Monday, February 27, 2012

Indians make a few minor gains

The Indians had to zig-zag their way around a few potholes this offseason.
But now that spring training is here, the Indians seem to have made a few small gains.
The big news came when the pitcher they thought was Fausto Carmona actually turned out to be Roberto Hernandez Heredia. And, oh by the way, he wasn’t 28. He’s actually 31.
Worse yet, he’s now having serious problems getting a work permit and may miss the season.
On the field, the Indians entered the offseason needing more bats after ranking 10th in the league in hitting (.248) and ninth in runs scored (4.4 per game).
Specifically, they were looking for a first baseman to replace Matt LaPorta, a .238 career hitter, who hit .247 with 11 home runs and 53 RBIs last year.
The Indians also searched the free agent market for outfield help.
In the end, they ended up with a few offensive spare parts and a few pitchers who could help.
The biggest addition came the first week of February when the Indians signed free agent first baseman Casey Kotchman. He hit .306 with 10 home runs and 48 RBI with the Rays last year. Kotchman, a .268 career hitter, is a slight upgrade over LaPorta.
Other offensive signings, who will may or may not help, are outfielders Fred Lewis and Felix Pie and third baseman Andy LaRoche.
The Tribe did make several moves with their starting staff. They traded right-hander Zach Putnam to the Rockies for right-hander Kevin Slowey. They also traded minor league lefty Chris Jones to the Braves for right-hander Derek Lowe.
Way back in November the Indians addressed the often-injured Grady Sizemore by re-signing him in spite of three straight years of injuries and surgeries.
So what do we really know about the Indians, who finished 80-82 last year?
Well, the starting pitcher is solid, but took a hit with Carlos Carrasco being lost with a season-ending elbow injury. They can roll out a rotation of Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, Lowe, Slowey and David Huff.
The bullpen is a strength with closer Chris Perez and set-up men Rafael Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Tony Sipp and newly signed Dan Wheeler.
The everyday lineup has emerging stars in catcher Carlos Santana, second baseman Jason Kipnis and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. Santana hit 27 home runs and drove in 79 runs, but will be expected to boost his .239 average.
Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo are all-star level players, although Choo slumped to .259 last year.
Thankfully, this is the final year on Travis Hafner’s contract, which has been strapped to the Indians like an anvil. Last year Hafner hit .280 with 13 home runs and 57 RBIs. He hasn’t hit 20 home runs since 2007.
The outfield lacks serious pop with Michael Brantley (.266, 7 HR) and Shelley Duncan (.260, 11 HR) in left, Sizemore (.224, 10 HR) in center and Choo (.259, 8 HR) in right. Sizemore is capable of more, but who knows?
Choo should bounce back after suffering a broken left thumb last June which limited him to 85 games and 313 at-bats. But what if he doesn’t?
Once again, the Indians will have to scratch for runs and hope the pitching carries the load.
But at least they know the real age of Carmona/Hernandez Heredia. At least, they think they do.

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