WTNYJanuary 21, 2004
Asked and Answered
By Bryan Smith

I didn't think I had anything to write about today, until Twins Fan Dan over at Will Carroll's blog posed the question,
"What the sam-hell is Mark Shapiro doing?" For me, that question is definitely worthy of a 1,000 word response. Here's more than you will ever want to know about the 2004 Cleveland Indians, starting with their rough depth chart:

Position Players
C- Victor Martinez
1B- Travis Hafner
2B- Ronnie Belliard
SS- Omar Vizquel
3B- Casey Blake
LF- Escobar/Ludwick/Broussard
CF- Milton Bradley
RF- Jody Gerut
DH- Matt Lawton
Bench= Josh Bard, Ricky Gutierrez, John McDonald, Broussard/Escobar/Ludwick, Crisp

Pitching Staff
Rotation: C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Jason Davis, Cliff Lee, Bere/Durbin/Stanford

Bullpen: Bob Wickman, Jose Jimenez, David Riske, Scott Stewart, Rafael Betancourt, Jack Cressend

I see potential in that roster, especially when considering how hogtied Shapiro is. He was in the organization in their mid-90s glory years, but agreed to take over a team that would have to see a signifcant decrease in salary. Last season, their Opening Day payroll was $47.6M, yet that will be on the decline next season. After recently signing David Riske and Scott Stewart to contracts, this is the list of guaranteed contracts the Indians will pay next season:

Vizquel- 7.500
Lawton- 6.750
Wickman- 5.300
Gutierrez- 3.820
Sabathia- 2.450
Bradley- 1.430
Riske- 1.025
Wohlers- 1.000
Jimenez- 1.000
Belliard- 1.000
Westbrook- .925
Stewart- .850
Bere- .400

TOTAL= $33.450

That means eleven of the twenty-six players I named above are under contract, so fifteen others will be auto-renewals. At most, that will cost about $6M, leaving the Indians payroll below $40M. With that little money, I'm much quicker to compliment Mark Shapiro than to question his motives.

First of all, the Indians are going to have a very good bullpen next season. Three of the members, the returnees of the group, had very good 2003 seasons. David Riske became the closer late in the season, and was very impressive. He gave up just a .196 average allowed, a K/9 rate of 9.88, and a fantastic 4.10 K/BB. While he's underrated, Rafael Betancourt may just be the best reliever you didn't know existed. After some insane AA numbers (33H/45.1IP 75K/13BB), the team quickly promoted him to Cleveland, in which he gave them 33 games with a 2.13ERA. Like Riske, his AVE allowed was .196, especially displaying great skills at negating right-handers (.133/.165/.253 allowed). Cressend bounced back from a poor 2002 very nicely, posting a 2.51ERA in 40+ innings. Cressend allowed only 2ER between 30 AA and AAA innings, and continued that middle relief success in the Major Leagues. The three 2003 Indians won't draw a lot of press, but are as effective as any trio at what they do, and should be valued higher in the stat-head community.

After that insanely long paragraph, I move to the other 3 bullpen members, whom Shapiro is counting on to bounce back. The first of which is Jose Jimenez, who finally gets to leave the altitude of Coors. Despite having a 5.81ERA as a reliever, there remains a lot to like about the former Rockie closer. For instance, Jimenez hasn't allowed his GB/FB ratio to dip from 2.50 in any season during his career, and the slick Indian infield should help. His HR ratio will also decline, but Jimenez needs to work on taking his K/BB back in the 4.27 range (see 2002), rather than 1.73 (see career). Stewart and Wickman are both hoping to bounce back from injuries, although Stewart had time for 51 average games last season. His effectiveness vs. LH dipped, and to be successful his LH Ave. allowed must regress to past seasons.

The rotation is going to...well, struggle. The team's rotation had a 4.41ERA last year, and I can't expect that to dip too much this year. C.C. Sabathia keeps pitching well despite worrying injury-gurus like Mr. Carroll. No matter how you slice it, Sabathia's an innings-eater who will allow an OPS of about .700, strike out about 6.5 per 9, and relies on his ability to get the ball over the plate on any given day. His ERA dropped last season largely because his 66BB were the lowest of his career. The only other starter I like is prospect Cliff Lee, part of what Shapiro got for Bartolo Colon in 2002. Lee had nine solid Major League starts, showing good hit and strikeout rates. For you fantasy players, Lee wouldn't be a bad last-round pick, as he could have 140K's very easily this season.

Victor Martinez and Milton Bradley are the only 2 starts that are 25 (or younger), and both have very bright futures. Bradley took a quantum leap last season, finally displaying what once made him a top Expos prospect. Bradley's OBP skills were fantastic, and it looks like he needs to be patient for success to come. He looks like a solid HR/SB guy, and could be 25/25 for sure. If he doesn't develop that power, he'll be good in the leadoff slot anyways. Martinez was a top prospect a year ago, and held his own in a 159AB stint with the Indians last season. He showed good contact and OBP skills, yet had absolutely no power. The team is praying that his September line of .344/.417/.422 is indicative of his talents, and I think so. Don't be shocked to see Martinez hit .290/.360/.400 next season, which would battle Benito Santiago for top catcher in the division.

The other youngsters from the lineup, the 2003 rookies, are Travis Hafner and Jody Gerut. The latter impressed the most, actually finishing top-3 for Rookie of the Year voting. Jody came out of nowhere to have 57 extra-base hits, including 22HR. In the end, he may end up a platoonable player, as he did hit .306/.360/.564 vs. RH, as opposed to .209/.274/.313 against southpaws. I like Gerut's potential, and he should be the lineup's power source this year. Helping will be Hafner, who didn't garner any attention, but caught on late. His second half numbers are .273/.348/.519, and he hit nine home runs in his final 156AB. Don't be shocked if he hits 25HR out of nowhere, and if the Indians actually have a decent middle-of-the-order (Gerut-Bradley-Hafner).

Finally, there are the veterans. Lawton and Vizquel are on the decline, yet both could post OBPs above .340, and I think Eric Wedge will place them atop the order. Casey Blake had a nice season, clubbing more than 50XBH after signing a minor league contracts. These are the moves Shapiro must thrive on, those being minor league signings, the waiver wire, and small trades. Ronnie Belliard is the no-name signing that Shapiro is bullish on, yet I must say I'm unimpressed. At best, you are looking at .280/.350/.400, which would be an improvement on the .209/.247/.320 line Indians 2B had last year.

And then, there is the Master Plan. Shapiro is praying that Brandon Phillips turns things around, that Grady Sizemore develops power, and that Michael Aubrey and Brad Snyder turn out. The team lacks a left side for the future, but everything else is covered, and covered well. Jeremy Guthrie will be in the Majors this season, possibly before June, and will be another great Stanford arm. The team has a ton of more prospects, and Shapiro is really planning on 2008-2010 being his years. Will Indian ownership being willing to wait? Hey, Chuck LaMar got his time.