Well the Tribe is readying to pack its bags to head North for Opening Day on Lake Erie. They are departing Winter Haven for the last time as they will relocate back to Arizona after 16 camps in Florida. There is not much overturn from the the 2007 roster but GM Mark Shapiro and Uncle Eric have made the final cuts as the Indians' roster stands at the designated 25 men.
Cliff Lee outdueled, if you can term it that, Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Neither of the 3 performed brilliantly nor embarrassed themselves but Lee did show improvement as camp went on and looked to regain control of all 3 of his pitches. This was the major problem he had after coming of his injury in 2007.
The good news about the rotation is that no one got injured this spring and the Indians essentially return 5 solid starters. If Lee can return to his pre-2007 form then there is no one in the rotation that makes you feel you have slim or no chance of winning every 5th day. Not many teams in MLB can say that. If an injury does occur, which is inevitable, you have have 2 young hungry guys in Sowers and Laffey (plus the possibility of Adam Miller) who can step in.
A couple small surprises in the bullpen and Jorge Julio beat out Tom Mastny for one spot and the Indians jettisoned Aaron Fultz in favor of another lefty, Craig Breslow. The Julio decision comes as a small surprise based on Mastny's performance in the 2007 post-season, but he flat out stunk in camp this spring while Julio shined, so Mastny and his remaining options are back on their way to Buffalo. Uncle Eric seems to like having another power arm in the bullpen as Rafael Betancourt is the only other hard thrower the Tribe has in the pen.
The Fultz move comes as a surprise because the Indians picked up his option year in 2008 and now must pay him $1.5M in guaranteed money to say goodbye. If Mastny stunk in camp this year Fultz was an absolute train wreck that included a 9 run performance in 1/3 of an inning. I don't know a lot about Breslow only that mark Shapiro has had his eyes on his for a while. It does raise an eyebrow that he was waived by the Red Sox who do have some questions marks in their own bullpen.
The key to the bullpen is to see how Uncle Eric works Breslow, Julio, Jensen Lewis and Masa Kobayashi into the 7th/8th inning mix with Betancourt and Rafael Perez. Two of those guys need to step up to give Wedge other options when the Rafaels need a day off. I fear that one or both guys could end up on the DL with a "tired arm" if they pitch at the rate they did last year. The Indians have plenty of bullpen depth in the minors but the Rafaels are a huge key to the season. Especially if Joe Borowski can not stay healthy or stay out of jams. Iron Joe may have led the AL in saves but he also lead it in near heart attacks given to the home fan base.
Really no surprises with the position players other that the ongoing conundrum that is the LF platoon. Jason Michaels had a good spring but Ben Francisco blew him out of the water. David Dellucci struggled to come back from his hamstring surgery. I have a feeling that Mark Shapiro is trying to shop one or both of Michaels and Dellucci but selling the later to another team will be difficult due to his age, injury history and contract. I have faith that Shapiro will make the right move and that it's just a matter of time before Francisco supplants the existing platoon a la Franklin Gutierrez supplanted Trot Nixon in RF last year. With Shin-Soo Choo comes off the DL, and out of options, in May or June the OF log jam will be cleared up well before the All-Star break.
Andy Marte also heads North with the club as he is out of options and his clock is ticking. He showed great flashes of power throughout camp but has struggled to hit above .200 and has been abysmal at 3B. It's a make of break year for Marte as this is the final year of Casey Blake's contract and the Indians need to find out if he is their 3B of the future. Don't hate Casey Blake for the situation, it's not his fault that Marte has failed to beat him out for the job. It is his fault that he can not hit with RISP, however.
I don't take much from Spring Training stats but it is good to see Victor Maritnez, Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta and Gutierrez have great springs. Sizemore and Travis Hafner can not have the years they had in 2007 if the Tribe wants to stay a leg up on the Tigers. Pronk has looked so-so this spring so we'll have to cross our fingers and hope everything will be OK once we go "live" on March 31. I have faith the As-Man will continue to thrive both on defense and with situational hitting. If the offense can just step it up one notch in 2008 the Indians will be a very difficult team to beat with the pitching depth they posses.
I fully expect Uncle Eric and Shapiro to make the decisions that need to be made as they did in 2007 with Roberto Hernandez, Josh Barfield and Trot Nixon. They already have shown they will do it again with Aaron Fultz. If they need to make a move I think they will do it as they did with Kenny Lofton last year. For all the gruff the Dolans get about money they did eat the contracts of Hernandez last year and Fultz this year so I don't think you can say money is an obstacle. It's more of Shapiro trying to protect the farm system in the skewed baseball economy. But when it comes down to it, if a deal must be made I have faith the Indians will do it.
2008 is here. Jacobs Field... I mean Progressive Field is ready to rock. Let's turn on the lights and get this show started. It's Tribe Time Now. Believeland.