Are the Indians Actually in Trouble after a Slow Offseason?
The Tribe are never a team to real in big name free agents, Edwin Encarnacion was an aberration to that statement, but this offseason was oddly slow for the money-stricken Indians. After losing Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce, Bryan Shaw, and Joe Smith, panic ensued as doubt was cast upon the organization while fans watched the Yankees and Astros add to their already impressive rosters. Many feel like the Indians are no longer among the top teams and wonder if the additions are enough to overcome the free agent losses. So should we worry? In short, no. This roster is absolutely stacked and the production lost is easily picked back up through a few different in house and outside additions. With Tito back at the helm and a bulk of the core back here are the reasons why the Indians still have the ability to get to the promise land.
1. There is a lot Coming Back for Another Run
Fans have tended to freak out about the losses the Tribe have endured this winter but fail to look at the superstars that are coming back. First and foremost, the starting rotation remains in place led by the reigning Cy Young Award Winner Corey Kluber. Kluber is followed two other 17+ game winners who are aces in their own right, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco. The lineup is still feared throughout the Major Leagues boasting names like Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Edwin Encarnacion. Lastly two of the best relievers in the game in Cody Allen and Andrew Miller are anchoring the backend of the bullpen, and everything is still in the hands of Tito Francona. This team is not short on star power.
2. Healthy and Productive (fingers-crossed) Seasons from Two Mainstays
Both Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis were riddled with injuries last year which led to a rough one. Kipnis is just one year removed from batting .275 with 23 homers and 80 runs batted in. If the first bit of Spring Training provides any indication for Kipnis this year, the Tribe are in for a pleasant surprise as he has hit 6 home runs in as many games. Brantley has been in Cleveland for what seems like forever now and is in the last year of his contract, which is motivation in itself. He will have the full-time left field job and plenty of at bats to produce. Some fans have written off these two but both are beyond capable players who can boost the offense to even greater heights.
3. Production Lost was a Tad Overstated
Carlos Santana was Cleveland royalty as he has been around for so long, naturally people fell in love with him and were heartbroken to see him leave. On the flip side, Santana only had 23 homers and 79 RBIs, numbers that are not worth 20 million dollars a year. Bryan Shaw was a workhorse in his tenure with the Tribe and that reliable arm will be missed, but his appearances can be spread out amongst other which I'll get too, and his 3.52 ERA was nothing special. Jay Bruce was a nice power bat to have but the Indians were one of the best teams in baseball without him, and the same goes for Joe Smith who only provided 18 innings on the year. Don't get me wrong, these guys will be missed, but the production they add may have been a little over romanticized because of the inactivity of the Tribe throughout the winter.
4. In House and Offseason Acquisition Replacements
The Indians, contrary to popular belief, do have some natural replacements to their vacancies. Yonder Alonso was signed promptly to replace Santana, and between the Mariners and Athletics last year he had similar numbers. Alonso had 12 less RBIs but that was due to the fact that in his first 4 months of the season, the Athletics did not provide him with many baserunners to drive in. Chisenhall and Guyer provide a nice platoon for right field with the occasional appearance of Rajai Davis. Lastly, the Indians still have plenty of bullpen depth after Miller and Allen. Tyler Olson did not give a run in 20 innings last season and Nick Goody, Zach McAllister, and Dan Otero all turned in sub-3.00 ERA seasons. With Shaw and Smith's appearances naturally spread out amongst more than capable relievers, the bullpen will once again be dominant. There's plenty of reason for optimism as the roster is filled with productive players top to bottom.
5. The Central Division is Putrid
The ability to make and succeed in the Postseason is always easier when your competition is subpar. The Indians are in position to breeze through the Central Division relatively easily. The White sox are one of the worst five teams in baseball and will most likely finish 3rd in the Central. The only team that can be considered a threat is the Minnesota Twins, and barring a last minute offseason acquisition, they will be no where near the Indians level. The Tribe should dominate the division this year and in winning the division, they will avoid the dreaded Wild Card Game and head straight to the Divisional Series. Hopefully dominating the Central all year will give them enough boost to get the #1 seed in the American League and avoid likely division winners the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees. No need to worry folks, the Tribe will be back and ready for another eventful season with a loaded roster.