Offseason Swap – Cleveland Indians

I was recently contacted by Cleveland Indian fan and blog writer Matt Van Wormer, who asked me to be a part of a series of posts he was writing this offseason.  The main theme of his series is this: ask a blog writer from each major league team a series of questions about the team they cover.  I thought it was a great idea, and agreed to participate.  Below are the questions he posed to me, with my answers.  You can also read our interview here, and catch the rest of the series on his blog

In addition, I asked him several questions about the Indians, so for any of my readers who are closet Indian fans (and there should be a bunch of you considering the love that I know abounds for Major League), enjoy!

Questions about the Blue Jays:

Question 1 – 2011 saw the Toronto Blue Jays score a ton of runs (6th most in the Majors).  Unfortunately, they also gave up a ton of runs (again, 6th most in the Majors).  Is this area of concern caused by defensive position players, pitching or a combination of the two?

The main problem for the Jays in 2011 was pitching as injuries and inconsistency plagued both the starting rotation and the bullpen.  Twelve different pitchers made at least one start for the team last year, never a good situation.  Jesse Litsch, Carlos Villanueva, and Brandon Morrow all missed some time with injury, and young starters like Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek badly disappointed and were forced to the minors.  The bullpen was a disaster for much of the year as well.  But it wasn’t all bad news, as Ricky Romero really developed into a staff ace, and 21-year old Henderson Alvarez impressed in his ten starts.  If Drabek, Morrow, and Cecil can ever figure it out, the runs against number should drop substantially.

Question 2 – Jose Bautista is clearly the most important part of the Blue Jays lineup as he led the team in every major offensive category in 2011.  How much longer can he carry the load for the Toronto lineup?

Hopefully for several more years!  He just turned 31, so he is still considered to be in his prime, and I can see him keeping his production up for at least the next couple of years.  Last year he hit 43 home runs with a 1.056 OPS with virtually no lineup protection for much of the year.  Seriously, the Jays had Corey Patterson, Aaron Hill, Rajai Davis, and Juan Rivera hitting around Bautista for a good chunk of the season.  But if Adam Lind can return to 100% health next year (he battled a bad back for much of the season), J.P. Arencibia continues to develop offensively, Brett Lawrie emerges as a threat, and Edwin Encarnacion plays the whole year the way he did the last half of last season, then Bautista should have plenty of protection.  If he has protection, he doesn’t have to carry the load for much longer…

Question 3 – Toronto is clearly in need of an every day closer as the leader for the team had just 17 in 2011.  Who do you see, or want, the Blue Jays to go after to man the back end of the bullpen?

Honestly?  Nobody.  I know that having a good closer is important – there is nothing worse than blowing a game in the ninth.  The Jays blew 25 saves last year, so we know all about that sucker punch feeling.  But I just don’t think a big-name closer is worth the money.  Jonathan Papelbon got $50-million from the Phillies to pitch one inning every three days – insane!  A week or so ago I wrote about how Ryan Madson would look good in a Jays uniform.  He’s young, talented, and had a great 2011 season.  But if he’s going to cost higher than $5-million a year (which he definitely is) then I would vote no.  Closer is such a volatile position with such dramatic yearly change that it’s not worth having an expensive, multi-year guy (unless you can sign a non-human like Mariano Rivera).  The Jays have several in-house options that are worth looking at, like Dustin McGowan, Casey Janssen, or Joel Carreno.  I say keep the money and use one of them.

Question 4 – As John Farrell enters his second season at the helm for the Jays, what moves do you see him making as a manager, to get this team moving in the right direction?

I’m glad that Farrell is back for a second season, after a lot of October talk of both Boston and the Cubs wanting him for their managerial openings.  One move I do see him making is maybe backing off the “Farrell Ball” concept just a bit.  Last year he vowed to make Toronto a more exciting and unpredictable team by being extremely aggressive on the base paths, with hit-and-runs, steals, and sac bunts.  The problem is that the Jays ran into a lot of outs by being a bit too aggressive.  Manufacturing runs may be a good idea, but when you have the home run power of Bautista, Lind, Arencibia, Rasmus, Lawrie, and Encarnacion in your lineup, there are smarter – and less dangerous – ways to score.

Question 5 – With a tough division comes the tough task of trying to overcome the teams that are ahead of you.  Where do you see the Jays finishing the 2012 season?

Very hard to say.  The easy answer is to say fourth place – you can’t catch the big money teams of Boston and New York, and Tampa Bay is too talented and well-run to fade away (Baltimore is still several years away from being taken seriously).  But, and granted it’s a big but, if Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek can re-emerge as ace-type starters, Travis Snider bounces back and regains confidence, Lawrie and Bautista continue to shine, and GM Alex Anthopoulos makes that one shrewd move that he is becoming famous for (i.e: signing a DH, or making a shocking trade for Joey Votto) then who knows.  The Wild Card is a distinct possibility.

Questions about the Indians:

Question 1 – Manny Acta lead a Cleveland team widely expected to finish last (or close to last) to a 2nd place finish in the division.  Were you surprised that he received only 16 points in AL Manager of the Year voting?

When the voting came out and I heard that the most Acta got was a few second place votes it was shocking to me.  The injuries and slow starts from key players that the Tribe overcame to stay in the thick of the race until September was amazing and it was Acta who made it happen.  He got guys to buy into his system and they were playing the game the right way and it was working.  To get so many young guys on the same page was worthy of the award itself.  Manny Acta got robbed.

Question 2 – The Indians made a bold move at the trade deadline sending several prospects to Colorado for Ubaldo Jimenez.  Do you think this was a good trade or one that Cleveland will regret in the future?

So far, I like the deal.  It showed the Tribe faithful that the Dolan’s are somewhat committed to winning right now and are finally willing to open up the wallet a little bit to make it happen.  At first, I didn’t like that we gave up, what I viewed as a LOT of talent.  But they are prospects for a reason.  You don’t know what you’re going to get from those young guys for a few years.  To really evaulate this trade, we’re going to have to see some results from Pomeranz and White in a Rockies uniform.  Minor League stats mean nothing.

Question 3 – Aside from Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera, the Indians had a miserable offense last year.  What can happen to make the offense better in 2012?

Plate discipline is the simple answer.  The Indians struck out waaaay too much for a team that was trying to make the playoffs.  I think that strikeout number will come down in 2012 as Matt LaPorta, who had to average at least 17 strikeouts per game, will not be the team’s first baseman.  The development of the young hitters will also get the offense to come around and improve on their 2011 numbers.  Guys like Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley will need to be the offensive leaders and last season was definitely a fluke for Shin-Soo Choo who should return to his .300 form.

Question 4 – What has to happen for Cleveland to make the playoffs in 2012?

They have to win more games than the second place team in the Central Divison…I kid, I kid.  The biggest thing for the Indians is to get better performance from the top of the rotation.  Fausto Carmona and Ubaldo Jimenez both showed signs of brilliance at times but they couldn’t do it consistently.  The addition of Derek Lowe is great and should help solidify the back end of the rotation.  If the bullpen can be as good as last year and the hitting and pitching improve, this team is definitely a contender in 2012.

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