Last offseason, the Cleveland Indians made two big free-agent signings in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, the last of which was a shocker on the eve of spring training. It apparently worked as the Tribe had their first winning season and playoff appearance since 2007. Terry Francona, lured out of the broadcast booth, was named the AL Manager of the Year. The season ended in disappointing fashion, however, with a home loss to Tampa Bay in the wild-card game.
RHP Matt Albers, LHP Rich Hill, RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, LHP Scott Kazmir, OF Jason Kubel, RHP Chris Perez, RHP Joe Smith, RF Drew Stubbs
RHP David Aardsma, IF David Adams, RHP Scott Atchison, RHP John Axford, OF Jeff Francoeur, IF Elliot Johnson, RHP Shaun Marcum, CF Nyjer Morgan, RF David Murphy, LHP Josh Outman
No team was hotter to close the 2013 season as Cleveland won its final 10 games, nearly catching Detroit in the AL Central and earning that second wild-card spot. Bourn had a fairly disappointing year in hitting .263 with 23 steals, while Swisher led the team with 22 home runs. Cleveland's best offensive player proved to be a surprise as All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis hit .284 with 17 home runs, 84 RBIs and 30 steals. The Indians finished fifth in the American League in runs. For the most part, the lineup that took the field for that wild-card game will be the every-day lineup this season. The one new guy looks to be Murphy, who will play right field. He slumped to a .220 average last season in Texas. Former top catching prospect Carlos Santana won't play behind the plate any longer, now at designated hitter or third base depending on how youngster Lonnie Chisenhall handles the hot corner. That looks to be the weakest spot in the Tribe lineup as things stand with Chisenhall batting just .225 a season ago. At 25, he's no longer a prospect.
The rotation was a pleasant surprise last year with the Tribe finishing seventh in the AL with a 3.82 ERA. Justin Masterson emerged as an ace and All-Star. He was 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and could have another big year with free agency awaiting after the season. The big loss there is No. 2 Ubaldo Jimenez, who was 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA. He was spectacular after the All-Star Break with a 1.82 ERA. As of this writing Jimenez remains on the free-agent market because he's tied to draft pick compensation. It's not impossible he returns to the Tribe on a one-year deal but it is unlikely as Cleveland values the draft pick it would get for him signing elsewhere. Cleveland also lost No. 3 starter Scott Kazmir, who provided 10 wins and 158.0 innings. So now behind Masterson are Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister and a fifth starter to be decided in camp. It's fair to say the rotation is a giant question mark considering only Masterson has spent a full big-league season as a starter. The bullpen also will be new with the closer Perez and set-up men Smith and Albers all gone. Former Brewers closer Axford will finish games for now. He had a 4.02 ERA with Milwaukee (where he lost the closing job) and St. Louis in 2013. So it's fair to see the bullpen has questions as well.
The Indians are +1200 at BetOnline's baseball odds to win the NL pennant and +3300 to win the World Series.
After Detroit, the AL Central isn't all that strong so another second-place finish and wild-card spot are potentially attainable. A lot of guys may have to have career seasons and the Tribe might need to have one of the majors' best home records again (51-30 last year; 40-39-2 O/U at sportsbooks).
The Tribe struggle badly out of the gate and Antonetti is forced to trade Masterson, perhaps shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera too, by the deadline because the team won't be able to re-sign him.