The Indians were one of the biggest surprise stories of the season. While they tailed off at the end of the season, they lead the division as late as July 20th. Ryan Richards is one of the editors over at the Indians' SBNation blog, Let's Go Tribe, and he was kind enough to answer our questions about the season.
On the Trades Done by the Team:
MLBDD: The team swung a huge trade right before the deadline in acquiring Ubaldo Jimenez. What are your thoughts on getting Jimenez, as well as the players the team sent back to Colorado?
RR: The trade did not work out if you take into account this season only. Jimenez was more miss than hit, and the Indians were out of the race by early September. But the Indians have Jimenez through the 2013 season, a period of time roughly equivalent to their window of opportunity with this roster of players. His stuff looked good (regularly in the mid-90s with his fastball), though he had problems commanding his pitches. He's going to be the key to the 2012 season, especially now that Carlos Carrasco is already out of the season with Tommy John surgery.
To get Jimenez (and his very favorable contract), the Indians gave up Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, their best two pitching prospects, both of whom have the potential to be decent or better major-league starting pitchers, along with Joe Gardner, a sinkerballer who could be a starter, and Matt McBride, a marginal first base prospect. I think Pomeranz will eventually be the best player of the four, as he already has two above-average major-league pitches. If he can hone his changeup, he'll be at the very least an above-average starter.
My Thoughts: Jimenez was a nice addition for a team that desperately needed a top-of-the-rotation starter to go with the core of pitchers they already had. Whether or not he is the piece that they need to put them over the top remains to be seen, but a full offseason should help him adjust to the American League.
Read Ryan's thoughts about the rookies, the team's first half performance, and the draft after the
On the New Rookies:
MLBDD: The minor league system paid some more benefits, with Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall both being called up and playing every day for the team. Is there one player who has really surprised you this season with their performance?
RR: I'm not really surprised that both Kipnis and Chisenhall made it to the majors this season. Another rookie, though, totally shocked me with his performance. Vinnie Pestano, who had thrown 5 major-league innings before this season, was among the best relievers in baseball, striking out 12.2 per 9 innings, and only allowing 41 hits in 62 innings. He, along with the rest of the bullpen, was the main reason the Indians stuck around in the AL Central race as long as they did.
My Thoughts: I knew Pestano had been important to the Indians' bullpen, but I didn't realize just how good his numbers were. This is a team that has a lot of players who can help their core for both the short and the long-term, and it really is starting to look a lot like the early 90's Indians that went to a World Series and won all those division titles.
On the Draft:
MLBDD: What are your thoughts on the team's draft, including top pick Francisco Lindor?
RR: It's hard not to get excited about Lindor, because his upside is so high. He was not overwhelmed by Short Season A-Ball (a league filled with college draftees) as a 17-year old, and the scouting reports are almost unanimously positive. Defense is not going to be a problem, as he's already a very good shortstop; now we'll just have to see if he develops power as he progresses through the system.
My Thoughts: Lindor didn't really have a large sample to draw from, but the fact that he did anything in a league where the average player was 21 years old, that's definitely impressive. Lindor managed to get into 5 games, going 6-for-20 with a stolen base.
On Potential Offseason Moves:
MLBDD: Is there one specific addition you would like to see the team make for 2012 to help compete for the division title?
RR: A corner bat. The Indians have had no problems over the past decade developing or trading for middle of the diamond players (Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana), but they've always struggled to come up with power hitters at traditional power positions. They're set at right field (Shin-Soo Choo) and third base (Chisenhall/Jack Hannahan), but they need to sign or trade for a first baseman or left fielder. Even if the Indians keep Grady Sizemore, they'll need another outfielder, and at the very least they need to bring in someone to compete with Matt LaPorta at first base.
My Thoughts: The Indians definitely could use a power bat to build around the rest of their lineup. I doubt highly they would spend to get someone like Prince Fielder, but I could see them going after someone like Carlos Pena to help provide power and some veteran leadership for the rest of the starters.
Thanks again to Ryan for taking the time to answer our questions.