01/18/13 4:12 PM ET
Indians Around the Horn: Infield
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- There is a two-time All-Star, a pair of young up-and-comers and a bonafide slugger. It is this mixture of experience and potential that has the Indians excited about the possibilities for their starting infield in the coming campaign.
If Cleveland winds up in the mix as a surprise contender for the American League Central crown, this group will likely have played a key role in putting the ballclub in that position.
"As we look at our infield, we think it has a chance to be one of the strengths of our team," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "There's a group of guys there that we feel has a good blend of skills, and guys that we feel can contribute both offensively and defensively."
Asdrubal Cabrera -- rumored to have been a part of a variety of trade talks over this winter -- still has a locker in Cleveland's clubhouse and a place on the diamond as their All-Star caliber shortstop. Budding star Jason Kipnis will handle second base, Lonnie Chisenhall will finally be given the keys to third and slugger Mark Reynolds has been added to assume the duties at first.
Cabrera and Reynolds help balance out the youth and learning curve of Kipnis and Chisenhall with their extensive big league experience. There was a point earlier this winter, however, when it appeared Cabrera -- signed through 2014 -- might be heading elsewhere in a blockbuster trade.
During the Winter Meetings in December, it was reported that Cleveland was in talks with Philadelphia about a deal involving Cabrera. The Tribe was also continuously linked to Arizona in reports including the shortstop's name. In the end, the Indians did team with the D-backs and Reds to complete a major nine-player deal.
The Dec. 11 trade was centered around outfielder Shin-Soo Choo going from the Indians to the Reds and elite pitching prospect Trevor Bauer coming to Cleveland from Arizona. Shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius was sent to the D-backs by the Reds, though. Cabrera -- for all the talk -- stayed put.
"It's natural in the offseason that there's going to be speculation about a lot of players who may or may not be traded," Antonetti said. "It's not unlike the Trade Deadline. We talked [to Cabrera] about it over the course of the winter. There were probably eight to 10 guys on our roster that were rumored to be discussed in trades at different points in the offseason. All but one are still with us.
"It's kind of the nature of the business. Unfortunately, a lot of times some of those discussions are accurate and some of them are not, and some of them are made public and some of them are not. We don't always have full control over the information. We're excited with the team we have going into camp and we expect Asdrubal to be a big part of that."
Only two seasons ago, the 27-year-old Cabrera launched 25 home runs, collected 92 RBIs, started for the American League All-Star team and took home a Silver Slugger Award. Last year, the switch-hitting Cabrera finished with a .270 average to go along with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 143 games for Cleveland.
It might be fair to assume Cabrera's 2013 production might fall somewhere between his 2011 and '12 showings, but the Indians are hoping the shortstop has yet to hit his stride.
"I wouldn't want to set any limits on what Asdrubal is capable of doing," Antonetti said. "I think we've all seen the starts he's gotten off to in each of the last two years. He's been one of our most productive offensive players. He does that all while playing a premium position. And, Asdrubal, he's been around a while, but he's still a really young player.
"He's still going into the prime years of his career, so we expect him to be a very big part of our team offensively and defensively."
Kipnis, 25, showed last season that he might be reaching Cabrera's level as an offensive performer.
In only his first full season on the big league stage, Kipnis hit .257 with 14 home runs, 22 doubles, 31 stolen bases, 76 RBIs and 86 runs scored in 152 games. The second baseman faded some at the plate through July and August, but began and ended the year with promise. In the field, Kipnis excelled, continuing to move well beyond his days as an outfielder.
"Jason had a very successful first full season in the Major Leagues," Antonetti said. "When you look at his contributions offensively, and what he was able to do not only at the plate, but on the bases -- 31 stolen bases -- he demonstrated his ability to impact a game in so many ways offensively. I expect that to only get better now that he's been through the league."
At the hot corner, Cleveland appears ready to commit to the 24-year-old Chisenhall as its starter. After bouncing between the Minors and Majors over the past two years, and overcoming a fractured right forearm last season, Chisenhall is being given the chance to prove he can run away with the Major League job.
Last season, Chisenhall hit .268 with five homers and 16 RBIs in 43 games for the Tribe. Over his final eight games -- during his late-season comeback from the June 29 arm injury -- the young third baseman hit at a .294 clip with a .351 on-base percentage.
"We were encouraged by some of the developmental strides we saw from Lonnie," Antonetti said. "And then when he returned from the injury, we saw some encouraging things as well. He's not a finished product yet, but he's a guy that has a bright future in front of him. We feel that Lonnie is capable of competing and performing at the Major League level now."
The Indians gave their infield a boost this winter by also signing Reynolds to a one-year, $6 million contract to play first, and by adding versatile utility man Mike Aviles through a trade with the Blue Jays.
Reynolds, 29, gives Cleveland the kind of right-handed power hitter it has lacked in recent seasons. Last year was a down year for Reynolds -- formerly a third baseman -- given he hit just 23 homers and had 69 RBIs in 135 games for the Orioles. That power production still would have led the Indians a year ago, and the Tribe likes that Reynolds has averaged more than 30 homers over the past five seasons.
The 31 year-old Aviles, who was Boston's starting shortstop a year ago, gives the Tribe some experience and insurance for second base, shortstop and third. He also has limited experience in the outfield. Players such as Yan Gomes (catcher, first base, third base and left field), Chris McGuiness (first base and possibly left field), Mike McDade (first base) and Cord Phelps (second and third) will also be in camp.
The Indians also have a few regulars who can slide to different positions to help around the infield. Catcher Carlos Santana or right fielder Nick Swisher can double as a part-time first baseman, if needed. In a pinch, Reynolds could slide across the diamond to third base.
To address such contingency plans, however, Cleveland is still looking for bench help.
"That helps having that positional flexibility with some of our regulars," Antonetti said. "But one of the things that we'll try to do between now and the start of the season is improve our alternatives and improve our bench options. That will be something that we continue to work on."