The Cleveland Indians were expecting a lot more out of their 2008 season than what they got. What they did get was a .500 team with a lot of injuries. The Tribe lost the meat and potatoes of their lineup when Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez went down. They also had to live the final 3 months of the season without CC Sabathia, as he was traded to the Brewers for a bevy of prospects including stud left field prospect Matt LaPorta. This team was just flat out bad in the first half of the season, but they rallied back in the second half and got to up to .500. If the Indians can play the way they did to end 2008, or the way they did the entire 2007 season, they’ll be in the playoffs.
They knew that they could compete when they went into the offseason, and GM Mark Shapiro knew that he had to improve the bullpen and tweak the offense if the Tribe were to compete. So, he went out and did just that. The Indians signed Kerry Wood to a 2 year, $20 million contract to be their closer. Then they dealt fourth outfielder Franklin Gutierrez to the Mariners as part of a three way trade that netted them middle reliever Joe Smith from the Mets. Those two additions, plus a bounce back season from Rafael Betancourt could lead to a stellar bullpen in ’09.
Shapiro also addressed the lineup when he traded 3 young pitching prospects to the Cubs for third/second baseman Mark DeRosa. He’ll be just as good as Casey Blake was, and could be even better. If Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner bounce back the Indians could have a very powerful lineup on their hands. That’s a big “if,” but at least one bouncing back is necessary to the Indians hopes of contention
The rotation will miss CC Sabathia, but Cliff Lee is still going to be a monster. They key to the pitching staff is Fausto Carmona. He was injured to end the season, but pitched very poorly before he got hurt. If that injury is behind him, and he is able to bounce back to the dominant pitcher that he was in 2007, this starting rotation is going to be just fine. Jake Westbrook should be back around the All-Star break to help solidify the team’s pitching staff.
As you can see, there are a lot of questions about this Indian club. Will Hafner return to form? How about Martinez? Carmona? Betancourt? They are all question marks, but if at least half of those players bounce back the Indians will be in the thick of the AL Central race. If all of them bounce back, you’ll see a 96 win team again.