Tribe Report


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Orbiting Cleveland: What to do with Cabrera?

Sometimes, it’s best to start things with a bang. At least that’s how the Cleveland Indians seem to see it.

The Indians wasted no time starting their offseason Thursday. Just one day after the World Series ended, the Indians announced that they had released closer Chris Perez, and the team also completed a move as they acquired left-handed reliever Colt Hynes in exchange for cash. Then, on Friday morning, the Indians exercised the option of right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (which he voided to become a free agent), and they also declined the option of outfielder Jason Kubel, thus making him a free agent.

So, this is it. The World Series had been over for just a mere few hours, and the Tribe immediately got a head start on its Hot Stove season.

The Perez decision was an obvious one. While many probably did not expect it to happen so soon, it seemed as if it was a foregone conclusion that the right-hander would not be back.

But if that’s the first move that’s made, then the question now becomes, what’s next? Make no mistake about it, this Indians team likely has a handful of moves and goals that they’ll seek to achieve this offseason.

The move to release Perez is likely a decision that was reached weeks ago, and it’s also fair to assume that the front office had made up their mind on a number of other pressing issues as well. This is not the Indians of the past. Every move will be deliberate and calculated, and every move will also be done in an effort to bring the team closer to its ultimate goal — sustainable winning.

Knowing that, it would be interesting to know where the Indians stand with Asdrubal Cabrera. There were rumblings last offseason that the Indians could move the shortstop, but nothing came to fruition. So where do the Indians stand now with the former two-time All-Star?

There are certainly two ways to look at the prospect of trading Cabrera. A case can certainly be made that the Indians should not bring him back as he was just downright awful at times this past season and finished with a line of .242/.299/.402 with 14 home runs and 64 RBI.

To make matters worse, Cabrera was atrocious in regards to plate discipline as he struck out 114 times and drew just 35 walks. According to FanGraphs, Cabrera was worth just a measly 0.6 wins in 2013. Yeesh, with those type of numbers, why would the Indians even want to consider bringing a guy like that back?

Of course, there are other things to consider as well. While it would be nice to deal Cabrera, how much could the Indians expect to get in return?

Cabrera is still well above average in terms of power for a shortstop, but his value definitely is not what it would have been last offseason. He certainly is not going to net the team as large of a return as he would have one year earlier.

With that in mind, perhaps the safest bet for the Indians is to retain Cabrera, at least until the 2014 All-Star break. At the point, depending on Cabrera’s performance other factors such as whether the team is in contention, the Indians can then decide if they should move Cabrera.

Yet again though, it’s a slippery slope. In a perfect world, the Indians would retain Cabrera for next season, he posts a strong first half and they’re then able to a net a couple of good prospects at the trade deadline. The key to all this though is “rebound.” If Cabrera continues to falter, then the Tribe would likely be much better off just dealing him now.

So, it ultimately boils down to what kind of faith the Indians front office has in Cabrera, and that’s probably something that we’ll find out very soon. Ideally, Cabrera will rebound, and there is reason to believe that he can, especially since 2013 does seem to be an outlier in some ways when compared to his other seasons.

However, there are also some other startling things to be aware of in regard to Cabrera. When I think of Cabrera, I usually think of his career in two phases: pre-Orlando and post-Orlando. For those scratching their heads, here’s a preface.

When Orlando Cabrera was signed by the Indians in February 2011, he and Asdrubal immediately took to one another. It seemed like a perfect pairing as Orlando had a track record of sustained success as an infielder, and Asdrubal would obviously do well to follow a similar path.

While Asdrubal likely picked up a number from pointers during his time with Orlando, the most notable was in regard to his swing. Orlando encouraged Asdrubal to not be afraid to drive the ball and swing for the fences. What followed was extraordinary.

In the first half of the 2011 season, Asdrubal hit .293/.347/.489 with 14 home runs and 51 RBI in 88 games. The home run numbers were especially noteworthy as Asdrubal had never recorded more than six home runs in any Major League season prior to that point. His highest home run total in the minors was eight.

Cabrera’s numbers trailed off a bit as the season wore on, and he finished the year with a .273/.332/.460 line, 25 home runs and 92 RBI in 153 games. All in all, it was still a spectacular season for the shortstop.

Cabrera’s numbers took a bit of a dip the following season, but they were still more than respectable. He finished with a line of .270/.338/.423 with 16 home runs and 68 RBI and also made his second straight All-Star Game.

On the surface, it appeared as if Cabrera was on his way to establishing himself as one of the premiere offensive shortstops in the game. Heck, it could be argued that that was already the case after the 2012 season.

But there were also some serious warning signs that seemed to go unnoticed. These signs really only started to crop up in the post-Orlando stage, and they seemed to indicate some marked differences from the pre-Orlando Asdrubal.

The graphic below shows Cabrera’s walk-to-strikeout ratio from 2007 through this past season.

(Courtesy of FanGraphs)

There definitely seems to be a noticeable difference from the earlier years of his career when compared to the more recent ones. Also, it should be noted that 2010 can somewhat be disregarded as Cabrera only played in 97 games that season.

The interesting thing about this all is that Cabrera’s walk-to-strikeout ratio seemed to take the most notable dip after Orlando encouraged him to adjust his swing and approach. Is it a coincidence that the plate discipline has basically evaporated since then?

It’s just telling to see how Cabrera has evolved over the past few years. In 2009, the switch-hitter compiled a .308/.361/.438 line in 131 games with the Indians. He also drew 44 walks and struck out just 89 times.

While Cabrera only hit six home runs that season, his production was still near-elite for a shortstop in the Major Leagues; FanGraphs estimates that he was worth 2.9 wins that season while Baseball Reference has him at 4.2.

It’s pretty clear that the Asdrubal Cabrera that was playing for the Indians in 2009 is not the same Asdrubal Cabrera that is still on this team. In 2009, Cabrera was a much more patient hitter, and his compact swing made him doubles machine; he hit 42 doubles in just 131 games that year, which was tied for 11thin the league. What if Cabrera had played even 20 more games that season? Where would that number be then?

Yet, in comparison, the Cabrera of now seems to always be swinging for the fences. While he does hit his fair share of home runs, they’ve gone down in each of the last three seasons, and we’ve watched his plate discipline evaporate to where it basically disappeared entirely in 2013.

Now, it obviously would be silly to blame Orlando Cabrera entirely for Asdrubal’s decline, but there is no denying that there does seem to be some connection to when he joined the team and Asdrubal altering his game.

So, this then brings us back to the original question. Do the Indians deal Cabrera now or bank on him rebounding and then reassess the question at next year’s trade deadline?

This is almost certainly one of the conversations that will be going on in the next days and weeks. Everyone knows Cabrera is on borrowed time, not only because of his recent poor performance, but also because top prospectFrancisco Lindor seems poised to replace him at a moment’s notice.

The one problem surrounding Cabrera is that it seems to be a gamble to bank on him rebounding from last year’s poor campaign. He is clearly not the same player he used to be, and his skills just seem to have drastically eroded from what they once were.

Let’s say Cabrera goes out and underperforms once again. Then, at the deadline, what are the Indians supposed to do? What would his value even be? If they believe there is a chance of that happening, then they might as well look to deal him now.

A lot of this boils down to the type of return that the Tribe would receive, and I’m a firm believe that they need to pull the trigger on a deal if someone offers even a solid package of players/prospects.

Perhaps the one encouraging thing in all of this is that Cabrera did seem to rebound in terms of plate discipline somewhat nicely during the 2012 season when compared to 2011. His walk percentage was up to 8.4 percent compared to 6.6 percent in 2011 while his strikeout percentage was down to 16.1 percent compared to 17.8 percent in 2011.

That alone does seem to provide some hope that he could come around, but I’m less than encouraged. Sometimes we can use all the statistics in the world, but it really just comes down to the eye test, and when I look at Cabrera, I see a declining player whose skills have been eroding for quite some time.

Sure, he does still hit a decent amount of home runs, but what does it matter when basically every other aspect of his game is not where it was a few years ago? Heck, I’ll be honest — I miss the Cabrera of 2009.

So, here we are, and the Indians are about to dive headfirst into the Hot Stove season. There are a number of pressing issues this offseason, but perhaps none are more intriguing than the question of what to do with Cabrera.

It seems most likely that the Indians will probably be patient with Cabrera, and wait for him and his play to come around.

Yet here’s the problem — is it ever a good idea to wait around for something that may never happen?


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Winter Ball Notebook: Aguilar impressive early

With the exception of the Puerto Rican Winter League, the other winter and fall leagues have now been in action for a couple of weeks now, and a slew of Indians have been competing.

The actual value of the winter leagues is certainly a topic that’s up for debate. For many, they’re nothing more than a continuation of the minor leagues, so there’s no need to put much thought into the numbers and performances that come out each year.

However, last year seemed to prove that notion wrong. As you may remember, it was last season that infielder Jose Ramirez was just outstanding in the Dominican Winter League as he compiled a .303/.384/.380 line in 60 games and 234 at-bats. It was a very impressive performance and really seemed to lay the groundwork for Ramirez becoming such a widely talked about player.

The Indians obviously thought a lot about Ramirez’s performance as they chose to have him skip the High-A level entirely this past season. Plain and simple, if Ramirez does not have that type of performance last year, he starts the year off at High-A Carolina.

So, with that being said, does any player this winter season have a chance to become this year’s Jose Ramirez?

That will hopefully be a question that’s answered these next few months. With that being said, here are some thoughts both deep and shallow in regard to this past week of winter ball action…

Player of the Week

Jesus Aguilar — 1B, Leones del Caracas

6 G, 8-for-22, 6 R, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 1 BB, 7 K.

If there is anyone who is the early favorite to leave a Ramirez-like impression this season, it’s Aguilar. In 16 games so far, Aguilar has gone 25-for-64 with six home runs and 19 RBI. Time and time again, it’s been pointed out that RBI are not necessarily an ideal statistic to use when measuring a player’s chance for future success, but the bottom line is that Aguilar continues to pile them up wherever he goes. The big first baseman has also done a solid job of limiting his strikeouts so far as he has 12 in 16 games to go along with seven walks. We have to hope that Aguilar continues to perform well throughout the rest of the winter season. We all know how the Indians have struggled mightily when it comes to producing power hitters, so Aguilar may really be the best chance that this organization has. We all saw Aguilar’s numbers take a turn for the better after a swing adjustment in June, and so far, it looks as if that success has carried over to Venezuela.

News & Notes

— Joe Wendle has long been one of my favorite prospects in the entire Indians organization, so you can imagine how excited I was once I heard that he would be getting a chance to play in the Arizona Fall League. So far, Wendle has looked solid as he has gone 8-for-27 in eight games with the Surprise Saguaros. He’s also shown some nice extra-base pop as two doubles and two triples are included in his eight hits. Perhaps the only negative with Wendle’s placement in the AFL is the fact that there are so many other players that join him. In other words, it’s difficult for a player to get everyday playing time and really get into any kind of a rhythm at the plate. Knowing that, it’s hard to draw any hard conclusions about what Wendle’s numbers may be once the AFL season comes to a close. The most important thing about his designation to the AFL is that it shows that he is clearly on the radar of the Indians, and that can only be considered a good thing.

— He has only made two appearances so far, but I am intrigued by the fact that Elvis Araujo is playing for Aguilas del Zulia in the Venezuelan Winter League. Araujo made his debut on Friday night where he faced just one batter and allowed a hit before leaving the contest. It’s certainly not an ideal debut, but it is nice to see Araujo on the mound again, especially since he pitched just a mere 9 2/3 innings at High-A Carolina this year. The big left-hander dealt with elbow injuries all season, which is never a good sign for a player who has already undergone Tommy John surgery like Araujo did in 2009. Yet, if he’s on the mound, it obviously means he’s healthy, and a healthy Araujo could mean a lot to this organization. He has the size, stuff, and is left-handed. Now, all we need are some results, so maybe this winter can be the start of that.

— While Aguilar has drawn most of the early winter headlines for Indians’ players, it can be argued that outfielderTyler Naquin has been just as impressive. The 2012 first round pick has gotten off to a scorching start with Surprise and has gone 20-for-54 in 13 games. He’s also shown good patience as he’s drawn six walks and struck out only eight times. This is nice to see as we all know how plate discipline problems plagued Naquin this past season. The one negative with Naquin’s performance so far is the fact that just one of his 20 base hits has gone for extra bases. From the moment he was drafted, we knew that Naquin was not going to be a major contributor in terms of power, but it would still be nice to see at least a little production in that area.

— One of the other intriguing players to follow so far has been catcher Tony Wolters. Wolters is playing for Surprise this fall, and he’s gotten off to a bit of a rough start as he’s gone just 3-for-22 in seven games. However, the one thing that should be noted is that Wolters has been splitting his time between catcher and shortstop, which certainly cannot be an easy task. It will be interesting to see how Wolters performs down the stretch while basically handling two positions. Does the fact that he’s still playing some shortstop indicate that the Indians have not completely abandoned the idea of him playing there in the future? Could it be that Wolters is now being groomed to be some kind of super utility player? Here’s what I know. Wolters has shown that he can play both second base and shortstop at a more than adequate level. Also, in his first season as a catcher, he made great strides, and has shown that he could indeed have a future behind the plate. Knowing that, it seems fair to conclude that Wolters could probably one day make the adjustment to left field as well. While it’s still early and he does have a long ways to go, the Indians could have somewhat of a diamond in the rough on their hands in Wolters. Plain and simple, all teams like pure “baseball” players, and that’s exactly what Wolters is.

Stats through October 27th:

BATTERS LGE G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
Aguilar, Jesus VWL 16 64 18 25 2 0 6 19 7 12 .391 .444 .703 1.148
Boscan, Manuel VWL 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
Carrera, Ezequiel VWL 16 59 13 16 1 2 1 6 12 8 .271 .411 .407 .818
Diaz, Juan DWL 7 18 2 5 0 0 0 2 2 7 .278 .381 .278 .659
Gonzalez, Erik DWL 7 28 3 9 0 1 1 3 0 10 .321 .321 .500 .821
Hernandez, Luis VWL 8 31 2 7 2 0 0 0 0 4 .226 .226 .290 .516
Lowery, Jake AFL 4 11 0 3 0 0 0 2 1 2 .273 .333 .273 .606
Monsalve, Alex VWL 4 9 0 2 0 0 0 1 0 2 .222 .222 .222 .444
Naquin, Tyler AFL 13 54 9 20 1 0 0 10 6 8 .370 .419 .389 .808
Ramirez, Jose DWL 7 27 4 8 1 1 0 1 1 4 .296 .345 .407 .752
Rodriguez, Ronny DWL 4 13 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 2 .077 .077 .154 .231
Wendle, Joe AFL 8 27 4 8 2 2 0 5 3 8 .296 .375 .519 .894
Wolters, Tony AFL 7 22 3 3 0 0 0 0 6 7 .136 .367 .136 .503

 

PITCHERS LGE W L G GS SV IP H ER HR BB SO ERA GO/AO WHIP AVG
Araujo, Elvis VWL 0 0 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 1.000
Armstrong, Shawn AFL 0 0 6 0 0 7 5 2 1 7 9 2.57 1.00 1.71 .208
Berger, Eric VWL 0 0 3 2 0 8.1 9 3 1 4 5 3.24 2.80 1.56 .273
Espino, Paolo VWL 0 1 3 3 0 8.2 17 10 4 3 14 10.38 4.00 2.31 .395
Flores, Jose VWL 0 0 5 0 0 4 6 5 1 2 4 11.25 8.00 2.00 .333
Gil, Jerry DWL 0 0 3 0 0 3.1 3 0 0 0 0 0.00 6.00 0.90 .214
Haley, Trey AFL 0 0 2 0 1 1.2 2 0 0 2 2 0.00 2.00 2.40 .286
Johnson, Jeff AFL 1 0 4 0 0 4 5 4 1 4 5 9.00 2.00 2.25 .333
Price, Bryan VWL 0 0 6 1 0 8.2 5 2 0 2 6 2.08 1.00 0.81 .185
Roberts, Will AFL 0 1 3 3 0 11 15 7 2 4 4 5.73 1.11 1.73 .341
Tejeda, Enosil DWL 0 0 4 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0.00 0.00 0.00 .000
Vizcaya, Anthony VWL 0 0 4 0 0 3.1 2 0 0 4 3 10.80 2.00 1.80 .182


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Around the Farm: October 26, 2013

Around the Farm (ATF) takes a quick look at some of the daily performances by Indians prospects. This is a special fall and winter ball version of ATF that recaps all the offseason action by Indians players in the Arizona Fall League and the Caribbean Leagues.  The positions listed below are where the player was playing in the game.

Venezuelan Winter League

  • Jesus Aguilar (1B, Leones del Caracas): 2-for-6, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI. The big nights just to continue to come for Aguilar. The big first baseman has now gone 23-for-60 in 15 games this fall while compiling five home runs and 17 RBI along the way. What’s even better though is the fact that Aguilar has gone hitless in just one of those 15 games.
  • Ezequiel Carrera (CF, Navegantes del Magallanes): 0-for-3, 2 BB. Carrera’s modest three-game hit streak was snapped in this game, but he did manage to get on base twice via the walk. Carrera has been drawing plenty of walks this fall as he now has 11 in 15 games.

Arizona Fall League

  • Jake Lowery (C, Peoria Javelinas): 1-for-3. Lowery has not been overly impressive in any outings, but he has now managed to at least collect a hit in three of the four games he’s played.
  • Shawn Armstrong (RP, Surprise Saguaros): 2 IP, 3 K. This was just a dominant performance for Armstrong. In two perfect innings of relief, Armstrong threw just 20 pitches, and 13 went for strikes. To make things even better, he recorded three strikeouts along the way.

Dominican Winter League

  • Ronny Rodriguez (SS, Estrellas de Oriente): 0-for-4, 1 K. Rodriguez has gotten off to a rough start this offseason. In four games, he’s now gone just 1-for-13.
  • Juan Diaz (SS, Estrellas de Oriente): 0-for-0. Diaz actually came on to replace Rodriguez in the contest, but he did not manage to get an at-bat.
  • Jerry Gil (RP, Estrellas de Oriente): 1 IP. Gil has looked good so far this fall as he’s yet to allow an earned run in 3 1/3 innings of work. Saturday was arguably his best performance so far as he was perfect in his one inning of relief.
  • Jose Ramirez (SS, Toros del Este): 3-for-4, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 K. Now, there’s the Jose Ramirez we all know and love. With his three-hit night, Ramirez snapped an 0-for-8 slump and raised his average all the way up from .217 to .296. Remember what Ramirez did last year in winter ball? Knowing that, there’s a good chance that nights like Saturday are just precursor of more good things to come.
  • Rafael Perez (RP, Gigantes del Cibao): 1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 K. There’s a familiar face. Perez is pitching for Gigantes del Cibao this offseason as he tries to reestablish his value and possibly gain a Major League job this spring. He’s off to a good start so far as he has not allowed a run in 4 1/3 innings of work.


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Orbiting Cleveland: Is Corey Hart a fit?

We’re just a short ways away from the MLB’s Hot Stove season kicking into full-swing, which means that we can now officially start to think about who the Cleveland Indians should go after in free agency.

So who do you got?

Of course, many of us can long for the chances that the Indians sign Carlos Beltran or Nelson Cruz, but we know that the chances of either of those signings happening seems a tad unrealistic. That’s just not how the Indians operate.

As a small-market team, the Indians have no choice but to be creative in the way they approach free agency, and that will assuredly be true this season.

We know that one of the most pressing needs for the Tribe is a legitimate power hitter, but we’ve also already touched on the complications that surround that need. Acquiring legitimate power bats is not a cheap endeavor, and it’s almost impossible to believe that the Indians will be able to get into a bidding war with some of the other MLB teams.

So where does a team like the Indians go for solutions?

There’s plenty of second-tier type free agents out there, but one of the first players that comes to mind is first baseman Corey Hart. Make no mistake about it, this type of signing would have the Indians written all over it.

For years, Hart has been a very productive power hitter for the Milwaukee Brewers. The majority of his playing time was spent at right field, but the right-handed hitter then made the move to first base in 2012.

As we all know, Hart has unfortunately not played since the 2012 season. He is coming off surgery on both of his knees, so it’s fair to say that there are some serious question marks that surround him.

Yet, the upside to Hart cannot be denied. For his career, the Bowling Green, KY, native owns a .276/.334/.491 line. Also, in the last three seasons that he’s actually played, Hart has hit at least 26 home runs in each of them.

While it’s true that there are sexier power hitters on the market, do you really see the Indians making a play at any of those players?

Robinson Cano? Uhh… Is it even worth mentioning him?

Mike Napoli? Seems unlikely.

Carlos Beltran? I wish.

Nelson Cruz? Possible? Sure. Probable? No.

Then there are also some other names that the Indians could actually have a chance at. It’s not inconceivable to think that the team could land players like Kendrys MoralesMarlon ByrdJhonny Peralta and Justin Morneau. But do any of them have the potential upside of a signing like Hart if the longtime Milwaukee Brewer is indeed healthy?

The other thing to consider here is money. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that the Indians need to sign at least one of their two starting pitcher free agents in Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. But we also know that starting pitching does not come cheap, and both Kazmir and Jimenez are locks to get paid big this offseason.

For a small-market team like the Indians, it makes sense to be more creative in its pursuit of a power hitter because then the team will have more money at its disposal to use to try to retain Jimenez or Kazmir.

Given his status, we know that Hart is not going to receive a huge payday this offseason. In fact, it seems probable that he’ll have to settle for a one-year deal with incentives before reentering the free agent market next season when his value is reestablished.

We know the Tribe’s top need outside of starting pitching is to lockdown a middle-of-the-order bat, and Hart may fit the bill. What makes an acquisition like this even better is the fact that the Indians may be able to receive him at a price that is more than manageable.

The only hesitation in making such a move is the knee injuries that Hart is coming off. He did not play in 2013, so we have to go back to 2012 to get a read on what he brings to the table.

As the table below indicates, a healthy Hart clearly brings a lot to a team in terms of power.

(Graph courtesy of FanGraphs)

Throughout his entire career, he has essentially posted an above-average ISO, and he does profile as a legitimate power hitter. Also, from 2010 to 2012 (the last three seasons he’s played), Hart has averaged an ISO of .235. Compare that to the three-year averages of some of the Indians’current “power hitters” (These numbers are from 2011 to 2013):

Indeed, the numbers do not lie. A healthy Hart would be a significant upgrade in the power department over any of the current players on the Indians.

Like many power hitters, Hart is prone to strikeouts. He also does not walk all that much either. However, despite his flaws, he does still manage to get on-base at a slightly above average clip. The graph below shows that it’s not like we’d have another Mark Reynolds on our hands with the acquisition of Hart.

(Graph courtesy of FanGraphs)

Although, the best thing about signing Hart is that it essentially allows he Tribe to get BMW value at a Chevy price. Ask yourself this, what if Hart was not injured and was coming off a fourth-straight season where he hit at least 26 home runs?

What do you think his price tag would be then? I think it’s clear that the Indians probably wouldn’t be talking to him.

The one negative with Hart is that he likely can no longer play the outfield and would probably be relegated to first base and designated hitter. That may require that the Indians get a bit creative, but this could also be an opportunity for the Indians to look into dealing Michael Bourn.

If Bourn were dealt and Hart was signed, Swisher could then slide back over to right field while Drew Stubbs could move over to center. Even if Bourn is retained, the Indians could look into moving Stubbs into the fourth-outfielder role and then have Swisher return to right field.

Either way, it’s clear that the Indians would be a better team with Hart than without him.

So, with that being said, what’s to stop the Indians from making such a deal? All the positives have been outlined, and it does seem as if this type of signing makes sense for both sides. The Indians would be able to attain a legitimate power bat while Hart would get to reestablish his value for one year on a contending team. Simply put, a move of this nature just seems to make sense.

Unfortunately, the one thing standing in the way of getting a deal like this done may be Hart himself.

In interviews, he has expressed his desire to return to Milwaukee and has even said that he would be willing to offer the Brewers a hometown discount to return. Yep, there’s another positive for Hart — character — he clearly has it.

Players entering free agency typically don’t go on record of using the terms “hometown discount,” but that’s exactly what Hart said, so we really have no choice but to take him at his word.

MLB Trade Rumors estimates that Hart could be in line for a contract in the range of one-year, $8 million with incentives, but it would likely have to be less than that if he is indeed serious about offering the Brewers a hometown discount.

If that’s the case, the Indians may have to up the ante and offer him a one-year deal worth between $9-10 million. It may be a hefty price for a player coming of two knee injuries, but the reward seems to outweigh the risk.

Somehow, the Indians are just going to have to sell Hart on the notion that signing with Cleveland is more beneficial than a return to Milwaukee. Even when they’ve been a contending team, the Indians have never been exactly great at luring in free agents, so this may be where the Terry Francona factor comes into effect.

We saw how Francona played key role in helping the team attain Swisher and Bourn last season, so now we’ll have to see him try to again spin that magic wand this offseason.

There are a number of free agents that the Indians and Francona will likely be after, but it’s hard to find one that may be a more ideal fit than Hart.


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Orbiting Cleveland: Can Aguilar help in 2014?

When you’re a small market Major League Baseball team like the Cleveland Indians, the writing is on the wall.

Small market teams are forced to look at everything differently than your New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox of the world. General managers are forced to be creative in order to compete in a system that is basically unfair.

Every dollar, regardless of how miniscule it may be, is counted.

Every free agent, regardless of how minor he may be, is evaluated.

Every move, regardless of how insignificant it may appear, is calculated.

This offseason is especially interesting for the Indians because the team finds itself in a different situation when compared to recent years. The Indians went 92-70 this past offseason and clinched a berth in the American League Wild Card playoffs.

When General Manager Chris Antonetti hired Terry Francona on as manager, the goal was simple: the Indians were to compete and hopefully become perennial playoff contenders.

The Indians did indeed compete this past season, but the team will now be faced with an even tougher task —staying a contender. This is an area where they have faltered in the past under the Mark Shapiro-Antonetti leadership.

In 2005, the Indians went 93-69, yet the team stumbled to a 78-84 record in 2006. Similarly, the Indians went 96-66 in 2007 yet finished 81-81 in 2008. Clearly, this team has struggled with maintaining momentum from year to year in recent memory.

To ensure that the team does remain competitive, Antonetti will surely be looking to upgrade the team through free agency this offseason. The IBI’s Jim Pete provided an excellent piece on Wednesday that looked at how much money the Indians could possibly have.

As the piece notes, Antonetti and company will have to be creative this offseason as the team just does not have a significant amount of resources to work with. This is further complicated by the fact that the Indians will have to do whatever they can to try to resign starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir.

Clearly, work needs to be done. The Indians do have the makings of possible perennial contender, but there are still a handful of missing pieces.

So, with that said, where does a team that’s high on aspirations but low on resources look for help?

That answer is simple — the farm.

We all know how top prospect Francisco Lindor has the ability to be a difference maker, and we’ve also already seen how Jose Ramirez‘s speed can impact the game. But beyond those two, is there any help out there?

Aside from their struggles with developing starting pitchers and outfielders, the one other very obvious area of weakness for the Indians has been power hitters.

In fact, the last homegrown player (signed, drafted and developed) for the Indians to hit 20 or more home runs wasJhonny Peralta, who hit 23 in 2008 while driving in 89 runs. Yes, it’s been that bad as of late.

Much has been made of the Indians’current level of talent (or lack of) in the upper levels, but it’s imperative that the team does receive some sort of upgrade from the farm in the coming season. Internal contributions, regardless of how small they appear, can have a huge effect on a team’s ability to compete.

We saw that firsthand this past season with the promotions of Yan Gomes and Danny Salazar. Last March, most Tribe fans probably thought it was a long shot that either of those players would be key contributors on the Major League level in 2013. But now think about this past season. Would the Indians have had any chance of competing had it not been for Salazar and Gomes?

So who has the ability to be 2014′s Salazar or Gomes?

The most logical candidates are probably Lindor or Ramirez, but there’s one more player that really should not be overlooked. The player being referenced is first baseman Jesus Aguilar.

In many ways, Aguilar has just what the Indians need. The big, right-handed slugger hits for power, seems to come up big in clutch situations and he plays a position where the team has long had difficulties developing talent — first base.

Now this is not to suggest that Aguilar is going to have the same kind of impact in 2014 that Gomes and Salazar had in 2013. However, it should be noted Aguilar could indeed have a positive impact this coming season, and it could be bigger than many expect.

The prospect hype for Aguilar initially developed following his 2011 season with Single-A Lake County and High-A Kinston. In 127 games and 514 plate appearances between the two affiliates, Aguilar combined to hit .284/.359/.506 with 23 home runs and 82 RBI. Finally, it appeared as if the Indians’ prayers for a right-handed power hitter had been answered, right? Well, not exactly.

Over the past two years, Aguilar has had a somewhat up-and-down path that has seen his prospect value fluctuate a bit.

His power numbers have been down and there are numerous questions surrounding his bat speed, defense, plate discipline and just general outlook as a future Major Leaguer.

Prior to the 2013 season, Baseball America had Aguilar ranked as the No. 9 player in the Indians’ organization while the IBI’s Tony Lastoria had him at No. 12.

Currently, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo has Aguilar pegged as the No. 17 prospect in the Indians’ system, so it’s easy to see that Aguilar is not thought to be a major impact talent despite the fact that he possesses some very desirable traits.

Yet perhaps we’re being a bit too harsh on Aguilar.

One of the most frequent criticisms heard in regard to Aguilar is the fact that his power numbers have taken a dip since his 2011 breakout. That is true as Aguilar saw his ISO drop from .252 in 2011 to .177 in 2012. It was also all the way down to .152 this past season.

However, sometimes we need to look on the bright side, and the reality is that Aguilar made some tremendous strides, especially during this past season.

We all know that Aguilar’s 105 RBI this past season broke the Akron Aeros’ single-season record for RBI, but we’ve also been quick to point out that RBI are a flawed statistic when it comes to evaluating talents and projecting their skillsets to the Major Leagues. However, take a look at some of these other numbers from the 2013 season:

  • .227 — The number Aguilar hit when leading off in an inning.
  • .229 — The number Aguilar hit with the bases empty.
  • .317 — The number Aguilar hit with runners on.
  • .341 — The number Aguilar hit with runners on and two outs.
  • .339 — The number Aguilar hit with runners in scoring position.
  • .403 — The number Aguilar hit with runners in scoring position and two outs.
  • .462 — The number Aguilar hit with the bases loaded.

The overall line for Aguilar in 2013 was .275/.349/.427 with 16 home runs and 105 RBI, but it’s clear that he did his best work when it mattered most. Also, it’s important to note that his bat seemed to perform better as the situation became more dire.

The other thing to consider with Aguilar is that he was able to have this type of success this year after he altered his swing and stance slightly. Akron Aeros manager Edwin Rodriguez had originally suggested the change to Aguilar in 2012 when they were both still at High-A Carolina, but Aguilar did not make the change until two months into the 2013 season. The results have been encouraging.

In June, Aguilar hit .295 followed by a .274 average in July and a .308 average in August. Perhaps the most encouraging thing about the change though is it helped Aguilar made tremendous strides in regard to plate discipline.

Take a look at the table below:

Aguilar has made significant progress in terms of cutting down his strikeouts in the last three seasons. While he is never going to be perfect in this regard, he continues to get better, which is really all you can ask for.

Also, it should be noted how Aguilar was also able to greatly improve his on-base percentage after he followed Rodriguez’s suggestion and adjusted his swing. In April and May, he post OBPs of .327 and .320, respectively, yet he that number rose to .386, .364 and .352 in June, July and August, respectively.

The whole reasoning behind the swing adjustment, which was suggested so Aguilar would better recognize pitches, was that it would ultimately improve Aguilar’s chances of having Major League success. That remains to be seen if that is the case, but it’s hard to not be encouraged by what we’ve seen so far.

This still does not address the power outage that Aguilar has experienced in recent years, but it should also be noted that the majority of his work has been spent trying to improve as a hitter, not necessarily a power hitter. With his frame, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that the power will return.

So moving forward, what does the future hold for Aguilar? Is this a player Indians fans can expect to see up in Cleveland sometime in 2014?

By all indications, it does appear as if he is on track to make his Major League debut this coming season. Provided he gets off to a good start at Triple-A Columbus, he could find himself in Cleveland sometime during the early months of the summer.

It’s also good sign that Aguilar has gotten off to a torrid start in the Venezuelan Winter League as he has gone 14-for-27 with two home runs in seven games so far with Leones del Caracas. It’s a very small sample size, but it would be hard to ask for a better start to the winter campaign for the big slugger.

Expectations for Aguilar are mixed moving forward, but remember, even if he becomes a first baseman that hits .250 with 20 home runs and 75 RBI, that’s a hugesuccess story for the Indians.

The reality is that Indians fans have to hold on to that hope because Aguilar is the best legitimate power hitting prospect in the upper levels of the team’s farm system.

Actually, he’s the only one.


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Orbiting Cleveland: Resigning Jimenez should be top priority

It’s October, and the Indians are now out of the playoffs.

That means Tribe fans are only thinking about one thing — free agency.

Yet before a team goes out about signing Major League free agents, it needs to first look at its own possible free agents.

That’s an especially interesting topic for the Tribe this season because for the first time in years, the Indians find themselves with a handful of intriguing free agents.

Last year, players like Roberto HernandezTravis HafnerJack Hannahan and Casey Kotchman highlighted the list of possible Indians free agents. It was pretty hard to make an argument about retaining any of those players, eh?

Yet, compare last year’s class to this year’s. Those names are now replaced with players such as Scott KazmirJoe Smith andUbaldo Jimenez. All of the aforementioned players will be in line for hefty raises this offseason, and that also speaks to the success that the Indians were able to have in 2013.

In fact, according to FanGraphs, those three players alone accounted for 6.1 wins (Jimenez 3.2, Kazmir 2.5, 0.4). Take six wins away from 92-70 Indians and what do you have? You certainly don’t have a playoff team.

Moving forward, there is no doubt that all of the three pitchers mentioned do have value to the Indians, and a case can be made that they should be retained if the price is right.

Of course, retaining two high-upside starting pitchers as well as a proven setup man is a task easier said than done. We all know the budget parameters that the Indians must stick within, so it’s hard to believe that they will be able to sign all three.

Last year, the team had an Opening Day payroll of $82,517,300. Even with a 20 percent increase in ticket revenue, it’s hard to believe that the Indians will deviate too much from that number.

So with limited resources and a limited budget, what should the Indians do?

It’s a hot topic at the moment.

The IBI’s Jim Pete eloquently presented his case in Wednesday’s edition of the Corner of Carnegie and Ontariowhen he suggested that the Indians sign both Kazmir and Jimenez this offseason. He suggests Kazmir signs a two-year, $18 million deal while he hopes Jimenez signs team-friendly, three-year, $33 million deal with a fourth-year vesting option that kicks in when he meets an innings threshold.

Pete’s not the only one thinking ahead to the Tribe’s possible free agents. In an excellent edition of his weekly Trend Spotting piece, the IBI’s Michael Hattery suggests the Indians attempt to lockdown Kazmir with a deal that could be worth a total of $37 million across three years if Kazmir reaches incentives and a vesting option.

It seems to be a fair price point, especially for a left-handed pitcher who was electric in the second half as Kazmir posted a 3.38 ERA and struck out 10.25 batters per nine innings in 72 innings following the All-Star Break.

Ideally, the Indians would be able to sign all three of Kazmir, Jimenez and Smith. However, as realists we know that this is the Indians we’re talking about, and the chances of that happening are slim to none.

So with that being said, who is the key guy for the Indians to keep if the team is able to retain just one of three?

While popular opinion will likely disagree, a strong case can be made for Jimenez.

By this point, everyone knows what Jimenez did in the second half of the season. But just to recap, let’s go over it one more time.

In 13 starts after the All-Star Break, Jimenez posted a 1.82 ERA in 84 innings of work. It can be argued that not one single player played a more important role in the Indians clinching a postseason berth.

Not Justin Masterson.

Not Scott Kazmir.

Not Jason Kipnis.

Not Carlos Santana.

Not Nick Swisher.

Not Yan Gomes.

No one.

Jimenez’ second-half performance down the stretch legitimately ranks among the team’s best pitching performances in history. Yes, he was that good.

Yet, as hard as it may be to believe, there was another stretch in Jimenez’s career where he displayed such dominance. You might remember a time when Jimenez was a young flame-throwing hurler for the Colorado Rockies.

Well, in the 2010 season, the right-hander got off to just a torrid start. Jimenez was selected to start for National League after going 15-1 in the first half while posting these numbers:

The FIP and xFIP do seem to indicate that the ERA may be a tad generous, but it’s hard to argue with the performance. Jimenez was a legit ace, and it was numbers like these that led Tribe General Manager Chris Antonetti to deal away Drew Pomeranz and Alex White to acquire the right-hander in July 2011.

Of course, we all know what happened in the season and a half that followed the trade. Jimenez struggled with his mechanics, control, drop in velocity and just his general consistency. He went from being an effective Major League starter to someone that many questioned whether he even belonged in the Major Leagues.

But then the 2012 offseason happened. And more importantly, Mickey Calloway happened.

After being hired as pitching coach for the Indians, Calloway made two trips to the Dominican Republic to work with Jimenez. Instead of insisting that Jimenez tweak his mechanics, Calloway encouraged Jimenez to just work on repeating his delivery over and over again. In other words, he was attempting to help a “thrower”become more of a “pitcher.”

Results were almost immediate. Even in spring training, Jimenez showed improved control and posted a 4.80 ERA in 30 innings while walking just seven batters.

His also seemed to get better as he progressed through the regular season. After posting a 7.13 ERA in April, Jimenez posted a 4.23 ERA in May followed by a 3.09 ERA in June.

Then in the second half of the season, Jimenez was flat out dominant. Take a look at the numbers below:

Without question, this was the best stretch of Jimenez’s career since the first half of the 2010 season. Yet, there are also some telling things to point out:

  • Jimenez’s K/9 rate of 10.71 in the second half was second in the American League during that span, trailing only Yu Darvish, who posted an 11.96.
  • While his ERA of 1.82 was very impressive, his FIP of 2.17 suggests that Jimenez was pitching that good. There was not nearly as much luck involved as one might think.
  • His ERA of 1.82 in this 13-game stretch was better than the 2.20 ERA he posted in 18 games during the 2010 season. Additionally, his BABIP over the second half of 2013 was .298 compared to .250 in the first half of 2010.
  • All the numbers seem to suggest that Jimenez’s 2013 second half was actually better than his first half in 2010.

The reality is that Jimenez’s 2013 second half was so dominant that describing it as ace-like just may not do it justice. There’s also another thing to consider when comparing it to his strong 2010 stretch.

The two graphs below indicate Jimenez’ velocity and pitch usage during the first half of the 2010 season:

In 2010, Jimenez averaged nearly 98 miles per hour on his fastball and sinker, so it’s easy to see why he threw those pitches so much. In fact, in May of 2010, Jimenez actually threw his sinker, which averaged 97.18 miles per hour that month, 52.69 percent of the time.

Jimenez was essentially a pitcher who was letting hitters know he’d be throwing a fastball and just challenging them to hit it. In essence, he was the definition of a pure thrower.

Yet, now take a look at Jimenez’s velocity and usage during the second half of 2013:

Clearly, Jimenez’s velocity is not what it once was. The most his fourseam fastball and sinker averaged during the second half of the season was 93.58 and 93.33 miles per hour, respectively.

Yet, look at the usage of his slider during this stretch compared to the first half of 2010. Jimenez threw his slider nearly 25 percent of the time following this year’s All-Star Break, which is markedly different from his usage of the pitch during the first half of 2010.

The bottom line is that Jimenez has shown rapid improvements from his time in Colorado. He now has a much better feel for all of his pitches, and he seems to be much more at ease when he takes the mound.

The ironic thing is that when Jimenez was first acquired, Antonetti was hoping to get something that resembled the Jimenez of 2010. It may have taken some time, but when it was all said and done, Antonetti and the Indians got something better.

So this then brings us back to the point of resigning Jimenez. Plain and simple, this needs to be the top priority of the team this offseason.

Many naysayers argue that Jimenez’s second half is not a large enough sample size to warrant a big, multi-year deal. They argue that Jimenez is far too inconsistent for the Indians to commit so many resources to.

For them, Jimenez imploding and reverting back to his 2012 is already a foregone conclusion.

But what if it’s not?

What if Jimenez has really turned the corner and changed for the better? What if Jimenez’s second half is just a precursor of things to come?

For years, the Indians have been overmatched by not having a pitcher who can go toe to toe with the likes of Justin Verlander, but Jimenez could now be the guy who can do just that.

Of course, what happens will ultimately be a financial decision. The Indians probably want to keep him, but there is the question as to whether they can afford him.

MLB Trade Rumors suggests that Jimenez could be looking at a three-year, $39 million contract with the chance of it being worth four years and $52 million. In his Sunday Tribe Happenings piece, the IBI’s Tony Lastoria suggested that an Anibal Sanchez type deal (five years, $80 million) is probably the floor for what Jimenez could garner this offseason.

Either way, it’s imperative that the team resign him. One can also always hold onto the hope that Jimenez may be willing to offer the Indians some sort of hometown discount. Remember this is a guy who was quoted as saying “This is like being in heaven for me,” in regard to pitching for the Indians.

If that is indeed true, then perhaps Jimenez would be willing to sacrifice some dollars to stay in his divine place.

The final argument that seems to surface against resigning Jimenez is that the Indians need to save that money to be able to resign Justin Masterson. That itself seems to also be a point that could be up for debate.

Make no mistake about it, Masterson is a great pitcher.

He’s an absolute horse on the mound.

He eats up innings like crazy.

He also generates a ton of ground balls and gets his fair share of strikeouts.

Yet, for every yin there is a yang, and for Masterson it’s the fact that he is essentially a two-pitch pitcher. He’s an excellent starter right now, but if resigning him is going to be in the $80 million to $100 million range, that seems asinine.

What happens when he starts to lose some velocity and sink on that fastball? He may very well be able to adjust, but what if he can’t? An $80 million or $100 million commitment to Masterson seems to be just as big of a risk. Remember this is a guy who is just a season removed from a year where he posted a 4.93 ERA in 206 1/3 innings of work.

Of course, the good thing is that we’re not the ones who have to make these decisions. The Indians will have to decide whether they’re willing to commit top dollars to Jimenez at some point this offseason.

It will also be interesting to see if the idea of resigning Masterson is an issue in all of this.

However, there’s one final thing to consider.

Through it all, the prevailing theme with Jimenez is affordability. Can the Indians afford to keep Jimenez?

Yet, perhaps it should be looked at in a different light.

If Calloway has indeed fixed Jimenez and he has legitimately established himself as a front-of-the-rotation ace, then how can the Indians afford to be without him?


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Notes From the Wigwam: Season in review

While the season came to an end earlier than many of us had hoped, it’s impossible to not look back at the year the 2013 Cleveland Indians had and not be incredibly impressed with the team’s performance.

The Tribe finished 92-70, which was a 24-game improvement from the 68-94 record they posted in 2012. For their efforts, the Indians were able to host the American League Wild Card game, which they unfortunately lost 4-0 to the Tampa Bay Rays.

While the year did ultimately have a sad end for the Tribe, it’s impossible to not be pleased with the improvements that the team made. The foundation is now set for the future as it appears as if the Indians will be contenders for years to come.

This year certainly had its ups and downs (with a lot more ups), but the end result was that the Indians were able to make immense progress in their first year with Terry Francona at the helm. The future is bright, and things can probably only get better from here on out.

But how did we get here? Going from 68 wins to 92 in a year obviously takes some time, so what happened along the way for the Indians to have such a drastic turnaround?

With that being said, let’s take a look back at some of the key moments from the past year…

Year in Review

October 6, 2012: It’s announced that Terry Francona will be joining the Cleveland Indians as manager. And so it begins…

November 3, 2012: In what initially seems to be a quiet move, the Indians trade hard-throwing reliever Esmil Rogers to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for infielder Mike Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes. Outside of the signing of Francona, it could be argued that this ended up being the biggest move of the entire offseason.

December 11, 2012: The Indians ship longtime right fielder Shin-Soo Choo to the Cincinnati Reds in a three-team trade that also included the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Indians receive highly-touted pitching prospect Trevor Bauer from the Diamondbacks as well as relievers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw. The Indians also receive outfielder Drew Stubbs from the Reds while the Reds received infielder Jason Donald in addition to Choo. For their part in the deal, the Diamondbacks received Didi Gregorius from the Reds and Lars Anderson and Tony Sipp from the Indians. The irony is that Bauer was expected to have the largest impact in 2013, but Stubbs, Albers and Shaw actually had a much larger impact on this club.

December 18, 2012: The Indians seemingly find their power hitter when they sign Mark Reynolds to a one-year, $6 million deal.

December 23, 2012: Christmas comes early for the Indians as the Tribe inks the charismatic Nick Swisher to a four-year, $56 million contract that also includes a $14 million vesting option for a fifth season.

January 4, 2013: The Indians sign right-hander Brett Myers to a one-year deal worth $7 million. The signing proves to be a total dud as Myers battles injuries all year and makes just three starts before he is released on August 29.

February 11, 2013: In a shocking turn of events, the Indians sign center fielder Michael Bourn to a four-year, $48 million deal with a $12 million vesting option for a fifth year.

April 2, 2013: The Indians open the season with a 4-1 win at Toronto. Right-hander Justin Masterson dazzles on the mound as he allows just one run across six innings of work.

April 19, 2013: The Indians cannot win behind Brett Myers solid, five-inning, three-run effort and fall 3-2 to the Houston Astros. The loss was the Indians’ fifth straight, and the team’s record now sits at 5-10.

May 13, 2013: Justin Masterson throws a four-hit, complete game shutout to lead the Indians to a 1-0 victory over the New York Yankees in the first game of a traditional doubleheader. Jason Kipnis‘ solo home run in the bottom of the first inning proved to be all the offense the team would need as the Tribe’s record now sits at 21-15. The game was the end of a 15-6 run over the past month where the Indians made up significant ground in the American League Central.

May 20, 2013: Yan Gomes hits a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to lead the Indians to a 10-8 win over the Seattle Mariners. The Tribe moves to 26-17 and has now won 20 of their last 28 games.

June 10, 2013: The Indians fall 6-3 at Texas. With the loss, the Indians now have gone 4-16 in their last 20 games, and the team’s record sits at 30-33.

July 2, 2013: The Indians defeat Kansas City 6-5 behind Nick Swisher’s three hits. With the win, the Indians improve to 45-38, and have now gone 15-5 in their last 20 games. As you can tell, a theme that was developing was the streaky nature of this team, which seemed to be the case throughout the entire season.

July 11, 2013: Heralded pitching prospect Danny Salazar makes his debut for the Indians, and he does not disappoint. The right-hander allows just one run across six innings of work while striking out seven. For his efforts, he’s rewarded with a win as the Tribe also is victorious and downs the Blue Jays 4-2.

July 14, 2013: The Indians close out the first half of the season with a 6-4 win over the Kansas City Royals. Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez struggles a bit as he allows four runs in four innings of work, but Asdrubal Cabrera‘s two-RBI double in the sixth inning allows the Indians to come back and earn the victory.

July 30, 2013: The Indians acquire left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski from the St. Louis Cardinals. Rzepczynski proves to play a big role down the stretch as he finishes the year with a 0.89 ERA in 27 appearances.

August 4, 2013: Scott Kazmir strikes out seven across seven shutout innings to lead the Indians to a 2-0 win over the Miami Marlins. The Indians’ record improves to 62-49, and it appears as if the team is peaking right before it’s set to start the biggest series of the season against Detroit. Unfortunately, we know how that went…

August 8, 2013: Zach McAllister allows six runs in just 2 1/3 innings of work as the Tigers earn a 10-3 win over the Tribe to complete a four-game series sweep. After the game, the Indians’ record stood at 62-53 while the Tigers’ was 68-45. There’s no way to for sure say that the division was lost during this series, but it seems to be a fair assumption.

August 12, 2013: The Indians officially call it quits with Mark Reynolds as the right-handed hitting slugger is released. Reynolds was a force from April 2 to May 31 as he hit .255/.336./.505 with seven doubles, 13 home runs and 41 RBI. However, from that point until his release in August, Reynolds hit just .166/.272/.212 with one double, two home runs and seven RBI.

September 1, 2013: The Indians salvage a series against the Tigers thanks to Mike Aviles, who hits a grand slam in the top of the ninth inning to lead the Tribe to a 4-0 win. With their record at 72-64, the Indians seem to be a longshot to make the playoffs, but that would all change over the course of this final month.

September 19, 2013: The Indians begin the final stretch of their schedule where they close out the season against Houston, Chicago and Minnesota. Things get started off right as Ubaldo Jimenez strikes out nine while allowing just one run in seven innings of work to lead the Indians to a 2-1 11th inning win over the Astros. Of course, the unlikely heroics of Matt Carson cannot be discounted as the right-handed hitting minor league journeyman hit a walk-off single to clinch the win.

September 24, 2013: In what was perhaps the most stunning win of the season, Jason Gimabi hits a two-out, two-run, pinch hit home run to lead the Indians to a 5-4 walk-off win over the Chicago White Sox. Giambi’s blast was especially important because it followed a Chris Perez blown save in which the right-hander allowed two home runs.

September 29, 2013: Ubaldo Jimenez continues his impressive second half of the season as the right-hander allows just one run across 6 2/3 innings while striking out a career-high 13 batters as the Indians win their 10th straight game and clinch home-field advantage for the American League Wild Card game. With the win, the Indians find themselves back in the postseason for the first time since 2007.

October 2, 2013: The Indians’ offense cannot come through as the Tribe falls 4-0 to the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Wild Card game. In particular, the top of the lineup seemed to struggle as Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher combined to go 0-for-12 in the contest.

Standout Stat From the Season

21-6

The Cleveland Indians surged to the finish line as the team went 21-6 in the month of September to claim the Wild Card spot. The miraculous thing of it is that the team needed all 21 of those wins. In fact, if the team even won one less game, they would not have been able to host a playoff game, and would have been stuck competing in a play-in game to even qualify for the postseason.

Player of the Year

Ubaldo Jimenez — Starting Pitcher

32 GS, 13-9, 3.30 ERA, 182.2 IP, 163 H, 75 R/67 ER, 16 HR, 3 HB, 80 BB, 194 K, 8 WP, .239 AVG

While it may be true that this year’s Indians team was the ultimate “team,” if there is one person who can be identified as a possible MVP, it’s Jimenez. This is certainly something that’s up for debate, and there will be a number of people who will disagree with this designation. However, it’s hard to argue with what Jimenez did in the second half. Following the All-Star break, Jimenez posted a 1.82 ERA in 13 starts and 84 innings of work. He also showed much better command and strikeout stuff over that stretch as the right-hander recorded 100 strikeouts in those 13 games while walking just 27. Above all else, the best thing about Jimenez is that he was able to step up and play such an important role when the team needed him most. When Justin Masterson went down with an injury in the beginning of September, it seemed quite likely that the Indians would not be able to recover. However, Jimenez was more than up to the task as he posted a 1.09 ERA in six September starts. One could make a case that Masterson was just as important to the Indians in the early part of the season, but the bottom line is that Jimenez’s top performances came at a more crucial time. It’s hard to believe the turnaround that has happened for Jimenez. When the Indians traded away Drew Pomeranz and Alex White back in July of 2011, they believed that they were receiving an ace in return. As it turns out, they did receive that ace, but it unfortunately just took two years for him to surface.

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