Every year since 2009, I’ve spent some time before the season starts trying to find out what fanbases are thinking about their team. It’s so easy to get myopic, especially with Twitter, so it’s a good chance for us (and by us, I mean me) to take a step back and remember there are 29 other Major League Baseball teams. We’ve got current bloggers, former bloggers that indulge me still, and this year a few media folks chiming in as well. Get out the bat, ball, and glove: it’s time once again to play some pepper.
It’s probably not fair to ding Cleveland too much for the division it is in. After all, they did win 91 games, even if many of them came against the divisional foes that didn’t quite measure up to average. With their second straight loss in the Divisional Series, there’s got to be some discussion about how good this team really is. We’ve got a couple of folks today to let us know about all things Cleveland!
C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? What was good, what was bad, what else should they have done?
Steven: The Indians didn’t do anything to drastically improve. At the same time the team didn’t get that much worse either. The one move I don’t like is trading Yan Gomes as it seemed to be for salary reasons. Yet it’s not like they traded Jose Ramirez or something crazy like that. Some fans have high expectations every offseason, but the Indians have shown that they won’t hand out major contracts like the ones given to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Such a thing may prevent the team from keeping Francisco Lindor long-term. It is also possible that the team is saving up to retain him.
The Indians need help in the bullpen the most. The strategy this year, as has been the case in the past, seems to be to plug in guys at the start of the year and make a trade for help closer to the trade deadline. This was the case last year when Brad Hand and Adam Cimber came to town. Waiting until July is likely the strategy with getting help elsewhere on the roster as well. It is cheaper and allows the front office to trade for talent that is having an “up” year. If I had to offer up a grade I would give a “B.” The team maybe got a little worse on paper, but should still coast to another division title.
Nino: How do they usually say it? It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good. Is that how it goes? Far and away the most important move they made was bringing back Carlos Santana into the fold. From a ton of different perspectives, clubhouse presence, overall fit offensively/defensively, contract-wise, and just overall fan appreciation, there was no better move to make. Swapping out Edwin Encarnacion and righting the wrong of not ever being able to keep Santana in the first place was such a great move for the Indians to be able to make. And I think other pieces like Jake Bauers are intriguing and could end up being important to the Indians success. But there were some underwhelming passiveness from the Indians in pursuing some options, as well as addressing the bullpen. You knew Andrew Miller and Cody Allen would walk, and other pieces like Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall didn’t make sense to bring back with the deals they would get. But given their resources, you have to wonder why they didn’t try and make a bigger splash in addressing their reliever depth and outfield options. It wasn’t excellent, but it was by no means a bad offseason. The late-minute add of Carlos Gonzalez is fun and interesting, but by no means a definitive answer.
Steven: I would be surprised if the team got close to trading either of them. Yet I see this as the front office doing its due diligence to see if any team would make an offer that the Indians had to take. One could make a case to trade both Kluber and Bauer, even if it would enrage fans.
Bauer has made it clear he only wants to sign one-year deals throughout his career, so he will be a trade option for the rest of his time in Cleveland. As for Kluber, the team may move him as soon as he shows signs of decline. The problem is that the team needs to keep as much talent as possible in order to try to win a World Series for the first time since 1948. If that happens, then the team can make all the trades they want.
Nino: I don’t think they necessarily had them “on the trade block” as they were so much looking for ways to create some salary space to make changes to the team, and also give them some breathing room in case they need to make a mid-season deal, which they did. And they did it without having to move those guys, which is a big plus. Personally, I think Kluber is probably on the other side of his prime and if you could get a deal that brought an immediate influx of talent to the team, it is one you would have to pull the trigger on. They didn’t get that though and those deals are probably not out there, which is why he wasn’t dealt. I also truly think they would rather keep Bauer and their primary option was to deal Edwin, which they did, and it kind of made all the “Bauer and Kluber are up for grabs” talk moot.
C70: Who will have the better overall season, Francisco Lindor or Jose Ramirez?
Steven: Can I say it will be a tie?
These two have such similar numbers but I will go with Francisco Lindor. This will only be his fourth full season in the major and he has only gotten better as time goes on. He had new highs in home runs, RBI, stolen bases, walks, OPS, and hits in 2018. I only expect him to continue to get better and set new high marks this season. The same is true for Jose Ramirez, but like I said it is basically a tie. I am just excited to see what both will do this season. If they are only getting better, their numbers should be mind-boggling.
Nino: Great question because in my mind, they are 1A and 1A. They do different things. They’re both defensively sound, Lindor obviously better and at the more premium position. They have spurts of power, but Jose tends to be more consistent and if Lindor is struggling, the offense as a whole seems to be a little less impactful. I think the most important thing is that both of them are able to be healthy all year. You want them at their best towards the end and while you appreciate their willingness to literally play every day, the division is kind of yours to lose. If you ride Lindor and Ramirez really hard and aren’t efficient with their workload, you run the risk of burning them out or getting them injured before the time that really counts. Obviously you need to see how the season unfolds before you assume that, but if it goes the way it should, I would just hope their workload is managed a little better than it has in the past, because both of them, when they are on, can carry this team.
C70: What is your general outlook for 2019? Where will they finish in the division?
Steven: The Indians will win the AL Central once again. I can’t even fathom a scenario in which that doesn’t happen. They don’t feel like favorites to win the World Series at this point in time, but missing the playoffs would be absolutely shocking. This is a similar feeling to last season. Winning the division has become the expectation. What comes next is what is scary for Indians fans after three straight brutal postseason exits.
Nino: As I mentioned, I feel like it is their division to lose. They have some questions to answer and things that need to bounce their way in terms of filling some gaps. However, the division around them didn’t improve enough for them to be unseated as the favorites. Obviously you need to play the games, but if the Indians handle their business, there is no reason for them to not win the division.
C70: What’s the biggest question for this team going into the season and what’s the answer to it?
Steven: My biggest question is: What will the team do to avoid another ALDS collapse?
I honestly don’t know the answer. The team just needs to be better on that big stage. Specifically on offense. There was not that big bat brought in during the offseason, so my expectation is we will see another move like the one that brought Jay Bruce to Cleveland a few years back. Something in July to acquire a player on an expiring contract as help on offense for October. Hopefully the added postseason experience and heartbreak will help the team power through this time around.
Nino: It’s the bullpen. Yeah they added Brad Hand last year at the deadline, but they lost Allen and Miller to free agency, which was expected, but they don’t have answers immediately front and center to step up and fill those gaps. Maybe it comes from some young arms they are going to need to test, or maybe it is one of those things they address during the season with an addition. Maybe they luck into something. I don’t know what the answer is, but if they don’t have a bullpen that can close things out, then they’re going to need to rely on their rotation to carry the majority of the innings and that could be a recipe for disaster down the stretch. You don’t want guys like Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco setting innings pitched career highs just to get to Hand in the 9th, and if the bullpen can’t carry it’s weight, then that could be a big problem.
C70: What do you expect will give you the most joy watching this team on a regular basis this season?
Steven: I’m just excited baseball is back! But to answer your question I will be excited to see how the lineup morphs as the year goes on. It will be interesting to see if guys like Leonys Martin and Roberto Perez are able to cement themselves as starters, or if someone like Jordan Luplow will surprise fans and make everyone relax about not landing a top player. Maybe Tyler Naquin can even show up with some of his 2016 magic.
Nino: Just the continued progression of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, that’s an easy one. But I think it’s also going to be in seeing who steps up. With guys like Brantley, Chisenhall, and Encarnacion gone, there are some spots that will need people to step up into. Jake Bauers is fun and could do that and if he does, that would help a ton. Bradley Zimmer needs to be healthy and if he is and takes to what he’s capable of, then that would be a real relief. This team could really catch fire if they get some help from unexpected or unaccounted for places and that to me is what made them fun to watch on their run to the World Series a few years ago. We’ve learned that the best plans made don’t always pan out and can lead to even more disappointment. Maybe there’s a little magic in the unknown and that keeps me optimistic that they have a run in them. But it’s going to be tough because the rest of the AL heavy hitters are very good and if they go into the playoffs, if they get there, with the same outlook as they did last year against teams like Houston and Boston, it’s going to be the same result. It seemed like there was a sense of entitlement with last year’s group and they got complacent down the stretch because they just assumed they’d be going to the playoffs and be a tough out. They weren’t a tough out. So maybe a little bit of a edge is something that pushes them a little further. Also, Carlos Santana is back and that gives me enough joy to make it through another season, win or lose.
My thanks to Steven and Nino for their insights on the AL Central favorites. It definitely looks like they can start planning for how to make October better than before!