The Indians finished the 2012 season with a 68-94 record, which included a second half record of 24-53, and were outscored by a staggering 189 runs in those 77 games (431-282). Although the team’s struggles cost Manny Acta his job, there was plenty of blame to go around.
To the relief of many fans who have lamented the number of times the Indians struck out, the offense did not finish near the top of the AL in that category—as a matter of fact, the Indians struck out the third-fewest times in the American League while finishing third in walks. Unfortunately the limiting of strikeouts and increased walks came at the expense of power, which resulted in the team finishing second-to-last in the AL in home runs (136), slugging percentage (.381), and wOBA (.310).
The Indians used 10 starting pitchers over the course of the season, and they delivered the third-fewest innings (913.2) and had the second-highest ERA (5.25) and the third-highest FIP (4.73). Even with the lack of innings, pitched the staff issued the second-most walks (351) while striking out the second-fewest (621) batters. The back of the Indians’ bullpen was a bright spot, but the lack of quality starts by the Indians rotation wreaked havoc on the bridge between the rotation to the back end, resulting in the fourth-highest relief innings pitched total (528.1) and the second highest ERA (3.99).
The 2012 Indians were a mess, and once again injuries and individuals poor performance put a spotlight on the lack of talent present in the upper levels of the minor league system. The fans seemed to voice their displeasure with the team by not supporting them at the gate. Cleveland drew the second-fewest fans (1.6 million) fans in all of Major League Baseball, and once again fan apathy (or is it resentment?) has turned its ugly head on the Indians organization.
It is estimated that increased revenue from new contracts negotiated with ESPN, TNT, and Fox will add about $25 million in revenue to each club, but those contracts don’t kick in until 2014. In the meantime the Indians will have to examine how to structure their payroll based on a projected attendance below 2 million fans and will probably spend somewhere less than their 2012 budget of $65.5 million.
So why in the world would Terry Francona agree to take over a team with a poor pitching staff, a featherweight offense, no five-star prospects in the upper levels of the minor leagues, an apathetic fanbase, and an ownership group that will be looking to trim payroll for the 2013 season? The answer to that question lies in viewing the positives in equal light as the negatives. If we can do that, the 2013 season doesn’t seem nearly as bleak as it did when the team walked off the field for the final time after a 9-0 loss to the White Sox in Game No. 162.
The heavy lifting has been done. Indians GM Chris Antonetti and President Mark Shapiro have nearly a clean canvas to work with. The bloated contract of Travis Hafner has finally expired, gone are Trevor Crowe, Jeremy Sowers, and Beau Mills who served as a constant reminder of drafts gone wrong, the lower levels of the minor leagues have recognizable names such as Francisco Lindor, Ronny Rodriguez, and Danny Salazar, and the payroll is as flexible as it has been at anytime in the past decade.
Using the projected arbitration figures presented below and remaining salary information provided at Cot’s, the Indians have about $50 million committed for 2013. This includes salaries for 18 position players, Travis Hafner’s $2.75 million dollar buyout, and seven roster spots filled with players making the major league minimum estimated at $500,000.\
The Indians need to acquire a first baseman, left fielder, designated hitter, and a capable starting pitcher. Based on the payroll projected above of $51.6M and the assumption that the Indians will work from a total payroll of $55 million to $60 million, this leaves approximately $5 million to $10 million to spend on players in the free agent market.
The good news is that the Indians have trade candidates that will add young controllable talent to the roster, but will also free up a significant amount of money to spend in the free agent market. The two players most likely to be dealt this offseason are Shin-Soo Choo (estimated salary of $7.9M) and Chris Perez (estimated salary of $7.2M). These two players combined will relieve an estimated $15.1 million dollars from the 2013 payroll, add talent to the organization, and allow the front office to pursue free agents.
Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti, and Terry Francona have an opportunity to quickly transform what is perceived to be an organization in need of a total rebuild to an organization with a very bright future.
Factoring in the core of players such as Lonnie Chisenhall, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Vinnie Pestano, and Justin Masterson, the trade value of Shin-Soo Choo and Chris Perez, the financial flexibility and influx of talent that will result from trading the duo should result should be a very exciting offseason for Indians fans—2013 might not be as bleak as you think.