After a decade of serving as baseball’s model for developing internal talent, Cleveland is finally beginning to enter something of a decline phase. The timing is self-imposed, as they’ve proven thoroughly unwilling to spend what is necessary to capitalize on an extremely good core of talent. Given that Cleveland has lost Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Jason Kipnis, Danny Salazar, and an entire dominant bullpen since the peak of their prowess, it’s remarkable that they’re still projected for a winning record without anything in the way of external investments to find replacements. That’s what makes this situation all the more frustrating. They’ve ceded the power in the division to the Twins without so much as a whimper, and in 2019 posted what will probably go down as the most forgettable 93-win season ever.
Part of the reason that Cleveland has managed to stay in the picture is that the internal player development has continued even as they avail themselves of no other means of improvement. Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger entered last season as the nominal “back” of the Cleveland rotation, but have now emerged as the clear aces of the staff. Bieber in particular enters the season as one of the American League’s best pitchers, with a curveball and slider that both grade out as elite. Oscar Mercado has the look of a partial solution to Cleveland’s outfield woes, as the 25-year-old was adequate enough at the plate while chipping in plenty of web gems.
It also helps that the left side of the Cleveland infield still contains arguably the division’s two best players in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Ramirez had something of a down season in 2019, but it certainly seems that in his second half (.327/.365/.739), he corrected whatever it is that was wrong in his first (.218/.308/.344). Lindor posted a Lindor-like offensive season in 2019, but didn’t seem to benefit from the juiced ball as much as the rest of the league. In any event, he’s still one of the sports’ best players thanks to a well-rounded offensive game and an elite glove.
Over at the cold corner, Carlos Santana experienced a late-career breakout in his age-33 season. His usually-excellent strike zone command was on display, but he upgraded his homer total from the mid-20s to the mid-30s and posted an uncharacteristically high batting average of .281. It’s doubtful those will stick in 2020, but he remains one of the American League’s best first basemen. Roberto Perez is one of baseball’s best catchers that no one talks about. He broke out in 2019 by hitting 24 home runs while contributing his usual excellent defensive ability. He’s a great framer, but also led all of baseball in blocking runs by a comfortable margin, so he’s the complete package behind the plate.
The “front half” of Cleveland’s roster is very strong, but the rest of it is what’s become problematic. Their big move in free agency was signing Cesar Hernandez to a one year, $6.25 million deal to replace Jason Kipnis at second. Hernandez is underrated and has some on-base ability, but he’s in the Yolmer Sanchez mold of a second-division starter, and he’s an unsatisfying add to a core this strong. Out in left field, Jordan Luplow absolutely terrorized lefties last season (1.181 OPS) but tends to wilt whenever you show him a righty, which is problematic in the absence of a notable platoon partner. In the other corner is Franmil Reyes who has tons of power when he makes contact, which isn’t all that frequently. He’s not really much of an outfielder and Cleveland figures to give him plenty of DH reps, so that completes the picture of a Mark Trumbo-like figure who will hit a lot of homers while not being very valuable.
The back of the Cleveland rotation falls more under the “unproven” category than “definitively vulnerable”. Both Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac had some success in keeping runs off the board in 2019, but their Deserved Run Averages (5.13 and 6.29, respectively) portend some struggles. Civale has a curveball with some serious dive on it, and hitters had some problems squaring him up. However, he’s not a ground ball guy and doesn’t rack up whiffs, so his guile is going to be put to the test this year. The right-handed Plesac (yes relation) was able to use his changeup to keep lefties at bay in 2019, but if he can’t keep the BABIP down at .255 this season, there’s going to be trouble ahead.
Rather than dwelling further on Cleveland’s apparent strategy of planned obsolescence, we’ll end this with a note of tribute to Cleveland pitcher Carlos Carrasco. Cookie has been devilishly tough on the White Sox over 666 plate appearances, holding our boys to a .240/.285/.375 line with 180 strikeouts, but that’s of secondary importance. Last year, as many know, Carrasco was diagnosed with leukemia and somehow made a triumphant return to the mound in September. His entire piece in The Players’ Tribune is worth a read, and he used his time away from the game to visit with children fighting cancer in hospitals and to help provide aid for Venezuela. Regardless of how much we’ll want to beat him, it’s awesome to have him back pitching and good for baseball to have another role model in uniform.
Probable Starting Pitchers
- Monday, July 27: Aaron Civale vs. Dylan Cease
- Tuesday, July 28: Zach Plesac vs. Carlos Rodon
- Wednesday, July 29: Shane Bieber vs. Lucas Giolito
- Cesar Hernandez – 2B
- Jose Ramirez – 3B
- Francisco Lindor – SS
- Carlos Santana – 1B
- Franmil Reyes – DH
- Jordan Luplow – LF
- Domingo Santana – RF
- Roberto Perez – C
- Oscar Mercado – CF
- SP1: Shane Bieber – RHP
- SP2: Mike Clevinger – RHP
- SP3: Carlos Carrasco – RHP
- SP4: Aaron Civale – RHP
- SP5: Zach Plesac – RHP
- CL: Brad Hand – LHP
- RP1: Nick Wittgren – RHP
- RP2: Oliver Perez – LHP
- RP3: Adam Cimber – RHP
Photo credit: Erik Drost / Flickr
Very nice paragraph about Carrasco in the end. Thanks for the link. I think Cleveland duo Clevinger-Bieber can carry this team and give them a lot of chance to win many games of those 60+ games they will start in a normal season. You don’t need a loaded line up when all you need is to score 2 runs to win.
López to the DL, and Ryan Goins is comin’.
Seems good that there’s no mention of a concussion DL for Eloy.
White Sox picking order for an infielder:
Mendick > Cuthber > Goins > Gloveonchair > Rey Olmedo’s Baseball card > Hawk’s 2nd Biography > Madrigal
What was the deal with Cuthbert? Sox decide they want a middle infielder type instead?
Is Goins at 2B and Garcia in the OF something we can look forward to?
More Delmonico. Sigh.
So, what’s Mendick’s role on this team?
Good question. At least inserting him at 2B gives you solid defense both there and in RF (with Leury) instead of…whatever TF it is that Delmonico is supposed to be giving them.
Half the Miami Marlins infected with Covid-19 after 1 series. The way this is going we aren’t going to have a season much longer….
Rick Renteria tested, out for tonight’s game while awaiting results.