Closer: Joe Borowski
, 45 saves, 5.07 ERA in 2007
RH setup man: Rafael Betancourt
, 1.47 ERA in 2007
LH setup man: Rafael Perez
, 1.78 ERA in 2007
The new guys
RHP Masahide Kobayashi:
With nine seasons and 227 saves under his belt in the Japanese Pacific League, the 33-year-old Kobayashi is ready to test the Major League waters. He'll break in as a middle reliever for the Tribe, with the possibility of taking on a more prominent role as the season progresses.
IF Jamey Carroll:
Carroll, acquired for a player to be named in a trade with the Rockies, will take over the Indians' infield utility role, filling in primarily for Cabrera at second base, when necessary, and also serving as a late-inning defensive specialist and pinch-runner.
RHP Jorge Julio:
The most high-profile of the Indians' non-roster invitees deserves mention here, only because he was such a stabilizer in the Rockies' bullpen in 2007. Signed to a Minor League deal, Julio has a shot at landing the final spot in the Tribe's bullpen.
Prospects to watch
RHP Adam Miller:
Is this the year Miller, the Tribe's top prospect, makes his first impression on the big leagues? If he's healthy, the answer is yes. A bruised finger and a strained elbow kept him from breaking in last season. But when he's healthy, Miller is a dominant arm who could play a role in the rotation or, perhaps, the bullpen.
OF Trevor Crowe:
Crowe, the Tribe's No. 1 pick in the 2005 Draft, had an abysmal first half at Double-A Akron in 2007, but the Indians were encouraged by the way he bounced back late. He is a prototypical leadoff guy who might be ready for prime time by season's end.
1B/OF Jordan Brown:
Brown has been putting up monster numbers in the Minors the last two seasons. He was the Carolina League MVP in '06 and the Eastern League MVP in '07. If he can take that success to Triple-A this year, his big league clock will be ticking, though he's currently road-blocked by Garko.
Returning from injury
OF Shin-Soo Choo:
Dellucci: Brought in last season to be the Tribe's left fielder against right-handed pitching, Dellucci labored at the plate for two and a half months before tearing his hamstring, essentially ending his season. He'll report to camp back at full strength and hungry to prove last year is no indication of what he can bring to this club.
Choo was the Indians' everyday right fielder at the end of '06, but the signing of Trot Nixon, followed by an elbow injury that required Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, pulled him off the club's radar in '07. Once he's healthy, Choo, who is out of Minor League options, will be on the Tribe's big league roster, with a chance to grab a corner outfield spot.
On the rebound
Mere mortals would have been happy to drive in 100 runs last season, but Hafner's production the three seasons prior was so off the charts that '07 was considered a down year for Pronk. The most troubling stat was his .224 average with runners in scoring position.
LHP Cliff Lee:
Lee's abysmal '07 season (5-8, 6.29 ERA) saw him land in Triple-A, just two years after he won 18 games for the Tribe and one year after he signed a long-term contract extension. He'll come into camp looking to compete for the fifth starting job. He could also become trade bait.
LHP Jeremy Sowers: What was to be Sowers' first full season in the big leagues instead resulted in a midseason demotion to Triple-A. Like Lee, he'll be competing with Laffey for the final rotation spot.
LF Kenny Lofton:
A fan favorite, for sure, but with Dellucci healthy, Lofton didn't fit into the Indians' plans any longer. His return to Cleveland at the trading deadline last year made for a feel-good story, but it still didn't result in Lofton's ultimate, and thus far unfulfilled, goal of earning a World Series ring.
Unfortunately, Nixon became better known for slamming pies in his teammates' faces than for anything he did at the plate, though he did come through with some big knocks in the postseason. Nixon's greatest contribution was the looseness he brought to the Tribe clubhouse. But Gutierrez swiped his job on the field.
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Can the Indians sign C.C.?
2007 hitting leaders (min. 200 at-bats)
Avg.: Martinez, .301
OBP: Sizemore, .390
SLG: Martinez, .505
Runs: Sizemore, 118
RBIs: Martinez, 114
Hits: Sizemore, 174
2B: Martinez, 40
3B: Sizemore, 5
HR: Martinez, 25
SB: Sizemore, 33
2007 pitching leaders (min. 30 IP)
IP: Sabathia, 241
W: Sabathia and Carmona, 19
L: Westbrook, 9
Win %: Sabathia, 19-7, .731
S: Borowski, 45
ERA: Betancourt, 1.47
K: Sabathia, 209
K/9: Perez, 9.20
WHIP: Betancourt, 0.76
It's been the question of the winter, and it will persist into the spring. The Indians have made Sabathia a formal offer that's been sitting on the table since the holidays. But Johan Santana's long-term extension with the Mets certainly complicates things, as it can be viewed as a comparable contract. The Indians are willing to keep negotiations with Sabathia open throughout the '08 season.
2. Who will win the fifth starting spot?
This was Laffey's job at the end of the '07 season, and manager Eric Wedge was impressed with the poise he showed at the big league level in the season's final two months. But Laffey will be pushed by the veteran Lee and the wily Sowers, both of whom will look to capitalize on the lessons they learned in a tough '07.
3. Will a trade be made?
The bottom line
Third baseman Andy Marte is out of Minor League options, which inevitably leads to some trade rumblings, but he's expected to be on the big league bench. Lee might be less of a sure thing, because the Indians would be understandably hesitant to pay him $3.75 million to pitch in Triple-A. Big league clubs are always looking for pitching help (especially left-handed help), so expect to hear Lee's name in the rumor mill, at the least.
If this team looks familiar, it's by design. The Indians took the rare opportunity in professional sports to essentially bring back the same club that won a division title last season. They'll be counting on Hafner returning to his old self and the pitching being deep enough to tangle with the revamped Tigers.