Sep 13, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Cleveland Indians outfielders Michael Bourn (left) , Drew Stubbs (middle) and Michael Brantley (right) celebrate after defeating the Chicago White Sox 3-1 at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Indians Ranked #15 By ESPN

Cleveland Indians Projected to Finish 81-81 by ESPN

Now that the Major League Baseball season is on the horizon, a lot of the big time, national media outlets are beginning to post their team summaries and previews. This is one of the best times of the year for those of us who write about baseball as a hobby, or in order to get noticed by one of the big time, national media outlets. Typically, this provides us with one of two options:

  1. Agree with everything they have to say.
  2. Disagree with everything they have to say and discount their opinion as having no merit because they don’t follow the team in question as closely.

In the case of ESPN’s team rankings, put together by Dave Schoenfield on February 5, it looks like I’m mostly going to go with option #1. As much as it pains me to say it, Schoenfield mostly nailed his preseason take on the Indians, at least in my humble opinion.

So what exactly did Schoenfield have to say?

Well for starters, out of the 30 Major League teams, Schoenfield ranked the Indians right in the middle at #15. This was three spots better than the division rival Royals, who came in at 18, and 13 spots behind the Tigers, who he ranked at #2. Despite the want to overreact and argue that the Indians should be ranked higher than #15, this somehow feels like an appropriate spot for a team that overachieved in 2013.

As for the record, Schoenfield predicts that the Indians will finish the year at 81-81. That’s quote the fall off from the 92-70 record the Indians posted in 2013. Why such a disparity from last season to this season? Well as Schoenfield points out, the Indians outperformed their pythagorean recod in 2013. A team that should have finished 90-72 ended up two game better thanks largely to their pitching.

carlos santana ESPN

Sep 9, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians designated hitter Carlos Santana (41) celebrates his solo home run in the seventh inning against the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

That’s where the problems begin. Schoenfield got straight to the point as to the biggest issue facing the Indians in 2014 – starting pitching. With Scott Kazmir gone and Ubaldo Jimenez soon to follow (barring a miracle), the Indians face a tough task of replacing all of those innings. Scheonfield also points out the questions with the bullpen. Although he cites a win/loss record as being something of relevance, the biggest issue is rebuilding the back-end of the bullpen. If the Indians can’t figure out their 7th, 8th and 9th inning guys, they could be in for a long year. It’s a valid argument that’s hard to disagree with.

Other points that Schoenfield points out include the Yan Gomes/Carlos Santana saga. While it’s easy to make a case for this being a huge deal, I have to disagree with Schoenfiled. While it will be interesting to see if he can play third, that is not the end all be all for Santana. He showed last season that he is more than capable of filling a super utility type of role. While unconventional for a weapon of his caliber, it shouldn’t affect Santana at all. As for Gomes, if he falters, Santana steps back into the full-time catching role.

Lastly, Schoenfield points out that Ryan Raburn is due for a worse year. Sarcasm alert: Really? You don’t say? I never would have imagined that it would be impossible for Raburn to duplicate a .272/.357/.901 slash line with 16 home runs and 55 RBI in only 243 at bats. In all seriousness, I think everyone expects Raburn to regress in 2014, and that’s fine. So long as Raburn doesn’t have repeat of 2012 where he hits .171/.226/.254.

Meanwhile, the newly acquired David Murphy, as Schoenfield points out, is due to have a bounce back season. As part of a platoon that should see Murphy receive the bulk of the playing time thanks to the plethora of right-handed pitchers, he should be more than capable of offsetting any of the regression experienced by Raburn. So again, while regression is to be expected by Raburn, Murphy should be able to make up the difference.

You could argue with Schoenfiled that the most important candidate for a bounce back season is Asdrubal Cabrera. Yes, Murphy was bad in 2013, but Cabrera might have been just as bad, if not worse considering the offensive role he was expected to fill. It seems unlikely that Cabrera could be worse in 2014. If he is able to bounce back and even duplicate his 2012 season where he hit .270/.299/.402, the Indians could be in great shape offensively.

That said, is Schoenfield’s projected record of 81-81 accurate? Well, if the Indians pitching becomes a problem like many of us fear, falling back to .500 is definitely in play. However, the Indians have done an excellent job of building vertical depth, especially with their pitching. They should have more than enough pitching to piece together the back-end of their rotation. So while 81-81 seems possible, 85-77 or 86-76 feels more plausible.

Tags: Carlos Santana Cleveland Indians Ubaldo Jimenez

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