It’s that time of year again. The winter is ending, the snow is disappearing, the Super Bowl is over and it is time for baseball! The Indians have already played their first spring training games and Opening Day is just over a month away! The Indians pitching staff has taken some hits over the offseason with ace Corey Kluber being dealt to Texas and Mike Clevinger partially tearing his meniscus, which will leave him out for 6-8 weeks. However, the Indians will look to compete with the Twins, who won the AL Central last year. These are my five predictions for the Indians season starting with the impact of the trade and moving on to four other predictions.
1. The Corey Kluber trade turns out better-than-expected
The Indians dealt ace pitcher Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers for Delino DeShields and Emmanuel Chase. Kluber, who pitched in just seven games in 2019, going 2-3 with a 5.80 ERA, was not expected to be traded. The trade has been met with much negativity from many Indian fans. While Kluber, a two time Cy Young winner and the ace of the Tribe’s staff since 2014, did struggle in 2019. The Indians made this move because they believed in what they already had. The Indians have Mike Clevinger (2.71 ERA) and Shane Bieber (3.28 ERA) to step up in the place of Kluber. Emmanuel Chase, the relief pitcher the Rangers traded away for Kluber, posted a 2.31 ERA in 2019. He has some serious heat with a fastball that can hit triple digits and a slider that averages about ninety-one miles per hour. Delino DeShields, the other player the Indians received, is more of a defensive outfielder, though he is a speed threat, stealing 24 bases in 2019.
While many websites rated the trade as a D- or D for the Indians, I expect that it will turn out to be a much better trade than expected.
2. Mike Clevinger is a Cy Young candidate
With Corey Kluber being traded away, Mike Clevinger will become the ace of the Indians’ pitching staff. Clevinger partially tore his meniscus and he underwent surgery to heal it. He will attempt to return to pitching by the end of April, though with the inevitable rehab start in the minors, he should hope to be pitching again in Cleveland by mid-May. Clevinger has flown under-the-radar the last few seasons, being part of an elite club that has posted a sub 3.25 ERA for each of the last three seasons. Clevinger could have been a Cy Young candidate in 2019, but due to injury, he only pitched in 21 games. In those 21 games, he was the ace for the Indians and if he continues to pitch like this he will be a Cy Young candidate.
3. Franmil Reyes becomes a star
The Indians traded for Franmil Reyes at the deadline in 2019. Reyes hit very well as a member of the San Diego Padres, his batting average was .255 and he smashed 27 home runs in 99 games in San Diego. He regressed a little in Cleveland, hitting just .237 with ten home runs in fifty-one games for the Indians. Despite struggling at the end of the season, Reyes still nearly hit forty home runs. He also has a very powerful arm, so if the Indians could choose to use him as a right fielder. He spent most of his season in Cleveland as a designated hitter, and that’s where I expect him to stay. He will never be a great average hitter, but if he can improve just a little on walking, he can be a .250 hitter and a 40+ home run hitter.
4. Shane Bieber regresses in 2020
One of the breakout stars for the Indians in 2019 was Shane Bieber. Bieber posted a 3.28 ERA in 2019, won 15 games and was the first Indian to win the All-Star MVP since Sandy Alomar in 1997. The fact that the game was in Cleveland surely made the event even sweeter for the 24-year-old. However, it seems possible that Bieber could have a tougher time in his third season. Bieber benefitted from being the third pitcher last season. It can be assumed that there were teams who were focused on beating Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger. Bieber will likely be the Opening Day starter in 2020, which will make it tougher to fly under the radar this season. It is still possible for Bieber to have a strong season and I expect his ERA to be sub-4.00, but the signs point to a slight regression.
5. Francisco Lindor signs a long-term deal by the trade deadline
After the Indians traded Corey Kluber, there were rumors that the Indians were shopping star shortstop Francisco Lindor. Lindor and the Indians agreed on a 1 year, 17.5 million dollar deal, but this has led to even more rumors that this will be his last ride in Cleveland. However, a trade seems less likely each day. The main team that has been talked about as a possible trading partner is the San Diego Padres. This seems unlikely as the Padres have their shortstop of the future in Fernando Tatis Jr. The Indians should be a team that will be contending for a playoff spot, so I expect the Indians to re-sign Lindor to a 5-8 year deal by the deadline. This deal will certainly be pricey and I expect Lindor to be making at least 20 million dollars a year by next season.
The Indians will hope that most of these come true and if they all do they can be a World Series contender again.