After an 11-game losing streak knocked his team out of contention for 2012, Indians manager Manny Acta is looking ahead towards next year.
“It’s no secret, we’re going to need to improve our offense,” Acta told Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “We’re going to have to find a solution in left field, we’re going to have to find a solution at first base and we’re going to have to find a solution at DH. That’s pretty obvious.
“And the third base situation is not determined either. Lonnie [Chisenhall] has a broken arm. The guys that are here right now are fine and doing what they can, but we expect more.”
They may expect it, but they weren’t willing to pay for it previously, which is how they wound up with bargain-basement players Casey Kotchman, Johnny Damon, Shelley Duncan and Jose Lopez getting a bunch of at-bats this year.
At least the Indians will finally be out from under Travis Hafner’s contract this winter. Hafner is still pretty productive when he plays, but since he can’t even stay healthy as a DH, the Indians might not want him back even at a huge paycut. The Indians will also likely move on from Grady Sizemore now that they have Michael Brantley established in center field.
It should give them a fair amount of money to play with as they address their lineup. Considering that they’re completely set up middle with Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana and they’ll still have Shin-Soo Choo in right for another year, they should have the ability to put together a much improved lineup without having to completely revamp the budget.
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.