Outlook for the Indians
The Indians head into the 2014 season with a good deal of momentum for a franchise that has had woefully little of it for most of the past 20 years. You know it’s bad when your team is more closely associated with a 80s Charlie Sheen movie than championships or even winning records.
The Indians signed deposed Red Sox hero Terry Francona to manage the team shortly after the 2012 season and it paid immediate results. The Indians finished as an AL wildcard team and lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in the play in game. It was an ugly split from the Red Sox for Francona but his new job seems to be what the doctor ordered for both sides. The Indians have a talented core of players but needed a winner to manage the helm and Francona needed a fresh start after spending 7 years in the cauldron of Boston.
The Indians lineup didn’t stand out at any one position but was solid across the board and finished up 5th in the AL in runs scored. Carlos Santana is their most consistent hitter and offers decent power and a great batting eye. He won’t win any MVP awards but is the type of player you can set your lineup around.
The Indians also posted a solid stat line for pitching and came in second in the American league in shutouts last season with 16. They had a solid 3.82 team ERA and were second behind Detroit in strikeouts.
The team’s pitching staff lost some key members as will be discussed below but has enough depth and young arms to replicate the success of last season.
I fully expect to see the Indians in the mix for the AL Central throughout the summer. However, I think they are slated for another potential wild card appearance, as the Tigers are still loaded with talent.
Positions to Watch in the Spring: 3B, SP, RP, C, OF
The Indians have a solid core of young players and a pretty solid lineup but there are some concerns heading into the season.
The Indians released former closer Chris Perez and starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez left for free agency after both had tumultuous runs with the organization. Scott Kazmir also left for Oakland via free agency after a resurgent season. Jimenez is still a free agent and looking to cash in on the promise his early career in Colorado and the bounce back season of 2013. Perez wrapped up a 5 year stretch as the closer by alienating the Cleveland fan base, getting arrested for drugs, and putting up his worst season as the closer with 4.33 ERA. He also imploded for the team during the stretch run with a 0-2 record and 7.52 ERA.
Needless to say, the Indians have some question marks in the rotation but their answers are likely to come from within the organization. Danny Salazar has electric stuff and made a great impression in a late season audition. Trevor Bauer is still a top prospect despite some early struggles adjusting to the professional game. Cory Kluber will look to improve on a solid 2013 campaign which saw him go 13-10 with a 4.32 ERA with 195 Ks. The Indians also signed the oft injured Shawn Marcum who can be a highly effective pitcher when healthy. Zach McAllister and Carlos Carasco are also a couple of pitchers who have shown potential upside in the past.
Third base and catcher are mentioned here due to the fact that the Indians seem intent on putting Yan Gomes behind the plate as the full time catcher and shifting the sweet hitting Carlos Santana somewhere else. Gomes had a very respectable season offensively and Santana has a bat that has to go into the lineup somewhere. He is currently listed as DH but got work in winter ball at third base, a position he last played in the minors. It went rough as to be expected but the door is still open at third as Lonnie Chisenhall is approaching the bust label and journeyman Mike Aviles isn’t much of a threat with the bat.
The right field experiment with Drew Stubbs didn’t last long. Stubbs, who was acquired from the Reds in the trade for Shin Soo Choo, has pretty well proven to this point that he is not an every day player. He has the power/speed combo down, it’s just the issue with making the bat actually connect with the ball that eludes him. He was shipped to the Rockies for Josh Outman to help with the bullpen. The Indians are currently set up to go with the less than imposing platoon of David Murphy and Ryan Raburn in RF. I suspect that, if the Indians are in contention at the deadline, this will be one of the first areas to be upgraded.
Fantasy Studs: Carlos Santana, Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis, Danny Salazar, Justin Masterson
Long Term Keeper Leagues: Danny Salazar, Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Trevor Bauer, Clint Frazier
Under the Radar: John Axford, Justin Masterson, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley
by Boyd Crowder