I caught myself daydreaming about baseball yesterday. You can’t help but think warm thoughts while slogging your way through another Cleveland winter and watching temperatures dip into the single digits.
So here’s a thought to warm all of us up – pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than a month.
In that spirit, I thought I’d try to drum up some excitement about the Cleveland Indians. No laughs please. I thought of five reasons… let me know if I missed any in the comment section at the bottom of the page.
1. A revitalized (and paid) lineup. Once again, the Indians avoided arbitration by signing several key players to one-year deals, including their star Shin-Soo Choo. The Indians control Choo for three more seasons, but it’s likely he’ll test the free agency market once he’s eligible in 2013. Choo also managed to earn an exemption from mandatory military service by leading South Korea to a gold medal in the Asian Games. It was a nice offseason for this fan-favorite.
Plus Grady Sizemore (remember him?) is expected to make a full recovery from knee surgery and should be ready for spring training. Also on the road to recovery; our budding star catcher Carlos Santana, who was injured in a play at the plate last season.
The Indians batting order looks much better with Sizemore, Choo, and Santana at the top. And if Travis Hafner magically transforms himself back into “Pronk” in 2011, opposing pitchers might actually fear this lineup.
2. Youth movement. If the Indians hope to compete for the AL Central any time soon, success will depend on the development of their younger players. Along with Santana, this is a crucial season for two key players acquired in the C.C. Sabathia trade – Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley.
Manager Manny Acta appears ready to gift-wrap the first base position for LaPorta this season. His .232 lifetime average and .668 OPS are weak for any MLB first baseman. Tack on just 19 homeruns in 557 major league at-bats the word “bust” begins to come to mind. These numbers have to improve if LaPorta wants to stay in the majors. He’s 26 and is no longer one of the “kids”. It’s time for LaPorta to produce.
For Brantley, 23, the question is whether or not he’s ready to take over in centerfield. While his speed will never be called into question, his ability to command the outfield should be. As a centerfielder, he needs to take charge out there, not be hesitant when tracking the baseball. At the plate Brantley should practice patience, draw more walks and get on base. His 2010 OBP of .296 is shockingly low for a potential leadoff hitter.
And don’t forget about the young arms either. It’s likely that pitchers Justin Masterson and Carlos Carrasco will both find themselves in the starting rotation this season. There are several up-and-coming arms below them in the minors, so these two better watch their backs.
3. Pure Rage. Maybe the nickname hasn’t caught on yet, but Chris Perez has definitely caught on as the Indians closer. 23 saves and an ERA of 1.71 in 2010 have cemented his position in the bullpen.
Perez’s direct and aggressive approach to pitching is winning over fans. If he sees a lot of action this year, this means the Indians are taking leads into the 9th inning. With Perez on the hill, they’ll be winning those games.
And he comes much cheaper than the $20 million that was paid for Kerry Wood. For $10 million per season owner Larry Dolan watched Wood blow saves, get injured and then get traded to the Yankees. Not surprisingly, Dolan made no splash in the free-agency market this year.
That’ll be a tough one to top, but now that Mike Hargrove is back with the Indians as an advisor, maybe the PR department will give it a go. How about a Christmas in July bobblehead with Hargrove as Santa? Or why not Hargrove with an umbrella, paying homage to his player nickname “The Human Rain Delay”?
Any bobblehead giveaway is a great reason to head to the ballpark in my book. I’ll be on the lookout for some unique ones in 2011.
5. Something else to watch besides the Cavs. Their record is 8-33. Nuff said.
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