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Don’t forget the Tribe is going to be good: While We’re Waiting

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Somewhat lost in the growing disappointment and anger that has dotted the landscape of the hot stove season is the fact the 2018 Cleveland Indians are going to be quite good. The Tribe remains one of the handful of elite ballclubs in MLB, which is not expected to have a drastic shift despite nearly everyone on their potential free agent list signing elsewhere. Yonder Alonso and Melvin Upton are fun names to sprinkle onto a Spring Training invite list, but they do not excite a fanbase when trumpeted as the marquee additions.1

WFNY’s Mike Hattery explored the paradox the current Indians front office has between pushing in the chips for a World Series run in 2018 versus the long-term outlook over the next five to six seasons. The entire article is well worth the read with the problem statement summed up thusly:

Is it worth selling an increase in playoff odds from 2019-2023 for increased World Series odds in 2018 and 2019? Maybe. The problem is that for the Indians, the World Series odds increase in the short term would be narrow at best anywhere from 1-4%, still sitting between 10-15%. On the other hand, sitting at 10% odds for 3-5 more years increases the overall probability winning a World Series, though not in any specific year.

Fangraphs has also released their initial 2018 projections, which list the Tribe as a 93-win team with only the 2017 World Series participant Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers ahead of them. The same projections have a 12-game gap between the Indians and the second-place AL Central division Minnesota Twins with the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, and Chicago White Sox each expected to land within the five worst teams in MLB. Making plans for a third-straight return trip to October baseball appears to be prudent.

There are many familiar names returning for the Tribe, which should help the casual fans get on board with the team.

The entire six-man starting corps returns featuring 2017 AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and stalwart Carlos Carrasco. Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger should be entering the prime of their careers with Josh Tomlin the ever-dependable end-of-rotation guy. If Danny Salazar has even a modicum of health left in his elbow, then the Tribe should compete for the crown of best starting rotation in baseball.

Andrew Miller and Cody Allen still have a year left on their contracts, so the Indians have a huge head-start on a great bullpen. They’ll need Tyler Olson, Nick Goody, Dan Otero, and others to step up to fill the innings of the departed bullpen arms of Joe Smith and especially Bryan Shaw, but the Tribe’s bullpen should wind up as a Top 5 group in the AL if not still in all of MLB (depending on whether or not depth becomes an issue). The Tribe has been excellent at pulling positive contributions from most every reliever the past couple seasons, so it will be interesting to see if the Carl Willis staff can continue what was done under Mickey Callaway.

Some seem concerned about the other portion of the roster, but Fangraphs lists 10 position players with a fWAR of 1.0 or better2 — topping out with Francisco Lindor’s projected elite 6.0 fWAR.3 AL MVP finalist Jose Ramirez still wears the red, white, and blue. Edwin Encarnacion will still be smelling bats at Progressive Field. Jason Kipnis will be playing, somewhere. A healthy Michael Brantley4 replaces Jay Bruce. Yonder Alonso fills in some of the production from Carlos Santana.5 Melvin Upton could do his best Austin Jackson impression. Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes are both capable of producing from the catcher position.

There is youthful exuberance among the position players too, which could supplement the veterans well. Bradley Zimmer is at least speed and defense but could be more with some adjustments at the plate. Slight changes could make the gargantuan Yandy Diaz a household name. Greg Allen and Giovanny Urshela are supreme defenders– is 2018 the year when they contribute more with their bats? The Tribe probably knows what they have in Erik Gonzalez,6 but Francisco Mejia is a world of wonder.

However, feelings of short-term worries and long-term panic can be justified– to a degree. The outfield is decidedly tilted toward left-handed hitting, Santana is in Philadelphia, Callaway in New York, Kipnis is positionless, Brantley and Guyer are recovering from injuries. Having youth is great except, but not when it is also being depended upon for depth as the Indians will. 2018 might also serve as the final year of bullpen dominance if the team loses both Allen and Miller;7 not to mention the ticking clocks on several other players advancing through arbitration. Not to mention that, while October is driven by variance, several other AL contenders are doing what they can to reduce their variance and increase their odds such as the New York Yankees adding NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton to their outfield.

Still, remember the Indians first priority is winning what is shaping up to be a mediocre (at best) division with a close second priority being to enter the postseason healthy. Stacking the deck in a series with Kluber and Carrasco pitching their best, while Lindor, Ramirez, and Encarnacion provide the thrust to the offense will not make for an easy elimination. The Indians are entering their 70th season since the last World Series title in 1948, but this could be the year.

Only 36 days until pitcher’s and catchers report.

  1. Nor does having the projected payroll remain static or even fall despite rising season-ticket sales. Baseball-reference lists $132 million as the projected Opening Day payroll for the Indians after the arbitration cases are settled, which would be $8 million below the 2017 budget but in-season moves could change the accounting. []
  2. 11 if you count the right field platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer as one player. []
  3. Lindor has had a 6.2 and 5.9 fWAR over the past two seasons. []
  4. Hey, that phrase sounds familiar. []
  5. Maybe he even returns to his good glove ways from his San Diego days. []
  6. dependable end of the bench player []
  7. What happens if Allen or Miller have a lengthy trip to the DL? []

  • RGB
  • RGB
  • RGB
  • Harv

    Brav-freaking-O, sir. You’ve revealed your process; we’re now watching your execution.

    You nailed day 1, most def.

  • Harv

    You had me with the headline. The best Cleveland rotation since the early ’50s is back. We’ve wrung our hands for so many months over Carlos, Bruce and Kip that we’ve barely stopped to ponder: Lindor and Ramirez are about to enter their primes, and there is so much promise in Zimmer, Yandy and Mejia that at least one of them is going to pop. If just one of them does, not sure how we’re not a significant threat to Houston team nursing the classic championship hangover.

  • JM85

    Woo hoo! A non Browns story.

  • RGB

    Not sure I have the same enthusiasm as last season.
    I will aspire for watchable mediocrity.

  • BenRM

    I can’t read that at work. What’s it saying?

  • RGB

    “The Cleveland Browns posed a question on their Twitter account: is there a running back worth the No. 1 overall pick?

    Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is the only player that would be considered for that honor. The team posted a picture of a Penn State player in connection to the article but it was not Barkley. It was freshman safety Jonathan Sutherland.”

  • Harv

    Watchable mediocrity would be far better than the daily avoidance of a picture in exchange for unseen multiple future potential Pulitzer-winning photographs. Grind, RGB, grind.

  • I’m still not over the letdown of 2017, which has been significantly harder to deal with than the near-miss championship of 2016. No rush to get to 2018.

  • mgbode

    It is prescient. The one who owns that account understands Gregg Williams is going to put any high picked safety grossly out of position. 30 yards deep is already taken, so converted to RB makes sense.

  • CBiscuit

    I will try not to forget….but unfortunately I can’t forget that in 2017 the Indians kicked us in the nuts and then tap danced on em.

  • mgbode

    Important to note we have gone two straight postseasons in bad shape from an injury perspective. What if we get a near same performances all around but everyone is healthy? Could be we just have injury-prone guys but it is something else to consider.

  • mgbode

    Difficult to get over something without having something to move onto… I welcome 2018.

  • jpftribe

    Colour me less than enthused. Aging Brantley and Kipnis, Cy Young winner with a recurring back problem, bullpen depth gone, loss of AJax, Bruce and Santana all downgrades. Banking on the division being terrible sounds a little overconfident to me, and then you have the randomness of the playoffs if they get there. Not a good offseason for the CLEFO.

  • BenRM

    That’s very Browns-y

  • mgbode

    There is of course truth to what you say, but there are also counterpoints especially considering 2018 alone:

    Brantley & Kipnis will be 31yo. Carlos Santana was 31yo in 2017 and wasn’t considered aging.

    Kluber isn’t a “Cy Young winner”, he is a multi-Cy Young winner. Also, if he takes a step back, the rotation can still be quite good though not dominant.

    A-Jax, Bruce, Santana replacements being downgrades- agree on Santana. What A-Jax & Bruce gave in 2017 can be replaced. Brantley’s health is key there (as noted, yeah concern is valid).

    Bullpen depth gone- possibly. One of my chief concerns. That is bigger for the regular season though; IF we make it to October, then expect Tito to ride out the last contractual games of Miller & Allen hard.

    Overconfident for division- sure. But, the counterpoint is who else? Would require the Twins continuing to out-perform expectations by a significant amount. KC showed that can happen, but none of the other teams are really even in the discussion, IMO.

    Randomness of the playoffs- this is a positive for the Indians given their offseason (agree it has been far less than ideal, whole point is noting the team left in Cleveland is still quite good).

  • Steve

    There’s a strong argument that this was the best Cleveland rotation ever. They accumulated more WAR than any other Cleveland team, and their mark was 15th best among all teams’ rotations in the history of the game.

  • tsm

    That would be another disaster. Barkley is overrated, especially considering that there are many quality RB in the draft this year. QB and Minkah with our two #1’s. We should talk up Rosen as if he is the greatest, and then offer to trade spot with NYG who actually want him. Grab another #2 along with the position switch, and we have 6 picks in the first 2 rounds. 3 for O and 3 for D.

  • Steve

    We do not look as good going into 2018 as we did finishing the 2017 season, this is true. This was also always going to be the case. They won 102 games, and scored and prevented runs like a 108 win team. That’s simply not a sustainable rate.

    We are projected to win 93 games by the same measure that predicted us for 93-94 wins before last year. The projection systems think we’ve developed enough to make up for the talent recently lost.

    This team should be expected to run away with the division, and be a legitimate contender in the playoffs. Like you seem to do, I also wish they would be more willing to trade wins four or more years down the road for wins in these next three years, and especially this year. But I see the other side of trying to maintain contention over a long period of time.

  • jpftribe

    I think when you look at this offseason, it’s a little more than glass half empty. They are definitely a weaker team than lost to the Yankees, on paper, right now.

    Last year they had the usually unobtainium healthy rotation from May through September. Never a realistic expectation going into any season the staff will be healthy. This is where it will put pressure on the pen, so if they all stay healthy, yeah they are going to be right in it.

    I don’t see anything to replace Bruce, love Chis but he ain’t Bruce. Upton can do a lot things AJax did, but AJax had a career year, so it puts a lot on Upton. I like the ALonso and Upton moves, but I would have liked one of Santana / Bruce a whole lot more.

    Brantley and Kipnis are liabilities defensively. We go from All Star to bottom 3rd of the league at 2nd. If Brantley is in perfect tune he can still make some great plays in LF, but day to day, he’s just not very good. Staff will give up more doubles and teams will run on him. So basically, we are hoping they not suck at just the right times or can make up for it with bats. And pay $25M for it.

  • mgbode

    They don’t have to stay healthy. They have to be healthy enough to win the division and healthy when the postseason starts. This is more obtainable (though always difficult).

    I agree with your hesitations.

  • jpftribe

    I’d bet a significant sum Dorsey is taking a QB #1. Any other talk is total white noise.

  • Steve

    Quite a few of the things that went right last year shouldn’t necessarily be counted on again in 2018. We can’t be chasing the 2017 finish line, it’s simply not a realistic goal.

  • Bulldogs_3

    You are looking at this half-empty.

    Bruce only played the last 3rd of the season last year, they were in 1st place without him. Guys in the bullpen are ready to step up – Otero, McCallister, Olson, Goody combined can certainly replace Shaw.

    You could say the Tribe is going from all-star second baseman to bottom-third in the league… I would say their going from bottom 5th of the league at 3rd base to the best 3rd baseman in the game. I certainly think Kipnis is a much, much better option than Diaz/Urshela.

    Anything can happen in October. Play your cards to get there, then get hot! Enjoy the ride – it’s going to be a fun season!

  • Saggy

    The way for this Indians team to get better is to win a mediocre division and eat salary at the deadline.

    It keeps them on pace to win now and also later – and all it costs is money, which they’re going to spend if the grail is within their grasp again.

    You can bet attendance will be up and they’ll be buyers at the deadline.

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