Yes spring is finally here. Today is opening day and the Tribe will be playing tonight against the Toronto Blue Jays. Mark your calendar, 162 games to go plus some hopefully. It is time to start having some fun!
This has been one of the busiest off seasons ever for the Tribe. No move was more important than the hiring of Terry Francona. Francona immediately brought a fresh voice to the organization and a new vigor. Francona would probably disagree with me, but this move alone could result in a .500 season. Manny Acta had this team in first place, or within a few games at the All-Star break two years in a row. If Acta could accomplish that, I don’t see why Francona couldn’t improve upon that final record a little. Yea Francona had a complete collapse his last year in Boston, but that was Boston. Everyone jumped ship that season. The GM left and took the Chicago Cubs job. Yeah the Cubs who make the Indians look good when it comes to winning. They haven’t won a world series since 1908. It has been so long that I think they should change their name back to the Chicago Orphans. The Boston media was all over the team, especially about chicken and beer. Chicken, Beer, and Pills Francona had to deal with some of the game’s biggest egos and prima donnas in Josh Beckett, David Ortiz, and the failed Carl Crawford signing. He dealt with Manny Ramirez the years prior to his final season in Boston. So Cleveland should seem like a paid vacation to Francona. I appreciate that Francona wanted to come here. The comercials on the radio he states how he grew up a Cleveland fan. Acta choose to come here too over Houston, but here is where the difference lies. Francona actually has the ability to get free agents to want to come here too. I am not sure if any of the free agents other than Reynolds and Myers signs here if Acta is still coaching. After hiring Francona, the Tribe proceeded to spend 117 million dollars in free agency on 1B/DH Mark Reynolds, SP Brett Myers, OF/1B Nick Swisher, and CF Michael Bourn. The last time the Indians were relevant Trot Nixon was running around the dugout smashing shaving cream pies into everyone’s face after a win. I get the same feeling again this year. Francona and Swisher have made the Tribe clubhouse fun. The team has already put together a Harlem Shake video and Siri spoof.
This is a complete makeover of the positional players from last year’s team. DH Travis Hafner is in New York
and will probably be splitting time with Ben Francisco who the Tribe released during spring training. Now stop for a minute and think about that. The Tribe signs Nick Swisher from New York and the Yankees take Travis “I might play 100 games DH’ing” Hafner who has to share the DH role with Ben Francisco who was not going to make this team out of spring training. What in the Wide, Wide, World of Sports is going on here? Starting 3rd baseman Jack Hannahan is the utility infielder for the Cincinnati Reds. I did enjoy watching Casey Kotchman play 1st base, but Oh how painful it was to watch him pound every ball into the ground while batting. I think I can count my hands how many balls he hit out of the infield. Kotchman is now playing for the Miami (everything must go) Marlins, probably one of the worst teams in the league this year. 2012 starting left fielders Austin Kearns (who was released in the middle of last season and did not sign elsewhere) is playing for the Miami Marlins, and Shelley Duncan is playing for Tampa Bay’s AAA team, Aaron Cunningham was with Texas to start spring training but has sense been released, and Johnny Damon is at home dropping everything and stumbling around his mansion. (I am going to miss seeing Damon wonder around the outfield and throwing the ball around between innings. It made me giggle to go the game and watch him in the field. Thank you Johnny for making me laugh like a little school girl.) Our utility infielder this year Mike Aviles was the starting SS for Boston and Toronto last year. So as you can see even if the free agent moves this off season turn out to be horrible the Tribe should be making gains. DH, LF, 1st base, and 3rd base gave us nothing last year offensively and LF was a mess defensively. No matter what there will be improvements from those positions this year.
So offensively this team looks to be improved no matter how the year goes. No more of the entirely left handed lineup that Acta had to trot out last year every game. The Indians brought in right handed bats in Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, Mike Aviles, Ryan Rayburn, and switch hitter Nick Swisher. Opposing teams will not have the luxury of bringing in a left handed pitcher this year and let mow down a left handed dominated lineup. The Tribe only hit 37 HR’s right handed last year as a team. Reynolds has averaged 33 over the last five years. The Tribe will be striking out a lot this year. Every free agent starting positional player signed was in the upper ranks for strike outs last year. Swisher was 27th in MLB, Bourn 15th, Reynolds 12th, and Stubbs 10th for strikeouts last year. So get ready for a lot of whiffing. I do like the speed brought to this team. Bourn who will be playing CF and batting leadoff has a career .379 on base percentage which is great. He has 257 steals in the last 5 years which is the most in MLB (Averaging 52 a year). So he can easily turn a walk or single into a double. The Tribe also added Drew Stubbs who has averaged 33 steals the last three years to join current players who are fleet of foot Jason Kipnis, and Michael Brantley. I am going to guess that with all that speed that the aft mentioned power hitters who happen to strike out rather regularly may see a greater majority of fastballs. The speed and power can complement each other quite nicely. I believe the fans may see an influx of homeruns this year. Swisher has averaged over 25 homeruns the last six years, while Mark Reynolds as mentioned has averaged 33 over his career. Not to mention Stubbs, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, and Lonnie Chisenhall who are all capable of 20 HR’s. Oh and there is this guy named Jason Giambi too. Not sure why he is on the team other than he has hit a few homeruns in his career, let’s just hope he is not Johnny Damon 2.0. I always hated seeing the Twins come to town and Denard Span in centerfield. It seemed that no ball hit to the outfield ever made it to the ground. Span ran everything down. The Tribe now has their own version of Span in center and close replicas in left and right. Bourn was rated as the best defensive center fielder last year by numerous outlets. Stubbs isn’t far behind defensively, and Brantley is no slouch. I anticipate seeing nightly highlights from this group in the outfield and I expect our pitchers will not be disappointed. Don’t walk anyone and keep the ball in the park pitchers!
Pitching is one area of concern. The improved outfield defense should help, but last year Indian pitchers usually shot themselves. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez regularly walked batters (7th and 3rd in the league) and then proceeded to let them steal (1st and 2nd in stolen bases allowed), threw a wild pitch (2nd and 3rd in league) or hit the next batter (1st and 2nd in the league). Amazing! The three remaining 2012 opening day starters were WORSE or got hurt. I am assuming the starting pitching cannot be that horrible again. Masterson and Jimenez have looked much better this spring. At least they are not walking batters and then plunking the next one. Oh yea and Roberto Hernandez aka Fausto Carmona is in Tampa as the 5th starter after posting a 5.33 ERA this spring. I am going to enjoy watching Fausto on the other team laboring through 30 and 40 pitch innings. I believe that Scott Kazmir will have a great season. My dark horse for the Cy Young award. At least that is what I am hoping for. (As I write this I find out Kazmir will possible start on the DL, Oh well 😦 If Kazmir has any kind of decent season and Masterson and Ubaldo are not terrible, the Indians may have a shot at hanging around the playoff chase. They do have some options in AAA in Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco if one of the before mentioned pitchers proceeds to stink or Zach McCallister /Brett Myers falters. The bullpen once again should be the strength of this team. Even if one or two players have off years the Indians have bullpen depth in the minors to cover all but epic fails.
Hopefully the Indians can make the entire year as much fun as spring has been. For the first time in a while people are talking about the Tribe and there is a buzz in the air. This team opens the season against Toronto who is a favorite to win the AL pennant, followed by Tampa Bay, the Yankees, the White Sox, and Boston. Tough opening two weeks so a good start would be comforting and help spur on the enthusiasm built in the off season. The Tribe did make some moves that I believe have to help improve the team. They also have some wild cards. Carlos Santana could bust out and become a superstar. Lonnie Chisenhall could add a big bat to the bottom of the lineup, Asdrubal Cabrera becomes even a better hitter with protection around him, or Kipnis in his second year takes it up another notch. Ultimately the team’s fortunes lie with how well the starting pitching performs. Let’s hope they can have some fun and relax. Maybe McCallister grows in his second year; he has the potential to become a top of the rotation pitcher. Kazmir becomes the dominant pitcher he was when he came up with Tampa, or Bauer comes up and develops into the Ace he was touted as. There is the possibility this year that Swisher and company can entertain us and make this one fun summer. And hopefully a fun fall!
I have been following a web site on SI.com called Extra Mustard. The site deals with sports related topics on the internet that are usually quite funny. In staying with my fun summer theme I will try and add some content to each post during the year. Make sure you check out the videos.
Who knew that Danny Mainus name was so funny?
By the way for those who haven’t heard me and Danielle are expecting another child. Due on October 19 right around the start of the World Series!