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IBI Inbox: Should the Indians consider Chris Carter as a replacement for Mike Napoli?

The Indians are in need of a bat with Mike Napoli's return in question and one name being bandied about is Chris Carter. The IBI's Tony Lastoria provides some insight and Dave Roberts provides his thoughts for a double take on that question and more from Indians fans...

The Winter Meetings get underway Sunday evening and will make for a busy week of news and rumors throughout baseball and potentially for the Cleveland Indians. As we get set for the start of the Winter Meetings circus, we are back this week to answer some questions from fans pertaining to the Indians from the minors to the big leagues.

If you have a question on anything involving the Cleveland Indians from the minors to the big leagues that you would like answered in a future inbox, feel free to contact us. We also pull questions from Twitter, so you can post your questions there as well by tweeting at @TonyIBI or @history_dreamer.

To the IBI Inbox we go.....

Brady B: You think Chris Carter is on the radar as a potential Napoli replacement?

Tony’s insight: While nothing ever is for certain, I would be surprised if Carter were signed by the Indians. While the home runs are impressive as he has averaged 34 homers over the last four seasons with a career high 41 this past season and has an impressive .245 career isolated power percentage, he’s sort of a one trick pony whereas if the ball does not leave the yard he offers little value elsewhere. He is a DH only at this point so he can’t play defense – well he *could* play defense but it would be to the detriment of the team. He does a poor job of making contact with a career .218 batting average and 33.1% strikeout rate. He serves no real platoon role with a .217 average and .769 OPS against righties and a .221 average and .796 average against lefties. And while the home runs produce runs, he is not a really good RBI guy with a career .219 average and 32.8 K% with runners in scoring position. He’s a guy who can hurt average or below pitching, but as we saw with Napoli in the postseason, is a guy who likely will disappear and struggle when the pitching he faces improves in big regular season games or in the postseason.

Bottom line, even with all of the home runs he has hit in the last four seasons, he has basically been a 1.0 WAR player. He might be signable on a one year deal for around $7-9 million, which would be right around what Napoli got last offseason and his numbers are very Napoli-esque, so I could see the possibility he could sign. It wouldn’t hurt and would help offset the loss of Napoli and for cheaper. Even still, the Indians should look for better than that, especially someone who can actually play a position or has more versatility and won’t disappear when needed the most in the postseason.

Dave’s Take: It’s surprising with how much power is valued that a guy with 41 home runs was let go, especially since he only made $2.5 million in 2016 - but that’s what the Brewers did with Chris Carter. Carter, 29, is the definition of an all-or-nothing hitter where in 688 career games he has hit 150 home runs but only hit .218. That’s an average of a 35 home run season for his career which is one better than Mike Napoli’s career best season with the Indians in 2016. Carter would come at a much cheaper cost than Napoli and comes with more versatility in the field since he can play left field and first base. Beyond that, their 2016 numbers are similar:

Napoli: .239/.335/.465, 34 HR, 101 RBI, 194 K, 78 BB
Carter: .222/.321/.499, 41 HR, 94 RBI, 206 K, 76 BB

Considering that side-by-side comparison, given the right price, I think Carter could look good in an Indians uniform, especially if he can hit that 40 plateau. So yes, I certainly think he’s on the Indians radar but I will also note the Indians seem to value guys who can put the ball in play more than power so they may seek to find a guy with a little less prodigious power and a higher average.

Jeff Kooyman: I have seen about 4 or 5 proposed trades for Jorge Soler and they are usually for an average to above average pitcher. Would you pursue a trade like this if you were the Indians?

Tony’s insight: Soler is a name that Indians fans seem to constantly ask about. He was a big name signing out of Cuba over four years ago when he signed a nine year $30 million deal, but he hasn’t quite lived up to his potential now five years into his deal. When he was signed and coming up through the minors he was tabbed as a prototype right fielder with a power right-handed bat and a power arm; however, he has yet to really show that power in five seasons with just 55 homers in 377 career games. He’s struggled with his consistency in the three years he has played at the big league level and has had numerous injury issues throughout his five-year pro career. Perhaps if he can just stay healthy he might break out – and I am intrigued by the career .198 isolated power percentage in the big leagues – but I think he’s a bat the Indians should avoid for now because there are just too many unknowns with him for a team looking to contend the next few years (the Cubs themselves sort of put him on the backburner for the same reason). I think he would be a better fit as an upside trade pickup for a non-contender like the Twins, Rays or someone else of that ilk who can afford to be patient with him as he works to find his way and eventually put everything together.

Dave’s Take: Soler, 24, is an intriguing player with potential as a right-handed power bat but he hasn’t played more than 101 games in a season during his first three seasons in the league and that does give pause for concern. In the 86 games he played in 2016, he hit two more home runs for a career high of 12 than he did in 2015 where he played in 101 games. In that same span, his batting average dove from .262 to .238, though it’s encouraging that he cut his strikeouts in half from the previous season and drew just one less walk, meaning plate discipline is coming along better. Perhaps the most intriguing part of Soler is his team-friendly deal; he has four years and roughly $17 million left on his contract, though has the option to opt out of the deal after 2017 and go into arbitration which could raise his costs. But all things considered, if he develops like many of the other Cubs young offensive players, he could be in for a bright future.

Now as for the pitching piece the Indians could offer, the only two Indians arms I could see fitting a need for the Cubs would be Trevor Bauer or Josh Tomlin. Tomlin, 32, has clearly proved his worth to the Indians but since he is only signed through 2017 with a team option for 2018 I don’t see the Cubs realizing the value for this trade. If the Cubs did show interest for this swap, as much as I love Tomlin, I would swing it. Whereas, Bauer, 25, is just entering his first year of arbitration in 2017 and isn’t a free agent until 2021 would be a better fit for the Cub’s wish list in this potential swap. However, I don’t believe it’s worth the value in this case. Bauer has given the Indians 150 innings or more each of the last three seasons and while he may be erratic at times, the potential for his stuff is scary good and I can’t emphasize enough how important consistent pitching is - if you need reminded just think of the 2016 ravaged version of the Indians rotation.

Marc Nichol: Do you think 2nd would be [Ramirez’s] best position? Could you see a Kipnis trade at some point, or move to OF?

Tony’s insight: Ramirez was a highly rated second baseman coming up in the minors and the feeling all along was that would be the one position he could impact the most both offensively and defensively. The glove was considered Gold Glove caliber at second base and still would be, whereas he’s a tick or two below that at third base and even a little more below that at shortstop. He’s a good defender no doubt, but second base is clearly his best position. But his versatility and ability to play at least average defense at just about any position on the field is one thing that really makes him valuable.

That said, I do not see any way the Indians move Jason Kipnis off of second base. He was drafted as an outfielder and converted to second base in his first full year in the organization, so a move back to the outfield is unlikely – at least with the Indians. While he could surely handle the outfield, part of what makes him so valuable is he is a good offensive player at a position that often lacks offense. His defense really took a step forward this past season and he has solidified himself as one of the best four or five second baseman in baseball. To move him off second base would make little sense, especially when he doesn’t have the arm for third base and would pretty much be limited to left field only in the outfield – which in the end would negatively impact his value to the team. As the Indians second baseman, he’s an All Star and one of the best at his position. As a left fielder, he’s a good player but is sort of drowned out by so many other big bats throughout baseball. So the Indians should leave Kipnis alone at second base and for now just leave Ramirez at third base. As long as Ramirez hits then he will be just fine at third base, and if another third base option emerges then they can always go back to using him like they did the first half of this past season by playing him every day but at a different position on a daily basis. There is a lot of value in a player like that.

Dave’s Take: Kipnis was originally drafted out of Arizona State as an outfielder in 2009 and the Indians kept him there during his first season of professional baseball with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The following season he played exclusively at second base and hasn’t played another position in a game since. His bat plays as a premium for second base and he flashes some good leather on the defensive side so I don’t think the Indians are considering a position move. As for trading him, he is signed through 2019 with a club option for 2020. Those contract years pay him $9.1/$13.6/$14.6 yearly respectively with a $16.5 million option year or a $2.5 million buyout so he’s owed quite a bit but I’d say with his production he’s worth the value. Also, considering the Indians core of talented players are signed through those same years, I don’t think Kipnis is traded in any sort of rebuilding phase before he hits free agency.

Nathan Hoffs: Do you think the front office is shopping Bauer this offseason with the free agent pitching market so weak? What trade value does he have?

Tony’s insight: The likes of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are nearly untouchable, but if there was one pitcher the Indians may trade it is Trevor Bauer. The Indians won’t actively shop him, but I expect that they will listen intently to any interested buyers. The Indians want to add starting pitching depth this offseason, so in some ways it wouldn’t make sense to trade a pitcher like Bauer who is one of the better number four starters in the game. Remember, he’s not one of the Indians top three starters, so when evaluating him you sometimes need to compare him to his peers – which are the other number three and four starters around baseball. When you do that you realize he’s pretty good and helps provide length to the Indians rotation. Even better is the Indians control him for another four seasons and for a relatively inexpensive amount of money. Also, there is a belief that he has yet to untap his true potential. He’s shown signs of his dominance over the last two seasons, and if he can find a way to get over the hump and be more consistent outing to outing, he would be a big boon to the rotation.

That all said, I still believe the Indians would consider moving him if a good deal came to the table. Some of his antics have worn on the front office, coaching staff and even some of the players themselves, and they may also come to a decision that he is as good as they think he will get so they look to deal him while he has value. Even though he has been inconsistent and can be a tough guy to coach, he’s still someone a lot of teams would love to have if the Indians truly made him available because of the talent, durability, low financial risk and four years of roster control.

Dave’s Take: I think like most teams in the league the Indians are always listening on players and Bauer and many of the Indians other young arms are certainly the topic of trade inquiries. Bauer is certainly as polarizing as any player in the league. At 25, he is still young and has shown flashes of dominance that warranted him as a 3rd overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Even if we consider his inconsistency on the mound, he has been the picture of reliability in his last three seasons logging at least 150 innings and reaching a career high 190 in 2016. I think we definitely saw him make improvements in 2016. While opponent’s batting average against him rose from .232 to .248 this past season, he was able to cut down on his walks going from 4 to 3.3. Interestingly, his K/9 also dropped from 8.7 to 8, perhaps a sign that he has stopped trying to strike everybody out and focus on getting the hitter to get himself out. Bauer will be eligible for his first year of arbitration in 2017 as a Super 2 and he won’t be eligible for free agency until 2021 so he comes with a low cost and is controllable for several more years. As such, he is most definitely valuable in this pitching starved market so if the Indians did consider it he would fetch a good return.

Let’s think something similar to what the Diamondbacks gave the Braves for right-hander Shelby Miller in 2015. Miller at the time was 25 and wasn’t scheduled to hit free agency until 2020 and while he has better career numbers than Bauer we can slightly scale down the package the Diamondbacks gave up. He was packaged with Gabe Speier, a fringy relief prospect and brought a return of right-hander Aaron Blair, outfielder Ender Inciarte and shortstop Dansby Swanson, all three of which contributed to the major league squad in 2016. So considering an adjustment for Bauer’s skillset compared to that of Miller’s you can imagine he could bring in an impactful package but if I were the Indians front office I would only swing it if it was a package they could only dream about.

Hiram Boyd: Is it talk about putting Mitch Brown in the bullpen?  With the extra man do you think the Indians carry both Gonzalez and Diaz?

Tony’s insight: First off, in regard to Mitch Brown, yes, it is a legit move. They actually tried it out with him the final month of the season this year at High-A Lynchburg and he responded well as his stuff and command both played up. They have been searching for a way to get him more consistent from outing to outing and to command the baseball better, and believe if those things click in the bullpen he could become a weapon there and help jumpstart his career which has stalled the last few years. The stuff is there to be a dominant pen arm, but he has to show the consistency and will get a chance to do that this coming season where he is expected to pitch out of the pen at Double-A Akron or even return to High-A Lynchburg to start the 2017 season.

As for Erik Gonzalez and Yandy Diaz both making the team out of spring training, the chances are good that Gonzalez makes the team as their utility player since he is out of options and is a guy they value. The time is now to see what he can do and he impressed in limited time this past season. Diaz is someone who really has no shot to make the opening day roster unless there is a string of three or four injuries which force him on the roster (like with Tyler Naquin last spring when Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall opened the season the DL). He’s a zero service time rookie, and right or not, teams are cognizant of service time for players and timing up their arrival to maximize the control they have over a player. If they wait three weeks into the season to bring up Diaz they then guarantee one entire extra year of control. That’s worth waiting a few weeks into April for. Either way, I expect Diaz to get meaningful opportunities in 2017; it just depends on when that first opportunity will arise. I don’t see any reason to force him onto the roster and believe in time that things will play out appropriately.

Dave’s Take: Brown did spend half the 2016 season in Lynchburg working out of relief so that is a possibility. He is just 22 years old, however, and is just two years removed from a solid year of starting for Lake County in 2014, so the Indians may still consider him as a starting prospect. This past season was his second stint in Lynchburg and his numbers as a starter both years were not great with an ERA over 5, but as a reliever this season he did post a 3.28 ERA over 24.2 innings and held opposing hitters to just a .159 average. So I’m sure those numbers tell a story to the Indians player development people and it’ll be interesting to see in what capacity Brown starts and at what level in 2017.

As for the extra man idea, the 26th man roster spot did not survive the CBA agreement between the owners and the player’s union so the outcome of both Erik Gonzalez and Yandy Diaz on the Indians roster at the same time is very unlikely. However, I think it’s a fair chance both of these youngsters could figure themselves onto the Indians roster in 2017. Gonzalez, 25, plays multiple positions in the infield and has a good hit tool. In his brief cup of coffee with the Indians in 2016, Gonzalez hit .313 in 21 games. Meanwhile Diaz, 25, plays mostly at third but has been learning some outfield to help his versatility as well. Diaz may have the better hit tool overall between the two as he is a career .307 hitter in 333 minor league games versus Gonzalez’s .274 in 704 games. Gonzalez already has the major league experience so at least early on in the season the Indians may be more inclined to use him especially if the Indians get a healthy Michael Brantley for 2017 giving them five major league experienced outfielders.

Nathan Hoffs: Zimmer's K% is alarming. Do you think he has the ability to improve that? Part of me wishes we kept Frazier and dealt Zimmer. Fair?

Tony’s insight: I really broke down the Zimmer versus Frazier question in detail back in August, and believe in the end the Indians kept the better prospect in Zimmer. Both are similar hitters, but Frazier has a little more power and Zimmer is the much better runner and defender. In the end, I think Zimmer has a greater chance to stick because of his versatile profile. As someone who can play all three outfield spots and has a lot of speed, he should fit on a roster much easier even if he ends up as more of a platoon player down the road. Perhaps he ends up as nothing more than another Drew Stubbs kind of player who offers defense and speed with some pop and a lot of strikeouts, or he ends up something much more. Frazier will probably end up a corner outfielder only and doesn’t possess the speed component that may be useful off the bench if he ends up a platoon player.

The big key obviously for Zimmer and Frazier will be the consistency of their at bats and how they are able to translate their approach and discipline to the Major League level. One thing that is notable is that while Zimmer had a 37.3 K% at Triple-A this year in limited time, he also had a 14.0 BB% which is quite good (13.8 BB% and 28.3 K% at Double-A). On the flip side, Frazier only had a 5.4 BB% and a 28.8 K% at Triple-A in limited time this year (10.5 BB% and 22.0 K% at Double-A). Those Triple-A numbers for both players are a small sample size, but if they were a little larger sample size to take a little more seriously, then I would actually be more concerned about Frazier as both showed high strikeout and low contact rates but at least Zimmer showed a good, patient approach.

Going forward, the Indians no doubt will do what they can to refine Zimmer’s discipline to improve his strike zone awareness, pitch selection skills and staying more in the zone with his swing. Some of it is also a byproduct of an overly patient approach where he is taking too many hittable pitches early in the count which helps the walk rate, but also puts him behind in the count and limits his chances to get a good pitch to hit and ultimately leads to weak contact or a strike out. Striking a balance between aggression and patience is a big thing they are working on with reputed patient hitters like Zimmer, Nellie Rodriguez and others.

Dave’s Take: From all accounts I’ve heard about Zimmer, 24, scouts love his makeup and approach. The only problem has been his swing is it gets a little long thus leads to a high strikeout rate. This could be the reason the Indians sent him to the Arizona Fall League to tighten up that swing and in 22 games with the Mesa Solar Sox he posted a .257/.421/.514 slash line with 4 HR, 16 RBI and 8 steals. He struck out 26 times to 19 walks which showed he can control it better. One caveat I’d like to make on his behalf for his major spike in strikeouts in 2016 compared to 2015 is he did seem to press for much of his time in Columbus this season which could have aided in the unhealthy increase in swings and misses. I fully believe he is due for some extra seasoning in Columbus in 2017 before a call-up to the big leagues but I think he’ll be ready before long.

While Frazier has at least for now shown a penchant for a better bat which could harbor your wishes that he was kept rather than Zimmer, I believe in the long run and I’m guessing the Indians did too, that Zimmer has the potential to be the more impactful player as a complete package. Considering Zimmer’s defensive skills and his ability to burn the bases, he plays a more well-rounded game than Frazier which is what I think factored into the Indians thinking.

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