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November 27, 2013
Fantasy Team Preview
Coming off their first playoff appearance since blowing a 3-1 lead in the 2007 ALCS, the Indians will look to get back to the Promised Land (if you can call a one-game playoff the Promised Land). And they’ll have to do it with two of their three best pitchers from last season, Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, potentially departing. The lineup remains intact, though they have added underrated outfielder David Murphy so that they don’t have to give nearly 500 plate appearances to Drew Stubbs again.
Yes, the Indians are a better franchise now than they were 25 years ago when they had Ricky Vaughn and Jake Taylor in uniform, but that element that causes us not to take them seriously as a World Series contender still exists. They have a couple of strong, underrated players about to enter their primes in Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana, but they’ll need others to step up and join them on that stage to make a deep playoff push. With the Tigers improving their roster (and flexibility) by trading for Ian Kinsler and the Royals possibly on the rise, the Indians will have their hands full in the AL Central.
There has to be some concern about Bourn’s fantasy value after last season. After swiping 103 bases over the 2011-12 seasons, Bourn amassed… 23 in 2013. That’s a putrid number if you’re also going to put up with a sub .700 OPS. His BABIP was lower than the last few years, but not decidedly so, so we can’t blame it on the luck dragons. There should be some hesitation in projecting him as normal, so there’s an opportunity for value here, though it does come with a sizable amount of risk. Swisher also experienced a dropoff, as the two pricey imports helped legitimize Cleveland despite their downturn in production. Swisher did experience a significant BABIP decline, but we can also assume that going from the short porch in the Bronx to Progressive Field affected him. Kipnis and Santana remain studs, with the former a top-notch (top 3-4 depending on how you feel about Matt Carpenter) option at the keystone.
Brantley made some waves with a hot start to 2013, and posted career highs in both home runs and stolen bases. That said, he’s only a middling power type with a mild on-base percentage. You can do worse as a fourth outfielder, but there’s limited upside here. Asdrubal had an ugly year, no doubt, but he’s got his position working for him and his batted-ball profile wasn’t drastically different from previous seasons. He’s not going to be special, but if someone has thrown in the towel, there’s ample opportunity for a rebound, and he’s got back end top-10 SS potential. Despite a clear preference for facing southpaw’s Raburn logged almost equal at-bats against right-handed pitching. While they’ve previously destroyed him, Raburn did well enough (.800 OPS) in 2013 to make his overall stat-line worthwhile. His 1.000 OPS against lefties is unlikely to be repeated though, so while he’s likely to be a fine platoon bat in fantasy, counting on him for anything more would be foolish. Freshly signed David Murphy is another platoon bat, though unlike Raburn, he is banking on a return to 2012 form.
The Cleveland bench isn’t exactly deep but it will be used, with Yan Gomes receiving the most attention of late. While the Brazilian-born Gomes is a defensive whiz, he broke out at the plate last year, leading to some speculation that Santana will see more time out from behind the plate going forward. This might come to fruition, though it’s likely to expose some of Gomes’ flaws, rather than directly increasing his fantasy value. Let him start to prove it again before jumping on the bandwagon. Drew Stubbs is the only other worthwhile bench name, and given the signing of Murphy, it’s unlikely that Stubbs sees the playing time necessary to gather fantasy value on the short side of the platoon.
The exciting part of this rotation lies squarely in the middle of it. Salazar burst onto the scene in 2013, staying healthy and showing off his filthy stuff. With Ubaldo Jimenez departing, there’s no one else in the rotation that can touch Salazar’s raw stuff, and he should have the opportunity to pitch fairly deep into the season after throwing 145 innings between the majors and minors last year. While the stuff is good, he was able to maintain control over it in the big leagues, with a 1.14 WHIP in 52 innings, which is actually a step down from what he was producing in the minor leagues. For comparison’s sake, I’d put Salazar over another helium kid in Yordano Ventura, if I had to rank them today.
While Masterson will go from playoff bullpen member back to the front of the regular season rotation, he is only the second-most-desirable starter in the rotation. That said, if he continues to repeat his strikeout-per-inning ways of 2013, he could easily challenge Salazar for value. It’s fair to expect a dropoff though, based on his history, even if he is using his four-seam fastball to neutralize left-handers more often. Close to 200 innings of a rock-solid ERA with solid-to-above strikeout rate is plenty valuable enough to be a third starter or better in fantasy.
Kluber is more valuable than McAllister, thanks in part to his strikeouts, though neither has pitched a full season in the majors. McAllister is maybe a back-end option in 18-to-20-team leagues, though Kluber should be rosterable in anything 14-team or above. In shallower leagues, Kluber is a nice streaming option, and McAllister can be left well enough alone.
With Chris Perez out of the picture, it’s not clear who gets the first crack at closing. I covered the Cleveland closer situation way back in early September, and it seems now as it seemed then that Allen is the likely choice here—hence his top billing. Recency bias is likely to cost Pestano the first shot here as his 2013 struggles will likely weigh heavily on Cleveland management. They’ll like make whoever they select “prove it” so a tight leash is to be expected, and securing both Pestano and Allen is likely necessary to feel even a modicum of security. Allen is the guy to own from a peripherals perspective as well, so if you’re willing to gamble on the uncertainty, Allen is the guy with the best chance of earning his coffee. I threw the two lefties in here because LOOGYs can often be a solid source of holds. We know what Scrabble is at this point, and Hagadone has shown stretches of effectiveness in the past, including a solid prospect history. I wouldn’t expect either to accrue more than a save or two, but if you’re looking for cheap holds or decent strikeouts (Hagadone), they might be of service.
The DH Shuffle: Yan Gomes vs. Ryan Raburn
Trevor Bauer vs. Himself
Lonnie Chisenhall vs. Mike Aviles
Player to Target: Nick Swisher
Player to Avoid: Ryan Raburn
Deep Sleeper: Jose Ramirez
Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.