MLB season preview: The Indians think they've found their missing piece

What do you do when you’re one inning away from winning the World Series? If you’re the Cleveland Indians, you shock the baseball world and sign one of the biggest free-agent bats on the market despite your traditionally limited payroll.

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The Indians brought in Edwin Encarnacion, a legitimate middle-of-the-order thumper, to make their lineup even more dangerous. The Indians have tremendous pitching — we all know that. It was good enough to win the AL despite the Indians losing two of their best, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, to injury toward the end of the season.

So the Indians are a team trying to make the necessary tweaks to win it all. Encarnacion’s bat will be a huge addition, but Cleveland was going to be better even without it when you consider Michael Brantley should be returning after missing just about all of 2016 and the pitching staff should be healthy.

Other AL teams shouldn’t be overlooked, particularly the Boston Red Sox, but don’t be surprised if we see the Indians making a deep run again.

Additions: Edwin Encarnacion, Boone Logan
Subtractions: Rajai Davis, Mike Napoli, Coco Crisp

Cleveland didn’t stand pat after taking the Cubs to Game 7 of the World Series. The team uncharacteristically went out and spent in free agency, snagging Edwin Encarnacion from the Blue Jays. The move perfectly encapsulates Cleveland’s current situation. The team is so close to breaking the longest championship drought in the sport that bringing in a player like Encarnacion could be the one thing that pushes them over the edge. He also fills a major need, as Mike Napoli departed during the offseason. While Napoli, Coco Crisp and Rajai Davis all played big parts in Cleveland’s postseason run, none of them are huge losses. (Chris Cwik)

Francisco Lindor is the man in Cleveland nowadays. (AP)
Francisco Lindor is the man in Cleveland nowadays. (AP)

The Indians almost went all the way last season with Michael Brantley watching from the sidelines due to an injured shoulder that just would not heal. After appearing in just 11 games in 2016, he seems to be healthy and in line to start opening day. Considering he hit .319/.384/.494 in 2014 and 2015 combined, they very much want that in their lineup once again. But it might take some time. It’s taken him so long to recover from that right shoulder injury that it’s unreasonable to expect him to be that player again right away. If he can get there, though, imagine how threatening the Indians lineup would be with Brantley back to his old self AND Edwin Encarnacion. That’s a lineup that’s hard to beat. (Liz Roscher)

1. Jose Ramirez, 2B (.312/.363/.462, 11 HR, 76 RBI, 84 R, 22 SB)
2. Francisco Lindor, SS (.301/.358/.435, 15 HR, 78 RBI, 99 R, 19 SB)
3. Michael Brantley, CF (.231/.279/.282, 0 HR, 7 RBI)
4. Edwin Encarnacion, DH (.263/.357/.529, 42 HR, 127 RBI, 99 R)
5. Carlos Santana, 1B (.259/.366/.498, 34 HR, 87 RBI, 89 R)
6. Lonnie Chisenhall, RF (.286/.328/.439, 8 HR, 57 RBI)
7. Yan Gomes, C (.167/.201/.327, 9 HR, 34 RBI)
8. Tyler Naquin, CF (.296/.372/.514, 14 HR, 43 RBI)
9. Yandy Diaz, 3B (DNP in 2016)

1. Corey Kluber (18-9,3.14 ERA, 215 IP, 227 K)
2. Danny Salazar (11-6, 3.87 ERA, 137.1 IP, 161 K)
3. Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26 ERA, 190 IP, 168 K)
4. Josh Tomlin (13-9, 4.40 ERA, 174 IP, 118 K)
5. Carlos Carrasco (11-8, 3.32 ERA, 146.1 IP, 150)

Carlos Carrasco is back for the Indians. (AP)
Carlos Carrasco is back for the Indians. (AP)

The only thing that stopped the Indians last fall were the late-season injuries to Salazar and Carrasco. Keeping the rotation healthy will be the key again this season because the lineup will be stacked with Encarnacion coming on board and Brantley looking to return to form. If all goes as planned, Cleveland will be in the hunt for its first World Series since 1948. (Mark Townsend)

The Royals dispelled the myth of a World Series hangover in 2015, so the Indians success really should hinge on health. That starts with getting Brantley back on the field and it carries over to Jason Kipnis, who has his own injury concerns that will sideline him early on. Unless the injuries get ridiculous though, this squad shouldn’t fall below 85 wins. (Townsend)

What’s up with the bullpen?
Andrew Miller is without question one of the best pitchers in baseball, but Cleveland utilizes its relievers intelligently, which results in a headache for fantasy owners. The usage hurts both Miller and Cody Allen’s fantasy value, but the latter is still the one to target, as he’s more likely to record saves.

[Elsewhere: More pressing fantasy questions about the Indians]

Miller will surely help your ratios and record a strong K rate, but Allen is still likelier to amass more fantasy value just based on how the Indians use the back end of their bullpen. (Dalton Del Don)

There are a lot of guys out there who love baseball, but I’m not sure anyone loves baseball as much as Jason Kipnis does. A story in three tweets:

Kipnis loves baseball with a kind of demented joy, and it’s so much fun to watch. (Roscher)

There’s a little something for everyone in Cleveland. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a must-see for first-timers visiting the area.

If you want some excitement prior to the game, the JACK Cleveland Casino is located just a half-mile from Progressive Field. If you want to go the opposite direction, the Cleveland Public Library might suit your needs.

You can also venture further and check out the West Side Market. It’s full of local venders and excellent food sources. And since it’s the Midwest, you’re guaranteed to find some excellent sausage or fried food there. It’s the perfect meal for a baseball game. (Cwik)

ALSO IN THIS SERIES: San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Washington NationalsSan Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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