It was a disappointing and tumultuous season for the Cleveland Indians in 2012. It was a season that began with high hopes of contending for a division title but ended with an epic second-half collapse -- climaxed by a managerial firing, a record of 68-94 and uncertainty regarding several players as the offseason begins.
Indians officials felt the team was capable of contending in 2012, and, indeed, the club was in first place as late as June 23. However, the team's season fell apart shortly after the All-Star break.
Thanks to losing streaks of 11 and nine games, the Indians stumbled to a record of 5-24 in the month of August, setting a team record for most losses in a month. It was a complete collapse, with the pitching, hitting and defense all disappearing.
Pitching coach Scott Radinsky was fired at midseason, and that was followed by the firing of manager Manny Acta on Sept. 27. So the first order of business in the offseason will be to hire a new manager. Bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. finished the last six games of the season as the interim manager, and general manager Chris Antonetti said Alomar was "a primary" candidate for the job in 2013.
Antonetti also confirmed that former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona was a candidate. Antonetti said the Indians might have to wait until the end of the postseason to contact additional potential candidates, although Alomar and Francona were the only ones interviewed in the first two days after the end of the season.
The new manager will inherit a major challenge. The only real strength of the team is the back of the bullpen, with closer Chris Perez and setup men Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith and Esmil Rogers. However, among the first roster issues to be addressed will be the future of a handful of players.
The Indians hold options on the contracts of designated hitter Travis Hafner ($13 million) and pitchers Roberto Hernandez ($6 million) and Ubaldo Jimenez ($5.75 million). It seems likely that Hafner will not be brought back, Hernandez probably won't and Jimenez almost certainly will.
To improve in 2013, the Indians will need to add at least one starting pitcher and some impact bats to a lineup that was one of the weakest in the American League in 2012. Left field, first base and designated hitter are the three most glaring holes, although if right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, a potential free agent after next season, is traded, the Indians would need to add a right fielder as well.
Perhaps the club's biggest weakness is not having the money to acquire significant free agents. It prevented the team from adding any hitters of consequence last winter, and the same scenario will likely play out this winter. Making the team's inability to sign any impact free agents even more damaging is that there are no position player prospects in the upper levels of the minor-league system who are ready to step in and contribute next year.