We’ve done it!
It’s finally here!
The winter is over (kind of)!
Despite the winter look outside, baseball season has finally begun, and we can all rejoice in greatness that is Opening Day. The one day of the year that the entire city of Cleveland puts aside the discussions of who the Browns will take in the first round of the draft, or ignore whatever drama is going on with LeBron and his Twitter account. The only thing that matters in Cleveland today is the Indians, and it’s such a wonderful thing.
There’s a lot to look forward to with this team, and there are certainly some areas of concern. I wanted to go over our roster before first pitch is thrown today.
1B: Mike Napoli
2B: Jason Kipnis
3B: Juan Uribe
SS: Francisco Lindor
C: Yan Gomes
Coming into 2015, the Indians were probably the worst defensive team in the league. Kipnis was coming back from an injury, Lonnie Chisenhall was never very good at third base, and Carlos Santana was not meant to be an every first basemen, or third basemen if we go back to 2014. Throughout the season, this team slowly started to become a better fielding team. The promotion of Lindor certainly helped the cause, and it’s part of the reason this team was so good in the second half.
Unfortunately, Giovanny Urshela did not make it on to the Indians opening day roster, despite showing how good he can is at third base. His biggest issue is his bat though, which is why the team went out to grab the veteran Uribe. Not only does he bring a strong veteran presence to the clubhouse, but he also provides solid defense, and a quality bat from the right side of the plate.
The team also decided to bring in another veteran in Napoli. The one time catcher converted to first base during his time in Boston, and has become one of the better defensive first basemen in the Majors. After the team experimented with Santana as the everyday first basemen in 2015, they went out and grabbed Napoli as a free agent to bolster their infield. Despite his struggles against right-handed pitching, he’s looking to be the everyday first basemen and will occasionally sit against right-handed pitching. This will allow Santana to get some reps at first base.
The biggest x-factor for this team will be the return of a healthy Gomes. After winning the Silver Slugger for catchers in 2014, Gomes struggled for most of the season after suffering a knee injury in the first week of the season. Gomes has looked exceptionally strong this spring, and we can only hope that he can replicate this type of offense once the season starts.
LF: Rajai Davis
CF: Tyler Naquin
RF: Marlon Byrd
The lack of Michael Brantley and Chisenhall are going to make this outfield very shallow at the start of the season. Even though Brantley got some at bats during the spring, his body didn’t respond as well as the team had hoped it would. It’s possible that he could be back by the second week of the season, but I don’t see any reason to rush him back. His bat is so important to this team, and if he’s rushed back it could be bad for his overall health.
Davis was signed as a free agent early in the offseason. The team has overall struggled against left-handed pitching for the majority of the last few seasons. This is part of the reason why players like Davis, Uribe, and Napoli were brought to the team. While Brantley is gone, Davis looks to be the primary left fielder, with probably Jose Ramirez giving him days off here and there. The 35-year-old veteran brings speed, defense, and some pop at the plate.
Naquin is going to be making the team as a rookie, and making his debut either sometime on Opening Day or the day after. The first round pick in 2012 has an incredible arm and is primarily a defense-first prospect. While his bat may be only average, his defense is going make up for his offense. He has the ability to be a 2.0 WAR player, as long as he can provide in the field. He’s pretty much the left-handed equivalent to Austin Jackson, who apparently was a player some people were upset that Cleveland didn’t sign. Some would say it was “borderline unacceptable” that the Indians missed out on him, but let’s be honest, Jackson really isn’t a top tier player, and Naquin is a comparable replacement at a fraction of the salary.
Byrd was brought in only a few weeks before camp was over and he was extremely impressive during that span. After hitting 23 home runs between the Cincinnati Reds and the San Francisco Giants in 2015, the 38-year-old veteran looks to be an everyday player in this lineup until Chisenhall returns. He has the ability to play both corner outfield spots and provides some much needed power to this lineup.
It’s kind of silly of me to make a section completely for the designated hitter, as it’s a pretty fluid position, but I wanted to talk about Santana. The one-time catcher was then moved to first base, but then moved to third base, and then moved back to first base after struggling at third. He’s never been a highly defensive player, but his bat is too important to leave out of this lineup. He’s so good at taking a walk, and his OBP is always through the roof, that you just can’t leave him out of your lineup. The team this winter made it obvious that they wanted to focus on defense this winter, which meant booting Santana from first base for Napoli. Santana won’t spend every game at DH, but he’s looking to get most of his at bats there. The team will be relying on Santana and his power at the plate to provide some offense, but it’s important that they realize the role that Santana should be providing, and it’s that he can elongate the lineup and provide some decent pop from both sides of the plate.
Everyone knew that the Indians were going to have a strong rotation this season. The Big Three guys in this rotation consisted of Kluber, Carrasco and Salazar. After making history last year, this rotation looks to build on what they achieved last season. What makes this rotation so fun is that this team could have the same rotation for the next few seasons as most of these guys are signed through 2018. Kluber, Carrasco and Salazar provide the ability to pitch a no-hitter almost every night, and I’m pretty confident that this could be the season of Carrasco. He’s my top choice for winning the Cy Young in the American League.
Anderson was promoted from the minors last season, and he was impressive in his 15 starts. He posted an ERA of 3.05 with a record of 7-3. He was the September Pitcher of the Month, and rightly earned a spot in this rotation out of spring training. He’s a high groundball pitcher, as he induced 45.9% ground balls last season. With the way the defense is constructed behind him, Anderson could be in for a special year. He’s added velocity this spring and he’s throwing more around 96 MPH, which could be huge for him going forward.
Tomlin led off the 2015 season with shoulder surgery, which looked to bench him for most of the season. Once he returned though, Tomlin was one of the better pitchers in the Majors. In ten games with the Tribe, Tomlin had an ERA of 3.02 and a record of 7-2. Also a high groundball pitcher, Tomlin benefited from the solid defense behind him. What is worrisome about Tomlin is that he had an xFIP of 3.77, and a HR/9 of 1.78. If Tomlin has the ability to limit the runners, then a solo shot every now and then won’t kill him, but he’ll need to make sure he is limiting the runners.
Tomlin was also given a two-year extension prior to the spring for $5.5 million.
The bullpen is one of the Tribe’s weakest assets this year. While Allen and McAllister have thoroughly proven themselves as quality relievers, the rest of this club is full of question marks. Shaw has been the primary setup man for the last three seasons, but he’s also made an average of 75 appearances. He struggled a decent amount this spring, and I’m worried that his over-usage the last few season could be detrimental to him.
Manship, Otero, Chamberlain and Detwiller are all giant question marks to me this season. Chamberlain had a solid camp, and has had fantastic seasons with the Yankees and Tigers, but he’s coming off one of his worst season in the Majors. Manship on the other hand is coming off one of his best season in the Majors when he was with the Tribe last year. Can he repeat this in 2016?
Detwiller, the one-time starter for the Washington Nationals, is the lone lefty in Terry Francona’s bullpen. If Francona is opting to carry eight relievers, I really don’t understand why he only chose to bring on one lefty. I can only assume this is due to roster constraints, as Otero was already on the 40-man roster. Detwiler proved to have a strong spring, and let’s hope that it can carry on to the season.
One of the biggest surprises this spring was when the Indians decided to put Tomlin and Anderson in the rotation, and move Bauer to the bullpen. When the Indians traded for Bauer prior to the 2013 season, they were hoping that he could become one of the top starters in their rotation. Unfortunately, Bauer has struggled in his time in the Majors. After having a strong first half in 2015, he struggled mightily in the second half and was inevitably demoted to the pen at the end of the season. Bauer tends to struggle with his command and part of that can be due to the fact that he tries to throw seven pitches, instead of focusing on a handful of them. Bauer will certainly get some starts this season, as you always need about seven to eight pitchers throughout the season. The question though becomes where will we see Bauer in a game? Could he have a Carrasco effect and become dominant again? This is something to keep an eye on going forward.
For whatever reason, Francona has decided to go with an eight-man bullpen for a team that has one of the strongest rotations in baseball, who each have the ability to go six to seven innings per start. Also, the team doesn’t really need a fifth starter until late into April.
The bench is fairly shallow, not because of the talent of the players, but just in depth overall.
Ramirez is essentially replacing Mike Aviles as the utility player on the team. He will spend most of his time at third base against right-handed pitching, but should also see time in the outfield against right-handers as well. He provides speed, contact, and solid defense at all positions. The 23-year-old was the starting shortstop for the team in 2015, but wasn’t quite himself until he was inevitably demoted back to Triple-A Columbus. Once he returned, he posted a wRC+ of 114, and seemed to be more comfortable at the plate. Ramirez was fun to watch this spring, and I think a part of it is because he knows his role going into the season, unlike last year when he knew he was going to be replaced by Lindor, but he didn’t know when. He has the ability to be a breakout player this season.
Perez is the other part of the catcher duo with Gomes. He’s been known for his high OBP abilities through the minors, and he could honestly be a catcher on most Major League teams. The Indians were smart to keep the right-handed catcher as their catching depth in the minors is pretty weak. When Gomes was out last season, Perez was the primary catcher in that span. While he struggled some at the plate, he’s a highly defensive catcher, and he’ll look to get a decent amount of playing time this year to protect Gomes’ body.
Cowgill was acquired from the Angels this winter as part of the Indians’ vision of improving their defense. He doesn’t provide much from an offensive standpoint, but he does hit well against left-handed pitching. His defense at the corner outfield spots is pretty good, he had a DRS of 6 in right field in 2014, and a DRS of 1 in 2015. He’ll look to bat against most left-handed pitching, or be a defensive replacement late in the game.
I don’t know what the lineup is going to be, but if I had to take a stab at it, here’s what I think Francona will throw out against Boston’s David Price:
This team is going to be special, or it could not be. Who knows, we can’t predict the future. All we know is that baseball is back, and nothing can get me down today. First pitch is at 4:10, and I hope you all are ready to see what this team is capable of. Let’s Go Tribe!!
Photo: Michael Ainsworth/AP Photo