Next week begins the second "Manny" era in Cleveland baseball. The timing is perfect, Eric Wedge had been in my life so long he was starting to feel like a relative; a relative that I routinely cursed at.
So for those who plan to root for the Tribe this year, let me see if I can shed some light on what to expect from the ball team this Summer.
The Good: The lineup actually looks like it can produce some runs. I expect a monster year from Grady who battled multiple injuries last season as well as the "picture scandal." Let me just say, I use cups for drinking and Grady uses them for concealing his manhood; should either of us be judged? I rest my case.
I'm going to predict 2010 as the year Asdrubal Cabrera makes the All-Star team. This guy is going to be the best shortstop in baseball. So what if I have a man-crush on him and so what if my wife teases me incessantly about it.
The Bad: The rotation is like a carton of milk left out overnight—very suspect. Jake Westbrook is the No. 1 starter, but if Fausto Carmona and Justin Masterson don't out-perform him, the Tribe is in trouble. I don't even know what Mitch Talbot looks like yet, but I have trouble believing the Rays would just give us a good major league starter for Kelly Shoppach; or essentially nothing. I do like David Huff's potential.
The Ugly: Last year's bullpen was a complete nightmare. Luckily we have some new faces in this year's 'pen. Oh wait, they were ALL here last year! To be fair, our current bullpen only contributed to a fraction of the mess. Rafael Perez is supposedly "fixed," color me skeptical. Joe Smith has been injured so much, I just recently found out he ISN'T the same guy that played for the Cavs a couple years ago. As for Tony Sipp and Jensen Lewis, I hope they didn't sign long-term apartment leases.
Sit up and Acta right! I know its early, but the new skipper seems to take more of a refreshing, common sense approach to the game. This is a stark contrast to Wedge's "dazed and confused" approach. Moving Sizemore down in the lineup should have been done years ago. I refuse to completely buy in until I see how the pitching staff is handled. I'm not expecting miracles, but subtle changes like, "maybe its NOT such a great idea to bring Jensen Lewis into a one-run game with runners on base" would be a nice start.
"H": How about we call Travis Hafner this from now on? I've never called him "Pronk" primarily because it is stupid. I've driven by several government housing projects in my day and never once did I see a donkey roaming around. At least referring to him by the first letter of his last name would be humorous, no? Regardless of what you choose to call him, the Tribe cannot be successful unless they get some sort of production from the guy designated to hit.
Could you go away please? General manager Mark Shapiro has made some head-scratching moves in his time, but the Russell Branyan signing makes us all look like we have head lice. Branyan will start the year on the DL, but was the plan to bring him in to take at-bats away from Matt LaPorta and keep Michael Brantley in Columbus? Great idea because Branyan certainly represents the future...oh wait.
Is anyone else as excited as I am for another year of the Andy Marte project? Don't get me wrong, overall I believe Shapiro is a better-than-average GM, but geez guy, learn to admit a mistake and get rid of this guy already. When I go to a game and see Marte in the starting lineup it makes me sad.
Finally, the forecast sponsored by Dick Goddard: For the record, I loved the Vic Martinez trade. We got a good-looking young pitcher in Masterson and another one in the farm system. But I still can't get over the Cliff Lee trade. For one, we got little value for Lee despite having ALL the leverage. I feel so good about the Tribe lineup this year, that I believe a pitcher of Lee's caliber would have made a HUGE difference. As it stands, I don't see how this team competes unless two or three young arms far exceed expectations a la Fausto in '07.
The Indians should hit in 2010 and for that reason will be vastly more entertaining to watch than '09, but how many more wins that translates into is hard to say.
Best case scenario: Fausto and Raffy Perez find '07 form, Westbrook holds up and one of the young arms surprises. If this happens and they hit as expected I say 88-74 is not out of the question.
Worst case scenario: Fausto and Raffy are not "fixed" and the young arms are predictably inconsistent. The bullpen becomes a revolving door between Cleveland and Columbus. If it plays out this way, I would look for a 68-94 team.
Either way, as exciting as some of the young hitters are, the Indians will go as their pitching staff goes. This may be Manny Acta's first season, but pitching coach Tim Belcher is really the man with his work cut out for him.
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