It’s a beautiful day for baseball…

…or not.

It is, however, a good morning for the 2009 Cleveland Indians Preview! We’re a little less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting, but the offseason has felt a little bit shorter than normal thanks to a flurry of offseason activity by Indians GM Mark Shapiro.

Arrivals

  • Kerry Wood. This is the big one. I have to admit, this one pleasantly surprised me. There are several types of closers in baseball right now: Mariano “no-one-hits-me-and-I-know-it” Rivera, Francisco “God-helps-me-save-games-and-all-I-do-is-point-at-him” Rodriguez, and Jonathan “every-time-I-record-an-out-feels-as-good-as-the-first-time” Papelbon are the elite closers; J.J. Putz (who oddly enough isn’t closing this year. The Mets are so desperate to make the playoffs they need two top-notch closers.) and Brad Lidge are in the next tier. I’d put Kerry Wood below these guys, but on that third tier of quality closers. He might not dominate (and seriously, would life be any fun as an Indians fan if he did? I mean, it’d be like going to a game that was eight innings. You wouldn’t get your money’s worth, right?), but I’m penciling him to be in the top five in the AL in saves. The one risk with Wood is his health, but the Indians medical staff is pretty good and he should only be pitching one inning or so every couple games.
  • Mark DeRosa. After the Wood signing, I figured the Indians were done with the Opening Day roster, for the most part, but DeRosa figures to be the everyday third baseman for the Indians next year (at least that’s what the Indians are saying. But Jhonny Peralta DID play third in Winter ball, right?). DeRosa hits for good average (a lifetime .279 hitter) and I’d say he’s an upgrade in run production from Casey Blake (and definitely Andy Marte). Assuming he adjusts well to the American League, pencil him in for about 20 HR and 80ish RBI.
  • Joe Smith. The lesser known bullpen acquisition, this guy’s a submariner who had a decent ERA last year. I think the most important thing about building a bullpen is to have options so that when some guys don’t work out (think Guillermo Mota or Roberto Hernandez or Jorge Julio). Shapiro’s got his bases covered, so to speak.
  • Carl Pavano. I’m not sure quite what to say about this one, but if it works I’ll sing Shapiro’s praises some more. For only $1 million, if Pavano gets 10 wins the Indians can call it a steal. It’ll be interesting to see if he pitches in the new Yankee Stadium in the first series the Indians play there (and the first one the Yankees play there), and maybe he’ll pitch against Sabathia.

Overall the offseason earns a solid A. In a time when many teams are scaling back the Indians managed to (smartly, in my opinion) spend some extra money and not only fill holes in the roster, but upgrade them as well.

Departures

  • Franklin Gutierrez. Of all the outfield prospects to go, I guess this was the one guy I’m okay with getting rid of, even though I would have preferred to not give him up either. The Indians still have good outfield depth, but if Grady Sizemore needs a break, there will no longer be a defensive specialist waiting on the bench to expertly fill the position. Trevor Crowe could fill this role in the long term, but expect Shin-Soo Choo to fill it in the short term.

Questions

  • Can the real Travis Hafner please stand up? I expect that Travis Hafner is somewhere between his monster 2006 year and his, shall we say, subpar 2007 year (and 2008 we’ll discount due to injury). I think a key for Hafner is to get off to a good start, and starting the year in Texas can only help that. He also needs to work on his selectivity at the plate: in both 2007 and 2008, he was chasing pitches that were way out of his comfort zone in 2006.
  • Can Fausto Carmona bounce back? Honestly, his 2008 year wasn’t that bad, if you discount the injury and early control problems. However, we saw hints of his brilliance from 2007, but it never really came back. Let’s face it though, one of the highlights of last season was Fausto punching Sheffield’s lights out. If he has that kind of fight in him this year, I think he’ll be back to his normal self.
  • Can Cliff Lee replicate his success? I’m not expecting 22-3 again, but I’d take it.
  • Can Ben Francisco and Shin-Soo Choo be reliable, everyday outfielders in the Major Leauges? Again, a lot of it is getting off to a good start. I’d hate to see David Dellucci in games at all this year, but he’s there as a safety net in case some “veteran leadership” is needed.
  • Can you get anything more out of Carl Pavano? This guy’s been beaten down by injuries and New York hardships most of the last few years – is there anything left?
  • How will the Indians manage Victor Martinez, Kelly Shoppach, and Ryan Garko? I’d like to see a lot of Shoppach at catcher and Martinez at first, but Eric Wedge really likes Martinez behind the plate (and so does Martinez). As for Garko, I think he’s got a lot to prove this year, but if he’s hitting I think there will be a space for him in the lineup.
  • Can Josh Barfield do something offensively? It’s been two years, he needs to start adjusting to the AL soon, or he might have a ticket out of Cleveland soon.
  • Is this the year the Indians avoid a prolonged offensive slump? Let me just say this: I hope so.

Projected Opening Day starting lineup

  1. CF Grady Sizemore
  2. 3B Mark DeRosa
  3. RF Shin-Soo Choo
  4. SS Jhonny Peralta
  5. 1B Victor Martinez
  6. DH Travis Hafner
  7. LF Ben Francisco
  8. C Kelly Shoppach
  9. 2B Asdrubal Cabrera

Bench

  1. 2B Josh Barfield
  2. LF David Dellucci
  3. INF Jamey Carroll
  4. 1B Ryan Garko

Rotation

  1. Cliff Lee
  2. Fausto Carmona
  3. Aaron Laffey
  4. Anthony Reyes
  5. Carl Pavano

Bullpen

  1. Kerry Wood
  2. Joe Smith
  3. Rafael Perez
  4. Rafael Betancourt
  5. Jensen Lewis
  6. Masahide Kobayashi
  7. Scott Lewis

Predictions

  • AL East: Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles
  • AL Central: Indians, Twins, Tigers, White Sox, Royals
  • AL West: Angels, Athletics, Mariners, Rangers
  • AL Wild card: Red Sox
  • NL East: Phillies, Mets, Braves, Marlins, Nationals
  • NL Central: Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Astros, Pirates, Reds
  • NL West: Dodgers, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres
  • NL Wild card: Mets
  • ALCS: Yankees over Red Sox
  • NLCS: Phillies over Cubs
  • World Series: Yankees over Phillies

So there you have it. Feel free to mock me when the season’s over, I’m sure these predictions will be completely wrong (and actually, I hope they’re wrong because then the Indians might get past the ALDS). Anyway, on January 21, here’s hoping for a great season! I’m looking forward to it – hope to see you at the stadium this summer!