Inbox: When can Lindor be expected to join Tribe?
Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers Indians fans' questions
What is a realistic timeframe for shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor? What happens with Jose Ramirez if he continues to play well? Any chance second baseman Jason Kipnis moves back to the outfield?
-- Adam S., Broken Arrow, Okla.
Barring an injury or unexpected trade, I would be absolutely stunned if we don't see Lindor in the big leagues with the Indians at some point during the 2015 season. I do not expect that to be on Opening Day. The job out of the gates would seem to fall to Ramirez, who played admirably at shortstop in the second half of this season.
Defense was an issue all season for Cleveland, but the 22-year-old Ramirez helped shore things up some up the middle.
In his 498 2/3 innings at short, Ramirez turned in an 18.9 UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating scaled to 150 games), which ranked first in the Majors among the 30 shortstops who played at least 450 innings at the position. Atlanta's defensive wiz, Andrelton Simmons, ranked second with an 18.4 UZR/150 in his 1,277 innings.
In the first half, Asdrubal Cabrera -- dealt to Washington prior to the July 31 Trade Deadline -- turned in a negative 10.8 UZR/150 and was hit with negative seven Defensive Runs Saved in his 820 2/3 innings at shortstop. Ramirez, on the other hand, was credited with four Defensive Runs Saved, even though he played roughly 60 percent of the number of innings logged by Cabrera.
Here is the point: Ramirez provided the Indians with a clear defensive upgrade and a sound option for shortstop for Opening Day 2015. Lindor is also considered an above-average defender, but the reality remains that he is only 20 years old (21 in November) and has just 38 games at the Triple-A level under his belt. He is playing in the Arizona Fall League to get further experience.
It's also worth noting that Lindor's signature plate discipline took a hit at Triple-A. At all other levels combined, the switch-hitter had a 1.23 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In his brief stint at Triple-A, Lindor struck out four times for every walk drawn. He appears poised to make an impact in the Majors, but it is easy to spot some areas still in need of refinement.
So, for now, Ramirez gives the Indians a good alternative until Lindor is deemed to be ready to join the big league club sometime next summer. If and when Lindor does come up, Ramirez's experience around the infield gives Cleveland a couple of options. He could rotate in as a utility man or get increased reps at third base. I don't see Kipnis moving away from second base anytime soon.
Given Lonnie Chisenhall's poor defense and drop in production in the second half, what do you see happening with him next year? Also, with how well Ramirez finished '14, combined with the addition of Zach Walters and presence of Lindor, do you see Mike Aviles still in a Cleveland uniform next year?
-- Bryant D., West Mansfield, Ohio
I've written that third base is one position that could potentially be upgraded this winter, and that is partially due to Chisenhall's sporadic play both in the batter's box and in the field. The other reason is simply that the contracts in place for 2015 leave little room around the diamond for impactful external additions. Trades could create room elsewhere, but third is certainly a vulnerable spot.
Chisenhall thrived early in the season when manager Terry Francona used him as a part-time player, picking opportunistic times to put the third baseman in the starting lineup. Chisenhall's incredible showing at the plate understandably earned him the full-time job, but his second-half fade raised the question of whether he should return to a platoon-type role to maximize production.
I'm sure the Indians will weigh that issue over the winter months, while examining what alternatives (or platoon partners) might exist via trade or free agency. Then again, maybe Chisenhall's solid overall showing with the bat will earn him another chance as the starting third baseman. That would not surprise me in the least, considering he is only 26 years old and had a great developmental season.
If Lindor is not in the plans for Opening Day, it might make sense to exercise Aviles' $3.5 million team option. Having a veteran utility player capable of handling shortstop (as well as multiple outfield and infield spots) is valuable. There is also the chance that Cleveland tries to groom Walters for that kind of versatile role, hoping he develops into a Ben Zobrist-type player for the Tribe.
Josh Tomlin is due for arbitration again this offseason. I don't know what kind of Minor League options he has left, but rather than renegotiating his contract, do you think the Indians might part ways with him given how inconsistent he's been?
--Bryant D., West Mansfield, Ohio
On the surface, yes, Tomlin looks like a non-tender candidate, given his injury history and inconsistency. But he does have Minor League options remaining and Cleveland is thin on the depth chart behind its first five starters. One more year removed from Tommy John elbow surgery, Tomlin could work out as a starter this winter and be ready for three possibilities: earning a spot in the big league rotation, transitioning back to a bullpen role or being optioned to Triple-A and providing depth. He earned $800,000 last year, so his salary will surely climb north of $1 million. It's not a bad value for a starting pitcher with options and experience.
I'm sure this is going to sound crazy, but do you think there is any chance that the Indians try to sign Justin Masterson again? After his bad contract year, his value must have gone down. Don't you think it would be worth a risk?
-- Daniel Z., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
I don't think it sounds crazy. Improbable, maybe, but not crazy. Masterson's value would probably need to have come way down for that to happen. There is certainly familiarity with Francona, and pitching coach Mickey Callaway had success with the sinkerballer in 2013, but it seems an unlikely scenario. The peaks of Masterson's career have been strong enough where his camp will probably seek a multiyear deal, and there might be a team willing to take the risk. Look no further than Scott Kazmir one year ago, though the lefty was coming off a strong second half in '13 when he cashed in. Given Masterson's struggles, injury issues and lost velocity, I just don't see Cleveland going down that road.
Do the Indians make an attempt to trade away Nick Swisher's and/or Michael Bourn's contract this winter?
-- Steve W., Perrysburg, Ohio
Swisher is 33 years old, coming off surgery on both knees, just endured the worst season of his career (.608 OPS in only 97 games) and is owed $30 million over the next two seasons. Bourn, 31, dealt with hamstring issues throughout 2014, stole only 10 bases, played in just 106 games and is owed $27.5 million for the 2015-16 seasons. You'd better believe the Indians would entertain trade offers for either player. But I'm not so sure any teams will be getting in line to chat about it.
As part of their renovations, have the Indians considered moving the struggling Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa, to Progressive Field?
-- Jacob H., Strongsville, Ohio
What I can tell you is that the Indians have been working with the Bob Feller Museum this year on a plan to help in some capacity. That could mean moving at least a portion of the museum's artifacts to Cleveland. When more details are available on the progress of that effort, I will be sure to pass them along.