Last season, the Cleveland Indians were a bit of a surprise just like our beloved White Sox. Unlike the Sox, their run didn’t last all throughout the season, as the young squad hit a wall and essentially lost hope around mid-July.
On the positive end, a lot of the team’s players that are in or near the prime of their career had nice campaigns. So there is reason for everyone surrounding the team to be very optimistic about guys like Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, and Vinnie Pestano among several others.
But it was a somewhat worrisome campaign for the players that were expected to really emerge as big-time performers in 2012 such as Justin Masterson, Carlos Santana, and Josh Tomlin. And those negatives were just too insurmountable for the positives I mentioned to be overcome.
After a very aggressive, well thought out offseason from General Manager Chris Antonetti, expectations are suddenly somewhat high for the Tribe in 2013.
The team didn’t many players of note considering everything they added. They did deal OF Shin Soo Choo to Cincinnati, but got plenty in return and fortified the loss through free agency, as well.
So now onto the nitty gritty: the additions.
First, the team signed Terry Francona to be their next manager. Since he won two World Series in Boston and is used to having a ton of pressure put upon his shoulders, I think this was a phenomenal decision.
Through both trades and free agency, the team brought in RHP’s Trevor Bauer, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Matt Albers, Brett Myers, and Matt Capps; IF/OF Nick Swisher, IF/DH Mark Reynolds, and OF’s Michael Bourn & Drew Stubbs. So it’s pretty fair to say they added a bit of everything.
To put it simply, the Tribe looks very good on paper.
Their bullpen is about as stocked as can be, headlined by Chris Perez, Matt Capps, and Vinnie Pestano – all who are capable of closing out ball games.
Their lineup looks like it’s ready to rock n’ roll as well, as it should end up looking something like this …
· CF – Michael Bourn
· LF – Michael Brantley
· SS – Asdrubal Cabrera
· C – Carlos Santana
· 1B – Nick Swisher
· 2B – Jason Kipnis
· RF – Drew Stubbs
· 3B – Lonnie Chisenhall
Sure, you could point out some question marks, but I’d say that’s pretty daggone solid. They also have bench players like Mike Aviles, Jason Giambi, and Ezequiel Carrera who, paired with many of their starters versatility, make it easy for guys like Santana to stay fresh (among others).
But like last season, the team’s biggest question marks come with the starting rotation, which is often the main area of a team you don’t want to lose much sleep over. But just because there are question marks, it doesn’t mean there isn’t potential. In fact, their starting rotation has a ton of potential, shaping up something like this …
1) Justin Masterson 2) Ubaldo Jimenez 3) Brett Myers 4) Zach McCallister 5) Bauer/Matsuzaka
It’s also worth mentioning youngsters Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber who add to their depth here. Plus, Josh Tomlin will be returning from the 60-day DL sooner or later.
Of those 5 guys, 4 of them struggled last year (at least at times) and one hasn’t started a game since 2011 (Brett Myers), having worked as a reliever for the Houston Astros and later our White Sox.
But again, the potential is there. If all goes well for Masterson and Jimenez, which is easier said than done, they form a very formidable 1-2 duo. And though that is much easier said than done, we’ve seen ‘em do it before. Masterson was very good in 2011 (12-10, 3.21 ERA) before blowing up in 2012 (11-15, 4.93 ERA).
Jimenez posted 46 wins for the Colorado Rockies from 2008-2010 including ERA’s of 3.99, 3.47, and 2.88 but has really struggled since with ERA’s of 4.68 and 5.40. Cleveland needs him to regain some sort of confidence and consistency.
Trevor Bauer came over from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Shin Soo Choo deal, as the team let go of their can’t-miss prospect because of his poor attitude. But in the D’Backs’ minor league system in 2011 he went 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA, so hopes are still high for the 22 year-old from Hollywood.
If Brett Myers can pitch like he did in years past as a starter, they’ll get a good boost. But worst case scenario is him going to the bullpen, which would just give them probably the most stacked ‘pen in the league. Obviously the other youngsters along with Bauer need to step up, but considering that there’s about 5 of them needed to fill 2-3 spots, those hopes may not be out of the realm of possibility.
And heck, they've even got Daisuke as an X-Factor.
So yes, there are questions surrounding this ball club. But as I’ve laid out, they look pretty solid top-to-bottom on paper. For that to translate to the field, though, they’ll need all of their trade and free agent acquisitions to perform like they did in years past along with continued development and production from the youngsters on the mound and at the plate.
Since none of that is automatic, I think the Indians will falter at times and ultimately finish at or just above .500, which I think will be good for 3rd place in the American League Central division in 2013.
But don’t – I repeat – do not take the Tribe lightly this season.