It’s easy to get excited about the 2013 Indians. They’ve made several moves that have significantly improved the roster, at least on paper, and are still looking to make moves in order to get better. With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training in about three weeks, momentum of excitement is building within the fan base.
However, we should all probably pump the breaks a bit on the 2013 Cleveland Indians. There’s a lot to like about this team. But, before we crown them the 2013 AL Central champions and pencil them in for a playoff spot we should probably be honest with ourselves about the issues still surrounding this team. Whether or not the Indians can resolve these issues prior to the season, or in some cases during the season, will more than likely determine how 2013 plays out.
With that said, here are the 10 biggest questions still lingering for the Indians:
1. Who’s in the starting rotation? The signing of Brett Myers was huge for the Indians. He’s a solid pitcher with a resume to back it up. However, what can the Indians expect from Ubaldo Jimenez? Who fills in the back of the rotation, Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir, Zach McAllister, and/or Carlos Carrasco? Then there is Justin Masterson. He’s coming off a year in which he went 11-15 with an ERA+ of 79 and 3.8 BB/9. Everyone assumes Masterson is an ace, but he has a career record of 30-45 with the Tribe and has had only one season in which his ERA+ broke 100 or his K/BB walk ratio was higher than 2.0. At what point do we begin considering 2011 as a fluke? Masterson needs to prove himself this year or it may be time to find another ace.
2. Is Lonnie Chisenhall an everyday player? There’s no doubt that Chisenhall has the talent and potential to be an everyday player making an impact in the middle of the order. But he has yet to really grab hold of the starting third baseman job in each of the past two seasons and injuries have been a concern in addition to his ever devolving plate discipline. This year the job is his from day one, at least it appears that way. It’s time for him to be the man.
3. Who is the designated hitter?: We have no idea who will be filling out the DH spot in the everyday lineup. As of right now we have no real indication if the Indians will pursue an everyday player via trade, sign a veteran such has Travis Hafner or Jim Thome and platoon the position with the rest of the roster, or promote one of the youngsters from Triple-A to fill the role. The recent signing of Ryan Raburn would point to a platoon of sorts, but we shall see. In the rough and tumble American League, DH is a pivotal position where power is almost expected. What are the Indians going to do?
4. Who is batting leadoff? I’ve addressed this issue previously, but we still don’t have an answer. It’s looking more and more like Terry Francona will audition several players for the role during spring training and see who responds best. Right now, the leaders in the clubhouse appear to be Drew Stubbs, Michael Brantley, and Jason Kipnis. Will one of them rise to the occasion or will someone else come out of nowhere?
5. Will Trevor Bauer be on the big league roster or start in Triple-A? This is an intriguing question. Bauer has the “stuff” to be a dominant big league pitcher, but is he ready? Based on his few big league outings from last season you could make a case that he’s not quite ready and some additional seasoning might be needed at the Triple-A level. Will the Indians take the slow approach with Bauer or will they promote him from day one? We’ve seen them be extremely patient, sometimes frustratingly so, with other top prospects. If they prmote him and he’s not ready it could do more harm then good.
6. Will strikeouts be an issue? This is one of those questions that will probably be answered as the season plays out. You’d like to think strikeouts won’t be an issue, but Drew Stubbs and Mark Reynolds are two of baseball’s all-time greatest windmills. It’s hard to ignore that fact regardless of how much importance you place on strikeouts. Can the Indians coaching staff figure out a way to help them and promote more contact? Here’s hoping.
7. What shape will Asdrubal Cabrera report to spring training in? In his short career thus far, “dedicated” isn’t a word you would use to describe Asdrubal Cabrera. Nor would you describe him as a physical specimen. Cabrera’s ever fluctuating waist line is cause for concern as it has led to an ever decreasing amount of range at short and more than likely played a role in nagging injuries. Will he report to camp in shape and ready to duplicate his incredible 2011 season or will he more closely resemble the frustrating Asdrubal from 2012?
8. How will the bullpen stack up? As of right now the back end of the bullpen is set. With Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez closing out games when the Tribe is ahead should be easy. However, who is coming into the game when the Tribe is trailing? Who is getting the ball into the hands of their three elite relief pitchers? Tony Sipp is gone, Frank Hermann has been unimpressive, Nick Hagadone has had his moments, and Matt Albers is the new guy. Last year the Indians struggled keeping games close when they fell behind. Can 2013 be different?
9. How will Terry Francona perform without a $100 million payroll? It’s easy to remember Terry Francona as the World Series winning manager of the Boston Red Sox. He led his teams to the playoffs on a consistent basis and was always a preseason favorite to win it all. However, he was working with rosters full of super-star talent and owners who weren’t afraid to spend in order to keep up with the Yankees. Is he really that great of a manager or was he simply the beneficiary of a great collection of talent? Like many fans, I like to believe he is a great manager, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit worried. Cleveland is a much different animal than Boston in terms of resources.
10. Who will be on the Indians bench? Depth is always a huge concern because injuries will always happen. Over the past two seasons we’ve seen first hand the negative effects of a lack of serviceable depth. Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles are much needed upgrades and Lou Marson is a serviceable backup catcher, but who else is in consideration. Will we see Ezequiel Carrera as an extra outfielder? What about Yan Gomes as the potential backup catcher? There’s also Matt LaPorta, Juan Diaz, and Tim Fedroff as potential options. Will someone else come out of nowhere during spring training to secure a spot on the 25 man roster, a la Jose Lopez?