Heading to Battle: A Pre-Spring Look at the '09 Cleveland Indians

Greg CookseyCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2009

This week the Indians have been busy traveling over northeast Ohio on their annual winter press tour. In the coming weeks they will be busy packing and getting ready to head to spring training.

It seems hard to believe that in a about three weeks the pitchers and Catcher's will be in Goodyear Arizona as pitchers and catchers report on February 12.

This year will be an interesting season for the Tribe as it will have somewhat of a new look to it. For starters they will return to the Cactus League in Arizona for spring training this year. The last time the Tribe held spent a spring in Arizona was 1992, when they held spring training in Tucson, AZ.

They have spent the better part of the last 14 years playing in Winter Haven, FL. New faces have been brought in, and their has been some shuffling around of old ones.

As we continue to gear up for the new baseball season lets take a look at somethings that will be interesting to watch for in the spring of '09.

How will the "rebuilt" pitching staff fare?

With no disrespect to Cliff Lee, this is the first time in some time that the Indians have entered the season without a true No. 1 ace. That very well could end up being Cliff Lee, especially after winning a Cy Young award last year. The problem is that the Indians have always used Lee as a middle-to-end-of-the-rotation starter because CC Sabathia was the ace.

Now with C.C. gone to the Yankees, the team will need a new No. 1. Lee will rightfully and deservedly so get the first opportunity to take over that role. Can he make the adjustment and handle pitching well against big time pitchers? Last year, as well as seasons past (minus the 2007 season), would suggest that he can, but we'll see.

As far as the rest of the rotation goes spring training should be a very telling one. I think that you can count on Fausto Carmona being solid baring any injuries. The rest will be wait and see. Who knows about Carl Pavano who if (and that is a very big if) he is healthy good be an excellent No. 3 guy, the rest seems a little dicey though.

My most likely thought is that you will see Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffy as the Nos. 4 and 5 starters since they have the most experience at the MLB level.

However, what about the other youngsters like Scott Lewis who came up in September and was impressive, or Adam Miller who most fans want to see up here, or Zac Jackson who proved to be more then a throw in in the deal for Sabathia, or Dave Rush who shows some promise. It should be interesting to see how the situation plays itself out.

What about the catcher and first-base situation?

Not much of a situation I suppose but you could see something happen hear. After the year that Kelley Shoppach had last year it would be very difficult if not unfair to tell him that he has to go back to siting on the bench and be second fiddle to Victor Martinez for another season.

Plus, with the fact that the Indians have always said they would like to spare Matreniz'a knees by playing him at first, someone will have to be willing to give up some playing time right?

Unfortunately that someone looks to be Ryan Garko who struggled mightily through the first half of the season last year, then seemed to find his stride during the second half. It would be difficult to keep Garko out of the lineup because his bat does produce runs and you would like to have it in the mix, however

Martinez and Shoppach seem to swing a better bat, so that counts against Garko.

Last week, it came out that they team will try to give him a look at the outfield, but the team has so many outfielders already that it may not benefit him or the rest of the team for that matter much.

Is Garko an odd-man out? Time will tell, but for right now, all indicators seem to suggest he may be just that!

What can we expect from Kerry Wood?

I would say that we can expect a very solid season from Kerry provided he is healthy, even though he missed sometime last season he had a very good one.

The Cubs were very smart to turn him into a closer because they found a way to use him in a way that is not perhaps as stressful as a regular starter.

He will not have to pitch every fifth day, which means more rest for his arm, plus he has some good young talent in the bullpen that would be more then capable of handling pitching for him if he cannot go.

Plus if the game is either way out of hand, or well with in hand, he most likely will not have to pitch anyway. Of course, the main key will be health, but provided he is healthy he will be an important piece.

Will we finally see the return the Pronk that we all are used to seeing this season?

Hard to say. Last week he told the media that he felt better and that he feels that he is ready to go, we will not be able to make that decision until he actually has some at bats though.

I do see some cause for alarm because if you remember he started to tail off, productivity wise, towards the end of the '07 season, though he did have some big hits during the postseason that year, but again, only time will tell he this season and the rest of his career will shape out.

Overall, I see a over .500 season for the Indians, making a jump into the postseason could be a different story though. The AL Central is not very good, but are they a better team then the Tigers or the White Sox? Time will reveal that answer.

I see about 90 wins if the team stays healthy and consistent. If that can't be, then it will be a long year.

Quick Hits

Looks like Fausto Carmona will most likely not end up pitching for the Dominican Republic during the world baseball classic. Carmona is trying to concentrate on improving upon his '08 season in which he went 8-7 with a 5.44 era and there is though that since a stint in the WBC could last three weeks, there is worry that may serve as a distraction for him.

According to Indians.com Carmona did pitch in the Dominican league and had positive results.

Speaking of the World Baseball Classic, when the final rosters come out next month it looks like 14 Indians will be participating.

Among them will be Grady Siezmore and the newly acquired Mark DeRosa playing for team USA, Rafeal Bentancourt will play for Venezuela, Jhonny Peralta and Rafeal Perez will both play for the Dominican Republic team, Masa Koybayashi will represent Japan, and Shin-Soo Choo will play for Korea.

When asked about it Manager Eric Wedge said that he had no problem with his players playing, but that made it very clear that he thought everyone knew there commitment to the Indians and that if it is a distraction to anyone that they should stay.

Tell Me Why?

Could someone please explain to me why Mark Shapiro has such an infatuation with outfielders? Last week not only did it come that the will give both Josh Barfeild and Ryan Garko a look at the outfield but also that they player that they named from that Paul Byrd deal would be Mickey Hall who is yet another outfielder from the Boston Red Sox.

This team is stocked full of outfielders throughout the system. Was there really need for another one? Why not try to add depth at other positions—say, pitching? Oh well, I guess it is not meant to be understood.


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