The Indians were a dark horse entering 2013, but earned the AL’s top Wild Card spot.
Entering 2013 there were a number of questions surrounding the Cleveland Indians. In the year prior, they finished well below .500 and in fourth place in the American League Central. Among the questions that were being asked: Would the club, now under the helm of former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, be competitive? Or in the case of Francona, would he be up to the task of managing the Indians? Recall that questions were called in Boston about his managerial style.
As the season played out its course, these questions would be answer emphatically. The club quietly rose from the middle of the pack in the American League Wild Card race to capture the top spot during the final week of the season. The Indians finished with a regular season record of 92-70, captured second place in the American League Central and first place in the American League Wild Card. They would lose to the Tampa Bay Rays in the Wild Card game, but despite this, it was a season a success for the Indians. It served as a good introduction to the Francona era in Cleveland.
There were a number of things that went right for the Indians this year.
The first and foremost was that their regular season success had confirmed the managerial abilities of Terry Francona. His tenure in Boston ended with not only some questions over his managerial style, but also whether he was still capable or had the will to be a big league manager anymore. After sitting out for a year in the broadcast booth, Francona returned and led the Indians to a winning record and wild card berth. Francona also captured the American League Manager of the Year award.
It was not just Francona that was good about the Tribe this year. This season saw the return of Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez. Both were back to the form that they displayed earlier in their careers. In the second half of the season, Jimenez was lights out, particularly in September, as the Indians made the final push to make the playoffs.
Along with Jimenez and Kazmir, Justin Masterson also posted a solid season for the Tribe as well. He led the team in wins (14) and in strikeouts (195). This season also the saw the emergence, or at least the beginning of Danny Salazar‘s big league career, in what was a promising start for the twenty-three year old righty. Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister were also bright spots.
In terms of hitting, Nick Swisher led the team in home runs (22), but one of the more important players in the lineup was second basemen Jason Kipnis. Kipnis would tie with outfielder Michael Brantley for batting average, but led the team in hits (160), runs (86), and RBI (84). As a whole, the Indians were fifth in the league in runs, seventh in on base percentage, and ninth in slugging percentage. They also had the benefit of late and extra inning heroics throughout the course of the season from the likes of the ageless Jason Giambi.
It was truly a going season for the Indians, and a return to form for a number of their players.
Much like anything, there was a downside to the Indians which countered the excellent strides made by the club. Among them was Lonnie Chisenhall‘s performance and prospective potential. As those around the club were hoping for a breakout season from the third basemen, he has looked more of a “flash in the pan”. He has not yet reached his potential or the achieved a breakout performance of note.
Much in a similar vein or theme to Chisenhall, Asdrubal Cabrera had a down year with a batting average of .242 and an on base percentage of .299. This hurt his trade value, and was an under performing season for the shortstop.
Brett Myers a complete disaster for the Indians. He imploded early in the season with an ERA of 8.02 and did not make it to the month of May with the team. While Myers imploded early on, the pitching of Chris Perez was an issue for the Indians over the course of the season. He walked a tightrope for the majority of the season. In August and September, he imploded so much that he was replaced with closer by committee for the remainder of the season. It has left a serious void for 2014, much in the same way that it did at the end of the season as well.
Outlook for 2014
The outlook for the Indians is a positive one if they keep making strides towards building off the successes of 2013 and addressing the areas of need. There is an air of excitement around the team for the upcoming season as the young players who make up the core of the team have now gotten more experience and are beginning to enter the prime of their careers. The Indians also have a solid bunch of veteran players who mix in well with the young core that they have.
The club does have significant areas to address with regards to its pitching. Scott Kazmir is a free agent and may not be heading back to the Forest City for the 2014 season. At the moment, it looks as though they are going to lose Kazmir and Jimenez. They already lost reliever Joe Smith who is on his way to Anaheim. If they can fill these vacancies in the rotation and bullpen, they have a shot at possibly making a run at American League Central crown. If not, then they could be standing in the dust.
Is it possible to catch lightening in a bottle two years in a row? That will be something we have to wait and see.
There is also the talk over trading Asdrubal Cabrera and possibly Drew Stubbs for prospects or other improvements. That is another interesting development that could impact the 2014 season for the Indians if a trade should take place. It should also be interesting to see what they do with Lonnie Chisenhall at the third base and if they keep him there. Why?
Francona has come out and stated that Yan Gomes will be the primary catcher with Carlos Santana shifting over to designated hitter for the team. There has also been the rumor, whether it be true or not, that Santana could possibly shifted over to third. That may be something in the works or talk once spring training begins.
Another development to watch is how the club handles Justin Masterson‘s contract. That could impact the team either before the start of the season or after it. For now though, the Indians are in a unique position of having potential towards a promising 2014 or one of mediocrity. What it will come down to is how the team does in the off season addressing the needs of the club, but also building off a 2013 season that was a success for the Tribe.
Special thanks to Brian Heise of Wahoo’s on First for the help in putting this article together.