If you’re an Indians’ fan, it’s all around you, all the time. Greg Allen is one hell of a defender, but does he have enough offense to be a full time outfielder. Daniel Johnson seems to have a high upside, but is it at the big league level, or is he another one of those quad A players? Oscar Mercado has made a brilliant transition from being an infielder to the outfield, but isn’t there a reason the Cardinals threw him into a deal with the Indians? When will Bradley Zimmer be healthy, and when he is, can he hit? Jake Bauers seems an obvious choice to be the next left fielder, but is he even going to play in the outfield? Leonys Martin was a great fill trade last year, but after a precarious health situation, where is he even going to be this year? Jordan Luplow seems like another one of those guys that works on a playoff roster, but will he be put in one of those “way too much workload” roles? Oh, and what about Tyler Naquin?
The Indians are surrounded by outfielders, and beyond that, really fantastic storylines of players trying to make the regular season roster, but should a team “assured” of making the playoffs be littered with so many underdog stories?
Don’t get me wrong here. As a baseball fan, these are the types of stories that make a baseball season fun. For years, I’ve been interested in what Roberto Perez could do if he were healthy, and the full-time catcher. As a devout follower of the minor league system, Yu Chang and Eric Haase have been two players that look like really interesting players on a playoff contender, especially if you’re looking for players that can fill in the gaps. While I’m not a big fan of too many platoons, with the right sort of flex players, seeing what guys like Luplow or Chang could do in the right mix (you know, Chang and Kipnis…platooning) is sort of fun.
The problem with all of these stories, and about a dozen more, is that in a perfect season, there should only be two or three of these stories. This season, whether it’s because of this “gap year” in which the Indians decided not to do much of anything this offseason, the Indians biggest stories aren’t their loaded rotation, or the MVP-duo of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, but it’s their piece-milled bullpen, their three open outfield positions, who’s going to start at first, who is going to DH full-time, and who is going to make this bench, or need more “seasoning” at the minor league level.
And lets be honest, seasoning in many cases with Terry Francona as the manager is just a fancy way of saying, “this guy has more options than that veteran.”
Take a look at the bullpen for a moment, as Mike Hattery did yesterday, and you’ll realize that the Indians can be a match-up nightmare for a team, depending on which pitchers end up making the club. The essential problem is that there aren’t too many current arms that seem ready to face both righties and lefties. Right now, closer Brad Hand is the best equipped to match up against both. That said, if you have a manager that is progressive in his thinking, he may look at this pen with the smirk of a mad scientist.
Is Terry Francona this manager? His time here has seen…an improvement in wins…and no doubt, he’s brought the weight of a two-time World Series winning manager to the locker room. Under Francona, the current rotation has become one of the best in the league. Under Francona, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor have become MVP candidates. It’s hard to argue that Francona wouldn’t be the right guy for any situation.
But this is EHC. We ask the hard questions, and while the answers may or may not be correct, I think it’s an interesting question to ponder whether or not the Indians needed a Francona as their manager in the initial stages, and perhaps a Kevin Cash once the pieces started to get placed in their championship positions.
But that’s for another day.
What’s most interesting about this Indians’ team is that what happens in spring training will have a fairly sizable impact on the Indians roster. We aren’t talking about a fourth or fifth outfield spot, or a random bullpen piece. We’re talking about all four or five outfield spots, and the substance of the bullpen.
And while Spring Training is never the end-game, after watching this team in 2018, being concerned about the role of guys like Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Flaherty, and Mark Mathias clogging up the mechanism for multiple months is something that this manager has showcased in recent seasons. And when you clog a mechanism with a whole bunch of unknown parts, the potential for some sort of failure is high.
Especially when you have to worry about the potential of injuries to their most important players…you know…like Francisco Lindor.
So what will the Indians 2019 season bring with it? Is it ripe full of fantastic storylines of youngsters bursting onto the scene, and making this roster dynamic? Or is it another 2018 seasons, with several players moving a little past their ripe stage, and too many other questions to carry them past their past two seasons’ first round playoff exits?
EHC’s Mike Hattery, Jim Pete, and a little bit of Gage Will discuss a few of these questions, and start their season-long dive into what should be an interesting season. Here’s EHC’s return to podding!