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Ten thoughts on the Indians offseason

It’s already been a week since the Cleveland Indians were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League’s one-game wild-card playoff at Progressive Field, losing 4-0. Meanwhile, the Rays 2013 season also came to a crashing end on Tuesday night as they fell to the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS series 3-1.

While losing in the one-game wild-card playoff game to the Rays hurt, Tribe fans probably had an easier time getting over elimination considering none of them had the Indians making the MLB postseason in the first place. Most people loved the hiring of Terry Francona last October, but didn’t expect the first-year skipper to bring this club back to relevancy so quickly.

The rebuilding process for the Tribe has certainly been accelerated by a 92-70 record, an MLB Playoff berth and tons of pieces returning from that successful group; but let’s look ahead to some offseason question marks and decisions that will have to be made by the Indians over the next few months.

Here are ten things I’ll be looking at:

1. ‘Big U’ & ‘Kaz’: Both Ubaldo Jimenez and lefty Scott Kazmir were pleasant surprises during the 2013 campaign and the Indians would like to bring back both next season. Jimenez went 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA and literally pitched the Tribe into the postseason, while Kazmir went 10-9 his first season back in the big leagues in two years and boasted an ERA of 4.04. Both Jimenez and Kazmir have maintained they’d be open to staying in Cleveland, but we all know when agents and the business side of baseball gets involved things can change. Jimenez currently has an $8 million option that he likely will walk away from in hopes of negotiating a new contract with the Indians or another club, while Kazmir will become a free agent. It would be great for the Tribe to re-sign both pitchers, but that probably isn’t likely.

2. Bullpen: In three years the Indians bullpen has not had this much uncertainty heading into an offseason and the front office knows it. Bringing back closer Chris Perez would be a surprise at this point, Joe Smith is a free agent who can probably make more money than the Tribe wants to spend and Vinnie Pestano needs to go back to the drawing board to figure some things out after a disastrous 2013 season. All three: Perez, Pestano and Smith have been integral pieces to the Tribe ‘pen the past three seasons. The good news is the Tribe received solid contributions from Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers…but there is a lot to figure out with the Indians bullpen before spring training rolls around in February.

Nick Camino checks out Vinnie Pestano during a bullpen session earlier this year in spring training. Photo courtesy of MLB.com

3. Another bat: A year ago at this time the Indians were eyeing a right-handed power bat to help balance out their lineup. Today they’re still looking for that same piece. Last year the Tribe signed Mark Reynolds who certainly provided pop and helped the Indians, but only for the month of April and part of May. Another big bopper is needed in the middle of the Tribe lineup because right now there is no legitimate cleanup hitter on this club. Look for the Indians to sign somebody who can change the complexion of a baseball game with one swing of the bat.

4. Giambi: The 42-year-old veteran was crowned Team MVP by Terry Francona for the 2013 season mainly because of what he brought to the club off-the-field. Calling team meetings and talking with young players daily was valuable for the Tribe and having versatile bench players like Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles gave the Indians the luxury to carry a player like Giambi. Yes, he only hit .183, but his ability to change the complexion of a baseball game with one swing of the bat is why he was signed, not to bat lead-off. In re-signing Aviles and Raburn it appears the Indians will have the luxury to carry Giambi on the 25-man roster again. The veteran slugger has voiced he wants to play one more season and the Indians have said they would definitely welcome him back.

5. Sandy Alomar: Will the former Tribe catcher, now first base coach, be back next season? I certainly think it is a question worth asking. Immediately after the 2013 season ended Terry Francona announced coaching changes that will see former third base coach Brad Mills join Tito on the bench, former first base coach Mike Sarbaugh go to third base and Alomar bumped from the bench to go back to first base where he coached two seasons under former skipper Manny Acta. While Francona sold this move as, “Sandy is a big part of the running game being a former catcher,” the bottom line is he wanted former college roommate and longtime bench coach in Boston “Millsie” next to him. Going from the bench to first base is a demotion. Does Alomar care? I’m not sure. But he’s probably trying to line up some job interviews as we speak.

Terry Francona elected to move Sandy Alomar from the bench to first base. Is this the end for Alomar on the Indians coaching staff? AP Photo

6. Third base: Lonnie Chisenhall finished off a disappointing season (.225, 11 HR) with three hits in the one-game wild-card playoff game against the Rays making Francona look like a genius yet again for even starting him in that contest. The Indians still feel Chisenhall is the future and at 24-years-old I think fans are willing to give him another shot next season in the full-time role. However, down the stretch there was a reason why we saw more of utility man Mike Aviles at third base. Don’t be surprised if the Indians bring in a veteran third baseman or infielder that will push Chisenhall during spring training and maybe even compete for the job at the hot corner.

7. Spending more money: Last offseason Indians ownership spent nearly $117 million on free agents in guaranteed contracts which is more money than the New York Yankees spent in that same category. Yes, the Yankees payroll was higher, but Paul Dolan certainly made a serious investment in locking up key free agents like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn and spending more money in one offseason than the previous three combined. A lot of the money spent last offseason came via the deal that sold Dolan’s Sportstime Ohio TV Network to FOX Sports. I’m not sure if the Indians will spend as much as they did a year ago, but I do think ownership got a first-hand look into what can happen in just one season when you dig a little bit deeper into your pocket.

8. Disappointments: I’ll keep this short. Nobody wants to relive the brutal one-game wild-card performances from Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera. However, according to manager Terry Francona, Bourn was playing through some injuries. As for Cabrera, the excuses have likely run out. The Tribe shortstop followed up an abysmal 2013 season with an even worse wild-card playoff game. He’s owed $10 million next season so he could be back…but the Indians are likely doing whatever they can to shop him throughout the offseason.

Asdrubal Cabrera was one of the Indians biggest disappointments during the 2013 season. AP Photo

9. Character is key: For years the Indians have always signed players with high character and simply guys that were easy to get along with. They shifted away from that this year when they signed right-hander Brett Myers and to some extent Mark Reynolds. Reynolds seemed to turn his disgruntled attitude at Francona and the coaching staff when he wasn’t playing every day when we all know there was only one person to blame for that. As for Myers, probably one of the worst individual’s I have ever met in my entire life. Yes, not just baseball…my life. To boot, various teammates told me his “bad-ass” attitude had grown tired in the Indians clubhouse. Again, rare that it happens…but the Indians need to make sure they sign players who fit.

10. Season tickets: This is a pretty simple concept. Season tickets must be sold this offseason. With a season-ticket base only around 6,000 this past season it was impossible for the Tribe to get good crowds on a nightly basis. That is asking 24,000 people to walk up and buy a ticket on a Wednesday night…it just won’t happen. Major League Baseball teams build their foundation of good attendance through their season ticket holders. We know it is possible to pack Progressive Field…just look at the atmosphere of Wednesday’s one-game wild-card playoff. Bravo by the way! That was awesome. However, it is time to try and create that type of atmosphere than just the final game of the season. Season tickets must be sold and I have to believe they will…fans are ready to hop on the bandwagon.

 

- Nick Camino

 

 

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