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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Cleveland Indians

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Though the Indians finished with a sub-.500 record for the third straight season in 2011, they were in contention right up until September, taking a big step forward for an organization thought to be in rebuilding mode.

Of course, that's kind of the problem. The Indians' out-of-nowhere breakthrough relied on so many unlikely performances from so many unlikely sources that the actual extent of the team's progress is difficult to gauge.

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Justin Masterson emerged as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Josh Tomlin continued to get by on some of the league's most hittable stuff. Asdrubal Cabrera somehow became a power hitter. And a collection of no-name relievers came together to produce the AL's fifth-best bullpen ERA.

Then again, for all that went right, about as much went wrong. Grady Sizemore's return from knee surgery ended in disappointment. Shin-Soo Choo was hardly a factor, battling physical and mental demons all year. Matt LaPorta continued to wallow in mediocrity. And the king of the bullpen, closer Chris Perez, wasn't nearly as dominant as he has shown he can be.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all, though, came in the form of midseason acquisition Ubaldo Jimenez, who continued his career-worst performance even with his exodus from Colorado in exchange for top pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. Those two represented about all the farm system had left, which means the Indians mortgaged their future for a division title that never came.

So now they're handcuffed, lacking the resources to improve on a roster full of question marks. They did add Derek Lowe and Kevin Slowey to the starting rotation this offseason, but mostly to counteract the loss of Fausto Carmona -- or Robert Hernandez Heredia, rather -- whose availability is in question until he resolves his identity issue. They also signed veteran Casey Kotchman as competition for LaPorta, but he isn't exactly a thumper at first base.

Apart from such patch-up jobs and cosmetic changes that are sure to come up during the season, you shouldn't expect to see much turnover on the Indians roster in 2012. They decided on their nucleus last year. Now, let's see where it takes them.

Bounce-back player ... Shin-Soo Choo, OF

After back-to-back .300-20-80-80-20 seasons, Choo's 2011 was clearly a step in the wrong direction. But it was also unusually contentious. His DUI arrest on May 2 led to a backlash in his native South Korea that he admitted became a distraction, and the numbers back it up. He hit .241 with one home run from that point until June 24, when he broke his thumb. The two months he missed with the injury gave him a chance to regroup, and when he returned on Aug. 12, he was a different player, hitting .348 with three homers in 46 at-bats before going down with another injury -- this time a strained oblique -- that effectively ended his season. Clearly, Choo's 2011 was marred by bad decisions and even worse timing, but his performance in August was encouraging enough that he deserves a free pass. He's only 29, after all. A swift decline wouldn't make sense, given his track record. You should feel confident drafting Choo as your second outfielder, as usual.

Bust ... Asdrubal Cabrera, SS

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OK, so Cabrera was the surprise of 2011, emerging off the waiver wire to contribute 25 homers and 94 RBI at the weakest position in Fantasy. It was fun, sure. But the danger for Fantasy owners is when that once-in-a-lifetime season becomes the new expectation. Not only were Cabrera's 25 homers a complete departure from his established track record, but they came with an elevated fly ball rate that began to wreak havoc on his batting average in the second half, when he presumably became homer-conscious. He hit only .244 after the All-Star break, and his .411 slugging percentage during that stretch was actually lower than the one he put together during a six-homer 2009. If he continues to force the issue, he could turn out like Aaron Hill. Then again, if he reverts to being more of a line-drive hitter, he'll have to settle for fewer homers. Either way would cause Cabrera to take a step back in Fantasy, perhaps to the Erick Aybar-Derek Jeter class of shortstops, so proceed with caution.

Sleeper ... Jason Kipnis, 2B

Granted, Kipnis' first couple weeks on the job were a little too good to be true. He hit six homers in the span of 11 days before his deal with the devil ran out, landing him on the 15-day DL with a hamstring injury. But just because he's not really a 40-homer threat doesn't mean the whole thing was a sham. He also had five steals during his time in the majors, demonstrating a combination of power and speed normally associated with the best of the best second basemen, such as Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler. And the attributes he was most known for in the minors -- his .300-plus batting average and high walk rate -- weren't even on display during his 136 at-bat trial. Kipnis is as well-rounded of an offensive contributor as you'll find among middle infielders, and even with his stellar debut, he has managed to remain under the radar in Fantasy. Don't be surprised if he's a top-10 second baseman by season's end.

2012 Cleveland Indians Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Michael Brantley LF 1 Ubaldo Jimenez RH
2 Asdrubal Cabrera SS 2 Justin Masterson RH
3 Shin-Soo Choo RF 3 Derek Lowe RH
4 Carlos Santana C 4 Josh Tomlin RH
5 Travis Hafner DH 5 Kevin Slowey RH
6 Grady Sizemore CF Alt Fausto Carmona RH
7 Jason Kipnis 2B
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Casey Kotchman 1B CL Chris Perez RH
9 Lonnie Chisenhall 3B SU Vinnie Pestano RH
Top bench options RP Tony Sipp LH
R Jack Hannahan 3B RP Joe Smith RH
R Matt LaPorta 1B RP Rafael Perez LH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2011 high Destination
1 Francisco Lindor 18 SS Class A Class A
Lindor isn't close to the majors, but he might be the only impact player in the Indians' minor-league system. He's worth a long-term look if you're aiming for a Starlin Castro type.
2 Cord Phelps 25 2B Majors Triple-A
Phelps had solid minor-league numbers last year, but he's clearly an inferior hitter to Kipnis. He'll need a break just to get a look as a utility man in 2012.
3 Zach McAllister 24 SP Majors Triple-A
The former Yankees farmhand had an up-and-down major-league showing last year. He has a low ceiling, but he could factor in the rotation if Lowe or Slowey doesn't pan out.
4 Nick Hagadone 26 RP Majors Majors
Of the Indians' many reliever prospects, Hagadone stands out as one with closer-type stuff. But even if he makes the roster, he has a few players ahead of him for that role.
5 Dillon Howard 19 SP DNP -- signed late Class A
Howard stands out as the Indians' top pitching prospect and a potential frontline starter, but at age 19, a lot could go wrong for him still. He's a long-term option only.
Best of the rest: Thomas Neal, OF; Chen-Chang Lee, RP; Austin Adams, SP; Scott Barnes, SP; Chun Chen, C; Giovanni Soto, SP; Corey Kluber, SP; Danny Salazar, SP; and Bryce Stowell, RP.

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Player News
Twins make it official: Hughes in the fold for three years
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:15 pm ET) What was reported is now official - the Twins have announced that they have signed a three-year contract extension with right-hander and 2014 standout Phil Hughes for $42 million.

Hughes thrived away from Yankee Stadium, where he yielded 59 home runs in 2012 and 2013 combined. Pitching in more spacious Target Field, he allowed just 16 dingers last season and finished 16-20 with a 3.52 ERA.


Report: Nationals sign reliever Heath Bell
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:08 pm ET) The Nationals have signed former standout closer Heath Bell to a minor league contract, a source has told MLBDailyDish.com.

Bell was released by the Yankees in June, though he did not pitch for them at the major league level. He stumbled along with a 7.27 ERA earlier in the season with Tampa Bay.

>> Want more Hot Stove? Free agent tracker | Trade tracker


Report: Padres planning to keep Wil Myers
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:48 am ET) The Padres have no intention of dealing away recently acquired outfielder Wil Myers, sources within the organization have told the San Diego Union-Tribune, which has conceded that mindset could change.

Reports have Myers being included in trade talks with Philadelphia involving pitcher Cole Hamels.

The Padres are planning to have Myers start the season in center field, flanked by more ballyhooed offseason acquisitions Matt Kemp and Justin Upton.


Yankees brass praises rookie second basemen
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:43 am ET) Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has indicated that rookies Robert Refsnyder and Jose Pirela might have the inside track on the starting second base job in 2015.

Free agents such as Stephen Drew and Asdrubal Cabrera could be more palatable options in teaming up with inexperienced shortstop Didi Gregorius as a double play combination. But Cashman is certainly open to starting the year with Refsnyder or Pirela.

Cashman is high on Refsnyder, who hit .318 with 14 home runs at the Double-A and Triple-A levels last season, though he admits he hasn't seen much of him. "I know that in half a year he had nine errors in Double-A and in the seocnd half, in Triple-A, he had only three," Cashman told NJ.com. "So there's obviously a lot of improvement there. ... Very excited about his bat and his ability to get on base and do some things."

Meanwhile, Joe Girardi has spoken highly of Pirela, who batted .333 in 24 at-bats for the Yankees after his September promotion.

"He made every type of play: a slow roller, a ball to hisright, a ball to his left, a turn-and-throw play and a tag play at second," Girardi said.

>> Want more Hot Stove? Free agent tracker | Trade tracker


Yankees have inquired about Rockies SS Tulowitzki
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:20 am ET) The Yankees have thrown their hat in the ring in the pursuit of Rockies star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman has reported.

Tulowitzki is open to a trade to a contender and the Yankees have a significant need at shortstop. But it remains to be seen how committed Colorado is to dealing him.

>> Want more Hot Stove? Free agent tracker | Trade tracker


Phil Hughes agrees to three-year, $42 million extension with Twins
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:11 am ET) Phil Hughes has agreed to a three-year, $42 million extension with the Twins on Monday, CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman confirms.

Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News first reported the extension.

The extension supersedes the final two years of his contract, essentially giving the right-handed hurler a new five-year extension. He is slated to earn $9.2 million in each of the next two seasons, then make $13.2 million in each of the following three seasons between 2017-19.

Hughes made 32 starts last season and went 16-10 with a 3.52 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and 186:16 K:BB ratio over 209 2/3 innings.

>> Want more Hot Stove? Free agent tracker | Trade tracker


Report: Padres have discussed Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/21/2014) The Padres have discussed a trade for Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, according to the Daily News

Newly-acquired outfielder Wil Myers would be used as the centerpiece in the deal. By bringing in Myers, Matt Kemp and Justin Upton, San Diego has a glut of talent in the outfield. While it seems strange that the team would turn around and deal Myers, he would be the type of talent the Phillies are said to be seeking for Hamels. Philadelphia reportedly wants two or three "premium" prospects for Hamels. 

The 30-year-old Hamels posted a 2.46 ERA over 204 2/3 innings last season. He's owed $90 million over the next four seasons. 


Scott Boras: Matt Wieters will be ready by opening day
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/21/2014) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters will be ready by opening day, according to his agent, Scott Boras. 

Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery is June, and is working his way back from the injury. It's unclear if Wieters will be able to catch full-time at the beginning of the year, or if he'll have to be worked in slowly. Manager Buck Showalter recently told reporters he wasn't sure Wieters would be ready by opening day, but he expected him to good shortly after. Wieters hit .308/.339/.500 over 104 at-bats before having surgery. 


Report: James Shields seeking $110 million
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/21/2014) Free-agent pitcher James Shields is reportedly seeking a contract worth about $110 million, according to the Boston Globe

That type of deal would be similar to the one signed by Cole Hamels back in 2012. It's believed the 33-year-old Shields could receive a five-year deal. Both the Giants and Red Sox are involved with Shields, and the Yankees have been mentioned as another suitor. Shields posted a 3.21 ERA over 227 innings last season. He's exceeded 200 innings pitched in each of the last eight years.


Chase Utley staying put in Philly
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/21/2014) The Phillies will enter the season with Chase Utley, according to the Daily News. 

With Jimmy Rollins gone, some have expected the team to entertain dealing Utley. As of right now, that's not going to happen. "I've had some dialogue with Wolfie [agent Joel Wolfe] but frankly, he doesn't want to go anywhere," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He wants to honor his contract and that's how we have to perceive it." 

Amaro admitted that the team needs to listen to any offer for the 36-year-old Utley, but doesn't perceive Utley changing his mind at this time. Utley hit .270/.339/.407 in 589 at-bats last season.


 
 
 
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