one of the more unlikely Cy Young campaigns in recent memory (but still behind Cliff Lee's 2008). He was the 2nd best pitcher in all of major league baseball in 2014, and the single best cyborg. It’s possible that Felix Hernandez was actually the best human pitcher in baseball this year, losing out only to CyKluber and the alien life force known as Clayton Kershaw. The award came as a bit of a surprise to some, and a major shock to the system for Mariners fans who had talked themselves into King Felix winning the award back in June or July. Ultimately, it was the arguments made by most Indians fans that helped Kluber win out. He pitched in front of the worst defense in baseball, which actually ended up helping Kluber with the voters who embrace some of the more “advanced” statistics like FIP (fielding independent pitching). He accumulated more WAR (wins above replacement) than Felix, 7.4 to 6.8. He also had more wins than Hernandez, which probably helped him in the minds of the “old-school” voters who still value statistics like wins and RBI over those new-fangled WAR, FIP, OPS+ etc. The stats themselves were close enough that either choice could be defended, as Anthony Castrovice breaks down for MLB.com. Castro also includes the video from the hit-turned-error that shaved four earned runs off of Hernandez’s final mark as well as the hit-turned-error-turned-hit that added three earned runs onto Kluber’s tally. Change one (or both) of those scoring decisions, and the final ERA race becomes even closer. I’m glad Kluber won and think it was the right decision, but I probably wouldn’t have gone off the deep end had the final result been flipped. If you want to read well-thought out, reasoned take on the voting from a Mariner fan, the always-reliable USS Mariner put together a solid piece less than 2 hrs after the award was announced. If you want to read complete and utter nonsense expelled from the mouth of an idiot, then click here.

Getting back to intelligent, reasonable analysis, August Fagerstrom of the Akron Beacon Journal and Fangraphs put together a really nice piece looking at how the voters gave Kluber the Cy Young based primarily on FIP, whether they knew it or not. And that’s a big deal for those who value advanced metrics becoming more mainstream. As Fagerstrom explains:

This seems big. There’s a consensus as to why Corey Kluber just won a Cy Young Award and, at the risk of sounding over dramatic, it feels like something of a revolutionary consensus. This reminds me of when Felix won the Cy Young in 2010, despite a 13-12 record. Seemed like that was a turning point that helped the national audience realize pitcher wins don’t matter. Perhaps this will be something of a turning point that ERA isn’t the end-all-be-all, and a turning point that helps legitimize FIP to the mainstream.
Fagerstrom took a look at the rationale behind some of Kluber’s supporters amongst the voters, and found that while they didn’t mention FIP outright, many talked about the superior defense in Seattle, as well as the park effects of Safeco benefiting the King. As an aside, if you’re not following August on Twitter, you’re doing yourself a disservice. He’s an excellent writer with some really insightful stuff, and I highly recommend you read his stuff.

I don’t have much more to add to the Kluber news, but I will say this; the Cleveland Indians won one Cy Young Award between 1956 (the first year of the award) and 2006. After going 1 for 50, Indians pitchers have now captured three of the last eight AL Cy Young Awards. That’s a pretty nice little run they have put together, and there’s no reason to think that Kluber can’t continue to contend for the award in the near future. He’s under club control through at least 2018(!), and isn’t even arbitration eligible until 2016. If you want to read more about the Indians young, cheap and downright adorable Cy Young Award winner, the good folks over at Let’s Go Tribe have an excellent rundown of links from around the interwebs that are worth checking out.

Moving on from Kluber (but not really), Baseball Prospectus has come up with a somewhat complicated formula to measure how well-off a franchise is when it comes to “core talent.” They call it Core Team Value, and it looks at youth, performance (by WAR) and club control to try and figure out what teams are set up best for the future at the major league level. The Indians come in at…wait for it…#2 in all of baseball, behind only the big-money Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles. They have five “core” players that were considered for the sample; Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana and Cookie Carrasco. So that’s not even considering the potential contributions of young, talented players like Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Jason Kipnis or Cody Allen, not to mention uber-prospect Francisco Lindor. All of those players are also under club control for several years to come. And you could even get really rosy eyed and predict some sort of a bounce back year for Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn in 2015. As BP’s Jonathan Judge put it:
Cleveland did extremely well in these rankings last year, ranking fourth in the league for roster core quality. I didn’t comment on it at the time, as Cleveland had just enjoyed a Cinderella season and its team WARP obviously reflected that. But here we are for a second year in a row, and Cleveland not only maintained its top-quartile status, but moved up. It did so by coaxing strong performances from additional core assets for a second year in a row. Whereas last year featured superb production from Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana, this year the club added outstanding performances from Michael Brantley and Corey Kluber (both 6+ WARP). In a fairly weak division, this emerging roster core has the needle trending up.
This team is young and talented, of that there can be no doubt. There’s no guarantee that 2014 success will beget a solid 2015 season, of course. Fausberto Carnandez  going from Cy Young contender in 2007 to Lake County in 2008 is recent enough evidence of that. But the Indians are in a very good position for the 2015 season and beyond. They have a deep, restocked farm system with a couple of crown jewels acquired in recent drafts. They’re trending upwards (again, just like we thought in 2007) in a division where the other teams are either treading water or getting weaker. Young, affordable pitching is never going out of style (even if power is at more of a premium right now) and that’s something that the Indians have in spades. Combine that with a solid bullpen and a balanced lineup, the team has to be considered a potential playoff contender even without major additions this offseason. We’ll again pop over to the impartial experts over at Baseball Prospectus, who think that the Indians are being underrated by the sharps in Vegas when they put the club at 28-1 odds at winning the World Series next year:
Cory Kluber headlines a rotation that features perhaps the most intriguing collection of starters in all of baseball. Armed with a great arsenal and much improved command, Carlos Carrasco appears to have blossomed into a legitimate no. 2 starter. Danny Salazar bounced back from a disappointing start in 2014 and could be primed for a breakout season, and few teams in baseball round out their rotation with better pitchers than Trevor Bauer and T.J. House.
Offensively, Cleveland can expect to be better at crucial positions. Some combination of Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor should outproduce what Asdrubal Cabrera provided—at least with the glove—and with a full offseason to recover from an oblique injury that never went away, Jason Kipnis is a strong rebound candidate. If the Indians can add a mid-tier bat—a Colby Rasmus or Alex Rios type fits— they should have enough thump in their order to compensate for a weak defense. Their pitching alone gives them a pretty good chance to reach the postseason, and once you get there...
Speaking of divisional clubs treading water, the Tigers were to prevent their best offensive player (in 2014 at least) from departing by inking DH Victor Martinez to a 4-year contract. They are paying Martinez $68 million for his age 36-40 seasons, which is $12 million more than the Indians risked in paying Nick Swisher for his age 32-35 seasons. Victor has been healthy and productive throughout his career of course, but he posted “just” a .785 OPS in 2013. That’s not bad, but it’s not what the Tigers are paying for. It’s no secret that the Tigers are firmly in win now mode, and this deal definitely helps their team in 2015. But it’s not without risk, even next season. Fangraphs Dave Cameron listed Vic as one of his free agent “landmines,” explaining that a team signing him is paying for what amounts to an outlier season when it comes to power production. Even if Victor does produce at a level commensurate with his pay (and even with the Tigers, I can’t find myself rooting against Vic), the Tigers have some significant payroll obligations for players on the clear downside of their careers. They will owe a combined $76 million in 2018 for a 40-year old Victor Martinez, 35-year old Justin Verlander (88 ERA+ in 2014) and a 35-year old Miguel Cabrera. They’re committed to pay Anibal Sanchez and Ian Kinsler at least $10 million, and that’s if they buy out the final year of both of those contracts. That makes for $86 million obligated in 2018, and that’s for three players on the active roster. The Indians entire payroll in 2014 was less than $86 million. Does Mike Ilitch care? Probably not, as he’s in it to win it in the very near future. But the long term ramifications could be severe. Let’s look to Fangraphs one last time today, as Jeff Sullivan shows us a present-day glimpse of what the future could hold in Detroit:
The natural, kind of obvious conclusion: the Tigers are positioning themselves to resemble the Phillies. The Phillies are in the dreadful part of the cycle after having made the playoffs five years in a row. The Tigers have finished first in their division four years in a row, and they’re good enough to make it five. It sure looks like, within the next few years, the situation in Detroit is going to turn pretty ugly. But they can worry about that when they get there, if they even still have all the same front-office personnel, and besides, before it sucked to be a Phillies fan, it was pretty damn special. Since the Phillies won the World Series, they might say it was worth it. The Tigers put another $68 million toward buying an era a trophy.
Is it worth it to strip the farm system barren and sign aging players to contracts that would be crazy even if they were paid in Monopoly money if it results in just one championship? That’s a question that neither Indians nor Tigers fans can answer as of right now, because the last title for either team was 30 years ago. Are the Tigers in a better spot to end that drought in 2015? Probably, but with the potential departure of Max Scherzer, their lineup is going to have to stay healthy and productive in order to compensate for a weakened starting rotation. Regardless of 2015 though, I think the Indians are in a much better spot over the long haul thanks to their stable of young, controlled talent.

Last week in this space, I talked about potential moves that the Indians could/should make this offseason to bolster their chances for 2015. I talked about Brett Anderson and Brandon Morrow as potential arms to take a flyer on, but didn’t mention former Indians ace Justin Masterson. Well, it appears that the Indians and Masterson’s camp are talking about a potential return to the North Coast for the big righty. Jordan Bastian reports that the Indians are one of several teams that have contacted Masterson about a short term deal, a far cry from the 3 year, $45 million extension the club offered him in March. Masterson struggled to a 7-9 record with the Indians and Cardinals in 2014, including a career-worst 5.88 ERA and 4.50 FIP. His K/BB ratio fell from 2.57 in 2013 to 1.68 in 2014. In short, it was a terrible season at a terrible time for the 29-year old right-hander out of Beavercreek, OH. But could there have been an underlying reason(s) for the sudden and steep decline? As we all no doubt remember, Masterson dealt with an oblique injury down the stretch in 2013. That injury reportedly lingered into spring training last year, which began a chain reaction leading to knee and shoulder issues that kept Masterson from reaching his full effectiveness at any point last year, as Bastian details for us:
The oblique injury led to tenderness in Masterson's ribcage area during Spring Training before this season, but the pitcher kept quiet about the issue…
During the season's first half, Kluber and Tomlin pointed out to Masterson that his stride in his delivery had lengthened. Masterson was compensating for the soreness in his side and the result was inflammation in his right knee. Cleveland traded the pitcher to St. Louis on July 30, but the issues persisted to the point of needing an MRI exam.
The Cardinals' staff discovered the scar tissue in Masterson's side and also found an impingement in his right shoulder. The pitcher received a cortisone shot in his arm and underwent a minor procedure to break up the scar tissue. All of the issues combined offer possible reasons behind Masterson's diminished velocity and his uncharacteristic pitching line (7-9, 5.88 ERA in 128 2/3 innings).

Masterson has been an “every other year” guy with the Indians, pitching much better in odd years than even for whatever reason. Could he be in line for a big bounceback season in 2015 now that he’s healthy again? Much like we talked about with Brett Anderson, it could be an attractive deal for both sides. Masterson would be back in a familiar location with a team and organization that he’s comfortable with, including The Pitcher Whisperer. He could rebuild his value and look for a multi-year deal in 2016, in Cleveland or elsewhere. The Indians would get a guy they know is a leader in the clubhouse at a rate far cheaper than they anticipated paying just eight months ago, and the contract would carry very little risk for the club. If he’s unable to regain his starting form, Masterson could even be used as a power arm out of the bullpen the way he was in 2013. There are a number of teams interested in Masterson (a dozen, according to his agent which should be taken with a grain of salt) so the reunion might not happen if another club offers Masty a longer term deal or more upfront money than the Indians are willing to shell out. But having a healthy and effective Masterson in the middle of the rotation would be an incredible luxury that seemed impossible a year ago, and would provide insurance in case 2nd half Cookie Carrasco turns into a pumpkin and regresses to the guy we saw prior to the 2014 all-star break. Fan-favorite Justin Masterson propels Indians past Tigers for AL Central title would be a poetic and welcome headline in September of 2015, and something for Indians fans to dream on during a cold and snowy winter…