Indians

Let’s Argue: Is it OK to panic about the Indians?

Welcome to Let’s Argue, your weekly opportunity to be #MadOnline. The premise is simple: WFNY’s Mike Hattery and Jeff Nomina will present arguments — maybe just a question or a deep stat dive or a good old fashioned hot take. Then, they will either argue with each other or invite you to come argue with us. This week, Mike and Jeff are starting the argument, but don’t let that stop you for joining in the comment section or coming at us 140 characters at a time on Twitter @SnarkyHatman &@SportsNom.

Cody Anderson, Tommy John Surgery.

Jason Kipnis, out for at least a month.

Tyler Naquin and Carlos Carrasco, both nursing minor issues.

At what point do we begin to note that Cleveland’s dynamic advantage in the American League Central may be narrowing? The Indians remain one of the best teams in the American League, but the margins are thinning and in a variance driven sport, how nervous has the Indians tumultuous spring training made you?

Nom: Nervous? About what? That we might go 161-1 instead of 162-0? This team is stacked. If Brantley is out, we have the third-place finisher in Rookie of the Year votes to take his spot in Naquin. If Naquin is busy in center field we have a top-30 prospect in Bradley Zimmer raking in Spring Training. If Kipnis is out, we have Yandy Diaz who already profiles as a plus bat. Pitching depth is obviously a concern, but a concern in the sense that it may go from a huge strength to a slight weakness. We’ll still have the best bullpen in baseball. Edwin Encarnacion will still be mashing the ball on what was already a potent offense. I’m more worried about the long beer lines at The Corner than I am anything on the field.

That being said, we need to be honest: The gap is closing in the Central. The Indians came in as huuuuuge favorites and when you factor in these injuries, they’re likely only huuuuge favorites.

Do you disagree? Can you lay out a scenario where the Indians don’t make the postseason?

Mike Hattery: I am taking this side so I can get #twitterlit. A rotation with Salazar, a huge injury risk, and Carrasco’s soreness while losing its No. 7 starter is particularly nerve-racking on its own. Then add in an injury to your multi-time All-Star second baseman and all of the sudden the risk mounts. Kipnis is a 4 WAR player and as much as I like the concept of Jose Ramirez at second and Diaz at third to cover, I am not sure the Indians ultimately do the logical thing. Further, the time missed is not the only cost of injury. While the Brantley news is positive there is this expectation that players return to form upon reappearance from injury. The reality is, we have no idea what type of player Michael Brantley is anymore or whether Kipnis can come back close to form. We have watch Kipnis play through an oblique injury in 2014 and be a shell of himself, not convinced we will not see the same in 2017.

All the Indians need to be around 85 wins is a Carrasco/Salazar injury, and Kipnis being 2014 Kipnis.  While the central is thin, the Tigers 80th percentile outcome is 85-plus wins. The Indians have some super cool depth but that rotation depth is thin and losing an All-Star caliber second baseman for an early chunk of the season is actually a pretty big deal. How is this not a big deal? The Indians are loaded but not “have significant injury concerns about two 4 WAR guys” loaded. Is that a fair scenario?

Nom: It’s fair. And the sort of nebulous information we have about Salazar’s sore arm last year or Carrasco’s this year is certainly cause for some alarm. But to my earlier point, this team is stacked. The advantage they have is the ability to likely coast a bit during the season and give these guys the time they need to get fully healthy. If Kipnis misses a month, it’s not the death knell it would’ve been in 2014. If Carrasco doesn’t make a start until late April, the team can likely maintain. So until these bumps and bruises turn into breaks and tears, I just don’t think they make a drastic change in this season’s projections.

What do you think is the biggest potential hit this team could take? Is it the combination of all of these smaller injuries? Is it the thin rotation depth? You obviously aren’t predicting the team will struggle, but if they were, what would be the culprit in your mind?

Mike: The rotation is the highest volatility portion of this team. The rotation’s 95th percentile outcome can get this team to 100 wins and their 50th percentile outcome is probably around 86 wins. Expecting Salazar or Tomlin to exceed 150 innings feels like a fools errand let alone the injury risks to them and other starters. Which means the Indians are going to trust Mike Clevinger or Ryan Merritt with a substantial innings responsibility. Clevinger has huge command issues and Merritt does not have the arsenal to be more than a five-and-fly guy. I think this team will be really good and has phenomenal position player depth but one key rotation injury will have a major impact and the Kipnis injury certainly has not helped their margins. On a 1-10 panic scale, I am probably a 3 but two months ago I was a 1 which makes me nervous.

So tell us what you think. Are the Indians in a precarious position? How nervous have these spring training injuries made you?

Other 2017 Cleveland Indians Preview Articles

  • My panic is mostly team-induced. I feel like had they told us a month ago that Kipnis’ injury was what it was, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal. That they tried to have him play through it, taking days off here and there, and *then* told us 4-6 weeks—well, that’s where I get concerned.

    These guys do not get the benefit of the doubt on this front after the Brantley debacle last season. That said, I still feel confident in their ability to win the AL Central.

  • jpftribe

    1. Zimmer and Diaz will be playing in CLE this year. When, for how long? Who knows. But we will see them, they are ready.
    2. Naquin will be a better ball player this year than last, and he was pretty good last year.
    3. Armstrong and Anderson (who are very good friends BTW) were competing for the BP spot. Armstrong may be the best performing pitcher in camp.
    4. JRam and Lindor are going to be better players this year. You can already see it in ST and WBC.

    Rotation depth is the big unknown. All four guys behind Kluber have had their issues, and Clevinger has been inconsistent at best. Plutko and Merritt are No 6’s at best.

    While Armstrong, Miller and Allen could be a monster BP, Zmac and Shaw scare the hell out of me.

    All said and done, this team will play some fantastic baseball this year. WS return? Chances were 8/1 in Vegas.

  • Jeff Nomina

    Yeah they are (hopefully – because baseball is a fickle sport) in a similar position to the Cavs. They can manage a bunch of bumps and bruises throughout the regular season as long as they can get healthy for the playoffs.

  • Jeff Nomina

    It’s so nice to have guys in Columbus ready to make an impact. Seems like they finally have a system ready to produce consistent, quality major league players. And that just covers so many holes. Pitching is terrifying, but they have a history of getting the most out of their pitching prospects, so let’s hope they can pull it off one more time.

  • Only issue, I’d contend, is the Cavs don’t need the top seed to flourish. If the Indians don’t win the division, they’re playing with fire.

  • Natedawg86

    I try to stay even keeled in the offseason. Hope that the team stays out of the headlines for dumb off the field activities, and of course injuries. We just need to stay around .500 and stay healthy. Any team that does that has a shot to make a run in October.

  • jpftribe

    So to paraphrase a thread from LGT yesterday, we have a guy with chronic bursitis. Indians say they are going to take it slow with him, see if he can even swing a bat, give him a cortisone shot and eventually rest him for a few weeks.

    I, Joe Fan, read that and say, ok rest and he’s back in 4-6 weeks.

    A Doctor may read that and say rest is 100% correct treatment, but has a chance of xx% in being effective and there is a xx% chance it will require surgery. Should the Indians be in the business of educating the fan base on recovery probabilities? If your Kipnis, do want want the FO or Staff publicly sharing your recovery prognosis?

    Guys get hurt, sometimes they recover, sometimes they don’t. Not sure what more to expect from this FO.

  • Natedawg86

    They are in arguably the easiest division in the AL. They need to wrap up division and not even think about a play in game. Worry about April Scott, not October

  • NankirPhelge

    Panic about the Indians? Let’s see, right now I’m panicked about the draft. Right after that I’ll be panicking about the Cavs. So I should be able to squeeze the Tribe in sometime late June.

  • jpftribe

    G. Allen and R. Rodriguez are two guys I really want to see do well.
    Wily Mo Pena looked really good at 1st and was bashing balls. Don’t know if he’d take a MiLB assignment, but he would be nice insurance to have when they deal Bode’s favorite player at the trade deadline for pitching.
    MacKenzie is the guy to watch in the minors this year. He could be a rockstar in 18.

  • Hopwin
  • Steve

    Not saying “he would play if this was June” when they don’t know thats true. Or as Bode pointed out last week, what they said regarding Gomes. If they say from the get-go that the timetable is indeterminate, or that there is too much swelling to get an accurate MRI just yet, they would probably see fewer complaints.

  • jpftribe

    Fair points, especially the June thing which I thought was bizarre. But it feels like we’re trying to find fault with this org, when the reality is Francona, Mills and Callaway are as good as it gets in the MLB. Downplaying, or optimistically forecasting recovery is just managing a pro team. They know what they are dealing with. It’s not like they bet the farm on Brantley last year, but they sure as hell would’ve played him if he was healthy.

  • mgbode

    Yeah, if the Indians don’t win the ALC, then they likely don’t get in at all. This division is there for the taking (while noting crazier things happen every year).

  • mgbode

    Constant downplay of injuries that end up being worse leads to distrust. They talk down to fans (and local media who don’t fight back enough IMO) when they describe these injuries with the rhetoric they use. It is dumb and only hurts the team – I don’t get how they don’t realize it.

    Yes, they don’t owe us anything with injuries and can state what they want with them, but if they bend everything to the most optimistic of thoughts and it rarely comes out that way, then they shouldn’t be surprised when fans automatically think it is worse than what they state about the next injury.

    As for Brantley, they warned that he would try to push too fast and shoulders can only heal slowly. They stated it was up to them to throttle him in the process. Then, ST hits and they let him continue to advance past their timetable (as stated) and make Opening Day his target (he missed but not by much).

    Love this FO on so many things, their handling of injuries to the public (and Brantley actual recovery) leaves much to be desired.

  • mgbode

    Have to detail this out at some point but they have a program in place to increase velocity as much as possible out of each arm. And, they have taken pitchers with great control (perhaps to get the best of both worlds by getting guys with great control and maximizing their velo).

    The issue is that they have relative soft-tossers (who might not even be playable if not in the Indians system because they wouldn’t even be that). I wondered why they didn’t pick horses with great velo potential instead and worried about the control in PD (aka, draft guys like Clevinger).

  • Steve

    I’m not sure that Francona is the best in the business in this area. This team has frequently let guys come back too quickly. It seems like Francona is trying to be their friend more than their boss.

  • mgbode

    Wily Mo Pena is such a fun BP guy. Had to be fun to see one of those in person.

  • woofersus

    This is what sky-high expectations does to you. Really, while it’s always possible somebody who we think will be coming back ends up missing a whole year, there’s a much greater likelihood than not that Kipnis only misses 2-4 weeks of the season. And he happens to man a middle infield position, which is one spot where we have an embarrassment of riches. Jose Ramirez, Yandy Diaz, Erik Gonzolez, Francisco Lindor, etc, will do just fine for that amount of time.

    And seriously, Cody Anderson was the odd man out. He was #7, and it’s not like we don’t have anything at all to turn to past him this year. If we could stand to lose a couple of guys, it’s AAA pitcher and middle infield. Losing Brantley from an outfield projected to be bereft of offensive production was a far more damaging hit last year.

    Everybody else is basically fine. Dings and dents are a constant thing, but Carrasco and Naquin will be fine. I won’t be overconfident about Brantley just yet, but there’s a good chance we begin this season more whole than we were for most of last, even with these nagging concerns. In the words of Aaron Rogers: R-E-L-A-X.

  • woofersus

    Right, about the time we started paying attention to the Indians last year – right after the parade. 😉

  • jpftribe

    He spent a lot of time with Nellie R., who frankly, needed it. Love to see this guy stick around.

  • jpftribe

    Ask Joba, Uribe, Hunter, Napoli and Rajai about whether he was their boss or friend.

  • mgbode

    (you can be both)

  • mgbode

    don’t see room on the 25-man but if he’s good playing in Columbus, it could help the kids there.

  • mgbode

    Sure, odds are still in our favor but “because baseball”

    And, always need starting pitching. Most teams use at least 7-8 starters if not 10 in a given year. We are woefully thin once we get past our Top 6 (which is ridiculously good considering other teams).

  • jpftribe

    Love to see that piece Bode. You Texans are onto something there.

  • Greg Popelka

    Re: other teams- the Reds signed FA Scott Feldman – who was left off the Jays’ ALCS roster – and he’s starting on Opening Day. Many Reds fans had never heard of him. The #2 is Brandon Finnegan, and i think that’s about all they have. I guess Bronson Arroyo is back…

  • Steve

    Those five combined for 1.5 WAR, and are not playing for us because of decisions by Francona’s bosses, the guys who act like bosses.

    Watching Napoli unable to hit a beach ball from September through the playoffs, and still have a lock on the cleanup spot though? Yeah, sounds exactly like Francona was being his friend.

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  • Harv

    By all means, bring your clipboard to your mouth and screeeeam, friends. Because what other team in the league will have a spot starter lost to TJ? What rivals have starters with injury histories? Why always us? So unfair. Can already feel the hot breath of the Twins on our neck.

    Reminds me of the old joke: why is there so much back stabbing in academia? Because there’s nothing to fight about. Come October not a person on this site will be muttering, “why, Cody, why?”

  • mgbode

    Definitely the other end of the spectrum there. Reds are horrific.

  • mgbode

    The Indians fascination with Texan pitchers is another thing 😉

  • mgbode

    Antonetti was practically crying when talking about how hard it was to sign EE knowing it meant there was no road back for Napoli.

  • mgbode

    Anytime I need a good dose of perspective, I think about how the Royals also lost a starter during the offseason – much more permanently.

  • JM85

    It’s a long season. Having said that, I’d prefer they avoid injuries, especially the starting pitchers.

  • Steve

    Sure, but injuries now don’t mean we are less likely to have injuries later. We have the same risks that the Tigers have of key players missing time as the season grinds on, we are just starting off behind them when it comes to injuries.

  • Harv

    will any team in the division go injury free? And if not, which roster is best suited to survive injuries? Top to bottom, this appears to be the deepest Indians roster of my lifetime. Plus, there’s minor leaguers who appear to be legit major leaguers in waiting.

    But I get it. This is Cleveland, where competing anxieties is its own sport.

  • Steve

    That we are talented and deep, and possibly the best projected team this town has ever had is a different thing. Yes, we seem to be capable of handling injuries and surviving. But just because we have injuries now doesn’t mean that we are getting our fair share out of the way.

  • mgbode

    The main issue I think everyone has is that the one area where we don’t have comfortable depth is at starting pitching, which is where the injury bug seems to be hitting again.

    If the season starts and Salazar is pitching like April/May 2016 Salazar (Cy Young leader at the end of May last year), then we won’t remember this thread 🙂

  • Harv

    This team would not survive a serious injury to one or two of its front line starters. But I do not know of a team in the league which can. So all we’re doing is expressing neuroses.

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  • mgbode

    Salazar and Carrasco ended last year injured and opened Spring Training injured. Both are still working back.

    Just saying it is a bit more than neuroses when it is already there in front of us.

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