Cleveland Baseball Weekly: A look at the Tribe before opening day

Jim Piascik

The complete overhaul of the Cleveland Indians this offseason has wildly changed the expectations for the team in 2013. Heading into the winter, I was preparing for another rebuilding of the team and another 90 losses. Now, under the guidance of new manager Terry Francona, the team is expecting to contend in the American League Central. What a difference a few months can make.

The Starting Lineup

1. Michael Bourn, CF

2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS

3. Jason Kipnis, 2B

4. Nick Swisher, 1B

5. Michael Brantley, LF

6. Carlos Santana, C

7. Mark Reynolds, DH

8. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B

9. Drew Stubbs, RF

Last year’s nightmare of Casey Kotchman, Johnny Damon and Jack Hannahan is long over. After signing Bourn, Swisher and Reynolds on the free agent market and acquiring Stubbs in a trade, the lineup has depth and is dangerous from top to bottom.

Santana led the team in 2012 with 18 home runs; seven players could approach or pass that this season. Only three players had more than 10 steals last year; there is talk that the team could steal 200 bases in 2013.

No matter how you look at it, this lineup is significantly better than it was last year. The willingness of ownership to spend the extra money to sign Bourn and Swisher, two of the top free agents on the market, has changed the entire culture of the team. That, combined with the likely growth of young players like Kipnis, Cabrera, Brantley and Chisenhall, could make 2013 special.

The Bench

UTIL Mike Aviles, UTIL Ryan Raburn, C Lou Marson, DH/1B Jason Giambi

A byproduct of last year’s lack of starting options in the lineup was a weak bench that made life difficult for former manager Manny Acta. The presence of the versatile Aviles should solve much of that problem, as he could start for many other teams.

Giambi may be mostly washed up as a player, but he has garnered rave reviews for his clubhouse presence from coaches and players. He likely won’t play much, but after the team collapsed last August, adding a player who can serve as a mentor to the young players cannot hurt.

The Bullpen

RHP Chris Perez, RHP Vinnie Pestano, RHP Joe Smith, RHP Cody Allen, LHP Nick Hagadone, RHP Bryan Shaw, RHP Matt Albers, LHP Rich Hill

The bullpen may not have many names that standout, but the unit is quite deep and should do well in 2013. Perez stuck around despite badmouthing ownership, the front office, fans and everyone else in Cleveland and should continue to pitch effectively as the team’s closer. Pestano remains the closer-in-waiting and one of the best setup men in baseball, and rookies Allen and Hagadone should establish themselves as reliable options by mid-season.

There may be a few hiccups along the way, but the bullpen should not be a real worry for fans in 2013. When the relievers take the mound, Progressive Field should be safe. That stands in contrast, however, to the pitchers taking the ball to start games.

The Starting Rotation

RHP Justin Masterson, RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP Brett Myers, RHP Zach McAllister, LHP Scott Kazmir

Now we reach the Achilles’ heel of the team. Last year’s rotation was anchored by Masterson and Jimenez and imploded, bringing the team down with it. This year’s rotation has a few new additions in Myers and Kazmir, but their contributions will likely be minimal. The 2013 season in Cleveland will come down to Masterson and Jimenez and if they can turn things around.

If Masterson and Jimenez combine for a 5.15 ERA again in 2013, then the team will be destined for mediocrity at best. There simply is not enough starting pitching on this team to make the playoffs without those two pitching well at the top of the rotation.

However, if Masterson pitches like he did in 2011 (3.21 ERA, 4.3 WAR) and Jimenez gets anywhere near his 2010 campaign (2.88 ERA, 6.5 WAR), then the sky is the limit for this team. The rest of the team is solid; Masterson and Jimenez will, in large part, decide whether the team wins 75 games or 90.

Contact Jim Piascik at [email protected].