2013 Cleveland Indians Preview
The Dolans surprised everyone by making some big offseason acquisitions but starting pitching problems could cause the Indians some problems in 2013.
There is no doubt that the Cleveland Indians got better this offseason. The team won the services of a very reputable manager in Terry Francona and wowed everyone by signing outfielders Nick Swisher and Michael Bourne to two of the largest free-agent contracts ever offered by the franchise.
The ball club played miserably in 2012, finishing with a 68-94 record and set a franchise record for the worst month in Indians history when they went 5-24 in the month of August. By the end of the season, manager Manny Acta was relieved of his duties, and the ball club looked to be headed into rebuilding mode once again. After the club hired Francona, they went to the winter meetings and talked a great deal about getting something done while they were in Nashville. They came home largely empty handed, but as the rest of the offseason began to unfold, it became apparent that the Indians planted many-a-seed in Nashville and were planning to make 2013 a year to remember in Tribe Town.
Now the Indians appear to have an offense that is faster, stronger and most importantly healthier than the one that they have fielded over the past five seasons since last making the playoffs in 2007. The Tribe has three centerfielders manning their outfield in Bourne, Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs who was acquired from Cincinnati in the Shin-Soo Choo trade this offseason. They have an incredible middle-infield combination with second baseman Jason Kipnis and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to cut off balls before they even reach the outfield. Their two corner infielders, first baseman Nick Swisher and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall should be fun to watch as well and Swisher will be a major upgrade from Casey Kotchman last season. Behind the dish, Carlos Santana will be solid and his backup will be either Lou Marson or Yan Gomes who came to the Tribe via the Toronto Blue Jays and will compete for the job this spring. Off the bench, the Indians should have two super-utility guys in Mike Aviles and Gomes, both of which can play in the infield and outfield. Ezequiel Carrera could win the fourth outfielder spot but Matt LaPorta will also compete for that as well as Quincy Latimore.
The Indians will replace DH Travis Hafner with offseason acquisition Mark Reynolds, whom the team originally signed to play first base. When the Tribe was able to lure Bourne to sign with the team, it opened up the door to move Swisher to first, and make Reynolds the DH. It puts the Tribe in a great position as they will be able to move Swisher to either right or left field to spell Stubbs and Brantley, while keeping Reynolds in the line-up at first and rotating someone else into the DH role while still keeping quality defense in place. The Tribe added some insurance by signing veteran Jason Giambi to a minor league deal just before the start of Spring Training. Giambi is expected to compete this spring for a spot on the team to be a back-up DH as well as a pinch hitter and a possible outfielder as well.
The real area of concern for this year’s Tribe is their starting pitching, which was only upgraded minimally with the addition of Brett Myers. Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson combined for 32 losses last season, and they will both have to have huge bounce-back seasons for the Tribe to have a serious shot at contending. Myers will pitch third and the Indians will need quality innings from him in order to rest their bullpen if Jimenez and Masterson falter. From there, the Tribe will look to fill out the rotation with youngster Zach McAllister and the fifth spot will go to one of any number of pitchers in camp to earn their shot at it. The Indians have minor-leaguers Scott Kazmir, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Carlos Carrasco, David Huff, Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber in camp fighting for that final spot. Carrasco is coming off Tommy John surgery and the Indians may not want to rush him into the rotation because of that. Bauer is a strong candidate, though he may start the season at Triple-A Columbus to gain a bit more experience before he moves into the Tribe’s rotation. Kluber had ups and down during his stay in Cleveland last season, and Huff looks like he’s going to be pitching out of the bullpen this season rather than starting. Kazmir and Matsuzaka are both looking to make comebacks after injuries sidelined both men for much of the past two seasons.
The Tribe’s bullpen is back mostly in-tact from 2012 with closer Chris Perez anchoring the group. Perez had 39 saves in a fairly miserable season which saw him attack the press and the fans in Cleveland and many thought he would be out of town by now. The fact is though, Perez wants a winner, and if the Indians play well enough this season he’s going to get one. Vinnie Pestano will pitch the 8 th inning and did a fantastic job as the set-up man last season. The rest of the bullpen should be filled out by Nick Haggadone, Joe Smith, Matt Albers, Matt Capps and David Huff. Smith could open the season on the DL as he is still rehabbing from injury, but don’t expect him to be gone for long.
The Indians make moves to bolster their offense this winter and have put themselves in position to compete with the Tigers for the Central Division crown. Their increased speed on the base paths should give them a little bit of an advantage of the Tigers, but Swisher, Stubbs and Reynolds can be prone to strike-outs, which could offset that. It seems likely that the Tribe will have another start similar to the ones they’ve had in the past two seasons, where they will come out of the gates swinging and will likely build an early lead over the Tigers in the Central. Their starting pitching though will keep them from maintaining that lead for long, and the Indians will struggle this season to keep pace if Jimenez and Masterson have repeat seasons.
The Indians will finish much better than last year, and by adding Francona and the other key pieces this offseason, they should be good for another 12 to 15 wins over 2012. The downside is that 12 to 15 wins still puts them at 83-79 at best, and while it might be good enough to compete with Kansas City for second place in the division, it is probably not going to be good enough for the second Wild Card berth.
By Robert Gonzalez