The Cleveland Indians finished 2012 on a torrid 18-44 streak that cost Manny Acta his job. After a year in the ESPN booth, Terry Francona will try to lead the Tribe to their first World Series title since 1948. GM Chris Antonetti restocked Cleveland’s lineup via free agency and acquired a young potential ace via trade.
Nick Swisher brings his career .467 slugging percentage/.828 OPS to Lake Erie’s shore after four productive seasons with the New York Yankees, averaging 25 HR/88 RBI in pinstripes. Swisher’s nemesis in the Bronx was October, his bat abandoned him in postseason play. Swisher inked a $56 million four year deal in December. Originally slotted in RF, he will transition to 1B with the addition of Michael Bourn.
Scott Boras worked his magic again, enticing Antonetti to give Bourn a four year $48 million deal with a fifth year option. Bourn’s career .339 OBP is a little low for a leadoff man, but he has at least 40 steals each of the last five seasons. He is an excellent defender, being named 2012’s top defensive outfielder in the NL by Baseball America’s poll of NL managers.
Drew Stubbs will patrol a corner outfield spot for the Indians, giving them a pair of plus defenders in the outfield. He came to Cleveland as part of a three team trade that sent Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati. Stubbs has 100 steals and 51 home runs the last three years. However his OPS has trended downward and he strikes out far too often.
Slugger Mark Reynolds comes to Cleveland after two seasons in Baltimore on a one year $6 million deal. Last year his line was 23 HR/69 RBI/.429 slugging percentage.From 2009 through 2011 he averaged 38 HR/91 RBI, but he strikeouts roughly once every three plate appearances. He will likely DH now that Swisher will play first.
The acquisition of utility infielder Mike Aviles flew under the radar. His two year $6 million deal provides Francona lineup flexibility and quality depth at three infield positions.
The Indians lack of pitching, an AL worst 4.79 ERA, contributed to their second half collapse. The Tribe obtained future potential ace Trevor Bauer as the centerpiece of the three team deal that also brought them Stubbs. Bauer will be given an opportunity to win the fifth starting pitcher job in Spring Training. He was the #1 prospect in the AA Southern League and the #3 prospect in the AAA Pacific Coast League according to Baseball America.
Matt Albers, a useful setup man, was also acquired in the deal. He had a 2.39 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP in 60.1 innings in 2012.
Brett Myers spent one year in a relief role with Houston and the White Sox, but is expected to be the fourth starter for the Indians in 2013. He pitched over 200 innings in both 2010 and 201, going 21-22 for the Astros with a combined 3.79 ERA.
The bullpen may get a welcome addition from within. Baseball America’s #4 rated Cleveland prospect Cody Allen was successful in a 27 game stint in 2012. He will open the season as a setup man, but may unseat Chris Perez as closer.
Antonetti went all 2008 by signing Daisuke Matsuzaka and Scott Kazmir to minor league contracts. Another golden oldie coming to the rock ‘n’ roll capital is Jason Giambi. The Giambino figures to serve as a left handed PH if he makes the squad.
The starting staff is still the biggest weakness entering 2013. Francona is “excited about our pitching because it seems like we have some depth.” But the three headed monster of Ubaldo Jimenez-Justin Masterson-Zach McAllister will scare nobody except the paying patrons of the Jake. Bauer is a potential ace, but struggled in a small sample as a Diamondback.
The 2013 lineup will be improved, Bourn and Swisher are capable additions. However, Stubbs and Reynolds may strike out a combined 400 times, killing rallies if they bat near each other in the order. Bourn, Stubbs and Michael Brantley will be the best defensive outfield in the AL, but they provide little power.
After four straight losing seasons, 81 wins seems like an achievable goal in Francona’s first year in Cleveland. Whatever their record at the end of 2013, the Indians faithful should be encouraged that owner Larry Dolan has opened up his wallet and returned the franchise to relevance.