Playing Pepper 2017: Cleveland Indians

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Cleveland Indians
94-67, first in AL Central, lost in World Series
Last year’s Pepper

So, SO close.

A 3-1 lead in the World Series, with Corey Kluber available for a final game.  An eighth-inning rally in Game 7 that tied things up.  So many chances for Cleveland to end their own long championship drought and keep Chicago’s ticking along.  (And a TON of Cardinal fans rooting desperately that they would.)  Instead, the Indians replace the Cubs as the team that has gone the longest since it last held the trophy.

Shaking off last year has to be tough, but we’ve got a couple of veteran bloggers to talk about 2017 and how it can hopefully end the same way Chicago’s did last year–with a weight off everyone’s shoulders.

Blogger Blog Twitter Podcast
Steven Kubitza Wahoo's On First StevenKubitza
Nino Colla The Tribe Daily SnarkyNino

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

WOF: This may be one of the most memorable offseasons in a long time, although we won’t know how great it really was until the season is over. But on paper, and based on hype, it was amazing. The addition of Edwin Encarnacion stands out as the best move, as the Indians finally opened up the funds to land a star. Adding him meant the loss of Mike Napoli, but getting Encarnacion should serve as a major upgrade.

The other great move was signing Boone Logan, who should be able to alleviate some of the stress off Andrew Miller. Miller is no longer the only dominant lefty in the bullpen, and Logan can even be used in situations where only one batter needs retired.

There wasn’t one move not made that stands out, as the Indians got a right-handed power bat and a left-handed reliever. These were two major needs, and both were accomplished before the season.

TD: Ha yeah, I’d say so. I always think it’s a good offseason though because the Indians are never big spenders and don’t need to be. They always seem to fly under the radar and make sly pick-ups and work within their blueprint and financial climate. This offseason though? Coming off a run that took them to Game 7 of the World Series, with a feeling that this team can perhaps do it all again and this time win it for the next few years, Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff got the go-ahead to spend a little more. So they did, and that’s half of how Edwin Encarnacion was able to happen. Encarnacion helps fill the 1B/DH combo with Carlos Santana, but what I think he really is is Michael Brantley insurance. There’s an air of uncertainty surrounding Brantley’s season with no one really knowing what to expect from him and if they can even count on him to be healthy, let alone a productive bat. The Indians could have just brought back Mike Napoli and been fine if Brantley was going to be around, but without that certainty, I think it pushed them to go in on Edwin and if Brantley is ready to go, it’s all a bonus. Thing is though, with Encarnacion, it really is a “go for it all” move because the Indians are not really in a position to spend that kind of money at all, let alone on one person. They really need it to pay off and result in some much needed fan support, or else it could hurt them down the road financially.

So yeah, I think they generally needed to do what was called for. They also added another lefty in the bullpen in Boone Logan and to have another option if Brantley can’t go, they picked up buy-low candidate Austin Jackson. That by all means isn’t a solution, but rather much needed depth just in case. The ultimate slam dunk move would have been acquiring a full-time center fielder, but the team must feel good about Tyler Naquin figuring out his issue with fastballs and tightening up his defense to pair with Abraham Almonte (who has now served all his suspension time, postseason included). This was a pretty solid offseason for a team that didn’t need to make many moves and didn’t.

C70: Has it been tough thinking about how close the team came last year?

WOF: Oh, it is painful to think about it at times. But Cleveland Indians fans are used to these types of feelings, and the hopes of a return to the World Series are keeping spirits high in 2017. Cleveland sports fans are great with moving on from particularly tough events, and there really isn’t too much to be sad about when it comes to last season. The team made it farther than expected, and nearly won a World Series without a star player in Michael Brantley and two starting pitchers in Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.

While losing hurt, there are still so many great moments to look back on and smile. I frequently watch Rajai Davis‘ Game 7-tying home run, and it is hard not to get goosebumps. Just knowing that this team improved in the offseason and should provide more magical moments helps keep the negative emotions in check for now.

TD: ​I think about it every day. I still hurt. ​This is my team, really the only team I live and die with. Walking back to my car after Game 7 in Cleveland was a memory I’ll never forget, but I want to. It is that painful as a sports fan. What provides some sunshine through the clouds though is that this team is really really good and they’re getting back a cavalcade of important pieces that were missing or went missing during that improbable run last October. Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, Yan Gomes, Almonte, and potentially Michael Brantley were not factors last year in the playoffs. So that makes it a little bit better thinking about the team that went on that run being joined by those guys, in addition to Encarnacion. Half the battle is getting to the postseason and once you get there, as the Indians showed last year, variance can work in your favor and you gotta have some luck. This team has the ability to get there and the odds are supremely in their favor, so, as hurtful as it is to think of last year, I just try and focus all my thoughts to the positivity of doing it all again this year, only a little bit differently. 

C70: Corey Kluber was a force in the playoffs. Is there any concern that those extra innings are going to affect him in the coming year?

WOF: I don’t think so. He’s been a number one guy in the rotation for several years, frequently making it late into games. Given he took care of his body in the offseason, and got some rest, this should be a non-issue in 2017. I think there is often worries of these types expressed by fans, but professional athletes know their bodies well. And MLB pitchers have the most watched after arms in the world. So no one should worry about Kluber.

TD: Absolutely, which is why the Indians and Kluber have decided to take it easy this spring. He worked a ton of innings and a lot of high-leverage pressure situations. He was absolutely gassed by Game 7. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Indians even backed off early in the year with him a little. With as deep as their rotation is and how many options they have with a few guys like Mike Clevinger and Ryan Merritt now being relegated back to supportive pieces rather than rotation fixtures, you’ll probably see Tito opt not to skip his fifth starter. With Kluber, and really the entire rotation, it’s about being healthy and ready to go for the final stretch and any avenue they can take to make sure both he and the rest of that full-rotation make it there, the Indians will likely explore. Again, no Salazar, no Carrasco, and a finger-maimed Trevor Bauer forced the Indians into a position of dire straights after being in a favorable position of depth. We may be talking about a different outcome if just one of those guys was around in the World Series and that obviously needs to be the goal this year.​

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

WOF: He is not unheralded to Indians fans, but Brandon Guyer is a player who could have a major impact on the team’s success in 2017. He came to Cleveland after the All-Star break last season, and helped fill in the vacancy in the outfield left by the absent Brantley, and the suspended Marlon Byrd.

Guyer is known for his dominance against left-handed pitching, which was made evident when he roped a double off Aroldis Chapman before Rajai Davis hit that memorable home run. And with Michael Brantley’s return still in question, Guyer may be seeing regular time in left field to begin the season.

The loss of both Coco Crisp and Davis open up some more room in the outfield, and Guyer proved in his short time with the team last season that he is more than capable of being a regular fixture in the lineup.

TD: Okay so, last year, in a similar question​ I just gushed about Jose Ramirez and I’m so happy to have seen that come to fruition. He is that unheralded player that you better continue to watch. The GOAT filled in last year in left field when he had no prior experience and the Indians were thinned out in the outfield with Brantley out and Almonte suspended. He filled that utility role and then became the starting third baseman. Ramirez will likely be the regular third baseman again because he needs to play every day, but he is the team’s swagger. If Francisco Lindor is the spark plug, Ramirez is their engine. He makes it all go and it was really Ramirez’s offense that made up for the lack of Michael Brantley offensively.

But enough gushing, because there’s another guy who won’t get a lot of pub that deserves it. Everyone talks about Andrew Miller being the ace acquisition at the trade deadline last year and because of his big hits, Coco Crisp also got a lot of attention. But perhaps the most cunning move the Indians made was to grab lefty-crasher Brandon Guyer. There’s talk that Guyer could see some time in center if need be, but he’s been the much needed starter against left-handed pitching to match Lonnie Chisenhall in right field. He also had some big hits last season and is just a really solid hand. The Indians notched an extension with him, really like him and may even feature him a little more this season than just against lefties. He’s quietly one of the important pieces this team has.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

WOF: The Indians are going to go 100-62 and win the division. This is not solely based on my homer views, but on the fact that the rest of the AL Central has seemed to take steps backward while the Indians moved forward. They are also the defending AL champions, so there is no reason why the team can’t repeat their success in 2017, especially with everyone healthy. This team should be the favorite to at least make to the World Series, if not to win it all.

TD: Both Chicago with the trade of Chris Sale and Detroit with the trade of Cameron Maybin look to be more on the re-tooling side than the rebuilding side, but both moves signal a little bit of immediate regression for both if you ask me. Kansas City still wants to go full-bore into it, but I’ll maintain they don’t have the horses to keep up with the Tribe pitching wise. And uh, yeah Minnesota is there but, they still need some time to get a little more older. The Tribe is the class of the division. They have to have strong odds in their favor of taking the division. I can’t see them not winning it unless something goes catastrophically wrong or one of those other teams figures out a way to play out of their mind. A full and healthy rotation, a solid lineup top-to-bottom, the necessary pieces for a stout bullpen, and above average defense up the middle is a lot for those other teams to overcome and a lot of safe-measures in place for the Indians to be successful this year.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Indian and why?

WOF: That is a tough question, but I have to go with Manny Ramirez. I know a lot of people got annoyed with him, but I just like his attitude about the game of baseball. It was clear that he had fun playing the game, and his success all over the league made it easy to like him. He obviously only began his career in Cleveland, but his time here made me a lifelong fan.

A close second is Omar Vizquel, as I wore the #13 all throughout my youth sports career. I could never master the jump throw from short to first, but I certainly tried.

TD: Yeah so, I’m going to get laughed at for this, but I’m used to it by now. Little known outfielder and rightful 2003 American League Rookie of the Year Jody Gerut is my favorite all-time Cleveland Indians. Wait a second, you’re probably sitting there like, “Nino, you grew up in the ’90s with Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, and Sandy Alomar Jr. You also have a late 00 run with guys like Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Victor Martinez. Hell, it’s not even a bad thing to go current with budding superstars Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, or a guy like Corey Kluber. And your favorite Indian in their entire history is…Jody Gerut?”

Yep. So, when the Indians tore down that 90’s machine and started to rebuild from the ground up under Mark Shaprio, they had some really bad teams. Like the early 00’s was a real painful experience and it was the time that I started to really become a fan of the team. My dad and I went to multiple games a year because he had season tickets. Everyone left, they were done. The Browns were back and the team had nothing left that anyone cared about. So, we were like, two of 20 fans at some real painful games. And Jody Gerut was my dude. He had two really good years in 2003 and 2004 and after that sort of fell off, got traded, and went around until he retired and became a financial adviser to players. But Gerut was sort of that glimmer of hope as I would sit in right field. He was the beacon of hope that a young fan like me needed as he watched a team rebuild to what we all hoped would be a championship contender. I really enjoyed guys like Hafner and watching a guy like Sizemore give his body up as the team started to turn a corner. But Gerut for me represents a much more grittier time of being an Indians fan. A time when no one wanted to be one. He’s also a really super good guy and the kind of person you like to root for. So there’s that. And that’s why I like Jody Gerut more than Omar Vizquel. Yes, I’m a weirdo.

I appreciate Nino (an old Pepper veteran) and Steven (making his Pepper debut) letting us know a little more about the team that looks to be in the hunt for another World Series in 2017!

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