No team in the AL Central remade themselves more than the Cleveland Indians over the last few months. Will it pay off and lead to the Tribe’s first playoff appearance since 2007?
The Indians played above their heads for the first of the season, sitting at 44-41 at the All-Star break -- a half-game better than eventual division champion Detroit. The pitching wasn’t particularly good, sporting a 4.50 ERA and baseball’s sixth-worst staff FIP. A good record in one-run games coupled with a decent offense aided their success, too.
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But everything fell apart in the second half, as the Tribe went 24-53 after the All-Star break. A 5-24 August record propelled Cleveland to the bottom of the standings, with their 68-94 record standing ahead of only Minnesota in the AL. Manager Manny Acta was fired after the season, and the remodeling began.
DH Travis Hafner, 1B Casey Kotchman, 3B Jack Hannahan, OF Shin-Soo Choo, LHP Tony Sipp, manager Manny Acta
Hafner was a huge key for Cleveland’s renaissance (2005-2007) and downfall (2008-present), although he hasn’t played a full season since 2007 and only topped 15 home runs once over the last five seasons. Choo was one of baseball’s more underrated outfielders in 2009 and 2010, but tailed off in 2011 before rebounding nicely in 2012.
Kotchman and Hannahan both started a majority of Cleveland’s games at first and third base last year, while Sipp has had an up-and-down career out of the Indians’ bullpen.
RHP Brett Myers, RHP Bryan Shaw, RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, OF Drew Stubbs, DH Jason Giambi, 3B Mark Reynolds, RHP Matt Albers, RHP Matt Capps, OF Michael Bourn, SS Mike Aviles, OF Nick Swisher, LHP Scott Kazmir, LHP Trevor Bauer, UT Yan Gomes, manager Terry Francona
Bourn and Swisher will combine to cost Cleveland over $100 million through 2017, but both are impact signings who dramatically improve the Indians’ lineup. Reynolds, who hit 23 home runs in 2012, provides some power while Stubbs plays plus defense with good speed.
Myers, who pitched out of the White Sox bullpen for a few months in 2012, will start for the Indians. Kazmir, who's only pitched one game in the majors since 2010, won a spot in Cleveland's rotation. Matsuzaka will be stashed in the minor leagues along with Bauer, who Baseball America rated as the No. 14 prospect in the game.
Francona will return to manage after spending 2012 in the broadcast booth, and brings a winning pedigree to the Indians’ dugout.
Adding Bourn, Reynolds and Swisher to an offensive mix that already includes Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley should provide plenty of offense, but the central question here regards Cleveland’s pitching.
Justin Masterson took a step back last year after posting a career-best 3.21 ERA in 2011. Ubaldo Jimenez has a 5.32 ERA since his trade to Cleveland midway through the 2011 season. Those two pitchers, though, will be counted on to top the Indians' rotation, although there are a few wild cards in the mix.
If Bauer can come up sometime during the season and succeed -- something he didn't do in limited time with Arizona -- it'll add a major boost to Cleveland's rotation. While Kazmir has a 5.54 ERA over his last 55 starts dating back to 2009, he won a spot in the Indians' rotation and perhaps there's a rebound season in the works. Matsuzaka isn't back to normal, but had a decent track record prior to 2012.
The Indians' season may rest on how some combination of Masterson, Jimenez, Bauer, Kazmir, Matsuzaka and Zach McAllister pitch. That's not exactly a safe situation to be in, but it's where Cleveland is heading into Opening Day.