Weekly Wroundtable: Cleveland Indians Strengths and Weaknesses?

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Jan 21, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona (left) and general manager Chris Antonetti sit in the stands in the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Ed Carroll: I am as bullish as anyone on this rotation, but to call it a strength in February seems premature. The concept of starting pitching depth is generally a myth — you can simply never have enough starters or, more exactly, you can never have enough quality starters and unexpected things can happen. But I’m not squeamish about the rotation, and its depth or lack thereof, for one simple reason: Francona is still managing this ballclub. While talent on the field is certainly the top priority, Francona has shown an ability throughout his managerial career — and certainly during his two years in Cleveland — to get the most out of the 25 guys on his roster. It’s a cliché, for sure, but it’s also really hard to quibble with just two meaningless games (games without any sort of playoff implications, i.e. the final two of last season) in two seasons. The past doesn’t predict the future, but I’m far more confident in Cleveland’s ability to manage the unexpected with Francona at the helm.

The team’s biggest weakness could be brittle bones — most projections assume players such as Swisher, Kipnis, Moss, Murphy, Bourn and Gomes to be healthy next season. In the cases of Swisher, Kipnis, Moss, and Murphy, the team hasn’t sent off any signals indicating they won’t be fully recovered in time for Opening Day, or at least most of the season, so there’s reason for optimism. Optimism for a healthy season from Bourn is probably tempered optimism at best; you definitely hope he gives you more than 106 games in 2015, but part of me wonders if his days of playing 150+ games are gone, and a season closer to 2013 (130 games) is more realistic. Gomes hasn’t had any extensive injury history, but the very nature of catching means he’s always in the danger zone. That’s six injury-risky guys, with five of them reasonably expected to play most days, the Indians will be relying upon to stay healthy and productive.

Sep 24, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona (left) and designated hitter Yan Gomes (10) celebrate a 6-4 win over the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Thank god for Terry Francona, right?

Ryan Rosko: The biggest strength is the bullpen. With good depth, including Tomlin and McAllister as substitutes if needed in the rotation, the versatility is there. I’m not as confident as others in the starting rotation outside of Kluber, Bauer and maybe House, which is why I believe there will plenty of movement with Tomlin and/or McAllister as a starter and relief. Though the bullpen was used heavily last season, with Hagadone, Crockett, Lee and others hopefully expanding on last season’s performances they should help relieve the amount of work needed. If that does happen, other key bullpen guys such as Allen and Rzepcznski should be even better than they were in their roles and the added bullpen pieces signed should give the team and even added boost to an already very good bullpen.

The biggest weakness is the abundance of corner outfielders/first basemen/DH. With the lack of playing time for some players and the lack of depth elsewhere for the team, this gives the team a problem. It is nice for depth, though, because some of those players are dealing with injuries, such as Swisher and Moss. However, why not explore trade options for some of the guys who do not play often? I would have liked to have seen Cleveland go out and get another established starter, preferably lefty for the rotation. Instead, they take a risk and sign Floyd. He can be a solid contributor this season but getting someone who is more of a sure thing may have been the better way to go. If not for a rotation piece, another infielder also could have worked. With Chisenhall still trying to prove he is worthy of a spot everyday, third base should still have extra attention placed on the position. Regardless of what happens in spring training, another transaction in some capacity should occur and give the team another option at another position and clear up that aforementioned abundance.

Sep 1, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (third from left) reacts after being taken from the game in the third inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Schmid: The Indians’s biggest strength is the starting rotation. With Kluber leading the way, the rotation has tons of upside. Carrasco looks posed to have a big year, and both Bauer and Salazar have a lot of potential. Some may cite the upside of this young rotation, or the depth in McAllister and Tomlin as the biggest strength, but I believe that the rotation’s biggest strength is its cost. The Indians are paying approximately $8 million dollars for the rotation in 2015, just around ten percent of their total payroll. Saving in this area has allowed the Indians to spend on aging veterans like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, and even if these contracts are not great, they aren’t killing the team financially due to the cost-effective rotation.

The biggest weakness for the team is the attendance. I hate to be that guy, but the Indians have been in the bottom three of attendance the last three seasons. In fact, the average attendance per game at Progressive Field has been in the bottom ten for the past 12 years. The Dolans have spent money to improve and renovate the stadium this offseason, and I can’t help but wonder if this money would have been spent on a guy like Jon Lester or Max Scherzer had the Indians’ attendance been even league average the last few seasons. Even beyond the financial implications, it’s difficult for players to get hyped and excited when your stadium is more than half empty during most games.

Sep 12, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (59) pitches in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Bretz: Like many others, I agree the biggest strength for the Indians is their starting rotation. The depth they look to trot out should be an envy of most teams. Kluber returns to defend his Cy Young and Carrasco showed late last year just why the Indians wanted him so badly from the Philadelphia Phillies all those years ago. Floyd may be a (big) injury risk but when healthy last year showed he’s still got a big league arm. Guys like Bauer, House, and Salazar are all young, talented, and full of upside. There’s also still McAllister who was very solid in both 2012 and 2013. And say what you want about Tomlin, but when he is your number eight starting pitcher, you are in great shape. You can never have too much pitching, but the Indians are very well off in this department.

The biggest weakness for this team is without a doubt their defense. While I do believe the 2015 defense will be better than the 2014 addition, it still looks like it’ll be one of the worst defensive groups in all of baseball. Outside of Gomes and Ramirez there may not be a single player that rates out above average at their position. Lindor will be up eventually but only will replace Ramirez, and while that’s an improvement it may not be enough to make this bad defense acceptable. Indians will likely need lots of defensive rebounds from guys such as Bourn, Kipnis, Swisher, and Murphy if they want to win the Central.

Sep 23, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians right fielder David Murphy (7) throws the ball to the infield on a double by Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer (not pictured) in the fifth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Clark: Strength: I too will go with Francona. Though there is no WAR stat for managers, I have no doubt Tito’s value above replacement would be top-five in all of baseball if there was. What Tito does for the team in the locker room, dugout, and on the personnel side is really irreplaceable. His leadership is a big reason the Indians have become a success story over the past two seasons. He was a huge reason Swisher and Bourn signed, as they knew any team managed by Francona would have lofty goals. All the guy does in win. He knows baseball, and he loves the city of Cleveland. In my opinion, he should have been in the running for manager of the year just for keeping the team in it until the last week of the season last year. He assembled an all-star coaching staff, the players love him, and the fans do too. He is my team MVP.

Weakness: I don’t think it is possible to overlook defense as the biggest team weakness. They were historically bad last year, and acquiring Moss is not exactly a big reason for optimism on that side of the ball. I know there will be some improvement. It really can’t get any worse. Santana at first full-time and Ramirez at shortstop (until Lindor arrives) should help some. However, Kipnis, Chisenhall, and Murphy/Raburn/Swisher/Moss all remain defensive question marks at best, liabilities at worst. I am as optimistic as anyone about the Tribe’s chances in 2015, but for me it really hinges on the defense.

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