The fantastic World of Sports hasn’t been entirely at all kind to Cleveland fans. He-who-must-not-be-named left the now-crippled Cavaliers in decidedly mind-boggling fashion in preference of the weepy Miami Heat. The Browns have enjoyed only three winning seasons over the past two decades resulting in a measly two postseason appearances. And of course, this ultimately brings us to baseball where aside from 2001 and 2007, in which the Indians lost in the ALDS and ALCS respectively, the Tribe has been generally underwhelming at best.
After finishing in fourth place in the AL Central with a 69-93 record in 2010, the Indians look to compete in what is widely considered a three-team race. The good news for the Tribe is they really didn’t have any notable free agent departures as they have in years past. The bad news is in terms of signings, they didn’t really make any significant splashes either. They did, however, acquire journeyman Orlando Cabrera to fill in at shortstop. Adam Everett agreed to a minor league contract and should provide some additional infield depth. Former Yankee Mr. Glass Nick Johnson (and his hypnotizing OBP), recently agreed to a cheap minor league deal that will in all probability prove futile; and finally, Austin Kearns was brought back on board for a cool $1.3M for additional outfield depth.
Inserted below are the tables outlining the 2011 CAIRO and PECOTA projections in addition to the 2010 results for the sake of comparison. Thanks to Ryan R. and the crew at Lets Go Tribe, here’s the likely 25-man roster.
In terms of offense, the Indians aren’t particularly potent overall; although, Baseball Musings’ Lineup Analysis Tool expects the starting squad to score 4.764 runs per game on average. This production definitely represents an uptick from 2010’s meager 3.99 runs per game which was the third-worst mark in the American League. Most of the production will likely be generated from one of the most underrated outfielders in the league (and former personal fantasy baseball favorite), Shin-Soo Choo. In 2010, Choo deposited 22 long balls and hit .300/.401/.484, ultimately racking up 7.3 bWAR — all at the phenomenally cheap rate of $461K. While CAIRO and PECOTA seem to be divided on who will lead the team in OBP, SLG, and wOBA, I suspect (albeit anecdotally) Choo will probably claim all three (along with BA) in 2011.
Certainly, a good deal of pressure will be placed on their young catcher’s shoulders as well. In 2010, touted-prospect Carlos Santana, delivered solid numbers in his brief rookie campaign. Over the course of 192 plate appearances, he batted .260/.401/.467 with six home runs; in fact, Santana’s ceiling has even been compared to that of Victor Martinez. If those lofty expectations can be achieved, it’d certainly go a long way in deepening the heart of line up. After looking like a mere shell of his former self in 2008, Travis Hafner bounced back somewhat favorably in 2009 and 2010. Unfortunately, the projection systems aren’t overly confident about Pronk’s continued revival as they expect him to hover somewhere around the .256/.356/.422 mark with only 14 home runs in 2011. Once-upon-a-time-superstar, Grady Sizemore, will also need to find that elusive means to rejuvenation after having suffered through consecutive injury-plagued seasons. At the very least, if he can rebuild some of his historical value, the Indians may be able to trade him come mid-summer in the hopes of rekindling some cheap young talent.
On the field, the only position really being competed for at this juncture is third base. There’s a realistic chance that Jason Donald may be replaced by Cord Phelps or organizational-top-prospect, Lonnie Chisenhall.
For those with waning confidence, you’ll surely be tickled by the mediocrity that is Cleveland starting rotation. Fausto Carmona (1.9 bWAR in 2010), Justin Masterson (-0.8 bWAR), Carlos Carrasco (0.6 bWAR), and Mitch Talbot (-0.1 bWAR) are near locks to start the season. Jeanmar Gomez is the early favorite for the fifth spot although Yankee-slayer Josh Tomlin, David Huff, or even Alex Lewis could be viable candidates. The points of concern are obvious. None of the pitchers are expected to deliver a whole lot of innings (with Carmona providing the most at approximately 170 IP). The rotation’s collective ERA and FIP both hover north of 4.50 and none of the pitchers have particularly desirable K/BB ratios. The silver lining is that Carmona, Masterson, and Talbot are all expected to have solid HR/9 rates – so there’s that.
As for the bullpen, everyone other than Aaron Laffey is expected to make the team (which is slightly surprising given the number of Laffey’s projected innings). Prospects such as Zach Putnam, Vinnie Pestano, Josh Judy, and Bryce Stowell will all compete for the final bullpen spot. After perusing through the tables, I think they pretty much speak for themselves in terms of quality. Update: Aaron Laffey has been traded to the Seattle Mariners and will be expected to compete for both a rotation and bullpen spot. Matt Lawson will be heading to Cleveland and will provide additional infield depth (primarily at second base). The move will also likely free up space on the roster for recently-signed Chad Durbin.
My final verdict, unfortunately, is fairly morose (at least if you’re an Indians fan). Long story short, Cleveland, you might not be rocking this year.
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