Photo: Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports
As winter draws to a close, temperatures rise—Ann Arbor aside—and Spring Training gets underway it can only mean one thing: Baseball is (almost) here! Welcome back to M-SABR’s Season Preview 30 Teams in 30 Days series, where our staff writers share their insights on what to expect from your favorite team and players in 2018 and get you ready for that very first first pitch. Today Ambria Hopfe takes on the Cleveland Indians. Enjoy!
2017 Record: 102-60
2017 Payroll: $139,415,884 (18th)
Projected 2018 Lineup:
All projections for 2018 from Steamer
- SS Francisco Lindor .293 AVG/.358 OBP/.493 SLG, 6.1 WAR
- 2B Jason Kipnis .260 AVG/.331 OBP/.423 SLG, 1.7 WAR
- 3B Jose Ramirez .297 AVG/.357 OBP/.491 SLG, 4.7 WAR
- DH Edwin Encarnacion .252 AVG/.360 OBP/.505 SLG, 2.2 WAR
- LF Michael Brantley .293 AVG/.360 OBP/.461 SLG, 1.6 WAR
- 1B Yonder Alonso .270 AVG/.354 OBP/.452 SLG, 1.6 WAR
- C Roberto Perez .226 AVG/.317 OBP/.382 SLG, 1.1 WAR
- RF Lonnie Chisenhall .266 AVG/.325 OBP/.441 SLG, 0.8 WAR
- CF Brad Zimmer .242 AVG/.318 OBP/.401 SLG, 1.8 WAR
Projected 2018 Rotation:
- Corey Kluber 213.0 IP/3.29 ERA/1.09 WHIP, 5.7 WAR
- Carlos Carrasco 169.0 IP/3.50 ERA/1.16 WHIP, 3.9 WAR
- Trevor Bauer 171.0 IP/4.17 ERA/1.31 WHIP, 2.6 WAR
- Danny Salazar 154.0 IP/3.85 ERA/1.23 WHIP, 3.0 WAR
- Josh Tomlin 101.0 IP/4.84 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 0.8 WAR
As it was for most of baseball, this offseason was slow for the Indians. Despite some notable departures, as well as a fair share of tweets from unimpressed fans, the front office failed to make a splash this winter. Arguably the only major signing was that of Yonder Alonso, who will be filling in the spot at first base vacated by long-time Indian Carlos Santana. Alonso undoubtedly offered the more team-friendly opportunity, agreeing to a 2-year, $16MM contract, which pales in comparison to the 5-year, $75MM contract that Santana reportedly proposed to the Indians before signing with the Phillies.
Some other key departures include reliever Bryan Shaw, RF Jay Bruce, and CF Austin Jackson. In response to the concerning decrease in potential offensive production in the outfield, the Indians surprised many by going for Michael Brantley’s $12MM club option. It remains to be seen whether the team will make any other moves to replenish their outfield bats.
Some other interesting moves included signing Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis to minor league contracts. Mike Napoli will likely serve as a platoon mate for Alonso at first base, but other major opportunities on the big league team are limited.
When I previewed the Indians last year, I thought they would impress in 2017, but nothing prepared me for the amazing season they had following their 2016 postseason run. Even though their time in the postseason in 2017 was disappointingly short, this team has proven that they can deliver year after year. For 2018, much like last year, the only concern I have for the Indians is staying healthy. The most immediate concern looking to Opening Day is a recovering Michael Brantley, who suffered a sprained ankle late last season. Although he has reportedly begun defensive drills and is making good progress, there is no official timeline of his return and his availability for opening day looks grim. Also, a source of concern is SP Danny Salazar, who experienced shoulder inflammation early in his offseason throwing program and remains a few weeks behind his counterparts in spring training. Although he is still penciled in in the starting rotation, he is not expected to be ready Opening Day. Without sounding like a broken record, the focus is clear: the difference between a good 2018 and a great 2018 for the Indians will be smart utilization of players to fill gaps and avoid injury. Will this be the year the Tribe ends their 70-season World Series drought? They will likely come close again but have yet to demonstrate the extra something that will push them the rest of the way.
Projected Record: 92-70
Player to Watch: Jason Kipnis
After some injuries last season and very serious trade talks with the Mets, the Indians should not regret keeping a healthy Kipnis under team control. He is already generating excitement, going 7-11 with 4 long ones for a whopping 2.364 OPS. Despite the small sample size, many are optimistic that he will return to his All-Star form. Look for him producing big time in the second slot in 2018.
Player to Watch: Yonder Alonso
As the newest addition to the Indians starting lineup, Yonder Alonso definitely has some big shoes to fill with the departure of Carlos Santana. Slashing .266/.365/.501 in 2017, Alonso has the potential to measure up to Santana’s production at a fraction of the cost. Still, it will be interesting to see how he fits in in Cleveland.
Player to Watch: Andrew Miller
After posting a 1.44 ERA and 13.6 K/9 in 2017, Andrew Miller remains the cornerstone of a solid bullpen. Combine the skill set of Miller and his colleagues with the unconventional usage practices of manager Terry Francona, and the Indians bullpen could easily be the cherry-on-top of an unstoppable lineup and starting rotation.