The Cleveland Indians and general manager Chris Antonetti have made several offseason acquisitions that show they are getting serious about contention in the American League Central Division. One of the first moves they made may have laid the ground work for an historic free-agency period on the shores of Lake Erie.
Terry Francona coming in to manage the Indians is something no one in Cleveland thought could happen. After Francona was announced as the leader, owners Paul and Larry Dolan uncharacteristically opened up their checkbooks and spent a club-record $117 million in free agency.
There is definitely a new landscape around Progressive Field this year, and one the biggest questions is whether or not this team can come together and win ballgames. Unfortunately, until we see them in action during the regular season we won’t know for sure.
So for now, here is one bold prediction for every Cleveland Indians position player in 2013.
Carlos Santana can finally breathe easy, and he can thank Antonetti for that. By adding Drew Stubbs, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, he has taken an enormous amount of pressure off the shoulders of Santana. Also, with the added bats, Santana no longer is looked at as the only power hitter in the lineup.
Antonetti should have a fruit basket coming his way.
With the relieved pressure and batting lower in the order on a consistent basis, Santana will put up career highs in homers, RBI and batting average.
Another person who will be sending Antonetti an Edible Arrangement will be Michael Brantley. Because of the additions of speedsters Stubbs and Bourn, Brantley will be able to spend more time in the middle of the lineup rather than at the top or bottom.
The fifth spot in the lineup is Dr. Smooth’s comfort zone, where he hit above a .300 clip in 2012.
Brantley has gotten stronger, and better, in almost every offensive category every season since coming to the Tribe in 2009. He turns 26 this year and will be entering his prime by going yard at least 20 times.
Bourn turned 30 in December, and a lot of people seem to think production of speed-based athletes drastically is reduced after their 30th birthday.
After landing in Cleveland in January, Bourn has had a great spring and will be anchoring the Indians outfield that is made up of three center fielders.
Turning 30 didn’t slow him down, and he will be wreaking havoc on American League catchers along the way to swiping 50 bags.
Stubbs will more than likely spend his days in the nine spot as Francona’s weapon to turn the lineup over to Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera in the one and two spots. That theory only works out if Stubbs can abandon what he has known for the last four years.
Swinging at everything.
He has a 162-game average of 192 strikeouts. Simple math tells us that Stubbs averages more than one strikeout per game in his major league career. Batting at the bottom of the order demands a high OBP and patience at the plate. Stubbs finds his patience this year and posts career lows in strikeouts.
Let me preface this bold prediction with the fact that it only stands if Lonnie Chisenhall stays healthy. Last year, he broke a bone in his arm and was on the DL for two months. In addition to the broken bone, he had Jack Hannahan breathing down his neck.
Both won’t be factors in 2013, and like Carlos Santana, he’ll be able to breathe easier.
Chisenhall enters the season as the starter for the first time in his career and should play the entire season at third base. Because of the increased at-bats, his home run totals will soar to a career-high 20-plus.
Cabrera showed up in camp this year in better shape than the last couple of years. He is entering his prime and has been hitting north of .270 the last two seasons. For him to eclipse the .300 mark and earn his third straight trip to the All-Star Game, he only needs to do one thing.
The last two seasons he has faded quickly after the All-Star break, hitting .244 in 2011 and .251 in 2012. Getting into shape and having better players around him is exactly what is needed for Cabrera to have a breakout year.
Putting his .154 batting average in spring training aside, Jason Kipnis has all the right tools to steal 20 bases and hit 20 homers. Now all he needs to do is make those tools work together for him. In fact, the 20 stolen bases will be reached without a problem.
The home runs might be a different story.
Like Cabrera, Kipnis struggled in the latter half of 2012. He still put up 31 steals, but his home run total stalled at 14 after hitting 11 of those dingers before the All-Star break. He did become more selective at the plate in 2012, so hopefully that carries over into 2013.
Swisher no longer has to worry about the New York media picking apart his game. During the postseason runs with the Yankees, they were sometimes brutal to him. He shouldn’t have to worry about that in Cleveland, though, because either the media will be more lenient or they won’t make the playoffs.
More than likely the latter, but I digress.
Without the added pressure and being moved to first base, Swish will have the confidence and energy to hit triple digits in the RBI column for the first time in his career. If you listen to the way Swisher presents himself and his enthusiasm, it’s hard not to root for him.
For the last three years, Lou Marson has been there to get behind the plate when Carlos Santana had an off day, injury or was playing a different position. With the addition of Mark Reynolds and Swisher, the days of Santana playing first base or being the DH are going to be limited.
You know what that means?
Marson will see his time behind the dish cut down drastically this year. His offense was already suffering terribly (.226/.348/.287) and lack of plate appearances won’t help that.
The Indians will ditch Marson and bring up Yan Gomes from Triple-A Columbus.
I hope I am wrong and that number is closer to .500. Not only did Reynolds see his production fall off last year, but now he is staring 30 in the face (August). If that wasn’t enough, his move to designated hitter might be a little harder of a transition than most would think.
Since 2007, Reynolds has been the DH just 12 times. It will definitely take some time for Reynolds to get used to sitting on the bench between at-bats rather than being in the field. Francona seems to think he will be getting Reynolds reps in the field, but would you rather have Swisher at first base or Reynolds?
This might be the boldest prediction of the bunch. Mike Aviles had an atrocious year with the Boston Red Sox in 2012 (.250/.282/.381) and things can only go up from there, right? If there is even a chance the Indians can get Aviles back to a fraction of his form from his 2008 rookie campaign where he raked a .325 batting average, this will be worth the risk.
Although that isn’t likely, being a Cleveland fan means having incessant optimism.
Also, what Aviles lacks at the plate he can make up for in the field with his glove. Basically, he is an older version of Hannahan. Francona already expects Aviles to be a top utility infielder or see significant time at DH, so maybe with that confidence from the skipper, we’ll see him elevate his batting average coming off the bench.
It might not seem like a bold prediction, or even worthy of a prediction, but if Ryan Raburn can get his batting average back up over .200 this season, he will be a nice addition to the roster. He was cut by the Detroit Tigers in November after a 2012 campaign where he hit a measly .171.
Hopefully, he was just slumping and we pulled the wool over the eyes of the Tigers.
If that is the case, hitting around the .225 range and elevating his home run total from last year will provide the Tribe with some nice help when needed off the bench. By the way, last year’s home run total?
It’s nice to have a player in the clubhouse with some years under his belt. Jason Giambi fits that role really well. Unfortunately, that isn’t a position on the field the 42-year-old veteran can play. He is only on the Indians roster for one reason and one reason only.
Tough, right-handed pitchers.
Other than that, DH duties will fall to Reynolds, Raburn or Aviles. It will only be a matter of time before the Indians realize the risk of having Giambi as a designated hitter might not be worth the reward. I wouldn’t be surprised if he landed on a coaching staff, maybe even in Cleveland, by the end of the season.