The Indians will dip their big toe into the uncertain waters of rebuilding this season. It’s not a total rip-it-down-to-the-studs rebuild, but the signs are there. Besides that, they’ll try to do the hardest thing in baseball — win while turning over big chunks of the roster. Thank goodness for the AL Central.
Manager Terry Francona’s team has won three straight division titles and is favored to win a fourth in 2019, but the cast of characters has changed. Free agents Michael Brantley, Andrew Miller, Lonnie Chisenhall, Josh Donaldson and Rajai Davis are gone. Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, Yan Gomes and Yandy Diaz were traded so the Indians could reduce the payroll.
What remains is a finely tuned starting rotation led by two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and two of the best young position players in baseball — Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. The bullpen has closer Brad Hand and little else. The outfield is an empty page of players such as Bradley Zimmer, Tyler Naquin and Leonys Martin coming off injuries and/or life-threatening illnesses. The final story in the green pasture of Progressive Field is a long way from being written.
The Indians have posted six straight winning seasons. In that time they’ve made four postseason appearances, won three division titles, one pennant and reached Game 7 of the World Series. A seventh consecutive winning season is in order, and so is another trip to the postseason, but this is the most vulnerable the Indians have been since they shocked baseball by winning 92 games in 2013 after losing 94 games the previous year. If a hot team emerges from the rubble of the rebuilding AL Central, they’ll have a chance to beat the Indians.
Opposing Scouts Size Up the Indians
“Unless the Indians suffer a ton of injuries, no one is beating them in that sorry division. This is the Indians’ window, and they know it. Their re-tooling over the winter gives them freedom this summer — they’re such a smart front office that they’ll see what they need in July to compete with the super-teams in October, and then go out and get it. They set themselves up in the bullpen with the Brad Hand trade last July; he’s an elite closer, and he’s smart to throw that slider more and more, because lefties can’t touch it. I like bringing back Carlos Santana and losing Edwin Encarnacion, who is clearly in decline. They have two MVP candidates on the left side of the infield with Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor — what an advantage to have switch-hitters like those two and Santana. They’re a little thin in the outfield, but don’t forget about Bradley Zimmer. If he comes back around midseason, or earlier, from shoulder surgery, his speed will give them a real jolt. Book it: They’ll have another chance at that elusive championship.”
Beyond the Box Score
Cy Kluber In the last five years, it’s hard to say Corey Kluber without saying Cy Young. Not only has he won two Cy Young awards, but he’s also placed in the top nine of the voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America in each of those five years. Here are his finishes: First in 2014; ninth in 2015; third in 2016; first in 2017; and third in 2018. Kluber is 83–45 with a 2.85 ERA in that stretch.
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Leonys Martin played six games with the Indians last season before he was struck with a life-threatening bacterial infection. Martin, acquired from the Tigers on July 31, suffered damage to his internal organs, including his heart, before doctors at Cleveland Clinic were able to get the infection under control. In November, he was given a clean bill of health and is expected to be ready for spring training.
30-30 Man Jose Ramirez became just the third Indians player to hit 30 homers (39) and steal 30 bases (34) bases in one season last year. Joe Carter (1987) and Grady Sizemore (2008) were the others. Ramirez is the only Indians player to go 30-30 with at least 100 runs (110) and 100 RBIs (105).
Lindor Launches Francisco Lindor became the first shortstop in MLB history to finish a season with at least 35 homers (38), 40 doubles (42) and 20 steals (25). He has set the franchise record for homers by a shortstop for the last two seasons, hitting 33 in 2017 and 38 in 2018. Lindor did a lot of that damage from the leadoff spot, hitting a franchise-record nine leadoff homers last season. He was credited with 14 defensive runs saved — third among MLB shortstops according to Fangraphs.com — while making 157 starts at short.
Jose and Frankie Lindor and Ramirez became the first set of teammates to post 80-plus extra-base hits in consecutive seasons since Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig did it for the Yankees in 1936 and 1937. They are the first switch-hitting teammates to hit at least 30 homers in the same season in MLB history.
Round Numbers Jason Kipnis became the first Indians player to reach at least 1,000 hits, 100 homers and 100 steals in his career last season. He reached 100 homers in unique style on Aug. 26 against Kansas City with just the second inside-the-park homer of his career. The first came against the Royals as well.
Stop, Thief The Indians led the big leagues in stolen bases last season for the first time in team history with 135. They had four players steal 20 or more bases: Ramirez (34), Lindor (25), Greg Allen (21) and Rajai Davis (21).
SS Francisco Lindor (S)
2B Jason Kipnis (L)
3B Jose Ramirez (S)
DH Jake Bauers (L)
1B Carlos Santana (S)
LF Jordan Luplow (R)
RF Tyler Naquin (L)
CF Greg Allen (S)
C Roberto Perez (R)
C Kevin Plawecki (R)
INF Max Moroff (S)
OF Leonys Martin (L)
OF Trayce Thompson (R)
RHP Corey Kluber
RHP Carlos Carrasco
RHP Trevor Bauer
RHP Mike Clevinger
RHP Shane Bieber
LHP Brad Hand (C)
RHP Dan Otero
LHP Tyler Olson
RHP Neil Ramirez
LHP Oliver Perez
RHP Adam Cimber
RHP Nick Wittgren
1st AL Central