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2014 Cleveland Indians - Team Overview

Terry Francona on June 26, 2013

Last offseason, the Cleveland Indians uncharacteristically opened up the pocketbook and invested over $100M in Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. They also brought in Terry Francona to lead a team that had only won 68 games in 2012. A year later, Francona’s addition appears to be a stroke of genius, after he led the team to 24 more wins in his first year and garnered AL Manager of the Year honors, besting the worst-to-first World Series run of John Farrell in Boston. The Tribe’s improvement under Tito is just the ninth time since 1969 that a manager has led a team to a 24+ game improvement in his first year. The Bourn and Swisher acquisitions, on the other hand, did not bear fruit. Swisher compiled a subpar .246/.341/.423 line, having his worst year since an abysmal one-year tour of duty with the White Sox in 2008. Bourn stole only 23 bases last after having stolen 40+ in each of the previous five years, proving the old adage that you cannot steal first base. He walked only 40 times, posting a very disappointing .316 OBP out of the leadoff spot.

This offseason saw the Indians make relatively few moves. Leaving via free agency were important contributors Scott Kazmir, Ubaldo Jimenez and Joe Smith. Of the eight starting position spots, perhaps the only change will be a David Murphy/Ryan Raburn platoon in right field, as compared to last year’s Drew Stubbs/Ryan Raburn platoon, which means almost nothing from a fantasy perspective. The only other offseason acquisition of note is the addition of closer John Axford to replace Chris Perez, who had effectively lost the closer role heading into the 2013 playoffs. Essentially, the Tribe will field a team that looks very much like the team that won ten in a row to grab the first AL wild card.

Jason Kipnis is likely the best fantasy player in Cleveland heading into 2014. His 86 R, 84 RBI and 30 SB led the team last year, and his 17 HR were good enough for eighth among second basemen. While the parties are still discussing a long term deal, Kipnis hasn't yet been locked up, which usually helps motivate a player’s performance. He will bat third in what was the fifth-most-prolific scoring offense in baseball last year, and there is no reason to believe he can't match, if not exceed, last year’s totals.

Much has been made of Carlos Santana’s audition at third base, but this move likely will not have a significant impact on his fantasy value. Santana is an excellent fantasy catcher, and his ability to qualify at 1B and 3B does nothing but help his value, but the relevant fantasy note here will be the increased playing time for the talented young backstop Yan Gomes. Gomes posted .294/.345/.481 in 88 games last year, and looks to catch anywhere from 90 – 130 games this year, with Santana serving as his backup. Gomes improved as his playing time increased, and the general consensus in Cleveland is that he is the catcher of the future. Given his ADP and high ceiling, Gomes is an excellent fantasy value heading into your 2014 draft.

Perhaps the biggest signing of the offseason was the 4-year, $25 million deal the Indians inked with leftfielder Michael Brantley. I am a huge Brantley proponent-- he doesn't have one single tool that stands out, but he does everything well. He hit .284 last year, scored 66 runs, drove in 73 and stole 17 bases. He will be hitting fifth this year behind Santana and Kipnis, and will likely be in a position to drive in a fair amount of runs. Brantley's mature approach to the game enables him to continue to take steps forward without much risk of regression, and the fact that he is still only 26 years old likely indicates that he has room to grow. If you are able to land him late, I think he will outperform other outfielders drafted ahead of him in the mid-to-late rounds.

In the rotation, if you don’t know who Danny Salazar is, now is the time to crawl out of your bunker. The Indians’ 24-year old phenom, who was handed the ball in the 2013 Wild Card game against Tampa Bay, has already been included in this year’s Cy Young conversation. He posted 11.25 K/9 with a 1.13 WHIP in 10 starts last year, with his fastball averaging a blazing 96.2 mph, the highest for any starter in baseball with more than 50 IP last year. Even better, Salazar will not be on an innings or pitch limit, which often dictated early exits for the hard-throwing right-hander in 2013. He and Justin Masterson will anchor a relatively unknown but solid starting staff. The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will likely come down to Carlos Carrasco or Trevor Bauer. Both have had bumps along the way, but both are young and very talented. If the tryout came down to rapping ability, Bauer would clearly land the job.

From a fantasy perspective, the potential coming-out parties for Danny Salazar and Yan Gomes headline the Tribe’s hopes as Opening Day 2014 approaches. Stay tuned for more relevant fantasy news and updates, as well as my in-depth position-by-position team preview.

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