The Cleveland Indians continue to have one of the most racist monikers and logos in professional sport. I admit that I’m not a fan of the Cleveland franchise especially since they knocked my beloved Toronto Blue Jays out of the playoffs last year. I also dislike the Red Sox and something feels right about saying “Fuck the Red Sox” but the same cannot be said about Cleveland because it’s ignorant and racist.
Similarly to the Royals of 2015, Cleveland managed to ride a very hot bullpen to the World Series and lost an exciting game 7 to the Chicago Cubs. Unlike the Royals, the Cleveland baseball club has a deep line up of sluggers and with better health from their front line starters, once again should compete for a World Series and at minimum win the AL Central in 2017.
Jose Ramirez was a former Dominican amateur free agent who has now played in parts of 4 seasons. He is only 24 years old but had a very good first full season in the bigs where he posted a WAR of 4.8. His defense is average but holds its own and his power is still developing. What Ramirez did very well in 2016 was hit for a borderline elite average of .312 which was up from 2015’s average of .219. This huge improvement is due to a major uptick in BABIP. In 2015 he was a victim or bad luck and in 2016 he was a fortunate recipient of good luck. I don’t believe the elite average will sustain as Ramirez does not hit enough line drives or hit the ball hard enough to maintain it. However, he is still developing as a player and should settle in around .275 batting average and could even look to build upon his steal totals from 2016 (22 total steals on 29 attempts). Cleveland Manager, Terry Francona has publicly stated Ramirez will start the year in the five hole behind Edwin Encarnacion, so RBI opportunities should be plenty.
Francisco Lindor has been a stud since he made his MLB debut in 2015. He’s only about to turn 24 and has likely not even hit his full potential yet. His defense is downright elite due to unbelievable instincts and a strong arm which has helped saved 27 defensive runs in his two MLB seasons. Lindor does it all at the plate. He hit hits for an almost elite average, steals bases, has some power, doesn’t strike out a lot and takes walks. There’s really nothing bad I can say about Lindor and I think he will actually improve upon his previous success in 2017 and could be an AL MVP contender.
Jason Kipnis has been a pretty good second basemen for the past five seasons. Through the past five years he has put up an average annual WAR of 4.0. He’s been a consistent offensive player and been slightly above average defensively at second basemen. He did experience a bit of a power surge last year and put up a career high 23 home runs. Given his remarkable consistency it’s unlikely any major regression occurs outside of a slight dip in the home runs. Kipnis will continue to hit in an ideal run producing spot in Cleveland’s lineup so the RBI’s and runs will be in the upper 80’s along with a .275 average. One thing to note is that Kipnis is battling a shoulder injury in his throwing arm so it will be worth monitoring his health as the season inches closer. If he battles a prolonged lingering injury he could miss time and his hitting could indeed be adversely impacted.
Carlos Santana is a great guitarist! The baseball player version is also a good hitter! What are the odds?! Carlos Santana is now several years removed from being a poor defensive catcher and failed to stick at third base so he has found a home as the team’s poor fielding first baseman and DH. With the arrival of Edwin Encarnacion it will be interesting to see how much playing time is split at first base between the two. Santana has perennially been one of the league’s walk leaders as he has a career 15.5% walk rate. He doesn’t hit as many home runs as most slugging first basemen but saw a career high surge in 2016 as he bopped 34 dick slapping dingers. He does possess a career .196 iso so he has legit power but it’s very unlikely he tops 30 round trippers again. Santana can be a streaky player at the plate but every year he seems to hit .250/.365/.425 with 22 home runs, 75 runs and 85 RBI’s. He’ll even steal 5 bases. I don’t see why this would change other then maybe hitting 25 home runs this year instead.
Edwin Encarnacion will bring his parrot trot to Ohio after departing Toronto in free agency. Edwin has been one of the best home run hitters in baseball in the past five seasons as he has hit 34 to 42 home runs each year during that span. He will likely see most of his time at DH with the occasional first base duties, especially during inter-league play. Edwin has battled through ongoing back issues for the past few years but hasn’t missed a lot of time. Being a full time DH should help with keeping him healthy. Francona already has Edwin penciled in as the cleanup hitter so there’s no reason why he won’t hit 110 RBI’s and 35+ home runs again. However, Edwin’s strike out rate has continually been increasing as he has gone from a 10% K rate in 2013 to a 15% K Rate in 2014-15 to 18% in 2016. I don’t foresee Edwin suddenly falling off the map but this is a concerning trend as he enters his age 34 season. Edwin can also be a streaky player and is typically a slow starter, but when he heats up he is unstoppable and makes pitchers lives miserable.
At catcher, Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez will split duties behind the plate. Gomes was dreadful in 2016 with the bat as he hit .167 and had a 26.1% strike out rate. In 2013 trough 2014, Gomes was one of the better hitting catchers in ball as his average hovered around the .285 range. He used to hit a lot more line drives but in 2016 this nose dived and he saw a spike in ground balls and infield pop flies. He was a huge victim of bad luck but nonetheless will likely never see his 2013 to 2014 type production again. What will also limit Gomes is the defensive play of Roberto Perez. Although Perez does not have the offensive upside his pitch framing and defensive play makes him good enough to hold a starting position. Gomes will likely get the nod to start due to his bat but if his struggles at the plate continue Perez will see more playing time.
If Cleveland has any weaknesses, it would be in their outfied as there are some serious question marks surrounding their motley crew of fielders. Former all-star Michael Brantley is hoping to regain some health so that he can become an every day player again. After breaking out in 2014 he stepped back a bit in 2015, but ultimately missed all of 11 games in 2016. He severely injured his right shoulder while attempting a diving catch in late September of 2015 and still hasn’t fully recovered over a year and a half later. Michael Brantley will be 30 years old when the season begins and with that much time off I would be concerned that he will be a bit rusty and the risk of re-injury is clearly present since he only managed 11 games before being shut down in 2016. If Brantley can contribute in 2016, Cleveland will hope he can be another table setter with his high batting average and speed. He really would bring another huge offensive element to the Cleveland roster.
Sophomore, Tyler Naquin had a great debut for the team in 2016. When the season was said and done, Naquin hit .296/.372/.514 with 14 home runs, 52 runs and 43 RBI’s. He’s not much of a speedster so his average is going to crash this year as his BABIP was an insane .412 which is not even remotely sustainable. Additionally, he is ill-suited for centre field and posted -18 defensive runs saved and really should be a corner outfielder but he’s the best option they currently have. With Brantley being a possibility of missing time again it’s possible he ends up playing left field with bench player Abraham Almonte covering centre field.
Lonnie Chisenhall is no longer a third basemen and was given extended time in right field last year. He’s still not a good defensive player and his bat is still not that great. He has managed to slightly cut down the strike out rate to below league average, but his power has not developed as it was once projected. However, Lonnie has developed a nice line drive swing and was hitting 24% of his contacted swings as liners last year hence the .286 batting average. He will likely hit near the end of the squad’s batting order in the 8 hole and won’t hit much better then last year. His floor is limited and given his defensive inabilities he will likely be out of Cleveland after 2017 as an outfield upgrade is needed if the Tribe are to contend again this year.
Corey Kluber will remain the ace of a fairly strong Cleveland rotation. The 2014 American League Cy Young winner had another strong season in 2016 as he pitched well over 200 innings, struck out over 9 batters per 9 innings and helped his team win 18 games. However, he did see some issues with walks as he posted the highest walk rate of his career since becoming a full time major leaguer. Walking 2.39 batters per 9 innings isn’t horrible but is concerning. Outside of the increase in walks Kluber was a stud and by far the team’s best starting pitcher over the course of the season. There’s little reason to expect any major regression from Kluber and he will likely finish as a top 10 pitcher in the entire league once again this year.
Carlos Carrasco was in the midst of another productive season until he ran into a broken finger in mid September that ended his season. His velocity was down by just about 1 Mph since his breakout season in 2014 but he still struck out over 9 batters per 9 innings and maintained his already excellent ERA around 3.23. Carrasco did see his home run rate rise as his hard rate spiked from 26.5% to 36.4%. The hard hit rate and decline in velocity is slightly concerning and leads reason to expect a bit more decline in 2017. At the age of 30 I think we have now seen Carrasco’s peak as an MLB starter. I doubt Carrasco falls off a cliff this year but he will likely slide a bit more and I expect the spike in his home run rate to possibly remain unless his hard hit rate can drop back to his 2015 level.
Danny Salazar battled through a tough 2016 season with multiple injuries to his throwing arm. He had an elbow, shoulder and forearm injury. He managed to pitch in 25 starts last year and was very effective for the most part. His strike out rate rose to an elite 10.55 K/9 due to a fastball that touches 95 Mph and an effective change up. However, his walk rate was an ugly 4.13 BB/9 which was up from an already elevated 2.58 BB/9 in 2015. Command will likely never be Salazar’s strength, but he will have to reign his command issues back a bit in 2017. He has the talent to do so but we will wait and see on that front. With three nagging injuries occurring to his arm in 2016 he’s a risk for re-injury in 2017. Luckily the Cleveland baseball club will have the necessary pitching depth if that was to occur.
‘Member Trevor Bauer and his bloody finger in the ALCS? That was fun… so Bauer finally emerged as a decent starter in 2016. Similar to Salazar he has walk issues but has done a great job inducing ground balls as of late. His 2015 grounder rate was 39.2% but it increased to 49% in 2016. This consequently made his home runs allowed drop and allowed the ERA to fall. Bauer likely doesn’t have a lot more upside then what we saw last year due to an average set of pitches. As the projected fourth starter in a solid rotation he’s really all The Tribe need and if he can pitch 180 innings, Cleveland will be very happy.
To round out the rotation will be Josh Tomlin. The 32 year old was pretty good for the first half of the 2016 season but declined in the second half. He’s a pitch to contact pitcher but allows a few too many flyballs for my liking. Tomlin’s walk rate was borderline elite last year with 1.03 BB/9, but he had a hideous 1.86 HR/9. Tomlin isn’t much more than a borderline starter so a major improvement isn’t likely.
Given all the injuries that occurred to the core of the team’s rotation in 2016, the bullpen was a godsend and especially so in the playoffs. Andrew Miller was downright scary last year. He began the season as the Yankees closer as Aroldis Chapman was suspended. As the Yankees went into fire sale mode around the trade deadline, Miller became one of the most sought after relievers and the Tribe ponied up to acquire his services. When everything was said and done Miller struck out over 14 batters per 9 innings and brought his walk rate down to an elite 1.09 batters walked per 9 innings. From 2014 on he ‘s been one of the best relievers in baseball and has posted a WAR of 7.2 in only 197 innings of work. That kind of production over the course of a season would warrant a Cy Young but there’s a reason why Miller is a reliever and not a starter. Historically he had command issues which is why he was converted to the pen in 2011. I ‘member watching Miller’s last game ever as a starter against the Blue Jays and he was frighteningly wild.
Since converting to the pen he has been able to ratchet up his velocity and has honed his slider which is one of the best in baseball. It’s actually nice seeing Miller being deployed in high leverage situations and not simply limited to the traditional 9th inning save situation. This kind of bullpen usage is ideal and gives Cleveland the best chance to win games because he is their best bullpen pitcher without a doubt.
To close games is likely to be Cody Allen who has been the team’s closer since 2014. Allen is not as good as Miller but has been effective in his role for the past few seasons. He has been great at getting strike outs (career K rate of 11.52/9) but does walk a few too many batters for my liking (3.5 BB/9). Unless Allen completely implodes he will continue to see save opportunities while Miller is used in the high leverage situations in the 7th and/or 8th inning.
Boone Logan was brought over from Colorado this off-season to be another lefty out of the pen so that the load can be lightened at times for Andrew Miller. He’s been serviceable but unspectacular in his career. He actually profiles very similar to Miller but relies on the slider much more and still has command issues.
Dan Otero proved to be a solid acquisition for the team as he had his best season of his career while posting a WAR of 1.2. He is a pitch to contact reliever but was solid in 2016 as he generated groundballs 62% of the time which is ridiculous. Otero had some favourable BABIP luck in his favour but was instrumental in helping Cleveland reach the World Series final. Will he continue where he left off in 2016? Who knows, he’s a bullpen arm and these kind of players tend to be up and down. I would bank on regression for Otero.
After these four players, the squad’s pen will be rounded out by Brian Shaw, Zach McAllister and an open competition for the final 7th spot.
Cleveland has the pieces in place to make another good run again this season. The top and middle of their batting order is top of the class in the AL Central and their rotation and bullpen is fairly deep. I would expect the Tribe to make a mid season trade for some outfield help if they are in the playoff race near the trade deadline. Ultimately I would expect Cleveland to run away with the division and clinch first place with 90 wins. They have the necessary weapons to make a championship run but will definitely need to make a trade for outfield health and will need Michael Brantley to be healthy.
Francisco Lindor – The kid has the skill set at shortstop to win an AL MVP award. He has already has two outstanding seasons under his belt and has yet to turn 24. He’s an easy top 20 fantasy pick and is one of the best young shortstops in a crop of unbelievably talented shortstops. Now that he will hit in front Edwin Encarnacion it’s possible he scores even more runs then last year but may steal a bit less given that the long ball is always a threat to bring him home anyway. I expect his floor to be a slash line of 0.304/0.352/0.448 with 17 home runs, 95 runs, 80 RBI’s and 15 stolen bases.
Corey Kluber – The former Cy Young winner should be in line for a top 10 pitching performance this year. He’s been remarkably consistent since his 2014 breakout. Expect a performance that results in 16 wins, an ERA of 3.09, a WHIP of 1.10 and 225 strike outs. That’s the kind of pitching performance I’d like from my top fantasy pitcher any day.
Tyler Naquin – He’s a fine young player, but his 2016 performance just isn’t repeatable due to an insanely high BABIP. Someone in your pool who doesn’t know this will likely reach and will be severely disappointed given his draft day price. His final hitting line for 2017 will likely be around 0.250/.320/.400 and will produce 14 home runs and 50 RBI’s and 6 SB’s. Considering that he hit those kind of home run and RBI’s in a partial season last year you’ll be disappointed with this stagnant counting stat performance and decreases in batting average.
Carlos Santana – Every year he’s drafted much later then he’s worth. First base isn’t full of elite players this year so why not wait for a safe player like Santana that can be had much later then some other middling options. If you play in an on base percentage league he’s much more valuable due to his elite walk rate. The power will decrease from 2016 but he’s still a safe bet to hit 20 to 25 home runs.