Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Cleveland Indians will have an entirely new look to them as they begin the 2013 season.
Cleveland entered the 2012 season with modest expectations following an 80-82 campaign in 2011, but the Tribe struggled in all aspects of the game last year and ended the year 68-94.
So, of course, changes were made.
The first of which came before last season was even over when Manny Acta was fired after three years at the helm. Cleveland acted quick and hired Terry Francona shortly after the season ended.
Some have speculated that Acta's biggest problem was that there was a real disconnect between him and the clubhouse. Typically that has not been a problem with Francona, despite how his tenure ended in Boston.
Also gone are Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, and Shin-Soo Choo, a trio that combined to play 25 seasons and 2,655 games in Cleveland.
Most teams that struggled the way Cleveland did a year ago opt to build from within, but you don't bring a manager like Francona in to deal with growing pains, so general manager Chris Antonetti went the other way, handing out big free agent contracts to outfielders Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, as well as infielder Mark Reynolds and right-hander Brett Myers amongst others.
The one move that was made with an eye towards the future, though, was the deal that sent Choo to Cincinnati. As part of the three-team deal, the Indians acquired highly regarded righty Trevor Bauer, who could find his way into the Tribe rotation this season.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2013 edition of the Indians, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2012 FINISH (68-94) - Fourth Place (AL Central)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Mark Reynolds (3B), Drew Stubbs (OF), Nick Swisher (OF), Jason Giambi (DH), Michael Bourn (OF), Trevor Bauer (RHP), Matt Albers (RHP), Bryan Shaw (RHP), Mike Aviles (INF), Scott Kazmir (LHP)
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Travis Hafner (DH), Lars Anderson (1B), Casey Kotchman (1B), Jack Hannahan (CIN), Jason Donald (IF), Shin-Soo Choo (OF), Jeanmar Gomez (RHP), Roberto Hernandez (RHP), Tony Sipp (LHP)
PROJECTED LINEUP: Michael Bourn (CF); Asdrubal Cabrera (SS); Jason Kipnis (2B); Nick Swisher (1B); Carlos Santana (C); Mark Reynolds (DH); Michael Brantley (LF); Lonnie Chisenhall (3B); Drew Stubbs (RF)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Justin Masterson (RHP), Ubaldo Jimenez (RHP), Brett Myers (RHP), Zach McAllister (RHP), Scott Kazmir (LHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Chris Perez (RHP)
MANAGER: Terry Francona
HOW WILL NEW FACES HELP LINEUP?
The lineup that Francona will field on Opening Day is a far cry from the one that ended last season for the Tribe.
Right out of the gate Michael Bourn gives the Indians a legitimate threat at the top of the lineup. He's averaged 93 runs per season over the last four years and had 26 doubles, 10 triples and 42 stolen bases a year ago with Atlanta.
Bourn, Drew Stubbs and to a lesser extent Jason Kipnis will allow Francona to get creative with some hit-and-run possibilities.
Even still, the potential for power is also there with players like Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds and Stubbs all being capable of producing 25-plus HR seasons. Asdrubal Cabrera and Lonnie Chisenhall will chip in their fair share as well.
It's also a lineup that is going to strike out a lot. But, all in all, it should be a vastly-improved offense. The combination of speed and power brought in by the newcomers alone gives the Tribe a well-balanced attack.
SCOTT KAZMIR? REALLY?
Francona has already said that right-handers Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez will be his top-2 pitchers. After that it's pretty much take your pick.
Righties Brett Myers and Zach McAllister figure to go north with the club, but the biggest surprise in camp has been left-hander Scott Kazmir, who has made his case to make the team as a fifth starter.
One of the top prospects in baseball at one time, Kazmir was a two-time All- Star for the Tampa Bay Rays and led the AL in strikeouts, with 239 in 206 2/3 innings back in 2007.
Injuries, though, have taken their toll and he has made just one big league start in the past two seasons.
However, the Indians brought him in on a minor league deal and as of this writing has yet to allow a run in eight exhibition innings. Spring training stats don't mean all that much, but people in Tribe camp have been impressed with his velocity, which seems to be where it was when he was striking all those batters out with Tampa Bay.
Of course, the Indians would love to get Trevor Bauer into their rotation at some point. He is their future and has also been impressive this spring. But, a little more seasoning at Triple-A wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for him and the emergence of Kazmir might just allow that.
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH CHRIS PEREZ?
Some in the Indians organization felt that perhaps closer Chris Perez had worn out his welcome in Cleveland with his strong opinions that, at times, miffed the top brass.
Despite the fact that he made his second All-Star team in as many years, Perez was being shopped this winter, mostly because of his escalating salary, but his criticism of the fanbase and organization didn't help either.
Perez saved 39 games a year ago and has saved 98 over the last three seasons, but has missed most of spring training with a shoulder injury. He's always been a quick healer, so don't rule him out on Opening Day.
Unlike the rotation, the bullpen can probably withstand the loss of Perez for a little bit. A good argument can be made that righty Vinnie Pestano was actually better in late-game situations last year anyway.
In addition to Pestano, righties Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw will help set the bridge to Perez, while Nick Hagadone will replace Tony Sipp as the left-handed specialist.
With a strong core and good supporting cast, the bullpen for the Tribe should be a strength. Obviously, it will become even more of an asset if the starting rotation can be better.
X-FACTOR: UBALDO JIMENEZ: If you take a look at the Cleveland Indians' rotation there are no difference makers. Except maybe one and that is Ubaldo Jimenez. He has ace stuff, but has never even shown glimpses of being the pitcher who was 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA in Colorado back in 2010. In fact he's only won 19 games since that season and last year lost 17 games, while pitching to a 5.40 ERA. He also tossed a league-high 16 wild pitches and issued the second most walks (95). So what's the deal? Is he the guy who dominated that season with the Rockies or is he the less than middle of the road hurler the Indians acquired for the stretch run in 2011? He says he's healthy, so something has to give. Jimenez was just too dominant to have fallen off that much. Jimenez has tweaked his delivery a bit this spring that, if anything else, has inspired a little confidence in himself. If he can get back to being the pitcher he was the feeling around this Indians team changes an awful lot. That's how good he can be.
It was obvious changes had to be made. Fans in Cleveland have to be happy to see owner Larry Dolan as active as he was this past winter. Will it make a difference? Who knows? The Tribe plays in a division with maybe the best team in baseball in the Detroit Tigers and a team in the Kansas City Royals that everyone seems to be in love with. Can the Indians compete for a playoff spot? Maybe if things break right. Jimenez needs to be an ace, but even if he does get back to where he was, there are an awful lot of questions in that rotation. The bottom line is that the Indians will be better this year than they were last year, but they probably won't be good enough to compete with the top few teams in their division. It's a start, though.
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