Man that was a long winter…Well it is essentially still going on here in Northeast Ohio, but the sun is shining here today and a smile is on my face. Why? Because it is BASEBALL SEASON! When we last left our Cleveland Indians, they had been shut down in the AL WIld Card game by Alex Cobb and the Tampa Bay Rays. A bitter taste was left in the mouths of the players. Guys like Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis, and Carlos Santana have been champing at the bit to get back on the field.
“Unfinished Business” is the tag line for the 2014 Indians. The Wild Card was almost like a tease. They want more. We want more. The national media didn’t seem to give the Indians much of a chance in year one of the Terry Francona era. They shocked everyone by winning 92 games. Fast forward a year and again nobody outside of Cleveland seems to be giving the Tribe much of a chance again. In fact, the Kansas City Royals are the trendy team.
But what does the WFNY crew make of this year’s version of the Wahoo Warriors? I asked seven key questions, they answered….
1. How many games will the Indians win and where will they finish in the division?
TD: There has to be a little regression with this club. Ninety-two wins was way higher than anyone expected last year. The Tribe won’t be sneaking up on anyone now. While I know they won’t go 17-2 against the White Sox again, I know they also won’t go 4-15 against the Tigers. In the end, I see a second place finish, this time just missing out on a Wild Card spot.
Scott: I have them with a final record of 81-81, finishing (barely) second in the AL Central. I came into this final week of Spring Training with pretty high hopes. Jon’s piece on Bill James from a few weeks ago certainly made me feel better. Something happened, however—I’m not sure what, or when, but I’m not feeling too great about things. I had that same feeling I did heading in to 2008, thinking that a young team could continue to grow toward the heights reached the year prior. Sure, we can try to plug in pieces for those who left, but I’m not sure it’s that easy. Can we say this team is better than it was last year? Commensurate? I’m not so sure.
Kirk: I was the high man last year with 87 wins using jWAR calculations. I don’t know if I will be this year, but I’ll say the Indians win 90 games this season, down two from last year, and they actually win the Central in a tight race with the Tigers. I think it’s just as much a product of the Tigers changing their makeup and chemistry coupled with some key injuries (already) that bring Detroit back down to Cleveland’s level. I see a lot of things balancing out for the Tribe this year. Swisher, Bourn, and Cabrera will be much better. Raburn, Gomes, and Aviles probably won’t be as good. The bullpen should be much better, and the rotation will take a step back. How much of a step back will determine if 90 wins is doable.
Craig: Eighty-seven games. They will win their division as Detroit takes a step back.
Andrew: I’m going to go with 86-76, 2nd place in the AL Central. Even then, I feel like I’m probably being a little generous and hopeful. A lot of things went the Indians’ way last season, and that rarely happens two years in a row. I don’t see what roster moves really make the Indians a better team this year than last year.
Jon: Eighty-six games; 2nd place in AL Central to DET and out of the Wild Card spot by three games.
Rick: I tend to be the low-ball in these predictions. I’m gonna say the Indians finish a game lower than last year’s total at 91 wins and a second place division finish.
2. Who will be the breakout offensive player?
TD: This isn’t him breaking out as much as taking that next step, but I think Carlos Santana will have a monster year at the plate and hit .280 with 30 homers and drive in more than 100 runs.
Scott: I don’t know if this qualifies as a breakout as much as a bounce back, but I’m expecting a solid (if not huge) offensive season from Asdrubal Cabrera this year. It should be relatively similar to those of 2011/2012; definitely better than 2013. I think a slash line of .270/.330./.450 (with an OPS sniffing .800) is completely doable. (This will also make for an interesting narrative come trade deadline time where the team will be better with him in the short term, but may be forced to let him walk while getting nothing back.)
Kirk: I think one of the great things about the Indians lineup is that there doesn’t need to be one star that carries them. They will have one of the most potent and well-balanced lineups one through nine each game. In the spirit of giving an answer, I’ll say that Jason Kipnis finally puts two halves of a season together and becomes the go-to hitter in the lineup. I’m also really high on Brantley being a solid contributor again and Swisher bouncing back and staying healthy with near-exclusive 1B/DH play.
Craig: Michael Brantley will take his new deal as a responsibility to help carry the Tribe. He won’t hit a lot of home runs, but he’ll set a new personal record for doubles and RBI.
Andrew: I don’t know if you can call an All-Star a “breakout” candidate, but I feel like Jason Kipnis is poised to have an even better season from start to finish this year.
Jon: Kipnis finally puts together two solid halves and goes bonkers: .295/.380/.495. Leads the league in doubles and finishes with a 25-25 HR-SB year.
Rick: I don’t know if you can call it a breakout performance or not, but I think Michael Brantley will continue to be one of the most valuable pieces of the Tribe offense. I do think that Swisher has a better year than last season though.
3. Who will be the biggest disappointment?
TD: I’d like to place my vote for two players: John Axford and Michael Bourn. I was not a fan of the Axford signing when it went down this winter. This has Chris Perez potential written all over it. He failed once as a closer and I am not sure that this is the spot best suited for him. Bourn was a major disappointment last year and is already dealing with hamstring issues. His speed is what makes him go. If he is robbed of that, then you have a big hole at the top of the order. Let us not forget he struck out way too often for a leadoff man and had his worst stolen base percentage of his career in 2013. I think we have a player on the decline here. Obviously I hope I am wrong.
Scott: Assuming we’re still talking offensively, I don’t expect a repeat performance from Yan Gomes. That said, I’m not sure many are. If we’re talking disappointment as a function of expectations, I’m going with Lonnie Chisenhall. The peripherals are there for a bounce-back season, but I’m not confident he ever figures it out.
Kirk: I guess I’ll go with Yan Gomes, only because Santana’s position change and all is predicated on a much better lineup with Yan over Chisenhall. And that’s not to say that Yan won’t make that happen, but I’m just a little skeptical that he can repeat his awesome clip of hitting from last year. Honorable mention for John Axford and Ryan Raburn.
Craig: Michael Bourn’s contract will continue to look bad for the Tribe. Nagging injuries and fading speed will haunt him all year long.
Andrew: Michael Bourn. I almost said Danny Salazar because I feel like expectations have ramped out of control this offseason for him, but I think Bourn is going to (continue to) be a pretty big disappointment this season. Opening the season on the DL certainly isn’t a good sign for a guy who used to rely on his speed to make a difference.
Jon: Michael Bourn struggles to get healthy. Plays less than 100 games; steals fewer than 15 bases–the worst mark of his career.
Rick: This is always a rough one. I’m tempted to say Danny Salazar because I think a lot of expectations are resting on his shoulders this season. I will go outside the box a little and say John Axford. Unless you meant for us to give an offensive disappointment. In which case I went way outside the box, twice.
4. Who will make more starts – Carlos Carrasco or Josh Tomlin – and why?
TD: Tomlin. I know Carrasco is the guy who won the fifth spot in the rotation, but I am skeptical that he can put it all together to be a competent option. I’ve long been on record as someone who thinks Carrasco has all the makings of a dominant back end of the bullpen guy and I do believe that is where he will eventually end up in Cleveland. Tomlin is what he is, but he will go out and give you innings.
Scott: Josh Tomlin. I think he has the mold of a fifth starter whereas Carrasco’s craziness and incredible fastball seem a bit better suited for a bullpen role. I don’t trust Carrasco to string together multiple quality innings let alone multiple quality starts.
Kirk: I know Carrasco gets the leg up by winning the job out of spring, but I think he’ll end up in the bullpen by mid-season. While I don’t necessarily know if Tomlin will be in the rotation most of the year should Carrasco fall out of it, I do think he’ll end up playing a fairly large role and wind up with more starts than Carlos.
Craig: Josh Tomlin will make more starts. He’s not flashy, but there’s something really predictable about the way Tomlin goes about his business. He’ll make his starts and the Indians will have a chance to win in his starts more often than not.
Andrew: This is a tough question, but I’ll say Tomlin. I just feel Tomlin is a more reliable guy that you can count on as a starter. Carrasco’s best role for this team could very well be the bullpen.
Jon: I think Carlos Carrasco wins the job, because of upside and roster considerations, and that he’ll ultimately get more MLB starts. But I also bet that Carrasco and Tomlin’s IP numbers will be way closer to each other than either one is to Masterson.
Rick: I will be optimistic and say Carrasco. Maybe it is just shear optimism. Probably. I will say venture a guess that a different starting not in the current rotation ends up making more starts than either. How’s that for a prediction?
5. Will the Indians be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?
TD: Buyers, but not big ones. Like they did last year, it will be an ancillary piece al a Marc Rzepcynski. Think extra outfielder or right-handed DH type.
Scott: They didn’t buy in the offseason and refuse to lock up Masterson. I would hope they’d be buyers, but they appear to be resting on their laurels a bit too much for my liking. Sellers.
Kirk: If they are in a position where the playoffs look like a long shot, it makes sense to dump Masterson and Cabrera for anything valuable. Anything short of that, you just have to go for it and add whatever the team needs within reason. It would probably be a Garza-type move that they didn’t make last year.
Craig: They’ll look like buyers, but they won’t buy much.
Andrew: How about neither? I certainly don’t see them as buyers, no matter what. If they’re completely out of contention, they could look to move someone like Masterson, but I think the Indians will be close enough to some kind of contention that they will just stick with what they have and let the season play out.
Jon: They will probably try to buy something crummy, like a right handed reliever or a camo baseball cap with wooly ear warmer flaps, but ultimately the price will be too high and they’ll dance with who brung ’em.
Rick: I don’t think they will pull the trigger on anything significant, but they would be more likely buyers unless something horrific happens in the first two months and then it’s bye bye Justin.
6. Will Justin Masterson be on the Indians at this time next year?
TD: No. One of two things is going to happen. Either Masterson is so good that he prices himself into a financial place the Indians are unwilling to go, or the Indians flame out early and get a nice haul for him at the trade deadline. Meanwhile, Masterson is still more of a number two than a number one and all it takes is one team to fall in love with him to walk.
Scott: Unfortunately not. The front office discusses building around the core, but apparently their sub-30-year-old Opening Day starter (who is incredible in the clubhouse, mind you) doesn’t qualify as such. For a team that has such a terrible track record in organically cultivating their own pitching talent, one would hope they’d realize that paying market value is the cost of ineptitude elsewhere. Would a $17 million deal be a steal? No. But sometimes you have to make up for your own shortcomings if you want to keep things in place.
Kirk: No, and while I don’t agree with a few million dollars being the difference between getting a 2 or 3-year deal done, I also feel good about the future of the rotation in Salazar, Kluber, McAllister, and Bauer. They’ll need to supplement that with help from below and maybe a middle of the rotation signing, but I think Salazar and Kluber have top end of the rotation potential and staying power.
Craig: Yes. Masterson’s deal will get done this season because there are door knobs on the doors and they don’t have to stay closed… or something.
Jon: No. If recent reporting is to be believed, I think it’s fairly clear that the Indians don’t want Masterson at any price beyond the QO (likely around $15M for one season). Masterson’s agent and the MLBPA would rightly kill him if he accepted it. He’ll sign well into February 2015 with an NL team–the Diamondbacks perhaps.
Andrew: I just don’t see it happening. I watched the video of the Chris Antonetti presser where he announced that talks had been shelved. I didn’t see the body language of someone genuinely hopeful of keeping Masterson. It’s incredibly frustrating as a fan to hear how Masterson wants to say and showed good faith in offering to sacrifice some extra stability long term in order to keep his career going in Cleveland, only to have the Indians put an end to talks. It sucks, I hate it, it’s frustrating, but that’s like as an Indians fan. The team simply doesn’t have the luxury to pay big money to guys who may not quite be a true ace.
Rick: Can’t see it happening. Although I am in the camp that doesn’t think he is worth true ACE money. I would have rather paid Sabathia or Lee. And those would be pretty ugly looking contracts right now.
7. Give me your bold prediction for 2014
TD: Asdrubal Cabrera will again hit like an All-Star at short. Don’t discount the fact that like Masterson, he too is playing for a new contract and knows that Francisco Lindor is on his way to replace him. Its the cycle here in Cleveland. Jhonny Peralta replaced Omar Vizquel. Cabrera replaced Peralta. Soon Lindor will replace Asdrubal. But Cabby will make it tough for the Indians to watch him leave via free agency with a big year at the plate.
Scott: John Axford, All-Star. Assuming the Tribe doesn’t falter out of the gate, that is.
Kirk: If the Indians winning the division doesn’t count, I’ll say that Corey Kluber will have the best season of all the starters and Vinnie Pestano works his way back down to the 7th and 8th innings as No. 1 or 2 setup man.
Craig: The Indians will turn around their “rivalry” with the Tigers. The Tribe went 4-15 against the Tigers in 2013, I think the Tribe was 1-9 against the Tigers in Cleveland last year which is an even bigger punch to the gut. Those Tigers games in Cleveland felt like away games for the Tribe faithful. Not this year. The Tribe will win more than they lose against Detroit this season and it will obviously be the key to their year.
Andrew: Francisco Lindor will play games for the Indians before the September call up period. I’m not sure how much I really believe this, but we’re supposed to make bold predictions, so this is mine. There was some external talk that going with Lindor over Cabrera is the smarter move, and I heard enough good things about him this spring that I can just see a scenario where Asdrubal is either hurt or traded and Lindor gets a chance to experience a taste of Major League baseball before the call up period.
Jon: More to come in a separate piece, so I’ll be brief here. Jason Kipnis finishes second to Mike Trout in MVP balloting, which is roundly ignored because HEY LOOK MIKE TROUT FINALLY WON AN MVP AND TRIPLE CROWNS ARE STUPID.
Rick: The Indians starting rotation was really healthy last season by comparison. I’m getting this injury wave feeling of dread. My bold prediction is that all five starters end up on at least the 15 day DL at some point this season. Cheery, I know.
(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)