What happened in 2019?
In short, the Indians were out-homered. Even the most optimistic Minnesota Twins fan did not foresee a 101-win season with an MLB-record of 307 home runs. Cleveland, by comparison, won 93 games but finished in the bottom half with 223 homers.
Entering the season with arguably the best rotation in the game, the Indians suffered a big blow when two-time Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber, suffered a season-ending broken arm at the start of May. Pitching problems were compounded by Carlos Carrasco’s leukaemia diagnosis in June. Fortunately, treatment was successful, and the Venezuelan picked up the MLB Comeback Player of the Season award in December after 11 bullpen appearances at the end of the year.
The holes in the Indians rotation were not as big as the void in their outfield. The Opening Day trio comprised Jake Bauers (-0.6 WAR), Tyler Naquin (101 wRC+) and Leonys Martin (released). So, in an impressively bold move, they sent Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds and received Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes in a three-team deal.
It appeared that normal service had been resumed when the Tribe took the series-win over the Twins in mid-August to claim the division lead, but they proved less resilient than Minnesota and slipped eight games back by the end of the season, missing the final wild card spot by a single game.
One to watch
We are indebted to @uk_indians for the suggestion of Franmil Reyes. Pete is a good follow on Twitter.
You probably know that Reyes, the prize in the Bauer trade, is a 24-year-old slugger. You probably didn’t know that he finished 15th in MLB with the same number of home runs as Josh Donaldson and Josh Bell. He offers a power threat in the Indians lineup that has been sorely missing and should be the Tribe’s everyday DH. Don’t be surprised if he threatens Jim Thome’s 52-homer franchise record.
Five reasons for optimism in 2020
(1) We know Jose Ramirez is a stud, but just imagine a full season of the 1.105 OPS that he put up after the All-Star break. Not even Mike Trout has produced a 1.100 OPS campaign.
(3) They didn’t trade Francisco Lindor. One of the most recognisable faces of MLB is still the Indians shortstop and an integral member in their pursuit of 2020 World Series glory. Only two players have hit more than 100 home runs with 50 stolen bases over the last three years: Lindor and Trout.
(4) The AL Central is still the weakest division. If the Indians can beat up on the Royals and Tigers, then the clashes against the big-spending Twins and White Sox will be crucial.
(5) With the managerial chaos in other teams (looking at you Astros, Mets, Red Sox), the Indians will be guided by the magnetic Terry Francona looking for his eighth-straight winning season.
Gavin is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @_tramps