Locally, some Indians fans may be a little worried about their beloved baseball team. The last month has seen the departures of first baseman Carlos Santana, outfielder Jay Bruce and relievers Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith. That’s a lot of hitting power and relief innings lost in a short amount of time. It has caused some panic among the Tribe faithful.
Perhaps Cleveland should take note, however, of how the Indians are viewed on a more wider scale. Across the nation, large television outlets still view the Indians as must-watch T.V. That was evident with the release of the full 2018 baseball schedule this past week.
The Indians find themselves playing quite a bit on Fox and ESPN as the season unfolds. The two networks that broadcast a good deal of nationally televised baseball games have decided to put the Indians in front of large-scale audiences on a good number of occasions. They would not do that if they did not feel the two-time defending American League Central champions and 2016 A.L. pennant winner would not attract viewers.
ESPN actually kicks off its baseball schedule with the inclusion of the Indians. Cleveland opens the season in Seattle on March 29. As part of its Opening Day telecasts, ESPN will air the game with a 10:30 p.m. start time. While it will be tough for local fans to stay awake for the entirety of that Thursday night contest, there will still be many around the country feasting their eyes on it.
The Indians are right back on the national scene less than a week later, with an April 3 affair in Los Angeles with the Angels, another late-night airing by ESPN. Cleveland also plays a pair of games on Fox Sports One in April. Rounding out the first month of national broadcasts will be ESPN paying a visit to Progressive Field on April 26 when the Indians host the Cubs in a rematch of the 2016 World Series. Cleveland will be in the national spotlight for that primetime game.
Throughout the season, the Indians have two other scheduled games on ESPN. That is a station, however, that changes things up throughout the year, so more could even be added. Fox is set to have the Tribe on its Sunday broadcast three times, while FS1 has them set for another three games after April. Those numbers can change, too.
In short, the deep-thinkers with the big-time TV networks have the thought that the Indians are very much worth watching by more than just local viewers. While some Tribe fans may be a little down on what the team has lost, it clearly is not all doom and gloom.
With the Tribe, there is still a great deal to love about this team and its chances to to win another division title and compete against the other top contenders in the sport. The pitching staff still boasts two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and Cy Young candidate Carlos Carrasco at the top of the rotation. The likes of Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Mike Clevinger, Danny Salazar and Ryan Merritt just give the starting five an embarrassment of riches.
The bullpen still has Cody Allen and Andrew Miller spear-heading a relief corps that has a great deal of good arms even with the departures of Shaw and Smith.
In the batting order, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Michael Brantley were All-Stars just a season ago. Jason Kipnis is a two-time All-Star, as is 30-homer threat Edwin Encarnacion. Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez combine to make one heckuva catcher.
The Indians remain a team loaded with stars that baseball fans all over the country, not just in Cleveland, want to watch. Those stars make the Tribe a team that is still loaded with potential to have a deep October run.
This last month has been forgettable on a good deal of fronts. The Indians lost one of the franchise’s all-time great power-hitting switch-hitters in Santana. They replaced him with Yonder Alonso, who had a career year last season. It remains to be seen if he can replicate the numbers he put up in 2017. Santana, it can be argued, was overpaid to go to the Philadelphia Phillies at $20 million per year. That does not make the sting of losing him less to Tribe fans.
Many Indians fans hoped the team could hold on to Bruce. He was widely considered a rental player when the club swung a deal for him in August. However, he could have replaced the power numbers in the middle of the batting order lost when Santana left.
Shaw, like Santana, was a long-time Indian. He led the team and the league in appearances since joining Cleveland in 2013. His ability to be a workhorse and mostly successful late-inning reliever will be missed. At $7 million per year, he, too, was likely overpaid by his new team, the Colorado Rockies. Smith was another trade acquisition in 2017. He was added right at the July 31 trade deadline. He was a big help down the stretch, especially with Miller missing extended time due to injury during the second half of the season.
Even with all the losses, though, the Indians are looking at a promising 2018. A sixth straight winning season is almost a given. A third straight division crown is expected. This is still a team with sights on winning a World Series for the first time in 70 years.
Baseball people across the country seem to think the Indians should be viewed by all baseball fans. In Cleveland, Tribe fans should take that as a positive vibe for how to view the coming campaign. Times may seem darker now, but brighter things appear to be on the horizon, and it is not simply the national lights the Indians will be under for more than handful of early regular season games.
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images