By: Noah Wright
The Cleveland Indians in one of the easiest divisions in baseball. As long as guys performed as they’re supposed to, and players didn’t go down with severe injuries, they were almost guaranteed the division.
However, the two things that the Indians needed to go right didn’t. Players aren’t performing to expectations, and the team has had some pretty severe injuries. For starters, their star shortstop, Francisco Lindor, started the year on the IL. That was after he performed extremely well, with a .277/.352/.519 line in 745 PA’s, with 38 long balls, 25 stolen bases, and 2.5 dWAR. Another young star they were relying on was third baseman Jose Ramirez. Last year, Ramirez had produced a .270/.387/.552 line in 698 PA’s with 39 home runs, and 34 stolen bases. He, like Lindor, also had plus defense at third with .2 dWAR and 3 DRS. But he has gotten off to a cold start, having a .555 OPS through his first 125 PA’s.
Pitching wise, the only pitcher with an ERA below 3.50 is Trevor Bauer. He currently has a 2.45 ERA, 3.54 FIP, and 1.09 WHIP. Everyone else can’t say the same. Both Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber have ERA’s approaching 6. While Carrasco does have a 2.90 FIP, he has given up 4 long balls, and 41 hits in 27 and 2 thirds innings. Mike Clevinger had fired 12 scoreless innings to start off 2019, before a back muscle caused him to be forced onto the IL for up to 8 weeks. Shane Bieber is doing solid, but nothing super great. He has a 3.68 ERA, 3.90 FIP, and 1.057 WHIP in 29 and a third innings. In the pen, Brad Hand has been consistently good, as usual (1.32 ERA, 1.43 FIP, .878 WHIP, 13 and two thirds innings pitched). Control artist Dan Otero does have a sparkling a 1.46 ERA but a 4.09 FIP. Tyler Olson is off to a solid start, having a 3.38 ERA, and 3.24 FIP, but has a 5.6 BB/9, and 1.625 WHIP. Ty Wittgren is one of the only other pitchers to have decent overall numbers, having a .87 ERA and 1.95 FIP, with decent control numbers in 10.1 innings to open the season. Hand and Wittgren are the only bullpen pieces to have both an ERA and FIP below 3, showing their pen isn’t very deep.
As of today, the Indians have been carried by 4 players: Trevor Bauer, Brad Hand, Ty Wittgren, and Carlos Santana. Santana is the only primary line up piece to have an OPS over .750, and the only qualifying player to have an OPS over .700 (Lindor has a .733 OPS right now, but has stepped to the plate 42 times). The Indians re-acquired Santana over the off season from the Seattle Mariners after the Phillies salary dumped him on the Mariners. He’s been one of the best offseason acquisitions by any team. Currently, Santana has a .323/.432/.495 line, 4 home runs, and a 143 wRC+ in 118 plate appearances. He’s also been a good defensive first baseman as well, with 1 DRS and a .1 dWAR.
Now with the forearm injury to Corey Kluber after being hit with a line drive, the Indians lose their Cy Young caliber ace. Even if he wasn’t pitching super well to start the season, Kluber could have easily have turned it around in May. The Indians main weakness is lack of depth. If something happens to Carlos Santana, their only force in the line up through the first month of 2019 will be gone.
The Indians should start to be pressing the panic button. Their lack of depth mixed in with under performance and injuries has severely hurt their chances of making the playoffs. But they shouldn’t hit the complete rebuild button just yet. Francisco Lindor (25 years old) and Jose Ramirez (26 years old) are still young. They should pursue an extension with both of them. Carlos Carrasco is cheaply controlled through 2023, and could easily bounce back later this year. The Tribe also has a few highly promising prospects in the minors. Pitcher Triston McKenzie is MLB’s 38th best prospect. Third baseman, Nolan Jones is MLB’s 63rd best prospect. Eventually, the Indians could have an infield with Nolan Jones at third base, Lindor at short, Ramirez at second, and Carlos Santana at first. This is the time for the Indians to retool, and compete again in the coming year or so. Trevor Bauer could bring in a haul, as well as Corey Kluber if he does well when he gets healthy. If or when the Indians decide to trade off some of their pieces, they should target outfield prospects, and pitching prospects, since those are the shallowest areas on their roster.
Though it’s the Indians should start to be worrying right about now, they don’t have to sell off everything in order to regain status as an elite ballclub. However, they should retool. They don’t have any sort of outfield prospect that’s making headlines, and they’re minor league pitching could use a boost since they don’t have a high ranking pitching prospect outside of McKenzie. The Indians should retool now, and try again in 2020.