Originally posted on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 3/5/12

As TSHQ continues our 2012 MLB preseason preview, we visit one of the most of the most downtrodden sports cities in the nation: Cleveland. The last great move I can remember any Cleveland organization making happens to belong to the Indians. They traded CY Young pitcher Bartolo Colon to the Montreal Expos for prospects Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips. All of these prospects flourished into All Stars, yet only one remains in Cleveland to this day. Oh, Cleveland. Professional sports lovable loser. A team I pegged for the bottom of the league prior to the 2011 season shocked many by winning 80 games last season. With a young core still in tact, how will they fare in 2012?

Projected Position Players

C – Carlos Santana (Lou Marson)

1B – Casey Kotchman (Matt LaPorta)

2B – Jason Kipnis (Cord Phelps)

3B – Lonnie Chisenhall (Jack Hannrahan)

SS – Asdrubal Cabrera (Jason Donald)

LF – Aaron Cunnigham (Shelley Duncan)

CF – Michael Brantley (Grady Sizemore)

RF – Shin-Soo Choo (Russ Canzier)

DH – Travis Hafner

The Good

Carlos Santana lost out on a full rookie season when he broke his leg trying to block home plate at Fenway Park. During his limited time that season, he impressed enough to show Indians fans why the front office was so comfortable trading away Victor Martinez. During his sophomore campaign, Santana was record breaking good. He set the club record for most homeruns by a switch hitter with 27. While his average was low (.239) he was able to drive in 79 runs while scoring 84 times himself. He also chipped in 35 doubles. 64 of his 132 hits were for extra bases. If he can get his average anywhere near .300, the Indians may have the best offensive catcher in the league on their hands.

Another member of the Tribe who bounced back after and injury plagued 2011 was Asdrubal Cabrera. The shortstop showed flashes of being a spectacular offensive player as early as 2009 when Cabrera hit .308 in 523 at bats. He also hit 42 doubles, four triples, and six homeruns in ’09, signs suggesting that power was there for the Indians shortstop. But what happened last season was not expected by anyone. Cabrera’s average and doubles dropped off from his ’09 season, but everything else improved vastly. Cabrera tallied career highs in homers (25), RBI (92), runs scored (87), and tied a career high with 17 stolen bases. Perhaps most importantly, Cabrera played in a career high 151 games. His consistency in the lineup will be key for the Indians if they wish to contend with the Tigers in the Central this season.

The Bad

Injuries seem to be the constant downfall of the Indians lineup. Of course, we all know knee injuries have plagued Grady Sizemore’s career, but he is not the only Cleveland player to have been effected. Shin-Soo Choo has the rare ability to hit for average and power while being a plus fielder with decent speed on the bases. A fantasy baseball monster as it were. In 2009, Choo batted .300 with 20 jacks, 88 RBI, 87 runs, 38 doubles, 21 steals, and six triples. Quite the impressive stat line. He followed up hia breakout year with an equally impressive 2010 with another .300 average, 22 homers, 90 RBI, 81 runs, 31 doubles, and 22 stolen bases. Choo played in 12 less games in ’10 than he did in ’09. Alas, last season Choo was only able to suit up for 85 games. If the Indians could keep Choo and Sizemore healthy in their lineup, Cleveland could have the deepest lineup in the Central. However, I’m not going to hold my breath on both playing 130+ games this season.

Projected Rotation & Bullpen

SP – Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff
RP – Zach McAllister, Frank Herrmann, Joe Smith, Tony Sipp, Vinnie Pestano, Rafael Perez
CL – Chris Perez

The Good

The Indians have done an excellent job acquiring two top of the line starting pitchers for cheap. Ubaldo Jimenez (for some reason) was put on the block during last season by the Colorado Rockies and the Indians jumped at the opportunity. While Jimenez struggled during the first half of the season in Colorado (6-9) he was able to level off a bit during his time in Cleveland by going 4-4. His ERA was absurdly high through 11 starts (5.10) but his track record suggests that this was the exception and not the rule. Remember, the 27 year old is only two years removed from a 19-8 season with 214 strikeouts, four complete games, two shutouts, and a ridiculous 2.88 ERA considering half of his starts took place in the thin air of Colorado.

Behind Jimenez, the Indians finally saw dividends from the prized prospect they acquired for Victor Martinez: Justin Masterson. During his first 200 inning season, Masterson posted a 12-10 record with a respectable 3.21 ERA. He only allowed 77 earned runs while yielding on 65 walks over 33 starts. His 158 punch outs were a career high. With Jimenez and Masterson (both 27 this season) a top the Indians’ rotation, Cleveland believes they have built a solid duo in which they would be comfortable and confident in throwing out in the first two games of any series.

The Bad

Out of all the previews done so far, the bad here isn’t really that bad. Sure, I could point out how the player traded with Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb just retired after 15 major league seasons. Sure, I could say how Masterson, Josh Tomlin, and Chris Perez do not have lengthy, proven track records, leaving the Indians susceptible to having multiple holes in their rotation and bullpen. But I do not believe any of those things to be true. Will Masterson and Tomlin repeat their solid efforts in 2011? Quite possibly yes. And if not, one will continue to build on his ’11 season. Could Perez falter as a closer after seven losses and four blown saves last season? Absolutely. Closers are as reliable on a yearly basis as NHL goalies. But all of this would be unnecessary speculation. The Indians pitching is their strength. It was the reason they were one of the best teams in baseball for the first two months of last season. With the addition of Jimenez at the top, this staff will not blow teams away, but it will certainly keep the Indians in games.

2012 Prediction

80-82 last season. 82-80 this season sounds about right. This offense needs a little more pop before they overtake the Tigers atop the Central. If Grady Sizemore (inexplicably) plays a full season for the Tribe, this team might be able to add a few more wins an contend for that second Wild Card spot. Second baseman Jason Kipnis impressed in a limited role last season in Cleveland and it will be interesting to see if it was a flash in the pan a la Chris Johnson for the Astros or if he is in fact the real deal. Any unexpected production from Matt LaPorta (aka, the prospect Cleveland received for CC Sabathia) would certainly be welcomed. In all honesty, Sizemore has a better shot at contributing for this club at this point. Cleveland is not far off from contention, I just believe 2012 is not their year. Remember your motto Cleveland, “There’s always next season.”

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