If Starting Pitching Is Adequate, the Tribe May Find Itself Playing Baseball in October

The Cleveland Indians have been on the warpath all winter long. They started the offseason bringing in the best manager on the market in Terry Francona and parlayed the move by revamping the teams depth. The Indians landed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, two the top four free agents on the market according to CBS sports website, after years of steering clear of landing big name players on the open market. The team also splurged on starting pitcher Brett Meyers, first baseman Mark Reynolds, and took flyers on two former stars with minor league contracts bringing in Jason Giambi and Daisuke Matsuzaka. If that isn’t enough to show that the culture had changed on the corner of Ontario and Carnegie, add in trades that brought in Drew Stubbs, Mike Aviles, and perhaps the most intriguing offseason pickup Trevor Bauer who is one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.

There is little doubt that the Indians have assembled a lineup that has both power and speed. Here is a glimpse of what it may look like come opening day.

CF Michael Bourn (42 SB/96 Runs Scored/.274 BA)
2B Jason Kipnis (14 HR 76 RBI 31 SB)
SS Asdrubal Cabrera (16 HR 68 RBI .270)
1B Nick Swisher (24 HR 93 RBI .272)
C Carlos Santana (18 HR 76 RBI 72 Runs)
DH Mark Reynolds (23 HR 69 RBI)
LF Michael Brantley (.288 60 RBI 12 SB)
3B Lonnie Chisenhall (.268 5 HR in 142 AB due to injury)
RF Drew Stubbs (14 HR 30 SB)

The bullpen has been a strength of the team the last few years and the nucleus remains in place. Chris Perez will man the closing duties with Vinnie Pestano getting work in setting him up in the eighth inning. The big question mark is the starting pitching.

A year ago, it looked like Justin Masterson was set to become a top of the line ace of the Tribe pitching staff. Those hopes did not come to fruition, however, as he posted a 11-15 record and an ERA of 4.93, which was nearly two runs higher than his 2011 campaign. He undoubtedly, like the rest of the entire Wahoo staff, will be aided by a much better defensive unit as the Indians will most likely boast the best outfield defense in the entire league with speed at all positions. Nevertheless, Masterson will need to be much better than he was a year ago if the Indians want to challenge for the AL Central or figure in the wild card race.

Speaking of wild cards, Ubaldo Jimenez is exactly that at the number 2 slot in the rotation. The former 3rd place finisher in the NL Cy Young race has been a disaster since putting on an Indians uniform posting ERAs over 5 in each of his two seasons and adding a cherry on top by finishing with the most losses in the American League last year. Jimenez had major control issues last year and hopefully Francona's staff can rectify his woes to make him the productive starter the franchise thought they were getting when they traded two top pitching prospects for his services 2 seasons ago.

Brett Myers is slotted 3rd in the rotation and will likely be good for about 10 wins and an ERA around 4. Last year with the White Sox and Astros, the 32 year old was pitching out of the bullpen and compiled a 3.31 ERA in 65 innings pitched.

Young arms Zach McAllister and Carlos Carrasco are currently in line for the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation. The 24 year old McAllister was serviceable last year notching 6 wins and posting a 4.24 ERA in 22 starts. Carrasco, who is 25, was coming into his own in the 2011 season earning 8 wins but lost the entire 2012 campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. They will be competing with Daisuke Matsuzaka for their rotation spots. Matsuzaka, a Japanese pitching who had two solid years with the Red Sox, has not been the same since arm surgery three years ago.

Can the Indians compete? Some may find the question laughable with such question marks in their starting rotation. Keep in mind, however, that the 2011 Indians finished in second place in the AL Central with a lot less talent and last year got of the gates fast before fading in the summer. With a stronger manager, a better defense, the same solid bullpen, and veteran leadership onboard the Indians may have what it takes to make things a little interesting come October.