After coming within one win of the World Series in 2007, the Indians had high expectations last spring. Despite an unexpected Cy YoungÂ caliber season by righthander Cliff Lee, Cleveland fell out of contention quickly and traded C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers. With their former ace now in pinstripes, the Indians are nevertheless in a strong position in the AL Central.
Finish: 81-81, 7.5 GB in AL Central
Dark clouds over progressive fields?
Home Stadium: Progressive Field
Joining the Tribe
INF Mark DeRosa (Acquired from Chicago Cubs)
RP Matt Herges (Signed from Colorado Rockies) *
SP Carl Pavano (Signed from New York Yankees)
RP Juan Salas (Acquired from Tampa Bay Rays)
RP Joe Smith (Acquired from New York Mets)
RP Kerry Wood (Signed from Chicago Cubs)
Off the Reservation
RP Brendan Donnelly (Signed with Texas Rangers) *
SP Scott Elarton (Free agent)
C Sal Fasano (Signed with Colorado Rockies) *
OF Franklin Gutierrez (Traded to Seattle Mariners)
RP Juan Rincon (Signed with Detroit Tigers) *
* - denotes minor league contract
Whenever the Indians receive positive prognostications, they fail to contend. A lot of experts are picking them to finish atop the AL Central, and itâ€™s not hard to see why. The White Sox, last seasonâ€™s division champions, traded away Javier Vazquez and are looking to keep dealing. The Indians, however, are bringing back Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner from injury, improved their infield defense by signing Mark DeRosa and overhauled their bullpen with Kerry Wood. The Indians find a way to disappoint, it seems, but donâ€™t be surprised if they make some noise in their division.
Strengths â€“ Offense, Bullpen
Martinez and Hafner are returned from injury-marred 2008s. Martinezâ€™s power was gone last season, but perhaps an offseason of recovery will help him recover his .300 average and 20 home run power. He should be penciled in a bit at first base, which will allow him to stay relatively healthy. Hafnerâ€™s shoulder should be okay after offseason surgery, but heâ€™s been a little sore this spring. His bat would be a huge part of any Indians run to the postseason.
Wood settles in quite nicely at the end of the Tribeâ€™s bullpen. Combine his heat with the Rafaels (Betancourt and Perez, a righthander and lefthander, respectively) with solid reliever Joe Smith, and you have the makings of a bullpen that puts last yearâ€™s gasoline fest to shame. If the offense can get a lead to the seventh inning, Indians fans wonâ€™t have to worry.
Weakness â€“ Starting Rotation
The Indians are depending heavily on Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona to do what made them successful last season and in 2007, respectively. Lee went a sterling 22-3 last season, while Carmona ripped off 19 wins and a killer sinker in â€™07. Reports out of Indians camp says that Carmona was trying to overthrow last season and that his sinker has looked good in spring training.
After those two, who fills out the rotation is unknown. Carl Pavano has been missing for the last four years, Anthony Reyes never fulfilled the promised he showed while coming up through the Cardinalsâ€™ farm system, and the fifth slot in the rotation will likely be filled with a bunch of question marks.
CF Grady Sizemore
2B Mark DeRosa
C Victor Martinez
DH Travis Hafner
SS Jhonny Peralta
1B Ryan Garko / Kelly Shoppach
RF Shin Soo Choo
LF Ben Francisco
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
Aaron Laffey / Jeremy Sowers
CL Kerry Wood
RP Rafael Betancourt
RP Rafael Perez
Can enough players regain their prior form? A lot depends on Carmona, Hafner and Martinez rebounding. If Carmona isnâ€™t the much-needed No. 2, the bullpen will be worn down by August. If Hafner or Martinez doesnâ€™t hit much, there will be too many holes exposed in the lineup. And this doesnâ€™t even take into consideration that Leeâ€™s 2008 season was a fluke. If everything goes right, the Indians will easily qualify for the playoffs and play deep into October.
The Indians, as of late, have found ways to befuddle experts picking them to do well. Project an 88-win season, good enough to win the AL Central, but once they begin playing some of the better teams in the playoffs, the Indians will quickly be eliminated.
Can the Indians win the AL Central? Let us hear your opinion below.