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Cleveland Indians 2016 Preview: It's time to be excited about this team

They may not be a 100-win team, but this Indians squad is built to compete all season long.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

For all the rabbling about holes on the Cleveland Indians roster all offseason long, this team is built to be competitive in the American League Central in 2016. From top to bottom, it is not the most complete roster in the league, but there are stars in several positions, adequate players in others, and very few spots on the 25-man roster are taken up by dead weight. Excellent pitching and defense and hopefully above-average hitting will have the Indians in a race for a Wild Card right up until September.

Whether or not you buy my optimistic intro (and you should), we are set to find out what this team is really made of in a mere week's time when they play the Boston Red Sox to kick off their 2016 season. If you have not followed the offseason very closely until right now, you are in the right place to get ready for that game and the rest of the season. We have been building up our 2016 preview coverage over the past week, most of which you will also find summarize in this post.

Projected Opening Day roster

Since Opening Day is now just a week away, the 25-man roster is beginning to take shape. Teams technically do not have their roster trimmed all the way down to 25 until their first game, but the Tribe has been frequently optioning players to Triple-A or re-assigning them to minor league camp as the deadline approaches.

This roster may not be 100% accurate to what we will actually see on Opening Day, but it should be pretty close, based on what kind of cuts we have seen and who know will not actually make the roster out of spring training.

Within each table, you will find the player, their age, their position, their projected FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement according to ZiPS and Steamer as well as each their projected Wins Above Replacement Player according to Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections. The 'Full Projections' link at the end of each row will take you talonk's excellent, detailed write-ups about each position's projection and how they compare with the rest of the American League Central.

Outfielder Michael Brantley, pitching prospect Dylan Baker and relievers Craig Stammen and Tommy Hunter are all expected to start 2016 on the disabled list, thus they are not in the projected Opening Day roster below.

Position Players

Player Age Position Steamer fWAR ZiPS fWAR PECOTA WARP More
Yan Gomes 28 C 2.5 2.3 3.4 Full projections
Mike Napoli 34 1B 1.2 1.9 2.6 Full projections
Jason Kipnis 28 2B 2.6 3.0 3.2 Full projections
Juan Uribe 37 3B 1.2 2.0 1.3 Full projections
Francisco Lindor 22 SS 3.7 4.1 2.8 Full projections
Marlon Byrd 38 LF -0.3 0.9 0.9 Full projections
Tyler Naquin 24 CF 0.6 0.6 0.5 Full projections
Rajai Davis 27 RF -0.1 1.6 0.5 Full projections
Carlos Santana 29 DH 1.8 2.3 2.5 Full projections


Player Age Position Steamer fWAR ZiPS fWAR PECOTA WARP More
Jose Ramirez 23 IF/OF 1.0 2.1 1.1 Full projections
Roberto Perez 27 C 0.6 1.2 0.8 Full projections
Collin Cowgill 29 OF 0.0 0.9 -- Full projections

Starting pitchers

Player Age Handedness Steamer fWAR ZiPS fWAR PECOTA WARP More
Corey Kluber 29 RHP 5.0 5.4 2.9 Full projections
Carlos Carrasco 29 RHP 4.7 4.8 3.3 Full projections
Danny Salazar 26 RHP 3.2 3.5 2.3 Full projections
Josh Tomlin 25 RHP 1.5 0.9 1.2 Full projections
Cody Anderson 31 RHP 1.5 0.9 -- Full projections


Player Age Handedness Steamer fWAR ZiPS fWAR PECOTA WARP
Cody Allen 27 RHP 0.9 1.3 1.2
Bryan Shaw 28 RHP 0.2 0.5 0.3
Jeff Manship 31 RHP 0.2 0.2 0.2
Zach McAllister 28 RHP 0.6 1.5 0.5
Dan Otero 31 RHP 0.2 0.3 --
Ross Detwiler 30 LHP 0.0 -0.1 0.0
Joba Chamberlain 30 RHP 0.2 0.1 0.1
Trevor Bauer 25 RHP 1.1 1.7 --

Note: Steamer projections change almost daily based on new information. These projections are as of 3/28/16. Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall will start the season on the disabled list. 

Offseason's biggest moves and how they impact the Indians

This past season, the Indians did not spend a lot of money on one player. Instead, they spread it around among several, including first baseman Mike Napoli, third baseman Juan Uribe, outfielder Rajai Davis, and a stable of non-roster invites added on minor-league deals. As of now, those three signed to major-league contracts are expected to make the team, and non-roster invite Joba Chamberlain was told on Saturday that he will also make the team out of spring.

The biggest impact signing is undoubtedly Mike Napoli. The veteran first baseman is projected to be an average to great hitter, depending on which system you want to believe. His biggest value will come from the fact that he will bump Carlos Santana off of first base into the designated hitter slot. Santana, who has spent the last two seasons as the Tribe's everyday first baseman, has cost the team nine runs according to defensive runs saved and carries a -3.3 UZR over his career at the position.

Marlon Byrd was the most recent acquisition made by the Tribe, and he could end up being a sleeper steal at the minor league deal he signed. With the recent revelation that Michael Brantley probably will not be ready for Opening Day, Byrd has a better shot at making the roster out of spring training, where he could put his power from the right side of the plate to good use. Last season he hit 23 home runs, which would have led all Cleveland Indians in 2015.

Prospects to watch this season

When it comes to deciding which prospects to watch, you should consider a balance between players with a high ceiling and players close to the major-league ready. It just so happens the Indians have plenty of prospects from both categories this upcoming season.

For players with a higher ceiling, keep an eye on Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier as they work their up the minor leagues. At one point they may end up both being in Double-A, which would make Akron RubberDucks games a must-watch for any fan interested in the future of the Indians organization.

It may be harder to watch other prospects like first baseman Bobby Bradley or 2015 first-round pick Brady Aiken, but if you get the chance you should take it. The former will wow you with his tremendous power at only 19 years old and the latter has the potential to be a front-of-the-rotation starter if he recovers from Tommy John surgery fully.

Prospects like pitcher Mike Clevinger and third baseman Yandy Diaz could potentially be a year or less away from debuting in the majors, if they can make the proper adjustments throughout the 2015 season. Both players should be spending a lot of time in the higher end of the minors, so they should be easy to watch on or another service.

Strengths and weaknesses of the roster

As I said in the intro, the Indians do not have a lot of dead weight on this roster. A few positions could be labelled a weakness, but most are a strength or a push at worst. Let's break it down position by position.

Catcher: Strength
The Indians have two catchers who could be starters on most MLB teams. Yan Gomes will get the lion's share of time at the position, but whenever he needs to rest Roberto Perez will pick up the slack easily.

First base: Push
Mike Napoli's health may be a concern at some point in the season, but even if he goes down Carlos Santana should be able to step in, even if he cannot field well.

Second base: Strength
Jason Kipnis could be considered one of the best second basemen in the league, if not the absolute best. Like many infield positions, he will be backed up by the serviceable Jose Ramirez.

Shortstop: Strength
I do not know what else I can say about Francisco Lindor. He was one of the best hitters in the league post All-Star break last season, and even if he cannot keep up that production, he is easily one of the best fielding players at the position.

Third base: Push
Third base may not be the strongest position on the team, but it suddenly has depth with the addition of Juan Uribe. While Uribe provides stability at the major-league level, Jose Ramirez will be his primary back up with Giovanny Urshela waiting in Triple-A if an injury occurs.

Left field: Strength
There's a small caveat to this. When Michael Brantley is healthy, this is an easy strength -- Doctor Smooth is one of the best LF in the league. However, he will probably start the season on the disabled list and the players behind him make this position a weakness if left up to them alone.

Center field: Weakness
As enthusiastic as I am about Tyler Naquin, until we see what he can really do at the major-league level I am not ready to proclaim him a Hall of Famer. Some combination of Rajai Davis, Collin Cowgill, Marlon Byrd, or whoever else is backing Naquin up is not inspiring.

Right field: Push
I have enough faith in Lonnie Chisenhall's defense to call this a push, at least. Chisenhall could easily bottom out and make right field a weakness, but I would not bet on that happening.

Starting pitching: Strength
Does this even need an explanation? They have two Cy Young candidates in Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, a potential breakout candidate in Danny Salazar and maybe this is the year that Trevor Bauer actually puts it together.

Bullpen: Weakness
Outside of Cody Allen and maybe Jeff Manship, it's hard to have much faith in anyone in the bullpen. It looks like they will enter the season with one lefty reliever, either Kyle Crockett or Ross Detwiler, depending on how the rest of spring training shakes out.

Storylines to watch

Win or lose, the Indians are going to be a fascinating team to watch this season. Is Tyler Naquin the real deal? Will Trevor Bauer get shifted to the bullpen? Is Lonnie Chisenhall Alex Gordon 2.0? Is Francisco Lindor really that insanely good? All of this and more will be on the table when the Indians play through 2016, and surely more storylines will unfold as the season progresses. Especially if the Indians are competing towards the end of July, don't count on this team going quietly into the offseason.

Upcoming milestones

No Indians players are approaching 3,000 hits or close to breaking the all-time home run record, but there are still plenty of arbitrary numbers that we could see crossed this season. The most exciting is probably Michael Brantley being just 91 hits shy of 1,000, but Corey Kluber closing in on being only the fourth Indians pitcher to reach 200 strikeouts in three different seasons has to be up there as well.

For some perspective on Brantley's approach to 1,000 hits, Mike Napoli is a full six years older but he is still 90 shy of the millennium mark. Similarly, 35-year-old Rajai Davis is 130 hits shy.

Not so much a milestone, but Jason Kipnis also has a bizarre and re-occurring connection with the number 86, which could pop up again in 2016.


Michael Brantley's injury and time that he will be missing in 2016 is devastating, but barring any other health issues, this team should be competing all season long. We just have to hope they avoid having another disastrous April so they will not be left scrambling from behind in the standings all season long.