Specifically, the Tribe needs Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez to realize their potential as front-end starters. The rotation's struggles last season -- aptly epitomized by the combined woes of Masterson and Jimenez -- served as the catalyst behind Cleveland's second-half collapse.
The Indians require a reversal of fortune in the coming campaign.
"A big part of our success this season will depend upon the extent to which Justin and Ubaldo rebound," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "We're confident in both guys. We know both guys will put in the work to be better this year than they were last year."
Despite last season's showing, Masterson and Jimenez are currently in line to open the 2013 season as the Tribe's rotation leaders once again. Behind them, right-hander Brett Myers -- signed to a one-year deal this offseason -- has a spot on the staff. The last two jobs will be sorted out through a Spring Training competition.
Zach McAllister is a frontrunner for one of the final two openings, with the likes of Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir and David Huff also jockeying for position.
Cleveland believes the additions of Myers, Bauer (acquired from the D-backs as part of a three-team, nine-player trade) and Kazmir (inked to a Minor League deal) have put the team in a better position depth-wise compared to the end of last season. While that seems an accurate assessment, there is no denying that the Tribe's success likely depends on what takes place at the top of the staff.
The Indians need Masterson and Jimenez to become Big Masty and Big U again.
"I think they have a good foundation in place coming into Spring Training," Antonetti said. "They're both very important guys for our team's success."
Last season, Masterson finished 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA and Jimenez turned in a disappointing 9-17 showing with a 5.40 ERA. It marked the first time since 1991 that Cleveland had two starters lose at least 15 games, and it represented the only season in club history in which two starters with 15-plus losses each sported an ERA higher than 4.90.
Overall last season, the Indians' rotation ranked last in the American League in losses (76) and WHIP (1.51), and 13th in ERA (5.25), strikeouts (621) and walks (351). The rotation's 913 1/3 innings logged were the fewest for the Indians since 2001.
Cleveland is banking on Masterson returning closer to his form in 2011, when he went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA over 216 innings. As for Jimenez -- a key trade acquisition midway through the 2011 season -- a performance somewhere between 2010 (19-8, 2.88 ERA) and 2011 (10-13, 4.68) would be beneficial.
The Tribe is also hoping the 32-year-old Myers, who worked as a reliever last year for the White Sox and Astros, can successfully transition back to being a starter. For his career, Myers has gone 89-79 with a 4.27 ERA and a 2.44 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a starter. Last season, among the Tribe's pitchers with at least 15 starts, only McAllister (2.89) and Josh Tomlin (2.24) had a strikeout-to-walk ratio more than 2.00.
Tomlin is expected to miss most, if not all, of 2013 while recovering from reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.
Myers has seven full seasons under his belt as a starter and has logged at least 190 innings in six of those years. His last stint as a starter came in 2011 when he went just 7-14 with a 4.46 ERA for Houston, but it is worth noting that the Astros lost 106 games that season.
"We tried to look at which alternatives would complement our rotation the best," Antonetti said. "And when we looked at Brett's attributes -- his competitiveness, his strike-throwing ability, his consistency when he was a starter, his ability to log innings -- those all were attractive attributes in terms of how he fit with the rest of our starting pitching options."
McAllister, 25, showed promise as a rookie last season, going 5-4 with a 3.50 ERA before fatigue set in late in the season. Over his final seven outings, the big right-hander went 1-4 with a 6.11 ERA. Still, Cleveland felt the young pitcher showed enough potential, along with an ability to adjust and learn, to give him an edge on the competition this spring for a rotation job.
"McAllister has a leg up on the other guys," Antonetti said. "And then there will be a competition, especially for the last spot in the rotation. Carrasco, Kluber, Bauer and Kazmir are the primary candidates at this point, and Huff to a certain degree. Huff will also be an option for the bullpen."
Bauer was a key component within the complicated December trade involving Arizona and Cincinnati. By acquiring the young right-hander -- rated as the 17th-best prospect in baseball by MLB.com -- the Tribe added a potential impact arm to its system. Last year, Bauer had a rocky four-start stint with the D-backs, but went 12-2 with a 2.44 ERA and 157 strikeouts in 130 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.
Another interesting candidate will be the 25-year-old Carrasco, who missed all of last season due to a right elbow injury, but now has a clean bill of health. In 2011, Carrasco went 8-9 with a 4.62 ERA in 21 injury-marred outings for the Tribe. One factor to keep in mind with Carrasco is that he will likely face an innings limit this season.
"In Carlos' case," Antonetti said, "we do have to be cognizant of him completing his rehab process and his innings restrictions this year."
That said, Carrasco still has a realistic shot at making the Opening Day staff.
"We'll try to go with the team that we feel gives us the best chance to win games to start the season," Antonetti said. "That'll be the primary driver in any decisions we make in Spring Training."