2010 AL Central Preview: Tribe Tribulations Abound in Cleveland

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2010 AL Central Preview: Tribe Tribulations Abound in Cleveland

The Cleveland Indians finished last season with a 65-97 record, good for fourth place in the American League Central. While I expect marginal improvement this season, there are too many questions to suggest anything better than a last place finish for The Tribe in 2010.

Poor performance, injuries, and a lack of talent cost former manager Eric Wedge his job. Numerous issues are confronting new manager Manny Acta—not the least of which is a continuing dearth of major-league-ready talent. That’s not to say that GM Mark Shapiro hasn’t done a good job of acquiring future potential, but it will take a couple of years for those moves to pay off. In the interim, Acta has to find a way to produce wins or he may follow Wedge into unemployment.

In my opinion, ALL of the troubling issues that surround the ballclub need to resolve themselves in a positive fashion in order for the Tribe to make a run at the .500-mark this year.

Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook will need to re-establish themselves at the front end of the rotation. Kerry Wood needs to get healthy, if only so that the club will be able to get something for him at the trading deadline—and although it may be blasphemy, Grady Sizemore needs to prove he is healthy so that the Tribe can market him in July, as well, if it determines a bull market exists for his services. Travis Hafner needs to discover the old form that earned him the nickname ‘Pronk’. Shin Soo Choo needs to find a way to avoid compulsory military service in South Korea (the rumor is he may be able to swap performance in the Asian Games for his military service).

Key Additions: 1B Russell Branyan, C Mike Redmond

Key Subtractions: C Kelly Shoppach

Key Performer, 2010: Fausto Carmona

Starting Rotation

There are serious issues and significant questions surrounding each and every member of the Indians rotation as the team prepares for the 2010 campaign; however, with that said, the rotation could actually prove to be the team’s strength.

Is Jake Westbrook sufficiently recovered from Tommy John surgery to serve as the ace of the staff? Has Fausto Carmona addressed the issues with his mechanics that robbed him if his effectiveness during each of the last two seasons? Will Justin Masterson be able to establish himself in his first full season in a major league rotation? Will David Huff and Aaron Laffey ever live up to the (modest) expectations that the organization had for them?

Once upon a time, Westbrook and Carmona were both pretty darned good, and there seems to be no reason they can’t be effective once again…The question is: Will they? Carmona, especially, had a brilliant spring and revived hopes that he can once again be a dominant force atop the rotation.

Up front I'll declare that I consider Justin Masterson (4-10, 4.52) a friend, and believe he may consider me a friend as well. So my perspective may be a bit subjective. He is an extremely intelligent individual - it's an intellect that he will use to his advantage as his career progresses. Not only does he possess tremendous skill, but he has a tireless work ethic to go along with it. He misses a lot of bats and induces a lot of grounders. IMHO, one of these days he is going to put together an all-star campaign or two or three.

Huff and Laffey can be serviceable starting pitchers at the back end of the rotation. Each has shown flashes, but the question is whether they can do so consistently. Up to this point, they answer has been ‘no’.

Bullpen

The bullpen is thin and could prove to be an utter disaster.

Kerry Wood (3-3, 4.25, 20 S in 26 SO) will miss the first six weeks of the season (no surprise here); thus, unproven Chris Perez (1-2, 4.26, 2 S in 5 SO) will move from setup responsibilities to the closer’s role, at least at the outset. If he proves capable, it seems likely he will remain in that role–although it’s possible the organization could audition Wood for a mid-season trade by returning him to ninth-inning responsibilities. It certainly must be disquieting for Indians fans to know their potential closer has almost as many blown saves (seven) as saves (nine) in his career.

RHPs Joe Smith (0-0, 3.44 in 37 games), Jensen Lewis (2-4, 4.61 in 47 games), LHPs Tony Sipp (2-0, 2.93 in 46 games), and Rafael Perez (4-3, 7.31 in 54 games) fill out the remainder of an unremarkable relief corps.

Lineup

The lineup has as many question as it has answers.

CF Grady Sizmore (.248, 18 HR, 64 RBI) was slowed by elbow and abdominal injuries throughout last year, and his numbers clearly suffered. He underwent surgery towards the end of the season, and both the player and organization hope he will be healthy in 2010 (so that he can be dealt by mid-season?).

SS Asdrubal Cabrera (.308, 6 HR, 68 RBI, 17 SB, .361 OBP) performed very well in his first season of full-time duty in the big leagues. DH Hafner appears to be healthy after a couple of years of dealing with injury concerns. If both he and Sizemore are healthy, they would provide a much-needed boost to an offense that lost Victor Martinez and was only a little better than league-average in 2009.

RF Choo (.300/20/86/21) had a strong second half in 2008 and followed that up with an excellent performance in 2009. He’ll bat cleanup this season, but questions abound with regard to the compulsory service he owes South Korea and whether he may have been a one-year wonder. He had a significant power outage in the second half of 2009 (13 HR in 1st half, just 7 HR in the second half)…if it turns out that he is a .300 hitter who will hit 12 – 15 HR, he may not be able to provide sufficient power for a corner outfielder.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see 1B Russell Branyan (.251/31/76) slide into the lineup in the fifth slot behind Choo–He’ll certainly provide enough power to ensure opposing hurlers have to pitch to Choo.

After 3B Johnny Peralta (.254, 11 HR, 83 RBI), the lineup is full of questions.

Catcher Lou Marson came to Cleveland in the Cliff Lee trade…He will start the year behind the plate (at least until Carlos Santana is ready) but has a grand total of 22 games at the big league level. 2B Luis Valbuena hit .281, with 6 HR, after July 1st last year… he posted double-digits in HR and SB in three straight minor league seasons, thus it seems likely he’ll be able to sustain his performance (and maybe even improve upon last year).

Left field will probably go to speedster Michael Brantley (46 SB in 457 AB in the minor leagues last year). While Matt LaPorta offers more pop, Brantley provides speed and defensive skills…and with major league executives being more attentive to defense it seems likely Brantley’s skill sets will be appreciated in today’s game.

Outlook

There are too many ifs and too few answers in Cleveland. The club may turn out to be all right, but everything would have to go right in order for this team to escape the basement. The front office has not replaced Cliff Lee or Victor Martinez…and while there are some nice pieces in place that offer hope for the future, the future is NOT 2010.

SOX1Forecast: 70-92, 5th place.

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Cleveland Indians – Top Five Prospects

1. C Carlos Santana
2. 3B Lonnie Chisenhall
3. OF Michael Brantley
4. P Nick Hagadone
5. OF Nick Weglarz

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