A few weeks ago, Joe Lemire over at Sports Illustrated predicted that the Indians would regress this season. Now I realize that he was most likely engaging in that little game some people play where you make a list with a bunch of things on it that are sure to tick off enough people so that you get get a slew of comments and a ton of page views. Who doesn’t like traffic to their site, right? No need for you to add to his page views. The only reason he offers to support his prediction is this: “Cleveland, however, won’t get the starting pitching it needs and will especially miss Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez (unless he makes a surprise decision to re-sign with the Indians).” Over at The Fan, T.J. Zuppe thinks the Indians might regress due to offensive weaknesses. And dear Dave Schoenfield at ESPN, whom I love and respect, projects them at 82-80 and finishing right smack dab in the middle of everything at 15th in the majors, due to his concerns about the starting rotation and the bullpen.
Like just about every other fan, I’ve been wondering whether the Indians will be able to match their 92-win 2013. (Thinking about them exceeding 92 wins makes me all woozy, so let’s not even go there.)
Here’s why the Indians could regress in 2014:
Scott Kazmir left, and Ubaldo Jimenez shows no signs of returning to the fold, leaving it up for grabs as to who will join Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, and Zach McAllister in the starting rotation. Combined, Jimenez and Kazmir pitched 340 innings. You need a pair (or trio) of durable arms to replace those innings. Danny Salazar is great but unproven. Trevor Bauer isn’t quite ready for the majors yet. Josh Tomlin is returning from major surgery. We didn’t sign any free agent ace to join the rotation. Any way you look at it, the rotation will not match that of last season.
The bullpen isn’t looking too good either. The departed Chris Perez turned into a head case, yes, but he saved a hell of a lot of games for us. Joe Smith and Matt Albers are gone, and Vinnie Pestano spent most of 2013 in Columbus. And having lost his arbitration hearing, Vinnie is likely to be an unhappy camper. Between weakened pitching and an up and down offense that received only marginal boosts during the off-season, there are some good reasons to believe that the Indians will take a few steps back in the upcoming season.
Here’s why the Indians won’t regress in 2014:
There are a couple things to consider before panicking. Kluber and McAllister both missed parts of the 2013 season during to finger sprains, thus they started only 26 and 24 games respectively to Kazmir and Jimenez’s respective 29 and 32 games. There’s no reason why each of them can’t start 30 games next season. And yes, Salazar is young and inexperienced, but he can bring it. Tomlin is 18 months out from Tommy John surgery, so he should be at full strength. If they’re #4 and #5 in the rotation, you still have Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer in reserve, both of whom have had a little more time to mature and incorporate the wisdom of pitching coach Mickey Callaway, as well as off-season pick-up Shaun Marcum. We do have options, and we have some good ones.
Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn under-produced because of minor but annoying injuries. Bourn is projected to steal a few more bases than he did last season. Swisher is projected to hit a few more RBIs than last season. In right field, Drew Stubbs has been replaced with outfielder David Murphy, who has nowhere to go but up after a crappy 2013 season. The left-hitting Murphy hits very well against right-handed pitching. The returning Ryan Raburn, one of the few natural righties in the lineup, hits very well against lefties, giving Francona a more offensively potent platoon advantage in right field than he had to work with last season.
As far as the bullpen goes, Vinnie Pestano has had a couple of months to fully recover from the elbow injury that ultimately caused him to be demoted to AAA last season. He’s projected to return to form. A healthy Pestano, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Scrabble, and the recently acquired Josh Outman make a pretty solid bullpen. Plus new closer John Axford has the requisite funky name and love of goofy facial hair for the closer role.
Am I worried about the upcoming season? Sure. But let’s at least wait for the whole team to show up to Spring Training before we start saying they’ll regress.