Playing Pepper 2021: Cleveland Indians

Opening Day is just around the corner (knock on wood after 2020, of course) and as such, that means it’s time for everyone’s favorite post series!  OK, maybe second favorite after Top Cards on Twitter.  It’s Playing Pepper!  Year 13 of our intrepid series finds us, as always, asking questions of bloggers (both former and current) of other teams, seeing how they view the upcoming season.   I think it’s a solid way of getting a handle on MLB as a whole.  So get your bats and ignore that sign on the fence–let’s play some pepper!

Cleveland Indians
35-25, second in the AL Central, lost in the Wild Card Round
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper

You can argue about whether small markets can support franchise players.  You can discuss whether trying to get a good return back instead of re-signing a legendary player is the smartest play for a business.  No matter if you agree with that or not, losing such a player, a player that has always worn your logo and has dazzled fans for years, has to hurt.  Cleveland went through that this year.  What’s up for the first post-Lindor season?  Let’s find out.

Blogger Site Twitter
Brian Hemminger Let's Go Tribe TribeTimeLGT
Joseph Coblitz Indians Baseball Insider BurningRiverBB
Nino Colla SnarkyNino

C70: Baseball in 2020 was like nothing we’ve ever seen before. What are your thoughts on that season? Did you like the rule changes? How was following baseball the same or different during the pandemic?

Brian: It was a really strange season, and I would clearly prefer a regular season because I need more baseball in my life, but I’ll take what I could get from it. I didn’t mind the rule changes. They had already experimented with the runner on second in extra innings during previous minor league seasons and I think it’s a positive that adds more strategy to the game. I also like the seven-inning double headers because 18 innings of guaranteed baseball in one day is asking a lot from a team, especially over the course of a full season. Following baseball is extremely different heading into this year primarily because my job at Let’s Go Tribe is reporting on the minor league system, and they didn’t even have a season last year. That’s the worst thing that happened overall, in my opinion. Depending on what the players were able to do during their downtime, they could have lost an entire year of development. 

Joseph: My biggest issue with the changes were the ones that the teams had little control over, the shortened season and expanded play-offs. As a lover of baseball stats/records/history, this lead to a certain amount of apathy for the 2020 season. I am somewhat ambivalent towards the extra inning bonus runner and would prefer just calling a game a tie following the 11th inning and running the standings more like the NHL. That being said, those of us who cover the lower minors have been getting used to this practice for a few years now. I love the universal DH and think it should have been in place decades ago.

The strangest thing about 2020 was not being able to cover baseball in person. This was the first season since I started writing about minor league baseball in 2011 that I wasn’t able to see any live Arizona League games and you could say that my attendance at 2020 instructional league games wasn’t particularly appreciated.

Nino: So, I didn’t. I really didn’t. Then the Indians made the playoffs and I paid attention for a few games. I’m of the opinion that sports shouldn’t have been happening. Baseball, especially in the way they did it, shouldn’t have been happening. Basketball did something as close to what I would say is acceptable as can be by putting the league in a bubble. But even that rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t care for the rule changes either. I think the rule changes that keep coming up in baseball are terrible, especially when their intent is to “speed up the game” for the sake of making it more “appealing” to non-baseball fans. How about, appeal to the people who like the sport? But that’s just my soap-box and probably drifts far from the point. Sports in 2020 were a non-interest for me. I am looking forward to getting back to enjoying baseball in-person when it is safe to do so and the game isn’t handcuffed by a global pandemic and adjustments that need to be made so that the game can be played.

C70: The club’s name is going to change in the near future. What’s your preference for what they’ll be called and what do you think they’ll actually settle on?

Brian: I’ve heard a ton of names floated around. I like two names that I’ve heard so far, which both have ties to the area. First is the Guardians, which references the guardian statue at Hope Memorial Bridge entering Cleveland. The other would be the Commodores, which references Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who famously won a major sea battle against the British in the War of 1812. The leading favorite for a new name according to the betting odds is the Spiders, which was a former team name over 100 years ago and I could live with that. 

Joseph: I want Spiders and I think Guardians. A lot of locals don’t like the Spiders name because of the 1899 team that had the worst season in baseball history and caused the franchise to be disbanded, but prior to that they were a very successful team that won a pennant and started the career of Cy Young and a couple other less famous Hall of Famers. It would also be one of very few invertebrate team names across all sports and I appreciate a unique name and logo.

The Guardians are the name for the statues on a bridge near the stadium and I find them to be a bit boring and don’t want the team name to be something you have to explain every time it comes up. The Indians have fans from Conneaut to Toledo to Columbus and I think it would be a mistake to not have a team name that includes all of northeast/central Ohio rather than just the rapidly shrinking city of Cleveland.

Nino: The fun (read: annoying) thing is that if you are within the fanbase or follow the team, this is all anything ever cares about and has cared about for years. It brings people out of the woodwork to speak up where they might have not before. EVERYONE literally has an opinion on what it should be. I’m excited for a new name, honestly, a new look too. I’m firmly in the camp that the “Indians” moniker has overstayed its lifespan by many many years. What I DON’T think will happen is a rename to anything it has been in the past So, Spiders, Naps, etc., all out the window. Guardians has been thrown around a lot because of the architecture ties to the Hope Memorial Bridge and that would probably appease the most number of fans. Rockers would piss off the most people. I think they end up going with something that isn’t being talked about and that will probably annoy a lot of people because you won’t find something that appeases everyone. I just hope there’s an adjustment to the red, navy, and white color scheme.

C70: Trading Francisco Lindor had to be put a damper on the offseason. What were your thoughts on the trade?

Brian: It sucks to lose Lindor, but it was inevitable after he turned down a $100 million contract in 2017, so it was only a matter of time. I’m glad we got five amazing years with him. In regards to the trade, I wish they could have got more, especially since they included veteran pitcher Carlos Carrasco in the deal, but I also understand that it’s only one year of Lindor, so the return wasn’t going to be as good as what we got for 1 1/2 years of Trevor Bauer in 2019 or the 2 1/2 years of Mike Clevinger in 2020. All in all, we got a good shortstop who would have been a top 100 prospect this season if he hadn’t lost rookie eligibility (Andres Gimenez), a former top prospect who can play several positions (Amed Rosario) and two of the Mets’ 2nd round draft picks from 2019 and 2020 who were both high upside high schoolers when drafted so they won’t be in Cleveland for a while. I’d have loved to get a top 5 Mets prospect, but I understand it. 

Joseph: It was inevitable based on the Indians ownership and front office. While they have been willing to spend money on extending players like Jose Ramirez, Roberto Perez, Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber, they also have been very solid at getting returns on players who would be free agents. They made multiple extensive offers to Lindor that he rejected, so they had to bring back some value in terms of prospects. That being said, the hauls brought back from multiple deals with San Diego in 2020 and 2019 appear to have brought back more valuable and more MLB ready players than the one that saw Lindor and Carrasco head to New York.

A surprisingly disappointing part of the deal was that the best MLB ready talent coming back were middle infielders who will now have to compete with the best Indians prospects to replace Lindor or switch positions. There has already been a lot of discussion about who would replace Lindor long term between Gabriel Arias, Tyler Freeman and Brayan Rocchio and now that situation is further complicated without being necessarily improved.

Nino: There’s been a lot of post-Lindor trade chatter about him and how a lot of people are kind of over him already. He has mentioned he didn’t try hard last year and that when the Indians had that famous rain delay in Game 7 of the World Series, he took a nap. There’s a lot of fans who are upset at ownership for not doing everything they could to keep Lindor. But then there’s a lot of people, many of them the SAME people, who are also okay that he is now gone with these revelations. Quite frankly, I’m a realist and I knew Lindor was more of a CC Sabathia and Manny Ramirez than a Travis Hafner or a Jim Thome. He wasn’t bound for this team beyond what the years they had him under control. Fans didn’t like Paul Dolan saying “enjoy him” while they still could, but it’s the truth. Lindor was offered deals and he turned them down because he rightfully knows he can make loads more money elsewhere. And he’ll do that. The Indians cannot handcuff their franchise to one player, which is what they do if they give Lindor the money he’d get elsewhere. He’ll say he loved Cleveland and maybe he does, but he doesn’t love it enough to get paid what they can offer him. So he’s gone and the Indians did the right thing. They even got a young shortstop to take his place immediately in return with Andres Gimenez. I don’t dislike Lindor, but there’s been plenty more players that followed the same path he did that I miss more than I’ll miss him. 

C70: Zach Plesac ran into some trouble last year in relation to the COVID protocols. Is that something that’s going to be held against him by the front office or is it ancient history by now?

Brian: I think as long as Plesac performs and doesn’t do something silly like that again, people, and the team, are going to forgive him. He was sensational in 2020 when he was on the field, sporting a 2.28 ERA over eight starts while striking out 57 and walking just six. Those are elite numbers, and combining that with his cheap rookie salary, the front office is going to be very forgiving if he can do it again. 

Joseph: There’s an argument that Plesac is now the Indians #2 starter after Shane Bieber, so necessity will push him into the rotation regardless of their opinions. In addition, while there was speculation that Mike Clevinger was traded for a similar reason, like Lindor, that trade was inevitable this off-season and would have happened even if he obeyed all the rules. Plesac was punished during the 2020 season and that should be the end of that. 

Nino: It doesn’t seem like it. Mike Clevinger was the more flippant one about breaking COVID protocols last year and generally more of a guy with a sour attitude towards “authority” and just a general sense of carelessness. Plesac came out with a, not so much apology, but rather a “truth” of what happened when he broke COVID protocol and his reaction to it. While he didn’t apologize, he did take responsibility and was much more forthright about it. That being said, I think everyone’s moved on. Clevinger was traded and Plesac is this team’s unquestioned second to Shane Bieber. He’s also part of the reason that it was easy to move on from Clevinger and deal him away when they did.

C70: What is your expectation for this team this coming season?

Brian: I think the team will be similar to last season. It will struggle on offense, but the pitching is going to be sensational. We have the returning Cy Young winner, plus three other young, elite pitchers in the rotation. Despite losing Brad Hand, our bullpen might be even better with James Karinchak taking over closing duties and 101 mpher thrower Emmanuel Clase returning from suspension. Resigning Cesar Hernandez will help the top of the lineup and the surprising signing of Eddie Rosario adds some pop to the outfield. The team is going to have to get lucky to win the division, but they should still have a winning record and finish no worse than third.

Joseph: Sustained mediocrity. After an amazing turnaround immediately following Terry Francona‘s takeover of the team in 2013, the last few seasons have been filled with pretty good defense, great pitching and an anemic offense. With the second and third best hitters gone, that certainly isn’t going to get better, although Nolan Jones, Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario among other prospects expected to make the jump could make it better than the worst case scenario. While outsiders may think the rotation will suffer from the loss of Clevinger and Carrasco, the pitching pipeline appears to still be overflowing with talent and it should not be a problem. I expect them to remain middle of the pack in the central and to compete for a wild card spot. 

Nino: I’m lukewarm. I think they’re better off with young guns and there’s a fresh aspect to a lot of this team. Jose Ramirez anchors them as the vet with a lot of exciting options around him. Gimenez at short, as I mentioned, Josh Naylor (acquired in that Clevinger deal) in the outfield, and Franmil Reyes could all be exciting parts of this team. Love me some Yu Chang at some point as well. If Jake Bauers figures it out and something is settled in the outfield (this team desperately needs a center fielder, whether that’s Oscar Mercado stepping up or Bradley Zimmer figuring it out), then there are a lot of good supporting parts. But Eddie Rosario was really the lone addition of any sort of proven success. This team cannot win on pitching alone (and they have that in spades, Bieber and Plesac will get the recognition but look out for Aaron Civale) if they can’t score any runs. But they’re set up to be really exciting if things click. That being said. I don’t know what to expect out of those question marks. There’s a lot of fun potential, but potential needs to pan out and I can’t expect it all to pan out. So, I’d expect some fun times, but also growing pains. If it’s more of the former, then, they’ll contend. If it’s the latter, even in a questionable division, they’ll sputter around the .500 mark.

C70: Overall, what sort of grade would you give this organization and why?

Brian: You’d think the grade would be lower considering the team lost Carlos Santana, Francisco Lindor, Brad Hand and Carlos Carrasco, but I’d give them a solid C for bringing back Hernandez, signing Rosario and continuing to improve the minor league system, which Keith Law recently ranked #2 in all of baseball. They know they can’t compete dollar for dollar with the likes of the Yankees and the Dodgers, but this is how they stay competitive without tanking. 

Joseph: Sustained mediocrity gets a C for the MLB roster, but their international signing and draft classes deserve an A. There are a ton of MLB quality prospects around the A-AA levels who should be ready within a year or two. Because of that, it’s a C with room for immediate improvement.

Nino: I’m going to give them a D+ and say this from the outset. This is all-encompassing. I think it’s admirable that they stick to their philosophy even though they know they’re going to get filleted for doing things like trading Francisco Lindor instead of signing him. In that department, and their ability to maneuver around the fact that they can’t spend money like other franchises, they get a solid A-. I’ve made no bones about it, but I dislike Terry Francona. So, from an on-the-field standpoint, that’s a skeptical C. Like, it isn’t great, it isn’t terrible, but they could do so much better than a guy who forced the team to trade Yandy Diaz because he couldn’t figure out how to use him. And then, from a just pure humanity standpoint, in terms of their culture and how I would say they now look in the public. That’s a F. I think we’re all aware of the Mickey Callaway situation. At this point, while Callaway isn’t with the club anymore, it’s come to light that Cleveland knew more than they initially let on. And their refusal to take any sort of accountability for their involvement in letting Callaway do what he did while he was here, brings them down significantly in my eyes. It makes me angry to be a fan of this franchise knowing they’ve contributed to this terrible culture in baseball. I’m super down on Cleveland right now and this stinky Callaway situation has a lot to do with it. I hope there’s some reckoning that occurs at some point, or there’s some sort of accountability taken to make me feel better, but I’m also not holding my breath.

Series Navigation<< Playing Pepper 2021: Chicago White SoxPlaying Pepper 2021: Atlanta Braves >>

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Brewers6343.594 -
Reds5650.5287.0
Cardinals5352.5059.5
Cubs5156.47712.5
Pirates4065.38122.5

Last updated: 08/02/2021

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