2012 in review
Record: 68-94 (64-98 Pythagorean)
667 runs scored (13th in AL)
845 runs allowed (14th in NL)
Big Offseason Moves
Signed free agents Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds and Brett Myers. In three-team deal, traded Shin-Soo Choo, Tony Sipp, Jason Donald and Lars Anderson and acquired Trevor Bauer, Drew Stubbs, Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers. Traded Esmil Rogers for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes. Lost Travis Hafner, Casey Kotchman and Grady Sizemore.
The last bit is important as the Indians can finally turn the page from the once-promising Sizemore/Hafner era. Over the past four seasons, the Indians paid those two about $72 million and received two seasons of 100 games played. The two guys the Indians built around were rarely on the field. No wonder their last winning season came in 2007 and attendance has struggled in recent seasons.
GM Chris Antonetti had a strong offseason, trading the final year of Choo and picking up high-ceiling pitching prospect Bauer and reclamation project Stubbs. Swisher and Reynolds will add power to a lineup that didn't have anyone hit 20 home runs in 2012. You would like to have seen closer Chris Perez traded while his stock is high.
There is some potential here, but the Indians outscored only the Mariners last year. Swisher was a nice signing, although he basically replaces Choo's production ( .272/.364/.473 versus .283/.373/.441) with a tad more power. Swisher hit 24 home runs last year, and he wasn't just taking advantage of Yankee Stadium's short porch as he hit 13 on the road.
Reynolds wasn't a glamorous signing, but he should provide an upgrade at first base, where the Indians posted a .240/.297/.379 line. Still, for the Indians to build a respectable offense they need gains from Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis and Santana were solid a year ago, but they need them to become stars. Chisenhall is only 24, but this could be his make-or-break season in proving he can live up to his prospect hype.
Cleveland's defense, ranked 28th in the majors in 2012 by Defense Runs Saved, should be a little better with the addition of Stubbs in center and Swisher replacing Choo (who had a bad year defensively). I'm giving this group a C-plus with the potential to go higher.
How bad was Cleveland's pitching in 2012? Despite playing in a division with only one of the AL's top-5 scoring teams, the Indians still allowed the most runs in the league -- more than the Twins, who ran out one of the worst rotations ever assembled.
Which means Cleveland's wasn't a whole lot better. The Twins had a 5.40 rotation ERA; Cleveland had a 5.25. Gone are Derek Lowe (5.52 ERA in 21 starts), Jeanmar Gomez (6.23 ERA in 17 starts) and Josh Tomlin (well, still on the 40-man roster after a 5.72 ERA in 16 starts). In are Bauer and Myers, who should be upgrades on that production, although how much is open to debate. Still, the success of the staff will reside with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. Masterson pitched 10 fewer innings in 2012 than he did in 2011 and allowed 33 more runs -- or one per start. His career ERA is 4.17 and you have wonder if his strong 2011 was a fluke. Jimenez's outstanding 2010 with the Rockies is now two years in the rear-view mirror. He's just not the same pitcher any longer.
Perez and Vinnie Pestano are a nice 1-2 punch at the back of the bullpen. The rest of the group is pretty nondescript, and the Indians ranked 13th in bullpen ERA in 2012.
Overall, without an obvious No. 1 or No. 2, it's difficult to give this a grade higher than a C-minus.
Heat Map to Watch
Who is the real Justin Masterson? The guy who posted a 3.21 ERA in 2011 or the guy who posted a 4.93 ERA in 2012? He's one of the most unique pitchers in the majors. He throws his hard sinking fastball about 80 percent of the time, meaning he throws his fastball more than any other starter in baseball. The pitch is unusual because, as you can see from the heat map, Masterson doesn't really throw it down in the zone like a traditional sinker. His sidearm delivery also makes him vulnerable to left-handed batters, who hit .301/.379/.463 off the sinker in 2012, after a .294/.339/.415 line in 2011. For him to be successful, he's going to have to do a better job against lefties like he did in 2011.
I can see a dream scenario where the Indians get big seasons from Swisher, Santana, Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera and Reynolds, and Stubbs plays like he did a couple of seasons ago with the Reds. I can see a dream scenario where two of Masterson, Jimenez and Bauer turn in 3.50 ERAs and give Cleveland a legitimate rotation. I can see a dream scenario where Perez screams out after saving 50 games.
Hey, it's February. It's time to dream. I see an improved club here, maybe one that can finish .500 if things go right. If things go wrong, look for Cabrera and Perez to be gone at the trade deadline.