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2014 Season Preview: Cleveland Indians

"You know what they say: 92 wins and $4.50 will get you a cafe latte."

Jason Miller

Last season, the Cleveland Indians came out of "nowhere" and "shocked" the league by winning 92 games, finishing just a game back of the AL Central-winning Detroit Tigers.

But really, if you had been paying even somewhat close attention, it was pretty clear that the Indians were going to be pretty good, and it really came down to how the pieces fit together more than anything. Bringing in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, along with a moderate return to form for Ubaldo Jimenez and general improvement from their young stars, Cleveland built a solid team and managed to perform up to (and quite possibly succeed) expectations. So what does 2014 have in store?

Notable Departures

Other AL Central Previews

SP Ubaldo Jimenez, SP Scott Kazmir, RP Joe Smith, RP Chris Perez, RP Matt Albers, OF Drew Stubbs, DH Jason Kubel

That's quite a few arms.

Jimenez and Kazmir combined for over 5 fWAR last season, and Albers, Smith, and Perez constituted a hefty portion of Cleveland's relief corps. last season. The hope is that the group of young players that are just starting to bloom in Cleveland will more than cover the gap, along with the additions that were made in the off-season.

Notable Additions

OF David Murphy, RP Josh Outman, RP John Axford, UTL Elliot Johnson, SP Shaun Marcum

David Murphy found himself as the odd man out in an ever-expanding Texas outfield. He also slumped to his worst professional season last year, hitting just .220/.282/.374 in 476 plate appearances.Josh Outman and John Axford were brought in to try and shore up the bullpen, and Shaun Marcum provides some additional, if volatile, depth to the Indians' young starting rotation.

Watch List

The young starters, specifically Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar, are going to virtually dictate whether or not the club can make up for the loss of Jimenez and Kazmir. Salazar had just 52 innings of time last season, but managed to strike out 11.25 batters per nine innings and walked just 2.60. He's some kind of monster.

Save for perhaps right field, there really isn't a hole in the offense per se, but if there is a weak link it clearly exists at short stop in the personage of Asdrubal Cabrera, who struggled greatly last season, hitting just .242/.299/.402 with below-average defense.

The good news for Cleveland is that the team's number one prospect, Francisco Lindor, plays short stop and also happens to be pretty close to the majors, and though his power lags behind Cabrera's, he has premium on-base skills and good speed. Cabrera can step back up, but even if he doesn't, they may only have to suffer him for the first half of the year.

Best-Case Scenario

Salazar finishes in the top 5 of Cy Young voting, McAllister and Kluber have productive seasons, the bullpen pieces manage to come together, Murphy and Cabrera have return-to-form seasons and the Cleveland offense keeps on keeping on to the tune of 95 wins and a neck-and-neck challenge for the division with the Detroit Tigers. If Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti had ever considered some sort of Faustian deal with the Devil, they could do worse than putting their chips in the 2014 basket.

Worst-Case Scenario

Salazar waffles, Masterson loses some effectiveness and the bullpen continues to sputter. Cabrera and Murphy can't seem to find their stroke and the injuries just won't stop, leading to a fallback season of around 85 wins.

Final Thoughts

Very quietly and efficiently, through prudent trades that sought consistent, long-term gains at the cost of short-term mediocrity, and some solid, productive free agent spending, the Indians have managed to construct a team that is well worth the price of admission and they should easily find themselves in a division fight with the Tigers (and for good measure, the Royals). Even if they fall short of that mark, they should also be in contention for the AL Wild Card spots.