The Indians have set their Opening Day roster for Monday's game against the hated Chicago White Sox. 2007 is a big season of hope for us Tribe fans as the core nucleus has been here for a few years now and many of our young players are hitting their prime. One problem exists, however, as the AL Central is not the AL Central of the late 1990's and there are 3 other teams capable of winning the division. Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit are all legitimate contenders not only for the AL Central but for the Pennant and World Series. The Indians are going to need a hot start in April instead of their normal sluggish start that leaves them treading water and playing catch-up from May until October. The Indians won 93 games in 2005 and did not make the playoffs due to an awful April and a choke job in late September. Let's hope for a turn of events this year. Anyway, here are the guys who will be onstage at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario this season.
C. C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Cliff Lee (DL), Paul Byrd, Jeremy Sowers, Fausto Carmona
The strength of the ball club hands down. C. C. says he's starting Monday despite taking a liner of his forearm. Jake is rock solid. Sowers looked like a vet at the end of last year when they shut him down and Fausto has been lights out this spring. The fact that Lee will miss most of April is a downer but if Fausto pitches like he has been it might be a nice cup of coffee for him. Byrd, by his own admission, pitched like (poop) last year and is looking to rebound but is a great influence on the young but talented staff.
Rafael Betancourt, Joe Borowski, Fernando Cabrera, Jason Davis, Aaron Fultz, Roberto Hernandez, Matt Miller (DL), Tom Mastny
I just cringed typing the word bullpen. Ouch. Well last year the pen rivaled the legendary "Bullpen form Hell" of the late 1980's. Failure to hold leads, hits galore and blown saves out the ying-yang. Borowski is a bona-fide closer, but can he stay healthy? Betancourt has looked awful this spring. Fultz and Hernandez are free agent pick-ups who we have to wait and see on. Will Cabrera return to his late 2004 to 2005 form? Is this the year Jason Davis finally gets it? Losing Miller hurts because of that wicked side-arm action he has but Mastny proved at the end of last year he deserves a chance. As strong as the rotation is the biggest question mark is the bullpen. You're welcome from the Master of the Obvious.
Casey Blake, David Dellucci, Franklin Guiterrez (DL), Jason Michaels, Trot Nixon, Grady Sizemore
Grady was the only All-Star last year and deservedly so. He could develop into one of the premier players in the game. If only we could find a lead-off hitter to move him to the #3 hole in front of Pronk and Victor. Dellucci and Michaels will platoon in left while Nixon and Blake will platoon in right. I like the veteran influence of Dellucci and Nixon and they both have something to prove but in does concern me that we have a backlog of OF talent in the minors and they don't try and develop them here. Shin-Soo Choo, Guitierrez, Ben Francisco, Trevor Crowe and Brad Snyder are always toiling away in AAA Buffalo and AA Akron waiting for their shot.
Victor Marttinez, Kelly Shoppach
Victor can hit like a mo-fo but can he throw out more than 20% of base stealers? He calls a good ballgame but dear lord I hope they sorted out his mechanics (or footwork as Eric Wedge claims). Shoppach continues to develop offensively but could be an amazing defensive catcher and game caller. With Victor looking so fluid at First Base in spring I would not be surprised to see a lot more of Victor at 1st (or DH) and Kelly behind the plate.
Josh Barfield, Casey Blake, Ryan Garko, Travis Hafner, Joe Inglett (DL), Andy Marte, Jhonny Peralta, Mike Rouse
The infield defense was atrocious last year and was a main focus of Spring Training. I think it will take Barfield a few months to adjust to the AL but his speed is a great, needed addition to the club. Blake will platoon with Garko and Victor Martinez but I expect Garko to take control of this job by May or June with Vic and Pronk playing a game here or there as a change of pace. The focus will be on Peralta to see if 2005 or 2006 was the fluke year? Somewhere in between would be a welcome site to Tribe brass and fans. Marte has a lot of potential and we'll see how he pans out but is a huge upgrade over Aaron (expletive deleted) Boone. And what can you say about Hafner? One of the best pure hitters in the game who could be a serious MVP candidate if he stays healthy and could play First Base more often than not.
So 2007 shapes up as an exciting and interesting year. We see how it starts to pan out Monday... in a certain town... against a certain team... that starts with C... ends with O... and has "HICAG" in Da Middle.