The 2016 edition of the Cleveland Indians ball club proved better than many expected. The tribe turned in a 94 win season while just about every projection slated them for 10 less. Riding the momentum of a strong September, the Indians came within just a few pitches of winning the World Series. Fans can now expect more after a few impact signings. This Cleveland Indians 2017 preview covers the biggest things to watch for.
Cleveland Indians 2017 Preview
After narrowly missing a World Series win, it’s no surprise that Cleveland turned to win-now mode in an attempt to finish the job. The cat is out of the bag at this point that the bullpen is the team’s greatest strength. With the Boone Logan signing, the pen will only be better. The power duo of a dominant bullpen and a healthy, talented rotation can help cover the weakness of the outfield. Bringing Edwin Encarnacion to town bolsters the offense as well. Each of these aspects are further broken down below.
Ned Yost and the Kansas City Royals showed the rest of the league that wins are hidden inside the bullpen. It’s actually surprising that teams have taken this long to factor in the bullpen as a way to win rather than depending on them to simply hold a lead. This is something the Indians did quite well in the second half of 2016, especially in the post season. Terry Francona’s unconventional use of Andrew Miller proved to be the difference in October.
Knowing their bullpen to be a strong suit, Cleveland bolstered the pen this past off-season. It’s hard to improve upon a group of guys who collectively posted a 3.45 ERA, good for fourth lowest in the league. The only weakness in the Indians bullpen was that Miller was the sole lefty. To address the problem, the Indians looked to Logan. He will serve in the lefty-specialist role to offer flexibility and less dependency on Miller.
Logan is exceptional at getting left-handed hitters out. He posted a 1.74 ERA in 31.1 innings against lefties last year, holding them to a .139 avg with 40 K’s and nine walks. Expect Logan to be even more effective once he comes down from hitter’s paradise in Colorado. With only one spot in the pen up for grabs, this is one aspect of the team with no real questions. Adding Logan to the likes of Miller, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, and Zach McAllister will make for a truly dominant bullpen to pair well with a healthy rotation entering 2017.
Corey Kluber was the only stable piece in Cleveland’s rotation last season. He was a workhorse yet again, logging a Cy Young-caliber 215 innings of work. What was viewed as a very deep rotation at the start of the year was ultimately tamed by injury.
2017 is a new year, and Cleveland’s rotation appears to be healthy and ready for a normal spring. The likes of Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar each putting in a full season of work would put the Indians near the top for starting pitching. Josh Tomlin did alright filling in and will do well on the back end of the rotation again this season. A great rotation already, this one will be lights-out when Trevor Bauer finally takes that long awaited step up.
Trevor Bauer put in a great 2016, showing he learned a few things and is poised to take his game to the next level. He put up impressive numbers in June and owned a 3.02 ERA after July 1st. Inconsistency has been the best word to describe his career to this point. He finished the season with a 4.26 ERA, but sported a career best 3.99 FIP, 1.31 WHIP and 3.32 walks per 9.
All those fancy stats essentially mean he is, as stated, inconsistent. At one point in the season he was electric, yet he ended up with league average numbers. Entering his age 26 season, he should finally be able to overcome his control issues and further cut down on walks. Bauer may not ever reach the Tim Lincecum-esque upside he was once pinned for, but if he steps up and makes himself into the #2/3 projection he was slated for coming out of UCLA, the Indians will have a World Series-worthy rotation backed by a shut-down bullpen.
Mike Napoli and the tribe couldn’t come to an agreement after Napoli’s one-year deal expired, leaving the Indians short on right handed power. In a surprise move, they went and signed the best one on the market in Encarnacion. It was a perfect, although expensive, fit. They lost out on a 1B/DH and upgraded by finding another.
In this obvious win-now move, Encarnacion will split time with Carlos Santana at first and DH. It is yet to be determined who will see more time on defense. These two bats will be the lifeblood of an Indians offense that finished top five in doubles, stolen bases, and batting average, and among top 10 in other categories. With a better 1B/DH option and a healthy Michael Brantley, the offense will thrive.
The problem with this signing is that Encarnacion is due $60 million over three years. The deal creates quite the payroll constraint on a team that rarely pays. With Santana and Shaw entering their last year under contract, there isn’t much flexibility for high-dollar signings. If this signing is to make proper sense, they need to win now. With the players they retained and signed this off-season, winning it all is a real possibility.