All winter long, we have been critical of the off-season for the Cleveland Indians’ front office.
They did make a lot of sound, solid moves, but we questioned whether or not they did enough to get the squad back to a win total in the upper 80’s or low 90’s, so they could return to the post-season.
After careful consideration, we think they have and Terry Francona’s crew will win the AL Central Division in 2016.
By the way, we aren’t homers and don’t predict the Indians to win every year either. We think the last time we did make that pick, it was 2007-08.
Certainly, we know the Indians have the starting pitching to do it, perhaps the best rotation in the American League, and maybe in the sport when you figure the lack of DH in the National League, and that the AL is better overall.
The rotation is strong enough that a pitcher who threw 176 innings for the Tribe a year ago, Trevor Bauer, will apparently start the ’16 season in the bullpen.
And T.J. House, a big factor in 2014 and a very good prospect, Mike Clevenger, will open the season in Columbus.
We all know the key for the Indians in 2016 is the hitting, can they score enough runs to avoid losing a bunch of games because they score three runs or less, which they did in half of their games a year ago.
It is ridiculous to think Francisco Lindor will hit .313 as he did in 99 games a year ago, but if he hits .270, that’s an improvement over what the Tribe got from the spot in the first half of the ’15 campaign.
Team president Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff appear to have taken some dead spots in the lineup from a year ago, and have put players who should be able to help at the plate in their places.
While we like Giovanny Urshela’s potential, the fact remains last year he had a 608 OPS, way below average. This year, Juan Uribe, who had a 737 OPS will be the primary third baseman, with Jose Ramirez, who we think will breakout this season, getting time there as well.
And if Uribe doesn’t hit (he is 37 years old), Urshela had a solid spring at the plate and should improve on his offensive ability.
Tyler Naquin and Rajai Davis should do better than what Michael Bourn gave Cleveland until he was dealt to Atlanta in late July, and the platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall and another vet, Marlon Byrd should do better than the Brandon Moss/David Murphy/Jerry Sands trio in RF.
And we believe that Mike Napoli will be the best of the veterans the front office brought in this winter, and Yan Gomes is ready to pick up where he left off in 2014, before being hampered by injuries.
Those additions will augment Michael Brantley, who hopefully will be back by the end of April, and Jason Kipnis at the plate
The only concern we have is in the bullpen.
Cody Allen should be fine, but we worry about Bryan Shaw and wonder if the heavy workload finally catches up with him.
We also worry about Jeff Manship, because let’s face it, in his seven years in the big leagues, he’s had three good months, the second half of last season.
On the other hand, the Tribe has depth in the organization with bullpen arms. Shawn Armstrong and Austin Adams are ready to contribute if someone fails.
Lastly, there’s the Francona factor. Although we may disagree with him strategically at times, he knows how to use each player to the greatest advantage.
That cannot be underestimated.
It will be an Indians summer at Progressive Field in 2016. And if they can get off to a good start, people will start returning to be a part of the excitement.