The Indians started off the 2011 season like a house of fire, and were quickly in control of the AL Central. As the season went on, their tight grasp of the division lead started fading and fading, until they completely lost it, and ended up finishing under .500 for the season in second place. There was a lot to build on, but there were still plenty of holes on this Tribe team that may have been corrected coming into 2012.
Depth Chart (as of 3/20)
C: Carlos Santana
1B: Casey Kotchman
2B: Jason Kipnis
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera
3B: Lonnie Chisenhall
LF: Aaron Cunningham
CF: Michael Brantley
RF: Shin-Soo Choo
DH: Travis Hafner
SP: Ubaldo Jimenez
SP: Justin Masterson
SP: Derek Lowe
SP: Josh Tomlin
SP: Kevin Slowey
CL: Vinnie Pestano
Casey Kotchman was signed to replace the black hole of suck that is Matt LaPorta at first base. Former A's and Padres outfielder Aaron Cunningham is now in the fold, and is being thrust into a starting slot after (yet another....) injury to Grady Sizemore. The team also brought in veteran starters Derek Lowe (from the Braves) and Kevin Slowey (from the Rockies, who got him from the Twins) to shore up their largely young rotation.
Roberto Hernandez, the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona, is involved in an identity scandal, and might not be with the team at all this season. At the least, he'll miss all of Spring Training. A pair of late season acquisitions, Kosuke Fukudome and Jim Thome, weren't brought back by the team after their brief tenures in Cleveland. Reliever Chad Durbin also left town as a free agent.
A pair of youngsters will man two positions in the Indians infield: Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis. Another top prospect, reliever Nick Hagadone, looks to be slotted into Cleveland's bullpen for 2012.
If Chisenhall struggles at the hot corner, defensive ace Jack Hannahan could take playing time away from him. There's also a battle at the closer's position, where Vinnie Pestano is in the role right now, but only after incumbent Chris Perez got hurt, enough to that he'll miss Opening Day.
Grady Sizemore will miss at least the first two months of the season following back surgery. Gee, isn't that a shocker? Closer Chris Perez will probably end up missing the first week or two of the regular season after straining his oblique at the beginning of March. Starter Carlos Carrasco will miss the entire year after Tommy John surgery last September, which is why Slowey is guaranteed a spot in the rotation.
Can the revamped Cleveland rotation propel them into contention in 2012?
Cleveland plays like they did for the first month and a half all season, and they give the Tigers a challenge in the AL Central. Derek Lowe and Kevin Slowey thrive with their new teams, and Carlos Santana develops into a top five catcher in baseball.
All of the rookies hit like rookies, and all of the veteran starters pitch like they're washed up, and the Indians struggle to win 75 games.
I don't think Cleveland can catch Detroit by any stretch of the imagination. However, if all of the cards fall in the right places, they could make a run. It would take a lot, though. This is a second or third place team, and I think everyone knows it.
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