With the Indians making such a stark turnaround this year from second-thought underdog to legitimate contender, it’s time for us to get excited for not only the playoff race of 2013, but also for the teams of the future. I’ve decided to take a brief, speculative look into a couple different points in time, not accounting for injuries or sudden major trades. Keep in mind that because there are so many variables, this is just one possible (and often shamelessly optimistic) timeline of what the team might look like at different points in the future.
JULY 2013 (Post All-Star Break)
Bullpen: Chris Perez has returned from the DL and is fulfilling his role as the Tribe’s closer. Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith are back in their respective setup roles. Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, Rich Hill and Matt Albers make up the remainder of the bullpen, with Nick Hagadone and Scott Barnes still serving as left-handed depth at the AAA level.
Rotation: Trevor Bauer has stepped into the rotation full-time and is inconsistent but with a winning record overall along with better command with a respectable strikeout rate. Brett Myers has become an afterthought for the rotation and fills a middle relief role if one of the seven pitchers listed above becomes injured, or as an eighth man during a long stretch of games with no days off. One of Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir or Corey Kluber loses his spot to Bauer, but the rest of the rotation remains intact.
Offense: Lonnie Chisenhall is back on the 25-man roster, playing third a couple times a week but still struggling. Jason Giambi is back to hitting above the Mendoza line with a decent slugging percentage, showing us a little more of the performance we’ve seen the past two days, albeit still not one very far above replacement level. Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn continue to shine as utility players.
Bullpen: The bullpen has a major makeover. Thanks to the Tribe’s depth in relief, Chris Perez and his 10 million dollar salary after arbitration have been traded for a prospect or two. Joe Smith and Matt Albers have gone elsewhere in free agency, and Vinnie Pestano has been promoted to the closer role, with Cody Allen as the eighth-inning setup man and Bryan Shaw taking over the seventh. Rich Hill has been re-signed for cheap, and Hagadone made the roster out of spring training along with Trey Haley. The remaining slot is filled by either Frank Herrmann, Preston Guilmet, Blake Wood, Giovanni Soto, or an offseason acquisition.
Rotation: Jimenez, Kazmir and Myers are no longer with the team. Justin Masterson is once again the ace. Thanks to Jimenez, Perez, Myers and Reynolds coming off the books, the club has extended him in the offseason for something in the neighborhood of five years and $55 million, aware of how vital his presence is for the team. Trevor Bauer is in the number two spot after a strong finish to the 2013 season, while Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber round it off. If the Tribe has made a significant pitching acquisition in the offseason, he replaces Kluber in the rotation
Offense: Chisenhall remains on the roster as an average player who can maybe hit 15 homers and plays good defense. The front office was unable to re-sign Reynolds after a monster finish to the 2013 season. Carlos Santana is serving as the DH and catches part-time, with Yan Gomes behind the plate full-time. Ryan Raburn signs a modest one-year contract to remain with the team. Asdrubal Cabrera makes even more progress in his contract year. Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley sign extensions to remain with the team for a long time, and continue to take steps forward in their performances along with Santana and Stubbs.
Bullpen: Pestano, Allen and Shaw continue to form a formidable team in the seventh, eighth and ninth. Frank Herrmann, Trey Haley, Nick Hagadone, Preston Guilmet and Giovanni Soto are strong candidates to be seen fighting for the other four slots. The Tribe’s bullpen continues to be a strength, and a few Triple-A players travel back and forth throughout the season as always.
Rotation: Masterson, Bauer, and McAllister continue to form the core of the rotation. The remaining two slots are filled by two of either Carlos Carrasco, Mitch Brown, TJ House, Jonathan Gray (if Keith Law’s 2013 draft projection turns out to be accurate), or a high-profile offseason acquisition. The rotation is solid and asserting itself as one of the more consistent ones in the league, and the depth at AAA is there in case of injury.
Offense: Aviles and Raburn have signed elsewhere in the offseason, and sadly Cabrera was allowed to walk as well to make room for Francisco Lindor. Either Cord Phelps or Dorssys Paulino is seen serving as a backup infielder, with LeVon Washington serving as a fourth outfielder. At third base is either Chisenhall performing slightly above replacement level, or an offseason pickup. Kipnis and Swisher make up the right side of the infield, Gomes and Santana continue to hit well, and the outfield continues to shine defensively even in the wake of a slight decline in the speed of Michael Bourn.
The whole point of this look into the future is to show the fans that the core of this team is going to remain together for a long period of time. Even in the 2016 offseason, the only player on the projected 2015 roster to hit free agency is Drew Stubbs. Santana, Kipnis, Gomes, Bourn, Swisher, Chisenhall, McAllister, Pestano, Brantley, Bauer, Carrasco and Lindor are all with the team through at least the 2016 season, barring major trades. In short, as good as the team is now, it will only continue to get better over the course of the next three or four years, giving us a giant window to contend.