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February 29, 2012 posted by Nick Raducanu

2012 Fantasy Baseball – Top 5 Questions: Cleveland Indians

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Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland Indians SP

When we look back at the Cleveland Indians in five years, there is a very good chance that July 30th, 2011 will be viewed as a major turning point for the franchise. On that fateful Saturday, the Tribe sat only a game and a half behind the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers and Indians’ management decided they had core of players that only needed one more piece to put them over the top.

The Indians decided to trade four prospects (including top minor leagues Alex White and Drew Pomeranz) to the Colorado Rockies for Ubaldo Jimenez in the hopes that Jimenez would lead the team to their first playoff appearance since 2007. However, faster than 28-year-old Fausto Carmona turned into 31-year-old Roberto Hernandez Heredia, the Indians found themselves 15 games back of the Tigers by the time the playoffs started.

Due to the short-term failure of the Jimenez trade, the Indians find themselves at a bit of a crossroads as we enter the 2012 season. They’ve mortgaged a large chunk of their farm system that could have helped this year, so what we see is what we’re going to get with the Tribe in 2012. If Jimenez (and other veterans that had disappointing 2011 seasons) can turn things around, the Indians could find themselves looking at last year’s trade as the move that won them the AL Central. If not, Indians fans will forever link July 30th, 2011 with one of the worst trades in recent franchise history.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five questions about the Cleveland Indians for fantasy owners in 2012:

5. Will Ubaldo Jimenez revert to his 2010 form?

After finishing third in the 2010 National League Cy Young vote, Ubaldo Jimenez took a big step backward in 2011. He was a popular pick for many fantasy owners last season, but he suffered a groin injury in spring training that seemed to plague him throughout the year. Jimenez ended up posting a disappointing season overall (4.68 ERA/1.40 WHIP), and was actually worse once he arrived in Cleveland(5.10 ERA/1.45 WHIP).

The good news for Indians’ fans and fantasy owners is that Jimenez’ 2011 season seems to be an outlier when compared to his career stats. His 2011 K/9IP (8.60) wasn’t far off from his stellar 2010 season (8.69), and he actually dropped his walk total from 92 in 2010 to 78 in 2011. He also saw a significant jump in his BABIP last season (.314 in 2011 as compared to .273 in 2010) so he should see a correction towards his .294 career average there.

Jimenez most likely won’t match his stellar 2010 season in 2012, but his peripheral stats indicate he should veer closer to his 2010 numbers than his 2011 numbers. If that’s the case, the new Indians’ ace could be represent a great value this year as he’s been taken around the 15th round in most drafts.

4. Is Justin Masterson the next Derek Lowe? If so, is that a good thing?

When Justin Masterson was a prospect in the Red Sox system, he was continually referred to as “the next Derek Lowe”. The ironies of Masterson and Lowe now playing for the same team aside, the young sinkerballer’s 2011 season lived up to the moniker bestowed on him by the Red Sox brass. Last year represented a breakout season for the Jamaican-born hurler (yup, you read that correctly) as he posted a 3.21 ERA and 1.28 WHIP to go along with 12 wins and 158 strikeouts. Most impressively, he induced 2.13 ground-ball out/fly-ball out rate (anything over 1.50 is really good) and also showed improved control as he lowered his BB/9IP from 3.65 in 2010 to 2.71 in 2011.

Masterson had surgery on his non-throwing shoulder in the offseason, but he hasn’t experienced any restrictions so far and should be ready to go for Opening Day. He’ll enter camp as the Indians’ number two starter behind Jimenez, and should produce similar stats to 2011 as he continues to mature as a pitcher. Masterson has been going around the 20th round in most drafts, and should provide a fantastic return if you’re patient enough to wait for him.

3. Should Chris Perez be trusted?

On the surface, Chris Perez had a pretty great 2011 season. He ended up with a 3.32 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 39 K’s, and finished fourth in the American League with 36 saves. Those numbers are fine and dandy, but that doesn’t mean that fantasy owners should automatically trust the Indians’ closer. His numbers might look good on the surface, but a closer look under the hood reveals some disturbing trends.

Perez is still only 25 years old, so he has room to grow, but his peripheral numbers are worrisome at best. His K/9IP ratio took a nosedive from 8.71 in 2010 to 5.88 in 2011, and he is still walking batters at a rate that leaves something to be desired (3.92 BB/9IP in 2011). Most importantly, that’s not even taking into account the fact that Perez will miss the next four-to-six weeks with an oblique injury. The Indians are saying that he should be ready for Opening Day, but oblique injuries are notoriously unpredictable and can often resurface later in the season.

While Perez is a decent closer option in most leagues, his save total from last year has led to an inflated worth in the eyes of most fantasy owners. There are cheaper and more effective options out there, and Vinny Pestano has a good chance at opening the season as the Indians’ closer if Perez’ injury lingers. If Pestano can start the season strong, we could be looking at a Wally Pipp situation, as the Indians’ set-up man posted 2011 numbers that make fantasy owners drool (2.32 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 12.19 K/9IP). He is an intriguing late-round grab, and is a must-draft if you’re hell-bent on taking Perez.

2. Is Grady Sizemore made of glass?

Through 2005-2008, Grady Sizemore posted four straight 20-20 seasons and even reached the 30-30 plateau in 2008. The good news, however, ends there.

Sizemore’s career since 2009 has become a list of ailments more so than a list of accomplishments. In the past three seasons, the Indians’ once-rising star has been gobbled up by the injury bug and has only played an average of 70 games a year during that time span. During the past three seasons, Sizemore’s knee surgeries (one on each knee) have made him look like a shell of his former self even when he has been healthy enough to take the field (his season-high for home runs since 2008 is 10, and his season-high for steals is 13).

Sizemore is still only 28 and reportedly had a great offseason, but the latest news out of Cleveland is that he strained his back a couple weeks ago and will likely miss Opening Day. For someone with Sizemore’s injury history, this is not a good sign and should raise red flags for fantasy owners everywhere.

Because of his stellar 2005-2008 seasons, it will be very tempting for fantasy owners to take a flier on Sizemore at the end of their drafts. It’s a low-risk move and offers potential upside, but is it really worth the headache? Doc Brown and Marty McFly are not here to magically turn back the clock for Sizemore, and there are better options that will be available and involve less risk (like Ben Revere, Dexter Fowler, Delmon Young, etc).

1. Shin-Soo Choo or Carlos Santana?

Carlos Santana is only 25 years old and is the de facto face of the Indians franchise. He struggled a bit in his first full season in the big leagues (.239 average), but he still managed to hit 27 home runs and knock in 79 runs last year. As the young catcher gets more comfortable, he should be able to capitalize on his patience at the plate (.16 career BB%) and cut down on his strikeouts (133 strikeouts in 2011). Another nice bonus with Santana is that he provides owners with some roster flexibility as he fills the always-thin catcher spot, and also qualifies at first base.

Shin-Soo Choo was a popular pick among fantasy owners for a breakout season in 2011. He started the year having posted two-straight seasons above the 20-20 plateau, but early-season thumb surgery derailed Choo’s season and he never quite got back on track. Limited to 85 games, Choo only hit eight home runs to go along with 12 steals in 2011. At 29 years old, however, the South Korean outfielder is still in the prime of his career and seems to be healthy as he heads into camp. He’s a career .291 hitter and should be able to provide fantasy owners with numbers similar to his 2009 and 2010 campaigns that caused everyone to take notice.

As with anything in fantasy baseball, the question of “Choo or Santana” is all about relative value. Both players will most likely be taken somewhere between the fourth and sixth rounds of drafts this year, so they come into the season with similar perceived value. Choo is more of a known commodity in terms of what you’ll probably get (around .300, 20 home runs, 20 steals), while Santana offers more upside and the potential for 30-35 home runs. Choo plays an outfield position where owners need depth, while Santana plays a catcher position that is very thin fantasy-wise (and offers dual-eligibility at first base). Both players are great options at their relative value, but bold strokes often win fantasy leagues and Santana offers the higher upside for fantasy owners when all the factors are taken into consideration.

2012 Outlook: Outside of the players mentioned in this article, the Indians don’t offer a whole lot for fantasy owners this year. Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall are younger players to keep an eye on, but the veterans listed above are the only options that should be on your draft board. The team may be at a crossroads, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t players that can help your team. As long as owners stay away from the red flags surrounding Sizemore and Perez, the Indians can provide your team with some key building blocks like Choo, Santana, Jimenez, Masterson, and even Pestano.

Nick Raducanu finished 2011 ranked in the top 20 on ESPN’s Fantasy site, and is the mystery man behind the TraderX persona at www.FantasyTrade411.com. You can follow him and ask him for fantasy advice on Twitter @FantasyTrade411.

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