Photo by Nick Camino / Newsradio WTAM 1100
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Each year 30 clubs around Major League Baseball enter spring training optimistic that if things break right, they may be headed for a deep run into October. Of course, for some clubs, those aspirations are more realistic than others. In fact, in recent years, some MLB clubs have seemingly embraced "tanking" and rebuilding.
However, the Cleveland Indians enter spring camp in a unique spot. While hoping to win their fourth-straight AL-Central Division title, they are also re-tooling their current team in terms of roster versatility and financial payroll structure. It has made for an interesting off-season for the Tribe filled with questions and the search for clarity.
I take a look at five storylines worth watching as spring training begins this week:
1.Multiple competitions: Over the last four seasons combined, you could probably count on one hand the amount of position/roster competitions the Indians have had in spring camp. There has always been an open bullpen spot or two, perhaps a fourth outfielder or utility job open. But most years under manager Terry Francona there has been very few questions surrounding the club heading into that upcoming season. This year is much different. The approach this off-season by the front office to restructure its club payroll, has created multiple competitions for spots on the Tribe's 25-man roster. There could be as many as four jobs open in the bullpen, one opening in the starting rotation, up to four outfield spots and two bench jobs. Francona has always said, the more competitions you have in spring training probably means the more questions you have about your ball club...well, the Tribe has quite a few.
2.Still a strong starting rotation: All off-season we heard the Indians were trading Corey Kluber and/or Trevor Bauer. Those reports offered some smoke, but very little fire. Both Kluber and Bauer remain with the Tribe and when you couple that into a starting five that still has Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger in it, it's easy to understand why the Indians still feel good about their chances to win a fourth consecutive division title despite plenty of questions about their overall roster. With Kluber, Bauer, Carrasco and Clevinger, the Tribe starting five is as solid as any in MLB.
3.Lineup and offensive production: We know the Indians lineup is going to look much different in 2019. With Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, Yan Gomes and others gone via either trade or free agency, and a recent injury to star shortstop Francisco Lindor, the Indians will be relying on other names to help create offensive production and ultimately scoring runs. Guys the Tribe will want to get a good look at this spring inclue Jake Bauers, Jordan Luplow, Leonys Martin, Bradley Zimmer, Tyler Naquin and Bobby Bradley. The Indians do return Carlos Santana who came back to Cleveland in the Encarnacion trade.
4.No Lindor: It sounds like Indians star shortstop Francisco Lindor will miss all of spring training due to a calf strain he suffered just two weeks before camp opened. It's the first major injury for Lindor and it may keep him out until the end of April. Yes, Lindor will be rehabbing in camp and around the club, but this will make things feel somewhat odd considering Lindor is the club's best overall player and a guy that has already relished a leadership role on the club. It will be weird not seeing him in the center of everything.
5.More moves: It wouldn't shock me if we see more free agents signed or even a trade during spring training. It wouldn't be the first time it has happened during a spring camp and the Indians overall roster simply does not look complete to me. There are still over 125 free agents not signed in MLB and the Tribe's roster still includes plenty of questions that could potentially be answered through a free agent signing or trade. As we say in radio...stay tuned!