The Cleveland Indians underwent a major overhaul this offseason, making a number of moves through both free agency and trades. The result? A projected Opening Day lineup that features just four players that were on the 2012 squad, a new leadoff hitter, and a gamble on a young pitcher who could make a lasting impact while also helping to immediately turn around the fortunes of a club that went 68-94 last season, limping to a fourth-place finish in the AL Central.
|A.L. East||N.L. East|
|A.L. Central||N.L. Central|
|A.L. West||N.L. West|
Outside of bringing in Terry Francona to manage the team, it's somewhat tough to pinpoint Cleveland's biggest transaction of the offseason; instead of a major move to energize the fan base, Cleveland made a series of upper-mid-level moves that delivered several jolts. The most recent was the signing of Michael Bourn, who had become a baseball nomad, possibly costing any team signing him its first-round draft pick. The speedster, who has stolen 50 or more bases three times in the last four years, will lead off this new-look lineup. Personifying the offseason strategy even more was the four-year contract given to Ohio's own Nick Swisher. Over the last four years with the Yankees, Swisher was the picture of dependability, batting .268 and sporting an OPS of .850. He never dipped below 30 doubles, 23 home runs, or 82 RBI in a season over that span. But his ceiling isn't much higher. Swisher is solid, but he will not be mistaken for Josh Hamilton.
Two players offering nowhere near the dependability of Swisher or Bourn are fellow additions Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs. Reynolds is basically the polar opposite of what Casey Kotchman offered the team at first base last season, bringing lots of power and strikeouts -- and the excitement that comes from the big swings. Stubbs, meanwhile, was acquired from the Reds in the trade that sent Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati. Originally projected as the starter in center field, Stubbs is likely ticketed for a corner spot after the Bourn signing. His average has fluctuated between .213 and .267 over the last four seasons, and there's no way of telling if Stubbs will hit 25 home runs or 15. But he will steal 30-40 bases and, like Reynolds, he tends to strike out a great deal. In fact, just two seasons ago, Stubbs (205, NL) and Reynolds (196, AL) led their respective leagues in strikeouts.
The trade that brought Stubbs to Cleveland also netted arguably the most exciting piece of the 2013 puzzle -- pitcher Trevor Bauer, one of the game's top prospects (at least before last season). Bauer was called up to Arizona in June with a ton of fanfare but fizzled in four appearances, sporting a 6.06 ERA and 1.65 WHIP. To many, this is the lasting picture of Bauer: a failed trip to the majors that cancels out all the good he did in the minors (3.00 ERA, 200 strikeouts in 156 innings). But Bauer has repeatedly said he was affected by a groin injury, and if Fantasy owners are willing to believe him and use a late-round pick on Bauer, they may be rewarded with 2012's No. 9 prospect (according to Baseball America) fulfilling his promise.
The Indians rounded out their bench with the versatile duo of Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes, and snagged a big bat in Chris McGuiness from the Rangers in the Rule 5 draft. They even brought in Jason Giambi on a minor-league contract, although the lineup is already stacked with left-handed and switch hitters.The Indians already had a roster full of players who could go either way in 2013: Jason Kipnis had a second half swoon, Asdrubal Cabrera battled wrist injuries and saw his production drop, Lonnie Chisenhall had solid minor league numbers but hasn't done much time in the majors, Ubaldo Jimenez frustratingly goes from brilliant to bum without warning, Justin Masterson took a major step back in 2012 (but has said that minor pre-2012 surgery affected his preparation for the season), and Carlos Carrasco is coming back from Tommy John surgery. And let's not forget about the ultimate risk: Daisuke Matsuzaka, who played for Francona in Boston and signed a minor league deal in February; he could, conceivably, enter the rotation mix, bumping Zach McAllister to the pen. Now mix in Bourn, Swisher, Stubbs, Reynolds, Bauer, and Brett Myers (who has produced ERAs of 3.14 and 4.46 the last two seasons in which he started), and the picture gets a litte riskier, but far more exciting and optimistic.
From a Fantasy perspective, we're looking at a lot of risk-taking and finger-crossing. But if things break the right way, which is highly probable, the Indians could be chock-full of value in 2013.
Sleeper... Lonnie Chisenhall, third base
A top prospect in 2010 and 2011, Chisenhall offers a good deal of power, solid average and even some speed. The 24-year-old has 12 home runs in 354 major league at-bats, along with an average of .260. But with everyday at-bats as the expected starter in 2013, Chisenhall should benefit from regular playing time and a much-improved lineup surrounding him. A safe estimate for this year would be a .265 average with 17 home runs and 20 doubles, but don't be surprised if he ends up more around .280, with 22 home runs and 30 doubles. His upside makes him draftable in the late rounds of deeper mixed leagues and a must-draft in AL-only formats.
Rotisserie stud ... Drew Stubbs, outfield
Stubbs has stolen at least 30 bases in each of the last three seasons and has the capability to hit 20 home runs -- although that mark may be difficult to meet in 2013 as he moves away from the hitter-friendly confines of the Great American Ballpark. Stubbs does not hit a lot of doubles (his career high is 22) and he strikes out a lot -- two factors that drive his value down in points leagues. But Roto players only worry about strikeouts and doubles as tangential factors in determining batting average, RBI, and runs. Stubbs has seen his average dip in each of the past three years, but he is erratic enough to keep a bounceback to the .260 range as a very real possibility. He has the ability to put up a 20-40 season, making Stubbs worth a late-round gamble in deep Roto league drafts for 2013.
Impact prospect ... Chris McGuiness, designated hitter
Because he was selected in the Rule 5 Draft, the Indians have to keep McGuiness on the 25-man roster this season or risk having to send him back to the Rangers. Before Bourn signed on, McGuiness couldn't have landed in a better spot; the Indians are moving past the Travis Hafner era at DH (he signed with the Yankees), and McGuiness profiles nicely in that role. The lefty has never had a major league at-bat, but hit .268 with 23 home runs and 25 doubles last year in Double-A and had 19 home runs and 23 doubles while hitting .284 in 2010 (his 2011 was cut short by knee and oblique injuries). Additionally, McGuiness was MVP of the 2012 Arizona Fall League, hitting .370 with four home runs and 27 RBI. He may have taken a circuitous route to the majors, but McGuiness should make a nice impact as a rookie in 2013 if he wins a spot on the roster. He's likely in the mix for some DH at-bats, and could pop up at first base occasionally, as well.
The Indians have an interesting situation heading into 2013, as far as their farm system goes. Some of their best prospects -- Bauer, McGuiness, and Gomes -- were acquisitions, and join their own top talent in jumping right in and playing immediately. ... Chisenhall is a home-grown product who is about to make his mark, Zach McAllister has been in the system for three years and looks to end up in the rotation, and Ezequiel Carrera is poised for a bench spot and occasional playing time, as well. ... There's a major drop-off, with Nick Hagadone -- a much-needed bullpen lefty -- the next-closest prospect, followed by a good amount of talent deeper in the ranks, including Francisco Lindor, Tony Wolters, Mitch Brown, Tyler Naquin, and Dorssys Paulino. ... The big names have already arrived, and it will be at least a year or two until the possible stars bubble to the top of the system. On the bright side, if Cleveland is in contention late in the season, some of these youngsters can be traded for immediate help. And if not, they continue to rise in the ranks and help the team in the future. But keeper owners looking for the down-the-road gem here are probably best served going after Lindor and leaving the rest for 2014 or even 2015 drafts.
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