Indians can still win without Carmona

Cleveland is optimistic that the groin injury that plagued Ubaldo Jimenez in 2011 is behind him. Matthew Emmons/US Presswire

Cleveland Indians general manager Chris Antonetti sounded cautiously optimistic over the phone early Thursday afternoon, answering questions about the work that Ubaldo Jimenez has put in this offseason, about the rotation, and about how the Indians could see the evolution of their young team.

But it wasn't long after that conversation that news broke of the arrest of Fausto Carmona, who may or may not be Fausto Carmona, and may or may not be 28 years old. There is still a lot that the Indians don't know about this case, including whether Carmona will pitch for them in 2012, or ever again.

From the Indians' perspective, the best course of action is probably to assume that Carmona won't pitch this year. Whether he's innocent or guilty, he is now stuck in a legal web that may take months or years to untangle.

But the loss of Carmona -- and that's how we'll refer to him in this column, for the sake of simplicity -- is not equivalent to what the Tigers experienced earlier this week, with the injury to Victor Martinez.

Carmona showed a devastating sinker in 2007, helping the Indians come within one game of advancing to the World Series, but he has had extraordinary difficulty consistently harnessing that pitch since then; he's been completely unpredictable from start to start, suddenly and inexplicably losing command. On May 8 of last year, Carmona had a 3.83 ERA, and over the last three-quarters of the season, he posted a 5.71 ERA. He had a 2.53 ERA in July, and a 7.26 ERA in September.

But unlike in 2008 or 2009, the Indians aren't counting on Carmona to be a front-of-the-rotation guy; they've got two other guys who could qualify as aces. Justin Masterson has established command to both sides of the strike zone, rival scouts say, and he climbed into the second tier of pitchers in the AL last season.

Last July, the Indians traded Alex White and Drew Pomeranz -- their two top pitching prospects -- for Jimenez, who posted a 5.10 ERA in his last 11 starts. After the year was over, Jimenez met with the Cleveland staff and told them he really felt that his 2011 season veered off course early, after he suffered a groin injury, because it affected the strength the lower half of his body, and that, in turn, impacted his delivery.

After hearing this, the Indians arranged for Nelson Perez, an assistant strength and conditioning coach, to go to the Dominican Republic to work with extensively with Jimenez (and Carmona). Jimenez made one start in winter ball before being taken down by a flu, and he decided to focus on his work with Perez rather than resume pitching for Tigres del Licey. "All reports have been really good," Antonetti said.

Josh Tomlin (4.25, 12-7 last year) and newly acquired Derek Lowe are also expected to be part of the rotation, and Jeanmar Gomez is among the candidates to replace Carmona, if necessary. And remember, Cleveland had the best bullpen ERA in the AL Central in 2011, and should have a good bullpen again.

On offense, the Indians are waiting on the first-base market to settle, and in the end, they could wind up with Carlos Pena or Casey Kotchman. No matter who they sign, the Tribe should expect a more potent lineup. Asdrubal Cabrera, who turned 26 in November, had a breakthrough season in 2011, but Shin-Soo Choo had a frustrating, injury-plagued year, and injuries hindered Grady Sizemore and Michael Brantley, as well. Jason Kipnis is established at second base, and Lonnie Chisenhall emerged at third base. Carlos Santana rebounded from a devastating knee injury to post an .835 OPS in the second half.

The Indians' lineup could look something like this:

LF Brantley

SS Cabrera

RF Choo

C Santana

CF Sizemore

1B Pena/Kotchman?

DH Travis Hafner

2B Kipnis

3B Chisenhall

You'll note: Right now, Hafner is the only regular who is older than 30. This is a very young team that's getting better, in what should be an extremely competitive AL Central. The Tigers are the defending champions, anchored by the best pitcher on the planet in Justin Verlander and one of the best hitters in Miguel Cabrera; the Royals might have the most potent offense, and are hopeful that Jonathan Sanchez will help stabilize the rotation; the White Sox are going through a transition, around Alexei Ramirez and Paul Konerko; and the Twins are expecting more from Joe Mauer and their rotation. Cleveland can win this division, with or without Carmona.

Carmona was detained outside the U.S. consulate. The Indians hold contractual options for 2013 and 2014.

The Indians signed Jeremy Accardo.

Thinking of The Kid

There is sad news about Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter; new tumors have been found, writes Bill Madden.

Tyler Kepner remembers talking with Carter about the 1986 World Series.

Prince update

The Texas Rangers are working on Prince Fielder. The Nationals look like Prince favorites, writes Adam Kilgore. Fielder is still waiting for the right offer, writes Amanda Comak.

So far, free agency hasn't paid off for Fielder.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Brennan Boesch could be the protection for Miguel Cabrera.

2. Will Rhymes signed with the Tampa Bay Rays.

3. David Ortiz is ready to go to arbitration with the Boston Red Sox. This is how far apart the two sides are: Boston offered a deal of two years and $18 million, and Ortiz has asked for $16.5 million in arbitration -- and that's just for next season.

4. The Baltimore Orioles have hired Brady Anderson as a special assistant.

5. The Arizona Diamondbacks are gambling on payroll, writes Nick Piecoro.

6. The Oakland Athletics are in serious talks with Jonny Gomes, writes Susan Slusser.

7. The Los Angeles Dodgers could use a second lefty for their bullpen, writes Steve Dilbeck.

8. The Cubs re-signed Rodrigo Lopez, as Dave van Dyck writes.

9. Father and son will be together again this year in the Cincinnati Reds broadcast booth.

Other stuff

Ryan Braun went through his appeal, reports the Daily News. One player said on the radio about Ryan Braun: "If it's true, shame on him."

• Justin Verlander vows to take nothing for granted.

Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday will need to take on bigger roles this year.

Tim Stauffer is thriving.

Juan Nicasio says he'll be ready to go by spring training.

• Larry Rothschild is happy to have Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda.

• Dan Shaughnessy doesn't get why the Red Sox aren't spending. The Sox are still trying to put together their rotation.

• Phillippe Aumont is a work in progress, writes Marcus Hayes.

R.A. Dickey is back from Kilimanjaro.

• Vanderbilt played some serious defense.

And today will be better than yesterday.