The Cleveland Indians won 92 games in 2013 en route to their first playoff appearance since 2007. It was certainly a roller coaster ride of a season, as the team often fluctuated in and out of relevancy on a weekly basis before making a serious playoff push during the final month of the regular season – a push that granted them access to take part in baseball’s greatest contradiction: the win-and-you’re-in Wild Card game.
Despite losing the game and failing to advance any further in the playoffs, the Tribe’s season cannot be viewed as a failure. Serious strides were made towards building a consistent World Series contender in Cleveland, and the foundation has been set for GM Chris Antonetti and Co. to build upon for years to come.
This is the first in a series of upcoming articles that will review the performances of some of the Indians’ key contributors throughout the 2013 season. First up: Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis, and Asdrubal Cabrera.
As great of an asset as he was within the clubhouse, Swisher failed to emulate the type of numbers worthy of the 4-year, $56 million deal he was inked to in the offseason. Granted, I’d take Swisher’s 22 homers and 63 RBI over anything Casey Kotchman was able to accomplish during his one-year stint in Cleveland (essentially nothing). And despite his low average, Swish still managed to keep his on-base percentage up at a respectable .341 clip – thanks in large part to drawing 77 walks, which ranked tenth in the league. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that Swisher wasn’t able to provide the type of offensive contribution that many fans expected he would – or that his salary indicated he should.
In Swisher’s defense, he was never “the guy” during any of his tenures spent in Oakland, Chicago, or New York. His 2013 stat line (.246 AVG./22 HR/63 RBI) fell short of his overall seasonal averages (.255/25/80), but not by a whole lot. Let’s not forget that Swisher had been surrounded by some of the league’s most potent hitters during his four years spent in New York, also.
Defensively, Swish provided manager Terry Francona with some versatility, as Tito was able to plug his usual first baseman into right field on 27 different occasions. Other than the occasional diving stop, however, Swisher was merely average at both positions. And although his defensive WAR (wins above replacement) rating was the best of his career, it was still in the negatives (-0.1).
Final grade: B-
Early on, it appeared that second baseman Jason Kipnis had carried his offensive ineptitude from last season’s second-half collapse into the 2013 season, as he posted a mediocre .200 average during the first month of the season while driving in just four runs. Luckily for Tribe fans, Kipnis began turning things around in May with a power surge that allowed him to smash seven homers and drive in 22 runs.
The 26-year-old then carried that momentum into the month of June, where he posted a ridiculous .419 average and drove in another 25 runs. Kipnis’s monstrous month propelled him to his first All-Star berth, and served as a driving force behind the Indians’ early-season battle with Detroit for first place in the AL Central.
Though he tailed off a bit after the All-Star break, there’s no denying that Kipnis emerged as one of the league’s premier second basemen in 2013. He finished fourth among all second basemen in on-base percentage (.366), second in steals (30), and tied for third in runs batted in (84), proving his worth as one of the game’s best all-around talents.
Despite making strides offensively, Kipnis took a bit of a step back defensively in 2013, though some of that could still be accredited to the fact that he spent a large portion of his time in the minors as an outfielder. Regardless, twelve errors at the second base position is somewhat discouraging.
Final grade: A-
Trade rumors surrounding the Indians’ shortstop floated around in abundance during the offseason. It’s no secret that the team’s front office fully expects heralded shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor to take over at the position sometime within the next two seasons, and trading Cabrera would’ve allowed the club to plug the newly-acquired Mike Aviles into the lineup as a stopgap while Lindor continued to be groomed into his future role. However, the Indians opted to hang onto their Venezuelan shortstop for at least one more season.
Cabrera’s dismal performance throughout most of the 2013 season made many Indians fans wish that the Tribe would have dealt him. He underperformed all season long while also battling a quad injury that kept him out of a good chunk of games in June. Though he was pretty much bad all the way around, he struggled most when it mattered most, batting just .197 with runners in scoring position.
It came as a bit of a surprise when I found that Cabrera had only made nine errors this season (compare that to his dismal 19-error 2012 season). I’ll give him credit where it’s due in that regard, but one thing that still remained a key issue in 2013 (as it has for a number of seasons now) was Cabrera’s lack of range at the shortstop position.
The days of Omar Vizquel are long behind us. I realize this. But after suffering through two shortstops in Johnny Peralta and Asdrubal Cabrera who both possess defensive ranges comparable to the likes of an 82-year-old Don Zimmer (Exaggeration? I think not), it’s safe to say that the days of the defensive-minded Francisco Lindor serving as this club’s starting shortstop cannot come fast enough.
Still think Asdrubal had a solid year? Here’s this clip from the AL Wild Card game to remind you that he didn’t.
Final grade: D+
Opening photo credit: David Richard/USA Today