So I was trying to start this preview off by harkening back to the last glory days of Cleveland in the mid 90’s so I searched for “Indians team picture 1997”, and this was one of the top results with no team picture in sight. I guess it is pretty fitting seeing as how this is a preview of a Cleveland sports team. Well…the Indians never could turn that talent in the mid 90s into a championship and haven’t come close since. There has been some serious talent come through Cleveland during that time including Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Grady Sizemore (pre-injury), Bart Colon, Victor Martinez, Brandon Pihillips, etc. I’m sure that lists grates at Cleveland fans thinking about what might have been. Well Cleveland spent the off season trying to fill the talent gap again and they’ve done a pretty good job at doing so.
So what did they do?
Major Off-Season Moves:
No one can accuse Cleveland of resting on their laurels this off season. Although their laurels weren’t that good, so why would anyone rest on them. Whoa…that last sentenced confused me – ignore it please. They signed two serious impact free agents in Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. Teams were shying away from Micahel Bourn because of the new draft pick compensation rules for free agents and I think an underlying concern that his legs will begin to deteriorate and his game along with it. As it stands now he’s a great CF and one the best on the bases in the majors. Nick Swisher has never had a star label but his consistently produces at a good clip. Drew Stubbs and Trevor Bauer were two young players who needed changes of scenery. Although as we pointed out in our Diamondbacks preview, the Bauer one doesn’t make sense. Mark Reynolds and Brett Myers are veteran plugs that the Indians needed to fill out their rosters.
A deeper look at the offense after the jump.
Likely Starting Lineup:
This lineup looks much better than it did at the end of the 2012 season. The top of lineup looks dangerous with Bourn, Jason Kipnis and Asrubal Cabrera lining up. Kipnis had a breakout year last year, especially in the first half, posting a 3.7 WAR and stealing 31 bases. Asdrubal had his breakout year in 2011, but followed that up with a slightly disappointing 2012. Maybe he likes odd numbered years? There are a few guys in the lineup who are free swingers in Reynolds and Stubbs combining 315 Ks between them and they’ve both eclipsed 200K in a season before. It looked like Stubbs might have been their lead off hitter until Bourn came along, which would have been a huge mistake, as he struggles to get on base enough to lead off – ask the Reds. Carlos Santana hasn’t quite displayed the consistent power expected of him, but he’ll be 27 this season and could be primed for a 30-35 homer season. Michael Brantley is another young player with some promise that could help keep the bottom of the lineup from just turning over every few innings.
Likely Starting Rotation:
This is where the Indians could struggle a bit during a long season. Justin Masterson isn’t bad, but I wouldn’t want to be trotting him out every 5th game as your stopper. There is some upside here with Ubaldo Jimenez and Trevor Bauer. One a veteran who could potentially return to his all-star form, and one a highly rated prospect who could break out after a move from Arizona. Myers is total fill material as he has shuffled from the rotation to the bullpen for several years. Perez has been a great closer since coming over from a crowded Cardinals bullpen a few years ago, but some mysterious injury now. Still think he will get the most saves for the Indians this year.
79-83, 2nd place in AL Central
I think Cleveland will be the strongest team not named the Tigers in the AL Central this year. They really did some nice things in the off season and I may even be selling them short with this record. Honestly, it’s tough to predict good things things for a team in Cleveland and the talent would have to be much better than this for me to put them in wildcard contention. If they can develop some young talent to bring alongside Bourn and Swisher in the next few years, they might have something.