Thursday, February 14, 2013

2013 Preview: Cleveland Indians

Cleveland Indians
2012: 68-94 (4th place in AL Central)
Full Count Prediction: (4th place AL Central)

If you're reading this right now, and you're an Indians fan you are probably scoffing and asking us why we didn't write a new prediction after the Tribe signed Michael Bourn this week.  Well, the joke's on you.  This is our preview after Michael Bourn signed.  
And the Indian's sure need him.  After bursting out of the gate in the AL Central, with a first place lead into May, the Indians tailed off badly down the stretch.  They finished fourth behind even the Royals and skipper Manny Acta was given the boot.  

What will be certain is that the 2013 Indians will have a much different look going into Spring.  Gone are Travis Hafner, Shin-Soo Choo, Grady Sizemore, and the pitcher currently known as Roberto Hernandez -- officially breaking the last links of the 2000s era of the Tribe.  In their place are Drew Stubbs, Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Brett Myers and that Bourn guy.  Oh, and a manager named Terry Francona will be at the helm.  I hear he's pretty good.  

When I was growing up, the Indians were not just a good team in the AL Central, they were the team in the AL Central.  The Jacobs, I mean, Progressive Field faithful are no doubt yearning for a competitive club and 2013 might be the year they take that step.  Let's see what these new-face Indians look like.  


Justin Masterson will have to continue to be the workhorse of the staff.  He led the team in innings pitched last season with 206 and at times, showed flashes of brilliance but was plagued by inconsistency just as much.  The same could be said for Ubaldo Jimenez, who arguably has even better stuff than Masterson.  Our pick for the "X-Factor" on the team, Jimenez is the only pitcher in MLB history to pitch better at Coors Field than away when he came over to Cleveland and has yet to figure out the American League or something.  If he can, watch out.  

After that, things get interesting.  If Indians fans ever had a Spring Training to pay attention to, this is the year to do it.  Youngster Zach McAllister looks to take the next step after his first full-year in the majors.  Brett Myers looks to move back to starting after a mediocre 2012 in the bullpen with Houston and the White Sox.  

A few wild-cards here are Daisuke Matsuzaka and Scott Kazmir who were invited to Spring Training.   Daisuke struggled to stay healthy and like, be good, the past two seasons with Boston while Kazmir simply can't stay healthy.  Expect one of the veterans to capture a spot in the rotation.  The reports are that Daisuke looks good and Kazmir was tearing up Puerto Rico ball before his invite.  It will be a wild Spring Training, that's for sure.  

If there was one thing working for the Tribe last year it was their bullpen.  But really?  Are MLB bullpens ever consistent?  Indians fans should hope so.  Closer Chris Perez converted 39 of 43 saves (which was good for fourth in the AL while setup man Vinnie Pestano had 70 appearances with a sub-3 ERA and a WHIP of 1.10...pretty darn good.  Newcomer Matt Capps has tons of bullpen experience with the Twins if anyone decides to start sucking and Joe Smith had seven wins out of the pen last year, which really means nothing since "wins" are the most overrated and worthless stat in baseball.  But Smith did make 72 appearance, so that means he's reliable, right?  


Whoa, this turned into a pretty good lineup as Mark Shapiro's team had a busy winter.   

Bourn will add speed both in the field and behind the plate, while giving the Tribe their best leadoff threat since...Kenny Lofton?   2B Jason Kipnis tallied off badly in the second half of last season, but is a perennial 20/20 threat.  After them, switch hitters Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana are all potential All-Stars and will be an opposing bullpen's nightmare.  

Free agent pickup Mark Reynolds will fit in nicely at DH, considering he simply cannot field a baseball to save his children's lives.  He's at the point in his career where he's trying to hit everything out.  Basically a poor man's Adam Dunn from the right side.  The "X-Factor" is former blue-chip prospect Lonnie Chisenhall, who is projected to start at the hot corner.  Gone is five tool Korean star Shin-Soo Choo, but Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs are solid big league outfielders and should hold down the bottom of the order fine.  


There's a reason many analysts are picking this squad to finish second in the Central.  In a perfect world Francona has this team ready to play from Opening Dayr.  There will be no "second half slump" and the team is clicking on all cylinders.  Masterson becomes more consistent and a true ace; Jimenez learns to pitch away from Coor Field, and McAllister takes the step to being an above average starter while either Myers, Dice-K or Kazmir or all three rejuvenate their careers and anchor the bottom of a now-suddenly really good rotation. 

The bullpen continues their success from 2012 while Bourn jump-starts a scary lineup.  Kipnis, Cabrera, and Santana all have 25/25 seasons, keeping it together all year while Swisher and Reynolds provide power and veteran leadership.  Chisenhall becomes a stud.  If all that happens (which isn't out of the realm of possibility), this Tribe squad will hang tight with the Tigers and could even claim a wildcard when the AL East and AL West cannibalizes themselves.  


In a nightmare season the rotation ends up being a disaster and the bullpen's concerning BABIP from 2012 comes back to bite them.  While the top of the order should be fine, the bottom could be the lineup's Achilles Heel.  Michael Bourn (at 30) ends up being just a shorter Coco Crisp.  Swisher (at 30) starts a career decline, while Chisenhall ends up basically being Gordon Beckham and Santana (*fingers crossed) is always one home-plate collision away from a Buster Posey-esque injury.  

If all goes wrong early, the Tribe could once again be looking up at a double-digit game deficit behind Detroit and Chicago.  They decide they can't afford to keep Asdrubal Cabrera just to compete with the Royals for third place and trade him to the Angels or Dodgers where he goes on to hit 40 home runs.  

(a.k.a "Why the $%*&^% are you guys still picking the Indians to finish fourth!?!?!?!?) 

The Indians will compete.  They will no doubt be better at the plate by a wide margin.  What we are worried about is the pitching.  With an average staff, they will still have to face a Detroit lineup that has stars, a White Sox lineup that has moxie and a Royals lineup that has young talent starting to figure it out.  It's important to keep in mind that this is still a squad that lost 94 games last season and the reason was mainly the rotation...a rotation that didn't get much better.  A lot will ride on the seasons of Masterson and Jimenez, and possibly the Myers/Matsuzaka/Kazmir battle.  This is a team that will be improved by leaps and bounds and I personally, still think they're better than the Royals and Sox.  Francona is a great manager, Bourn was a greatpick up and a .500 season is likely.  That's still not enough to keep up with the ridiculous rotation/lineup in Detroit or even the scrappy White Sox, but they will probably battle the Royals to see who won't be dumping salaries at the trade deadline.  This is still Cleveland and Cleveland is cursed.  Still, .500 sounds pretty good after last year's collapse and the future is bright for the Indians.  


Jason Giambi will probably make the roster and provide a occasional big bat off the bench and more importantly, a clubhouse leader -- a role he embraced in Colorado.  Ryan Raburn and Jeremy Hermida will be looking for redemption and could be decent fill ins in a part-time role.  There are also these two guys named Daisuke Matsuzaka and Scott Kazmir that I've talked about, trying to make comebacks, but the guy you really want to watch is Matt LaPorta.  

Once a can't-miss prospect who came over in the C.C. Sabathia trade (was that really almost five years ago!?), LaPorta has never lived up to his billing and found himself outrighted to Triple A this winter.  This could be his last-best chance to live up to his billing and with a stacked outfield and guys that can mash at first base.  LaPorta is running out of room and time to make the cut in Cleveland.  


Outspoken, brash, and a dude who is genuinely funny, Chris Perez also does a great job of engaging both his fans and enemies.  

In any case, it's entertaining and that's why we follow athletes on Twitter.  See why we love him and give him a follow at @ChrisPerez54