Injuries and underachieving players led to a disappointing 2008 season for the Cleveland Indians. If the 2009 club hopes to have a better outcome there are several questions that will need to be answered early on in the campaign.
General Manager Mark Shapiro responded to some of those questions this offseason, adding two former Chicago Cubs, the versatile Mark DeRosa and closer Kerry Wood.
With the addition of Wood, who proved to be quite effective in 2008, in his first season coming out of the bullpen, the Indians have appeared to correct one of their biggest weaknesses from 2008.
Last year the Indians relievers had the second highest earned run average and the highest opponent batting average in the league. Other players, including Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez, will be needed late in ballgames to hold on to leads.
This year’s team has an unproven starting rotation. Cliff Lee, the 2008 American League Cy Young winner, will need to dominate if the Indians have postseason aspirations.
Fausto Carmona has shown that, when healthy, he can be a dominant major league pitcher. After those two, the last three spots could be up for grabs. Offseason acquisition Carl Pavano, who had a great statistical year in 2004 with the Florida Marlins before injuries halted his career, should slide into one of those openings along with Anthony Reyes and Scott Lewis.
Mark DeRosa, who was a teammate of Wood’s with the Chicago Cubs, will be called upon to play at third base with the possibility of seeing time at second base and the corner outfield spots throughout the year.
In 2008 he played six different positions for the Cubs and had the best offensive season of his career. More than likely, he will fill the hole at third base that was left by Casey Blake, who was traded in July of last season.
Alongside the new additions, certain team veterans will need to have bounce-back performances in order to take this team to the next level.
Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner and Carmona all suffered injuries that kept them out for significant stretches of last year.
Whether or not they can return to their All-Star caliber form will determine the team’s ability to get to the playoffs, much like they did when they were one game away from qualifying for the World Series in 2007.
Martinez, one of the most productive offensive catchers in baseball, will also be penciled in at first base occasionally to make room for Kelly Shoppach, who showed that he is more than capable as an offensive player in addition to his stellar defense.
The offense will undoubtedly be carried by centerfielder Grady Sizemore.
In his fourth full season he proved to be the best leadoff hitter in the league. Sizemore will need help from the rest of the lineup to produce runs, but there’s no doubt it starts with him.
If the season does not start off according to plan, it would not be a surprise to see Shapiro look to move some older, more established players in return for young talent.
Top prospects Carlos Santana and Matt LaPorta, the most coveted player in the CC Sabathia trade last season, will start the season at AAA Columbus and could be called up to help the big league club.
As for how the Indians will fare in the competitive American League Central, it is tough to say. The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins will more than likely finish in the top two spots of the division with the Detroit Tigers and Indians fighting it out for third.