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New York Yankees Look to Handle Cleveland Indians Again

The New York Yankees (50-32) dismantled the Cleveland Indians (44-38) in their first meeting last month and the two teams will meet for a rematch.  The last time these two teams met, Lewie Pollis – the Cleveland Indians blogger – and I exchanged some questions as a preview for the series.  It worked out well the first time, why not do it again?  Click here for his questions and my responses.  Read on for my responses to his questions.

Q1.  The Detroit Tigers have the best hitter and the best starting pitcher in the AL Central.  Will the Cleveland Indians be able to hold them off in the second half?

A1. Probably not. This team definitely has the upside of a division-winner and I’d say it’s better than even money that the Indians at least hold onto second place, but at least on paper Detroit is the best team in the division. If they still had a big cushion I’d say they could fight the Tigers off, but they’re in roughly the same place now and it’s hard to project Cleveland as the better team going forward.

CWI – I agree.  Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera give the Tigers a bit of a head start in the talent department, but the Indians have a solid future ahead of them.

Q2.  Shin Soo Choo was not having a particularly productive season before he went down with his thumb injury, but he’s still a valuable contributor to the team – even in a down year.  Who will the Indians try to replace Choo’s production with?

A2. So far it’s been a three-way platoon of Travis Buck, Austin Kearns, and Shelley Duncan, who as of Sunday had combined to be below replacement level. The assumed next man in line at Triple-A is Ezequiel Carrera, who was up for a few games earlier this season, but if I had my druthers the Tribe would call up 28-year-old (can you call someone his age a prospect?) Jerad Head. I projected him to be roughly a 4-WAR improvement over Kearns over a full season, so Cleveland will lose at least a full win by not plugging him in in right field until Choo’s return.

CWI – Yankees fans have been on the Austin Kearns and the Shelley Duncan boats before.  Not too much to be excited about.

Q3.  Lonnie Chisenhall made his MLB debut this past week.  Some people see him as a 15-20 HR hitter down the road, while others – namely his manger, Manny Acta – expect to see somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 HR.  What are your expectations?

A3. He might hit 25 once or twice, but I expect him to average somewhere in the 15-20 range. From what I’ve gathered, he’s going to be a good contact hitter with a smooth swing, but his other tools aren’t anything special. I see him as a consistent 3-4 WAR player going forward, with maybe a couple All-Star appearances thrown in there.  Granted, I’m extremely skeptical of third-base prospects after Andy Marte. I just don’t know if I’m ready to love again.
CWI – That projection may not be quite as exciting as Mike Moustakas’ or Pedro Alvarez’ upside, but there is nothing wrong with developing a rock solid hitter and paying him below market value for the first chunk of his career.

Q4. You expressed displeasure in the fact that Robinson Cano will be the starting second baseman for the American League in the All-Star Game.  Who do you think is more deserving of the nod?

A4:
Player A: .307/.362/.474, 136 wRC+, 10.1 UZR, 3.7 WAR
Player B: .261/.347/.463, 129 wRC+, 9.7 UZR, 4.0 WAR
Player C: .277/.391/.406, 127 wRC+, 9.0 UZR, 3.8 WAR
Player D: .292/.339/.510, 132 wRC+, -3.0 UZR, 2.5 WAR
Who would you pick? Player A looks like the best guy on the board, but B and C are close. D’s got the most power, but his subpar on-base skills mean any real difference in offensive ability is negligible. They’re all roughly the same at the plate, but D’s at a big disadvantage in the field. Any of the first three would be fine picks.  A is Howie Kendrick, who’s a backup on the roster. B is Ben Zobrist, whose only hope is the Final Vote. C is Dustin Pedroia, who’s off the team. D is Cano, your 2011 AL starter.
Cano’s got some serious game, and his numbers to date might not be a reflection of his true talent level, but if you think he should be the All-Star starter, you’re either ignoring defense, voting based on last year, or a Yankees fan (not that I have the moral standing to condemn homerism).
CWI – Lewie is right.  I am definitely ignoring defense here.  I’ve said it a few times before, I don’t like defensive metrics and I rarely use them as an evaluation tool.  Defensive metrics are still too subjective.  I remember one case when one defensive measuring system rated a team – I think it may have actually been the Cleveland Indians – well above average while another defensive measuring system rated the same team poorly.  It might be old fashioned, but I’m still using the eye test when it comes to defense and even though Cano has taken a small step back with the glove since 2010 he still turns the double play better than anyone that I have seen.  Furthermore, one could argue that power is the most important tool to possess – ESPECIALLY from second base – in this new age of pitching dominance.  As I stressed to Lewie in my response, Robinson Cano is the best second baseman in the game.  Period.  He is beyond worthy of the starting nod based on both production and fan popularity.

Q5. The Indians have stated that they will not mortgage their future for a shot at the playoffs in 2011.  With that said, what are the biggest needs of this team and which – if any -  higher tier prospects would you be willing to trade to address those needs if the AL Central remains within reach by the non-waiver trade deadline?

A5. Position player-wise, the biggest holes are second base, right field, and first base, but the Indians have have at least potentially better solutions in all three places. The key at second base is for Cord Phelps to play in place of Orlando “Below Replacement Level” Cabrera more often. Right field we need to call up Head, and there’s at least some chance Nick Johnson could be a replacement for Matt LaPorta while he’s out and an upgrade over him when he’s healthy.  The real problem is the rotation. Mitch Talbot has been terrible and Fausto Carmona is injured. The Indians aren’t going to go out and get an ace, but a solid No. 2 or 3 arm would be nice.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure the Tribe has any prospects who are good enough to bag an impact player but expendable enough for it to be worth trading them. Without any huge glaring holes in the depth chart (even in the rotation, we have at least a couple guys in the minors who can fill in) it wouldn’t be worth our while to pay a premium for an impact player. Unless there’s a high-risk, high-reward player on the block or a team with no leverage trying to rebuild, I don’t think the Indians will make a big splash at the deadline.

CWI – It’s probably better that way in the long run.  It is definitely nice for management to show the fans and the clubhouse that they are committed to winning, but hail mary shots at the playoffs can do more to hurt a team than help it.  We might just have to see how things are looking when July 31st comes around.

Thank you to Lewie Pollis for answering my questions leading up to the Yankees vs. Indians series.

Here are a few more notes:

  • A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes will take the hill against Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco and Justin Masterson.
  • Derek Jeter’s countdown to 3,000 hits will resume tonight as he makes his return to shortstop and the lead-off spot.
  • Keep an eye on Wednesday’s game.  Not only Phil Hughes making his return to the rotation, but the Yankees will get their first look at Justin Masterson in 2011.  He’s been solid this year, but he struggles against left-handed hitters.  I expect two-thirds of the Yankees lineup to bat lefty (then again, that probably applies to Monday and Tuesday as well).

AL (b)East

The Boston Red Sox (49-34) host the Toronto Blue Jays (41-44) for three games.  Hopefully Jose Bautista terrorizes them the way he has done so many other teams.  The Tampa Bay Rays (47-37) travel to take on the Minnesota Twins (36-46).

Season Series vs. Indians

3-1