The 2009 Cleveland Indians

"Previously, on Cleveland Indians Baseball..."

The 2009 offseason started when the Indians traded CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers in early July last season. By the time the 2008 schedule ended, all the potential losses (Sabathia, Casey Blake, Paul Byrd) had already been jettisoned. The Indians had certainly strengthened their farm system, but very few of the prospects added in the Sabathia and Blake trades were going to be counted on to play right away in 2009. So the Indians needed to spend the traditional offseason adding major-league talent to fill holes created by departing free agents or a lack of internal options.

The Indians did overall a good job in filling those holes. The biggest move was signing Kerry Wood, one of the best closers on the market, and one of the best closers in baseball last season, to a 2-year, $20.5M contract. The cash outlay limited their options for other additions, but a closer was the most pressing need for the club, and they filled it.

The Indians got a bit more creative in landing an infielder; the Chicago Cubs were looking to free up cash to sign Milton Bradley, and the Indians were willing to take on the final year of Mark DeRosa's contract. Although DeRosa can play second base and the outfield, the Indians acquired him to be their everyday third baseman. The move put to rest any thoughts of moving shortstop Jhonny Peralta over to third.  DeRosa should be able to duplicate the offensive production Casey Blake gave the Indians, and will probably be a better defender than the man he replaces.

A couple weeks earlier, the Indians dealt Franklin Gutierrez to the Mariners as part of a three-team deal, getting back right-handed reliever Joe Smith from the Mets and second base prospect Luis Valbuena from the Mariners. Smith will slot into the major-league bullpen as a short reliver, initially being used against right-handers and some left-handers; if that doesn't work out, then he'll be used as a matchup rightie. Valbuena is a year away from cracking to the big leagues, and will play a major factor in 2010 decision-making.

The Indians finished off their major-league additions by signing the oft-injured Carl Pavano to an incentive-laden 1-year contract.

 

The 25-Man Roster

The Infield

C Kelly Shoppach
C/1B Victor Martinez
2B Asdrubal Cabrera
SS Jhonny Peralta
3B Mark DeRosa
DH Travis Hafner

Victor Martinez will not be the Opening Day catcher, but he should get the majority of starts behind the plate. Although Kelly Shoppach is going to get regular playing time, that doesn't mean a lesser role for Victor; he'll be playing more at first base, and will get some starts at designated hitter.

The rest of the infield seems fairly set, as the DeRosa signing pushed off any talk of an infield shift until next season. Cabrera is getting his second straight Opening Day start at second base, though he had to win the job in the late summer last season. Peralta begins his fifth season as the Indians' everyday shortstop, and is a pretty good bet to be the AL's best offensive shortstop again this season.

Travis Hafner's shoulder is finally healthy, but he hasn't yet hit like the Scary Monster he once was. He'll be getting regular days off early in the season in order to limit the risk of re-injuring his shoulder.

The Outfield

LF Ben Francisco
CF Grady Sizemore
RF Shin-Soo Choo

There's no platooning this season, though Eric Wedge will try to get fourth-outfielder Trevor Crowe regular at-bats while he's in Cleveland. Grady Sizemore, already a star, is just now entering his prime.

The Bench

1B Ryan Garko
IF Jamey Carroll
OF Trevor Crowe
IF Josh Barfield

The guy losing playing time because of Shoppach's increased role will be Ryan Garko; he'll need to hit right out of the box to win a regular role for himself. With most of the starting infielders able to play other positions, Eric Wedge can be more aggressive in late-inning moves than he has been in the past few seasons. Josh Barfield can now play the outfield, but he'll be mainly used as a pinch runner.

The Starting Rotation

LHP Cliff Lee
RHP Fausto Carmona
RHP Carl Pavano
RHP Anthony Reyes
LHP Scott Lewis

Although the Indians have (at least on paper) shored up both their lineup and bullpen, the rotation is weaker than a season ago. The departures of Sabathia and Byrd and the injury to Jake Westbrook has left the back of the rotation unsettled, though the Indians have a lot of depth to choose from. Both Lee and Carmona need to have at least good seasons for the Indians to contend.

The Bullpen

RHP Kerry Wood (Closer)
LHP Rafael Perez (7th/8th Inning Setup)
RHP Jensen Lewis (7th/8th Inning Setup)
RHP Rafael Betancourt (6th/7th Inning Setup)
RHP Joe Smith (Matchup)
RHP Masa Kobayashi (Short Relief)
LHP Zach Jackson (Long Relief, Spot Starter)

Because of the uncertainty in the rotation, the Indians went with Jackson instead of another short reliever. 

Assessment

The Indians are going to go as far as their rotation takes them. The offense should be pretty good, even if Travis Hafner isn't the hitter he used to be. Kerry Wood, if he stays healthy, will stabilize the bullpen, and I think Lewis and Perez will be good enough in setup. 

But the rotation has taken a large step back from the group in place last Opening Day. And that's assuming Cliff Lee can be 75% of the pitcher he was last season and Fausto Carmona bounces back. There's a lot of innings the starters of the past couple of seasons ate that will be have to be taken on by the bullpen. Unfortunately, the bullpen isn't deep enough to cover for a lot of five or six-inning starts, especially if they become commonplace over the course of the season. Getting Jake Westbrook back on schedule would really help, but for now the Indians need at least two of the starter pool (Pavano, Reyes, Lewis, Laffey, Huff, Sowers) to give the Indians at least consistent length. I think that's a tall order.

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