April 24, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
54°F
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Indians commentary: Is this Santana’s last season at catcher?

CHICAGO — Is this Carlos Santana’s final season as the Indians’ No. 1 catcher?
It would be difficult to point to any area where he has gotten more proficient behind the plate. Santana continues to struggle to block balls in the dirt; despite a strong arm, he is average at best in throwing out runners, and he is constantly getting pinged by foul balls and errant pitches that hit the ground.
At the plate, Santana has become more of the impact player that club officials were hoping to see last year, and since he can play first base and fill in as the designated hitter, there is a place in the lineup for him even if he doesn’t catch.
Yan Gomes has proved to be a capable catcher and has a chance to be a solid run producer. The logical move is to make Gomes the everyday catcher and keep Lou Marson as the backup.
These changes can’t be made now, because it would create too much dislocation at other positions. Moreover, Marson isn’t healthy.
Whatever happened to Marson?
He has been on the disabled list with a sore shoulder since April 28. Nobody talks about him; he has become the resident ghost of the Indians’ clubhouse.
When a reporter asked what Marson was doing, the answer was: “Throwing program.”
l Scott Kazmir can become a free agent at the end of the season. If it’s within his power, General Manager Chris Antonetti shouldn’t allow that to happen.
Nobody knows if Kazmir will regain the form he displayed in 2007 and 2008, when he was The Next Big Thing, but he certainly looks like he’s well on his way.
After struggling to keep his job in the big leagues and spending last year pitching for an independent league team, what Kazmir needed was to relearn how to pitch. He appears to be doing that.
For the rest of the season, he probably will continue on a path that includes lots of peaks and valleys, but next year could begin a period of consistent success.
So sign Kazmir to a multiyear deal now, if he is willing to talk. And he might be. After all, it was Antonetti who gave him a chance when he wasn’t even an afterthought for most clubs.
— What is making the Indians’ offense a fearsome weapon these days? Nothing much.
The Indians are languishing in the middle of the American League pack in most categories: seventh in runs, eighth in batting average, seventh in OPS, sixth in home runs. The Wahoos are a little better in stolen bases (third), walks (fourth) and doubles (fourth) but not so good in (surprise) strikeouts (fourth).
Individually, Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana were expected to provide the most firepower. Instead, it has been Jason Kipnis. Where would the Indians be without him?
Kipnis is among the top 20 American League batsmen in these categories: RBI, doubles, steals, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS, with an .882 figure, good for 10th place. He also has bounced into only two double plays.
— Drew Stubbs has bounced into just one double play.
And the fact he was able to avoid being doubled up on his ground ball to third in the ninth inning Wednesday night enabled the Indians to beat the Baltimore Orioles, 4-3.
With the score tied, runners on first and third and one out, Stubbs slapped a bouncer to Manny Machado, who threw to second for the force-out, but the relay to first failed to beat the flying feet of Stubbs, and Mike Aviles scored the game winner.
— As Indians manager Terry Francona likes to point out, “These things have a way of working themselves out.”
What things? Like who will be nudged out of the rotation when Zach McAllister comes off the disabled list, probably shortly after the All-Star Game?
It would be a painful decision if McAllister were ready to be activated now. Let’s see, which starting pitcher isn’t holding up his end of the bargain? Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco?
Don’t say Carrasco, because we don’t know yet, and he needs to make at least eight to 10 starts before a judgment can be made.
By the time the All-Star break arrives, Carrasco will have made three more starts and eight for the season. If he stumbles, the decision will be easy. If he pitches well between now and mid-July, then what?
What about a six-man rotation? No chance.
— Speaking of displaced starters, what is Brett Myers going to do in the bullpen?
I know he’s worked as a reliever before, but there certainly is no crying need for another right-hander in the Indians’ pen. On the other hand, how else can he fulfill his $7 million contract?
— It’s too early to know whether Antonetti will target a pitcher or a hitter in a trading deadline deal, or even if he will attempt to acquire a player at all.
Regardless of what kind of player he seeks, there will be limitations, and I’m not talking about money. The Indians’ minor-league system isn’t exactly overflowing with top-of-the-line prospects that other clubs covet, though things are looking up.
It would be a shock if the GM traded Francisco Lindor, considered the top position player in the farm system. Moreover, most of the club’s best prospects are laboring in Class A or in rookie leagues.
Trading partners usually don’t want to wait four or five years to see the fruit of their deal-making, and that’s how long it would take for a kid at say, Mahoning Valley, to reach the majors.
Trevor Bauer, pitching prospect No. 1, is learning his craft at Triple-A Columbus, the top end of the farm system. It’s unlikely that Antonetti would part with him. Would a team be interested in Daisuke Matsuzaka? What about a big-league starter? The Indians have seven, if you count Bauer.
Improbable as it seems, there’s a chance the Indians would trade a pitcher to get better. That would be a switch.