AL Preview: Predicting the Cleveland Indians

It has been too long since there was a buzz around the Cleveland Indians. It has been a refreshing change of pace this offseason and certainly helped to provide some distraction during the winter. Over the course of the last decade and more, the Indians have sat back and watched other teams race to outspend one another to upgrade their clubs while being handcuffed by Cleveland’s small market label and the burdensome contracts of underperforming stars. This season, they did not sit idly by.

Maybe Tribe closer Chris Perez stirred up the pot enough during last season to open up the eyes of the front office brass. The team was just not going to contend amongst the best of the best in the American League without opening up the checkbook a little. Maybe the poor turn out through the turnstiles sent a compelling message. Maybe losing what remaining airtime they had on Cleveland-based sports talk radio shows to the lackluster Cleveland Browns showed them the general disinterest in the once national pastime.

Whatever the reason was, the team spent and spent a lot and appears to be all the better (and more competitive) for it. Maybe the Cleveland Indians are back again.

To help bring in the season, several of the Did The Tribe Win Last Night writers took some time to answer a few questions about the coming year.

What was your favorite offseason move made by the Indians and why?

Mike Brandyberry (@didtribewin):  My favorite offseason move has been hiring Terry Francona. Every move after his hiring would not have been possible without his acquisition. He is so down to earth and personable with everyone around him. The players appear to be so appreciative of his new approach.

Jason Kaminski:  My favorite offseason move was signing Terry Francona. I believe he brings a change of attitude to the clubhouse and paved the way to sign some of the high-end free agents we were able to acquire.

Rob McLamb (@RobMcLamb):  Hiring Terry Francona is easily the most important move made by the Tribe. He has a stabling presence, best shown unfortunately in 2007 when he guided the Boston Red Sox to the 2007 World Championship despite trailing Cleveland 3-1 in the AL Championship Series. Cleveland, once a daily sell-out, ranks near the bottom in MLB attendance. Francona, with his Tribe roots, can potentially generate enthusiasm.

Steve Eby (@Eebs2k):  Even though I’ve been calling for the Indians to sign Scott Kazmir for two seasons and they finally did, my favorite move was getting Terry Francona. Francona impacts the entire ball club in so many ways that I believe that he is worth at least as many wins as Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher or anyone else that you can name. His previous success and positivity brings me hope of bigger and better things that may come.

Craig Gifford (@CraigGifford):  The Michael Bourn signing – it sort of put a bow on everything else and made the offense feel complete.

Laurel Wilder (@LaurelWilder):  My favorite offseason move was probably the acquisition of Michael Bourn. He’s adding a lot of strength to what is hopefully going to be a very strong outfield, and his speed when he gets on base can only help the team as well.

Ronnie Tellalian (@RonnieTellalian):  The trade that brought Trevor Bauer to the Indians was my favorite offseason move. They shored up a top pitching prospect for the long haul and brought in a possible anchor to an ailing rotation.

Matt Travis (@mjt4002):  The biggest offseason move the Indians made in my opinion was not signing or bringing in anyone but the sale of STO by the Dolans. This sale showed the willingness of the Dolan’s to spend more money on the team. That $230 million opened the door for people like Bourn and Swisher to come in that otherwise wouldn’t.

Bob Toth (@TheBobToth):  It is hard to argue with any of the moves the Indians made this offseason. There are clear benefits in the clubhouse with Tito and on the field with the veteran experience and leadership provided by Bourn, Mark Reynolds, Brett Myers, and Drew Stubbs. Even acquiring Bauer for the future is a positive. What I have enjoyed the most is the never-ending enthusiasm and infectious personality of Nick Swisher. In a few short months, his presence in the locker room has brought out a side of the team that we would have never seen under previous regimes. His passion and love for the game will be shared amongst all in the organization. And with his positive approach, that is never a bad thing.


Which infielder are you expecting the most significant contributions from?

Rob:  Second baseman Jason Kipnis seems poised to perhaps even make All-Star appearances if he continues to expand on his game. Kipnis had a terrific RBI total last season, and with the additions of guys like Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn, there may be more run-producing chances on the table in 2013.

Craig:  Jason Kipnis – I expect him to have a break out year and potentially make the All-Star team.

Ronnie:  Jason Kipnis should have a breakout year in 2013. He has the potential to be a Roberto Alomar type hitter and in his third season in the Majors he should be ready to explode onto the baseball scene.

Laurel:  I’m expecting a lot from both Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera. Kipnis had a strong season last year, and I think he has no where to go but up. As for Asdrubal, I think the energy surrounding the team is going to help continue to motivate him to stay in shape and healthy, and with two All-Star seasons in a row, I don’t see him slowing down any time soon.

Jason:  I look for Jason Kipnis to turn a corner this season. I would expect a big output from Asdrubal Cabrera if he can stay healthy, but I believe Kipnis will put up solid numbers across the board.

Steve:  I expect both Lonnie Chisenhall and Kipnis to improve greatly and Swisher to be his consistent self, but Asdrubal Cabrera needs to kick his game up a notch and become a truly elite shortstop. He has certainly shown flashes the past couple years of making this step, but has not been able to put together a full season. He should benefit from the new additions to the lineup and I believe that he is a key piece to the offensive puzzle.

Matt:  I am expecting the most contributions in terms of the biggest gains and added value from last year in Chisenhall. When you look at the season he was having last year he was clearly on the upswing and by having strong players in the lineup around him, he’ll get good pitches to hit which will drive his average up and bolster our already strong contact lineup.

Bob:  I have been eagerly awaiting Lonnie Chisenhall at the hot corner for the Indians for a couple of seasons now. He has shown the flashes of being a solid major league hitter, as we were seeing from him last year before he broke his arm when hit by a pitch in Baltimore. With the third base job his and with much more support in the lineup, I think Chisenhall will be a sleeper at the bottom of the order who will benefit from some big boppers in the lineup setting the table in front of him.

Mike:  Since Nick Swisher is now an infielder, I expect him to have the biggest impact. Hitting in the middle of the order and switch hitting, he will be as big of an impact player the Tribe has seen in many years. He’s possibly the biggest free agent they’ve ever signed, only rivaled by Roberto Alomar. Alomar may have been a better player, but his cast around him was much stronger too.


Who will make the biggest impact (positive or negative) on the pitching staff?

Mike:  I’ve been critical of Ubaldo Jimenez this spring, but I think the most important pitcher is Justin Masterson. He has the potential to win 16-18 games if he is back on track, similar to 2011. If he pitches at that level, he pushes the Indians to a new height. If he pitches like last season, the Indians are just mediocre. His impact, regardless, will be huge. Whether it is negative or positive remains to be seen.

Craig:  Justin Masterson – I expect him to rebound to his 2011 form. With better offense this year, he should be rewarded with more wins than he was in 2011.

Jason:  With the state of the pitching staff I’d be hard pressed to predict positive or negative results but I think the key will be Ubaldo Jimenez, although I believe the team will need a collective effort as an entire staff to actually compete for the division.

Rob:  Ubaldo Jimenez simply has to do better than the 9-17 record with a 5.40 ERA that he posted last season. If Cleveland is to contend, the Indians will need more from its starting pitching, most specifically Jimenez. At the end of the season, the Tribe’s record will probably parallel Jimenez’s production.

Steve:  Without question Ubaldo Jimenez will have the biggest impact…and who knows if it will be positive or negative.  If Jimenez can turn himself around, the Indians will probably make the playoffs. If he is terrible like last year, they probably will not. I can’t think of a player that was more pivotal to this organization than he is this year over the past 20 seasons.

Laurel:  Ubaldo is going to make a negative impact – any surprise in that prediction? Hah, but on a positive note, I have always had faith in Zach McAllister, so I’m pulling for him to make some positive contributions in the rotation.

Ronnie:  My surprise pick for impact pitchers is Zach McAllister. He is a big tall righty that throws 92-93. He is no young phenom, but at 25 he still has youth on his side. He was inconsistent in his first year in the Majors but with experience he should iron out those kinks and become a solid middle of the rotation starter. Middle of the rotation numbers will likely be the best anyone could hope for from this bunch.

Matt:  We all know the end of the bullpen is solid but I think the surprise this season will be Nick Hagadone coming out as a middle reliever. If you look at this spring it’s clear he has strong control and hopefully can carry that into the regular season.

Bob:  I have my concerns like everyone about Jimenez. Masterson should be much better with some actual offensive production to support him and some solid defenders in the field behind him. I look at a guy like Scott Kazmir as potentially having a large impact on the staff. If he stumbles and looks like the pitcher who fell apart and nearly fell out of professional baseball altogether, we could see a quick return of Carlos Carrasco to the rotation or even the first appearances of Trevor Bauer or Daisuke Matsuzaka as Indians. If he can even remotely resemble the pitcher he once was with Tampa Bay, the Indians could have a dominant number five starter who could really give opposing batters fits.


Which outfielder on the roster are you most excited about and why?

Mike:  I’m excited about Michael Bourn. He’s a guy the Indians probably didn’t think they had a serious chance of landing in December, but defensively he makes the Indians a lot better. Offensively, not just is he a catalyst to the offense, but he makes the lineup much deeper.

Rob:  Michael Bourn represents more than what talent and production he brings to Cleveland. He, as a free-agent signing who is in his prime, brings hope to Progressive Field. It is Bourn who is the face of the future and brings optimism that Cleveland not only will keep its best players but will go out and get needed pieces from elsewhere with money not necessarily being a hindrance.

Steve:  All three of them are exciting to me, but Michael Bourn is an All-Star and adding those kinds of players just does not happen very often in Cleveland. I think Bourn is the biggest and best free agent they have signed since Roberto Alomar in ’99, so I am most excited to see him play.

Matt:  I am very excited to watch Bourn as our leadoff man this season. His speed coming out of the box and on the base path will save outs and score more runs. Also, the runs he will hopefully save in the outfield will do wonders to energize the crowd.

Jason:  I am most excited about Nick Swisher. It’s rare we can bring in an All-Star caliber player that is truly excited to be a part of the Cleveland Indians. His passion and love for the game will carry over to others as well.

CraigMichael Brantley – he is now in his prime. If he can add some power to everything else he does, the guy could become a true gem.

Ronnie:  I’m still excited about Michael Brantley. Bourn brings fantastic speed but I’m excited to see how well Brantley has developed after his big 2012 season. It was not an All-Star campaign, but he performed well, made improvements, and has emerged as a leader on the Indians team.

Laurel:  I’m excited about the whole outfield, honestly. Obviously Bourn is fantastic, and Brantley has always been an exciting player to watch develop. I’m excited to see the outfield work together.

Bob:  There really is no wrong answer to this question. I think I am most intrigued by how Drew Stubbs will adapt to a new league and a new position at the same time, especially coming off of a disappointing season on some levels last year. I am excited to see the continued development of Brantley, who has done nothing but impress me with how he has become the most relevant piece of the CC Sabathia trade. I never expected Bourn to be a Cleveland Indian this offseason; I feel like we will get impressions of the second coming of Kenny Lofton watching him patrol center field.


What do you think the Indians’ record will be and will they make the playoffs?

Mike:  I think the Indians win 88 games and are in the Wild Card game. This team will be different than those we’ve seen in previous years, not for the obvious reasons, but because they have the offensive capability to come back from a three or four run deficit. I think this is really a four month season for the Indians, not six. If they are contending in July, they’ll go get some help in their areas of need. With the moves made this winter, it would be tough not to make moves to improve the team. Barring serious struggles from the Detroit Tigers, I think the Indians finish second behind them, but fight the Wild Card battle until the final days.

Jason:  I feel like we have no reason to not be optimistic. The team made great strides and are extremely optimistic themselves so I believe in them. I will say they put together a season reminiscent of last year’s Baltimore team and win 93 games to make it as a Wild Card.

Rob:  Prediction: Cleveland finishes 85-77, falls short of the Wild Card to teams from the more powerful AL East or AL West divisions.

Ronnie:  I think the Indians are looking at an 85-77 record, missing the playoffs by four games.

Steve:  I think they will finish just above .500 and miss the playoffs because the pitching has way too many question marks.  I would not be stunned if they made the postseason, but I can’t make that prediction when their top two starters lost over 30 games in 2012, their #3 starter was in Houston’s bullpen and their #5 guy was a Sugarland Skeeter.  I am also not a big fan of Zach McAllister.  I will play it safe and say 84-78.

Craig:  I am looking at 82-80. It could be better, but let’s see how the starting pitching holds up, first. With that bullpen and the offense, they should hang around wild card contention most of the year, but may still be an ace away from real playoff hope.

Laurel:  I’m saying 87-75 and if they make the playoffs it would be in a wildcard spot. But I don’t think this is their year – while I think they’ll do well, I think this is going to be a year for them to really improve and figure out their team dynamic, and next year will start their true playoff contention.

Matt:  I firmly believe that between the new bats we added to the lineup, the better defense, especially in the outfield, and pitching that honestly can not get worse than last season, the Tribe is in for a great and exciting season. A record above .500 is within reach with my prediction being 86-76. Unfortunately I feel between the Rangers, the White Sox, the Royals, the Rays and the Indians all fighting for the two wild card spots, I feel they are going to come up just short but make large strides over last season, coming in 3rd place for the wild card.

Bob:  I may have foolishly high hopes for the Indians this season, but with the offseason they had, it is tough not to be excited. Maybe I’m setting myself up for failure. Call me a Clevelander. I am expecting a return to form from Masterson as the ace. Myers and McAllister will stabilize the rotation from an innings pitched perspective, although they will give up a scary number of home runs. The bullpen is an absolute strength with depth! The lineup will be immensely more productive and the defense will save its fair share of games. I see a second place finish and wild card birth for the Tribe at 88-74, within a couple of games of Detroit.

Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer

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