I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain

Like every winter, I’m anxious for this one to end. Not particularly because it’s been cold here in Columbia, SC, but because the end of winter means the beginning of baseball season. Pitchers and catchers for many teams reported to Spring Training today, and while the Indians aren’t required to report until next week, many of them are in Arizona already preparing for the upcoming season.

Which is why, when I read the title of this article, I smiled a bit and started to read.

By the time I finished the article, I was kind of down in the dumps. Jayson Stark had declared the Indians the most unimproved team in the AL, started the clock ticking on Jake Westbrook’s and Kerry Wood’s time in Cleveland, pointed out how not close the Indians were to being able to sign Sabathia, and suggested a team of currently unemployed free agents could beat the Indians in a three-game series.

I won’t argue that the Indians shouldn’t expect to win a lot of games this year. Heck, remember how a rookie manager with a $200 million payroll failed to make the playoffs in 2008 (the Yankees)? The Indians have a rookie (well, rookie to them, and Acta’s only experience is with the Nationals, so…rookie) manager (not to mention entire coaching staff), a very young rotation and a solid but young offense. The bullpen has been atrocious the last couple years, and every game the Indians lose is another few hundred fans that decide going to see a game downtown isn’t worth it. But is this really that far off from where the Indians were in 2003? Four years later, the Indians won 96 games and made the ALCS.

Look, the easier way to win a World Series would have been to have signed Sabathia and Lee. But the Indians don’t have anywhere close to that kind of payroll ability, so they have to win the old fashioned way: scouting, a farm system, and intelligent trades. It’s not just the Indians; it’s the Rays, the Royals, the Blue Jays, the Twins, etc.

So to say the Indians have room for improvement is one thing. To say they’re now the joke of the league is quite another, and one I don’t agree with. Give the Indians a couple years and maybe they’ll surprise you; in fact, if my predictions are correct, maybe they’ll surprise some people this year.

That said, here’s my 2010 Indians and MLB preview.

Important questions

  • Will Grady Sizemore have a comeback season? Grady ended last season on the disabled list but even when he was playing, he was having the worst year of his career: .248 average/16 HR/64 RBI. This may be okay for a number seven or eight hitter in your lineup (like a Casey Blake type) but it’s not okay for a leadoff hitter especially one you expect to be the centerpiece of your offense. I’m looking for Sizemore to have a bounceback year: hopefully the new hitting coach will encourage him to hit more line drives the opposite way instead of being okay with him pulling off on the ball so often. Speaking of coaching…
  • How will Manny Acta fare in Cleveland? I’ll be honest, I was never really excited about the Manny Acta hire. However, he does have major league experience and seems to buy into the Shapiro/Dolan/whoever else philosophy. I also think he’ll do a great job interacting with the Hispanic players on the Indians. I think when Victor Martinez was traded last year, the Hispanic players lost their voice and leader on the team, and now they should have that back. I see this as critically important since a bulk of the current Indians players are Hispanic, as well as many of the hot prospects.
  • Can Fausto find the strike zone? Fausto Carmona didn’t exactly finish 2009 off with a bang, but he also didn’t finish it off with an explosion (meaning he wasn’t dominant, but he battled and made his way through his last start without collapsing). Carmona is the de facto #2 starter in the rotation now, and he’ll be counted on for some innings as well as some experience. I look for him to rebound and finish north of 10 wins, even if he doesn’t quite find his form he had in 2007.
  • How good is Luis Valbuena? The Indians’ second baseman showed signs of promise in 2009, but questions still linger. Unfortunately since Orlando Hudson ended up signing with the Twins, the Indians don’t have many other options at second base, so Valbuena will more or less have to do. I think anything in the neighborhood of .250/10/50 will be a decent season for the second-year player.
  • Sigh… How long before Jake Westbrook and Kerry Wood are shopped and/or traded? You didn’t hear this from me, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Indians dealt Jake Westbrook to the Dodgers before Opening Day. Dodgers GM Ned Colletti has said he wants to add another pitcher, and since the Dodgers have a much larger budget than the Indians, they could absorb the relatively cheap payroll hit of a Jake Westbrook (who is in a contract year).

    Kerry Wood will be harder to deal, I think, but for a team looking for a (relatively) cheap closer around the trade deadline, you could do worse than Kerry Wood. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him end up in the AL East somewhere, depending on which non-Yankees-or-Red-Sox team is contending.

  • When do we see Carlos Santana? This all depends on how well Santana plays defensively in the early part of this year, but I’m guessing he will be a September call-up. The Indians won’t want to rush him, especially since they’re going nowhere fast this year.

Starting Lineup

  1. CF – Grady Sizemore
  2. 2B – Luis Valbuena
  3. SS – Asdrubal Cabrera
  4. RF – Shin Soo Choo
  5. 3B – Jhonny Peralta
  6. DH – Travis Hafner
  7. 1BMatt LaPorta Russell Branyan
  8. LFMichael Brantley Matt LaPorta
  9. C – Lou Marson

Bench: Chris Gimenez, Mike Redmond, Trevor Crowe Michael Brantley, Austin Kearns, Mark Grudzielanek

EDIT: Due to the Indians’ signing of Russell Branyan yesterday, I made a couple changes marked above.

Rotation

  1. RHP Jake Westbrook
  2. RHP Fausto Carmona
  3. LHP Aaron Laffey
  4. RHP Justin Masterson
  5. RHP Anthony Reyes LHP David Huff

EDIT: This guy is apparently out until July.

Bullpen: RHP Kerry Wood, Jensen Lewis, Chris Perez, Jason Grilli LHP Rafael Perez, David Huff Tony Sipp

Predicted Standings

  • AL East: Yankees, Red Sox*, Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles Tough to pick against the defending champs here; though the Red Sox have improved themselves significantly, the Yankees improved themselves even more and had a better rotation to begin with. The Rays will challenge for a while but will eventually fall back, while the Blue Jays and Orioles won’t ever really be in contention except for the first couple months.
  • AL Central: Tigers, Twins, White Sox, Indians, Royals The Tigers’ pitching is just too good to not eventually win them a division title (they were beat out in ’06 and ’09 by the Twins on the last day of the season). The Twins, as always, will challenge, but even newcomers like Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson won’t be enough. The Sox aren’t great, but they do have the advantage of more veteran pitching and a stronger bullpen. I think the Indians will start slow then have a better second half, but eventually it’ll be another “wait ’till next year”. And sorry, Royals fans – ask anyone who will listen, I’m secretly pulling for you.
  • AL West: Mariners, Angels, Rangers, Athletics Cliff Lee will end up being one of the best acquisitions in recent memory and the Mariners will roll in this division. The Angels will challenge but are aging quickly and aren’t the same team they have been in recent memory. The Rangers’ young pitching staff will regress, and the Athletics aren’t ready to contend yet.
  • NL East: Phillies, Braves*, Mets, Marlins, Nationals This is a rather bold pick but something tells me Bobby Cox will figure out how to get into the playoffs for his final season. The Mets are still the Mets. The Marlins won’t win anything else until they get out of that stadium, and the Nationals…well, remember how I said the Indians shouldn’t be the joke of the league?
  • NL Central: Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers, Reds, Astros, Pirates Matt Holliday will propel the Cardinals to their second consecutive division title. The Brewers have lost a lot of their pitching strength and will struggle.
  • NL West: Rockies, Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Padres If the Dodgers end up trading for Jake Westbrook I think they have a real shot at winning this division, but as it stands now, the Rockies have the talent and experience to win it. The Giants have good pitching but simply can’t hit, while the Diamondbacks are a good team stuck in a great division.

* Wildcard

Playoffs

  • ALCS: Yankees over Tigers
  • NLCS: Cardinals over Phillies
  • World Series: Cardinals over Yankees (7 games)

Miscellaneous

  • Total fines imposed as a result of controversial tweeting: $250,000
  • How much MLB 2K10 will suck: a lot
  • Number of Tiger Woods/Steve Phillips comparisons made on the air: 15
  • How annoying Red Sox fans will be: more than ever

There you have it. I look forward to reviewing these mid-season and finding out how wrong they were, but if I’m wrong in the case of the Indians…worse things have happened, right?



Originally posted on Cleveland, Curveballs and Common Sense on February 18, 2010 at 10:39 PM. Post text content © 2010 Jimmy Sawczuk. All rights reserved.

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