Indians

Brandon Moss: Fits like a glove

Brandon Moss
Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

So, you all wanted more power in the lineup? Well now you’ve got it. The Cleveland Indians shipped a prospect out and brought in an All-Star. Nice to be on the other side of things for once, isn’t it?

Brandon Moss, a 31-year old power hitter with two years left of team control, is your new middle-of-the-order bat. Yes, I am aware he hits left-handed, but in reality, that doesn’t matter. Check his splits from a season ago: .264/.366/.425 against LEFTIES and .228/.328/.441 against RIGHTIES. That is not a misprint. More important than anything, Moss is bringing legitimate power to the Indians lineup. This is a guy who has hit 55 home runs over the past two seasons and 21 HR in 84 games in 2012. Remember, it was Moss who almost single-handedly beat the Kansas City Royals in the Wild Card game with two big bombs and five RBIs.

Not sold on the power? Check out how much playing inside of Progressive Field will be a boost for Moss. Take it away, Eno Sarris of Fangraphs:

The overall park factor for offense in Cleveland and Oakland is identical: 97. But once you break it down, it looks more favorable for Moss. He’s a lefty, and the park factor for lefty home runs in Oakland was 88 and with the Indians it was 109. That Cleveland number is tied for sixth-friendliest in baseball. That’s a nice change.

“The addition of Brandon Moss provides our offense with a proven run-producer and power bat for the heart of our order,” said Tribe GM Chris Antonetti. “Brandon not only has great power, but his defensive versatility and personality also complement the team culture Tito has helped establish over the past two years.”

The former eighth-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2002 has spent his career moving around between the corner outfield positions and first base. Last season in Oakland, he played 54 games at first, 42 games on left, 27 games in right, and was the DH nine times. Where he will play in 2015 at this point is up for debate and subject to change.

Should the Indians stand pat with the roster as it currently stands, I would expect Moss and Nick Swisher to switch off between right field and DH with some first base mixed in on the days that Carlos Santana would require rest (as in DH’ing). With that said, there is a log jam of guys that will need to be broken up. The addition of Moss means someone will have to be jettisoned.

Last year’s right field platoon of David Murphy and Ryan Raburn should be and will be spilt one way or another. The “Good Guy” is under contract at $6 million for 2015 and probably has more value than his counterpart Raburn. The Indians giving Ryan a two-year extension during a 2013 hot streak was a big mistake, but he hits right-handed and that plays in his favor to stick around. Swisher’s contract is a serious impediment (two years and $30 million left), especially coming off of surgery on both knees. I have to believe that if the Indians can find a taker, Swish will be the one who goes. Obviously, Michael Brantley will start the season in left with Michael Bourn in center. Then again, if someone came calling for Bourn, you know Antonetti would listen.

Along with the power, Moss comes with tremendous makeup, which Antonetti spoke to in his released statement. Moss and Josh Donaldson were the two biggest leaders in that Oakland clubhouse these past two playoff seasons. Now they are both gone. Moss came up through the Boston organization during the Terry Francona era and has familiarity with his new skipper. The Indians know what they are getting here, another high character guy.

If there is any downside to the deal, it is that Moss had offseason hip surgery and won’t start running for another five weeks. He should be ready by Opening Day. “Physically, I feel great,” Moss said Monday. “In the surgery, they didn’t have to do quite as much as they thought they needed to do initially, which is always a good thing.”

As for when he can ramp up with the bat?

“I’m not sure on the timetable when they’re going to let me swing,” he said. “I think that will be the last stepping stone, rotating into it and pounding into it. I learned over the years that I’m not a person who can start hitting in November or December because when I do, I tinker with things and before I know it I’ve lost what it is I do well.”

Defensively, Moss leaves something to be desired. In other words, if you were looking for a major upgrade from the Murphy/Raburn duo, you won’t find it with Brandon. The $6 million price tag and two years of team control is right in the Tribe’s wheelhouse, however the A’s handed him over for a guy who wasn’t listed as one of the Indians top 10 prospects. Should they be concerned about the hip? You would assume the front office did plenty of due diligence and if the hip was that big of a problem, Moss would still be in Oakland. But this is Billy Beane we are talking about here. Nobody knows how he thinks. He obviously loves who he got in return.

Joey Wendle is a nice ball player and a great kid. He’s scrappy second baseman who really made a name for himself two years ago in Class-A Carolina when he hit .295/.372/.532 with 16 home runs in 413 at-bats. He was a little banged up last season as he advanced to AA Akron, but hit .253/.311/.414 in 336 ABs. The Indians were high on him, but the 24-year old is blocked by both Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez in Cleveland. On the list of middle infielders in the organization, Wendle isn’t viewed in the same class as stud prospect Francisco Lindor and fellow shortstop Erik Gonzalez. The Tribe dealt from a position of strength.

So what does this do for the Indians today? Let us project out what a possible lineup would look like with things as they currently stand:

CF Michael Bourn
SS Jose Ramirez
LF Michael Brantley
1B Carlos Santana
RF/DH Brandon Moss
C Yan Gomes
2B Jason Kipnis
RF/DH Nick Swisher
3B Lonnie Chisenhall

I could get down with that. Defensively, there are still going to be shortcomings, but you would hope that a year of Ramirez/Lindor at short and Kipnis coming to camp in better shape off of an extremely disappointing season will help stabilize things up the middle. It still won’t be pretty, but anything has to be an improvement over the “glove work” we saw in 2014.

With Moss in the fold, Antonetti said the team’s focus is now more towards adding pitching depth. I believe the search for a back end right-hander to pair with Bryan Shaw is something Chris would love to address. As good as Scott Atchison was last year, expecting a repeat season from the 38-year old may be asking a lot. An additional hard-thrower in the late innings would allow Francona to give Shaw, Atch and closer Cody Allen more rest, something they badly needed and couldn’t get down the stretch. Shaw was clearly gassed late in the season as he set a team record for appearances with 80, which led the league.

One thing I can say with certainty, whether it is at the Winter Meetings in San Diego or afterwards, the Indians are not done trying to improve their roster. Moss was just the first piece.