With spring training starting in two weeks, it would be fair to say the Cleveland Indians have had a very quiet winter.
Sure, they’ve been in the news in terms of losing players, as Carlos Santana signed as a free agent with the Phillies, Bryan Shaw went to Colorado, Jay Bruce to the Mets, and Joe Smith departed for Houston.
The front office did sign Yander Alonso to replace Santana at first base, banking that Alonso’s power surge last year is sustainable.
After never reaching double figures in home runs during the first seven years of his career (his high was 9 in 2012 with San Diego), Alonso crushed 28 dingers in 2017.
He slugged .501 last season after never reaching the .400 mark during his career.
If changing the launch angle of his swing can be carried forward, then the Indians have Santana’s replacement, at least vs. right-handed pitching, against whom he had a 900 OPS a year ago.
President Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff obviously feel the platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer or perhaps Yandy Diaz can handle rightfield, after all the Tribe was in first place before they dealt for Bruce.
In the bullpen, the organization is banking on Nick Goody to step up and hoping perhaps a non-roster invitee such as Alexi Ogando, Preston Claiborne, or Neil Ramirez can emerge like Jeff Manship, Ryan Webb, or Scott Atchison have in recent years.
We believe the Indians feel comfortable in their place in the division, after all they won the American League Central Division by 17 games a year ago, and will use the first three months of the 2018 season to see what they will need for the stretch drive.
This means the July 31st trading deadline will be more important to Cleveland than the off-season was.
Management is banking on a return to form from Jason Kipnis to boost the offense, and this is a solid move. The second baseman has had an OPS over 800 in three of the four years prior to last year’s injury plagued campaign.
If Kipnis has was is an average season for him (.268, 17 HR, 74 RBI, 762 OPS) that will add offense for Terry Francona.
Don’t forget Chisenhall was having an outstanding season before missing most of the last two months. The former first round pick was hitting .288, slugging .521, and had a career high OPS of 881.
We are unsure about replacing Austin Jackson, who had a rebirth in Cleveland (.318, 7 HR, 35 RBI, 869 OPS in 89 games) with Melvin Upton Jr., who didn’t play in the big league during 2017.
Upton does have a career 760 OPS vs. southpaws, but hasn’t hit over .250 in the bigs since 2008, and is prone to striking out.
As for the bullpen, we think Antonetti and Chernoff will do what they did in ’16 and see what relievers come available as the season progresses.
Remember, that’s how Andrew Miller came to the Tribe. If you can get a bullpen piece of that magnitude to go with Cody Allen and the big lefty, you will be well suited for an October run.
This strategy also will show what you have in players like Diaz, Upton, Kipnis, and Francisco Mejia and Triston McKenzie.
And who knows, another minor leaguer may emerge as a piece other teams will covet.
Remember, the Cleveland Indians didn’t squeak into the playoffs last year, they had the best record in the AL. Even a slight regression puts them in a great position going into 2018.