Today we get back to our team preview series. Cleveland is the next stop on our tour around the American League. The Astros are 10-8 all-time against Cleveland and took two of three from the Indians last June. It was the first time the two teams had met since 2001. This season the Tribe will be in Houston for three games in April and the Astros will travel to Cleveland for a four-game series in September.
The Indians finished 2012 with a 68-94 record, good for fourth place in the A.L. Central. Manager Manny Acta was quickly dismissed and G.M. Chris Antonetti replaced him with Terry Francona. After a busy offseason the Indians look like they will be much improved going into the 2013 season. Travis Hafner and Shin-Soo Choo are gone and Grady Sizemore is a distant memory. To get the scoop on some of the new Indians on the scene I reached out to Mike Brandyberry of Did the Tribe win last night? Here’s my question and answer session with Mike.
CTH: The Indians made some nice moves over the winter including bringing in Terry Francona as the manager and signing free agents Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to reasonably inexpensive contracts. Which offseason addition do you like the most?
Mike: The best offseason addition was signing Francona to be the manager. Without Francona there would be no Swisher or Bourn and probably not others. It is becoming more and more clear around the Indians that a huge disconnect existed between Manny Acta and the clubhouse. Several players have quietly spoken out about how Acta did not communicate with them. Francona, on the other hand, sought out players all winter, including traveling to many of their homes to talk with them personally. I think players from the old regime, and the new acquisitions, are very excited to play for him. In this new era of sabrmetrics where we try to measure everything, manager is one of the things we can’t quantify at this point, but I think Francona will have a major impact on the win total.
CTH: Brett Myers is expected to be in the Indians starting rotation this year. Myers had a great year as a starter with the Astros in 2010. What do you expect from him this season?
Mike: I think reasonable expectations are for Myers to be a solid, middle of the rotation pitcher who competes for five to six innings and gives the team a chance to win most nights when he leaves the game. If this team is going to win, they are going to ask their starting pitching to keep them in the game — then hand it over to their bullpen for the final three or four innings for the win. I think Myers becomes that kind of pitcher. I think he has a better chance at filling that role than some others who will likely be in the rotation. If Myers was 11-8, with a 4.50 ERA at season’s end, I’d say he did his job.
CTH: Going into the Rule 5 draft I was hoping the Astros would take Chris McGuiness with the first overall pick. Obviously they didn’t and he was taken by the Indians. What are his chances of making the team and sticking around all year?
Mike: I think the chances of McGuiness making the team are very slim. He’s 24-years old and has never played above Double-A. He probably would have been a better fit in Houston with all their other young players. The Indians’ starting lineup is pretty set and two of the four bench positions are pretty ingrained at this point, barring injury. Lou Marson and Mike Aviles will be bench players, with Jason Giambi, Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes and Ezequiel Carrera all fighting for those final two spots. Francona has indicated that he would really like Giambi to make the team if he has something left. Carrera is out of options and Raburn is having a very hot spring so far. I would put all of them ahead of McGuiness. Cleveland has been playing with trying to move him to the outfield. The Indians have a weak corps of outfielders in the upper levels of their minor league system. If he can transition to right field, I can see them being interested in keeping him and they’ll work out a trade so that he can go to Triple-A. If he can’t transition, I would guess they will return him to Texas.
CTH: Can Lonnie Chisenhall hold onto the 3B job or will Mike Aviles eventually take it from him?
Mike: I am a big Lonnie Chisenhall supporter. I thought the Indians should have given him the job over Jack Hannahan a year ago and I think he was in the process of taking the job last June when he broke his forearm when he was hit by a pitch in Baltimore. After 10 weeks of rehabilitation, he seemed to pick up where he left off in September. Francona has been very clear that Chisenhall is the third baseman. I think he has a rather long leash this year before the job is taken from him. I do think Aviles will play third against tough left-handed pitchers, however.
CTH: Jason Giambi, Scott Kazmir and Diasuke Matsuzaka are three of the most intriguing additions to the squad. Which of the three, if any, has the best chance of sticking, and why?
Mike: I think Giambi has the best chance of sticking because Francona has been so outspoken about him this spring. He even mentioned this week that Giambi’s role would be as a designated hitter against right-handed pitching. If he can prove to Francona and the Indians that he has enough in the tank to play two to three times a week at DH, I think he makes the team. I also think Scott Kazmir is one of the early leaders to be the fifth starter. Francona was quick to say early in camp that Kazmir looked very good and hoped he looked like that in April. If he’s healthy and productive in March, I think he wins that spot. So far, Matsuzaka has had mixed results. Statistically, he has looked adequate, but scouts have said he can’t break 88-89 mph on the radar gun. I have to wonder if his ability to get hitters out this spring is a product of inferior lineups and not having to face hitters a second or third time.
Mike: For Cleveland, or any other team in the AL Central, to dethrone the Tigers I think it is going to take two things. First, that team is going to have to overachieve and have several things go their way. Second, the Tigers are going to have to have some serious misfortune on their end. Right now, I think they could be the best team in the American League. Early, they are showing some imperfections with not having a clear closer, but I don’t think that bridges the gap to a team passing them in the standings. Cleveland needs Justin Masterson to have a season similar to 2011, with Ubaldo Jimenez, Myers and Zach McAllister to all be respectable starters. If someone like Carlos Carrasco or Kazmir could have a breakout, comeback season…and the Tigers had a major injury, then the door opens for someone to pass them. Until that happens, I think the Tigers are a 95 win team and the Indians, White Sox and Royals are all 84-78 win teams.
Thanks Mike. I’d have to agree that the Tigers will be tough to knock off. But I might be a little more optimistic overall. Other new faces in Cleveland this year include Trevor Bauer, Mark Reynolds, and Drew Stubbs. The lineup certainly looks stronger than last year and if the pitching can hold up I wouldn’t be surprised to see them compete for a wildcard spot.