Around this time of year with Spring Training another five weeks away, prognosticators like to evaluate offseason winners and losers. It is possible other deals happen between now and Opening Day but for the most part teams are just about set to begin preparations for the 2013 season. In my opinion, you would be hard-pressed to find a club that has had a better three months than the Cleveland Indians. Cleveland, who has fallen on hard times since their 2007 American League Championship Series loss seems to have found their footing at the moment. During this rebuilding process there have been some similarities to the moves the Tribe has made to that of the Washington Nationals.
It started shortly after the 2012 regular season ended when the Indians hired Terry Francona to become the team’s manager. Francona, a two-time World Series champion as skipper of the Boston Red Sox, knows a thing or two about ending long championship droughts. The shores of Lake Erie will prove to be a challenge for Tito as the Indians have not won a title since 1948. The next big move by the organization was made December 11th when they traded outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, one of their best players and received outfielder Drew Stubbs from the Cincinnati Reds and young pitching phenom Trevor Bauer from the Arizona Diamondbacks. The speedy Stubbs will immediately start in center field and bat leadoff while Bauer, the third overall pick in the 2011 draft, has the makings of a staff ace even if his three starts in Arizona last season were less than stellar.. Free agent outfielder Nick Swisher was added to the fold on January 3rd signing a four-year, $56 million dollar contact. Swisher comes off of four highly productive seasons with the New York Yankees and adds a veteran, winning presence. Finally, pitcher Brett Myers was signed to a one year deal with a club option for 2014 with the thought of making the reliever a starter where he would probably be their number two starter and possibly their best one by the end of the season. As a starter in 2010, Myers finished 10th in the Cy Young Award race with a 14-8 record and a 3.13 ERA. As a reliever in 2012, he saved 19 games in 21 opportunities.
I mentioned that there are similarities between the Indians and the Nationals regarding the building of their respective ball clubs. Davey Johnson was a proven winner when he was hired by the Nats halfway through the 2011 season. While success in Philadelphia was elusive for Francona, his track record in Boston speaks for itself. Jayson Werth was signed as a free agent by Washington in 2011 to provide veteran leadership for a young team. Swisher seems to have been signed for the same reason and has had a better career and cost alot less than Werth. Bauer could become Cleveland’s answer to Stephen Strasburg. There were some bumps for him with the D’backs last season but even as he struggled, you can tell his stuff is the real deal. Myers adds stability in the rotation if that is where the Tribe wants to use him. However, he could easily move to the setup role and provide a solid 1-2 punch with closer Chris Perez, much like the Nats have with Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen.
Will these moves translate to playoff success in 2013? The answer now would have to be no. The rotation still has major holes and the everyday lineup does not have much in the power department. Still, the up-the-middle trio of catcher Carlos Santana, second baseman Jason Kipnis and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera will help lead the club to at least a solid first half and may hang around the second Wild Card Spot through August. The club then could add a couple of more pieces for 2014 and make a serious run at the American League Central Division Championship. Remember, it came together that quickly for Washington. I hope the same scenario works out for the Cleveland Indians.
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