Both Carrasco and Salazar had their seasons end after the completion of their 25th starts. Carrasco pitched to a 3.32 earned run average, a 1.148 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) and finished his season with 150 strikeouts in just over 146 innings pitched. Salazar struck out 161 in just over 137 IP. The narrow loss of the World Series makes it difficult to say the Indians could have won it with the use of both pitchers- Salazar did make two relief appearances in the World Series.
The Indians added free agent first baseman Edwin Encarnacion on a three year, $60 million contract to strengthen their lineup. Incumbent first baseman Mike Napoli hit .239 with 34 home runs and 101 runs batted in. EE bested those numbers by hitting .269 with 42 home runs and 127 RBI last season for Toronto, who rode his extra innings three- run home run to the American League Division Series in which they defeated the Texas Rangers. The Blue Jays and Indians played for the right to go to the World Series, something the Jays had not done since 1993 and the Indians since 1997. The Indians took the ALCS in five games with the hopes of ending a 58- year World Series drought.
One of the revolutions going on in the game of baseball is how teams are pitching the game from the ninth inning backwards. The Royals stood out in 2014, when their bullpen consisted of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera and the Yankees built a super bullpen when they had Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances for a good amount of 2016. The Indians acquired Miller on July 31st and advanced through the playoffs almost on his back alone. Combining Miller with closer Cody Allen and set up man Bryan Shaw allowed for Francona to take his starting pitchers out early, and in the postseason use his top relievers in the 6th inning or earlier. Bringing back the same group makes the Indians one of the favorites in the American League. They also signed lefty specialist Boone Logan to join right handed pitchers Dan Otero and Zach McAllister. Hope is, the Indians can balance the use of their top three relievers to have them ready to once again make a difference in the postseason.
The Indians are looking forward to having a strong (on paper) starting rotation, led by ace Corey Kluber. The right hander went 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA and struck out 227 batters in 215 IP in 2016. Carrasco and Salazar follow, with Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, who combined to win 25 games and pitch 364 innings last year, rounding out the group. Right handed pitchers Mike Clevenger and Cody Anderson are next in line.
The Indians added some pop to their lineup with Encarnacion and will expect a lot out of young shortstop Francisco Lindor, Lindor's 2016 was solid (.301, 15, 78, 91 runs scored, 19 stolen bases), but his ceiling is much higher. New starting third baseman Jose Ramirez earned the job last season after previously being Lindor's placeholder at shortstop. Ramirez hit .312, 11, 76, 84 RS, and 22 SB while adding 46 doubles last year to take the starting job away from veteran Juan Uribe,
Outfielder Michael Brantley finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting in 2014 and followed that up with a very good 2015 season. Unfortunately, 2016 was a lost cause for Brantley, who is still is trying to get into playing shape for opening day. Brantley played in just 11 games last season and will clearly make a big difference if he can play a full season. Designated hitter Carlos Santana hit 34 home runs last season and has managed at least 91 walks a season for each of the last six. Second baseman Jason Kipnis is coming off a season where he managed to hit more home runs than he previously hit in a season, but also saw an drastic increase in strikeouts. Kipnis will also likely not be ready for the start of the season due to a right shoulder injury. 2016 AL Rookie of the Year finalist Tyler Naquin will play center fielder with former third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall starting the season in right. The biggest concern in the Indians lineup is the catcher position, where Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez both hit under .200 last season and Gomes is coming off back to back campaigns where he has struggled through injuries. On a brighter note, Gomes did hit 21 home runs in 2014 and won the league's Silver Slugger Award and Perez equaled his regular season home run total with three in the postseason, including two in Game One of the World Series.
With the possibility of starting the season without both Kipnis and Brantley, Ramirez is the early top candidate to replace either. Infielders Erik Gonzalez and Giovanny Urshela could conceivably start at second base and third base, respectively, with Ramirez opening the season in left. Abraham Almonte could also start out as the left fielder, with Ramirez playing second and Gonzalez and Urshela playing third. Brandon Guyer is back to be the fourth outfielder and Michael Martinez will spend some time in both the infield and outfield. With Kipnis and Brantley healthy, I would line the Indians up like this: Ramirez 3B, Brantley LF, Lindor SS, Encarnacion 1B, Santana DH, Kipnis 2B, Chisenhall RF, Gomes C, Naquin CF.
Switch hitting catcher Francisco Mejia is just 21 years old but could be on his way to the big leagues soon. Especially if he continues to dominate minor league pitching and the team's catching tandem continues to hit to a point where the Indians would rather one of their pitchers bat. Outfielder Bradley Zimmer is almost ready for the big leagues as well and could factor into Cleveland's 2017 plans if Brantley is not healthy enough to contribute. Former first overall pick Brady Aiken has seen his stock fall while recovering from Tommy John surgery but still has a high enough ceiling to be a future major league starting pitcher. Gonzalez has a lot of potential and may be similar to Ramirez in that he may be simply looking for an opportunity to play everyday. Ramirez got that chance and has not looked back. The Indians bullpen could get stronger this season with right hander Shawn Armstrong with left hander Ryan Merritt an option to start if needed.
The Indians surprised many with their rise and subsequent run in the playoffs. However, expectations have increased for the 2017 season. Cleveland brings a very strong offensive team with an even better pitching staff. They should be considered the favorites in a very good American League Central. Las Vegas gave them a strong over/ under number of 92.5. I am betting the under, but I think the Indians belong in the playoffs. I have the Indians finishing the season at 89-73, second place in the AL Central. The Indians will host the Wild Card Game this coming season against the Kansas City Royals. Encarnacion is hoping the game is tied in extra innings and he is at the plate with two men on and a chance to win the game.