Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Cleveland Indians.
2011 record: 80-82
Finish: Second, AL Central
2011 final payroll: $49.4 million
Estimated 2012 opening day payroll: $70 million
Yahoo! Sports' offseason rank: 20th
Hashtags: #supernatural, #pronkswansong, #ubaldoasdrubaltomatotomahto, #gradysknees, #whosonfirst, #beltranhatesus, #playertobenamedadecadelater
It's true, the Indians have identity issues.
They are the maturing franchise that went out 30-15 in 2011, their seven-game lead in the AL Central the sort of bombshell that warms spring in Ohio. And, yet, the overmatched franchise that came home 50-67, their 15-game deficit the sort of inevitability that chills the fall there.
In all, the Indians spent 96 days in first place, none with the sense they'd fully returned from the sell-offs of CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez, who'd brought them to within a win of the World Series four years before, but always with the hope they couldn't be terrible again.
Damaged by a pitching staff whose starting rotation's ERA climbed by a half-run in the second half and whose bullpen's rose by more than a run, then finished by an offense that was close to pathetic in the middle of the season, the Indians made offseason runs at Carlos Beltran and Carlos Pena, among others, but instead return pretty much what they had last year.
That includes gimpy center fielder Grady Sizemore, who has played a total of 210 games over the past three seasons, the past two well below his standards.
The Beltran snubs – he chose San Francisco at the trading deadline and St. Louis a month ago, both times with the Indians bidding – were particularly difficult, given their desperate need for a middle-of-the-order bat.
They did take Derek Lowe off the hands of the Atlanta Braves, who'll pay two-thirds of Lowe's $15-million salary in 2012. In recent weeks they signed outfielders Felix Pie and Ryan Spilborghs, because it's entirely possible Michael Brantley's best role is fourth outfielder. And on Friday they traded for right-hander Kevin Slowey, because …
… perhaps the Indians' greatest identity crisis lies in their opening day starter from a year ago.
On that afternoon, Fausto Carmona allowed 10 runs in three innings, and his year got only marginally better from there. His season ended with 15 losses and an ERA he trimmed to 5.25. Last week, he was nabbed outside the U.S. Consulate in Santa Domingo, where it was learned he wasn't the guy the Indians thought he was. His name is Roberto Hernandez Heredia. Worse, he's three years older than Carmona. Worse still, no one knows when the former Carmona will return, a potentially traumatic development for a man who's had one good major league season.
The Indians will lead their rotation with Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Lowe and Josh Tomlin. The fifth will come from a group that includes Slowey (0-8, 6.67 ERA in Minnesota last season), Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Zach McAllister and minor league lefty Scott Barnes.
OK, so they probably get by there, assuming Jimenez is the guy from 2009 and 2010 and not the one from 2011. And assuming Lowe isn't done (he'll be 39 in June).
What the Indians will need from there are runs, which was a problem in 2011. The Sizemore injuries were devastating, as were those suffered by Shin-Soo Choo and Travis Hafner. The production from the infield and outfield corners was borderline atrocious. Only Baltimore's leadoff hitters had a worse on-base percentage than Cleveland's.
The Indians will attempt to solve those issues largely from within, meaning:
They'll need Lonnie Chisenhall to mature quickly at third base, especially on the defensive side, so they can keep his bat in the lineup.
Sizemore has to get healthy and stay there. So does Choo. So does Hafner.
They have to settle on a reasonable rotation at first base. Carlos Santana has to have somewhere to go when he's not catching, but there's real concern about what to do with the other 120 games, particularly if Matt LaPorta isn't the guy.
Grady Sizemore has endured five surgeries in the past three years, one on his left knee in 2010 and another on his right knee four months ago.
He was, once, a dynamic two-way player. He won Gold Gloves in the outfield. He hit 33 home runs in 2008, when he also stole 38 bases. He hit 53 doubles in 2006. He walked 101 times in 2007. He routinely scored more than 100 runs.
At 29, the greater effort is getting on the field.
The Indians tried and failed to significantly upgrade their offense, and now their greatest hope is for Sizemore's knees to repair, for his stroke to return, and for his offense to help drive them.
Indians in Haiku
Recall when all that
Stood between Grady and field
Was a coffee cup?