As we get closer to the start of the true off-season, I'd like to give some of my general impressions on the roster as it sits today.
I wasn't expecting much from this season. This was supposed to be the last rebuilding season, the year when they would bring their top four prospect to the majors, let them get adjusted to the majors, and figure work through their young pitching to settle on a rotation for their window in 2012-2014. That largely happened, but they also happened to stay in the division race for five months. Some of that competitiveness was due to the other teams in the division underachieving, but they still fought to stay relevant even with all the injuries.
The rotation was my biggest concern at the beginning of the season, and it still is. The Indians added Ubaldo Jimenez at the July trade deadline, but lost Carlos Carrasco to Tommy John surgery. Josh Tomlin pitched way better than you could hope for from a pitcher with a high-80s fastball. Fausto Carmona had stretches where he was the worst starting pitcher in the majors. David Huff, who at the beginning of the season seemed on his way off the roster, pitched his way into a very good shot at the major-league rotation, though I'd much rather have the Indians use him as depth than in the rotation. Jeanmar Gomez had a nice stretch of starts in September, though he got destroyed by the one playoff-bound team he faced. Here's my major-league depth chart at the end of the season:
2. Ubaldo Jimenez
3. Josh Tomlin
4. Fausto Carmona
5. Jeanmar Gomez
6. Scott Barnes
7. David Huff
I don't think anyone below those nine are really either ready or good enough to stick in a major-league rotation. It's too bad Barnes got hurt, because I think he has the best stuff of the AAA guys. He only threw 99 innings this past season, so that will limit his 2012 innings. But even though the Indians have some depth here, I'd feel a lot more comfortable with a free agent slotted behind Masterson and Jimenez.
I actually feel rather good about how the infield in shaping up. The Indians stuck with Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop, and he responded with a breakout season. Now their biggest concern with Asdrubal is whether they can sign him to a long-term contract. Jason Kipnis won the second base job with his performance this season, and the Indians have third base covered between Jack Hannahan and Lonnie Chisenhall. Carlos Santana and Lou Marson have the catching position covered, which leaves first base as the only question mark going into the winter. Matt LaPorta looked awful at times, and though he managed a 97 OPS+, he just doesn't look very good at the plate.
In contrast with the infield, the outfield is unsettled. Grady Sizemore may be brought back, but he'd be going into his free agent year with another knee surgery. Shin-Soo Choo also couldn't stay healthy, and Michael Brantley missed a lot of time as well. The Indians don't have anybody in the minors that I'd feel comfortable giving 500-600 plate appearances to, so I think this is the most logical place to add a free agent, or possibly two if they don't bring Sizemore back. Michael Cuddyer would be ideal, as he could also play first base, but Josh Willingham would also be a great fit.
The bullpen was excellent in 2011, and this the one area where the Indians have a lot of quality minor-league depth. I could see the Indians trading at least one of their major-league relievers (most likely Rafael Perez) for help in other areas of the roster. Nick Hagadone and Chen Lee are ready now to pitch in the majors, and there's several other relievers ( Josh Judy and Zach Putnam) that can contribute as well. But bullpens are fickle beasts, and the main group (both Perezes, Sipp, Pestano, Smith) all made at least 64 appearances and threw at least 59 innings.