Hey, it's about the time we get to some actual contenders! Today we look at the Cleveland Indians.
2015 Finish: 81-80 (3rd Place in AL Central)
So Long: Shaun Marcum, Mike Aviles, Gavin Floyd, Ryan Raburn, Carlos Marmol,
Welcome: Fat Joba Chamberlain, Felipe Paulino, Collin Cowgill, Rajai Davis, Mike Napoli, Juan Uribe, Marlon BYURN BYURN BYURNNNNN Byrd
Projected Lineup (via Rotochamp.com)
1. Jason Kipnis, 2B
2. Francisco Lindor, SS
3. Carlos Santana, DH
4. Mike Napoli, 1B
5. Lonnie Chisenhall, LF
6. Yan Gomes, C
7. Tyler Naquin, RF
8. Juan Uribe, 3B
9. Rajai Davis, CF
Starting Rotation: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin
Setup: Bryan Shaw
Closer: Cody Allen
Rap Lyric Describing Their 2015 Season:
"It was all a dream"
- Notorious BIG, Juicy
The Indians went into 2015 with big things on their mind. A preseason pick by Sports Illustrated to win the World Series, the Indians seemed to be loaded with talent. The problem was that their talent was very top-heavy and after some bad luck and injuries, they barely squeaked out a winning record for the season.
The good news is that all of that talent comes back in 2016. The bad news is that on paper, this is the same team that barely cracked .500 last year and all the same problems are still around.
Let's take a look at the good: Man, are their good players pretty good. Jason Kipnis is an OBP machine capable of hitting 12-15 homers and chipping in just as many steals when he's not busy pulling an oblique muscle from spending too much time at your mom's house. Rookie sensation Francisco Lindor burst onto the scene hitting .313 with 12 homers and 12 steals in just under 100 games. Michael Brantley is a top 10 outfielder when healthy. And the three headed beast at the top of their rotation of Kluber/Carrasco/Salazar is the envy of any team in the majors. Shutting things down in the 9th is Cody Allen, one of the best/most underrated closers in the AL.
So how did such a stacked team end up with such a wet fart of a record last year? The simple answer is: there's no one else. Even 7 great players can't make up for 17 other walking corpses, and the Indians come into this year with that very same lack of depth. Behind Kipnis/Lindor/Brantley in the lineup are a bunch of stiffs. Mike Napoli? Couldn't even get it going in Texas, one of the best offensive environments in baseball. Yan Gomes is maddeningly inconsistent. I didn't know that Juan Uribe was even alive anymore. And Lonnie Chisenhall needs to be brought out back and given the Old Yeller treatment at this point. Trust me, as a Cubs fan, we know what it's like to hold onto hope for a prospect for too long (*cough*Josh Vitters*cough*). Trevor Bauer never met a 3 ball count that he didn't like and the #5 spot in the rotation may not actually exist because Schrodenger's Josh Tomlin is always in a state of being terrible in the rotation and being slightly less terrible out of the bullpen at the same time.
And those awesome stud players the Indians have? Not everything is as good as it looks on paper. Michael Brantley will miss all of April with a shoulder injury, something that can sap players of all their power for entire seasons sometimes. There's a case to be made that Lindor played way over his head last year (a case I will make shortly) and Jason Kipnis is incredibly inconsistent, where he'll give you 3 smokin' hot months and 3 ice cold months in a given season.
All that said, the Indians could figure it all out if Gomes stays healthy and Carlos Santana teams back up with Rob Thomas and puts up a vintage 2013 Santana season, that could make the Indians lineup deep and dangerous. If Gomes and Santana can both reach 20 homers, they've got a real shot as long as Brantley can shake off the rust and do what he did in 2015. Don't be surprised if the Indians threaten to take the division over equally-flawed Detroit and the defending champion Royals.
Reason To Watch: Danny Salazar is NASTY. It's great watching someone pitch who can threaten 12-13 strikeouts every time out. And he's gonna get some strikeout-prone lineups in his division (Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago). Sure, he could take 100 pitches to get through only 5 innings, but those 5 innings will be awesome to watch.
Reason To Drink: 1) It's Cleveland. 2) If you're an Indians fan, you're probably a Browns fan and a Cavs fan too, bringing the total number of championship-less seasons to about 480. 3) Trevor Bauer will have a start where he walks 6 batters in under 4 innings. Probably 3-4 times this year.
Their Worst Contract: You have to give the Indians credit. Out of their active roster, their highest paid player is Carlos Santana at only $8.5 million. But you also have to remember that they're paying Michael Bourne and Nick Swisher a combined $15 million to sit around and watch porn at home.
Fantasy Standout: Cy Kluber. Guy is great and just because he had a slow start a few seasons in a row, he seems to be coming at a discount in fantasy drafts. He is absolutely one of the top 4 pitchers in baseball. I'd take him over Greinke.
The Pop Culture Equivalent To This Team Is: Season 2 of Lost. It could get a lot better and reach the potential it has on paper, or this could be the start of when things start to fall apart.