SBN is working with a group that publishes a spring training guide in Arizona, and they asked the bloggers for each team that springs in Arizona to contribute a 300-word season preview -- what happened in 2008, key departures and arrivals, what will happen in 2009. An interesting little challenge, summing up dozens of issues in 300 words. I thought I would share what I came up with. Is it fair and balanced? Are key issues downplayed, overplayed, or missed entirely? Is it too gloomy or overly rosey?
Indians aim to come back stronger, deeper, healthier
Injuries crushed the Indians’ playoff hopes in 2008, with two of their best hitters and two of their best starters hobbled for most of the year. They're counting on significant bounce-back years from two or three of those players — Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook — as they try to deal with the loss of ace starter CC Sabathia. The Indians have at least 10 solid candidates for the rotation, but aside from Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, all of them come with questions about their health or effectiveness.
The Indians did enjoy breakout years from catcher Kelly Shoppach and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, as well as an MVP-caliber performance from Grady Sizemore in center field. Jhonny Peralta is a threat to hit 30 home runs as a shortstop as he enters his late 20s, and Asdrubal Cabrera looks like an emerging star at shortstop or second. The pitching staff is similarly loaded with youngsters, some established but still improving (Aaron Laffey and Jensen Lewis), and others right on the verge of the majors (lefty starter David Huff and power-righty Adam Miller).
With the most productive offseason of any AL Central team, the Indians will be favored to retake the division title in 2009. They most notably signed closer Kerry Wood, a dominant-when-healthy starter who once struck out 20 batters in a game, and who successfully switched to the bullpen in late 2007. They picked up a formidable, versatile infielder in Mark DeRosa, plus sidearming reliever Joe Smith and rookie second baseman Luis Valbuena, all via trades, and they will attempt to salvage starter Carl Pavano off the scrap-heap. The Indians also enter 2009 with a deep farm system that can provide midseason replacements, or fodder for a key trade in July.
(Coming soon ... Indians 2009, in 70,000 words.)