Monday, February 28, 2005


2005 Season Preview: Cleveland Indians

Time to move on to the AL Central, a division up for grabs by anyone not playing in Kansas City. I don't think much of the White Sox'c chances either, but I'll get to that in time. I think from now on I'll review the teams in the order I think they will finish in. This will also be easier to do with the other divisions, since there are not 3 third place teams all at once.

The Indians are young and have depth on their roster and minor leagues that would make Bill Belichick proud. They are loaded at numerous positions with top prospects that all can hit or pitch. This is going to be a team to watch out for soon, maybe even this season. Which is why I have chosen them to finally topple the Twins. After watching last season's Twins team that added Pat Borders when they had a Gold Glove candidate catcher in Henry Blanco and someone who could not have possibly been as bad as Borders in Matt LeCroy, then reuppinng on Gardenhire's contract after his bullpen disasters in the playoffs, I've decided they've lost their minds completely (Sorry John).

Alex Cora, 2B: I see why the Indians got Cora (as a backup incase the prospects don’t cut it this year) but it seems like a waste of a spot on the 40 man roster if they do pan out. Better safe than sorry I guess. Luckily his dollar figures were not even released, so he isn’t taking up considerable resources.

Juan Gonzalez, OF: Why not? Minor league deal doesn’t cost you much, and if he actually stays healthy (giggle) then maybe the Indians get some decent inspired (giggle) play out of him. He will fill in for Jody Gerut until his ACL injury finishes healing.

Jose Hernandez, 2B: Had a pretty good year considering the amount of playing time he was given, putting up a .289/.370/.540 line. I am confused by the move solely because of the Indians having both Brandon Phillips and Jhonny Peralta to play SS in 2005. Maybe Hernandez is going to play until May or maybe he is going to spell for the kids at SS.

Billy Traber, SP/RP: Had been claimed off of waivers by the Red Sox, but is now back. Tommy John surgery a few years back.

Kevin Millwood, SP: I am disappointed at this deal considering Wade Miller and the Red Sox set the market for injured starters at roughly $2 million plus incentives. $8 million for a guy who might be hurting…ouch. No that wasn’t a pun. I'm only disapointed with the dollar figures though, as Millwood helps add even more talent to this staff. I'd rather have injured Millwood than healthy Scott Elarton at this point.

Bob Wickman, RP: I don’t like this signing, only because Wickman is a health risk with bad peripherals. He is making close to $3 million for this one season. Hopefully he earns it for the Indians, who had an awful bullpen for the majority of 2004. His contract is down from the $6 million he made in 2004 though.

Ronnie Belliard, 2B: Re-signed to man second base, avoiding arbitration. The payment he would receive in arbitration was the only reason the Indians thought of doing away with him, so a good move if he can come close to duplicating his 2004 numbers (.288/.348/.426…not bad for a second basemen…and he hit 48 doubles.) Could be an indicator of power to come, or maybe he’ll just pound doubles consistently.

Denny Stark, SP: Signed Stark to a minor league contract. He has had one season you could call impressive, and that is because his ERA was 4.00 as a starter for the Rockies. Besides that he is either injured or ineffective. Meh. Waste of money.

Via trade: Acquired Arthur Rhodes for Matt Lawton. The Indians had some bullpen issues (28 blown saves I think) and Rhodes should be better than last season. If not than the only good that is coming out of this trade is that another young Indians corner outfielder can emerge from the minor league system, and they are absolutely stocked with those.

1) Ronnie Belliard
2) Coco Crisp
3) Travis Hafner
4) Victor Martinez
5) Casey Blake
6) Ben Broussard
7) Jody Gerut (after injury)
8) Grady Sizemore
9) Jhonny Peralta

Everyone in this lineup is already a good hitter (and some getting even better) with the exception of Sizemore and Peralta, but they are both supposed to be able to hit with time.

A note on Peralta though...Brandon Phillips is another Indians middle infielder who may be ready to come up and play from the minors, so if Peralta falls flat he may get his shot.

That lineup reminds me of the Sox lineup in the idea that its built on a pair of really great hitters with no lack of complementary pieces. Of course if they all grow up to be big superstars it'll remind me more of NY's lineup.

Not as good as either the Red Sox or Yankees lineup, but entirely capable of finishing in third in that race.

1) C.C. Sabathia
2) Jake Westbrook
3) Kevin Millwood
4) Cliff Lee
5) Jason Davis

I love Sabathia and Westbrook as the 1-2 punch. Very talented young pitchers who should continue to improve. If Millwood is healthy out of the #3 hole he will have more value than as the #1 (which he is not) in Philly. If Cliff Lee can pitch like he did in the first half of 2004 (3.77 ERA) rather than in the second half (7.91 ERA) they will have themselves a real good #4 guy. Lee's second half troubles seem odd as I study his numbers, because it just looks like he became more hittable. Second half K/BB ratio was 2.43, while his first half one was only 1.71. H/IP went up drastically though: 0.93 in the first half, 1.23 in the second. A mechanical flaw or possibly a tipped pitch or the league catching up to him was responsible for this, because all of his peripherals stayed roughly the same (or improved) except for the hits allowed. It may have even been a defensive issue, much like the one Derek Lowe would suffer. Cliff Lee is much better than his 5.43 ERA shows. Maybe not 3.77 good, but better than 5.43. Jason Davis on the other hand might suck as much as his numbers show. I'd love to see Fernando Cabrera get a shot eventually at the 5th spot.

The Indians bullpen is good (except out of the closer spot) with Bob Howry, Scott Sauerbeck, Rafael Betancourt and others holding down the fort, with Fernanda Cabrera helping out as well.

Overall, I think this team has the offense and the rotation (especially if a young arm emerges to seize the #5 spot and Lee finds a happy medium) to steal the division from the Twins. The bullpen will have to be much better than last year, but it is capable of doing just that. The Indians have the prospect depth to make any move they may need at the deadline as well, so I think that this may be the year for them to finish the rebuilding process they started after their last divisional title.

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