In the 1990's, the Indians were largely successful by signing almost their entire roster, including Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Charles Nagy, for long term contracts before they ran out of team control. They repeated this on a smaller scale in the 2000's by signing Jhonny Peralta, Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, who got them into the play-offs in 2007. On the current roster, the only two players that have been signed past their arbitration years are Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana, although there may be more extensions around the corner.
Both Cabrera and Santana will be 28 at the beginning of the 2014 season, but Cabrera is further advanced in his career as he made his debut at 21 (Santana didn't until 24). With this being the case, Santana is still expected to be around for awhile, while Cabrera could be traded any day. Either way, both players are reaching their prime and are incredibly important part of the Indians offense. Here, we will get an impression of what they are capable of this season. As with the previous two 'Expected Improvements' articles, we will use the five more similar players to both Cabrera and Santana to see what could be possible next year.
Cabrera has been somewhat of a disappointment the last two season after he had an unrepeatable season in 2011. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the five closest players to Cabrera at his age were Jhonny Peralta, Eric McNair, Leo Cardenas, Jay Bell and Roy Smalley. Indians fans should be familiar with this group, especially Peralta and Bell, and they match up perfectly with Cabrera, who has become a low average, decent power shortstop.
|Top 5 Average||28||109.6||395.2||48.4||105.6||23||2.8||9||49||3.4||2.4||39.4||63.8||.267||.332||.408||.740|
Immediately, the first thing that pops out is the lack of games. Interestingly, this may be accurate if the Indians trade Cabrera at the deadline, but he will likely play at least 20 more games than that if he avoids injury. The rate stats, however, are right in line with his career. As always, these numbers don't really mean anything and this set seems to be the least accurate to this point. The problem is that none of the shortstops compared had Cabrera's combination of speed and power, so there is no reason to think that Asdrubal will drop to just three steals in 2014.
The most interesting and accurate comparison of the group is McNair, who was a shortstop for the Athletics in the 1930's. Like Cabrera, he had an age 23 season for the ages including a league high 47 doubles and he never came close to repeating that year again. Without placing too much emphasis on a single example, Cabrera does look to be going down this path.
Santana, on the other hand, looks like he should be able to continue his success, despite or maybe because of, his later start. Santana has actually been so successful, that he can't really be compared to catchers of the past. Instead, his five most similar players include two short stops, two second basemen (the same ones as Jason Kipnis actually) and one catcher. These five are Khalil Greene, Jose Valentin, Bret Boone, Gus Triandos and Jeff Kent.
|Top 5 Average||28||129.8||418||47.8||97.4||19.6||1||14||51.6||5.2||3.4||45.2||88||.233||.308||.385||.693|
The numbers shown above are an average, but none of the players compared had an average career after their age 27 season. Greene flamed out and Triandos faded out, obvious but undesirable possibilities for Santana, while Valentin, Boone and Kent all went on to have successful careers. Valentin is a hopeful example as he had down years at age 28 and 29, but became a superstar in his 30's. Santana seems to be at least a little better than the young Valentin, so even if he parallels this career path he would still be the second best hitter on the Tribe.
While this couple of predictions for 2014 seems to be the least accurate so far, it brings up a good point that an established player is no guarantee. Either of these players could fade or flame out or could continue improving and move to the next level. As the player with less total seasons, Santana is the biggest unknown. Cabrera already seems to be fading out (although he could easily have a resurgent season), but Santana could still go either way. He is already one of the greatest hitting catchers in Indians history and will be put into an even better position as DH in 2014. While Cabrera is on his way out, Santana's success or failure this season will go a long way in determining the Indians success as a team. Assuming he can avoid injury (which should be injury as a DH who doesn't have to face Mark Buehrle), Santana is poised to become not only an All-Star in 2014, but a strong MVP candidate.