KFFL answers important fantasy baseball questions about each Major League Baseball team as spring training approaches. What must fantasy baseball players know about the Cleveland Indians?
What's next for the Tribe's youthful triumvirate?
In his first two full campaigns, catcher Carlos Santana, who moonlights at first base, has manufactured very good statistics for a player at his position. It says a lot that he was a disappointment in 2011 because of his .239 batting average (to go along with 27 round-trippers and 79 RBIs) and this past season because he smacked only 18 home runs (in addition to his .252 average and 76 RBIs). It also says a lot that, despite these relative letdowns, he won't be marked down.
The switch-hitting Santana's mediocre contact rate and reluctance to go with the pitch will help to prevent him from taking his batting average to Victor Martinez-like heights. His track record for controlling the strike zone and his plus power make him a virtual lock to contribute significantly in three categories, however. His tools should still make him a threat to bat .260 or better year after year, beginning this season. The 26-year-old will get the at-bats, so he's worth the cost.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis took uninformed fantasy owners by surprise with his .257 average, 14 home runs and 31 stolen bases in 2012. The left-handed batter's .233 post-break average may give pause, but the result was in part the function of some due corrections. Kipnis, 25, also hit southpaws poorly (.215) in 2012, but in limited exposure against them in the minors, he was thoroughly successful. The danger is that fantasy owners consider his cume contributions virtual locks. Kipnis should advance toward 20 home runs, but it seems highly unlikely that he'll attempt to run as often as he did in his first full season.
The real breakout possibility belongs to Lonnie Chisenhall, who, at 24, doesn't have quite as much experience against MLB competition as his Cleveland-cornerstone counterparts. A broken forearm cut out half of what would've been his first full big-league campaign. The left-handed batter's plate discipline was improving last season, but his control of the strike zone must catch up. Chisenhall's hard line-drive stroke should help him yield Kipnis-like power figures, and, paired with speculative maturity at the dish, a solid batting average. The third baseman won't cost much, comparatively.
When will Cleveland realize that Chris Perez is a bum?
Perez actually ... kinda ... safe?
Correction: Perez is not a bum. True, he blew four saves and took four losses last season, posting a 3.59 ERA one season after recording a 3.32 mark. But the right-hander - legitimately - recovered his strikeout prowess (9.21 K/9), and he reduced his rate of free passes (2.50 BB/9) considerably, with the aid of a two-seamer over which he had more control. Of the 23 earned runs he allowed last season, 11 of them came in three appearances (2 1/3 frames). If the rest of the Indians' bullpen hadn't been worked to the bone, perhaps Perez wouldn't have endured such misery.
Depending on your perception of the 27-year-old, these might seem like mere excuses. This closer isn't a bum, but he's not an elite fireman. His statistical indicators point toward a rebound in ERA, though, speculatively placing him in the neighborhood of someplace between 2010 (a 1.71 ERA that he won't touch) and 2012. Will your league-mates view him that way? Not all of them. The Tribe have a reinforced bullpen this year, too.
Of course, right-hander Vinnie Pestano is the man some stat mavens want to see closing contests in Cleveland. And, with his tendency to fan or induce infield pop-ups from the opposition, he can do the job. The soon-to-be 28-year-old's arsenal has evolved a bit to become more of the 9.77 K/9 variety roto managers saw last season than the 12.19 K/9 he posted in 2011, however. Pestano should remain one of baseball's top setup men and the clear next-in-line. Expect Terry Francona, who rarely ruffles feathers, to keep this arrangement.
Give one reason to invest in ... OK, just to investigate this rotation.
OK, here it is: The line to kick the tires on one of these pitchers won't be long, so he should cost you a pittance if you decide to drive one off the lot.
Ubaldo Jimenez: Somewhere, beneath that 5.40 ERA, diminished K/9 (7.28) and skyrocketing BB/9 (4.84), is the talent he put on display with the Colorado Rockies until the second half of his 2010 campaign. Somewhere. Maybe. At least it might be worth a buck (or a handful of them in an AL league) to see.
Justin Masterson: It appears that the 2.71 BB/9 he rocked in 2011 is an outlier. That plus his failure, thus far, to take meaningful steps toward retiring left-handed batters consistently has put hopes that he'll take the next step in peril. They're faint, but they're still alive.
Brett Myers: With a receding K/9, it seems unlikely that this pitcher who served in the bullpen in 2012 will provide anything of mixed-league interest. He's improved his control rate greatly, however, and the move to Progressive Field should help him to avoid such frequent bouts with gopheritis. If you find him in the clearance rack, he may earn you a few bucks.
Zach McAllister: This right-hander's sexy 7.90 K/9 and 2.73 BB/9 seem to belie a 4.24 ERA, but aspiring owners should expect some regression of those figures, or at least the rate of K's. Further, the 25-year-old's stuff is a tad too hittable. He may hit on a sub-4.00 ERA one season soon, but he's probably not a threat to do so repeatedly. He may earn his keep - if he's cheap.
Carlos Carrasco: Soon to be 26, he's the potential jewel of the starting five, in part because he's outside most fantasy owners' periphery. He was on the verge of long-term breakthrough thanks to his growth in 2010 (7.66 K/9, 2.82 BB/9 and 3.83 ERA in 44 2/3 stanzas) and 2011 (6.14 K/9, 2.89 BB/9 and 4.62 ERA in 124 2/3 innings). Most of his 2011 marks were better before his final few outings, after which it was discovered that he needed Tommy John surgery. Here's end-game upside.
Trevor Bauer: He probably receives more attention than any of the hurlers who are already virtually assured of rotation spots for the Indians. He's 22, has yet to overcome control problems and has received criticism for being uncoachable. But he's awfully talented and will probably be the first consideration for an opening in the starting five - if he doesn't screw it up.
If the Tribe hits on more than a couple of these things, with the additions of Nick Swisher and, perhaps, Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs, they should contend.
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.