Cactus League preview: Cleveland Indians
FEB 17, 2014 12:43p ET
This time last year, the Cleveland Indians were putting the finishing touches on a dramatic roster overhaul that ended up paying immediate dividends in the form of a wild-card playoff berth.
A year later, with spring training just getting underway, the Indians face expectations of producing an even better 2014 season, or at least equaling last season's effort.
The changes in Cleveland were more subtle this offseason, as the team believes it already has much of what it needs in place to return to the postseason. With that in mind, general manager Chris Antonetti made a few targeted moves to shore up a few areas and create organizational depth.
Though the Tigers remain the favorite to win the AL Central, the Indians finished just a game behind them last season and certainly look the part of a playoff contender once again. Here's a look at what's in store for them this spring and what to watch for in camp.
2013 in a nutshell
The Indians shocked the league in manger Terry Francona's first season, going 92-70 to win a wild-card spot before losing in the one-game playoff. Key to the team's second-place finish in the AL Central were strong offensive seasons from Jason Kipnis (.284, 84 RBI, 17 home runs) and Carlos Santana (74 RBI, 20 home runs) and the additions of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, though both performed somewhat below expectations. Kipnis and staff ace Justin Masterson played in the All-Star Game, Francona was the AL Manager of the Year and pitcher Scott Kazmir made a remarkable comeback after two seasons out of the majors.
Comings and goings
-- Arrivals: IF David Adams (free agent), RP John Axford (free agent), OF Jeff Francoeur (free agent), SP Shaun Marcum (free agent), OF Nyjer Morgan (free agent), OF David Murphy (free agent), RP Josh Outman (trade with Colorado).
-- Departures: RP Matt Albers (free agent), RP Rich Hill (free agent), SP Ubaldo Jimenez (free agent), SP Scott Kazmir (free agent), OF Jason Kubel (free agent), RP Chris Perez (free agent), RP Joe Smith (free agent), OF Drew Stubbs (traded).
3 burning questions
1) Will Swisher and Bourn return to form?
New to the Indians in 2013, first baseman Nick Swisher and center fielder Michael Bourn were key pieces in the team's postseason run but didn't quite perform to expectations. Bourn missed time due to injuries, only playing in 130 games, and tallied about half as many stolen bases as he did in the previous season while posting his lowest on-base percentage (.316) since 2008. Swisher did lead the team with 22 home runs thanks to a late surge but finished with a career-low 63 RBIs and a .246 on-base percentage, his lowest since 2009. If the pair can return to previous form, the Indians should have the boost they need to challenge the Tigers in the Central.
2) Who completes the rotation?
The Indians' rotation looks mostly set with Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, and Zach McAllister. The final spot is up for grabs this spring. The candidates: Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Shaun Marcum and Trevor Bauer. Carrasco may have a slight edge purely because he's out of minor league options, but the Indians won't take an inferior pitcher for that reason alone, and Carrasco could slide to the bullpen. Bauer, once an untouchable prospect with the Diamondbacks, tweaked his mechanics this offseason and could make a leap. Tomlin and Marcum, meanwhile, are coming off injuries and have plenty to prove. In that group, the Indians have options and depth.
3) How does the revamped bullpen perform?
The bullpen changed more than anything else this offseason, with closer Chris Perez and setup man Joe Smith leaving along with Rich Hill and Matt Albers. The Indians brought in former Brewers closer John Axford to take Perez's spot and hope Cody Allen and Mark Rzepczysnki can handle setup duties. Also new to the mix is Josh Outman, acquired from the Rockies, as well as a handful of relievers on minor league deals. Such changes on the back end of the bullpen can be risky, but the Indians are betting on potential.
And another thing
Catcher/designated hitter Carlos Santana will apparently get a look at third base this spring. With Yan Gomes taking over primary catching duties, the Indians see third base as a way to keep Santana in the lineup more. Lonnie Chisenhall, who has yet to truly break through, appears the likely everyday third baseman, but if Santana can make the position work, the Indians will have options.
Player to watch
John Axford. Traded to the Cardinals last season, Axford was sharp in 13 appearances after leaving Milwaukee, where he saved 46 games in 2011. Axford had 35 saves in 2012 but struggled at times and didn't close in 2013. Now, he gets another shot at finishing games in a new setting.
Pitchers and catchers report Tuesday, Feb. 11. Full squad reports Saturday, Feb. 15. Games begin Feb. 26 at Goodyear Ballpark, 1933 S. Ballpark Way, Goodyear. Visit www.indians.com for full schedule and tickets.