Friday, March 8, 2019

Cleveland Indians 2019 season preview

Jake Bauers. Photo from WKYC


         The Cleveland Indians have had a monopoly over the AL Central the last few years. The key word there is had. Well, the Indians aren't really in a bad place. Most people project them to finish first in the division once again. But, the Indians decided to cut payroll in the offseason, and get rid of some quality players. That included shopping everyone on the roster but stars Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor. That means 2x Cy Young winner Corey Kluber was available. For the first time in three years, there is uncertainty around the team.

          Offseason additions: 1B Carlos Santana, 1B/RF Jake Bauers, RHP Nick Wittgren, C Kevin Plawecki, INF Max Moroff, OF Jordan Luplow, OF Matt Joyce, DH Hanley Ramirez, RHP AJ Cole, RHP Tyler Clippard, INF Ryan Flaherty
 
           Offseason subtractions: LHP Andrew Miller, 1B Edwin Encarnacion, 1B Yonder Alonso, RHP Cody Allen, C Yan Gomes, OF Michael Brantley, 3B Josh Donaldson, INF Yandy Diaz, OF Melky Cabrera, OF Lonnie Chisenhall, RHP Zach McAllister, RHP Josh Tomlin, OF Rajai Davis, OF Brandon Guyer, INF Erik Gonzalez

            Rotation
With subtracting going along all over the lineup and bullpen, the Indians kept their rotation intact, as they should have. The top four starters all had over 200 strikeouts, an MLB record. The fifth starter, Shane Bieber, had a 5.13 strikeout to walk ratio, which led all rookie pitchers. Ace Corey Kluber was at it again, winning 20 games with a 2.89 ERA. He has averaged 246 strikeouts over the last five seasons. Trevor Bauer had a career year, with a 2.21 ERA and 221 strikeouts, with an 11.3 K/9 rate. Mike Clevenger also had a career season, with a 3.02 ERA with 207 strikeouts. Signing an extension in the offseason might have prevented Carlos Carrasco from getting traded. The righty had a 3.38 ERA in 2018.

             Bullpen
The bullpen saw two of its former best arms, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, walk after down seasons. The team found replacements in them in Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, acquired from San Diego in a July trade. Hand was the closer after the trade, and excelled, while Cimber fell off. Adam Plutko made 12 starts, but he could be used more as a reliever in 2019. Oliver Perez had a 1.39 ERA at age 39, as the Indians continue to find disregarded relievers that can still pitch. Tyler Olson struggled in 2018, but was dominant in 2017, not allowing a single earned run in 30 appearances. Nick Goody was also very good in 2017, but barely pitched in the majors in 2018. Nick Wittgren was brought in from Miami after a season with a 2.94 ERA. Neil Ramirez returns as well.

              Catching
The team traded all-star catcher Yan Gomes to Washington, and didn't replace him. Instead, they gave the job to Roberto Perez, who went 30 for 179 (.168 batting average) in 2019. The team traded the league's top catching prospect, Francisco Mejia to San Diego in the Hand/Cimber trade, and they probably wish they didn't. Kevin Plawecki, the former Mets backup, was acquired in a trade.

              Infield
While most of the Indians' lineup was changed, the main constants were star third baseman Jose Ramirez and Fransisco Lindor. The two hit 39 and 38 home runs, respectively, with averages in the .270s, though Ramirez's .939 OPS was much higher than Lindor's .871. 2B Jason Kipnis also returns, and raised his home run total to 18, but his average remained in the .230s. Carlos Santana returns, after a rough season in Philadelphia. He hit 34 homers for Cleveland in 2016. Jake Bauers can play first as well.

               Outfield
Man, it looks rough in the Cleveland outfield. The team could really use a Willie Mays Hayes or Pedro Cerrano about now. The reliable Michael Brantley left for Houston, and former top prospect Bradley Zimmer won't return to the lineup until at least the end of July. Greg Allen played in 91 games last year, the most for a returning outfielder. He stole 21 bases, and will play center. Right field could go to Bauers, a power hitting first baseman acquired along with Santana in a three team trade. Health has been an issue for Tyler Naquin, who can't stay on the field since being a Rookie of the Year finalist in 2016. Leonys Martin, who had a life threatening skin infection, is the 4th outfielder.

                DH/Bench
The DH spot has been Edwin Encarnacion's, but he was traded to Seattle for Santana and Bauers. Both of them might alternate between first base and DH, but Bauers could play corner outfield. Hanley Ramirez was brought in on a minor league deal, and the three time all-star and 2006 Rookie of the Year winner can still hit, with 53 combined home runs from 2016-17. On the bench is Martin and Plawecki. If the Indians go with 13 pitchers, the final spot will go to either infielder Max Moroff or outfielder Jordan Luplow, both acquired in an odd four player depth trade with Pittsburgh, but with Martin's presence, Moroff has the upper hand.

                 Lineup
SS Fransisco Lindor
3B Jose Ramirez
1B Carlos Santana
RF Jake Bauers
DH Hanley Ramirez
2B Jason Kipnis
RF Tyler Naquin
CF Greg Allen
C Roberto Perez

                 Rotation
Corey Kluber (R)
Trevor Bauer (R)
Carlos Carrasco (R)
Mike Clevenger (R)
Shane Bieber (R)

                  Bullpen
Brad Hand (L)
Adam Cimber (R)
Oliver Perez (L)
Tyler Olson (L)
Nick Wittgren (R)
Nick Goody (R)
Adam Plutko (R)
Neil Ramirez (R)

                    Bench
C Kevin Plawecki
INF Max Moroff
OF Leonys Martin

                    Additional Information
Ballpark: Progressive Field
Manager: Terry Francona
GM: Mike Chernoff
World Championships: 2
2018 record: 91-71

                    Steal of the Decade
What a trade this was. Like, what a trade. Well, in 2010, the St. Louis Cardinals were attempting to trade for Indians starter Jake Westbrook. The trade needed a third team. The Padres were interested in Cardinals outfielder Ryan Ludwick, but engaging in this trade would turn out to be a fatal mistake. At the trade deadline, Westbrook, Padres prospect Nick Greenwood and $2.7 million would be sent to the Cardinals, with Ludwick to the Padres, and the Padres sending RHP prospect Corey Kluber to Cleveland. Westbrook would turn out to be a solid starter for St. Louis, with a 4.27 ERA in parts of four seasons. He was a part of the rotation that won the 2011 World Series. Greenwood had a 4.75 ERA in 2014 for St. Louis. He had one outing in 2015. He allowed two runs, didn't get a single out, and never made an MLB outing again, finishing 2015 with an ERA of infinity. Ludwick has hit 37 home runs in 2008, and was decent for the Padres, hitting 17 home runs in 160 games. But Kluber was a different story. He has made each of the last three all-star teams, and won the Cy Young in both 2014 and 2017. He was also the second runner up in 2016 and 2018. He has a 3.09 ERA, pitching in over 200 innings in each of the last five seasons, averaging 246 strikeouts a season, and his 9.3 K/9 in 2018 was his lowest of the five seasons. "Klubot" was a steal for the Tribe.

                      Prediction
Thinking they would run away with the AL Central again, the Indians cut payroll this offseason. I think this could be a very big mistake. The Twins made good additions in the offseason, and if Cleveland isn't careful, Minnesota could overtake them.

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