To casual observers, the Cleveland Indians of 2011 seemed like a Cinderella team that saw midnight too quickly. Somewhere in late August, they turned into a pumpkin and their glass slipper was crushed.
In reality, they are very much for real. You could even argue that they suffered some misfortune that cost them the division.
They had some crushing injuries throughout the season, and some key players did not play well. The challenge from here is deciding which of those were freak events and which players they really shouldn't count on.
The Indians made the first move of the offseason when they traded for Derek Lowe. They are definitely not finished.
Immediately out of the chute, we see one of the biggest questions on the team. Carlos Santana is here to stay, but should he stay behind the dish or should he move to first? Lou Marson is a solid defender behind the dish, but he isn't much at the plate. Matt LaPorta has a hitting pedigree at first, but he hasn't done it at the big league level. If LaPorta can find the stroke that made him a top prospect, they would prefer to keep Santana behind the plate.
Jason Kipnis takes over full time at second, and no matter how well he performs, he will be a huge improvement over Orlando Cabrera. Kipnis was overshadowed by Dustin Ackley in Seattle, but he just might be the better of the two. Either way, the Indians faithful will grow to appreciate him quickly.
Asdrubal Cabrera found his way on to ESPN a ton this past season, but he really is subpar as a defender. On the flip side, his offensive numbers were very sneaky this past season. If he produces the same 20-plus home runs, the Indians will be in business.
However, a move to third could be in the offing. Jack Hannahan came out of nowhere to be a decent third baseman overall. Defensively, he is one of the best.
Player to Watch: Jason Kipnis
The Indians are hoping Grady Sizemore has a bounce back season in him. He was a negative impact performer across the board last year, but it wasn't too long ago that he was the straw that stirred the drink in Cleveland. Shin-Soo Choo is usually very steady in right field, but he came up lame late last season. Kosuke Fukodome came in and performed ably, but Choo had been their steadiest performer.
Shelley Duncan seemed to take over in left field, but he has never played full time at the big league level. Michael Brantley is always there to challenge him. There is a small chance they may want to bring back Fukodome to provide depth as well. Either way, the theme for 2012 will be good health.
Player to Watch: Grady Sizemore
Acquiring Derek Lowe was a stroke of brilliance. The Atlanta Braves are paying a majority of his salary, and no one is expecting him to be a top of the rotation starter anymore. The Indians need pitchers that can log innings, and Lowe can still do that with the best of them. Add him with Ubaldo Jimenez, and the rotation looks a lot different than it did at the beginning of the 2011 season.
If the Indians are to do anything, they will need Fausto Carmona to show up. He was a sub-replacement level performer last year, but he has been an ace in the past. If you put an effective Carmona up with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, you would have a dynamic rotation. The Indians are likely looking to add to that nucleus because Carmona has proven that he can't be trusted from season to season.
Mitch Talbot was another good pitcher that turned bad in 2011. In fact, he turned very bad. As of now, he stands as a candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation, so the Indians would like to improve on that. Every good GM knows he needs seven or eight effective starters to make it through the season, so keeping Talbot on the shelf would work.
Player to Watch: Fausto Carmona
The Perez boys grabbed most of the headlines in the bullpen, but neither were the best reliever on the staff. Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith combined to be more than 50 runs above average, according to TPR. Meanwhile, the Perez's combined to be below average. Go figure.
Even giving them a decent Tony Sipp, the Indians would like to add at least one solid reliever to the group before the end of the Winter Meetings.
Player to Watch: Vinnie Pestano
Winter Meetings Win
The Indians are moving into the Winter Meetings with the same plan as most other teams: find more pitching. They have the benefit of not being desperate for pitching. They were rumored to be in on Jair Jurrjens, but that was earlier in the offseason. What they need most of all is for Fausto Carmona and Mitch Talbot to pitch up to expectations, and that isn't going to happen in the Winter Meetings.