StrategyMarch 1, 2011

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Cleveland Indians

By Erik Blomain

Cleveland just barely edged out Kansas City for fourth place in the AL Central last season, but unfortunately that small victory might not repeat in 2011. There are many similarities between Kansas City and Cleveland; both teams dealt some major league stars for young talent the last few seasons. However Kansas City’s youngsters looks like they are poised to take it to the next level, while rotation and offensive questions in Cleveland make this franchise appear to be in limbo. Regardless of the team’s on-field performance, there is some definite upside here and value to be had for fantasy purposes, if you know where to look.

In “30 Teams in 30 Days,” the Fantasy Baseball Cafe will preview each team in Major League Baseball on a daily basis. In addition to projecting starting lineups, rotations and closing situations, the Cafe will identify potential targets for 2011 fantasy baseball drafts.
Offensive Starters

C Carlos Santana.260.401.467236223150 
1B Matt LaPorta.221.306.3624112410376 
2B Orlando Cabrera.263.303.3546444211494w/CIN
SS Asdrubal Cabrera.276.326.346393296381 
3B Jason Donald.253.312.378394245296 
LF Michael Brantley.246.296.3273832210297 
CF Grady Sizemore.211.271.289150134128 
RF Shin-Soo Choo.300.401.48481229022550 
DH Travis Hafner.278.374.4494613502396 

Unsettled: Third base and Grady Sizemore. The hot corner is very muddled in Cleveland, with several players vying for the starting job in what is likely to be a true competition. Jayson Nix ended last year as the starter and hit a respectable 14 home runs in 331 at-bats, albeit with a low batting average. While his power may play at the position, his defense left much to be desired, as he made 11 errors in his 40 starts at third down the stretch. This has opened the door for prospect Jason Donald, a natural shortstop who came over in the Cliff Lee trade from Philadelphia, to compete for the job. Local beat writers have called him the favorite, citing his defensive edge and better contact. Donald lacks the natural pop of Nix, but he makes up for it by doing a little bit of everything. However, there is no one skill where he excels, and so he isn’t likely to surpass 15 hom eruns or 15 steals, making him a middling fantasy option in this mediocre lineup. Probably the most intriguing name of the bunch is prospect Lonnie Chisenhall. Chisenhall is not likely to win the job outright to start the year, but his raw power in the minors makes him a potential future fantasy starter. He is one to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
There are few bigger fantasy question marks going into the 2011 season than Grady Sizemore. Sizemore’s meteoric fall from fantasy stardom has been well-documented on this and other sites, so I will not go into too much detail here. He enters his age-28 season coming off a serious microfracture procedure on his left knee. Early reports have him feeling good at camp and targeting a mid-April return, but he has only participated in light sprinting and batting practice thus far. Sizemore was always a five-category producer, but one has to wonder how this knee surgery will affect his running game. At the right price he is worth a flier pick, but do not be the one guy in your league dropping auction dollars as if a return to 20-20 is likely.
Target: Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana. There are few players who possess Choo’s tools, and yet year after year this stud flies under the radar. There are few players who are better bets for 20-20 seasons, and Choo does it in style with an excellent batting average. Yes, his counting stats are held back a bit by Cleveland’s anemic lineup, but even a modest improvement would have him sniffing 100 runs and RBIs. While your league mates call out names like the ancient Ichiro Suzuki or the injury-prone Nelson Cruz (both players with similar ADPs), you will do the smart move and take Choo at a discount.
Carlos Santana seemed poised to take the Major League by storm in 2010. After several mammoth minor league power campaigns, Santana was called up and enjoyed some nice success, as evidenced by his six home runs in 192 at bats. However, his promising campaign was cut short by a knee injury that required surgery. Early reports have Santana’s knee at 100 percent, and he is fully participating in all activities. This is good news for a guy that plays a position that can be rough on the knees. This surgery might actually be a blessing in disguise, as it has driven his price down significantly in 2011. Few catchers offer his power upside, and none of them will be available as late as Santana. Invest with confidence.
Starting Rotation
Fausto Carmona (R)13-143.771.3112472210.1 
Justin Masterson (R)6-134.71.514073180 
Carlos Carrasco (R)2-23.831.37381444.2 
Aaron Laffey (L)2-34.531.62282855.2 
Mitch Talbot (R)10-134.411.498869159.1 

Unsettled: Justin Masterson. The former Red Sox hurler was better than the stats indicate in 2010 (3.98 xFIP). However, he was still plagued by a problem that has followed him his entire career: his complete inability to get left handed hitters out. In 2010, lefties enjoyed a whopping .290 batting average off of Masterson, as compared to .263 for righties. This problem is so bad that the Indians have toyed with moving him to the bullpen. Those fears have been squashed for now, and all indications are that Masterson will spend the entire 2011 season in the rotation. This is a crucial year for both his career and his fantasy value. Unless his splits improve, he may never tap his impressive potential. There are many worse late-round fliers, but he might be a wait-and-see waiver add during the season.
Target: Carlos Carrasco. Another Phillies prospect acquired for Cliff Lee projects to feature heavily in Cleveland’s plans this year. Many in the fantasy community have written him off after his disastrous call-up in late 2009 in which he went 0-4 with a whopping 8.87 ERA in five starts. The Indians decided to give the young hurler some more seasoning in Triple-A in 2010, and the move appears to have paid off. After posting respectable numbers in 25 Triple-A starts, he came up to the bigs, where he enjoyed some continued success and went 2-2 with a tidy 3.83 ERA. What are more impressive are the peripheral stats behind these numbers: his xFIP was an excellent 3.55, largely because he trimmed his walks (2.82 BB/9), and struck out batters at a decent clip (7.66 K/9). Look for Carrasco to build off this late season success and establish himself as a middle-of-the rotation type arm and late-round fantasy target.
The 8th and 9th Innings
Chris Perez (R)231.711.08612863 
Tony Sipp (L)14.131.38693963 

Chasing Saves: After being bounced around for years in St. Louis, and then infuriatingly blocked by an inconsistent Kerry Wood, Chris Perez was finally put in a situation to succeed during the second half of 2010. The results were outstanding, as Perez put up sterling numbers across the board as the closer. Delving deeper into the numbers, there are some points of concern. He walked a lot of batters (4.0 BB/9), and his Fielding Independent Pitching stats suggest his ERA was a bit of an outlier (1.71 ERA, 4.30 xFIP). Still, there are few pitchers with Perez’s K potential, and there is no one in town likely to put up much of a challenge. Feel free to draft Perez and his job security after the top closers are off the board.
Final Thoughts
It will be difficult for the Indians to compete this year, as they have major question marks in key spots. However, trading aces Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia has landed some intriguing young talent in the organization. As a result, aside from Shin-Soo Choo there are not many players on this roster that project as early round picks. The flip side is that there are many intriguing late-round fliers on this team both on the mound and at the dish. In addition to the aforementioned boom-or-bust pick Grady Sizemore, young players like Chisenhall, Brantley and Santana may pay significant dividends in the right situation. Additionally, post-hype prospects like Matt LaPorta and Justin Masterson are still young enough to put it all together and have great seasons. Finally, Chris Perez offers job security at closer that is difficult to match in the middle rounds.
We’ll continue the 30 Teams in 30 Days series tomorrow with our look at the Detroit Tigers.

Erik Blomain is one of a growing contingent of writers at A medical student by day, he enjoys dominating fantasy leagues (where he likes to be known as The Pain Train) and making it rain on the streets of Philly by night. A lot of people say they bleed their team's colors, but he really does, in fact, bleed Phillies Red.
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