The 2011 Cleveland Indians are loaded with young talent and could be contenders sooner rather than later.
Three years ago, the Cleveland Indians were one win away from appearing in the World Series before the Boston Red Sox came back to win the 2007 American League Championship Series, four games to three.
In subsequent years, the Indians unloaded their potential World Series roster with a series of blockbuster trades.
Over the next two seasons, the Indians traded away starting pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee, third baseman Casey Blake and starting catcher Victor Martinez. In exchange, Cleveland added a wealth of young prospects, the likes of which may not be felt for this year, but at some point down the road.
Through their trades, the Indians added outfielders Matt Laporta and Michael Brantley as part of their deal with the Milwaukee Brewers for C.C. Sabathia. Laporta, the seventh overall pick from the 2007 Major League Draft and the No. 1 rated prospect for the Milwaukee Brewers at the time of the draft, is expected to start at first base this season, allowing Travis Hafner to start as the designated hitter.
In dealing pitcher Cliff Lee, who was coming off of a Cy Young season the year before, the Indians added the Philadelphia Phillies top prospect at the time, pitcher Carlos Carrasco.
As part of the Casey Blake deal to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Tribe added stud-catcher Carlos Santana (no relation to the musician), who entered the 2009 season as the Indians No. 1 prospect in the minors.
The Santana deal allowed the Indians to trade away their best player, catcher Victor Martinez to the Boston Red Sox. In that exchange, the Indians ended up with hard throwing pitcher Justin Masterson.
In two season, the Indians unloaded most of their best players, electing to hold onto Gold Glove outfielder Grady Sizemore and first baseman Travis Hafner, who from 2004 through 2007 batted in over 434 runs.
Since then however, Hafner has just 123 RBIs in the following three seasons.
Sizemore, who was considered by many to be one of the best young players in baseball hasn't been healthy the last two seasons, only playing in 33 games in 2010 before a knee injury ended his season.
The Indians middle infield is solid as Asdrubal Cabrera and Luis Valbuena return for their third season together.
With injuries and unproven young stars, the Indians best player may be outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who last season homered 22 times and drove in 90 runs while hitting .300 in 144 games. Choo has batted .300 or better each of the last three seasons.
The ace of the Tribes pitching staff, Fausto Carmona, who last season was awarded with his first All-Star appearance, was the subject of heavy trade rumors and may be again this season.
The rest of the Indians staff remains young, full of potential, and for the most part, untested. Masterson, Carlos Carrasco and a combination of Aaron Laffey, Mitch Talbot, David Huff and Josh Tomlin all could push for the fifth spot in the rotation.
After coming off of a 34 save season in 2008 for the Chicago Cubs, the Indians signed Kerry Wood to a two-year deal. Halfway into his second season with the Indians, Wood was traded to the New York Yankees. In a season and a half with the Indians, Wood managed just 28 saves.
This year; however, the Indians will enter with Chris Perez as their new closer. Last season, Perez finished with 23 saves and gave up just 12 runs in 63 innings of work, good enough for a 1.71 ERA, third best in the league for players with over 20 saves.
The 2011 Cleveland Indians are young, talented and unproven, yet the the Tribe have some good reasons to look toward the future.
From 1994 to 2001, the Indians made the playoffs six times and appeared in the World Series twice.
After a rough rebuilding period, the Indians were one win away from making their third World Series appearance since 1995.
If history has shown us anything, it has proved that the Cleveland Indians will once again be contenders in the near future.
It's only a matter of time.