Biggest Questions Facing Cleveland Indians Entering 2013
It's been a long time since the Cleveland Indians have tasted the sweetness of the postseason.
With Terry Francona taking over as manager of the Tribe, there are a lot of questions for the two-time World Series winner to answer if Cleveland wants its first winning season and playoff birth since 2007.
The pitchers and catchers reported for the Indians on Sunday with the first full workouts taking place this Friday.
It was a busy offseason for Cleveland and the Indians will be even busier in Goodyear the next seven weeks trying to put their pieces together.
Here are the most important issues surrounding the Tribe heading into their 2013 campaign.
Solidifying the Rotation
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It was a rocky 2012 season for the rotation of the Indians.
In the American League, Cleveland ranked last in ERA at a 4.78 average and finished second to last in total strikeouts and second to last in wins.
With Derek Lowe and Jeanmar Gomez no longer part of the Tribe's rotation, Cleveland must find a way to improve its starting pitching.
According to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com, Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez have the first two spots in the rotation locked up to begin the season.
Joining Cleveland's starting five this season is Brett Myers, who spent last year with the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros as a closer. Spending most of his career as a starter, he is in line to be the third pitcher according to ESPN's depth chart.
Then the puzzle becomes trickier. Among the main starters for the Indians in 2012, Zach McAllister led the team in ERA at 4.24 and should have the best shot at earning a spot for 2013.
One of Cleveland's starters from 2012, Josh Tomlin, is expected to be out until late August from having Tommy John surgery at the end of last year (per CBS Sports).
However, returning from Tommy John surgery is Carlos Carrasco, who missed all of the 2012 season. He pitched for the Indians from 2009 to 2011 and was one of the main starters in 2011.
Another pitcher looking to make an impact for Cleveland's pitching is Trevor Bauer.
Bauer was acquired by the Indians from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the three-way trade between the two teams and the Cincinnati Reds. Bauer was a third overall pick by the Diamondbacks just a year-and-a-half ago, but was traded after struggling in his rookie season.
While all of these pitchers are right-handed, the one lefty expected to be given a chance is David Huff. Huff spent much of the 2012 season in the minors before being called up in September to finish the season with the Tribe.
Also of note, ESPN.com has reported that the Indians signed Daisuke Matsuzaka to a minor league contract and will see if he can make a comeback to the majors. He pitched for the Boston Red Sox the last six seasons with Francona managing five of them.
The first three spots appear to be set for the Indians. However, finding some consistency on the back end of the rotation is something Cleveland hasn't had in a long time.
McAllister has been the most consistent of the bunch. Carrasco will look to impress the coaching staff after an 8-9 record in 2011.
Bauer has great potential and could be a huge steal in the trade if the original hype pans out. If Huff impresses enough, he might have an advantage in earning a spot because he is the only left-hander in the mix.
Dice-K is a low-risk, high-reward scenario with his minor league contract and great numbers from a few season ago. Perhaps Francona has something up his sleeve that will surprise the baseball world.
The progress of these pitchers is arguably the hottest topic for Cleveland's spring training.
Masterson and Jimenez Consistency
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When the top two pitchers combine for 183 walks, a 20-32 record and an ERA average of 5.16, there is a huge problem.
Both Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez had perplexing 2012 seasons. Masterson gave up a disappointing 212 hits. Jimenez was erratic with 95 walks.
While Masterson's 159 strikeouts in 2012 was the highest of his five-year career, his 4.93 ERA was also his highest. After the 2011 season when Masterson finished with a 12-10 record, the lack of run support and his 3.21 ERA gave him a pass. That's not the case anymore.
Jimenez is still looking for some form of stability since his strong 2010 season as nearly every statistic went downhill from 2011 to 2012. Last season he gave up a career high in hits, home runs and earned runs.
Even if Cleveland does find some answers in spring training for the rest of the rotation, the Indians will have no chance in competing for the American League Central if Masterson and Jimenez continue their struggles.
The Tribe have too many holes to fill on offense for 2013 and the pitching can't be the weak link on the Indians for another season.
Filling the DH Role
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With the departure of Travis Hafner to the New York Yankees, the Indians are seeking to add power at designated hitter to an offense that ranked 25th in slugging percentage in 2012.
One of the leading candidates for the position is Mike Aviles. As reported by Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Aviles was signed for $6 million over two years with a club option in 2015. Aviles contributed 60 RBI and 15 home runs for the Red Sox in 2012.
Another possibility is Chris McGuiness if he emerges during spring training. McGuiness was picked from the Texas Rangers in their Rule 5 pick according to the Hoynes, who hit for 77 RBIs with the Frisco RoughRiders in 2012.
Pending how the rest of the lineup shakes out over the next seven weeks, it's possible that Mark Reynolds or Nick Swisher could play some DH as well. Reynolds signed a one-year, $6 million dollar deal in the offseason, while Swisher signed a deal for four years and $56 million.
According to the Indians depth chart on ESPN.com, Reynolds is projected to start at first base while Swisher should take over for the loss of Shin-Soo Choo in right field. However, with all the different pieces the Indians are working with in 2013, the newly acquired veteran power hitters could find some playing time at DH.
A potential designated hitter for the Tribe could also be the recent signing of Jason Giambi. Giambi, who has 423 home runs over his career, was signed to a minor league deal (via Yahoo! Sports) by the Indians after spending a little over the last three years with Colorado.
Also depending how these acquisitions play out, Francona could take a page out of former Cleveland manager Manny Acta's playbook. When the Indians put Lou Marson behind the plate, move Carlos Santana to DH.
There are plenty of options for the Indians at DH going into 2013. They just need to find which ones will improve their overall production of the lineup.
Who Will Boost the Batting Average
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With the loss of several Cleveland hitters, most notably Shin-Soo Choo and Travis Hafner, the Tribe need help in the middle of their lineup.
It's likely that Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana will be the first four in the lineup (in some order), but who is going to step up after them?
While the Indians have brought in several newcomers, Lonnie Chisenhall is prime for a solid 2013 season.
In just his second season last year, Chisenhall hit for .268 with a .311 on-base percentage for the Indians. He also struck out only 27 times in 142 plate appearances. If Chisenhall continues to improve, he will be an excellent hitter in the middle of the lineup.
Next in line is probably Nick Swisher. The former Yankee hit .272 in 2012, the second best season of his career.
Mike Aviles, who hit .311 with the Red Sox in 2011 when Francona was the manager, will look to provide the Indians more offense in the 2013 season.
Expectations won't be high for Mark Reynolds from a batting average perspective. He hit .221 the last two seasons with the Baltimore Orioles and will be looking too contribute in the power statistics. He's hit 60 home runs in the last two seasons combined.
Lastly is the addition of Drew Stubbs.
Stubbs was added to the Cleveland Roster from Cincinnati in the three-way trade, but he has been declining in his young career. Stubbs is in position to start at center field, but he only hit .213 for the Reds last season. That number won't fly for 162 games in Cleveland for 2013.
With a lineup that only seems to have its top four spots filled, improvements from the rest of the offense are crucial for the Indians to improve their batting numbers.
Lack of Left-Handed Pitching
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The shortage of left-handed pitchers is even greater in 2013.
Cleveland will return Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes in the bullpen, but Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp will not be joining them.
Right-handed relievers Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith and closer Chris Perez highlight the Tribe's main returnees for 2013.
Also looking to make an impact as right-handers in the bullpen are Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw. The Tribe received both players from the Diamondbacks in the three-way trade.
Albers had a career best 2.39 ERA in 2012 and pitched for the Red Sox before moving to Arizona. Shaw is entering his third season in the majors and averaged a 3.18 ERA with the Diamondbacks.
Nonetheless, as far as left-handers go, the Indians will have fewer options in the bullpen this year. Over the course of a 162-game season, you have to wonder if that will catch up with them down the stretch.
Eliminating a Slow Start for Santana, Declining Finish for Cabrera
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It was a tale of two halves for the Cleveland stars in 2012. Asdrubal Cabrera was the man through June, but had horrific months in July and August. Carlos Santana couldn't get any offense going until July once Cabrera cooled off.
From April through June in 2012, Cabrera hit for .298, brought in 40 RBI and scored 50 runs. Santana hit for .220, recorded five home runs and struck out 58 times.
Then from July through August, Cabrera hit for .234, knocked in 13 RBI and scored 20 runs.
Santana from July through September hit .283, blasted 13 home runs and struck out 42 times.
Cabrera picked his game back up in September, but the Indians were already well out of playoff contention by then.
While Cabrera is well into the prime of his career and Santana is just entering his, there is no room for lengthy slumps if they want to take their games to the next level. Players will always have their tough stretches, but they should never last for multiple months.
These two must be stronger from start to finish in 2013.