When do you feel that the Indians will bring up shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor and part ways with Asdrubal Cabrera?
-- Corey L., Wilmington, N.C. (via Twitter)
This is a popular question these days, but the most natural timing for that move remains this coming offseason. Lindor is believed to be Cleveland's shortstop of the future (he was just named to his third consecutive All-Star Futures Game roster), and Cabrera is in the final year of his contract with the club.
The Indians have been steadfast with their development plan for the 20-year-old Lindor, who is currently at Double-A Akron. The switch-hitting shortstop has also been steady in his production since being taken with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Part of his success in the Minors is due to not being rushed to the Majors.
A year ago, Lindor opened at Class A (high) Carolina and was promoted to Double-A around the All-Star break in July. Perhaps Cleveland will take a similar approach this season, giving Lindor a shot at Triple-A during the second half. If that takes place, and all goes well, the shortstop would be a candidate for a late-season promotion to the big leagues.
With Cabrera all but set to hit free agency this coming winter, it would make sense for the Indians to want to give Lindor a taste of the Majors in September. That could set the table for Lindor to possibly take over as the Tribe's shortstop in 2015. If the Indians feel Lindor isn't ready for Opening Day next year, the team could use Mike Aviles as a stopgap until the prospect arrives.
There is, of course, another scenario in which Lindor could arrive earlier than expected. If Cleveland free falls out of the playoff hunt in the coming weeks, Cabrera would certainly be a prime trade candidate. If that situation came to fruition, the Indians might consider expediting Lindor's development to give him a shot on baseball's biggest stage. Cleveland isn't at that point yet.
What is the real reason the Tribe didn't extend Justin Masterson's contract during Spring Training? There wasn't a peep of diminished velocity during the spring because he was doing well. Now, I'm hearing it's because of the velocity. Is this true?
-- Rex H., Cedar Rapids, Iowa
It would be too easy to say there is one specific reason behind the decision by both sides to table extension talks. From Cleveland's side, I do think the diminished velocity played a role. Now, we found out this week that Masterson has been pitching through a knee issue for most of the season. I think more than anything, the very inconsistent nature of Masterson's career (4.70 ERA in 2010, 3.21 ERA in '11, 4.93 ERA in '12, 3.45 ERA in '13 and now a 5.03 ERA so far this year) caused hesitancy on the Indians' part in offering a long-term contract.
Would the Tribe be better suited to trade for a starting pitcher who has a proven track record of going deep in games, or by keeping an eight-man bullpen the rest of the season? It seems that a seven-man 'pen plus Jason Giambi isn't going to be a luxury the Indians can afford.
-- Roman Z., Erie, Pa.
Both? I think the Indians will definitely be looking to add a starter before the July 31 Trade Deadline, especially if the team continues to hang within reach of the postseason picture. I also think manager Terry Francona will continue to utilitize an eight-man bullpen for as long as possible. He's done so all year. The 43-year-old Giambi has willingly headed to the disabled list twice with minor injuries this season in order to help the roster alignment. His is certainly a situation worth monitoring as the season progresses.
Can you tell me why Jason Kipnis has been batting fourth?
-- Manny P. (via Twitter)
Part of it has been to keep a balanced lineup. With Michael Bourn (lefty) leading off, followed by Cabrera (switch) and Michael Brantley (lefty), it makes sense to have Kipnis either in the fourth or fifth spot, especially without a true cleanup hitter on the roster. Francona also has used Carlos Santana (switch) in the No. 4 hole again lately with him heating up offensively. Kipnis' power totals have been down so far this year, but he had the second-highest slugging percentage and OPS among regular Tribe hitters across the 2012-13 seasons.
What can Tribe do about Nick Swisher? I know he's a huge clubhouse presence, but does that make up for the complete lack of production?
-- Andrew S., Arlington, Va.
Cleveland can pray to the baseball gods that Swisher's consistency and signature patience return soon. The most troubling aspect of his slump of late has been the lack of strike-zone discipline (19 strikeouts against zero walks in 40 plate appearances since coming off the disabled list). Swisher's strength has been on-base ability, and that's gone missing recently. With a $15-million salary, Swisher isn't going anywhere. The hope is that -- similar to September last season (.869 OPS) -- he can heat up and settle back in offensively.
Outfielder Nyjer Morgan was great for the Tribe this year when he was healthy. How far away is he from returning and when will he have a roster spot again?
-- Danny K., Cleveland
Morgan remains on target for a return at some point in July -- likely after the All-Star break. Of course, following a two-month rehab from his right knee injury, Morgan will surely need to head out on a Minor League rehab assignment. Once he is back at full strength, Cleveland will have solid injury insurance in the Minors. Given the current bench, Morgan would not seem to have a spot until rosters expand in September. That could change, but that would probably mean having Santana return to backup catcher duties and parting ways with catcher George Kottaras.
What is Cleveland's record with 20,000 or more in attendance over the last four years? It can't be good, especially if you don't count the 10-game winning streak last September.
-- Doug H., Ashland, Ohio
Well, yeah, if you don't count all the wins, the Indians went 0-70 last season. It sounds like you'll be surprised to hear that the Tribe has gone 66-60 (.524 winning percentage) at home in front of crowds of at least 20,000 from 2011-14 (last fall's Wild Card Game included). Over that period, the Indians have gone 155-126 (.552) overall at home. There is a slight decrease in win percentage, but it isn't a dramatic difference.
When was the last time an Indians player had two triples in one game?
-- CLE_OHsports (via Twitter)
This question came in light of Bourn collecting a pair of three-base hits in Wednesday's win in Arizona. Ezequiel Carrera last turned the trick for the Tribe on Aug. 4, 2012, against Detroit. Bourn did, however, become the first Indians batter since Aug. 17, 1949, (Dale Mitchell) to triple in each of his first two plate appearances. The only Cleveland player with three triples in one game in the past 100 seasons is Ben Chapman, who did so on July 3, 1939, against the Tigers.