Status: Contending, managing costs
Cleveland cruised to a third straight American League Central title in 2018. They are the clear favourites to the division again, but face a challenge to compete with the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros.
DH Edwin Encarnacion followed Gomes out the door, departing in a three-team deal with Seattle and Tampa Bay. Yandy Diaz and Cole Sluser also left in the trade, as Carlos Santana arrived for another stint with The Tribe and Jake Bauers came in as a cheaper option. Cutting payroll was the priority.
Despite Michael Brantley leaving an already weak outfield, Jordan Luplow (at the time of writing, at least) was the headline acquisition, joining Cleveland from Pittsburgh along with Max Moroff. Dante Mendoza, Erik Gonzalez and Tahnaj Thomas went to the Pirates.
Reliever Nick Wittgren was swapped for minor league reliever Jordan Milbrath. Wittgren was solid for the Marlins last season and provides bullpen depth having lost Cody Allen and Andrew Miller to free agency.
Journeyman Oliver Perez was handed a one-year deal with a vesting option for 2020 after impressing in his stint last season. Tyler Clippard gives another bullpen arm, having been signed on a minor league deal with a spring invite.
Like every other team, Cleveland handed out plenty of spring training deals, with Hanley Ramirez being the highlight. Ramirez was released by the Red Sox last season.
What to watch
Shane Bieber is a darling of projections. He doesn’t need to be special behind Bauer, Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger, but if he’s above league average (as almost everyone expects), the Indians have a claim as the best starting staff in baseball. Bieber was good last season, and a bit unlucky to have an ERA over four. A big year could make Cleveland more comfortable with the idea of trading Kluber or Bauer.
Francisco Lindor’s calf strain is luckily not too serious, but there’s reason to be concerned about the Indians’ line-up. Outside of Lindor and Jose Ramirez, Carlos Santana is the only hitter we can reasonably expect to be above league average. Santana had a down year last season and is a concern – the Indians desperately need him to find his 2016 self.
Jason Kipnis is one candidate to support Lindor, Santana and Ramirez. The second baseman turned outfielder has been firmly below league average in the last two seasons, contributing to pretty poor projections. He was an offensive asset in 2016, though, and received MVP votes in 2015. A return to somewhere near a .800 OPS would be most welcome.
The rotation is still scarily good. With this line-up, though, the Indians need it to be that good. Lindor and Ramirez carry a heavy burden and cannot afford to slump with such a chasm to the next best hitters on the team.
The Twins pose a threat for the division. Cleveland deserve to still be favourites, but they could do with a breakout or two from their position players to hold off Minnesota and give them a fighting chance against the American League’s big three.