Breaking Down and Ranking the Indians Roster
As you all remember (at least I hope you remember), the Cleveland Indians made the playoffs in 2013.
Even though they were defeated by the Rays in the American League Wild Card Game, the Indians wouldn’t have made it to the game in the first place without contributions from the entire roster. Manager Terry Francona had a huge effect on the Indians and guided them to the postseason, but how else did they get there?
The team was able to overcome injuries and occasional ineffectiveness from some key players and advance to the postseason.
That got me thinking: Just who are the Indians’ key players?
That in itself is a relatively simple question. But the difficult part is trying to figure out the importance of each player on the roster to the team’s overall performance. And, more specifically, which players on the Indians are the most indispensable to the team?
Well, that’s what I’ve decided to figure out.
I’m not using much in the way of statistics to confirm the points that I’ll be conveying. But I’m not ranking the best players on the team. In some cases, the best player will also be the most indispensable, but that’s not always the case. For instance, most people feel that Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, and has been for the past two seasons. But has he been the MVP either of the past two seasons? No, and the player who won the award of both years is some guy who goes by the name of Miguel Cabrera.
A player’s actual talent is certainly one aspect of his value to the Indians, but that’s not where it ends. I’ve also considered positional importance, team need, roster depth, leadership skills, attitude, and a variety of other factors.
Clearly, the Indians’ 2014 Opening Day roster is far from final. Keep in mind that the team didn’t sign Michael Bourn until February last offseason, so anything is possible. There are still a multitude of potential impact free agents left on the market, and any one of them could end up with the Indians. With his market in limbo, it’s also still possible the team could decide to re-sign starter Ubaldo Jimenez. But, as I’ve said, don’t bank on that.
Besides, even if the Indians are done making additions, there will still surely be competition between players for starting jobs and roster spots. It seems like every year, a surprise player makes a push for a roster spot in Spring Training. Since I’m not a psychic, the 25-man roster I’ve projected the Indians to have on Opening Day will more than likely look different from the actual result.
Besides, my opinion will probably differ from yours. I’m not the voice of reason (although you can think of me like that if you want).
With that being said, here is my ranking of the Tribe’s players, in order by what I perceive as their indispensability to the team (from least to greatest). We’ll start of with 25 through 21, break down 20 through 11 in Part 2, and finish off 10 through 1 in Part 3.
Most Valuable Indians 25-21
25. David Adams: I have no clue if Adams will even make the roster. So, obviously, his current indispensability to the Indians isn’t very high. However, Adams is still just 26. He’s a former third round pick, so there’s still plenty of upside. He struggled in his major league debut with the Yankees last season, but he’s thrived in the minors, as he owns a career .291/.376/.441 line in 1,798 plate appearances on the farm. He’s capable of playing second base and third base, and has even played a little bit of first base as well. His versatility at least makes him an attractive, high-upside option for the Indians. He may not be too important right now, but he could change in this ranking over time.
24. Josh Outman: The owner of what is arguably one of the best names for a pitcher, Outman was recently acquired from the Rockies for Drew Stubbs. The Indians were said to have interest in him prior to last season’s Trade Deadline, so it appears that GM Chris Antonetti has finally gotten his man. Outman began his career as a starter for the Athletics before ultimately being traded to Colorado in January 2012. He actually pitched well as a starter, but struggled in that role with the Rockies. The Rockies converted him into a reliever, and his strikeout rate has spiked as a result (though his walk rate has risen too). Outman specifically excels as a left-handed specialist, having held same-handed batters to a collective line of .189/.251/.272 — as opposed to a .303/.376/.468 line in his career against righties. The presence of Marc Rzepczynski likely means that Outman’s value probably isn’t as high as it could be, though he should pitch well if the Indians give him the right chances to do so.
23. Vinnie Pestano: I know, I know. Pestano is one year removed from being one of the best late-inning relievers in all of baseball, but I didn’t say that he won’t return to that level. In fact, I feel that he will return to being the Pestano of old. However, his injuries and struggles last season made him the odd man out when the Tribe acquired Rzepczynski from the Cardinals in July. In addition, Pestano lost his set-up role, and even with the loss of Joe Smith to the Angels, he might not get it back due to the strong performances of some of the club’s other relievers (more on them later). I love Pestano and, like I said, I believe he will eventually return to his pre-2013 form. But without his set-up role, he’s just another middle reliever for now.
22. Marc Rzepczynski: I’ve mentioned “Scrabble” a few times already, and he pitched extremely well after the Indians nabbed him from the Cardinals in July, posting a sterling 0.89 ERA in 20 1/3 innings for the Tribe. His career splits aren’t quite as drastic as Outman’s are (.268/.357/.434 vs. righties, .214/.288/.299 vs. lefties), meaning that he can be used more against righties than Outman can. Indeed, Outman faced righties five times more (67 plate appearances to 62) than he did lefties in 2013, though that also counts the 10 1/3 innings he threw for the Cardinals. Righties hit well against him last year, but the fact that the Indians didn’t use him just as a lefty specialist (like they should with Outman) would seem to indicate that he has more value than Outman does.
21. Carlos Carrasco: While the Indians have said that Carrasco will be given every opportunity to win the a rotation spot in Spring Training (probably due in part to the team’s current lack of options there), I don’t feel that the rotation is Carrasco’s best chance to succeed. A year ago at this time, I would have penciled him into the rotation. He pitched extremely well in the rotation for AAA Columbus in 2013, registering a 3.14 ERA (I’m trying really hard not to make a pi joke) in 71 2/3 innings. However, his success didn’t carry over into Cleveland’s rotation in 2013, where he posted an ERA of 9.00 in 33 innings — though he did well in a self-anointed role as the team head hunter. After serving a suspension for the aforementioned headhunting (which involved hitting Kevin Youkilis after giving up a home run, the second time in his career he was suspended for doing so), Carrasco returned to the majors later in the season. He’s showed glimpses of being a terrific starting pitcher in the majors, but has yet to completely put it together. The Indians began using him as a reliever upon his return to the majors in 2013, and he rewarded them with a terrific 1.32 ERA in 13 2/3 innings out of the bullpen, holding hitters (both lefties and righties) to a .156/.240/.156 line, improving his peripherals as well. While Carrasco probably deserves another shot in the rotation, he’s out of options. The best way for him to make an impact on the major league roster is in the bullpen, where his stuff plays better anyway.
Be sure to check back later for part two where we will count down from 20 to 11.