MLB

Can the Cleveland Indians Contend in 2020?

The Minnesota Twins won the AL Central last season, and it’s probably safe to say they’re not going anywhere. The Chicago White Sox have also received a lot of attention this past winter for their moves, as they’re expected to improve in 2020. But about the Indians’ chances at contending in 2020? Let’s take a look at their squad.

Indians in 2019

For the first time since 2015, Cleveland missed the playoffs, despite winning 93 games during the regular season. But even though they failed to play October baseball, there were some positive takeaways from last season. The Indians saw right-hander pitcher Shane Bieber establish himself as a dominant starter, while rookies Zach Plesac (3.81 ERA, 124 ERA+) and Aaron Civale (2.34 ERA, 3.40 FIP) had fine first seasons.

Offensively, Francisco Lindor (32 HR, 74 XBH, .854 OPS) was, well Francisco Lindor, while Carlos Santana (34 HR, 108 BB and .911 OPS across 158 games) had quite the comeback year. Jose Ramirez, meanwhile, struggled badly during the early parts of 2019. But after recording a slash line of .327/.365/.739 after the All-Star break, he played a big role for an Indians team that won 90 or more games for the fourth consecutive season.

Indians Heading Into 2020

As far as the Indians’ pitching staff goes, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber should once again be a formidable 1-2 combo at the front of Cleveland’s rotation. Carlos Carrasco missed over three months last season after a leukemia diagnosis, but returned late last season and will look to rebound in 2020. Zach Plesac should open up this season in the rotation, but the fifth spot in the rotation should be up for grabs. Adam Plutko, Logan Allen and Aaron Civale all are potential options for that spot.

Offensively, the Indians should look relatively the same in 2020 compared to last season. The only major difference will be at second base, as the Indians picked up Cesar Hernandez in free agency after he was non-tendered by the Phillies. Another question surrounding Cleveland will be what the Indians will look like in the outfield. Franmil Reyes, who was acquired in the three-team deal that sent Trevor Bauer to the Reds, should be an exciting bat to watch for Cleveland in 2020. However, Reyes’ fielding ability isn’t particularly strong. Reyes only played three of the 51 games he played with the Indians last season in the outfield (the rest were as DH), and it’s safe to expect about the same this season. That leaves Oscar Mercado, who’s a lock to start for Cleveland in 2020, along with Tyler Naquin, Bradley Zimmer, Greg Allen and Delino DeShields as options to get time in the Indians’ outfield.

What to Expect from Cleveland in 2020

Considering the talent on the Indians’ roster heading into 2020, they’ll be a competitor for sure in the American League. However, it won’t be easy for Cleveland to make the playoffs this season. For one, Cleveland will need consistency out of the back-end of their rotation. Clevinger and Bieber will be fine, but what about Zach Plesac? The righty had a decent rookie season, but the advanced analytics point (below average exit velocities and xSLG) point to some possible problems. The Indians do have depth with Civale and Allen, meaning if Plesac or one of their pitchers falters, Cleveland has some backup options.

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And in the field, not only do the Indians have some questions in the outfield, but there’s also the issue of Francisco Lindor. Lindor is eligible to become a free agent after next season, and it’s still very unclear as to whether he’ll be in Cleveland after 2021. If Cleveland believes they can’t retain him, then the Indians may need to consider moving him, possibly as soon as this season. That way, Cleveland can maximize the return they can get on the star shortstop and plan for the future. If the Indians do choose to move him this year, that will no doubt affect their plans to compete.

But assuming all of Cleveland’s pieces stay with the Indians, they’ll be a competitor for sure. However, it’s going to be difficult for the Indians to make it. Cleveland does have some holes on their roster, and the American League is filled with talented teams entering the season. The Twins look like a World Series contender, and the White Sox improved substantially over the offseason. And with Oakland and Tampa Bay expecting to be competitive once again, it certainly won’t be an easy season for the Indians.


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