Whatever progress the Indians might have displayed in the 80-win season of 2011 were wiped out in a 94-loss 2012, resulting in the firing of manager Manny Acta and bringing in Terry Francona to help turn the ship around. They'll look towards the future without the services of Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore, two of the bigger reasons for the team's latest downturn, as well as Shin-Soo Choo. They'll need huge seasons from newcomers Drew Stubbs, Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher and a drastic improvement from their starting rotation if they want to make any noise in the AL Central.
Lost OF Grady Sizemore, DH Travis Hafner, 1B Casey Kotchman, P Rafael Perez, P Roberto Hernandez, 3B Jack Hannahan, OF Brent Lillibridge, 1B Russ Canzler and OF Shelley Duncan to free agency. Traded away OF Shin-Soo Choo, 2B/SS Jason Donald, P Jeanmar Gomez and P Tony Sipp.
The Indians certainly weren't shy with overhauling the roster after a disappointing season. The departures of Sizemore and Hafner were expected and saying goodbye to Kotchman and Hannahan won't take long to get over. The biggest departure is clearly Choo, who the Indians couldn't get to sign a long-term deal. The Indians have plenty of holes to fill, both offensively and on the mound, and we'll dive right into how they're planning on filling those gaps.
Acquired OF Drew Stubbs from Cincinnati.
Stubbs was the lone player received from Cincinnati in the three-team deal centered around Choo that also netted the Indians Trevor Bauer from Arizona. Stubbs will either play left field or center field depending on how they align him and Michael Brantley. Stubbs will certainly bring some speed to the table and could even bat leadoff but he's a big step back from Choo offensively and doesn't reach base often enough to be an effective leadoff hitter.
Signed 1B Mark Reynolds, OF Nick Swisher, OF Ben Francisco, OF Jeremy Hermida, OF Matt Carson and OF Cedric Hunter.
If you're wondering how the Indians plan on replacing the bats of Choo, Sizemore and Hafner, here's your answer. Reynolds and Swisher (and to a lesser extent Stubbs) certainly bring some much needed power to the Indians lineup. Reynolds figures to spend most of his time at first base and Swisher essentially replaces Choo in right field and in the middle of the lineup. Francisco and Hermida will fight for a reserve outfield spot along with Carson and Hunter though none should expect much of a role with Brantley, Stubbs and Swisher entrenched in the outfield.
Acquired P Matt Albers, P Trevor Bauer and P Bryan Shaw from the Diamondbacks.
Bauer gives the Indians a power pitching prospect and he's the leading candidate to fill the fifth starter spot as spring training opens. Albers, who is out of minor league options, figures to land a spot in what figures to be a pretty strong bullpen again. Shaw will compete with several other arms for one of the few spots up for grabs in the bullpen this spring.
Acquired SS Mike Aviles and 3B/C Yan Gomes from Toronto.
Aviles figures to fill the DH role with the Indians with Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera handling the duties in the middle infield. He does give the team some insurance behind Lonnie Chisenhall at third base and could make Cabrera expendable in a trade if the Indians drop out of contention early. Gomes' power is intriguing but he would have had a clearer path to playing time in previous' lineup configuration in which the Indians leaned heavily to the left. Their main offseason additions are either right-handed or switch-hit so Gomes' path to playing time is a little murky.
Signed P Brett Myers, P Scott Kazmir, P Matt Capps, P Edward Paredes, P Jerry Gil, P Joe Martinez, P Kota Kobayashi, P Fernando Nieve and P Jose Flores. Claimed P Blake Wood off waivers.
Myers will return to a starting role after spending last year in a relief role with the Astros and White Sox. He figures to be the team's third starter behind Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson. Kazmir is a familiar name but hasn't been effective in several years. Capps is the only other name that could make factor into the Tribe's plans.
Signed MI Ryan Raburn, 2B Matt Antonelli, 3B Ryan Rohlinger, 3B Luis Hernandez, C Omir Santos, C Brian Jeroloman and 2B Nate Spears.
The Indians brought in a host of guys on non-roster contracts in order to compete for a bench spot this spring. Raburn brings the most experience and has the best chance at sticking with the Indians but doesn't figure to be have much of a role with Aviles around.
Projected Lineup (vs. RH/LH)
1. Michael Brantley JF
2. Jason Kipnis 2B
3. Asdrubal Cabrera SS
4. Nick Swisher RF
5. Carlos Santana C
6. Mark Reynolds
7. Lonnie Chisenhall 3B
8. Mike Aviles DH
9. Drew Stubbs CF
The Indians ranked 13th or 14th among AL teams in runs, homers, total bases, extra-base hits and slugging percentage last season so a resurrection is in order here if the team wants to contend. The Indians need Swisher to replace the offensive void left from the departure of Shin-Soo Choo and are counting on Reynolds to provide some much-needed power to the middle of the order as well.
1. Justin Masterson
2. Ubalbo Jimenez
3. Brett Myers
4. Zach McAllister
5. Trevor Bauer/Carlos Carrasco/Corey Kluber/Scott Kazmir
Masterson and Jimenez were both huge disappointments last year but they'll be back at the front of the rotation. Myers and McAllister figure to hold down the 3rd and 4th spots. Bauer would seem to have the inside track on the 5th spot, especially with Carrasco coming back from Tommy John surgery.
Closer: Chris Perez. Perez was a popular pick to implode and lose his job to Vinnie Pestano as last season opened but that never materialized and he posted a career-high 39 saves. He was able to reverse a three-year dip in his strikeout rate and showed the best control (2.5 BB/9) of his career, but he's still a notch below the league's elite options as he gets hit a bit more than most closers when he leaves pitches in the strike zone.
Key Bullpen Members: Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith give the Indians a pair of effective options in bridging the gap from the starters to Perez. Pestano figures to get the first crack at saves if anything happens to Perez.
Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:
Can Justin Masterson and Ubalbo Jimenez bounce back to lead the Indians' rotation?
The two combined for 32 losses last season and the Indians need a complete reversal from the duo if they're serious about contending. Masterson gave up six or more runs in nine of his 34 starts and Jimenez has been a disaster in two seasons in Cleveland, culminating in a 1-10 record in 14 starts after the All-Star break last season.
Can Trevor Bauer win the 5th starter spot?
Bauer struggled in his brief stint with Arizona and had some well-documented clashes with the organization but there's clearly some talent here. Command was an issue (61 walks in 130.1 innings in the minors) but his power arm is tough to ignore. He'll be given every chance to earn the last spot in the Cleveland rotation this spring.
Can Lonnie Chisenhall bounce back from a disappointing and injury-plagued season?
Chisenhall now has 109 games under his belt across parts of two big league seasons and hasn't done much offensively (.260/.295/.421 with 12 homers). His inability to control the strikezone (16 walks, 76 strikeouts) and handle southpaws are going to be his biggest hurdles to overcome. A broken forearm last season certainly didn't help but there's a lot less shine on his future than there was two years ago.
Who will hit leadoff?
The Indians appear to have three candidates to hit leadoff in newcomer Drew Stubbs, Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley. Brantley hit .227 (22-for-97), Kipnis .202 (17-for-84) and Stubbs .159 (11-for-69) so all three certainly struggled in the role last year. Stubbs has the highest stolen base potential and Kipnis seems more likely to hit second or third so the role likely comes down between Stubbs and Brantley.
The back end of the bullpen with Perez, Pestano and Perez figures to be a strength again. Kipnis, Cabrera and Santana, despite some struggles last year, figure to give the team above average production in the middle infield and catcher.
The offense still figures to be below-average despite some re-tooling and the starting rotation will need Masterson and Jimenez to bounce back.
Rising - Jason Kipnis. Kipnis' final counting stats helped mask an awful second half (.651 OPS in 302 plate appearances with just three homers) in his first full season in the majors. His ability to draw a walk (67 in 672 plate appearances) and his success rate on the basepaths certainly make a repeat 30-plus stolen-base season a possibility, but we'll have to see how much new manager Terry Francona turns him loose. If he can avoid a lengthy power outage, he could take another step toward joining the upper echelon at second base in 2013. He'll be back as the team's everyday second baseman.
Declining - Ubaldo Jimenez. The Indians picked up their contract option on Jimenez despite some continued struggles as the righty battled a dip in control and a decrease in his strikeout rate en route to a league-leading 17 losses in his first full season with the Tribe. He's struggled with the long ball since coming over to the AL despite escaping Coors Field, and he will need to reverse that trend if he is going to recapture the form he flashed back in 2010. Jimenez will be back as the team's No. 2 starter behind Justin Masterson, but his rapidly declining skill set makes him a very risky lottery ticket at this stage.
Sleeper - Brett Myers. Myers wanted a chance to start again after being moved into a relief role with the Astros and White Sox last season and he'll get that chance in Cleveland. The AL will prove to be a tougher challenge but his ability to work deep into games could dovetail nicely with the team's strength at the back of the bullpen.
Super sleeper - Carlos Carrasco. Carrasco missed the entire season following Tommy John surgery, but showed some nice velocity in his rehab appearances in September, touching the low-90s with his fastball. The addition of Trevor Bauer won't help his chances at earning a rotation spot this spring and the team may decide to bring him along slowly after his surgery. He's struggled at times (1.47 WHIP, 6.3 K/9 in 33 career starts) but has shown some glimpses of promise as well. He could make for a nice upside play in deeper formats after missing all of last season but may need McAllister or Bauer to flameout in order to secure a roster spot.
Jesus Aguilar. Aguilar still hasn't flashed the power potential you might expect from a guy his size (6-foot-3, 255), but he'll get some extra attention in an organization lacking in power prospects. He'll have to hit to contribute, however, as he's a mess defensively, and it remains to be seen how he'll adjust as he moves up the minor league ranks. His swing is exploitable at times, and he's only seen limited time at Double-A thus far. It's a crucial year for his development to see if he can begin to translate his physical abilities into performance on the field.
Cody Allen. Allen dominated in stops at High-A Carolina, Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus before appearing in 27 games out of the Cleveland bullpen in his first full season of pro ball. He fared pretty well in his time with the Indians and has a two-pitch arsenal with a mid-90s fastball and a nice curve that suits him well. He'll need to iron out some command issues but has the stuff to miss bats at the big league level. The Indians are well stocked from the right side of the bullpen, but Allen figures to compete for a spot this spring. He could be the one to inherit the closer role once Chris Perez hits free agency.
Francisco Lindor. Lindor is the best prospect in the Indians organization and one of the top prospects in baseball, though much of his value comes from his work with the glove. He held his own at Low-A Lake County despite being just 18 years old. He's got a mature approach at the plate which might enable him to add some power to his game as he physically matures, but his bat may never be anything overly special. His ceiling may very well be that of a 10-homer, 15-steal guy at shortstop. Expect some growing pains at High-A Kinston this season.
Dorssys Paulino. Paulino, and not Lindor, may be the team's best fantasy prospect after a very encouraging professional debut as a 17-year old if he can stick at second base. He slugged .558 across a pair of short-season leagues but he's still awfully raw so it remains to be seen how the bat will hold up against more advanced competition.
Ronny Rodriguez. Rodriguez gives the Indians another nice bat at second base and profiles to hit for more power than Paulino. He slugged 19 homers at High-A in a pitcher-friendly Carolina League but the big test will be how he handles Double-A. His raw approach at the plate will need some adjusting and some struggles are to be expected. Don't dismiss him if he struggles at Double-A as he's been advanced aggressively since signing as a free agent in 2010.