On Sunday the Brewers play their first of three games against Cleveland this spring and, to help us get ready, Ryan of Let's Go Tribe answered some questions about the Indians and their spring. His answers are below.
Ryan also shared this infographic which shows some of the Indians' roster battles and option situations.
BCB: The Indians are only two years removed from having an Opening Day payroll under $50 million but were surprisingly active in the offseason, adding Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Brett Myers, Mark Reynolds andDrew Stubbs among others. This is a team that finished 20 games back of the Tigers last season, but will these moves be enough to make up that gap?
LGT: The Indians haven't completely closed what was a yawning gap between themselves and the Tigers; even though Detroit barely got into the playoffs last year, on paper they look like one of the best teams in baseball. But I think they've improved to the point where they're within the margin of error of grabbing one of the two wild card spots. Despite trading Shin-Soo Choo, they've improved their starting position players to the point where they can probably win some slugfests. But the improvements in the lineup won't mean a thing if the rotation is as bad as it was in July and August last year.
BCB: Even with Brett Myers in the fold, this looks like a rotation of guys with question marks behind their names. Who's the likely Opening Day starter from this group?
LGT: Guys with question marks is a nice way to describe this rotation. These aren't guys with questionable stuff; Masterson, Jimenez, Carrasco, Bauer all have the stuff to be a top-of-the rotation guys; heck, Jimenez and Masterson have both had those types of seasons in the recent past. But the volatility on this staff is such that there's no way you can bank on everyone meeting their potential, as the chances of that is slim at best.
Masterson will probably be the Opening Day starter by default; he was the Opening Day starter last year, and he at least had some stretches of excellent pitching in 2012. Ubaldo Jimenez, who is back only because his option was so inexpensive, will be in the rotation, as well as free agent Brett Myers, who is expected to be an innings eater in the back of the rotation. The other two spots are up for grabs, though Zach McAllister (acquired a couple years ago from the Yankees for Austin Kearns) should have the leg up on one of those spots.
BCB: Elsewhere in pitching, the Indians have a really interesting group of reclamation project pitchers on their NRI list, including Matt Capps, Rich Hill, Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Do any of these guys have a strong chance of playing a key role with this team?
LGT: At this point I think Daisuke is a favorite to make the team as long as he's healthy and has regained his pre-injury velocity. Apparently Scott Kazmir has been impressive this spring, but it's very early. Capps and Hill have decent shots to make the club, but it may come down to roster spots, for Jason Giambi and Ryan Raburn could also make the team as NRIs. Hill's main competition would be Nick Hagadone, who is back after losing a fistfight with a wall, and Capps would have a lot of competition from the right side; there's already four guys who are locks (Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, and Cody Allen), not to mention the two relievers received from Arizona in the Choo deal (Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw).
BCB: I'd be missing something if I didn't take this chance to ask about former Brewer farmhand Michael Brantley. Will he still get playing time in 2013 in an increasingly crowded outfield?
LGT: The main piece from the Sabathia trade, Matt LaPorta, has been a complete bust, but Michael Brantley has emerged as at least a nice regular. He was the everyday center fielder last year, and with the addition of Michael Bourn, will move over to left. He's still very much an everyday player; he has a very nice combination of speed, bat control, and plate discipline, and has enough doubles power so that the Indians can play him in left without any reservations.
BCB: What's your early read on Terry Francona?
LGT: It's hard to truly know the effect he's had on the organization, as that would take insider knowledge, but from my perspective his hiring completely turned the direction of this franchise around. I guess the word I'm looking for is shock; his hiring (from seemingly out of the blue) was a shock that jolted both the fanbase and the organization back to life. At the end of September there were players (Chris Perez) who were openly criticizing the front office and the on-field personnel, and there was serious speculation that both GM Chris Antonetti and President Mark Shapiro would be fired. Well, the front office was kept in place, and because of that, Francona signed with the club (he had worked with Antonetti and Shapiro between his stints in Philadelphia and Boston). Chris Perez suddenly became content, good free agents actually looked at Cleveland as a destination, and probably most important of all, the fanbase seems to be interested in this team again.
The Indians still have quite a ways to go to become serious playoff contenders, but given what things looked like last fall, it's been a great winter.
Thanks to Ryan for taking the time, and check out Let's Go Tribe for more on the Indians!