Granted, that's not going to take much.
This is a make or break year for the Indians. It's not a matter of contending, because no one really thinks they'll contend. No, this is the year where this team either makes real strides towards being competitive again or they decide they need to "reload" yet again.
1. Fausto Carmona
2. Carlos Carrasco
3. Justin Masterson
4. Josh Tomlin
5. Mitch Talbot
Pity poor Fausto Carmona. There's every possibility that Fausto's fate will be determined by those around him. Unless he suddenly reverts to '07 status, he could end up on the trade block at mid-season if the rest of the Tribe don't show progress. If "reload" becomes our only option, Fausto will be a big time chip to trade away.
In Carmona's defense, he's turned into a nice #3 starter on a team full of #3 starters. And while that role would be enough if Carrasco and Masterson have good years in the majors and Alex White and Drew Pomeranz have good years in the minors, it won't be enough if...well, if most of that doesn't happen.
Carrasco is slotted in at #2 to break up Carmona and Masterson, but that's more or less where he's predicted to end up, anyway...assuming he gets his two major issues out of the way: giving up the long ball and giving up big innings. From what I've read, Carrasco has the raw stuff to be a front of the rotation guy, there are just questions about his mental make up.
Masterson, on the other hand, has physical problems, more specifically issues with his mechanics. This is the year that will decide whether Masterson is a starter or a reliever, although I take comfort in the knowledge that we'll at least get something out of him. When he's on, he's really on, but when he's off...
Mitch Talbot is also something of an enigma, given he had a great first half last year and a horrible second half. Part of that can be chalked up to an injury, but how much can be chalked up to people figuring him out?
It's interesting to note that I don't think either one of these last two guys are in the Tribe's future plans, not with all the talent they have in the minors.
In fact, being a veteran might be the only thing to get certain people into this bullpen. Supposedly, one of these guys will get dropped when Joe Smith returns, but who? It's going to be someone who deserved to be in this bullpen, when there's a glut of relievers in AAA ready to say the same.
Bullpens are mercurial things, though, and it's always better to have too many solid relievers than too few. I would expect the Tribe's bullpen to be a strong point this season, which is incredibly hard to believe.
1. Michael Brantley, CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3. Shin-Shoo Choo, RF
4. Carlos Santana, C
5. Travis Hafner, DH
6. Orlando Cabrera, 2B
7. Austin Kearns, LF
8. Matt LaPorta, 1B
9. Jack Hannahan, 3B
This is obviously not going to be the line-up for much of the season, given that Grady Sizemore and Jason Donald are due back at some point. Although, honestly, if Jack Hannahan plays well and hits well, he could win that job regardless of Donald's health.
And let's also accept the fact that Hannahan and Kearns (again) are trade bait come mid-season. Depending upon how well Jason Kipnis is doing in Columbus, Cabrera may be as well. Actually, scratch that, if Donald is back and healthy, I think O. Cabrera is definitely headed out the door before the trade deadline.
So that's 1/3 of our opening day line-up that will most likely be gone by mid-season. The upside is that at least we'll keep our 1-5, perhaps even our 1-6, depending upon where Sizemore is slotted in.
I would expect Kearns to move to the bench when Sizemore returns. I think we'd all like to see Grady moved down in the order, too, although at this point I'm not sure where -- mostly because I don't think anyone really knows what kind of a hitter Sizemore is these days. But I don't think putting him back in the lead off spot is wise.
Travis Buck, OF
Adam Everett, INF
Lou Marson, C
The decision to go with Marson as the back-up instead of sending down to Columbus where he could get more ABs is an interesting one. What it says, ultimately, is that they want to focus on pitching and defense in the majors, even if it means putting up with Marson's anemic bat...and possibly a chance at turning Marson into a viable every day catcher. That's fine, given that Santana is going to be the guy for a while and Chen is moving his way up the minors.
The strange thing about this bench is that Buck, Duncan, and Everett are on borrowed time. Sizemore will push Kearns to the bench and one of these guys off the 25 man roster; Donald's return will do the same. The problem for Buck is that, even though he had a good spring, Duncan can play 1st, and LaPorta needs some protection. Then again, Santana is going to get a few starts there and Hannahan has played there a few times, so perhaps Duncan's experience at that corner isn't as much of a leg up as it appears.
Everett's in a tighter spot. Even if Donald loses the starting 3rd base job to Hannahan, there's a good chance the Tribe will want him as their utility infielder. Then again, I believe Donald has options left, and Everett has experience, something the Tribe is focusing on for their infield.
Honestly, it's all going to depend on how these guys perform over the first few weeks.
The Tribe makes progress. They hold on to Carmona. They deal Kearns, Hannahan, O. Cabrera, Everett, and Durbin by the trade deadline. Chisenhall and White get the call at mid-season.
The end the year in 4th in the Central, at 82-80.