Originally written on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 10/28/14

Don’t look now, but the Cleveland Indians have quietly put together what could be a pretty formidable lineup.  Carlos Santana is back for his third full season as the Indian’s primary backstop, and he brings a career wRC+ of 124 with him.  For some perspective, the average major league catcher last season posted a wRC+ of only 95.  First base will likely be occupied most often by free agent acquisition Nick Swisher, who signed a four year, $56 million contract this winter.  Swisher, who will also see time in the outfield, hasn’t recorded a wOBA lower than .360 since his lone season with the White Sox in 2008.  The keystone will once again be manned by Jason Kipnis, who combines solid power, decent walk rates, and the ability to steal 30 bases a season.  Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is pretty terrible in the field, but he more than makes up for it at the plate.  His .153 ISO last season ranked second among American League shortstops, trailing only Ben Zobrist who spent only 47 games at the position last year.  Third base is really the only question mark in the Indians lineup heading into the season.  Right now, the duty falls on Lonnie Chisenhall, who has only 374 major league plate appearances.  Mark Reynolds will probably see some time at third as well, but the Indians would do well to keep him out of the field as much as possible. They also have Mike Aviles available to play third, should Chisenhall falter. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya The outfield has the potential to be one of the best defensive groups in the league.  Free agent center fielder Michael Bourn has a great track record with an outstanding career UZR/150 of 11.1.  He might be the best defensive center fielder in baseball, and he holds his own with the bat as well.  Left fielder Michael Brantley is really a center fielder who was pushed to left due to the Bourn signing.  His UZR numbers aren’t great in center field so far in his career, but they aren’t terrible either.  Moving to left field should allow him to add more value on defense, and be around an average major leaguer when all is considered.  Drew Stubbs will play right field, despite playing only center in his time with the Cincinnati Reds.  This means that the Indians will essentially have a center fielder at each outfield position.  Stubbs was an above-average fielder in center (3.9 UZR/150), so a move to right should only improve upon those numbers.  On offense, he has struggled with high strikeout rates, but if he can produce at a similar level to his 2010-2011 form, he should be a valuable player when defense is factored in. Designated hitting duties will probably fall to Mark Reynolds on most days.  However, Swisher, Santana, and whoever else needs a day off in the field will likely rotate through the DH spot.  Reynolds has always had absurd power (.240 career ISO), but his fielding has been borderline embarrassing.  Luckily for Indians fans, they should see him mostly at designated hitter, where he should have been for years. Given that lineup, one might wonder why the Indians aren’t being shown much love in AL Central projections.  One would only have to wonder long enough to look at the Indians starting rotation to realize why they are routinely being picked to finish in the bottom half of the division.  Their “ace”, Justin Masterson, is coming off a season in which he posted a 4.93 ERA.  Ubaldo Jimenez has been disappointing to say the least since coming over from the Rockies in 2011.  His average fastball velocity has dropped from 96.1 mph in 2010 to only 92.5 mph last season.  If there is any good news for Jimenez, it is that as a fly ball pitcher, the improved outfield defense could help him out this season.  Behind Masterson and Jimenez will be Brett Myers, and some combination of Zach McAlister, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Corey Kluber.  This is not an inspiring group of pitchers, although there is some upside with Bauer, and Myers shouldn’t be terrible. So the Indians’ rotation is pretty bad, but their outfield defense should be pretty damn good and there is no shortage of offensive weapons at their disposal.  That being said, no player affects any given game more than the starting pitcher.  If a couple things break right in the rotation, it is not hard to imagine them making a run at a playoff spot.  However, it is also pretty easy to imagine a scenario where the rotation falls apart, and they finish in the cellar.  Currently, the Vegas line on the Indians winning the AL Central is +1,100.  While I would certainly not pick the Indians to win the Central, I do think Vegas may be underestimating them a bit. -Albright

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