Cleveland Indians 2010 preview

Just a couple of seasons removed from an ALCS loss to the Red Sox, the Indians are back in rebuilding mode. Last year’s 97-loss campaign left Cleveland in a last-place tie with Kansas City in the A.L. Central. The Indians have a new manager this season, will have a new general manager after the season and have plenty of offensive potential, but their biggest problem from 2009 remains a glaring weakness in 2010: pitching.

Having a healthy Jake Westbrook is important for the Indians.
Having a healthy Jake Westbrook is important for the Indians.

1. Will the rotation get some veteran leadership?
There isn’t a CC Sabathia or a Cliff Lee, but there is a Jake Westbrook. A two-time 15-game winner, Westbrook missed the 2009 season after Tommy John surgery. But the better Westbrook pitches this season, the more likely it is that he will follow Sabathia and Lee out the door. Westbrook is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $11 million in 2010.

After going 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA in 2007, Fausto Carmona is 13-19 with a 5.89 ERA since. Further regression can’t be tolerated, especially with a group of still-developing arms behind the two veterans. "Having Jake Westbrook healthy is huge for us. I think he proved in winter ball that he’s ready to go. … Not only him staying healthy, but for Fausto to come back and pitch well for us. He made some adjustments in winter ball and looks like he’s on the right path," manager Manny Acta said.

2. Is it wise to remove Grady Sizemore from the leadoff spot?
All it took to make Sizemore’s long-anticipated drop in the batting order a reality was a managerial change. Acta announced last week that Sizemore would hit second, after serving as the team’s primary leadoff man the past five seasons. Given Sizemore’s power — he averaged 27 homers per season from 2005-08 before injuries limited him to 18 last season — he no longer was an ideal fit atop the order.

Sizemore, who is fully recovered from groin and elbow surgeries, will get more RBI opportunities — his career high is 90 RBIs — and better pitches to hit with emerging slugger Shin-Soo Choo hitting behind him.

3. How much does Pronk have left?
Travis Hafner drove in 100-plus runs each season from 2004-07 and hit 42 homers in 2006, but then came the shoulder problems that resulted in surgery. Although his power rebounded last season (16 homers), Hafner played in only 94 games. "He’s two years removed from that surgery. We’re anticipating him being able to be on the field more often," Acta said. "The fact that he’s healthy, it’s going to be a big lift for our lineup."

With a healthy Sizemore, the power-hitting Choo and new addition Russell Branyan, the Indians’ offense has potential to post some impressive production. Getting 130 games and 25 homers from Hafner would boost it even more.

PROJECTED LINEUP
1. SS Asdrubal Cabrera: .301 AVG, .340 OBP leading off in ’09.
2. CF Grady Sizemore: .216 AVG, .309 OBP vs. lefties in ’09.
3. RF Shin-Soo Choo: Only Indian with 20 HRs, 20 SBs last season. 4. DH Travis Hafner: .873 OPS at home; .768 on road in ’09.
5. 3B Jhonny Peralta: 11 HRs last season: career-low for full season.
6. 1B Russell Branyan: 28 HRs at Progressive Field (most at any park).
7. LF Matt LaPorta: Battling Michael Brantley for starting job.
8. 2B Luis Valbuena: Just a .298 OBP last season.
9. C Lou Marson: Soon could give way to Carlos Santana.

PROJECTED ROTATION
1. RHP Fausto Carmona: Since ’08: 140 BBs, 137 Ks.
2. RHP Jake Westbrook: Career 1.38 WHIP is troubling.
3. RHP Justin Masterson: 4.32 ERA in career as SP; 3.28 as RP.
4. LHP Aaron Laffey: 2.85 ERA at home in ’09; 5.98 on road.
5. LHP David Huff: Allowed .317 AVG vs. lefties as rookie in ’09.

PROJECTED CLOSER
RHP Kerry Wood: 5.28 ERA in first half of ’09, 2.96 ERA after break.

GRADES

Offense: B. Even with Sizemore and Hafner banged up and only one 20-homer hitter, the Indians finished 12th in the majors in runs scored and 10th in on-base percentage last season. With continued maturation from LaPorta and the addition of Branyan, there is room for improvement. The bottom of the order can’t be a black hole, however.

Pitching: F. The Indians’ 5.06 ERA was 29th in the majors, and the struggles were staff-wide. The starters’ 5.30 ERA ranked 28th; the relievers’ 4.63 ERA was 27th. Cleveland’s 25 saves tied for last in the majors, and the rotation’s 45 wins were 27th. The staff was 28th in baserunners allowed per nine innings and 29th in opponents’ batting average. And that was with four months of Cliff Lee.

Bench: D. The loser of the left field competition is expected to return to Class AAA, leaving second-year Trevor Crowe as the fourth outfielder. Disappointing Andy Marte provides corner-infield depth, with light-hitting Brian Bixler replacing Jamey Carroll in a super-utility role. Backup catcher Mike Redmond is around for his mentoring ability, not his bat.

Manager: C. Fired during the 2009 season by the last-place Nationals, Acta takes over the last-place Indians. As in Washington, he must try to find a way to boost a pitching staff that ranked among the majors’ worst — and wasn’t upgraded during the offseason. Acta will have a better offense in Cleveland, with several more promising prospects on the way.

Sporting News prediction: The rebuilding process rarely is a quick (or enjoyable) one, and even in a balanced division, the Indians once again will sink to the bottom.

COMING FRIDAY: Royals preview.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

Just a couple of seasons removed from an ALCS loss to the Red Sox, the Indians are back in rebuilding mode. Last year’s 97-loss campaign left Cleveland in a last-place tie with Kansas City in the A.L. Central. The Indians have a new manager this season, will have a new general manager after the season and have plenty of offensive potential, but their biggest problem from 2009 remains a glaring weakness in 2010: pitching.

Having a healthy Jake Westbrook is important for the Indians.
Having a healthy Jake Westbrook is important for the Indians.

1. Will the rotation get some veteran leadership?
There isn’t a CC Sabathia or a Cliff Lee, but there is a Jake Westbrook. A two-time 15-game winner, Westbrook missed the 2009 season after Tommy John surgery. But the better Westbrook pitches this season, the more likely it is that he will follow Sabathia and Lee out the door. Westbrook is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $11 million in 2010.

After going 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA in 2007, Fausto Carmona is 13-19 with a 5.89 ERA since. Further regression can’t be tolerated, especially with a group of still-developing arms behind the two veterans. "Having Jake Westbrook healthy is huge for us. I think he proved in winter ball that he’s ready to go. … Not only him staying healthy, but for Fausto to come back and pitch well for us. He made some adjustments in winter ball and looks like he’s on the right path," manager Manny Acta said.

2. Is it wise to remove Grady Sizemore from the leadoff spot?
All it took to make Sizemore’s long-anticipated drop in the batting order a reality was a managerial change. Acta announced last week that Sizemore would hit second, after serving as the team’s primary leadoff man the past five seasons. Given Sizemore’s power — he averaged 27 homers per season from 2005-08 before injuries limited him to 18 last season — he no longer was an ideal fit atop the order.

Sizemore, who is fully recovered from groin and elbow surgeries, will get more RBI opportunities — his career high is 90 RBIs — and better pitches to hit with emerging slugger Shin-Soo Choo hitting behind him.

3. How much does Pronk have left?
Travis Hafner drove in 100-plus runs each season from 2004-07 and hit 42 homers in 2006, but then came the shoulder problems that resulted in surgery. Although his power rebounded last season (16 homers), Hafner played in only 94 games. "He’s two years removed from that surgery. We’re anticipating him being able to be on the field more often," Acta said. "The fact that he’s healthy, it’s going to be a big lift for our lineup."

With a healthy Sizemore, the power-hitting Choo and new addition Russell Branyan, the Indians’ offense has potential to post some impressive production. Getting 130 games and 25 homers from Hafner would boost it even more.

PROJECTED LINEUP
1. SS Asdrubal Cabrera: .301 AVG, .340 OBP leading off in ’09.
2. CF Grady Sizemore: .216 AVG, .309 OBP vs. lefties in ’09.
3. RF Shin-Soo Choo: Only Indian with 20 HRs, 20 SBs last season. 4. DH Travis Hafner: .873 OPS at home; .768 on road in ’09.
5. 3B Jhonny Peralta: 11 HRs last season: career-low for full season.
6. 1B Russell Branyan: 28 HRs at Progressive Field (most at any park).
7. LF Matt LaPorta: Battling Michael Brantley for starting job.
8. 2B Luis Valbuena: Just a .298 OBP last season.
9. C Lou Marson: Soon could give way to Carlos Santana.

PROJECTED ROTATION
1. RHP Fausto Carmona: Since ’08: 140 BBs, 137 Ks.
2. RHP Jake Westbrook: Career 1.38 WHIP is troubling.
3. RHP Justin Masterson: 4.32 ERA in career as SP; 3.28 as RP.
4. LHP Aaron Laffey: 2.85 ERA at home in ’09; 5.98 on road.
5. LHP David Huff: Allowed .317 AVG vs. lefties as rookie in ’09.

PROJECTED CLOSER
RHP Kerry Wood: 5.28 ERA in first half of ’09, 2.96 ERA after break.

GRADES

Offense: B. Even with Sizemore and Hafner banged up and only one 20-homer hitter, the Indians finished 12th in the majors in runs scored and 10th in on-base percentage last season. With continued maturation from LaPorta and the addition of Branyan, there is room for improvement. The bottom of the order can’t be a black hole, however.

Pitching: F. The Indians’ 5.06 ERA was 29th in the majors, and the struggles were staff-wide. The starters’ 5.30 ERA ranked 28th; the relievers’ 4.63 ERA was 27th. Cleveland’s 25 saves tied for last in the majors, and the rotation’s 45 wins were 27th. The staff was 28th in baserunners allowed per nine innings and 29th in opponents’ batting average. And that was with four months of Cliff Lee.

Bench: D. The loser of the left field competition is expected to return to Class AAA, leaving second-year Trevor Crowe as the fourth outfielder. Disappointing Andy Marte provides corner-infield depth, with light-hitting Brian Bixler replacing Jamey Carroll in a super-utility role. Backup catcher Mike Redmond is around for his mentoring ability, not his bat.

Manager: C. Fired during the 2009 season by the last-place Nationals, Acta takes over the last-place Indians. As in Washington, he must try to find a way to boost a pitching staff that ranked among the majors’ worst — and wasn’t upgraded during the offseason. Acta will have a better offense in Cleveland, with several more promising prospects on the way.

Sporting News prediction: The rebuilding process rarely is a quick (or enjoyable) one, and even in a balanced division, the Indians once again will sink to the bottom.

COMING FRIDAY: Royals preview.

Chris Bahr is a senior editor for Sporting News. E-mail him at cbahr@sportingnews.com.

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