It’s the middle of August, but Cleveland’s 2012 season is all but over. The Indians are 10 games out of a playoff spot with just 44 games to play. At this point even a .500 finish would seem like a miracle, so it’s a virtual certainty that Progressive Field will lay dark and abandoned throughout October.
But looking ahead to next year, does this team have the talent to compete in 2013? That’s the question we posed to our panelists—featuring guest contributors It’s Pronounced “Lajaway”‘s Stephanie Liscio and Indians Prospect Insider‘s Kevin Dean—in this edition of the Weekly Wroundtable. Here’s what we all had to say.
Stephanie Liscio (It’s Pronounced Lajaway): As an Indians fan, my emotions continuously cycle between ridiculously positive and unbelievably negative. So while I truly want to believe that 2013 will be better, I can’t imagine that the outcome will be any different than this season without significant improvements to certain portions of the roster. Technically, they could make improvements this offseason, but after the inactivity last winter, I’m not necessarily optimistic that they will do so.
The one positive that I see is that there were a lot of players that performed under their potential this season, and you can always hope that the rest of the AL Central remains weak next year. With Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore off the books next year, the Indians will have nearly $20 million to work with, if they don’t pocket the savings. Plus fans won’t have to endure “what if they’re both healthy” scenarios anymore.
Kevin Dean (Indians Prospect Insider): As is, or with minor winter activity? No. It will take some shuffling, but nothing outside the realm of possibility. The rotation, first and foremost, must be addressed. Manny Acta was recently quoted as saying he wants “three bats and an arm,” but I feel the emphasis of that to be misplaced. The offense has struggled, too, but there is far more talent there. Outside of Justin Masterson, who is no sure bet, there isn’t anyone to comfortably lean on. Ubaldo Jimenez will likely return, and likely continue to disappoint. I do believe in Zach McAllister’s performance this season because he overhauled his approach and repertoire, but continued success isn’t guaranteed. Carlos Carrasco will factor in, but he is a wild card, injury notwithstanding.
The Indians are never major players in free agency, but Brandon McCarthy and Joe Saunders could be realistic targets if that were to change. As is always the case for small market teams, though, trading provides the better chance to improve. The front office failed to move Chris Perez once, but it can’t happen again. Other assets, including very young prospects and the competitive balance draft pick, are available to move. 2013 contention is possible, but it will take a level of proactivity not recently seen in Cleveland.
Lewie Pollis: Is a pennant run likely for Cleveland in 2013? No. But it’s certainly possible. Take out the Tribe’s 11-game losing streak (you shouldn’t just discount a fortnight’s worth of games, but the sheer mathematical improbability of a streak like that makes it hard to take seriously) and the Indians are over .500. The Indians aren’t that bad of a team, and they’re a young team with some clearly identifiable—and thus theoretically fixable—weaknesses. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, but the obstacles are far from insurmountable.
What would it take for the Indians to get back in the hunt? Big steps forward for Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis; at least a couple real MLB-quality starting pitchers, plus greater consistency from Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister; and a manager who is able to overlook his own favoritism (see “Lopez, Jose”) and personal prejudices (“LaPorta, Matt”) when such closed-mindedness prevents the best players from getting on the field. Those are all real possibilities, but the odds of them all happening at the same time can’t be good. At least there’s hope.
Brian Heise: I feel like the indians have just as good a chance of competing in 2013 as they did for 2012. They have a solid young core with some quality pieces so you have to like their chances. What it will come down to is what the front office can and will be allowed to do in order to help that core. This past offseason’s acquisitions either never met expectations, flamed out after promising starts, or, in sizemore’s case, never even took a spring training at bat. If Chris Antonetti can make better decisions and put the right pieces together along with everyone playing to their potential then yes, I believe the Indians can compete in 2013. They have a lot of work to do though between now and then.
Katie Hendershot: It would take a lot of additions in the offseason for the Indians to have a serious chance in 2013. Manny Acta thinks the Indians need to add three bats and a pitcher to contend next year. I’m not even sold that that would be enough, but it would be a start. Even though that’s Acta’s wish list, it doesn’t mean that those things will happen. That depends on the ownership and front office.
I’m not saying it’s impossible for a good 2013 season. If they add a few players, maybe there’s a chance that things will click, but even the optimist in me doesn’t believe that the Indians can compete in 2013 with their current roster. There is the start of a core with Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo, but it’s not enough. The pitching is very concerning and that’s a big factor in the team’s ability to contend.
Steve Kinsella: Every year is a new challenge and each year there is a team that finally breaks through and suddenly is a surprise contender. The Indians front office does have some heavy lifting in front of them and will need to maintain a strong and steady focus on the center of the diamond over the offseason but in the end if the Baltimore Orioles can remain competitive in a very tough AL East through August there is no reason the Indians can’t find the same path.