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.

8 Comments

  • Jon Cindia says:

    Personally I think the indians under preformed last year. Well in terms of their line up and what I think the front offices were expecting. Nick swisher and Bourne defiently didn’t preform the way the indians had hoped to when they signed them last off season. Injuries nagged both of them throughout the season. So I think you can expect improvement in them. Also asdrubal Cabrera had a rough season so if he can bounce back and have a season like he did the year before your looking at an improved lineup. I expect kipinis to have another good season along with Brantley and yan Gomes. Also with the addition of David Murphy is a wild card in how he will preform. If you take all this and you look at what they did last year they were 5th in most runs and didn’t have one player hit over .300 that says a lot. If you factor in what they lost in terms of their rotation it’s a lot scott kazmir and Jimenez. But without those two it opens the doors for a good competition for those spots. I believe masterson will have another good year, Corey kluber will build on what he did and learned last year, Danny Salazar definitely a wild card and I believe he will build on his success he had last year, josh tomlin coming off surgery should be interesting and same with Carlos carrasco if he can get the sp role who knows what he will do and Mcallister will regress from Last year and I think he will struggle this year. With all that being said their bullpen is still a bit of a mess but at least perez is gone but axford isn’t the answer so we will have to wait and see what happens but I can tell you this much. The indians will be a team that gets under estimated again like last year. You also can’t forget about Francona he is a great manager so I can tell you this they will be in it this year I believe the standing will be
    1.detriot
    2.indians
    3.royals
    4.twins
    5.white soxs
    But i think just like last year the indians are going to be right on detriots tail like.

  • Gvl Steve says:

    The team won so many one-run and extra-inning games last year, they would have to significantly improve statistically just to have an average chance to repeat last year’s 92 wins. The offense is capable of such improvement, but the pitching rotation, as currently constituted, is not.

    • Frank Swanson says:

      Yes there is a chance that the Indians could regress this season, but that can be said for a lot of teams in the majors. If we lose Jiminez, that will be a serious blow to this team, but we still have some good arms in the rotation. One of the reasons that I am optimistic is Terry Francona…. Not only is he a great manager, he seems to get the most out of the players that are in the dugout at any point in time during the season. If you need proof of this, just look at the ’07 Red Sox. He is no longer ‘new’ so he will know the team and the system better. I think that Francona will either match or improve upon last season. So lets get behind the team, GO TRIBE!!

  • medfest says:

    I believe the Tribe is at about the same stage as it was last season,when all the pluses and minuses of the off season are totaled up.

    The line up will be better,15 to 20 runs better, minimum.
    Stubbs has been replaced by Murphy,Reynolds by Gomes,Santana will be hitting clean up all season and Cabrera will not see the top 2/3 of the batting order.The only real hole is third base.If Chisenchump unchumpifies(don’t bet the house) this could be a really tough team to pitch to.

    Defensively they’ll be better because Gomes will be behind the plate.Santana perhaps becoming the everyday third basemen doesn’t scare me all that much since Chisenchump is lousy at third as well.The outfield defense will be fine the infield will suck again.

    The bullpen could actually be better this year,it wasn’t all that good last year but it still had a 33-16 record.This season they will actually have a couple of match up lefties and maybe even a real long man.Predicting bull pen performance is like herding cats,but I like the arms the Tribe has out there better than the ones they had last season.

    The rotation is the big stumbling block to an accurate prediction.Masterson,McAllister and Kluber are a pretty solid core,if they stay reasonably healthy.
    Salazar has got an electric arm,but his slider is still developing he has to be a question mark for now.
    The fifth spot has some talented pitchers vying for it,Carrasco has the best stuff can he put it together?
    Tomlin is a strike throwing machine,but also dinger prone.He looked healthy in his brief call up
    Marcum will probably start the season still getting into pitching shape.
    Bauer is still wait and see and Anderson is too far away.
    I think the Tribe will still pick up a cheap veteran arm,not Jimenez or Santana,to bolster the staff.
    I have confidence in Callaway and Francona to cobble together a rotation which will work.

    I’m pretty optimistic right now and that’s unusual for me.

  • The Doctor says:

    i’m as foolishly positive as i always am at this time of year, but there’s tons of question marks here, including basically the entire rotation.

    - masterson’s not an ace. he may be our “ace”, but who is going to show up? ’11 and ’13 masterson or ’10 and ’12 masterson?
    - the guy everyone seems to think is a “no questions here, plug him into the 2 spot” pitcher, danny salazar, has all of 52 major league innings pitched.
    - mcallister and kluber are, taking their whole careers into account, just “guys”. i’m not convinced last year is repeatable for either of them
    - the number 5 spot? hahahhaha. time to stop pretending carrasco is going to amount to anything. tomlin is a soft tosser who’s going to get his brains beat in more often than not. marcum might be capable of sopping up 120 innings worth of 5+ ERA if he was thrust into the role. bauer certainty didn’t show it last year, but i feel he’s our best bet here.

    as far as the batters are concerned:
    - ah yes, the supposed “down years” of swisher and bourn. these are post-30 year old players we’re talking about here. both are more likely to get worse than better any time soon.
    - chisenhall very clearly sucks, but if they throw santana out there for 90 something games at third, will his fielding effectively negate any value he provides with the bat?
    - love me some yan gomes, but let’s see if a full year exposes him. his counting stats last year masked a rather troubling K/BB ratio
    - asdrubal cabrera. ugh. just, ugh.
    - expecting a repeat performance from ryan raburn is foolishness.

    hey, at least we got rid of chris perez and drew stubbs, and with any luck this’ll be the last years we have to put up with cabrera! can’t wait til it warms up enough here to show off the ol’ chief wahoo tattoo!

    • Cale says:

      All valid points on the rotation that I agree with, but on the bright side, I’d still rather have that rotation than the 1-5 of the Royals, Twins, and White Sox…whom we play 1/3 of our games against.

      I also agree on Bourn, but I do like Swisher for a bounce back. He actually hit like a 30 HR/90 RBI player in August and September. If he truly is over the shoulder injury like they say he is, I like his chances to be a middle of the order run producer.

    • Swift says:

      “i’m as foolishly positive as i always am at this time of year”

      Wow, if that’s your “foolishly positive”, I’d hate to see your “pessimism mode” :D

      • The Doctor says:

        all it’s going to take to drive me right back into the depths of indians depression is cabrera’s first 0-4 with 3 Ks and 8 LOB “performance”, which knowing him will probably come in the very first game of the season. complaining about it is half the fun, though!

        also, i’m pretty sure i had, more or less, the same assessment of the rotation last year – here’s hoping i’m wrong again.