Opening day is just around the corner. The Cleveland Indians are anxious and ready, looking to avenge their fall collapse of a season ago.
A few American League teams made some big moves in the offseason but the Indians decided to remain silent for the most part. Some fans are upset with GM Mark Shapiro for not pulling the trigger on Johan Santana, re-signing C.C. Sabathia, or making a move for a Miguel Cabrera-like player.
I think you will soon see though that we still have a title-contending team. You don't have to fix something when it's not broken. The Cleveland Indians are a young team. Last year many players were without playoff experience. Now that that has changed, I think we're in for another very successful season.
The addition of Maso Kobayoshi solidifies what is already, in my opinion, the best bullpen in baseball. Kobayoshi is a battle tested relief pitcher who can provide experience to an already good bullpen. With Joe Borowski always being a question mark in the closer role, both Kobayoshi and Rafael Betancourt could assume closing duties at some point this season.
Although the Indians don't possess a power laden lineup as they did in the '90s, they are still a top-tier run producing team. C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, two dominant pitchers, lead a very solid staff. All the pieces are there to make a championship run, but there are some questions that will soon be addressed.
First, it needs to be determined whether or not Asdrubal Cabrera can handle being an everyday second baseman. Defensively, Cabrera is dynamite. Asdrubal's offensive production still remains in question. Josh Barfield will begin the season at AAA Buffalo, but is awaiting another chance to take over Cabrera's starting gig.
It remains to be seen whether or not a platoon of Jason Michaels and David Dellucci in left field will be successful. Dellucci has significant trouble hitting left handed pitching, so you will see Jason Michaels in there on days when a south paw is at the helm.
Vice-versa, when a right-handed pitcher takes the mound, Dellucci will get the swings. I've never been a fan of this type of platoon, fearing a hindrance on "getting in a rhythm", but we shall soon see.
Franklin Gutierrez takes over the full time duties in right field and is my prime candidate for break out player of the year. In 271 at bats last year Gutierrez hit 13 homeruns, showing great power potential. Both manager Eric Wedge and GM Mark Shapiro are extremely excited about this young guy and I think you will see a very productive offensive year out of him while demonstrating his solid defensive skills as well.
We know what we'll get out of guys like Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Casey Blake, etc. It's guys like Dellucci, Michaels, and Gutierrez who will take the Indians to the next level offensively.
There is still a battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona hold the number one and two spots in the rotation, with Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd claiming the third and fourth spots. There is an ongoing battle between Jeremy Sowers, Aaron Laffey, and Cliff Lee for the fifth spot.
It will be interesting to see who the Indians go with. Laffey is more of a soft-tossing lefty with a lot of movement on his pitches. Sowers is more of a power pitcher who can get strikeouts. Both have had some success in the major league games but I think the Indians are rooting for Cliff Lee to win the position.
Lee has had the most success in the majors and has been an 18 game winner. Recently he has struggled immensely and I fear his struggles can be attributed to mental troubles. He has shown the ability to pitch an entire season and pitch successfully. He's still relatively young and I think the Indians would love for him to win the position. However, there will not be any favoritism and look for either Sowers or Laffey to win the job if they are throwing better.
I'm as excited as you are. The season is just days away. The Indians are ready to get back to the playoffs and hopefully reach the fall classic this year. All the pieces are there, a strong starting staff, a very strong bullpen, a high run producing lineup, and a strong defensive squad.
Teams have improved themselves in the American league, including the division-rival Tigers, but the Indians pitching should put them ahead of the Tigers come seasons end. After all, I'm a firm believer in "good pitching beats good hitting". Either way, LETS GO TRIBE!