Cleveland Indians (102-60)
Additions: Yonder Alonso, Rajai Davis
Subtractions: Austin Jackson, Jay Bruce, Bryan Shaw, Chief Wahoo
The Indians were riding high into the 2017 postseason. Winning 22-straight games will help boost anybody’s confidence. Taking the first two games of the division series, including a thrilling comeback win in game two, would put that confidence into overdrive.
Then it all fell apart.
What once seemed like another run to the World Series turned into a first round collapse to the Yankees, and a long winter to endure the disappointment. In an effort to ensure they would not come up short again, Mike Chernoff and company brought back a pair of contributors who helped bring the Indians to just one game from a World Series title back in 2016. Mike Napoli and and game seven almost-hero Rajai Davis are back in Cleveland, though their contributions to the 2018 Indians are yet to be determined.
Both Napoli and Davis returned to the Indians on minor-league deals, though Davis has shown his usual bursts of speed this spring, and could find himself on the Opening Day roster due to Abe Almonte showing up in poor physical shape, and subsequently sent down to Triple-A. Napoli didn’t enjoy much spring success and was released last week.
Despite bringing back a pair of fan favorites (one of them temporarily), the Indians lost a number of contributors that helped them win over 100 games last season. Austin Jackson and Jay Bruce have left holes that need to be filled in the outfield, and Michael Brantley continues to recover from ankle surgery, though the team remains optimistic about his recovery. Lonnie Chisenhall will likely replace Bruce in right field full-time, while the team will look for a productive season from Bradley Zimmer in center field. The former first round pick hit eight homers in 299 at-bats last season, and Terry Francona and the Indians will have to see if Zimmer is the answer as an every-day outfielder.
While the Indians have some questions in the outfield, their infield will be one of the best in baseball, thanks to the acquisition of Yonder Alonso. The first baseman slugged 28 homers and finished the 2017 season with an .866 OPS, which will help make up for the loss of Carlos Santana. Jason Kipnis will return to second base and hope to stay healthy for a bounce-back season, while Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez will lead an offense that scored the sixth-most runs in baseball last season.
The infield will be one of baseball’s best, but the bullpen WAS baseball’s best in 2017. The team’s 2.89 ERA was easily tops in the league among relief pitching, although a major contributor in Bryan Shaw was lost to free agency. Cody Allen and Andrew Miller will still lead a formidable bullpen that should keep leads safe in the later innings, and Dan Otero will look to become a more reliable presence in the middle innings. Otero gave up 63 hits in 60 innings last season, but kept his ERA at 2.85. Otero, Allen and Miller should still be enough to keep Cleveland’s bullpen as one of the best in the league in 2018.
The bullpen figures to be a strength, but the starting pitching staff will be one of the deepest in the league. Cory Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer will lead the rotation, with Josh Tomlin, Mike Clevinger and Danny Salazar among the candidates to round out the rotation. Salazar continues to battle through health issues and would likely be the top choice if injuries aren’t a factor. Regardless who makes up the back of the rotation, the Indians have an enviable problem in which of their many capable starters make up the Opening Day rotation.
The Indians didn’t make any flurry of moves this winter, but they filled their biggest need by grabbing Alonso. Sure, they didn’t win a playoff series last year, but they also won 102 regular season games, making it unnecessary to go crazy this offseason. The Indians have a winning team already assembled. They’ll look to make the most of it in 2018, with redemption on their minds.