With the 2009 season around the corner, the Cleveland Indians have many questions to answer after the 2008 season with the expectations high and the lights on bright.
What the Indians had to address would be the offense, the bullpen, and in some ways the rotation. Offensively, they played horrible until the last two months and as a whole did so. Sure, injuries happen but every team gets them and should not be used as an excuse.
Before answering questions, it is fair to note that the Indians made some major moves during the off-season. They signed Kerry Wood to a two-year contract worth $20.5 million with the option for the third year to be the closer. If he does falter or does get injured, Jensen Lewis can step in and close games. Lewis showed that he could close a game.
Carl Pavano was the other free agent signed to compete and perhaps get a spot in the rotation. He might be one of the more questionable signings given his recent history of injures and coming off a bad four-year stint with the New York Yankees. He's getting $1.5 million with incentives based upon how long he starts and progresses earning up to potentially $5 million.
The Indians acquired a new third baseman in Mark DeRosa in a trade for minor league prospects. He is going to be the starter, though he could be utilized in a new position.
What about the Cleveland Indians rotation? Right now, it is only certain that Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona will cover the first two spots it will be interesting to see who gets the last three spots. Pavano will probably be in the rotation and if it came down to guessing, maybe Anthony Reyes and potentially either Scott Lewis or Aaron Laffey. Yes, Jake Westbrook will be back by the second half of the season but you wouldn't count on him to stay healthy long enough as he has had his share of injury troubles over the years.
Will Travis Hafner return healthy, hitting well? No one can really say until he comes out and plays the game. To put it in perspective, if he has a decent year with at least 20 home runs and batting about .250, that would be sign of something positive. If it is lower and he is not hitting the ball very well, it could be the end of his career. While it would be nice to have him hit well, it should not be declared that if he doesn’t hit well, they won’t do well.
Was the risk signing Pavano as a starter be worth the reward? Like Travis Hafner, results will matter on the field. If Pavano can keep himself healthy throughout the season, it would be impressive and even more so by doing well, winning games for the Indians.
How is the bullpen going to perform overall? GM Mark Shapiro made some moves for the bullpen and considering that it is an odd year, it is expected to be decent.
Will Kerry Wood stay healthy? Since moving him out of the starting rotation and into the role of a closer, he did stay healthy for a good majority of the season. He is not expected to be a starter nor should he be one.
Despite all the questions about the Cleveland Indians going into the 2009 season, they do have the talent to win the AL Central, because honestly that’s the only way they will get into the playoffs. The Central is going to be very tough, though.
For the Indians to win it, coming out of the gate strong and beating the division rivals will be the ultimate key. The chances of winning it would be about 30 percent with the White Sox and Twins tied at 29 percent apiece. Detroit has an 11 percent chance of winning it with the Royals dead last at 1 percent due to the recent trend.
In short, the Cleveland Indians have a good chance of being able to win the division despite the questions and the unpredictability of the division but the real question will be at the end, do they have the talent to win the World Series? That is another story for another time.