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Better Know An Enemy: Pt. 2, Cleveland Indians

...the fightin' Indians.

All right. Are the Cleveland Indians really the enemy? The answer to this, actually, is absolutely maybe. While we are winning the division next season, the Indians could be part of a three-horse race in the Central to keep the Yanks out of the playoffs. How will they accomplish this lofty and important goal? Will they do so? How badly could they fail if they do, in fact, fail? Let's take a look.

First of all, I'm going to go on record as being a fan of Mark Shapiro as a GM. If GMs came up for FA as often as players do, I would hope that (should Theo go gorilla again) Henry, Werner, et al would pursue Mark Shapiro as a FA GM. This is not the case, as GMs either hang around for a fairly long time {think Cashman, Ryan, Towers, Schuerholz, Sabean(how?)} or when they come to a point where they control their destiny, no one will have them.

That being said, Shapiro is a lot like Theo as far as the bullpen goes: not a priority/doesn't have a lot of success building one. Anyone remember that poor kid who seemingly blew 15 saves against us in the span of three days? Yeah. He was in his first stint as a full-time reliever since...never. This came on the heels of the Bob Wickman trade to Atlanta, of course. What has Shapiro done so far this offseason? He's signed such luminaries as this guy and this guy. To be fair, Aaron Fultz had a pretty good season for Philadelphia in 2005, but it's likely an aberration. Hernandez would've been a great signing 7-10 years ago. He's now a solid veteran presence, which can't be discounted in the Indians likely-to-be young bullpen.

Tom Mastny, and I'm going out on a limb here, will be Cleveland's closer for most of the season. I know about Joe Borowski. I also know about these two guys. How good have you been since you left Florida, fellas? Exactly. Thus, Tom Mastny. He actually had a fairly successful season between Akron and Buffalo as a relief pitcher last season. His success did not translate as well at the ML level. It seems like Rafael Betancourt has been the Indians' closer of the future since I was born (1983). I don't know how much future he has left, at age 31, but his peripherals over his career have been pretty good. The Indians have some talent here, but likely will experience some of the same growing pains/torture as they did last season.

What about their lineup? This is the strength of the Indians. Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner (this will be sportswriters' trendy MVP pick for 2007), and Victor Martinez are all well above-average offensively at their positions. Similarly, Sizemore and Hafner are good defenders at their positions(CF and DH respectively). Alas, Victor Martinez, for all his good qualities, would probably have trouble throwing out Doug Mirabelli trying to steal third. Statheads will tell you that Victor Martinez moving to 1B would reduce his value. I say he's more valuable wherever he's not allowing free-wheeling teams like the Oakland A's more stolen base opportunities. The Indians have two prospects/players we should be familiar with, Kelly Shoppach, and Andy "My Name Will Be Beaten Into Your Heads Until I Retire" Marte. The 3B job is Marte's to lose next season, even with the exciting offensive line he has put up in his short ML career. Either way, he's supposedly a great defender at 3B, and he's gotta be better than this guy right? He doesn't even come up big in important moments. ...too soon?

The Indians traded a 3B prospect they didn't need and a relief arm they probably could've used for Josh Barfield. I applauded this trade at the time, and I still do. This is a young cost-controlled player who has shown the ability to be productive at the big league level. They had a hole at 2B, and filled it better than they could've on the FA market. Ryan Garko should have the 1B job out of spring training. I've read rumors that that might not be a slam-dunk: he's potential trade bait to any team needing a solid hitter for a 1B or DH slot. Jhonny Peralta. Maybe it's best that I don't delve into that right now. He was poor defensively in 2006. He was poor defensively in 2005 as well, but that got overshadowed by the year he had at the plate. It's his job, but the Indians are wisely on the lookout for a solid defender at the position who wouldn't be an absolute waste at the plate. This guy? Gone. This guy? Not available. The Indians might be stuck with Peralta, so I'm hoping for their sake that he proves 2006 was simply a sophomore slump.

Outfielders? Platoon city. Sizemore has CF held down, but RF and LF will be a combination of David Delluci, Shin-Soo Choo, Jason Michaels and Casey Blake. No problems here. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and as long as Eric Wedge plays them correctly and rides the hot hand (these will be the real challenges), they should amount to two productive corner OFers.

Starting Pitching
Cliff Lee. C.C. Sabathia. Jake Westbrook. Jeremy Sowers. Paul Byrd. Barring a trade, the Indians go into ST with as much certainty in their rotation as anyone. Lee, Sabathia, and Sowers are all LHPs, with Westbrook and Byrd from the right side. Lee and Westbrook should both be good for 200+ slightly above-average innings next season. Paul Byrd will be counted on for slightly less than that. Sabathia and Sowers are the real talent. Sowers pitched slightly less than a half-season of ML ball last year. He proved up to the task, though he would do well to up his K-rate. Sabathia is the staff ace with some conditioning problems. His control has gotten better over the course of his career. He's still 26, with a bit of untapped potential left in him. For all of my praise of the lineup, this may be the strength of the Indians' club. Three absolute innings-eaters, one who probably is/could be, and one who has been before.

If ANY of the Indians' bullpen moves pan out, they should be contenders in 2007. This is where gratuitious spending on the bullpen would've/could've been useful (sorry Orioles). The offense is solid, scoring 870 runs last season, second in the majors. It seemed to be feast or famine, as they had a lot of blowout wins and a lot of one-run losses. Defensively, they're not great, though they do have a couple bright spots, most notably at 3B and CF. Starting pitching is a strength. Indians, consider yourselves better known.