Previewing the AL Central: Cleveland Indians

USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians were as active as Kansas City during the offseason, leaving them with a team that should challenge the Royals.

Like many Kansas City Royals fans, the new-look Cleveland Indians team has me worried about the Royals chances of reaching the postseason. Cleveland, on paper, looks to be an equal to Kansas City, and could realistically finish ahead of them in the division.

Worry no more, Royals fans. Kansas City is currently EIGHT games ahead of the Indians in spring training. Clearly, this is a sign of things to come, and I now laugh at the thought that a mere .500 team during spring training could ever worry me.

Major Off-Season Transactions

  • HP M. Albers, RHP T. Bauer, RHP B. Shaw acquired from Dbacks for 1B/OF L. Anderson, SS D. Gregorius, and LHP T. Sipp
  • SS D. Gregorius and OF D. Stubbs acquired from Reds for IF J. Donald and OF S. Choo
  • 1B Mark Reynolds agreed to one-year contract
  • OF Nick Swisher agreed to four-year contract
  • OF Michael Bourn agreed to four-year contract
Cleveland also pulled off a blockbuster trade this winter, trading Shin-Soo Choo to the Cincinnati Reds, and receiving Drew Stubbs from Cincinnati and Trevor Bauer from the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Reds sent shortstop prospect Didi Gregorious to Arizona.

Choo is a big loss for Cleveland, but the signings of Bourn and Swisher should more than help make up for lost production. Adding Bauer may not help the Indians this season, but he still has the potential to turn into a top-flight pitcher. Cleveland only had Choo under contract for one more season, so essentially flipping him for a potential ace looks like a steal.

Projected Lineup

Player Position ZiPS Steamer Oliver PECOTA
Michael Bourn CF 3.7 3.4 4 2
Asdrubal Cabrera SS 3.2 3.1 3.1 2.6
Jason Kipnis 2B 2.6 3 3.2 3
Nick Swisher 1B 2.4 3.5 2.6 2.6
Carlos Santana C 4.4 4.6 5 4
Mark Reynolds DH 0.8 1.4 1.5 1.3
Michael Brantley LF 2.2 1.4 2.7 1.3
Lonnie Chisenhall 3B 1.6 1.7 1.9 0.4
Drew Stubbs RF 1.2 1.2 2 1.4

The top-five players in that lineup all project to be above-average, with Carlos Santana projecting as an All-Star across the board. Bourn derives a lot of his value from his defense, but the other four hitters all project to be above league-average at the plate.

As long as no one asks Mark Reynolds to field he should be fine, as his power and plate discipline skills should compensate for his inability to consistently make contract. Innings where Swisher, Santana and Reynolds all come to the plate will seem like they last forever, as all three are willing to work counts.

Brantley is a pretty solid option out of the seven spot. Chisenhall doesn't have a ton of upside, but is only 24 and has more fWAR than Eric Hosmer in about 700 fewer plate appearances. Stubbs contact issues really hurt him last season, but he is an excellent base runner and fielder.

Cleveland has quite a few quality players in their lineup with no one who projects as an abject disaster.

Projected Rotation

Pitcher Throws ZiPS Steamer PECOTA
Justin Masterson RH 2.9 3 1.8
Ubaldo Jimenez RH 2.3 1.8 2.5
Brett Myers RH 2.3 1.8 1.3
Zach McAllister RH 1.3 1.6 0.7
Scott Kazmir LH -0.3 0.2 0.1

The Indians rotation has quite a few more question marks than the team's lineup. Masterson projects as above-average, but really struggled last season against left-handed hitters. Jimenez pitched incredibly in 2010, but was replacement level last season. Myers was a closer last year, and has seen his K% fall each of the last three seasons. McAllister could be a league average pitcher if he gets his home-run rate under control. Kazmir's last season as an average major league pitcher was 2009.

I think if the Indians end up with at least three average pitchers from this group of five, they should be happy.

Bullpen

An analysis of Chris Perez - BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

The rest of the bullpen - Vinnie Pestano has been Cleveland's best relief pitcher the past two seasons. His career K% is 30.1%, which is essentially equal to Greg Holland's strikeout percentage. Cody Allen is young and can throw hard, but needs to get his walk rate under control. Joe Smith has an uninteresting name and doesn't strike a lot of batters out, but forces a ton of groundballs.

Farm System

Top Ten Prospects (According to John Sickels)

1) Trevor Bauer, RHP, Grade A-
2) Francisco Lindor, SS, Grade B+
3) Dorssys Paulino, SS, Grade B
4) Mitch Brown, RHP, Grade B-
5) Tyler Naquin, OF, Grade B-
6) Cody Allen, RHP, Grade B-
7) Ronny Rodriguez, SS-2B, Grade C+
8) Tony Wolters, 2B-SS, Grade C+
9) Jose Ramirez, 2B, Grade C+
10) Luigi Rodriguez, OF, Grade C+

The farm system has some elite talent in Bauer and Lindor, but starts to fall off fairly quickly. The only reason Bauer shouldn't be the first starting pitcher up from AAA is if he makes a diss rap track about Terry Francona. Lindor is one of the best shortstop prospects in baseball, and will start the season in Double-A.

The Indians farm system is still young, so a lot of these players with lower grades have a chance to take a step forward. Th team won't receive much help from their farm system in 2013, but they might in the future.

Projected Record

Baseball Prosepctus: 81-81

CAIRO - 81-81

Vegas: O/U 77½

The Indians are one of three teams in the AL Central who project as a .500 team. They appear to have the strongest lineup between the Royals and White Sox, but the weakest rotation.

Cleveland's strong off-season should help their team improve in 2013, and leaves them in a decent position to contend in the future as well. Kansas City will need to prove they are a cut above the Indians if they hope to reach the post-season for the first time in 27 years.
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