The Cleveland Indians are the heaviest favorite in MLB to win their division in 2017. A confluence of upgrading the lineup with Edwin Encarnacion, returning all other important components of their 2016 AL pennant winning team, and the rest of the division falling apart has led many Tribe fans to be feeling confident entering Spring Training.
Positive feelings are warranted though it is necessary to remind everyone baseball is a fickle sport and the Indians are not without causes for concern. Because Baseball is how an injury-filled team comes within one game- one run- of winning the World Series, but it is also how seemingly indestructable teams fall apart (why hello 2008 Cleveland Indians).
The Tribe has the ability to navigate many of these concerns through depth and excellence as a team overall. This list is one that most other teams in MLB would wish is their own. However, these items are still worth tracking through Spring Training to see how they might sort out.
Here we go.
“Remaining conservative” and “reserving optimism” have been the key phrases surrounding the rehabilitation of Michael Brantley from biceps surgery that was needed after his shoulder rehab went haywire. The entire offseason, there was positive messaging around Brantley without any specifics. MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian even sent out an innocuous video on the day that Pitchers and Catchers reported.
Brantley and Kipnis playing catch this morning. pic.twitter.com/7ldhzxzKF8
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 13, 2017
Looming in the background though was the fact that Brantley never progressed past working off a tee. It is now reported that he will not be ready for the start of Spring Training games. The hope is still he will be available for Opening Day, but Tribe fans need to see him on the field before they should get their hopes up that his sweet swing will be back in action for 2017.
Michael Brantley won't be playing In the #Indians early spring training games, but counting on him being ready for season opener
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) February 15, 2017
Carlos Carrasco, Yan Gomes
The team can blame themselves for worries about two more of the players who ended last season injured. Neither Carrasco nor Gomes had an injury which should be troublesome moving forward. Both should be fully recovered and ready to go. However, the team has been completely silent on all injuries other than Brantley. Watch closely to make sure these players are participating fully. It was only two seasons ago the Tribe hid Carrasco’s heart scares. Watching starting pitchers usage in actual games can help lend some clues to the pitchers not at their best.
Danny Salazar, Cody Anderson
Cody Anderson is the Indians sixth starting pitcher, which means he is likely tabbed to begin the year in Columbus. Baseball has a way of throwing wrenches into plans especially when they involve pitching, so the Tribe will need him. IBI’s Brandon Bowers detailed the surgical elbow procedure Anderson went through this offseason. He notes that rehabilitation is individualized, so there are no guarantees of his recovery time. However, he has an overall positive tone towards the possibility of Anderson being healthy, and the Indians shouldn’t be feeling pressure to rush him back.
If he remains diligent in the rehabilitation process and does not experience any setbacks, I am confident Anderson will be ready to go for spring training once the time rolls around to report to Goodyear this spring.
Danny Salazar is a worry of another color. He was on pace to win the AL Cy Young Award until his elbow started causing him issues in June, which plagued him through the rest of the season. Salazar was on the World Series roster but there was speculation he was unable to throw anything other than his fastball. There was no reported surgery; well there were no reports at all. Whether or not Salazar is healthy is entirely speculation as no one has said a word on him.
It leaves us to watch snippets of video that are released from Spring Training and wonder if he’s shaking his arm due to some discomfort or simply trying to snap his body back into the muscle memory of pitching. Without word from the team, watching his usage and waiting for him to pitch in games is all that can be done.
Salazar, during his bullpen session this morning: pic.twitter.com/ynABzwgDQi
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 15, 2017
Non-injury related concerns
Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez combined to be an absolutely terrible bat from the catcher position for the Indians in 2016. Gomes 33 wRC+ was 19 points lower than Michael Martinez. Perez at 58 wRC+ was only higher than those two and Juan Uribe, who was cut in June. Both of them have indicators showing they could and perhaps should improve. Both of them are positive influences on defense. But, the days of the Tribe having a Silver Slugger backstop are gone.
With some worries in the rotation, Indians fans are reminded the Tribe needed to go deep into their pitching stable to work their October magic. Ryan Merritt silenced the Toronto Blue Jays, but is the soft-tossing lefty a legit starting option? Mike Clevinger settled down after a disastrous May to have a 3.96 ERA July through the end of the regular season, but is he ready to take the next step in his development?
If Merritt or Clevinger are needed, then would potential short outings tax the bullpen too much?
Teammates should be used to Bauer’s social media tendencies to go too far in his interactions. The heightened political tensions and his willingness to drudge up old rhetoric could have an effect on some of his clubhouse interactions. It would be surprising if people didn’t give him the “Trevor being Trevor” treatment, but it is certainly an item to watch.
A hot topic all offseason has been how the Indians plan on allocating playing time in the outfield. Brantley’s health will play a significant factor. Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer should lock down right field into a platoon. Abraham Almonte, Tyler Naquin, and Austin Jackson (if healthy as he is also overcoming a knee surgery) could soak up the remaining innings available. Or Yandy Diaz, Bradley Zimmer, and maybe even Greg Allen could push to make the 25-man roster and make an impact.
The outfield is the biggest competition for playing time on the Indians during Spring Training. It will be fun to watch it unfold and see how the team decides on the roster spots.
Well, Chase Utley is not walking through that door. Michael Martinez on the 25-man is the new Jesus Aguilar on the 40-man. He is a player who despite some obvious deficiencies is just sticking around. 25 year old Erik Gonzalez looks to unseat the 33 year old veteran though their offensive numbers in AAA Columbus were remarkably similar. E-Gone is going to need to prove he is an obvious upgrade to earn his position. Yandy Diaz might also slot in here if the outfield becomes too crowded.
Carlos Santana and Bryan Shaw are entering the last year on their contracts. Garnering an extension to ensure their services will remain with Cleveland would be nice, but it might not be feasible for either. The Tribe also holds 2018 options for Michael Brantley ($12 million), Josh Tomlin ($3 million), and Boone Logan ($7 million), but it is doubtful those decisions would be leveraged into an extension now.
The last worry is for any car parked just beyond the outfield walls in Goodyear. Be mindful that Wily Mo Pena is in camp. 500 foot home runs are going to happen and windshields will be shattered. It might only be during batting practice and off guys who will be bagging groceries in a few weeks, but they will happen.
One more interesting item coming from Goodyear. Back when WFNY wrote about pitcher player development, it was taboo to discuss some of the advanced methods. Even mentions of the rotation (outside Trevor Bauer) long-tossing were rare. Now, the techniques are so widespread that the team is sending out video of them in action such as the below plyocare ball drills. The world changes fast.
Salazar joins pitchers doing weighted ball drills on Wednesday morning. pic.twitter.com/MfO230SR9D
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 15, 2017