Peter Gammons: Indians look solid, Cespedes, and more mid-January thoughts

Indians look solid

Five mid-January thoughts:

1.  Even though FanGraphs has picked the Indians to win the American League Central, there still is constant media speculation that they will trade one of their four starters. But after two months of being asked about Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and/or Trevor Bauer, the calls have stopped since Christmas.

Like the Marlins with Jose Fernandez, the Indians always knew they wouldn’t be doing business if they didn’t listen, but no team was going to trade two or three young, controllable impact young players.

All four Indians starters are all in their career age primes. Combined, they will make less in 2016 than Ubaldo Jimenez. And their strikeout rate in 2015 was higher than the Mets Fab Four.

What happened last June when Francisco Lindor came up was that the Indians defense went from worst to among the best. They have to young outfielders in Bradley Zimmer and Tyler Naquin who could be in Cleveland by summer.

But two veterans are really important to any kind of 2016 run. One is Michael Brantley, who underwent surgery on his lead shoulder. He has spent the winter training on a mission, and has focused on making it back for Opening Day, which may not be possible; but, even with the shoulder issue, his 2014-15 numbers include .383 OBP, 137 extra base hits, 112 walks, 107 strikeouts. A premier hitter.

The other is free agent Mike Napoli. Working with Brian Butterfield in Boston, Napoli became an exceptional defensive first baseman, further strengthening what at this time last year was a team weakness. Napoli, healthy, has big power, and not one Indian in 2015 hit 20 homers.

Last season Napoli struggled with Boston–.207—before being shipped to Texas in August. Last winter, his jaw was shattrered in a surgical procedure to address sleep issues. The trauma to the jaw is thought to have caused him to change his head (and eyes) alignment facing pitchers that he wasn’t picking up the ball. He believes he’s addressed that, and is so convinced that he can impact the young Indians that he’s heading to Arizona with this week.

2.  It may be years before the Dodgers stand on the length of Zack Greinke’s contract will be fully understood. No one should be compared to Greg Maddux, but if one were to do so, it would be Greinke, whose touch, feel, intelligence, and ability to manipulate the ball should allow him to age gracefully.

Scott Kazmir is not Greinke. They get that. But when you ask “what are they thinking?” it is simple: get young, build a young core of pitching inventory and build a deep bullpen.

Signing Yaisel Sierra fits both of those goals. He is 24. He threw 96-to-98 for Dodger scouts, with the makings of a filty two-seamer, slider and change. If the changeup develops, he may be able to start, which would give them Jose De leon, Jharel Cotton, Yadier Alvarez and Julio Urias in triple-A preparing for 2017.

Kenta Maeda, for the $20M posting fee and the team-friendly $25M contract, could start, he could be a 25 game starter if the American routine wears him down, he could be a useful bullpen piece.

And if Sierra doesn’t find a grip or feel for his changeup, could be a mid-season fix in the pen in front of Kenley Jansen. They have high hopes for converted third baseman Pedro Baez in his fourth year pitching, and converted catcher Chris Hatcher, as well as Yimi Garcia, Frankie Montas and Chris Anderson. Sometime during the season, they’ll try to take on someone’s big contract, and let their young starters spend 2016 preparing to get to L.A. in 2017.

There is a way for Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi to lay their longterm plans out to fans who understand championship teams like the Cardinals and Giants are developed, not bought, but in 2017, when that pitching is being rolled out in Dodger Stadium, it will be apparent what they were thinking.

3.  The only way the Mets will re-sign Yoenis Cespedes is on a one or two year pillow deal, and at 30, the danger for Cespedes is that once slugging players reach 32, the arrow on the aging curve normally begins to point down. So he needs to wait out a four or five year deal.

The Mets know they’re built on pitching. They believe they’re better with Neil Walker and Astrubel Cabrera in the middle of the infield with Wilmer Flores as backup; Rays folks will tell you Cabrera just needs to limit himself to 130-135 games and rest against prime lefthanders.

Joe Sheehan took a fascinating look at the Cespedes phenomenon with the Mets. From Aug. 3 to Sept. 23, the Mets played 24 games with the Marlins, Rockies, Braves and Phillies, during which time they averaged 7.7 runs and Cespedes crushed their mediocre pitching for a 1.075 OPS and 17 homers. That’s a small window to get a five year deal with what may be Cespedes’s fourth team in less than two years. There’s something about playing “Leaving Trunk Blues” too often…

4.  It has been written that Dave Dombrowski’s one winter failure has been that he hasn’t dumped Hanley Ramirez, who has become the Affluenza Kid in Boston. But when John Farrell visited Hanley and witnessed his training and on-field workouts this week, he found that Ramirez has lost at least 15 pounds from his 2015 WWE shape and that he has been sincere in his regiment.

Dombrowski, GM Mike Hazen and Farrell have made it clear to Ramirez that he has to be in shortstop shape. Dombrowski and Hazen believe he can play 100-something games at first; hands were never a problem (he hasn’t made as many as 17 errors since his third big league season), and they don’t want him wandering into the hole and creating one 4-1 play after another, something Carl Yastrzemski could never stop doing after being so aggressive so long in left field. Ramirez can DH when David Ortiz needs a rest.

And they badly need his bat; when he ran into the wall and hurt his lead shoulder last May 4, he had a .900 OPS and 11 homers. His career OPS+ is higher then Evan Longoria, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz or Justin Upton. He has the 14th best Offensive WAR is 14th among active players.

If and when he hits, Hanley would help himself by simply addressing the media when things go wrong. Jim Rice didn’t exactly have a romance with the media, but if he struck out in a key spot or misplayed a ball in left field, he answered for himself, concisely. It’s not that hard. Hanley Ramirez is not The Affluenza Kid, but he would find life in Boston is a lot easier with an occasional simple minute.

5.  The trade for Drew Storen may accomplish a very important part of the Blue Jays’ approach to the cliff they face in the next two years. To make their run that took them to the ALCS last October, the Jays had to trade away a ton of pitching—Noah Syndergaard, Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro, Daniel Norris, Anthony DeSclafani, Justin Nicolino

So with Storen in the bullpen with Roberto Osuna and Brett Cecil, they can try to break Aaron Sanchez in as a starter, giving them Sanchez at 23 and Marcus Stroman at 24 as the longterm pitching foundation. GM Ross Atkins compares Sanchez to Danny Salazar, a top-of-the-rotation stuff starter in progress.


  1. Cespedes hardly looked like an elite player in the World Series. The raw skills are there, but they don’t necessarily translate into a great baseball player. PG’s reference to the Sleepy John Estes song pretty much says it all.