Sep 18, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Members of the Cleveland Indians including shortstop Jose Ramirez (11) celebrate after defeating the Houston Astros 2-1 in thirteen innings at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Full Calendar Year Brings Change in Mindset as Indians Prepare for Spring Training
A year ago at this time, the Indians were preparing for Spring Training just as they are this season. The trucks full of equipment were en route to Goodyear, Arizona, the players were packing up their belongings and preparing to say goodbye to loved ones, and the front office was surveying the bargain bin for clearance items to fill the roster. Not only that, but it was a good time to be a Tribe fan.
Only months early, the Indians had fallen to the Tampa Bay Rays in a winner take all wild card playoff game. They were coming off of a 92-70 season that saw them go 21-6 in September and win the final 10 games of the season to push themselves into the top wild card spot.
All of this came a year ahead of schedule thanks to the blossoming of their young core led by first time all-star Jason Kipnis. Justin Masterson looked like a Cy Young caliber pitcher for most of the season and Ubaldo Jimenez turned in one of the greatest second half pitching performances baseball had ever seen. And while veteran signings Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn under performed, this was considered an anomaly. With three seasons remaining on their deals, brighter times certainly lied ahead.
Sep 9, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis (22) doubles in the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Like I said, it was a great time to be a fan of the Cleveland Indians.
Then the 2014 season happened. Ubaldo Jimenez and his inconsistent performance? Gone. Bounce back seasons for Swisher and Bourn? Never happened. Jason Kipnis taking his game to a super-star level? Not even close. Justin Masterson? Underwhelmed and eventually traded to St. Louis.
And that’s just the obvious things that went wrong. Nevermind the failed experiment that was Carlos Santana at third base and the Indians defensive prowess, or lack thereof, in general. How about the inevitable to everyone except the front office regression of Ryan Raburn. John Axford as closer certainly could have worked out better. And then there were the injuries. Curse the baseball gods, the injuries.
Suddenly being a fan of the Cleveland Indians is once again a challenging proposition. Or is it?
For everything that went wrong in 2014, there was so much that went right, so much that should instill a feeling of hope and optimism for the upcoming season.
For starters, the Indians have an ace. Sure, Justin Masterson had ace-like moments during his time with the Indians, but no one can deny the freakish force of nature Corey Kluber has been. All he did during the 2014 season was go 18-9 (if that’s your thing) with a 2.44 ERA, 2.35 FIP, and 10.3 K/9 while winning the American League’s Cy Young Award. Based on his ability to throw strikes and get himself out of jams combined with his ever continuing improvement and there’s a lot to like. Even the rest of the rotation falls in line nicely behind Kluber with Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar.
Or what about Michael Brantley? After years of teasing us with his silky smooth ability to get on base, hit for a decent average, and will he or won’t he developing power, everything finally clicked in 2014. A .327/.385/.506, 20 homers, and a third place MVP finish later and suddenly it is Brantley and not Kipnis who looks like the centerpiece of the team moving forward.
Speaking of Kipnis, his injury riddled 2014 season shouldn’t be viewed completely as a negative. After achieving a level of stardom not seen by an Indians since Grady Sizemore, Kipnis fell victim to poor conditioning and the weight of expectations from a newly signed multi-year extension. With the proper perspective, 2014 may serve as the wakeup call to Jason Kipnis that talent alone isn’t everything. Conditioning and preparation are just as important, lessons it appears he has learned if you follow him on social media.
The historically awful defense should also get a much-needed shot in the arm. Gone is the gaping hole known as Asdrubal Cabrera and in his place stands Jose Ramirez. Behind Ramirez is one of the most heralded young short stops in baseball, Francisco Lindor. Yan Gomes should be another year better behind the plate. Carlos Santana a year improved at first and no longer cursing us with that “Ole bullspit.” Even a healthy Michael Bourn should continue the improvement up the center of the diamond.
Jul 19, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics right fielder Brandon Moss (37) at the plate during the fifth inning during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
The addition of Brandon Moss should be viewed with excitement. For the first time since Travis Hafner, the Indians have a legitimate power bat in the lineup that can take pressure off the rest of the lineup. After hitting 76 homers over the past three seasons with the Oakland A’s, what could he do in the substantially more homer friendly Progressive Field.
Finally, the bullpen is in the best shape it has been in years. The eighth and ninth innings are firmly on lock with Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen respectively. Marc Rzepczynski will be back again to handle tough lefties along with Nick Hagadone and Kyle Crockett. With a few additional pieces which should present themselves this spring, the bullpen appears to be in great shape. Or, at least better than the closer by committee or duct tape and rubber bands closers who are past their prime.
There’s even an added bonus to look forward to this season. Max Scherzer is gone from Detroit. The same can finally be said for James Shields in Kansas City. Miguel Cabrera is looking to bounce back from an injury filled season and Victor Martinez is once again on the shelf. In other words, divisional rivals have been substantially weakened. The division is ripe for the taking.
If that doesn’t get you optimistic about the Indians, then how about the idea that great teams often have to overcome adversity before they reach the top of the mountain. The 2013 season gave the Indians a taste of success. The 2014 season taught them about the bitterness of disappointment and high expectations. Can they put it all together and turn 2015 into a truly special season? Who can say, but how can you not be excited for what’s to come?