The final installment in a four-part look at our division rivals in the race for the AL Central crown of mediocrity.
Dates we play them: 4/5-4/8 at home, 4/16-4/18 and 5/24-5/26 @ Cleveland, 6/4-6/6 at home, 8/30-9/1 @ Cleveland, 10/1-10/3 at home
Offense: A potential lineup: Asdrubal Cabrera-SS, Grady Sizemore-CF, Shin-Soo Choo-RF, Travis Hafner-DH, Jhonny Peralta-3B, Matt LaPorta-1B, Michael Brantley-LF, Lou Marson-C, Luis Valbuena-2B. Bench: Austin Kearns-OF, Andy Marte-CI, Mike Redmond-C.
This is the sexy half of the Cleveland Indians this season. Something kind of cool about the starting lineup is that every hitter other than Jhonny Peralta wasn't originally signed or drafted by Cleveland. The Tribe snagged lead-off hitter Asdrubal Cabrera from Seattle during the Bill Bavasi era for Eduardo Perez. Seriously. 43 games of this guy. Asdrubal allows Cleveland to move Peralta to third, where he can do less damage with his glove. Cabrera isn't that great in the field either, but is less terrible than Jhonny. He played his first full season as a 23 year old last year, and has shown he can steal, get on base, and be a doubles machine. Expect his batting average to regress a bit, but to remain a 3 WAR player. Grady Sizemore had easily the worst season of his career. The amateur pornographer had a BABIP and line drive percentage way below his career norms. He will bounce back to a 20-20 season with a slash-line around .270/.370/.500 with above-average defense now that he isn't injured. Omar Minaya is responsible for Cleveland getting Grady. Its like a worst GMs in baseball convention when it comes to how these guys got here. Bavasi shows up again with the trade of Shin-Soo Choo. The Busan native had a monster year in 2009, going 20-20 with an .883 OPS. He's an average defender, but likely to remain a 4-5 WAR player over the next few years as long as he doesn't have to go back to South Korea to enlist in the military. And Big League Choo is an amazing nickname. Travis Hafner's career makes me think of David Ortiz's, but stuck on fast forward. When the Rangers got rid of him, no one thought he'd spend the next three years keeping American League pitchers up at night. But just like all nightmares, Pronk's reign of terror came to a quick end in 2007. He's been injured and ineffective since. Looks like you guessed wrong Carl. Hafner does have more career homeruns than any other person born in North Dakota though. Who ranks immediately behind him? None other than the Ultimate Grinder!
Jhonny Peralta is establishing himself as nothing more than an average player. His power seems to be disappearing, and when you combine that with his league average on-base abilities you just get another filler player. Unless he can turn things around, Jhonny won't be a starter very much longer. And he's a bit nutty. Matt LaPorta was the big gain in the CC Sabathia trade. Russell Branyan's balky back might be a blessing to the team, as it allows them to get LaPorta out of the outfield and at first where he belongs. He could hit 20 homeruns this season if he gets regular playing time. He won't be a superstar yet, but still could develop into one as he's only 25. Michael Brantley was the player-to-be-named-later in the Sabathia swap. Brantley is a speed demon (46-51 in AAA last season) and gets on base at a good rate. However, he lacks power and plays sub-par defense. He is only 22 and is likely to be sent back to the minors if he struggles, being replace by Austin Kearns. Lou Marson had the misfortune of being traded to a team that has the best catching prospect in baseball. Even though the projection systems like him, his lack of power will ultimately cost him the starting job once Carlos Santana is done destroying AAA. Don't be shocked if Marson winds up with his third franchise in two years come July. Luis Valbuena is part of what Cleveland got for Franklin Gutierrez. Gross. .750 seems like the ceiling for his OPS, so unless he starts playing stellar defense he most likely will become a career utility man. There are worse ways to make a living.
When your default ace hasn't thrown a pitch in the majors since I was still a teenager (5/28/08), your pitching staff is probably in trouble. Westbrook is coming off Tommy John surgery and is trying to reestablish himself as what he used to be: a right-handed and slightly less effective version of Mark Buehrle. Westbrook has five pitches, but none that stand out. Fausto Carmona's deal with the devil seems to have been cashed in. After an other-worldly first full season in 2007, Carmona simply stopped being effective. He does not get strikeouts and walks far too many hitters to be truly effective as a sinkerballer. His heavy fastball stopped working on hitters, though his changeup is still something special. With 2007 as his ceiling and 2009 as his floor, I would expect numbers like his from 2008 to be what the rest of his career looks like. Justin Masterson has the most potential out of anyone in the rotation. His minor league numbers haven't translated into big league success quite yet, but with time this should change. He has a low to mid-90s fastball and a biting mid-80s slider. He'll probably lead the team in strikeouts. Up until last season, Huff looked alright in the minors. When he finally reached the show, he lost his ability to strike hitters out. This will happen when you only throw your best pitch (a slider) about 11% of the time. Huff is in the rotation because the Tribe lacks better left-handed options. Mitch Talbot is terrible. He throws a four-seamer, cutter, curveball, and changeup. Only the cutter is worth a damn. He doesn't project to be anything better than a fifth starter. Chris Perez could potentially be the closer of the future in the Cleve. Perez throws a mid-90s fastball that has been clocked as high as 98 mph and a mid-80s slider. Both are plus pitches. Perez walks more hitters than you would like, but he's not exactly Carlos Marmol. He can survive doing this if he keeps his K/9 above 10 and keeps holding hitters to an average below .230. Expect Perez to continue as closer even after Kerry Wood gets back from injury, as the Indians need to stop Wood from finishing 55 games so they won't owe him $11 million next season.
Outlook: The Indians can hit with the best of them, but their pitching is atrocious. Until they shore up the rotation, Cleveland will be stuck in the bottom half of the division. We could win as many as 13 games against them this season, but a record of 11-7 seems more realistic. Check out Let's Go Tribe for the other side's opinions, but the best blog in the Buckeye State is still Club Trillion. Mark Titus, stay amazing.