We're just a couple of weeks from Spring Training. Almost nothing has happened this off-season; the Indians signed one major-league free agent (Austin Kearns), and he was a part of last year's team. No contract extensions have been signed, no major trades have been made. Mike Hargrove's back, so I guess that's something.
It seems that Chris Antonetti is pretty content with the roster he inherited from Mark Shapiro, or that the payroll restrictions have forced contentment on him. Even if they sign a last-minute free agent or two, the Indians will start the 2011 season with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, and have a great shot at drawing the fewest fans in the AL for the second straight year barring a stunning reversal on the field. And there's enough latent mistrust/dislike of ownership by the average fan to make any recovery in attendance a slow one.
Enough of the obligatory depressing stuff.
There exists the potential to turn this team into a contender much quicker than it currently appears. The potential is there for the Indians to have a good lineup next season. A lot of good things have to happen, including drastic improvements from Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, a healthy Grady Sizemore, and a comback season from Asdrubal Cabrera, but the raw materials are still there.
I'm more excited about the pitching staff. If Justin Masterson makes some strides, the Indians could have a talented, and possibly an effective rotation, with Alex White on the way to join it later in the season. A rotation of Carmona, Masterson, Carrasco, White, and Whoever could be kept intact for the next four season, which is a key advantage for a small-payroll club, as starting pitching is difficult to obtain even for the highest spenders.
My expectations are still low, though. I think the lineup will be better, but too many things have to go right for it to actually be productive. The infield is still a mess, with third base a revolving door, and whoever does win the starting jobs at second and third will likely only be temporary tenants anyway. The Indians don't really have a Plan B if Matt LaPorta stinks again. Or a backup at shortstop. Grady Sizemore, regardless of how positive the news on his recovery seems, had major knee surgery less than a year ago, and there's no guarantee that he can play center field.
My hope for 2011 is that it ends with many more answers that it started with. That the Indians continue to add to their minor-league talent via the draft and international signings, and perhaps use it judiciously to bring in a player that fills a gap the existing talent couldn't fill. And that there is at the end of the season a much straighter path towards contention, and the fanbase sees it.
What are your expectations for this season?