Welcome to Tribe Talk, where Bleacher Report's Tribe fans weigh in on the ups and downs of the Indians each week throughout the season and here in our annual season preview.
This week we attempt to do a much better job predicting the future than we did at the beginning of last season, pitching in our takes on the biggest challenges facing the team this year, how the standings in the AL Central will shake out in the end, and what's getting us excited or scaring us to death about our 2010 Indians.
I would like to thank 2010 Tribe Talk Round Table panelists Nino Colla, Jon Sladek, Dale Thomas, The Coop, and Lewie Pollis for their contributions.
This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and pitch in your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.
The countdown to Opening Day stands at just under two weeks...Go Tribe!
Author's Note: Panelists submitted their answers before Kerry Wood sustained the shoulder/back injury that may keep him out for the first two months of the season.
Afraid to Commit—1
Who Will Be Traded?
Kerry Wood: 4/6
Russell Branyan: 4/6
Jhonny Peralta: 2/6
Jake Westbrook: 1/6
Grady Sizemore: 1/6
Home Run Leader
Rotation at Season's End
Choo OBP: .385
Branyan HR: 20
Sizemore SB: 30
Hafner AB: 400
LaPorta RBI: 75
Carmona Wins: 10
Wood Saves: 25
Laffey ERA: 4.00
Westbrook GS: 25
C. Perez Holds: 20
Peralta Errors: 18
Santana Debut: June 1
Pitchers Used: 29
Runs Scored: 800
What is the single biggest challenge facing the Indians this season?
Staying out of the cellar? Nah, despite the rumblings coming from a large percentage of the Tribe's disgruntled fan base, I don't believe this team will have any trouble avoiding a last-place finish.
The real challenge is determining just how well our farm system is working. Given the team's financial restrictions, they, like many small market teams, have had to rely heavily on homegrown talent.
This is the year where we can begin observing whether the system is working. With all the youngsters coming up and getting their shot this season, we can begin to evaluate just how good a job the Indians' brass did building for the future.
And then, of course, there's that pesky starting pitching thing...
Pitching, because we appear to have none. A look at the current rotation suggests we still need to find—with just a few exceptions—an entire staff, which the Tribe once again did not address this offseason.
Jake Westbrook being slated as the Opening Day starter indicates just how bad the rest of the starting staff is.
Pitching, pitching, and pitching. Also, making sure Chris Giminez NEVER gets another at bat in the big leagues.
Starting pitching. They have so many question marks. I'm not even expecting the starting pitching to be "great." If they can be even a little above average, that will go along way. But it's hard to hold out hope when so many guys are battling some combination of a long injury history, mental heath issues and youth/inexperience.
Separating the wheat from the chaff among our young pitchers. The Indians have a terrific core of position players, and it's pretty clear who we'll see in the lineup over the next couple years, but the rotation is a different story.
Is Jeremy Sowers officially a bust? Can Aaron Laffey learn to throw strikes? What is David Huff's ceiling? Will Justin Masterson take the next step? When can we expect to see big league contributions from Jason Knapp, Nick Hagadone, Carlos Carrasco and Hector Rondon? Cleveland can compete in 2011 if the pitching staff has some stability.
Finding out about all their starters. It could be a difficult task ahead of them if only two sports are currently open, but it wouldn't be a bad thing for the Indians a a whole if Carmona, Masterson, and Westbrook lasted in the rotation all year long.
Which Three players' performance this season do you believe are the most vital to the team's success, and why?
Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera, and David Huff.
Obviously, whether Sizemore can fully rebound from his disappointing and injury-plagued 2009 season is of paramount importance.
Whether or not Asdrubal Cabrera can continue his success in the field and at the plate will be equally important. Given that a trade of Sizemore is likely by 2011, Cabrera has perhaps become the most important player for the Tribe's future.
David Huff, coming off a rookie season that featured a performance better than what anyone expected is the key to building a strong starting rotation for the future. If Huff can continue to grow and improve, he may become the team's most promising hurler.
Sizemore and Choo, because this team needs to demonstrate that it can move runners, and Carmona, because of the lack of depth and experience in the starting rotation. Carmona needs to step up and be the veteran who gets it done.
Carmona, because he is the only pitcher on the roster with potential to win 20 games (as unlikely as it may seem). Wood, because a young team like this cannot afford to blow games in the ninth inning. Sizemore, because it's time for him to be a big boy and show the young guys how its done.
1. Grady Sizemore: He is the best player on the team, he makes everything go and the team is severely lacking without him.
2. Jake Westbrook: While he's very mediocre, he's pretty much the best starter on the team at this point. If the Indians can get good innings from him and 16-18 wins, the stars might just be aligning after all.
3. Kerry Wood: The bullpen was a disaster last year, and while Wood wasn't the worst of that motley crew, he's the front man. If he has a strong year, including having plenty of save opportunities, the Indians will easily improve.
The obvious choice here is Fausto Carmona. We have to face the facts: Carmona is not as good as he looked in 2007. Period. (Don't shoot the messenger, Nino!)
You can't expect someone with a career 5.6 K/9 ratio to have 19 wins and a 3.06 ERA. He's actually compiled more walks (5.1 BB/9) than strikeouts (5.0 K/9) over the last two seasons, and in 2009 his go-to-pitch (sinker) was the worst in baseball, at -2.2 runs below average over 100 pitches. He's not cut out to be an ace, but at 26 he still has time to improve his game. If he can cut the walks back to a level that doesn't induce nausea, he might carve himself a place in the back of the Tribe's future rotation.
Of the many Indians' pitchers hoping to take the next step in 2010, Justin Masterson is poised to take the biggest stride. He might not be the Tribe's long-term future ace—Baseball America projects him as our No. 4 starter for 2013—but of the pitchers they mentioned, he's the only one guaranteed to have significant playing time in 2010. His control needs some work (4.2 BB/9 last year), but he's quite good at missing bats (8.3 K/9). He won't win the Cy Young anytime soon, but he has the potential to emerge as our best pitcher.
Finally, I'm hoping Kerry Wood can rebound to be a useful closer in 2010. You might be wondering why the performance of a closer who isn't part of our long-term plans could possibly make a difference for a rebuilding club in a transition year. That's the point—he's useless to us either way. Our best hope is for him to pitch well enough to interest other teams, who will take his hefty contract off our hands and give us a promising prospect or two for our trouble.
Fausto Carmona for the rotation. If he finds it and gets himself on track, this team will feel a lot better about themselves for the present and the future. He is the ace if he figures it out because he is the most talented pitcher on staff.
Rafael Perez in the bullpen. If Rafael Perez also finds himself, he gives the Indians two reliable set up men from both sides to lead into Kerry Wood. Plus when his slider is on, he's one of the most untouchable relievers in the game. Add on to that he's very durable.
Offensively, it is no doubt Grady Sizemore. The lineup is a different kind of animal when he is in it. When he's doing well, he can not only create opportunities for other players, but also carry the entire lineup for spurts. He is this team's horse. They go as far as he will take them.
Please list the five teams in the AL Central in the order which you believe they will finish this season (in descending order with the division winner listed first).
1. Twins 2. Tigers 3. White Sox 4. Indians 5. Royals
1. White Sox 2. Tigers 3. Twins 4. Indians 5. Royals
1. Tigers 2. Twins 3. White Sox 4. Indians 5. Royals
1. Twins 2. White Sox 3. Tigers 4. Indians 5. Royals
1. White Sox 2. Twins 3. Indians 4. Tigers 5. Royals
5. What are you most looking forward to when following the Tribe this season?
Michael Brantley. I've been watching this kid with the utmost interest since he joined the organization.
He's probably the fastest and best defensive player on the 40-man roster, and I don't believe the .308 average he posted in his brief time in the bigs last year was a fluke or beginner's luck.
Brantley should be called up to the Indians as soon as service time restrictions allow (likely mid-June), and I can't wait to see this kid pick up where he left off last September.
Seeing this team prove it belongs in the majors despite fielding a roster of rag tag players. And I look forward to hopefully being wrong about all of my predictions of struggle and disappointment.
Aside from the "Slider Head" Slippers promotion?
It should be fun to watch some of the young talent develop. I believe this is the year Asdrubal Cabrera makes the All-Star team. Finally, I'm eager to see Manny Acta in action.
The annual series in Pittsburgh, which tends to be my best opportunity to see the Tribe in person. Even better, I go to the game with the Pittsburgh Browns Backers and hilarity ensues.
There will come a time at some point this year when things will temporarily click together. It happens every year, during a weekend in August or a couple games in September—after it's too late to matter.
The rookies and prospects will momentarily age five years and we'll all be blown away by the flashes of their potential.
LaPorta will be cranking dingers, Brantley will be swiping bags, and Masterson will be racking up K's. We'll forget about our previous misfortunes and embrace our hope for the future.
The night is darkest just before the dawn, and by the end of the season we will see the first golden rays of sunlight.
I'm just looking forward to seeing this team compete. They're young and Manny Acta's fresh approach of enthusiasm and excitement has the potential to rub off on a lot of the young personalities. I look forward to seeing them grow as players.
This team has a lot of people coming off injury seasons. From Sizemore to Hafner to Carmona to Westbrook, there is potential for their performance to rub off on the young players in the lineup. I just think this feels like a new era and we are in for a refreshing change in attitude with Manny Acta at the helm. I'm looking forward to that and the growth this team will establish this year as they try get back to being a playoff contender.