StrategyMarch 16, 2009

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Cleveland Indians

By Gabe Smith

Welcome back to the “30 Teams in 30 Days” series. Today we’ll look at the 2009 Cleveland Indians. After 2007 saw the Indians win the AL Central and take the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox to seven games in the American League Championship Series, many expected Cleveland to be a major contender in 2008. However, it was not to be, as several major injuries and some unexpectedly bad performances led the Indians to deal their ace (CC Sabathia) and starting 3B (Casey Blake), and left them with a .500 record on the year.

The Indians aren’t a big-spending team and their off-season moves reflected it. They picked up a new closer in Kerry Wood, signed a new number three starter in Carl Pavano, and made a couple small trades. If Cleveland is to compete for the AL Central crown (and make no mistake, the division certainly appears to be winnable), it’s going to be not because of a new acquisition, but rather a return to form from players like Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez.

For a closer look at the Cleveland Indians and the rest of the AL Central, be sure to check out the The Can of Corn AL Central Preview Podcast.

Offensive Starters

C Kelly Shoppach.261.347.5176721550352 
1B Victor Martinez.278.337.365302350266 
2B Asdrubal Cabrera.259.346.366486474352 
SS Jhonny Peralta.276.331.47310423893605 
3B Mark DeRosa.285.376.48110321876505w/ChN
LF Ben Francisco.266.332.4386515544447 
CF Grady Sizemore.268.374.502101339038634 
RF Shin-Soo Choo.309.397.5496814664317 
DH Travis Hafner.197.305.323215241198 

Unsettled: Playing time distribution. The players are mostly set and include Ryan Garko (who had a 2008 line of .273/.346/.404 with 61 Rs, 14 HRs, 90 RBIs in 495 ABs) along with the aforementioned nine. How they take the field remains to be seen. If Shoppach plays C, that pushes Martinez to 1B and Garko to the bench (or LF, where he’s been taking some reps). Additionally, there is word that Peralta may spend some time at 3B, with Cabrera moving to SS and DeRosa going back to 2B.

Personally, I like Shoppach’s bat a lot more than Garko’s, and coupled with Martinez’s well-known defensive deficiencies, I’d lean towards burying Garko on the bench unless Shoppach needs a day off defensively. I’m less sure about the rest of the infield. Peralta is not a defensive beast, but neither is he a huge liability. If he’s not comfortable at third and it impacts his offensive production, I believe I’d just leave him at short.

Target: Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez. Sizemore is a stud who is rightfully going in the top eight picks overall. You will get a great blend of speed and power, and another 30/30 season is not out of the question. You might even see a bit better average out of Grady this year, as he looked to be a bit unlucky in that department in 2008. Martinez struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness last year and is a prime bounce-back candidate. He’s typically the fifth catcher off the board, and if you are one to spend a high draft pick on a solid catcher, then VMart could be your man somewhere around pick 75.

The Rotation

Cliff Lee (L)22-32.541.1117034223.1 
Fausto Carmona (R)8-75.441.625870120.2 
Carl Pavano (R)4-25.771.49151034.1w/NYA
Anthony Reyes (R)4-22.761.27251549w/2T
Aaron Laffey (L)5-74.231.43433193.2 

Unsettled: The fifth starter. At least five players – Aaron Laffey, David Huff, Jeremy Sowers, Zach Johnson, and Scott Lewis – are battling for the final spot in the rotation. Laffey and Sowers have the experience edge, but have struggled up to this point this spring. This battle may very well go down to the very end of spring training, though the winner is not likely to be fantasy relevant.

Target: Cliff Lee. This is less an endorsement of Lee than it is an indictment of the other options. If Carmona returns to 2007 form, he could be useful as a low-ratio, low-K, back-of-the-rotation fantasy option, but that’s no sure thing. The most likely player to pay a dividend is Lee, but make sure you don’t buy him expecting a repeat Cy Young-level performance. I have a hard time seeing him as a bonafide fantasy ace in 2009. Keep your eyes on both Pavano and Reyes out of the gate. Pavano has been good in years past and Reyes was once a highly-regarded prospect, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see either have some measure of success. If either starts the year strong, they may be well worth a flier.

The 8th and 9th Innings

Kerry Wood (R)343.261.09841866.1w/ChN
Jensen Lewis (R)133.821.44522766 

Chasing Saves: Wood was brought in specifically to rectify the bullpen situation in Cleveland. Last year he was among the very best fantasy closers despite missing almost a month; he has the potential to be truly elite if he can stay healthy for the whole season. That being said, with his injury history you may not want to count on him not missing any time, in which case Lewis becomes the necessary handcuff.

Final Thoughts

The Cleveland Indians have quite a few fantasy relevant players on their roster. The cream of the crop is definitely Sizemore, but Lee, Martinez, and Peralta are also likely to be owned in the majority of leagues. If Shoppach sees significant time behind the dish he’ll be a great C option, and Wood is certainly in the top half of closers. Towards the later parts of the draft, DeRosa comes into play at 2B (whether he plays there or not), Cabrera is a decent MI option in larger leagues, Choo has 20/20 potential, and Hafner could pay off huge if he returns to 2004-2006 form (just don’t draft him expecting it!).

All in all, Cleveland is a very interesting team with a lot of young talent. Not only will they help you win your fantasy leagues, but they could compete for the division this year, and with some good talent in their system, they should remain competitive down the road.

Yesterday we previewed the Chicago White Sox. Check back tomorrow for the Detroit Tigers in the next installment of “30 Teams in 30 Days”!

While not performing statiscal and analytical exercises at work or explaining to his two young daughters that you should never overpay for steals or saves, Gabe can be found trolling the Cafe boards under the name Big Pimpin.
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