Friday, March 22, 2013

30 Teams in 30 Days: Cleveland Indians

2012 Record: 69-93 (4th AL Central)

Key Additions:

OF Michael Bourn (4 yrs/ $48 MM + $12 MM option 2017)
OF/ 1B Nick Swisher (4 yrs/ $56 MM + $14 MM 2017)
SP Trevor Bauer (trade w Cincinnati Reds)
OF Drew Stubbs (trade w Cincinnati Reds)
SP/ RP Brett Myers (1 yr/ $7 MM + club option 2014)
SP Scott Kazmir (MiLB Deal)
1B/3B/DH Mark Reynolds (1 yr/ $6 MM + $1.5 MM in incentives)
UTIL Mike Aviles (trade w Toronto Blue Jays)
C Yan Gomes (trade w Toronto Blue Jays)
MNG Terry Francona (4 yr contract)

Key Subtractions:

OF Shin-Soo Choo (trade w Cincinnati Reds)
1B/DH Travis Hafner (1 yr/ $2 MM + $2 MM incentives w Yankees)
RHP Esmil Rogers (trade w Toronto Blue Jays)

          As you can see, the other Ohio team had one of the busier off seasons in recent memory and instead of blowing everything up and diving into a complete rebuild, the Indians have added several quality pieces around their young core of Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis. From adding some much needed depth to the lineup with the free agent signings of Mark Reynolds, Michael Bourn, and Nick Swisher, the loss of Shin-Soo Choo will be long forgotten in Cleveland as their lineup top to bottom has a chance to be a very potent one for the next few years. The did not add much to the pitching staff, which surprised me and may hurt them a little, but with them putting their faith in Ubaldo Jimenez to regain the form he had three long years ago and Justin Masterson to have a bounce back year, they are leaving a lot up to chance, which could come back to haunt them come September.

Which New Guy Will Help the Most?

          While the Indians have made many moves in the trading and free agent market over the past several months, I have to go with manager Terry Francona as the best off-season acquisition. This guy knows how to win, period, and with his knowledge and expertise coming from the Boston Red Sox where he won two World Series, he should be the most important acquisition and will be a major factor in helping the Indians make the postseason in 2013 and beyond. He knows how to call a game from the dugout like no other, and while Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds could have major impacts on the field for the Tribe, Francona is the man that puts this team together and that can determine the success or failure of his Cleveland team this year.

Spring Training Battles:

          It was hard to imagine 6 months ago that the 2013 edition of the Indians would have so few roster spots up for grabs come Spring Training, but with the off-season the have had, it is not easy to find very many spots available. You can look to the back end of their rotation past Masterson, Jimenez, and Myers and what what Zach McAllister and Scott Kamir could be, or what they might very well not be and wonder how Lonnie Chisenhall will handle everyday duties at third base and how the final few spots in the bullpen will shake out, but there really isn’t any out of the norm positions up for grabs other than the few mentioned. I expect McAllister and Kazmir being a very solid back end of the rotation for Cleveland with Carlos Carrasco moving to a swing man role for the Tribe filling out one of the available bullpen spots joining Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, and Joe Smith to form a formidable ‘pen for Cleveland.

Questions Heading into the Season:

Do the Indians have what it takes to overtake the Tigers, Royals, and White Sox?

          Out of those three teams, really Detroit is the only team that you can safely say has what it takes to go to the postseason, so I don’t think that Cleveland has enough talent to overtake Miguel, Justin, and Prince for the AL Central crown, but I can easily envision them being in a dog fight for a wild card spot with the Sox and Royals come September, which is something that really is remarkable considering how terrible they were last year.

Will the big splashes in Free Agency prove to be the right move?

          A lot of people thought that the Indians were heading into full on rebuild mode when they lost over 90 games last year, with them expecting Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson, and maybe even Carlos Santana potentially being moved for younger pieces with an eye towards contention somewhere in the 2016-2017 range, but with the major signings of OF/1B Nick Swisher, OF Michael Bourn, DH Mark Reynolds along with the big trade with Cincinnati and Arizona which netted them a young ace in Trevor Bauer along with the speedy, yet strikeout prone Drew Stubbs, they have added much more than they have subtracted which has to be a positive for the fans and players in Northern Ohio. What I real like about these moves is how much versatility these moves give them. Swisher can play first base, right field, and can DH while Reynolds can play first, third, DH with Bourn stabilizing the centre field position making Michael Brantley move to left field, and Drew Stubbs manning right field. Those signings along with others such as Scott Kazmir give GM Chris Ionetti time to slowly bring along the near major league ready Trevor Bauer, the Indians have smartly added to their core to make them a real dark horse contender for 2013.

Prospect who could make the Biggest Impact in 2013:

          This one is really quite obvious as Cleveland really has an average farm system to say the least and no one at the upper levels with the exception of Trevor Bauer really has a chance to make a significant impact on the Tribe in 2013. Bauer was the centerpiece of the blockbuster, three way deal between Cincinnati an Arizona which saw fan favourite Shin-Soo Choo travel about 150 kilometers south to Cincinnati and netted them Bauer and Drew Stubbs, who could be the most underrated player in the league and has a good chance of breaking out this year. I see Bauer coming up in mid-May after dominating AAA and having a superb season, even with his funky mechanics and slightly odd pre game warmup, posting a 12-7/ 3.65 ERA/ 123 SO/ 135 IP slash line, which could help propel the Indians into the playoffs for the first time in six years.
Projected Roster:

Projected Starting Lineup:
1.    CF Michael Bourn (L)
2.    SS Asdrubal Cabrera (S)
3.    C Carlos Santana (S)
4.    1B Nick Swisher (S)
5.    2B Jason Kipnis (L)
6.    DH Mark Reynolds (R)
7.    LF Michael Brantley (L)
8.    3B Lonnie Chisenhall (R)
9.    RF Drew Stubbs (R)

Projected Starting Rotation:
1.    Justin Masterson (RHP)
2.    Ubaldo Jimenez (RHP)
3.    Brett Myers (RHP)
4.    Zach McAllister (RHP)
5.    Scott Kazmir (LHP)

Projected Bench:
C Yan Gomes
OF Ezequiel Carerra
UTIL Mike Aviles

Projected Bullpen:
Chris Perez (CL)
Vinnie Pestano (SU)
Joe Smith (SU)
Carlos Corrasco (SM)

          I see the Indians going with an 8 man bullpen as they have some question marks in their rotation and with a very solid positional roster. If their pitching holds up, their offense is deep enough, versatile enough, and potent enough to carry them into the playoffs. Don’t get me wrong, there are some things that can go wrong and by no means am I saying that the Indians going to easily make the postseason, but their chances are as good as they have ever been since CC and Cliff left town.

         Make sure to follow me on Twitter @TheRealNickBell and @BlueJaysPlus.
Nicholas Bell.

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