This is it!
Twenty-three weeks is a long time to spend doing anything. The baseball offseason is roughly the same amount of time each year, but there remains a point in early spring where I always feel it’s gone by quicker than usual. Twenty-three weeks from now will be early September; we could experience a lifetime of changes by then, and it will still probably feel like it arrived sooner than anticipated.
In the last twenty-three weeks, our rivals have picked and pecked at their rosters in preparation for a marathon that begins in a matter of days. We’ve diagnosed a weaker team in the thick of their rebuild, a team making a surprising bid for an upswing, and a team looking to put a stranglehold on their division.
It seems fitting that we save for last a team who seems to fly under the radar despite having success more frequently and more recently than any other team in the division. Cleveland has been in the mix now for the better part of a decade; their last losing season was in 2012, the final year before the Terry Francona era. They’ve shed star pitchers, traded franchise shortstops, and done little to bolster somewhat of a stagnant offense, and yet they still figure to factor into the Central’s postseason picture yet again.
Just what can we expect out of them in 2021?
- Cleveland was one of the early tone-setters in the offseason. The declination of Brad Hand’s club option set in motion a noteworthy arbitration period, during which guys like Tyler Naquin, Delino DeShields, and Jefry Rodriguez were non-tendered. Carlos Santana’s option was turned down, as well, ultimately sending the veteran bat off to Missouri.
- It was maybe the biggest news of the offseason when, in the waxing hours of the new year, the team sent Francisco Lindor off to the New York Mets in a trade that also involved fan favorite Carlos Carrasco leaving an organization he’s known since 2009. Comments from the front office, combined with a noted history of wheeling-and-dealing important organizational players, meant that the move didn’t so much surprise fans…it was more just one of those things were a long-foreseen future finally becomes reality.
- Domingo Santana and Sandy Leon each became free agents, never to return.
- In separate trades, Adam Cimber went to Miami (née Florida) and Mike Freeman went to Cincinnati (née Losantiville.)
The New Additions
- I’ll start with the return from New York. Two guys 20 or younger game back — starter Josh Wolf and outfielder Isaiah Greene, the latter of whom has yet to enter his third decade of this whole livin’ thang. The other two — shortstops Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario — will be making more of an immediate contribution, as both have already begun accruing major-league service time.
- Will four young guys wind up replacing the value of Lindor in the long run? It depends on how well Cleveland’s rock-and-roll development chain is able to work their magic on these four in particular. Josh Wolf might be the next Shane Bieber or Aaron Civale at the rate this organization turns out scary top-line starters.
- Cesar Hernandez became a free agent this winter, but was pretty rapidly re-signed by the club. That makes our good friend Eddie Rosario and his one-year deal the only guaranteed contract which Cleveland handed out to a new player this winter.
- Notable minor-league deals brought in DJ Johnson, Bryan Shaw, Ben Gamel, Blake Parker, and Ryan Lavarnway.
- The team sprinkled on Trevor Stephan, swingman Rule 5 pick from the Yankees, as well as 26-year-old outfielder Harold Ramirez on waivers from the Marlins.
- So, what exactly does this batting order look like sans Francisco Lindor? Well, here’s your answer:
|Cleveland Game Fellas – 2021 Lineup|
|2B Cesar Hernandez|
|LF Eddie Rosario|
|3B Jose Ramirez|
|DH Franmil Reyes|
|RF Josh Naylor|
|1B Jake Bauers|
|C Roberto Perez|
|SS Andres Gimenez|
|CF Ben Gamel|
- For as much as I’ve criticized Cleveland’s lineup in recent years, I think I’ve still always taken them over Kansas City. This year, I’m not so sure. Jose Ramirez is always an MVP candidate, and Eddie Rosario has the tools to ball out into a five-win campaign, but I’m not convinced there’s a whole lot of depth to this lineup, even before we get to the actual depth that is the bench.
- If eight of these guys can form a reliable defensive unit behind a usually-elite staff, it’s a different story — however, one of those eight is Eddie Rosario, so they’re already at somewhat of a disadvantage.
|Cleveland Game Fellas – 2021 Rotation|
|RHP Shane Bieber|
|RHP Zach Plesac|
|RHP Aaron Civale|
|RHP Triston McKenzie|
|Logan Allen? Adam Plutko? Cal Quantrill? Somebody else from the black magic factory?|
- The bread and butter of this entire organization falls here, where the league’s most recent Cy Young Award recipient is joined by a cast of developing arms with frightening ceilings. Every year, we underestimate the rest of the team, and every year, the arms above rear back and make us eat our words.
- So, all things considered, that was a pretty rough winter. Cleveland experienced all the usual offseason turnover, then went out of their way to deal from their rotation and their lineup, then didn’t wind up doing a whole lot to otherwise replace or improve their standout departures. These last few summers, the team has had little competition for the division, as they opened their window just after the Tigers’ pennant hopes waned and well before the Twins and White Sox were really ready to roll. But now there’s two — even three — other divisional rivals with eyes on the prize and the personnel to get it. Is this the year the bottom drops out, for real?