Cleveland Indians were overwhelming American League Central favourites in March. Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer had remained with The Tribe despite trade talks, and their supremacy in the division was expected to continue, even if with a slimmer margin.
In Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, Cleveland possessed a double act as good as any in baseball. Lindor was set to miss the start of the campaign, but it was not supposed to unsettle the Indians to the extent it has.
In a sense, Cleveland’s disappointing start to the season was predictable. An offseason of penny pinching was going to lead to fewer wins in 2019, wasn’t it?
For all the well-judged concern, the bookmakers had Cleveland as the team to beat and comfortably so. The rotation was still as good as any in baseball, Lindor and Ramirez were meant to be MVP candidates and Carlos Santana was returning after a difficult year in Philadelphia.
Michael Brantley, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller all departed, however, as did Yonder Alonso and Yan Gomes for pastures new. That quintet are missed to varying degrees, but losing five key pieces of the 25-man roster created holes that were not adequately filled.
Cleveland is a small market and living on a tiny payroll is an accepted part of that. After a limp Division Series exit in 2018, though, this offseason felt a step in the wrong direction.
The opening months of the season have proved that to be true. The red-hot Minnesota Twins are off on the horizon after an offseason mix of clever signings and upside gambles.
The Twins lead Cleveland by eight games in the Central. While we are still several games away from the start of June, and the trade deadline is only just creeping onto the horizon, front offices will be pondering midseason plans. Cleveland have been buyers in recent seasons, but the current trend suggests they should be looking to restock a less than stellar farm in July.
Bouncing back in the current series with the Rays is key. A three-game set against the improved Red Sox follows, before a couple of games against the White Sox. It’s then a pivotal series with the Twins before the Yankees visit.
The schedule is not kind. The Indians are battling injuries and a struggling Ramirez.
It won’t be long before trade rumours resurface for Bauer and Kluber, and maybe others will be mentioned. Cleveland aren’t going to blow it up, but the front office faces some difficult questions in the coming weeks.