Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Indians Case Study
One-hundred-and-two wins were not enough for the Indians to do what some fans have been waiting 60 years for them to do.

The Indians had a great season, but it didn't mean all that much when they lost a 3 games to 1 series lead to Boston in the ALCS.

Cleveland didn't need a makeover, and it sure did not get one in the offseason. But it's a long road back to the ALCS, and an even longer one to reach the ultimate goal. The Tribe did not do much in the offseason. Kenny Lofton, Christ Gomez and Trot Nixon are gone, but almost everyone else is back.

So, 15 hours before the first pitch of the team's season is scheduled (I've assumed Opening Day would be rained out ever since I heard the Indians were opening at home March 31), I'll look at the players on the roster and run down best case, worst case and what I think will happen.

Casey Blake
Best Case: Blake returns to his 2007 regular season form, improves his average with runners in scoring position, and squeezes out one more productive season with the Indians.

Worst Case: Blake returns to 2005 form, struggles the entire season, and creates a problem at the bottom of the order.

What I expect: Blake is being paid $6 million this year, and I worry about him pressing. I think he will have good spurts and bad spurts, but end up with about 15 homers, 65 RBIs and a .265 batting average. I don't expect him to do well with runners in scoring position, but I think manager Eric Wedge will keep him in positions where he won't be needed to do that.

Asdrubal Cabrera
Best Case: The 22-year old does what he did last fall -- play wonderful defense at second base and get timely hits, all while doing the little things.

Worst Case: Cabrera comes crashing to earth in his second season, as pitchers start to figure him out. Wedge sends him down in May, and Josh Barfield is inserted at second base (remember, this is worst case for Cabrera, not the Indians. I'm a big fan of Barfield).

What I think: Cabrera will slump early, but regain his stroke and play a major role in the Indians playoff push.

Jamey Carroll
Best Case: Carroll gets so few at-bats casual observers forget he's even on the team.

Worst Case: Mike Rouse breaks into Carroll's locker, steals his uniform and plays a game while no one is paying attention.

What I think: Just stay out of the way, Jamey.

Ryan Garko
Best Case: Garko improves his power numbers while maintaining a high batting average. He helps shoulder the load of what becomes a very potent offense.

Worst Case: Wedge starts playing Marte to get at-bats, Garko sits and slumps.

What I think: Look out, Garko's going to have a great year.

Andy Marte
Best Case: Marte finally hits his stride and produces a 25-homer, 90 RBI year. Blake shifts to the outfield to replace the platoon and the youngster regains his fielding prowess.

Worst Case: Marte gets cut when Wedge can't find a way to get him at-bats and he hits below .200 because of it.

What I think: I'm pretty much expecting the worst case here.

Jhonny Peralta
Best Case: Peralta becomes the focused threat the Indians thought they had in 2005. He hits 28 homers, drives in 95 runs and doesn't cause fans to reach for the Pempto every time a grounder is hit to short.

Worst Case: Peralta starts giving quotes like "we still have time to turn it around," Wedge claims his increasing errors are because more balls are hit his direction, and people start talking about moving Cabrera to short and Barfield to second.

What I expect: Peralta has a decent, but not outstanding year. The Indians finally pull the trigger on a trade after the season, and Cabrera-Barfield becomes the infield of the future.

Travis Hafner
Best Case: Travis finds his 2004-2006 groove, when he was one of the most fearsome hitters in the American League.

Worst Case: Two-thousand-seven repeats itself, only with less homers and RBIs. Hafner struggles with elbow injuries and some wonder if he's breaking down at 31.

What I expect: Hafner hits 30 homers, but stays in the .270s. I fear his .300 days are over, but he has a productive season, driving in 110 runs.

David Dellucci
Best Case: The veteran shakes of a rotten spring, and hits 15 homers, settling in to a productive platoon with Jason Michaels.

Worst Case: Dellucci is actually older than Trot Nixon. I don't think I have to go much further on that point.

What I think: Dellucci gets injured, Shin Soo Choo takes his place, and produces the type of season fans are hoping for.

Franklin Gutierrez
Best Case: Gutierrez becomes more consistent at the plate, hits 20 homers and becomes a perfect compliment to Grady Sizemore in the outfield.

Worst Case: Gutierrez continues to run hot and cold, to the point where he finds himself either back in a platoon or on the bench.

What I expect: Gutierrez had two great months last season, but struggled offensively the rest of the time he was up. I look for him to be streaky, but hit enough to maintain his starting job.

Jason Michaels
Best Case: See the Dellucci entry, subtract seven homers from the best case scenerio.

Worst Case: Michaels feels the heat from Ben Francisco, and eventually surrenders his spot to him.

What I expect: I have never been too high on Michaels, who seems to be better suited for the National League. Wedge is very patient, so look for Jason to gets lots of opportunities, even if he struggles.

Grady Sizemore
Best Case: He becomes an MVP candidate so many in the media think he will turn into. He hits 25 homers, steals 30 bases and drives in 100.

Worst Case: I don't care what anyone says, Hafner and Sizemore underproduced last year. It's hard to imagine Sizemore having a bad season. Worst case is an injury. But beyond that, if he doesn't cut down on the strikeouts and start making more contact, he will cause the Indians to shuffle the lineup, and that could make things difficult.

What I expect: Sizemore will not be an MVP, but he will make enough Sports Center catches that he'll convince everyone he's a star, even though he's a notch below that right now.

Victor Martinez
Best Case: The Indians' leader continues to evolve into one of the best catchers in the game, and one of its most feared hitters.

Worst Case: An injury is the only way Victor won't continue to bash the ball.

What I expect: They can talk about Sizemore, Pronk and even Casey Blake, but this guy is the best non-pitcher on the team, and he continues his sizzling play.

Kelly Shoppach
Best Case: Shoppach gets so much better at the plate that the Indians figure out new ways to get him in the lineup.

Worst Case: The most exciting thing he does all year comes when he runs to first base after a walk.

What I expect: He's a fine backup catcher, and I expect him to produce like he did last year.

Rafael Betancourt
Best Case: Just get me a copy machine and I'll put 2007 in it.

Worst Case: The fickle finger of bullpen luck strikes Betancourt, as he struggles to stay healthy and keep his earned run average under 4.

What I expect: So few relievers dominate like Betancourt did last season. Even fewer can do it in back-to-back years. Betancourt will be decent, and may get a shot to close if Borowski implodes one time too many.

Joe Borowski
Best Case: Borowski sqeezes out one more good year, but not before sending Indians fans everywhere into fits of frustration usually reserved for drunken gamblers.

Worst Case: Joe Bo becomes Joe Blow, and is designated for assignment.

What I expect: I don't think Borowski stays in the closer job past June.

Craig Breslow
Best Case: His ERA stays way below his IQ.

Worst Case: Breslow ends up putting his Yale education to use and becomes a best-selling author -- by July.

What I expect: I had never even heard of this guy until last week. Who knows?

Paul Byrd
Best Case: He puts the HGH mess behind him and churns out another decent year.

Worst Case: Poor play raises questions, and so do reporters as they continue to pick away at his version of the HGH story.

What I expect: I find Byrd's HGH story highly questionable. I also wonder if this will be the year age and injuries catch up to him.

Fausto Carmona
Best Case: He continues to befuddle hitters all the way to the World Series and a Cy Young Award.

Worst Case: Carmona starts seeing Boston hitters in his sleep, and falls way off last year's pace.

What I expect: Fausto makes adjustments and keeps mowing down hitters.

Jorge Julio
Best Case: Doesn't seem like a whole lot of upside here. If Julio remains on the roster the whole season, that would be not only surprising, but a best case scenerio.

Worst Case: Scott Elarton is on a bus back to Cleveland at this time next week.

What I expect: Not much. I honestly expect Julio's name to be on a "designated for assignment" list before May.

Masahide Kobayashi
Best Case: The Japanese star becomes a consistent force from the pen.

Worst Case: He adjusts to American life -- in Buffalo.

What I expect: Kobayashi starts strong, the struggles when hitters get used to him. But he gets called on by Wedge to bridge the seventh and eighth innings all season.

Cliff Lee
Best Case: Cliff keeps the fifth starter role and wins around 16 games, while keeping his ERA under 4.

Worst Case: Lee not only gets sent down to the minors, but gets into a fight with Victor Martinez again. I put my money on Victor.

What I expect: Lee struggles and the Indians trade him to a team desperate for starting pitching.

Jensen Lewis
Best Case: He becomes a staple in middle relief, keeping his earned run average under 3.

Worst Case: Jensen turns into Jeremy Sowers, and returns to AAA.

What I expect: This is a tough one. I love Lewis' fire, and don't expect him to lose confidence. At the same time, I don't see him being quite as effective as he was last year.

Rafael Perez
Best Case: Perez pitches the way he did in the playoffs against the Yankees.

Worst Case: Perez pitches the way he did in the playoffs against the Red Sox.

What I expect: A lot like Betancourt. Solid, if not as spectacular as 2007.

C.C. Sabathia
Best Case: Sabathia's holding a World Series trophy this October -- with the Indians.

Worst Case: Sabathia's holding a World Series trophy this October -- with the Red Sox.

What I expect: C.C's been one of the most consistent starters in the game the last five years. I expect him to be great again. But if the players around him are not, the Indians will need to explore dealing him, because he is not coming back next year.

Jake Westbrook
Best Case: Jake pitches really well, gets run support, and wins 15 games.

Worst Case: Jake pitches decent, gets no run support, and loses 15 games.

What I expect: Something between column A and column B.

The Indians
Best Case: The pitching is so strong that the Indians pull away in the Central Division, then mow down everyone in their way for their first World Series title in 60 years.

Worst Case: The Indians get lazy, stop listening to their manager, assume a winning streak is just around the corner, and lose 85 games.

What I expect: The Indians had it all set up last October. They were a game away from the World Series and had their three best starters (and two of the best starters in the league) going. They needed one dominant effort; they got none.

Everything fell into place for the Indians in the second half of last season, until that final weekend. Cleveland will be good, but Detroit (and maybe Chicago) will be better.

The Indians win 83 games and miss the playoffs.



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