A new season is upon us, and the Good Guys are ready to take on the burden of bringing Cleveland it's first championship in ANY sport since 1964, unless the Cavaliers do it first. BTW, don't you just love/hate those throwback/throwup Cavaliers jerseys from the early 70's? I remember them well. I still have my wine and gold Cavaliers pennant.
Back to the Indians, though. The Tribe is looking to rebound from a very disappointing year in 2008 where half the team was injured, the other half was traded, and they played their best baseball after they were already out of the race. The old joke goes that the baseball season has started, and the Indians have already been mathematically eliminated from the pennant race.
But since 1994, when the Indians restocked with Lofton, Baerga, Belle, Alomar, Nagy and Thome, the Indians have been very competitive most every year. They have had to retool several times, but they have the nucleus for a team that could be very good for a very long time (relatively). Hafner, Martinez, Peralta, Cabrera, Sizemore, Choo, Francisco, Lee and Carmona, plus an upper minor league system chock full of ML-ready prospects like Mills, Huff, Crowe, LaPorta, Brantley and Santana. If the big league team fails to be competitive in August, you can be assured that Mark Shapiro will not hesitate to unload some big contracts in order to get these kids to Cleveland and get their noses wet.
For one of those prospects, the time might be now. Trevor Crowe, the Indians first round pick in 2005, batted .289 this spring with 6 stolen bases, and was slated for Columbus until David "Where should I play today?" Dellucci came up lame and was put on the 15-day DL. Crowe will be the 4th outfielder, designated pinch runner and defensive replacement outfielder for at least the first two weeks of the season. Who knows? With a little luck, he may wrest an outfield position away from Francisco or Choo.
The starting rotation and bullpen are set, too, with the addition of Scott Lewis to the back end of the rotation behind Anthony Reyes, and Zach Jackson, who was a throw-in on the C.C. Sabathia deal last summer, filling out the bullpen next to Masa Kobayashi, Jensen Lewis, Joe Smith, Kerry Wood, Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez.
In the infield, the Tribe will take Josh Barfield with them to Cleveland, as he beat out several other utility players for the role. He has settled into a role as a multiple position player, and could even spend time in the outfield. This does mean the end of the road for Andy Marte, the principle in the Coco Crisp deal with Boston. It's no wonder that Atlanta and Boston both gave up on him, as he was as big a bust in the majors as he was a monster in the minors. Too bad. The Tribe dealt Kevin Kouzmanoff to San Diego for Josh Barfield because they believed Marte was the real deal, but all they have to show for trading away a good young third baseman is a utility player and a cashed check.
Ryan Garko, after a sub-par year in 2008, is looking to rebound and give the Indians the big bat they need at first base, but he only hit .250 this spring with 0 HR's. That's right, folks, zero. Nada. None. Zip. Zilcho. Goose-egg. Here's hoping that he'll warm up with the summer.
From the "The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same" department, Casey Blake has been transformed into a more talkative version of himself in Mark Derosa. Derosa has "clubhouse influence." Does this mean he chooses the buffet items or the music playing? Hopefully, it means that he'll kick some ass around the clubhouse if things start going south, but I'd rather that this characteristic of his was not needed.
Peralta and Cabrera patrol the middle of the infield, although I think that Peralta should move to third, Cabrera to short and Derosa to second. Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach will share the catching duties, with Martinez taking a sizable chunk of the time at first base from Garko in order to save Vic's knees from the grind of catching, and to get Shoppach's hot bat into the lineup. The pitchers also seem to like the way Shoppach handles the game calling, and he certainly can't be any worse with his throws than Martinez was. All in all, this looks like a good solution.
As always, though, the starting pitching remains the big question. Can Cliff Lee, after a horrible spring training, recapture the spirit of Bob Feller and duplicate his Cy Young-winning performance from last year? Can Fausto regain his confidence and his fastball and become the ERA leader he was two years ago? Can Carl Pavano forget his past four seasons with the Yankees and find some of the magic from his days in Montreal and Florida? Can Jake Westbrook finish his rehab and throw without his arm falling off? Can Scott Lewis become the third Indians lefty in a row to win the Cy Young award?
Stay tuned, as the season is just about to get underway.