On February eleventh baseball fans received the best news possible during the cold winter months…pitchers and catchers reported to Goodyear, Arizona. Once a year, pitchers and catchers report and it is always a day filled with optimism. For Tribe fans, it’s a brief distraction from cheap ownership, Cleveland weather and the more-than-likely disappointing season the Browns just finished. The Tribe finished 93-69 last year. 2020, however, is a very different season. Longtime Indians like Corey Kluber and Jason Kipnis will not be with the team and once young standouts like Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber will now lead a young and promising pitching staff. In the field behind them will be largely the same group that was in place last year, with the addition of Cesar Hernandez to replace Kipnis.
To properly break down each aspect of the team, I’ll start with the starting rotation. This begins with the aforementioned Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber, both could have Cy Young-caliber seasons. Right behind them will be the very dependable, longtime Indian Carlos Carrasco. After these three established starters, the last two spots will go to some tandem of Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Adam Plutko or Jefry Rodriguez. I assume that spring training performances will play a large part in deciding who will snag the last two spots. All four performed very well in their various amounts of big-league time last year.
The bullpen is the most concerning part for me. It remains the dominant Brad Hand in the ninth, but cheap veterans and youngsters outside of that. Hopefully, Oliver Perez has another nice year. Also, we will have to wait until spring training to see new young flamethrower Emmanuel Clase, who in 21 appearances with Texas last year posted an ERA of 2.31.
The infield is probably the most set-in-stone area for this ball club. Carlos Santana, who had an excellent year back in Cleveland last year, will man first base. Jose Ramirez will man the hot corner and hopefully bounce-back nicely. Frankie Lindor will, of course, be at shortstop. Make a note to enjoy him while we have him. Second base is the only real change as newcomer Cesar Hernandez will replace Jason Kipnis.
The outfield/DH is where things tend to get murky and could change throughout the year based on matchups and player performance. The best way to look at it is to examine the four starting spots available. Of these four, two are fairly set in stone. Rookie standout Oscar Mercado will be in center field and the main prize from the Trevor Bauer trade, slugger Franmil Reyes, will start either at DH or right field. That leaves both corner outfield spots or left field and DH up for grabs. The players competing for these spots are Jordan Luplow, Bobby Bradley, Jake Bauers, Greg Allen and Delino DeShields. To start Greg Allen definitely looks like a defensive player/ pinch-runner off the bench, so I highly doubt he starts and he may not make the opening day roster. Also, Bobby Bradley dominated double-A and triple-A ball last year but struggled in the big leagues. He also has no experience playing corner outfield. Unless his bat dramatically improved, he most likely won’t start and will have trouble making the opening day roster. That leaves three real contenders in DeShields, Bauers and Luplow. DeShields is coming from Texas in the Kluber trade. Last year, he posted a slash line of .249/.325/.627 that came with 24 stolen bases. If he doesn’t start, he could take the role I previously described for Greg Allen and bump Allen to triple A. Jake Bauers came from Tampa Bay last year and was a fairly well-ranked prospect. However, he was ‘fairly’ disappointing last year posting a slash line of just .226/.312/.683. That came with 12 homers and 43 RBI. The potential is there but I think spring training will decide his fate. That leaves Jordan Luplow who last year posted a slash line of .276/.372/.923. This came with 15 homers and 38 RBI. I believe this is his job to lose, although spring training is a big factor.
Overall, I think this Tribe team is far from 2016 or 2017 but will be better then most people think. I’d peg them anywhere between 85-95 wins.