Although it doesn’t look like it outside your window if you live in the Cleveland area, baseball is just around the corner. Pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, AZ on Tuesday.
The Indians are coming off a surprising season, going from 69 victories in 2012 to 92 wins and a berth in the wild card game at the end of the season.
The question is simply this: Can the Tribe do it again and remain the one beacon of hope in the darkness that is professional sports in our city?
Right now, most fans we speak to feel the same way, that the Tribe isn’t as good right now as they were at the end of the 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay on October 2nd.
Now, to be fair, there still is time to improve the ballclub, remember that Michael Bourn wasn’t signed until shortly after the Tribe was already in camp, but it appears the Indians will lose two starting pitchers (Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir) to free agency, and haven’t done anything to replace either.
Wouldn’t it be nice if just once, the Indians’ management said they were going to go the extra mile and add let’s say $15 million to the payroll and go for it? Using that money to bring in another proven top of the rotation starter or a proven bat to put in the middle of the lineup would be a refreshing change.
As of right now, Baseball-Reference.com lists Cleveland as having the second lowest payroll in the division, ahead of only Minnesota, and only slightly ahead of them.
Instead, they went with the usual low risk, high reward signings. Players who have good career track records, but are coming off poor seasons and/or injuries. After all, it worked last season with Ryan Raburn and Kazmir, so why not try the same thing with Shawn Marcum and Jeff Francouer?
This year’s strategy appears to be hoping that players who have performed well at the big league level, but had off seasons in 2013 will rebound to their normal levels. The players in this category would be Nick Swisher, Bourn, Asdrubal Cabrera, and newcomer David Murphy.
Swisher, who will be 33 this season, hit .246 with 22 HR and 63 RBI (763 OPS) last season while battling a shoulder injury. His career norms are .255 with 28 HR and 88 RBI (820 OPS), playing half of his time in the bigs in hitter’s parks (Chicago and New York). He figures to be slightly better because of the shoulder and perhaps pressing a tad with the new contract.
Bourn is 31 and hit .263 with 6 HR and 50 RBI (676 OPS) in 130 games a year ago, stealing 23 bases. His average season numbers are .271, 5 HR and 43 RBI (700 OPS) and 48 steals.
We have said this before. Unless Bourn changes his game to more of a contact approach (he struck out 132 times in ’13), it is doubtful he will improve. His career best OPS is 739, which is about the average major league regular.
Cabrera might be the best chance for a rebound since he is 28 years old and is eligible for free agency. However, he is two years removed from his best year in 2011. He hit .242 in 2013 with 14 dingers and 64 RBIs (700 OPS), compared to his norms of .273, 14 homers and 73 RBI (748 OPS). With a higher batting average should come more runs driven home.
Murphy will be 32 this season and hit just .220 with 14 home runs and 45 RBI (656 OPS) compared to usual numbers of .275, 16 HR and 69 RBI (778 OPS). However, he is moving from a great hitters park in Texas to a pitcher’s park in Cleveland. In fairness, he doesn’t have the extreme splits other Rangers’ hitters have at their home park.
It will be interesting to see which, if any, of these hitters can bounce back in 2013 because it seems the Indians’ off-season strategy for success is based on them being better.
Again, wouldn’t it be nice if they actually just spent a little more cash one year?