The small-market Cleveland Indians have been one of the most active teams in Major League Baseball this winter.
On Monday, they completed their busy winter with the surprise signing of Michael Bourn to a four-year, $48 million deal. In addition to signing Bourn this offseason, the Indians have signed Nick Swisher (four-year, $56 million), Mark Reynolds (one-year, $6 million) and Brett Myers (one-year, $7 million). They also traded for Trevor Bauer, Drew Stubbs, Mike Aviles, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw.
The Indians flurry of activity will boost their opening day payroll from $65 million last season to approximately $81 million this year. That’s a big jump for a team that lost 94 games and finished second-to-last in attendance in 2012.
The additions of Bourn, Swisher and Reynolds will improve the Indians offense even with the loss of Shin-Soo Choo in the three-team trade that netted Bauer, Stubbs, Albers and Shaw. The Indians finished second-to-last in the American League with a .705 OPS last year, but the lineup projects to be much deeper this season.
The addition of Bourn will likely move Stubbs out of a starting spot and possibly onto the trade market. The Indians are going to be tough to pitch to next year because they have eight projected starters who put up an on-base percentage above the league average of .319 last season.
Here is how the Indians lineup could look on opening day with each player's 2012 on-base percentage in parenthesis:
CF Bourn (.348)
2B Kipnis (.335)
SS Cabrera (.338)
RF Swisher (.364)
C Santana (.365)
LF Brantley (.348)
1B Reynolds (.335)
DH Giambi (.372)
3B Chisenhall (.311)
The thing that jumps out about the Indians is how strong they are up the middle of the diamond offensively with Bourn, Kipnis, Cabrera and Santana. Very few teams in baseball have that type of offensive talent at each of the premium defensive positions.
The Indians also have good depth behind their starters. Giambi, who they signed to a minor league deal, is 42 years old and hasn’t been a fulltime player since 2008. Thus, the DH spot will likely be used as a place to get him some at-bats and to get some rest for the regular position players.
With Stubbs, infielder Mike Aviles and catcher Lou Marson on the bench, the Indians will have the depth to give their regulars a breather in the DH spot.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, their busy offseason isn’t going to be enough for them to overtake the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central this season. Cleveland’s lineup is outstanding on paper, but their rotation just doesn’t measure up with that of the Tigers.
The additions of Bauer and Myers to the staff are not enough for a team that finished with a 5.25 rotation ERA in 2012—second worst in the American League.
Bourn, who ranked as one of the best defenders in baseball last season, will help improve a defense that finished near the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency last year. Yet that move alone won't turn Cleveland into a run preventing dynamo.
Cleveland is certainly better than they were last season. However, the Royals are also much improved in the AL Central and the Tigers remain a powerhouse. For the Indians to make the postseason, a lot is going to have to go right for them and wrong for the rest of the league. A wild card spot isn’t out of the question, but it’s not something to bet on.
The Indians lineup looks exceptionally deep, but they’ll need better starting pitching to make a run at the postseason. Unless Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez make drastic improvements, it’s hard to envision that happening.