What do you think the plan is for designated hitter this year? Are the Indians going to have a dedicated DH, or will position players be rotated through the DH role throughout the season? Does it make sense to have more position players on the roster rather than dedicate one spot to a DH?
--Sheila W., New Albany, Ohio
Even if the Indians sign a pure DH before Spring Training -- guys like Travis Hafner or Jim Thome come to mind -- I think the plan will still be to rotate various players in and out of that role. There is no true slugger left on the open market that would warrant the full-time gig.
Hafner and Thome are getting up there in baseball years and both have a recent history of injury bugs. If Cleveland brought either back into the fold, I think they would be best utilized in a semi-regular role to provide rest, especially against left-handed pitching.
One thing that the Tribe has done this winter is continue to create an extremely versatile roster. All three starting outfielders can play multiple outfield positions, and right fielder Nick Swisher can even slide to first base if needed. First baseman Mark Reynolds can shift to third base in a pinch. Super sub Mike Aviles can play everywhere, and catcher Carlos Santana can play first. Yan Gomes, a catcher by trade, has experience at both corner infield spots, as well as the outfield.
All this positional versatility gives Cleveland the ability to give various players a day as a DH to provide rest for their legs, while keeping the regular lineup intact. Unless you have a bonafide run producer in hand who is willing to serve as the full-time DH, a revolving door featuring versatile players seems like the way to go.
Given the Indians don't have a full time DH at this point, could you see Hafner re-signing for an incentive-based contract? If he doesn't perform, it doesn't cost the Tribe much, but there seems to be good upside.
--Chris K., Collie, West Australia
It obviously depends on what other offers Hafner has on the table, but given his long history with the Indians, and his ties to the area, I definitely think he would consider re-signing with the Tribe. The only question -- in regards to a player such as Hafner or Thome -- is how much playing time will Cleveland be offering.
When healthy, Hafner has a history of being a solid contributor. The harsh reality, though, is that he has only played an average of 86 games per season over the past five years. On top of that, his numbers against left-handed pitching have been in steady decline over that time period. It also doesn't help his cause that he does not play a position in the field these days.
If Hafner were brought in as a part-time option for serving as a DH against righties -- allowing for some built in rest days against lefties -- it might be a workable scenario. Dating back to '08, Hafner has hit .269 with a .371 on-base percentage and one walk per 8.19 plate appearances against righties. He has hit .231 with a .302 OBP and an average of one walk per 13.75 PAs versus lefties in that span.
Over the past five years, Hafner's batting average against left-handed pitchers has been .197 (2012), .233 (2011), .273 (2010), .210 (2009) and .220 (2008). That 2010 season was the only one in that grouping in which the DH appeared in more than 94 games (he logged 118) and compiled more than 400 plate appearances.
Last year, Cleveland ranked last in the American League in average (.234), slugging percentage (.352) and OPS (.664) against left-handed pitching. The Tribe has worked to address that this winter with the acquisitions of Aviles (.797 career OPS vs. LHP), Reynolds (.857), Swisher (.842) and Drew Stubbs (.821). Gomes, while lacking big league experience, posted a 1.026 OPS vs. lefties at Triple-A last season.
Will the Tribe give Gomes a legitimate shot at making the team this spring?
-- Joe M., Wadsworth, Ohio
In a recent chat, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said Lou Marson will come into camp as the prime candidate for the backup catching job. That means Gomes will be competing for a bench role as a third catcher who can handle DH and a handful of other positions. Cleveland will need to weigh whether Gomes (just 25 years old with only 43 big league games under his belt) is better served playing regularly in the Minors to further his development, or playing sporadically in a bench role in the Majors.
How will the center field and left field spots work out?
--Kenny K., Elyria, Ohio
The Indians have two capable center fielders in Stubbs and Michael Brantley, but one will need to shift to left field. The Indians will likely announce that decision early in camp this spring. My guess is Brantley will be asked to move back to left, which he has played in the past. Stubbs is an above-average center fielder, and that is the only position he has played in the Majors.
What in the world was the Indians' front office thinking with the signing of Stubbs? His offense is almost nonexistent and they give him a raise of roughly $2.3 million. I am 60-plus years old and think that I could hit for as good an average and strike out less than the Tribe's new outfielder. What am I missing here?
--Ray S., Grimes, Iowa
Stubbs brings speed on the bases, top-flight defense in the outfield and the ability to score runs, and hit lefties, even in a down year. Consider last season, when he hit just .213, Stubbs still stole 30 bases, scored 75 runs (only two Indians hitters exceeded that total in 2012) and hit .283 against southpaws. The raise was simply the product of baseball's arbitration process. It was a pretty standard bump for a first-year eligible player with his credentials.
I'm planning a trip down to Goodyear for Spring Training. Do you have any tips for ensuring a great time? The warm weather and baseball should be enough, but I'm sure a seasoned traveler such as yourself might have a few insider tips.
--Ken R., Lyndhurst, Ohio
Show up early. Whether you're there before or after games begin (Feb. 22), there is usually something going on in the morning at the Player Development Complex, which is about a half-mile from the ballpark. If you want to meet players or possibly get some autographs, there is solid access near the practice fields. It is best to get there in the morning -- I'd suggest between 8-9 a.m. -- to catch players as they're heading into the complex or to the fields. Beyond that, make sure you get breakfast at the Black Bear Diner.
Remember, you heard it here first: the Indians will not sign Nick Swisher or any other significant player this offseason. Us fans know better.
--Joseph D., New York
I'll admit it, I've been hanging on to this e-mail for a while now. I just wanted to let Joe know that Swisher's Indians jersey are available now in the team shop.