Chuck Crow / The Plain DealerThe Indians are counting on having Jake Westbrook, who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since having elbow surgery in June 2008, to fill a spot in their starting rotation in 2010.
They developed two Cy Young winners and traded them. Sabathia and Lee aren’t coming back and free agent John Lackey is not on their radar screen. The only way this rotation is going to improve on last year’s 45-73 record is for Jake Westbrook’s right elbow to heal and Fausto Carmona to remember how he won 19 games in 2007. If that miracle takes place, there are still three spots to fill.
The Indians have enough bodies to do it in David Huff, Jeremy Sowers, Aaron Laffey, Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco and Hector Rondon, but there is no safety in these numbers. Huff won 11 games as a rookie, so he has a chance. Sowers is out of options and may be running out of chances. As GM Mark Shapiro said after the season, “Sowers is in our plans until he’s not in our plans.” Masterson still might be better suited for the bullpen and Carrasco and Rondon need more time at Class AAA.
The Indians could improve the situation with the right trade. But after two years of fire sales, there aren’t many attractive players left. Grady Sizemore would create interest despite recovering from elbow and groin surgery, but surely the Indians have irritated their fans enough for the time being. Closer Kerry Wood might make sense to a contender, depending on how much of his $10.5 million salary the Indians would pay.
There would be a rush for Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo, but they aren’t going anywhere. They’re the Indians’ favorite kind of players — young, talented and cheap.
The Indians might be able to find pitching help in the second or third tier of free agency. But how much money they have to shop with is on a player-by-player basis. Shapiro has to make his case to Larry and Paul Dolan and wait for their answer.
In ownership’s defense, Travis Hafner, Wood and Westbrook, representing three of the times they said yes, will make a combined $33 million next season on a payroll likely to drop sharply from last year’s total of $81 million. Hafner and Westbrook haven’t been healthy for two seasons and Wood was underused and inconsistent last season.
The bullpen is as tangled as the rotation. Wood would be a good anchor if he’s not traded and gets consistent work. Chris Perez and Tony Sipp showed promise as set-up men, but Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis need bounce-back seasons. They hurt the pen considerably last year.
Chuck Crow / The Plain DealerTony Sipp was a bright spot in the Tribe pen last season. In 46 appearances, Sipp was 2-0 with a 2.92 ERA, striking out 48 batters and walking 25 in 40 innings. Regarding the position players, the Indians are looking to add an infielder and, perhaps, a first baseman. They’re hoping new manager Manny Acta can get a good year out of third baseman Jhonny Peralta, who drove in 83 runs last year but rarely looked like he was enjoying himself. Peralta wasn’t happy about losing his job at short and his frosty relationship with former manager Eric Wedge didn’t help matters.
A return to health by Sizemore, Cabrera (right elbow) and first baseman/outfielder Matt LaPorta (left toe, left hip) will help the Tribe. LaPorta is the only one who may miss the start of the regular season. If the Indians find the right kind of first baseman, look for LaPorta to move to left field, which could make it tough for Michael Brantley to make the Opening Day roster.
Brantley played well in place of the injured Sizemore in September, but Shapiro went out of his way after the season to say he and LaPorta are guaranteed little when it comes to next year.
“Until we go through the off-season and we see what the alternatives are, and what we’re choosing between, I’m not going to commit spots to those guys,” said Shapiro.
On a team that is trying to reinvent itself after 97 losses, commitment should be in short supply.