My expectations for the 2021 Cleveland Baseball Club* are admittedly low, compared to the lofty heights this franchise experienced between 2016 and 2020. However, despite trading off many of their best players, and dropping payroll to Major League Baseball’s basement, there’s plenty I expect to enjoy this season (despite ownership’s attempts to drive me off).
1. Starting Pitching
Let’s be real here: this franchise develops pitching like few other organizations in baseball. I fully expect Shane Bieber to fight for his second Cy Young Award, although I do not expect him to repeat the rate stats he posted in 2020. Bieber’s ERA+, for instance, is the best number to lead the AL since Pedro Martinez in 2000. A 281 ERA+ is simply far beyond what any reasonable fan can expect from even our best pitchers; and 2020 was a short season. I will say, after Bieber the rotation appears far less formidable than years past. Fangraphs ranks the Indians the 15th best starting rotation in baseball going into the season. While I am not as pessimistic as Fangraphs (neither is the author of that article), I do not anticipate the rotation being among the top 10 best in the league in 2021.
2. Jose Ramirez
Jose Ramirez is among the best players in franchise history. He is on pace for the Hall of Fame and arguably better than Francisco Lindor. He will likely compete for the MVP Award (he’s finished second or third three out of the past four years) and might even break the long Cleveland drought in the MVP race, which stretches back to Al Rosen in 1953.
While it may, currently, lack the panache of the ‘Bullpen Mafia’ or the pedigree of Cody Allen and Andrew Miller: Cleveland boasts numerous young, hard throwing, relievers. Even in James Karinchak, Emmanuel Clase & others do not quite perform to our hopes, it will at least be fun to watch hardballers throw heat out of the bullpen. Even our best relievers in the past few years were not, quite, the fireballers on the current bullpen. On the opposite side of the spectrum: I will continue to root for Oliver Perez defying Father Time and remaining an effective arm.
*I am calling this team the Cleveland Baseball Club, not out of moral anger of the name ‘Indians’ but because I find it infuriating that this ownership group lacks the gumption to just change the name already. ‘Indians’ is going away, I might as well get used to it in the short term. I also do not think I should reward the Dolans for their laziness.
1. The Outfield
I remain perplexed this team finds itself completely unable, or unwilling, to adequately address the outfield problem. Eddie Rosario is a fine addition (perhaps he can exceed expectations like Cesar Hernandez last season), but hardly the full blooded solution this team needs. Ben Gamel is not a solution, he barely qualifies as a bandaid, which leaves this outfield’s fate in the hands of Josh Naylor, Jordan Luplow, and Amed Rosario. Rosario, it should be noted, has only played three innings in the outfield in his Major League career (all in Left Field).
2. First Base
Somehow, Jake Bauers remains on the roster. I truly hoped Cleveland would kick him off the roster, alas the team decided to give him one last chance. If only to ensure he’s not a solid starter like Yandy Diaz. Maybe they dump him quickly and give Bobby Bradley a chance, who would at least bring a new face to the position, even if I have doubts that he’ll vastly improve the position.
3. Team Marketing
Yes, I am nothing if not a broken record: but the fact this team cannot commit to a name change by 2022 is downright insulting to the intelligence of every fan in Cleveland. There is no reason this team should have kept the Indians name for 2022, and there is also no reason why they cannot come up with a name by at least 2022. This team’s incompetence on its own name, in some ways, bars belief and suggests to me that Paul Dolan is hoping people will forget his promise in 2020, and simply move on to other things after the 2021 season. He lacks conviction, and it shows.
1. A Young Roster
Most of them will fail. That is not pessimism, but simple fact: most players who attempt to become Major Leaguers do not succeed. Which makes this year a rebuilding exercise. That being said, some are bound to succeed. If I had to buy chips on anyone my money would favor Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac. I am not sure either will ever match the excellence of Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, or Carlos Carrasco, but they do not have to be aces to be success stories.
2. Team Marketing
I have lots of faith the Twins will stay close to the top of the Central, but we shall see if the White Sox can continue their growth. I remain less bearish on Tony La Russa compared to most; he earned induction into the Hall of Fame for a reason, but the move remains a complete head thumper. Chicago remains its own worst enemy, and if Chicago struggles (along with the expected struggles of Detroit) there’s an opening for Cleveland.
3. Andres Gimenez & Amed Rosario
The return for Lindor is young, cost controlled, and for obvious reasons: uncertain. Gimenez played reasonably well in 2020 (in a short season spanning only 132 PAs). If he can repeat that production he would be a solid starter, if not a star in 2021. Rosario lost his position to Gimenez in New York, and again in Cleveland. Not only will Rosario need to find his footing in the batter’s box, he’ll also need to learn a new position (assuming no injuries). Needless to say: it would not surprise if they did well, but it also would not surprise if they struggled.
I suspect the team will win between 80-85 games. There’s plenty of upside, but also a reasonably low floor. If Jose Ramirez of Shane Bieber gets injured, I struggle to envision a winning team in 2021. In some ways, as Joe Sheehan wrote recently: this team appears even more top heavy in 2021 than it did before the Lindor trade. The fact this team shed so much salary, and still could not find a way to fix their outfield, to me is damning. That being said: the Cleveland Baseball Club remains the best run franchise in the city. This front office is adept at developing starting pitching, and there’s a chance the young position players they accumulated over the past few seasons comes through. I do not expect this team to make the playoffs, but that does not mean I will not try to enjoy Bieber and Jose for as long as Dolan feels like paying them.