Expecting a rebuild, the Indians had players such as Asdrubal Cabrera and Chris Perez on the trading block. Shin-Soo Choo was traded to the Reds for Drew Stubbs and Didi Gregorius, with Gregorius sent to Arizona for Trevor Bauer. Terry Francona was hired as manager, a little time went by and the front office did an about face. Nick Swisher was signed, they added Brett Myers and Mark Reynolds. They traded for Mike Aviles and took chances on Jason Giambi, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Scott Kazmir. They capped off their offseason by signing CF Michael Bourn, a sign the team is not rebuilding.
While considering this team a contender, it is worth mentioning what did not work out last season. To just blame it on Acta is a little overboard, though he did not handle the adversity well last season. Ubaldo Jimenez (9-17, 5.40) was terrible last season and Justin Masterson (11-15, 4.93) was not that much better. Jimenez could be a lost cause, so the Indians are hoping he can regain close to the form he had in Colorado. Masterson was coming off a season where he pitched to a 3.21 ERA, something he has the ability to repeat. Brett Myers, signed to be a starting pitcher, had two bulldog like seasons for the last place Astros before taking over as closer last season. Carlos Carrasco, obtained in the Cliff Lee trade, returns after missing a year due to injury. Zack McAllister (6-8, 4.24) has a chance to be a very good pitcher. Kazmir has a good chance to make the team if he can beat out Carrasco, but Matsuzaka has a tough decision to make as he weighs the minors or a release.
The Indians strength lies with its bullpen. Perez (0-4, 3.59, 39 saves) leads the crew. Joe Smith (7-4, 2.96 in 72 games) and Vinny Pestano (3-3, 2.57 in 70 games) team with former Red Sox RHP Matt Albers (3-1, 2.39 in 63 games) to give the team some depth. RHP Cody Allen has a chance to be a sleeper, one who can emerge from the group to be an 8th inning guy. LHP Tony Sipp went to Arizona in the deal that brought Albers to Cleveland (as well as Bauer and Stubbs), so the team will rely on LHP Nick Hagadone to get left hand hitters out. David Huff, who can start or relieve, can also take on that role.
The offense intrigues me. They already had SS Cabrera (.270, 16, 66), 2B Jason Kipnis (.257, 14, 76) and C Carlos Santana (.252, 18, 76). Michael Brantley (.288, 6, 60) will move from CF to LF, with the rest of the lineup getting a facelift. Swisher (.294, 24, 93) easily replaces the offense they got from 1B Casey Kotchman last season (.229, 12, 55). Reynolds (.223, 23, 69) will strike out a lot, but could hit more HRs as the every DH. Bourn (.274, 9, 54, 10 3B, 42 SB) takes over as the CF and leadoff batter. Aviles (.250, 13, 60) takes over at 3B with Stubbs (.213, 13, 40 in 136 games) playing RF. The team inherited a lot of Ks with Stubbs and Reynolds, and even Bourn, but they should be able to hit a lot more HRs and produce many more runs. Lonnie Chisenhall will get some time at 3B; he may be the opening day starter. However, I'd go with Aviles. The Indians lineup should look like this: Bourn CF, Kipnis 2B, Santana C, Swisher 1B, Cabrera SS, Reynolds DH, Brantley LF, Stubbs RF, Aviles 3B. Yes, they will lead the AL in Ks, but they will also be near the top in run production.
I talked about last year's over/ under being 86 1/2. Vegas was not so kind to them this season, putting their number at 77 1/2. I think they are better than that. However, they need to get something out of their starting pitching. I am thinking Masterson will bounce back and they should get something positive out of Myers. McAllister should have a big impact. If none of the preceding happen, my prediction of the Indians making the playoffs as a Wild Card team will go for naught. This is where Bauer comes in. He has ace type stuff and his presence will be a shot in the arm, lengthening the rotation. I see them finishing 85-77, 3rd place in the AL Central. Because of the parity of many teams finishing near the .500 level or better, 85 wins could spell a Wild Card berth in the AL this season.