An Early Look at Tribe Trade Deadline Possibilities

We are a month and a half away from the MLB trade deadline, but with teams beginning to separate in June, many general managers have already started to work the market.

With the toughest stretch of the 2013 season behind them, the Tribe is currently right at .500. However, to say the team has been inconsistent is an understatement.

The Indians have been streaky to start the season, but sit firmly in the picture midway through June. Things can change before the deadline, but right now the Indians are contenders and a team that will be buying come the deadline barring falling apart.

The Indians are in need of an arm to help stabilize the starting rotation. Brett Myers will be out for quite a while and his return doesn’t seem to excite many Tribe fans. Meanwhile, Corey Kluber has cemented himself in the Indians starting rotation, Ubaldo Jimenez has turned things around and Justin Masterson has been the ace that the organization needed him to be. Zach McAllister has been solid in his first full year, but is banged up currently. However, Scott Kazmir has been inconsistent at times and one of the main reasons the Indians would love to add another solid arm.

Tribe prospect Tony Wolters could be a name heard often in trade offers.

Tribe prospect Tony Wolters could be a name heard often in trade offers.

The offense has had its ups and downs, and there are needs, but the greatest need is in a left-handed reliever or help in the starting rotation.

First, here are a few Indians that may be on the market as the team looks for a piece to add in hopes of a playoff run.

Trade Bait:

Asdrubal Cabrera – Believe it or not, the shortstop’s days could be numbered in Cleveland. Maybe not this year, but the Indians top prospect, Francisco Lindor, is right behind him and making his way up the ranks in the Cleveland organization. Cabrera has been the face of the franchise for the past two years, making the All-Star game in both, but fading down the stretch. Cabrera hit .244 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs in the second half after hitting .293 and last year he hit .251 with fiver homers and 26 RBIs in the second half. The Indians were close to dealing the shortstop in the offseason. One of the biggest worries for the Indians with Cabrera is whether he can stay in shape and battle weight problems that may be the reason he has struggled late in the year.

Tony Wolters – The 5’10 shortstop has been moved around the infield in his time in the minors with the Tribe, mainly due to Asdrubal Cabrera’s stability at the major league level and the rise of top prospect Francisco Lindor. Widely considered a top 10 prospect for the Indians, Wolters is expendable with the depth the Indians have at the shortstop position (Lindor, Cabrera and Ronny Rodriguez in AA-Akron). However, if he can move around the infield and be versatile, the Indians may have extra reason to keep the farmhand.

Don’t Get Your Hopes Up:

Cliff Lee (LHP, Philadelphia Phillies) – The Indians need pitching. And a return to Cleveland for Lee would work wonders for the rotation and instantly make the Indians a serious playoff contender. The 34-year old is a free agent in 2016 and has a couple years left in the tank at least. The Phillies are currently four games under .500 and if they continue to fall, Lee and a couple other key pieces in Philadelphia could be on the market. Cliff Lee is the best case scenario for the Indians. However, even if the Phillies falter, it will take a lot to pry the Cy Young winner away from Philadelphia.

Could Cliff Lee return to the Indians and push them over the top?

Could Cliff Lee return to the Indians and push them over the top?

David Price (RHP, Tampa Bay Rays) – The Cy Young award winner will become a free agent in 2015 and all signs point towards the Rays dealing him before then. However, Tampa Bay is very much in the race this year despite Price’s injury problems. It will take a lot, and that means Lindor plus other prospects, to pull Price out of Tampa and into a Tribe uniform.

Real Possibilities:

Bud Norris (RHP, Houston Astros) – The 28-year old is in his fifth season in the MLB and has held his own despite being surrounded by a weak team in Houston. Over five years, Norris has posted a 4.30 ERA and this season holds a 5-6 record with a 3.47 ERA. He has struck out 57 batters in 83 innings. Norris is one of eight National League pitchers to throw at least 150 strikeouts in each of the last three seasons. He averages about 92-93 MPH on his fastball and can hit 96. He is best known for a very strong slider, widely considered one of the best in baseball. Norris is locked up under contract until 2016. The Indians will not be the only team going after the Houston arm, but if they are willing to overpay a bit, Norris could be in a Tribe uniform in August.

Matt Garza (RHP, Chicago Cubs) – The 29-year old has had real injury problems lately and is working his way back to form. This year he is 1-1 with a 4.98 ERA in six starts and is coming off of a seven-inning performance where he allowed no runs on three hits against the New York Mets. If Garza can show consistency and stay healthy, he is a definite possibility for the Tribe. Garza could come cheaper as the Cubs may be desperate to get rid of him as he is on his last year of a contract. Garza is still young and owns a career 3.68 ERA in the second half of the season.

Matt Garza could be a cheap option for the Indians to add depth to the rotation.

Matt Garza could be a cheap option for the Indians to add depth to the rotation.

Brian Duensing (LHP, Minnesota Twins) – It is almost assured that the Twins will have a handful of names on the market come July 31, but the question for the Indians and Twins in a deal for Duensing would be whether division rivals could make a deal together. The Indians need left handed relief help and Duensing would be just that. The lefty has bounced back and forth from the starting rotation to the bullpen, but has stabilized in the bullpen over the last couple of seasons. This year, Duensing is 2-1 with a 3.70 ERA in 24.1 innings pitched with 20 strikeouts. The Indians desperately need the help and 30-year old (free agent in 2016) should be available.

Scott Feldman (RHP, Chicago Cubs) – Feldman has been very strong at 30-years old for the Cubs this year, holding a 6-5 record with a 3.05 ERA. Feldman would be a rental as he will become a free agent after this year. Feldman could just be off to a fast start, but he is another expendable arm for the Cubs and has had a strong start. If he continues to pitch this strong, he could be a cheaper option for the Tribe.

Ricky Nolasco (RHP, Miami Marlins) – The Marlins will be looking to dump salary at the deadline and their highest paid player, a 30-year old Nolasco, will be on the trading block. Nolasco is 3-7 this year, but has a 3.80 ERA. His record is mainly due to the worst offense in baseball that surrounds him. Nolasco has 72 strikeouts in 87.2 innings and will require the Indians to pick up his $11 million salary this year before he becomes a free agent in 2014. It will make him pretty cheap in regards to prospects or players in return.


May is a Roller Coaster for Tribe – But in 2013 There is Reason to Believe

Let’s be very clear about this. This is not 2011. This is certainly not 2012.

The Indians have new faces and a manager that has been there and done that. The Tribe has veterans and power in the places they need it. The starting pitching has held its own and the defense and bullpen have been spectacular as expected.

In 2011, the Indians caught fire to start the season, spreading excitement across the city. However, the Indians struggled to finish the past two years.

Since 2011, the Indians hold a 76-50 (.603) record through May 20, but they are just 99-148 (.399) afterwards. The Indians have developed a reputation as fast starters, but a team that will fizzle down the stretch.

The 2013 Indians are built to withstand the ups and downs of an MLB season.

The 2013 Indians are built to withstand the ups and downs of an MLB season.

Gone are Casey Kotchman, Jack Hannahan, Shelley Duncan. All three were on the starting lineup on Opening Day in 2012. Gone is Travis Hafner as well as Johnny Damon and Aaron Cunningham, who helped to make up the make shift outfield of the Indians a year ago. All of those names either had trouble staying on the field or very sporadic production.

This year, the Indians have legitimate replacements at those positions. Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs and Mark Reynolds. All four have made incredible impacts offensively, as well as defensively and on the basepaths. Swisher and Bourn are proven All-Stars and Reynolds is having an All-Star season through two months.

Most importantly, the team has veteran leadership it hasn’t had over the last two seasons as well as a manager that knows how to deal with the ups and downs of a baseball season. Jason Giambi is an extra bat, but even more importantly he is an extra coach in the clubhouse. New manager Terry Francona along with veteran free agent signings have given this team some credibility and much-needed experience.

Zach McAllister is having a fantastic season, holding a 3-3 record with a 2.65 ERA and has been one of the pleasant surprises in the Indians 2013 rotation. McAllister has given up more than two runs in a start just twice this year.

Meanwhile, the biggest surprise to this point may be Ubaldo Jimenez. Whether the big righty’s hot streak will continue or not is still up in the air, but there has to be some consideration as to whether Terry Francona has worked his magic on Ubaldo. Jimenez has been stellar over five of his last six starts, including Monday against Cincinnati. This stretch may have been possibly his best six starts in a row since joining Cleveland. Not to mention that Justin Masterson is back to form and pitching incredibly well at the top of the rotation.

While the pitching may not be as strong all season long and the hitting will cool off and go into slumps at times (right now), the Indians are built to withstand those stretches.

It is early in the season and this is a team that will have ups and downs. Right now, the Indians have hit a rough patch after catching fire. The Tribe’s bullpen is banged up and the offense has cooled off. But like the hot stretch, don’t expect this to last. This is the time of the season where Francona earns his paycheck.

In 2011 and 2012, the Indians were a young bunch of players that got hot to start the season, but fell to earth because of a lack of depth in the second half of the year. Depth is no longer a problem for Cleveland, especially on the offensive side of the baseball.

The 2013 Cleveland Indians are built for the longhaul. One through nine, the lineup produces and the pitching has held its own. The Indians will have to make a move at the deadline to compete for a playoff spot and this next stretch will be crucial for the Indians, but the Tribe roster and staff are better suited to handle that this year.

No Excuses Left for Poor Tribe Attendance Numbers

The Cleveland Indians are dead last in attendance in Major League baseball and it isn’t even close. The closest team is Kansas City and the Royals average 4,000 more fans per game than the Tribe.

Two of the worst teams in baseball, Houston and Miami (traditionally not the greatest sports town in terms of attendance), are ahead of the Tribe. The Indians have scored the eighth most runs in baseball and have hit the most amount of home runs. Not to mention Cleveland is on an incredible hot streak, perfectly placed during a lengthy homestand in which they have won ten of their last eleven.

Tribe fans have failed to show up to Progressive Field this year, despite the offseason excitement.

Tribe fans have failed to show up to Progressive Field this year, despite the offseason excitement.

For years Tribe fans have had the same excuses night in and night out as to why they aren’t coming out to the park. It boils down to a few repeated excuses. Either the economy is bad, concessions and ticket prices are high, the team sucks, the weather is bad and that ownership is keeping them away because they won’t spend money.

Only one of those excuses is valid. That is the weather. And over the last homestand, Tribe fans have not been able to use that excuse. The weather has been amazing in the city of Cleveland, not to mention the winning team on the field.

The Indians have an exciting and fun bunch of players on this team. In the offseason, the ownership spent over $100 million. They signed marquee names in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn and made some great moves for cheap, signing Mark Reynolds, Ryan Raburn and Scott Kazmir. The Indians slashed concessions prices, changed policies regarding bringing food into the ballpark and offered transportation to the game in an effort to eliminate the excuses of Tribe fans.

Cleveland has become a fair weather baseball town. The team is averaging 14,000 fans per night. Last season, Cleveland fans were second last in the big leagues (19,000).

Week after week, Browns fans fill now First Energy field to watch a losing team. Never do you hear excuses from Browns fans as to why they don’t want to go to the game. I understand the season is shorter and there are only 10 times the Browns play in Cleveland, but the point is still true.

Are Indians fans waiting for a team that is a World Series favorite to come? The Indians have gone out of their way to get fans to Progressive Field and it hasn’t worked.

I also understand that school is still in session and some people work, but 14,000 on a beautiful night with a winning team and all the factors listed before and nobody shows?

The Indians are a serious contender for a playoff spot in the American League, but you wouldn’t know it by the pitiful attendance numbers. The Indians are four games over .500 and on fire right now. It is time Cleveland started taking notice.

Ubaldo’s Time is Running Out

Ubaldo Jimenez is running out of time to prove he can pitch well in Cleveland.

Jimenez started 2013 with a solid start in Toronto, but has taken a big step backwards in his last two outings. It seems as if that has been the trend since Ubaldo joined the Indians in 2011. Inconsistency has been the norm with the 29-year old.

In his last two starts, Ubaldo has given up seven runs each time. In three starts he has an 11.25 ERA and in 12 innings pitched, he has surrendered 15 earned runs. Ubaldo became the fourth Indians pitcher since 1916 to give up at least seven earned runs and five walks in less than two innings pitched in a start after Tuesday night.

Ubaldo Jimenez has struggled to find any kind of consistency in Cleveland.

Ubaldo Jimenez has struggled to find any kind of consistency in Cleveland.

In 2011, the Indians dealt away top prospects Alex White and Drew Pomeranz to net the big righty that was already dealing with problems in Colorado and showed signs of a drop in velocity. Yet, the Indians still made the deal. The deal was considered one of the biggest of the trade deadline, but had many in baseball scratching their heads. Why would Cleveland invest so much into a pitcher that has had such struggles? While White (now in Houston) and Pomeranz have not amounted to much in Colorado, the Indians wish they could have this one back.

After 2011, I thought there was a chance he could turn around with an offseason and spring with Cleveland and the Indians coaching staff.

I was wrong. Since 2011, the Indians have been working on Ubaldo’s mechanics and velocity and had no success. Once a CY Young award candidate, Jimenez has become incredibly wild, inaccurate and inconsistent.

Since 2011, the 29-year old has actually gotten worse. In 11 starts with Cleveland in 2011, Ubaldo held a 4-4 record and a 5.10 ERA. In 2012, he was 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA. Over his last two starts in Cleveland, Jimenez looks lost on the mound, struggling to find the strike zone night in and night out.

Jimenez is set to make $5.75 million this year and that may his saving grace with the Indians at times this summer.

The Indians are trying to compete for a playoff spot in 2013. The fact remains that they can’t do it with a starter that can’t find the strike zone and has velocity problems. After every bad start, there is a new excuse and a new remedy and none of them have seemed to work.

However, another saving grace for Ubaldo is the fact that the Tribe doesn’t have a ton of quality pitching currently at the Triple-A level. While Daisuke Matsuzaka has had previous big league success, he may not be ready to help out with the Indians just yet. Corey Kluber has struggled in his time with the Indians and Carlos Carrasco has an eight game suspension and some work to do at Triple-A. Even with all this, it only buys Ubaldo a short amount of time.

If Ubaldo was let go, Daisuke Matsuzaka would be one of the top options to replace him.

If Ubaldo was let go, Daisuke Matsuzaka would be one of the top options to replace him.

It is early in the season. Ubaldo has taken the hill three times. I am not saying to drop him now, but “maybe” and “hopefully” just don’t cut it anymore. The Indians pitching is struggling as is and they can’t afford to have Ubaldo struggle this much.

If the struggles continue, it may be time to let go of the Ubaldo experiment. Accept your losses and move on. If the Indians want to make the playoffs this year, it may be time to end this reclamation project.

Tribe Thoughts: Week 2

  1. Justin Masterson is back. Yes, he has only taken the hill three times. However, his numbers have been incredible and more importantly he has shown great control. Masterson was stellar against Chicago on Friday night, throwing a complete game shutout and giving up just five hits and seven strikeouts. Masterson is 3-0 this year with a 0.41 ERA. After struggling so much with walks and control in his first start (and still pitched pretty well), Masterson allowed just one walk against Chicago. The Tribe needs an ace and needed Masterson to step up this year with a struggling rotation and he has filled the role. Before a rough 2012, Masterson started 5-0 with a 2.18 ERA in 2011 and finished with a 12-10 record and a 3.21 ERA. Those are positive signs toward a bounce back season for the big righty. In 2012, Masterson held a 5.40 ERA in April and finished the season with a 4.93 ERA. So far this year, right-handed hitters are hitting .133 against him and lefties, who he has struggled with in the past, are hitting just .146. The past two starts have proven that Masterson is going to be a force to be reckoned with this year. With the instability in the Tribe rotation, Justin Masterson has been a welcome sight at the top.
    Justin Masterson has been dominant in 2013, racking up three wins in three starts.

    Justin Masterson has been dominant in 2013, racking up three wins in three starts.

    2.    The Tribe offense has been incredibly inconsistent. The Indians are 19th in baseball in runs scored, which isn’t the problem. The problem is the consistency of the offense. It seems the Indians have either lit the scoreboard up or struggled to create much offense. In losses this year, the Indians average just 2.6 runs compared to six runs in wins. After putting up nine runs on Saturday against Chicago, Cleveland struggled to score on Sunday, posting just one run on a lead off homer from Michael Bourn. The Indians have struggled with injuries on the offensive front, with Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana missing time and Michael Bourn slated to miss some time this week. What makes those losses tough is that Bourn and Santana lead the team in batting average and have gotten out to great starts this season. Meanwhile, Asdrubal Cabrera has been in a big slump to open the year. Cabrera has just five hits in 11 games, with two homers and three RBIs. Asdrubal struck out 14 times, tied for most of any Indians with Drew Stubbs, over the first two weeks. I wouldn’t expect that to last too much longer and the Indians expect to have Kipnis, Santana and Bourn all back by the end of this week.

    Brett Myers has struggled to start 2013, but was excellent on Sunday afternoon.

    Brett Myers has struggled to start 2013, but was excellent on Sunday afternoon.

    3.    Brett Myers is going to be a roller coaster ride. After two horrific outings from Brett Myers, the veteran turned out a solid outing on Sunday against Chicago. Myers held the White Sox scoreless until the sixth when he made his only mistake, a home run from Paul Konerko that gave the White Sox the win. While Myers took the loss, this was a very solid start and very positive sign for Myers. However, it is just one start and Myers has not looked good overall this year. In his first two outings, Myers surrendered seven home runs over 10.1 innings and gave up 14 runs. Myers’ style is to pitch to contact and forces a lot of fly balls. On Sunday, he was able to keep those in the park. His stamina isn’t there yet as a starter, and that is expected with his transfer from the bullpen to a starting role. If Myers can settle down and throw six innings every time and give up 2 to 3 runs, Cleveland fans should be very pleased.

    4.    New faces are doing well. Looking at the Tribe statistically, Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn’s names are all over the leaderboard. Three veterans that were not members of the 2012 Indians and have made an immediate impact with the 2013 Tribe. Michael Bourn leads the Tribe with a .333 batting average and 15 hits this season. Bourn has already belted a pair of homers and hit four doubles and a triple. Mark Reynolds leads the team in home runs (5) and RBIs (13). Reynolds average is at a sold .263 and he has filled the role of right-handed power bat perfectly for Cleveland. Nick Swisher leads the team in OBP at .426. Swisher came through for the Indians on Friday night with a game-winning RBI single and blasted a big two-run homer on Saturday, his first as an Indian. I expect the game-winner on Friday to really ignite Swisher offensively at the heart of the Cleveland lineup. Reynolds may cool off, but you can tell already why the Indians brought him in. The Indians will also get their first look at Scott Kazmir later this week after he makes a rehab start on Monday night in Columbus.

    5.    Attendance numbers have been laughable for the Indians. There was an excitement in Cleveland for the Indians this offseason. At least I thought there was. After the sellout on Opening Day, the Indians have pulled in just over 47,000 fans in four games. In four games, the Indians have barely past the Opening Day sellout number of 41,567. Now I understand the weather hasn’t been perfect, but game two against the Yankees was a beautiful day. Not to mention the Indians were playing the Yankees, traditionally a game that sells very well. The average attendance through five games is down from last year. April is never a good month for attendance for Cleveland, but fans have clamored for the Dolan family to spend some money on this team. And rightfully so. However, now that management has spent money and made quality moves, fans still aren’t showing up. I hope this is just a bad first week, but these numbers have to change. 

Six Things We Learned About the Tribe in Week One

  1. The 2013 Indians will strikeout a bunch, but will also drive home a ton of runs. Over the first six games, the Indians struck out 51 times, compared to just 39 for opponents. That is expected with the Indians and is a trade off for the added power to the lineup. Last year, Drew Stubbs, Mark Reynolds and Michael Bourn struck out a combined 480 times. In the first six games, Stubbs, Cabrera, Kipnis, Swisher, Chisenhall and Reynolds have six or more strikeouts. Through those six games the Indians already have nine home runs, including four from slugger Mark Reynolds. However, despite being shutout twice over the weekend, the Indians still put up 28 runs over the first week, including an impressive showing on Sunday night in a blowout win over Tampa Bay.

    Mark Reynolds put his power on display in week one, blasting four home runs. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

    Mark Reynolds put his power on display in week one, blasting four home runs. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

  2. Justin Masterson might just be back to 2011 form and Ubaldo Jimenez is showing signs of a bounce-back year. Masterson struggled with control in the season opener, but still held Toronto to one run on three hits in six innings while capturing the win. In his second outing, Masterson had the slider working incredibly well. The big right-hander threw seven shutout innings, while giving up two hits with eight strikeouts. Ubaldo was very good in his 2013 debut, surprising many with a six inning performance, giving up just one run on three hits with six strikeouts against a potent Toronto lineup. Maybe the most impressive part of Ubaldo’s outing was his control, allowing just two walks on the evening. If Ubaldo can pitch this well consistently, the Indians have a real shot to contend.
  3. Brett Myers will struggle as he moves to a starting role. Myers spent 2012 as a reliever and has gone back and forth from the bullpen to the starting rotation throughout his career. The 32-year old had a rough outing against Toronto in the finale of the series north of the border. Myers threw just 65 pitches in five innings of work, but gave up seven runs on seven hits while allowing four home runs. Myers left a lot of hanging breaking balls across the plate and the Blue Jays took advantage. Myers is expected to eat innings and hold the rotation together at the three-spot, but if he struggles this much, the Indians could be in big trouble. The veteran struggled in spring training and didn’t strike out a single Blue Jay in his first outing. Over his career, Myers can be very good in wins, holding a 2.35 ERA, but in losses he really struggles with a 7.03 ERA. There will be more growing pains with Myers and I have a feeling Myers could be a name either in the bullpen, at Triple-A or not with the Indians by mid-season.
  4. Trevor Bauer is not ready for the major leagues. The hard-throwing youngster struggled mightily with control against Tampa Bay on Saturday, walking the first four Rays he faced. Bauer threw five innings, giving up three runs on just two hits. One of those runs came when he walked a runner in and the others on a home run. Bauer only gave up only two hits and Bauer caused most of his own problems. He definitely has the talent needed to be a star at the major league level, but the 22-year old needs more time at Triple-A to develop and work on his control.

    Justin Masterson has come out very strong in 2013 as the Indians ace. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

    Justin Masterson has come out very strong in 2013 as the Indians ace. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

  5. Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall will benefit from the depth of the lineup. The same could even be said for Jason Kipnis, despite his early season struggles. Santana has been red hot to start 2013, batting .500 after six games with four doubles, two home runs and five RBIs. The switch-hitting catcher has shown his potential in spurts over the last two seasons, but hasn’t put it all together yet. This may be the year for Santana, without the expectation of being the only power bat and an offensive threat that will carry the Indians. Brantley was very solid last year, but missed time due to injuries. The added lineup strength will only help Brantley, who will bat in the sixth and seventh slot this year. Brantley has been very good in left field and in five games is second on the team with a .353 batting average. Finally, Chisenhall is getting his first full season with the Indians started and isn’t going to have to deal with incredible expectations as he will bat towards the back of the lineup. The Indians still see Chisenhall as a future star and the young third baseman has hit .227 in five games, but has two doubles, a home run and six RBIs. If Chisenhall can continue to get better, it makes the back end of the Cleveland lineup very strong.
  6. Michael Bourn is the real deal at lead off for the Indians. Bourn was the Indians surprise signing late in the offseason and has immediately proven why he is one of the best lead off men in baseball. Bourn has hit .321 through six games with three doubles, one home run and one RBI. Bourn scored three runs this week and stole one base and has done a good job of setting the table for Cleveland.

Biggest Surprise: Ubaldo Jimenez.

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez works against the Toronto Blue Jays during first-inning baseball game action in Toronto, Wednesday, April 3, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian, Chris Young)

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez works against the Toronto Blue Jays during first-inning baseball game action in Toronto, Wednesday, April 3, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian, Chris Young)

Biggest Disappointment (Only six games in, this should be taken with a grain of salt): Asdrubal Cabrera. Hitting just .083 with a home run and two RBIs (that came in the season opener) Cabrera has gone cold start the season with just two hits in six games. However, just six games in, this is not something to overreact about.

Week ahead:

Monday: 4:05 v. Yankees: Jimenez (0-0) v. Kuroda (0-1)

Tuesday: 7:05 v. Yankees: Carrasco (0-0) v. Pettitte (1-0)

Wednesday: 7:05 v. Yankees: Myers (0-1) v. Nova (0-1)

Thursday: 7:05 v. Yankees: McAllister (0-1) v. Hughes (0-1)

Friday: 7:05 v. White Sox: Masterson (2-0) v. Axelrod (0-0)

Saturday: 4:05 v. White Sox: Jimenez (0-0) v. Sale (1-0)

Sunday: 1:05 v. White Sox: TBA

2013 Indians Predictions and Final Preview (MLB Predictions)

There is no doubt a ton of optimism and excitement around Cleveland and the Indians. There is a buzz that hasn’t been felt in some time about the Indians.

Cleveland started their best offseason in years by bringing in proven manager Terry Francona, shortly after the season ended. The Indians acquired Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs to form a new and improved outfield and added Swisher and Reynolds to strengthen the infield and the offensive firepower. The front office spent a combined $117 million on the four major pieces added this offseason (Swisher, Bourn, Myers and Reynolds).

New Indians manager Terry Francona has rejuvenated a beleaguered fan base.

New Indians manager Terry Francona has rejuvenated a beleaguered fan base.

The Tribe also features just two names from last year’s Opening Day starting rotation in Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez.

Gone are Jack Hannahan (Cincinnati), Casey Kotchman (Miami), Johnny Damon and Travis Hafner (Yankees) and that is an immediate improvement. There is little doubt that the Indians got better, but the question on Terry Francona’s hands is are they playoffs good?

Francona has repeatedly stated that he really likes this squad and loves the guys he has around him, but stresses that he has no idea what to expect record wise. That adds a bit of excitement for him and for fans this year with many anxious to see how the new look Tribe will hold up. However, to expect a team to make the playoffs with a new manager and a handful of new faces the year after a 94-loss season is pushing it.

The Indians went 68-94 last year, including a monumental collapse in the month of August, going 5-24, a franchise worst. Cleveland has lost at least 93 games in three of the past four seasons and they haven’t had a winning record or been to the postseason since 2007.

The Indians offense is much improved and will use speed and power to put up runs this year. Cleveland ranked 13th in the American (of 14 teams) in runs scored and 12th in homers. The Indians featured very few right-handed hitters in a lefty heavy lineup that struggled to score. This year, the Indians have three switch-hitters (Swisher, Santana and Cabrera) and two righties in Reynolds and Stubbs.

The Indians surprised a lot of the baseball world with the signing of All-Star center fielder Michael Bourn.

The Indians surprised a lot of the baseball world with the signing of All-Star center fielder Michael Bourn.

However, what will hold this team back will be the starting pitching. Justin Masterson is coming off a season in which he labored all year long and Ubaldo Jimenez has been a disappointment to put it nicely. Masterson should be able to bounce back somewhat, but I don’t think anyone is expecting a huge turnaround from Ubaldo. This could be his last chance to prove he belongs in the bigs. Brett Myers, a former reliever, has had a very rough spring and is expected to be an innings eater this year. Zach McAllister is still a young talent, but will have some ups and downs in his first full year. Finally, I expect Scott Kazmir to surprise a lot of people, but it won’t be enough in the end. Pitching wins championships and the Indians don’t have strong pitching.

Prediction: 85-77, 2nd in the AL Central.

AL Central Standings:

  1. Detroit Tigers – 93-69 – Tigers are loaded and get even better in 2013. Additions of Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez (back from injury) make the Tigers the easy favorites. Only question mark for Detroit is the closer.
  2. Cleveland Indians – 85-77 – Indians offseason moves create a 17-game win improvement from last year and keep the Indians in the wild card hunt for most of the year. However, problems with starting pitching gives the Indians their sixth straight season without postseason play.
  3. Kansas City Royals – 83-79 – The Royals have flown under the radar this offseason, mainly due to the Tribe’s moves. However, Kansas City has upgraded their rotation, headlined by James Shields. The Royals have a lot of young talent in their lineup and have a shot to compete with Cleveland for second place.
  4. Chicago White Sox – 76-86 – The White Sox surprised a lot of people last year by competing with Detroit for the division title, but this year they will be slightly depleted. Long-time catcher A.J. Pierzynski is gone and Adam Dunn can’t be expected to produce like he did last year. Paul Konerko, an Indians killer, is aging and his numbers could go down. The White Sox had a number of career years last year just to get into contention. The rotation is still somewhat solid with Chris Sale headlining, but the White Sox don’t have enough to compete.
  5. Minnesota Twins – 68-94 – The Twins feature a solid core in Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham, but the bats around those three are the reason the Twins struggle. Minnesota doesn’t have a ton of pitching either. It will be a long season in the Twin cities.

Division Winners:

AL East: Toronto

AL Central: Detroit Tigers

Al West: Los Angeles Angels

AL Wild Cards: Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays

NL East: Washington Nationals

NL Central: Cincinnati Reds

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers

NL Wild Cards: San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves

AL Champion: Los Angeles Angels

NL Champion: Washington Nationals

World Series Champion: Washington Nationals

2013 Indians Preview: Infield

While the middle infield from 2012 remains, there are new faces at the corners for Cleveland.  Jason Kipnis returns and second and All-Star Asdrubal Cabrera remains at shortstop, but the Indians brought in Mark Reynolds as a replacement for Casey Kotchman and Nick Swisher, who moved to the infield after the Indians acquired Michael Bourn.

Lonnie Chisenhall will also take over the full-time starter role at third base after Jack Hannahan signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds.

The Indians used six players at first, five at second, five at third and five at third base in 2012. Not to mention Cleveland used three players at catcher last year.

The Indians hope Nick Swisher can bring back the excitement to Cleveland on and off the field.

The Indians hope Nick Swisher can bring back the excitement to Cleveland on and off the field.

Here is a position-by-position look at the Cleveland infield:

First Base: Nick Swisher – Swisher is the marquee signing of the offseason for the Indians and is expected to bring a lot to the Cleveland offense. Swisher is also the new face of the Indians with his Ohio connections and infectious personality. The 32-year old hit .272 in the middle of the Yankees lineup last year with 36 doubles, 24 home runs and 93 RBIs. Swisher has mainly been utilized in right field, but appeared in 41 games at first for New York last year and with the Michael Bourn signing, Swisher will take over full-time at first base.

Backups: Carlos Santana and Mark Reynolds. Santana is the Indians catcher and Reynolds will start at DH. The Indians expect Reynolds to control most of the backup duties to take some extra wear and tear off of Carlos Santana. Reynolds is also considered a sold defensive first baseman. Reynolds and Swisher will likely be interchangeable at first and designated hitter.

Jason Kipnis is hoping for more consistency in 2013.

Jason Kipnis is hoping for more consistency in 2013.

Second Base: Jason Kipnis – Kipnis returns to the Indians middle infield in his second full season. Kipnis had some ups and downs last year as the young infielder struggled to deal with his first full MLB season. The 25-year old hit .257 with 22 doubles, 14 home runs, 76 RBI and stole 31 bases. Kipnis led American league second basemen with 440 assists and was tied with Robinson Cano for second-fewest errors at six.

Backups: Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn. Raburn was profiled in the outfield preview, but Aviles came in from Boston in the offseason. Aviles can play just about anywhere on the infield and hit .250 with 12 homers and 60 RBIs in 136 games.

Lonnie Chisenhall begins his first full season at third base on Tuesday.

Lonnie Chisenhall begins his first full season at third base on Tuesday.

Third Base: Lonnie Chisenhall – Chisenhall will take over at the hot corner and make his first Opening Day start on Tuesday. Chisenhall is still very young at 24-years old and hit .268 in 142 at-bats last year with six doubles, five home runs and 16 RBIs. Chisenhall missed over two months with a broken bone in his right forearm. Defense is something that Chisenhall could work on, committing six errors in 30 games at the third.

Shortstop: Asdrubal Cabrera – the two time All-Star has a massive offensive load lifted off his shoulders this year with the Indians signings of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Cabrera hit .270 last year with 35 doubles, 16 home runs and 68 RBIs. He was 11th among AL shortstops with .971 fielding percentage and committed 19 errors, a career-high. Numbers have fallen late in the season and in the second half the last two years after playing a lot of innings.

Backups: Mike Aviles played 128 games at shortstop for Boston last season.

Catcher: Carlos Santana – Santana was inconsistent last season and struggled to hit for much average. The young catcher hit .252 with 27 doubles, 18 home runs and 76 RBIs, but struck out 101 times. Defensively, Santana need work behind the plate, allowing a league-high 10 passed balls, tied with Detroit’s Alex Avila.

Backups: Lou Marson will be the only backup at catcher on the Opening Day 25-man roster for the Indians. Marson, known for his solid defense, hit .226 in 195 at-bats last year with no home runs and 13 RBIs.

The Indians brought in Mark Reynolds in the offseason to bring power to the lineup.

The Indians brought in Mark Reynolds in the offseason to bring power to the lineup.

Designated Hitter: Mark Reynolds – Reynolds hit .221 with 26 doubles, 23 homers, 69 RBI and 159 strikeouts last season in Baltimore. The 29-year old Reynolds signed a one-year, $6 million contract this offseason to replace Casey Kotchman, who really struggled offensively for the Indians last year. However, with the moves in the outfield, Reynolds will start at designated hitter, taking Travis Hafner’s former position. Hafner is starting 2013 as the Yankees DH. Reynolds does strike out a lot, but the Indians expect that as a trade off for the power Reynolds brings to the plate. Reynolds averages 30 home runs a season and has hit 23 or more home runs in each of the last five seasons, including 44 in 2009, but strikes out 187 times per year.

Backups: Jason Giambi, Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana.

Bottom Line: The Indians infield went under a much needed face-lift this offseason. First base was a mess last year and was a top priority for the Indians after the disappointment of Casey Kotchman, who hit .229 with 12 homers and 55 RBIs. Swisher and Reynolds bring power and a much needed offensive improvement at first base and DH. Not to mention the stability that wasn’t there when Hafner was the designated hitter and the versatility of Reynolds being able to play first.

Lonnie Chisenhall is a big X-factor for the Indians in 2013. The young third baseman will need to have a solid first full season and stay healthy to help round out the Cleveland lineup. Cabrera seemed to be in better shape this spring, but will have some workload taken off his back with a better back up at shortstop behind him in Mike Aviles. Kipnis had some ups and downs last year in his first full season with the Tribe, but will be expected to have a higher average if the Indians are to compete for the playoffs.

Prediction: Swisher hits .275 and 25 homers and leads the Indians offense and Reynolds hits 25-30 homers for a Tribe offense that finally showcases some power. Almost all of the Indians power is on the infield. However, those two will also help the Indians lead the league in strikeouts in 2013. Cabrera should be an All-Star this season, but if the Indians are to contend, Cabrera will need to play well in the second half. With the added offensive firepower and the extra help for Cabrera, I would expect that his numbers don’t take such a sharp drop off late in the season.

Kipnis is still a very good young player and I expect his numbers to rise, but he will need to find some consistent output. Kipnis will hit between second and third in the lineup and will be expected to step up. Chisenhall will be at the other end of the lineup and this is the year for him to prove he belongs in the bigs. Finally, Santana has a lot of upside, but has yet to show his full potential. Santana tends to overswing and has had problems with mechanics at times and hasn’t been the most reliable defensive catcher. However, he is still young at 26-years old and the Tribe expects him to have a solid season. The expectation is that his average at least jumps up to .270 and he hits 20 or more homers. The Tribe infield will be solid defensively, but the infield of 2013 will provide a lot more excitement offensively than the infield on 2012. There will be a lot of strikeouts, but there will also be a lot of balls flying over the fences.

2013 Indians Preview: Outfield

In 2012, the Indians struggled all season to find a consistent left fielder, using nine players throughout the campaign. Eight of those nine are no longer with the club. The Indians also struggled to find an outfielder who could add power to the lineup.

Johnny Damon was added in mid-season and Shelley Duncan had streaks of solid play, but both were cut in August. The Indians outfield defense was not the strongest and that certainly didn’t help the struggles of the starting pitching.

The Indians surprised everyone in baseball by signing All-Star center fielder Michael Bourn.

The Indians surprised everyone in baseball by signing All-Star center fielder Michael Bourn.

In the offseason, Cleveland made it very clear that the outfield was the top priority. The Indians had good reason to make moves in the outfield.

The Tribe immediately made a splash by signing Nick Swisher, a right fielder with a power bat that the Indians desperately needed. However, due to other moves, Swisher was moved to the infield.

Cleveland acquired stellar defender Drew Stubbs from the Reds in the Shin-Soo Choo deal and shocked the league by signing All-Star center fielder Michael Bourn just before Spring Training began. Bourn signed a four-year, $48 million contract to play center field for the Tribe.

Cleveland put their money where their mouth was this offseason and the money went to the signing of Swisher and Bourn, a combined $104 million investment. In the offseason, Indians owner Paul Dolan sold SportsTime Ohio. A coincidence? I think not.

Here are the expected starters at each outfield position:

Michael Brantley is hoping to build off his success in 2012.

Michael Brantley is hoping to build off his success in 2012.

Left Field: Michael Brantley – Brantley was banged up a bit last year, but still had a very solid season. Brantley hit .288 with 37 doubles and six homers. The 25-year old also drove in 60 runs with 12 steals. His average was second among AL center fielders with 500 or more plate appearances. Brantley was a very good defender, committing just one error all season. He will make the move from center to left field to accommodate Bourn, a move that shouldn’t change his defensive numbers too much.

Center Field: Michael Bourn – Bourn possesses speed and defensive ability that will remind Indians fans of Kenny Lofton. Since 2008, he leads all Major Leaguers with 257 stolen bases and is second in bunt hits and infield hits. His stolen base numbers are 55 more than the player in second over that span. Bourn is a two-time All-Star (2010, 2012) and a two-time Gold Glove winner (2009, 2010). The lefty hit .274 last year with Atlanta with 57 RBIs and 9 home runs. Bourn doubled 26 times and tripled 10 times to go along with 42 stolen bases.

Right Field: Drew Stubbs – Stubbs comes over from Cincinnati where he was never able to translate his speed and defensive ability to consistent offensive success. The 28-year old hit .213 with 13 doubles, 14 homers, 40 RBIs and 30 steals last year. Stubbs is lightning quick on the base paths and an excellent defender, holding .982 fielding percentage last year. He was fourth among National League center fielders in runs with 75. Stubbs has never played right field and there should be a slight adjustment period.

Drew Stubbs will help make the Indians the best defensive outfield in baseball. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Drew Stubbs will help make the Indians the best defensive outfield in baseball. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Backup: Ryan Raburn – Raburn had a solid 2011 season with Detroit, hitting .256 with 14 homers and 49 RBI in 121 games. However, he went into a long slump in 2012, hitting .171 with one home run in 66 games and got the boot from the Tigers. The Indians signed Raburn this offseason and the utility man was fantastic in Spring Training. Raburn hit .341 in 44 at bats with a team-high five homers and 12 RBIs. Raburn is primarily an infielder, but can play some outfield and is the only bench player capable.

Nick Swisher will also back up in the outfield and move to right field when someone needs a day off and Santana or Reynolds can go over to first base, but more on that in the Infield preview.

Bottom Line: This is a much-improved trio from last year. The Choo loss hurts Cleveland, but Bourn will fill Choo’s role as lead off hitter. The Indians won’t have to worry about left field as much this year with Brantley taking over. The Indians will feature three center fielders in one outfield and could possibly be the best defensive outfield in baseball. As noted in earlier blogs, that is a welcome sight to the Indians poor starting pitching. The x-factor for the Tribe in the outfield will be the offense of Drew Stubbs. If Stubbs can produce at the plate, the Indians will be very good one through nine. This is a pretty young outfield, but a very talented one.

Prediction: This will be the best defensive outfield in baseball. Bourn wins a gold glove and gets to the All-Star game and Brantley and Stubbs have fantastic seasons defensively in right and left. The outfield combines for under 10 errors. Offensively, Bourn continues to succeed and provides an excellent leadoff hitter for Cleveland. Bourn and Stubbs combine for 70 stolen bases. A healthier Brantley continues his success from 2012 and hits very well at fifth or sixth in the lineup. The hope for the Indians is that Stubbs can at least hit .250 and show some power. Stubbs hit 22 home runs in 2010 and Cleveland would love for him to hit 15+. Stubbs may be the weaker of the three outfielders, but he is a much needed upgrade from the carousel that was Johnny Damon, Shelley Duncan and Aaron Cunningham. The outfield should make the Indians incredibly entertaining to watch in 2013.

2013 Indians Preview: Bullpen

For the last two seasons the strength of the Tribe has been the bullpen. 2013 should be no different for the Bullpen Mafia.

However, the Cleveland bullpen saw a rise in ERA last year to 3.99, second-highest in the league. This was mainly due to a poor starting rotation leading to overworked relievers. The Indians bullpen worked 528.1 innings, which was fourth-most in the American League.

The 2012 Cleveland Bullpen was 20-18 with 43 saves, sixth in the league. The Tribe featured a 77 percent save percentage and allowed the second most earned runs with 234.

In the offseason, GM Chris Antonetti acquired Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw to help bolster the pen in the Shin-Soo Choo deal that also netted Cleveland Trevor Bauer.

Chris Perez has saved 75 of 83 opportunities over the last two years.

Chris Perez has saved 75 of 83 opportunities over the last two years.

The Bullpen Mafia, however, will have some other new faces. In the same deal, the Tribe also sent lefty Tony Sipp to the Diamonbacks after Rafael Perez was non-tendered due to injury problems. The Tribe also sent hard-throwing righty Esmil Rogers to Toronto for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes.

Closer Chris Perez returns with the Tribe after an offseason of turmoil and trade rumors. The righty has been fantastic for Cleveland over two years. Despite an 0-4 record and 3.59 ERA last year, the two-time All-Star still saved 39 games in 43 chances. Over the last two seasons Perez has closed the door 75 of 83 opportunities. Despite a shoulder injury early in camp, Perez should be back on the mound for Cleveland on Opening Day.

Vinnie Pestano will once again fill the setup role for the Tribe bullpen. The 27-year old pitched in the World Baseball Classic with the United States and is coming off a 3-3, 2.57 ERA year in which he saved two games. The setup man certainly fulfilled his responsibilities, tallying 36 holds to set a club record and finish second in the American League.

If you could call the back end of the Cleveland bullpen a three-headed monster, Joe Smith would be the third and final head. The side-arming right-hander was 7-4 with a 2.96 ERA last season and had 21 holds. He was second in the league with seven relief victories. Smith is a vital piece to the Cleveland bullpen, holding lefties to a .218 batting average and righties to .209.

Matt Albers is one of a handful of new faces in the Bullpen Mafia.

Matt Albers is one of a handful of new faces in the Bullpen Mafia.

Right-handers Albers and Shaw will replace Sipp and Rogers in the slightly new look Bullpen Mafia. Albers was 3-1 with a 2.39 ERA in 63 appearances last season with Boston and Arizona. The 30-year old will appear mostly in middle relief and against lefties (.207).

Bryan Shaw has spent his entire career in Arizona and was 1-6 with a 3.49 ERA in 64 appearances with the Diamondbacks last year. Shaw relies on a fastball and a cutter and appeared mainly as a seventh or eighth inning reliever. Shaw was great against right handed hitters(.211), but really struggled against lefties, who hit .333 against him.

Youngster Cody Allen will start in the bullpen in his first full year in the bigs. Allen was 0-1 with a 3.72 ERA in 27 appearances with Cleveland last year. He spent time at all three minor league levels and the big leagues last season. Allen struck out 27 in 31 innings with the Indians as a September call-up last year.

Lefty Nick Hagadone returns to the Tribe pen after finishing last season in the big leagues. 6-5 Hagadone started last year in AAA, but finished in Cleveland going 1-0 with a 6.39 ERA in 27 appearances. Indians fans didn’t get to see much of Hagadone though, as he injured his wrist midway through the year and didn’t see action for the rest of the season.

Lefty Nick Hagadone hopes to make an impression after miss half of 2012 with injury.

Lefty Nick Hagadone hopes to make an impression after miss half of 2012 with injury.

Rounding out the Cleveland bullpen is newcomer Rich Hill. Hill is a 33-year old left-handed hurler who spent last season in the Boston pen. Hill only appeared in 25 games, holding a 1.83 ERA and a 1-0 record. Hill has dealt with injury problems over the last few season as he had Tommy John surgery in May of 2011.

Bottom line: Like all bullpens, the Indians will need some slight assistance from the starting rotation to keep their workload down. Last season the Tribe bullpen struggled due to short outings from the starters. As with the starters, the bolstered Cleveland defense is a welcome sight to the relief. Despite the late season struggles, the Cleveland bullpen is still one of the best in baseball with Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez headlining.

Prediction: The Tribe bullpen continues to perform as one of the best in baseball. Chris Perez comes out fired up after the debacles of last year and the offseason rumors and tallies just over 40 saves. Perez is one of the best closers in baseball and garners another All-Star appearance. If setup men could get All-Star appearances, Vinnie Pestano would be at the top of the list. Pestano continues to be lights out in the eighth inning and holds over 35 games again. A young Cody Allen turns a lot of heads in the bullpen and projects to be part of the back end. As a bullpen, the Tribe’s ERA drops to 3.70 as the starting pitching improves to help cut the bullpen workload.