Photo Credit: TripSavvy
It’s baseball season.
After waiting five months and 20 days since getting beating soundly at home by the Houston Astros, ending the 2018 season (the less said the better), baseball returns, and as a Tribe fan, I am always excited. That said, this was an interesting offseason of cutting payroll, and owner Paul Dolan angered much of the fanbase earlier this week, saying the team won’t be able to spend to keep Francisco Lindor after his contract expires. For Dolan, I do not understand why he would say that, especially from a PR perspective.
With those remarks out of the way and the season opening up in Minnesota let’s take a look at the Opening Day roster.
Trevor Bauer – Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated
This is the strength of the Indians’ roster and I would expect will be near the top of the majors during the season. Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, and Shane Bieber will be expected to give opposing hitters trouble on a nightly basis. The first four of these pitchers each had over 200 strikeouts in 2018 and of the four, Carrasco had the highest ERA, but still a solid 3.38. Beyond the opening rotation, I am interested to see if players such as Triston McKenzie and Adam Plutko take the next step and get some quality starts in the majors this year. The aforementioned McKenzie strained his back in spring training and is shut down for a few more weeks. Having strong starting pitching will be the biggest factor in the Indians’ push for a 4th-straight division title.
Dan Otero – Photo Credit: Cleveland.com
The 2018 edition of the bullpen was the biggest weakness throughout the year. I attended the July 10th game when Cody Allen and Dan Otero combined to give up seven runs in the 9th inning, resulting in a 7-4 loss against Cincinnati. Fan favorite Andrew Miller and Allen were both lost in the offseason to the Cardinals and Angels, respectively. To replace Allen as closer will be Brad Hand, acquired from San Diego in exchange for top prospect Francisco Mejia at last year’s deadline. Adam Cimber, Otero, Tyler Olson, Oliver Perez, and Neil Ramirez all return from last year. Perez most notably had a 1.39 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 51 games last season. Jon Edwards rounds out the bullpen to start the season.
Kevin Plawecki Acquired January 6th from Mets – Photo Credit: PressFrom (UK)
After long-time catcher, Yan Gomes was traded to the Nationals in November (this one puzzles me a bit), Roberto Perez and Kevin Plawecki are the duo to start the season. Plawecki was acquired from the Mets on January 6th and hit just .210 last season after a .260 season in 2017. Perez has hit below the Mendoza line (sub-.200) two of the last three seasons. Hitting may be a crucial question as the season unfolds if neither Plawecki or Perez manage to put up improved numbers. Gomes, on the other hand, is coming off a .266 season, the third-best of his career, making the unexpected decision to trade him a strange one. Behind the plate, Perez threw out 25 percent of runners (9-for-36) while Plawecki threw out 23 percent (16-for-70). For comparison, Martin Maldonado of the Angels and Astros threw out 48.6 percent of attempted base-stealers in 2018 to lead the majors. Gomes threw out 29 percent last season.
Francisco Lindor (left) and Jose Ramirez (right) – Photo Credit: Cleveland.com
The main story going into the season for the infield is the injuries to would-be starters. Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis will both be sidelined for Opening Day due to injury, and Lindor just injured his ankle while on rehab for an injured calf. Jose Ramirez was hurt after fouling a ball off his knee on Sunday, but appears to be okay to start the season. Reacquiring Carlos Santana and signing Hanley Ramirez to a minor-league contract could give the Tribe some power in the lineup. Lindor and Jose Ramirez should be near the top of the AL in batting this year and could be potential MVP candidates. Eric Stamets, Max Moroff, and Brad Miller will all be on the Opening Day roster, but all three may be sent to triple-A once Lindor and Kipnis return.
Leonys Martin – Photo Credit: Yahoo! Sports
Like Lindor and Kipnis, center fielder Bradley Zimmer will be starting the season on the injured list. The five on the roster to begin the year are Greg Allen, Tyler Naquin, Leonys Martin and new acquisitions Jake Bauers and Jordan Luplow. Martin’s return to the game comes after a severe stomach illness forced him to end baseball activities in 2018. Bauers and Luplow have not lit up the stat sheet so far, batting .201 and .194, respectively in short stints in the big leagues. The loss of Michael Brantley to the Astros hurt the most, in the fact that he was the Indians’ most consistent hitter last season and he was a fan favorite. The outfield appears to be a big weakness for the Tribe with both inexperience and poor overall numbers. We should expect different starters in the outfield on a game-to-game basis, especially to start the season.
As a fan, I would like to think the Indians will comfortably walk into the playoffs and make a deep run. However, the offseason was a head-scratcher in terms of losing some much-needed talent and there are questions to be answered, especially for the bullpen and outfield. Nonetheless, the starting pitching still looks strong as ever, and the infield has a strong mix of power and speed (Ramirez and Lindor were top 10 in the AL for stolen bases in 2018).
The AL Central will not be as weak as last year, albeit still not great. I think Minnesota could give the Indians a challenge while also competing for a wild card spot. However, I do not see the Indians losing the Central this year.
Prediction: 90-72 – 1st in AL Central, winning by 3 games over Minnesota.