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Around the Division: Hope in Cleveland

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As we get closer to the beginning of the season Royals Review will take a closer look at our devilish foes in the American League Central, the greatest, toughest, most exciting conglomeration of teams ever assembled. We begin with a Q&A with Ryan Richards of Lets Go Tribe regarding those Northeastern Ohio Indians. Thanks again to Ryan for taking the time to let us know how the other one-fifth lives.

For more on the Indians off-season move by move, check out Jeff Sackman's preview at Beyond the Boxscore.

In 2006 the Indians went 78-84 and finished 4th in the AL Central.

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Cleveland's last two seasons have certainly looked taxing from afar. What are Indians fans expecting in 2007?

Ryan: Believe it or not, expectations are pretty high. There was really no one of consequence to replace, and the free agent signings seem to plug the holes that plagued the team last season.

Looking at your off-season additions it looks as if the tried and true "seasoned vet" approach was taken, with a side of Barfield. Are you happy with what Shapiro has done?

Ryan: In the bullpen, I'm fine with the four one-year deals (Foulke, Borowski, Hernandez, Fultz) because relievers are by nature fickle things. Fultz is the one who may be sent packing early, but again, there's not a lot of risk that they took on. And the bullpen needed fixed badly.

David Dellucci fit rather nicely into what was already there - he'll be platooning with Jason Michaels, who showed last year that he was better used only against right-handers. Compared to some of the other deals, 3/$11M is rather affordable.

Trot Nixon is the only one which was unnecessary. Nixon's a good player when healthy, but when has been healthy. The signing seems Shin-Soo Choo's going back to Buffalo, and while more depth is never a bad thing, it will push back the Indians' decision timeframe on Choo - is he capable of holding down a corner outfield job, or is his bat too light?

Is there anyone in the organization that Royals fans don't know about, but will in a few months? A sleeper/breakout guy?

Ryan: Leaving out the projected starters, I'll throw out a few players to watch for:

(1) Ryan Garko. The only reason he isn't slated to be the team's starting first baseman is that he's new to the position, and after last season's problems in the infield, the Indians need all the defensive help they can get. But Garko has always hit, aside from a hiccup in early 2006. As he gets better acclimated to the position (he'll probably never be that good), he should be given a shot, as there isn't much blocking him.

(2) LHP Tony Sipp. He's put up great numbers at every stop in the minors, and I think he could probably pitch in the majors as soon as April. If Aaron Fultz implodes, he could see a lot of important innings in the bullpen.

(3) RHP Adam Miller. Not that big of a sleeper given his prospect status, but he could be a midseason callup if the Indians need him. Fausto Carmona is ahead of him on the depth chart, but Miller's ceiling is extremely high.

Every time I listen to Cleveland sports talk radio (which is actually weirdly pretty often) I sense repeated angst that the Dolan family isn't quite willing to spend money. Do you think thats the case and will this trade deadline be any different?

Ryan: The Dolans have been a favorite bogeyman since they bought the team at the end of the late-90s run, and some of the criticisms have been unfair. They did overpay for the team, but a lot of the payroll issues were either inherited (big contracts, poor farm system), or just economics (the Browns came back, everyone else got new stadiums, etc). When they gave the go-ahead on the rebuild, they and Shapiro were reviled in the city; history will probably look on both more favorably. But would I like to see the payroll increase? Absolutely. As for the deadline, I don't see them taking on an Abreu-sized contract, but there shouldn't be a problem picking up the standard $3-5M deal.

You do the "Grady lost the ball in the sun" game against the Royals in 2005 (Game 156, began three-straight one-run loss stretch) was preemptive karmic payback for the whole "Grady's Ladies" phenomenon?

Ryan: I'm more apt to blame Eric Wedge's early-season mustache, which was such an affront to facial hair that even a 93-win team couldn't overcome it.

Fire Wedge?

Ryan: 2007 is probably his last chance. I don't see him surviving another underachieving season.

The Indians went 10-8 against the Royals in 2006, whats your prediction for Royals-Indians in 2007? (The Tribe close 2007 with 3 games in KC, btw)

Ryan: I'd say 12-6.

Any tips for newbie visitors to Jacobs Field and Cleveland?

Ryan: I don't know if they're going to do it this year, but you can get half-off bleacher tickets ($7) in April and May if you bring a Pepsi can to the gate. And you have to get a hot dog or three, if for nothing else than to try the world-famous stadium mustard.

Toledo: Indians town or Tigers Town?

Ryan: When I was in college there in the early 2000s, it was definitely a Tribe town - the Tigers were beyond awful, and the Indians were winning divisions with regularity. I haven't been back recently, but I'd think the gap has closed considerably. After all, the Mudhens are there, and Toledo's always been a border city.

A fun note - in Toledo, there's a sports store with Ohio State gear on one side, and Michigan stuff on the other. There's a line painted right down the middle.

Thanks again to Ryan. We'll see how that Royals-Indians prediction holds up. It should be an epic battle!