2013 Team Preview: Cleveland Indians

USA Today Sports

It's been quite an offseason for a team that's lived through a decade of disappointment, but outside of Cleveland there isn't a much optimism about this revamped Tribe ballclub. Do the Indians have what it takes to contend in 2013?

Notable Numbers

$117 million: The amount of money the Indians have spent in free agency this winter. Last winter, the Indians spent $3 million on signing new free agents—aside from re-signing Grady Sizemore, the Tribe’s offseason shopping list started and ended with Casey Kotchman. This offseason the Indians opened their wallets for Nick Swisher, then came out of nowhere to sign Michael Bourn. After years of Cleveland fans complaining about the Dolans’ spending habits (or lack thereof), there’s no question that this team is in business.

25-55: The Indians’ record over the final 80 games of the season. Thanks to a series of unforeseeable worst-case scenarios from more than a few of the team’s key players — literally half the roster performed far worse than anyone could have reasonably expected — the Tribe’s second half was excruciating to watch. Even without the tremendous offseason roster overhaul engineered by Chris Antonetti & Co., this team was bound to be significantly better in 2013 just by virtue of regression to the mean.

2012 Season in Review

The Indians stormed out of the gate and held first place in the weak AL Central as late as June 23, but a vicious cycle of injuries, slumps, and clubhouse torpor led to a miserable second half that saw the Tribe lose 11 games in a row, then lose nine games in a row. It wasn’t a fun end of the summer in Cleveland.

Key Offseason Moves

Hired Terry Francona: Managers may be somewhat overrated in their impact on a clubhouse, but the difference Francona has made for the Tribe before he’s even managed a game has been staggering. His energy and enthusiasm are a welcome change from Manny Acta, and his gravitas has made Cleveland a more attractive destination for free agents.

Traded Shin-Soo Choo, et al for Trevor Bauer, Drew Stubbs, Matt Albers, and Bryan Shaw: This was the deal that started at all. Shin-Soo Choo was a fan favorite and it was tough to see him go, but he was all but gone after 2013 anyway. In return, Cleveland snagged one of the best pitching prospects in the game, a great defensive outfielder, and two solid relievers. In a vacuum I would have been fine trading Choo for Stubbs straight-up because of Stubbs’ longer team control, so to get Bauer (and Shaw, who could be the hidden gem of this deal) out of the deal too was highway robbery.

Signed Nick Swisher to a four-year, $56 million deal: If the Choo trade was the prelude to the Tribe’s new direction, the Swisher deal was the coming out party. After striking out with Shane Victorino, the Indians wooed the former Buckeye to the shores of Lake Erie with the promise that he could be a star in Cleveland. Now the Indians have some real security at first base for the first time since Jim Thome.

Signed Michael Bourn to a four-year, $48 million deal: As friends and families sit down for their Passover seders tonight, they will sing "Dayenu"—Hebrew for "it would have been enough." As in: If the Indians had acquired Swisher, Bauer, Stubbs, Albers, Shaw, Mark Reynolds, Brett Myers, Mike Aviles, and Scott Kazmir but not Michael Bourn, dayenu. Putting aside the huge on-field benefit of adding a four-to-six-win player to an already formidable lineup, the team bought itself invaluable goodwill from the fans for making the kind of aggressive move small-market clubs supposedly can only dream of.

Depth Chart

Despite the flurry of activity out of Cleveland this offseason, the roster looks pretty stable. We could see some roster shuffling for the bench and bullpen and there are a number of rotation options waiting in Triple-A Columbus if one of the team’s many questionable starting pitchers falters, but there won’t be any huge surprises in the lineup come Opening Day.

Check out the Indians’ 2013 depth chart at MLB Depth Charts

2013 Outlook

The Indians were a far better team than they looked down the stretch in 2012 and they made some massive improvements for 2013, yet for some reason consensus is that they’re somewhere around a .500 team. We’re looking at one of the best lineups in the league, a phenomenal defense, and a pitching staff with far more upside and depth than most fans seem to realize. They’re probably the second-best team in the division and they have a real (if outside) shot at a playoff berth.

Check out the Indians ZiPS projections for 2013 at FanGraphs.

Bold Prediction

The Indians' front office and coaching staff will combine to win more end-of-season awards than the players.

Read more Indians coverage on SB Nation's Indians blog, Let's Go Tribe, or on my site, Wahoo's on First.

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