Indians

Tracking Tribe worries during Spring Training

Lenny Ignelzi/AP

The Cleveland Indians are the heaviest favorite in MLB to win their division in 2017. A confluence of upgrading the lineup with Edwin Encarnacion, returning all other important components of their 2016 AL pennant winning team, and the rest of the division falling apart has led many Tribe fans to be feeling confident entering Spring Training.

Positive feelings are warranted though it is necessary to remind everyone baseball is a fickle sport and the Indians are not without causes for concern. Because Baseball is how an injury-filled team comes within one game- one run- of winning the World Series, but it is also how seemingly indestructable teams fall apart (why hello 2008 Cleveland Indians).

The Tribe has the ability to navigate many of these concerns through depth and excellence as a team overall. This list is one that most other teams in MLB would wish is their own. However, these items are still worth tracking through Spring Training to see how they might sort out.

Here we go.

Rehabilitations

Michael Brantley

“Remaining conservative” and “reserving optimism” have been the key phrases surrounding the rehabilitation of Michael Brantley from biceps surgery that was needed after his shoulder rehab went haywire. The entire offseason, there was positive messaging around Brantley without any specifics. MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian even sent out an innocuous video on the day that Pitchers and Catchers reported.

Looming in the background though was the fact that Brantley never progressed past working off a tee. It is now reported that he will not be ready for the start of Spring Training games. The hope is still he will be available for Opening Day, but Tribe fans need to see him on the field before they should get their hopes up that his sweet swing will be back in action for 2017.

Carlos Carrasco, Yan Gomes

The team can blame themselves for worries about two more of the players who ended last season injured. Neither Carrasco nor Gomes had an injury which should be troublesome moving forward. Both should be fully recovered and ready to go. However, the team has been completely silent on all injuries other than Brantley. Watch closely to make sure these players are participating fully. It was only two seasons ago the Tribe hid Carrasco’s heart scares. Watching starting pitchers usage in actual games can help lend some clues to the pitchers not at their best.

Danny Salazar, Cody Anderson

Cody Anderson is the Indians sixth starting pitcher, which means he is likely tabbed to begin the year in Columbus. Baseball has a way of throwing wrenches into plans especially when they involve pitching, so the Tribe will need him. IBI’s Brandon Bowers detailed the surgical elbow procedure Anderson went through this offseason. He notes that rehabilitation is individualized, so there are no guarantees of his recovery time. However, he has an overall positive tone towards the possibility of Anderson being healthy, and the Indians shouldn’t be feeling pressure to rush him back.

If he remains diligent in the rehabilitation process and does not experience any setbacks, I am confident Anderson will be ready to go for spring training once the time rolls around to report to Goodyear this spring.

Danny Salazar is a worry of another color. He was on pace to win the AL Cy Young Award until his elbow started causing him issues in June, which plagued him through the rest of the season. Salazar was on the World Series roster but there was speculation he was unable to throw anything other than his fastball. There was no reported surgery; well there were no reports at all. Whether or not Salazar is healthy is entirely speculation as no one has said a word on him.

It leaves us to watch snippets of video that are released from Spring Training and wonder if he’s shaking his arm due to some discomfort or simply trying to snap his body back into the muscle memory of pitching. Without word from the team, watching his usage and waiting for him to pitch in games is all that can be done.

Non-injury related concerns

Backstop bats

Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez combined to be an absolutely terrible bat from the catcher position for the Indians in 2016. Gomes 33 wRC+ was 19 points lower than Michael Martinez. Perez at 58 wRC+ was only higher than those two and Juan Uribe, who was cut in June. Both of them have indicators showing they could and perhaps should improve. Both of them are positive influences on defense. But, the days of the Tribe having a Silver Slugger backstop are gone.

Young arms

With some worries in the rotation, Indians fans are reminded the Tribe needed to go deep into their pitching stable to work their October magic. Ryan Merritt silenced the Toronto Blue Jays, but is the soft-tossing lefty a legit starting option? Mike Clevinger settled down after a disastrous May to have a 3.96 ERA July through the end of the regular season, but is he ready to take the next step in his development?

If Merritt or Clevinger are needed, then would potential short outings tax the bullpen too much?

Trevor Bauer

Teammates should be used to Bauer’s social media tendencies to go too far in his interactions. The heightened political tensions and his willingness to drudge up old rhetoric could have an effect on some of his clubhouse interactions. It would be surprising if people didn’t give him the “Trevor being Trevor” treatment, but it is certainly an item to watch.

Outfield

A hot topic all offseason has been how the Indians plan on allocating playing time in the outfield. Brantley’s health will play a significant factor. Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer should lock down right field into a platoon. Abraham Almonte, Tyler Naquin, and Austin Jackson (if healthy as he is also overcoming a knee surgery) could soak up the remaining innings available. Or Yandy Diaz, Bradley Zimmer, and maybe even Greg Allen could push to make the 25-man roster and make an impact.

The outfield is the biggest competition for playing time on the Indians during Spring Training. It will be fun to watch it unfold and see how the team decides on the roster spots.

Utility infielder

Well, Chase Utley is not walking through that door. Michael Martinez on the 25-man is the new Jesus Aguilar on the 40-man. He is a player who despite some obvious deficiencies is just sticking around. 25 year old Erik Gonzalez looks to unseat the 33 year old veteran though their offensive numbers in AAA Columbus were remarkably similar. E-Gone is going to need to prove he is an obvious upgrade to earn his position. Yandy Diaz might also slot in here if the outfield becomes too crowded.

Extensions?

Carlos Santana and Bryan Shaw are entering the last year on their contracts. Garnering an extension to ensure their services will remain with Cleveland would be nice, but it might not be feasible for either. The Tribe also holds 2018 options for Michael Brantley ($12 million), Josh Tomlin ($3 million), and Boone Logan ($7 million), but it is doubtful those decisions would be leveraged into an extension now.

Windshields

The last worry is for any car parked just beyond the outfield walls in Goodyear. Be mindful that Wily Mo Pena is in camp. 500 foot home runs are going to happen and windshields will be shattered. It might only be during batting practice and off guys who will be bagging groceries in a few weeks, but they will happen.

One more interesting item coming from Goodyear. Back when WFNY wrote about pitcher player development, it was taboo to discuss some of the advanced methods. Even mentions of the rotation (outside Trevor Bauer) long-tossing were rare. Now, the techniques are so widespread that the team is sending out video of them in action such as the below plyocare ball drills. The world changes fast.

  • jpftribe

    1. Brantley
    2. Salazar
    3. Gomes contract. It’s preventing them from making a move here. Weiters can’t find a club and would probably come at a major discount, but then you have to let Gomes or Perez loose.

    Which brings up the things we don’t have to worry about: Not signing EE because we have Lucroy and Santana jockeying for playing time at 1B and DH.

  • JNeids
  • mgbode

    After Swisher, Bourn, C.Johnson, I think this FO understands sunk cost quite well. I think they still believe Gomes might bounce back to some degree.

  • Natedawg86

    Santana contract will be more interesting esp if Brantley comes back and sees some time at 1B. I don’t think Meija is too far away.

  • Natedawg86

    Other worries: Which Central team will give us fits this year? Vs Detroit (14-4) and Vs KC (13-5) is a big reason that we probably went to the postseason. Strike games vs tigers/royals out and we are 64-58. On the years we come close, one of the teams has our number.

  • Natedawg86

    WTH happened to Gomes, I still can’t figure it out.

  • Hopwin

    Da Twins of course.

  • mgbode

    2nd half of 2013 into 2014 is a big outlier on his career. We can probably pinpoint something more specific about what pitchers did to adjust to him. I’m sort of too sad about it to dig too far though.

  • mgbode

    Good thing games against the Tigers and Royals counted last year. I would think KC clings to the vestiges of their AL pennant team for one more year, but given all the craziness, maybe the White Sox are the team who ultimately finishes second.

  • jpftribe

    That’s kinda my point. Whether they believe it or not is irrelevant. They NEED him to bounce back.

  • jpftribe

    If there was one guy I’d love, love. love to see in a Tribe uni, it would be Quintana.

  • mgbode

    My point was that if they didn’t believe he could bounce back (not to 2013/2014 but just to a useful guy), then I think they’d sign Weiters and drop Gomes.

  • jpftribe

    But do you think that would be the case if he was in his last contract year, or in a club option year?

  • jpftribe

    And btw, I’m not saying signing Gomes to the contract was a bad move, to the contrary. You lock these young guys up long term, cheap, knowing not everyone will be a hit.

  • Steve

    One guy definitely does, regardless of whether its deserved. Gomes possesses Giambi/Martinez/Aviles status in Francona’s head. Must be much better at bridge than swinging a bat.

  • Steve

    They wouldn’t guarantee Lucroy to be the regular catcher in 2017 because of Gomes. Theres no way Weiters is getting the job over him.

  • mgbode

    Read those quotes more carefully. Lucroy could have well jumped to some conclusions there. All Antonetti said is he doesn’t make guarantees.

    What was my future with the Indians? We knew Cleveland already had a
    good catcher, Yan Gomes, who’s injured right now. He’s getting paid more
    than me, and he’s younger than me. We knew they’d probably want him
    catching almost every day next year. Heck, if I were the general manager
    in Cleveland, I’d want Gomes catching every day.We were right.
    Antonetti told Doug that the Indians couldn’t make any promises on me
    catching next season. There was no way they’d drop the team option,
    either, because I’m pretty inexpensive in 2017.

    http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/17224273/texas-rangers-catcher-jonathan-lucroy-talks-vetoing-cleveland-leaving-milwaukee-getting-traded-winner

  • mgbode

    sure, changing the contract might change the terms a bit on risk mitigation.

  • Steve

    And thats exactly what I said, that they wouldn’t guarantee Lucroy the job. Not even a “No one gets any playing time guaranteed here, but you sure as hell have a leg up on the rest of the competition”. In a scenario where they cant decide if Lucroy is actually better than Gomes, Wieters has zero chance.

  • mgbode

    Lucroy’s framing was poor, which factors in.

    but, I think you are projecting here. your first sentence is confirmed. your second sentence is supposition.

  • Steve

    Supposition? Sure, but also heuristic. They could have made it very clear that he only had to beat out two guys who combined to -0.6 WAR, which would make any further discussion moot.

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  • mgbode

    I looked for it yesterday and couldn’t find it but Antonetti was asked about this article shortly after it ran and hinted that Lucroy misread things. Anyway, happy to still have Mejia & Allen in the system and hope Gomes/Roberto can continue the excellent defense and push over 80 wRC+.

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