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September 24, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Cleveland Indians

by Christina Kahrl, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Cleveland Indians goodbye.

The overview

The Indians simply did not have the rotation depth to contend in the American League, lacking starters who gave them enough innings, and, more importantly, quality innings; in a summer in which former Indians CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee are among the game's best starters, Cleveland has ranked 25th in starters' ERA. And given that the Indians have so little margin for error, they needed production from their handful of pricey stars, and instead, they got almost nothing from Grady Sizemore, before the center fielder required knee surgery, or Travis Hafner, who has hit just 11 homers and been a bust, or Kerry Wood, who was hurt for much of the year before the Indians traded the veteran reliever to the Yankees. To top it off, the Indians lost exciting rookie Carlos Santana to a significant knee injury, meaning that the organization's most important player was unable to play in the last weeks of the regular season.

Before Santana got hurt, he showed why he could be a franchise building block, playing with exceptional confidence and posting a .401 on-base percentage in 46 games. Chris Perez established himself as the team's closer, picking up 21 saves and striking out almost a batter per inning. Shin-Soo Choo reaffirmed his status among the game's most underrated players, hitting 20 homers, stealing 20 bases, posting an on-base percentage of close to .400. And Fausto Carmona had a good year in which he reduced his ERA by about 2.5 runs.

As Chris Antonetti takes over as the Indians' general manager, he has to continue to find more starting pitchers, and Cleveland is hopeful about what it saw from Carlos Carrasco in the last month of the season. Until the Indians' rotation stabilizes, Cleveland probably won't be in the AL Central conversation in September.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Not a lot; BP projected the Indians to finish 79-83, and they won't sniff that. Choo ranked fifth in the AL in True Average (.315). Carmona made a nice return to rotational utility after two terrible seasons, generating plenty of grounders (and inducing 30 double plays), although his ERA below 4.00 might be tough to sustain in light of a SIERA that's a half-run higher. Santana proved that he's worth the hype. Perez ranks fifth in the American League in WXRL to highlight an underrated bullpen.

The key number: 14th (i.e. last)

Indians' pitching is last in the AL in both strikeouts and walks, giving up more free passes than any other staff in the league, while managing the neat trick of being the club least likely to strike anyone out. In the era of divisional play, from 1969-2007, this had never happened before; in 2008 (Orioles) and 2009 (Nationals), it did.

What went wrong: Injuries, injuries, and more injuries. Bum knees knocked out Sizemore early and Santana late, while shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera missed almost half the season with a broken arm. Injuries even struck in the minors, knocking out one of their best pitching prospects, Hector Rondon, who won't be back in the picture until 2012. Being healthy was no guarantee of delivery, unfortunately: top prospects Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley flopped, and Hafner's return to relative health didn't provide the Tribe with the Pronk of old. The rotation was among the league's worst despite Carmona's comeback and the presence of veterans Jake Westbrook (before he was dealt to the Cardinals) and Justin Masterson, as second-tier prospects like David Huff joined in the general theme of providing disappointment.

What won't happen again: Injuries, or so you'd have to hope. The Tribe was below average offensively at eight of nine lineup slots, and while prospects like Santana, LaPorta, and Brantley should get established enough to help reverse that next year, they desperately need Sizemore to revert to the form that made him one of the game's rising stars. The rotation should be slightly improved with the arrival of prospect Carrasco, but blue-chip starter Alex White can't arrive a moment too soon.—Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

New infielders: Since the trade of Jhonny Peralta, the Indians have taken another look at Andy Marte at third base, and have extended Luis Valbuena the same courtesy at second. Neither player has performed, which may mean the club looks to its farm system for help. Third baseman Jared Goedert had a big year in the minors and could be ready for a shot at the big leagues. If Antonetti and his staff prefer to give one or both prospects more seasoning, Valbuena figures to get another chance out of spring training while the Tribe could go shopping for a stop-gap at the hot corner. If so, it would likely be on the cheap, as the club's payroll is expected to remain among the league's lowest.

Pitching out: With prospects Rondon and Adam Miller continuing to battle injuries—the Tribe is left to count on Carmona and a group of unproven arms with a lack of upside, though there are a few exceptions. Carrasco could develop into more than a backend starter if things fall his way, but a veteran pickup may be in the plans after outgoing GM Mark Shapiro traded Westbrook to the Cardinals in July. Westbrook could be a candidate to return as he hits free agency this winter, and lefty Nate Robertson could be among the veteran targets. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Carmona becomes trade bait, but without enough confidence that the innings will be covered, that may not happen until the summer.—Jason Churchill, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

Second base has been an offensive black hole in Cleveland this year, but answers are on their way. While converted outfielder Jason Kipnis garnered much of the attention this year with a .307/.386/.492 line in his full-season debut that included half a year at Double-A, he's likely going to have to wait a bit while Cord Phelps gets the first crack at the job. The 2008 third-round pick had done little leading into the year other than prove he can draw a walk, Phelps suddenly started hitting, including a .317/.386/.506 line in 66 Triple-A games. He's a bit bulky and slow for the position, but with gap power and good plate discipline, he'll at least represent a major upgrade over Valbuena until Kipnis is deemed ready.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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