CLEVELAND -- The Indians pulled off an improbable feat last season by making the postseason. Now, Cleveland is tasked with living up to the kind of expectations that become attached to a team that no longer has the element of surprise.
That journey begins this week with the onset of Spring Training, where the Tribe returns with much of the same roster that captured the American League's top Wild Card spot last summer. The Indians tied a franchise record by improving by 24 wins from one year to the next. Taking the next step will not be an easy task.
"Going from 92 [wins] to 95 is hard," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Consistency, depth, a little bit of luck. It takes all of that."
The Indians believe they are up to the challenge.
"You brought in all those new guys last year, you saw the chemistry that happened," All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "This is just one year down the road. Everyone is more comfortable with each other now. You can ask everyone. Everyone is looking forward to Spring Training. I don't know if you could say that in years past.
"This year, we know the guys we have in ther locker room. We know that we can win with these guys in the locker room, so everyone is kind of optimistic and looking forward to getting started. It's a good group of guys to play with, I can tell you that."
Rather than overhauling the roster like two offseasons ago, Cleveland made smaller moves to solidify a handful of areas this winter. The Indians signed veteran David Murphy to man right field, inked John Axford to take over as the new closer and traded for lefty reliever Josh Outman. The Tribe also made an assortment of moves to build layers of depth behind the roster in place.
Kipnis returns as one of the catalysts for a lineup that includes Michael Bourn, Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher and Michael Brantley. The rotation will again be led by All-Star Justin Masterson, followed by a trio of younger arms in Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Zach McAllister. The bulk of the returning cast played key roles in Cleveland's memorable season last year.
"I hope that's just the beginning," Francona said. "I didn't know what to expect last year. I don't think anybody did. But my expectations are never going to change, regardless of who's playing what position. We just try to win the game that day. Now, there's a process before that. It starts in Spring Training."
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Home vs. Reds, Feb. 26 at 3:05 p.m. ET
Away vs. A's, March 31 at 10:05 p.m. ET
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Who will be the fifth starter?
Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer and Shaun Marcum head into camp as the four primary candidates for the final spot in the Tribe's rotation. Carrasco might have a leg up on the competition, considering he is out of Minor League options. That said, he could also slide to the bullpen if one of the other three options emerge as the best choice. Tomlin and Marcum are returning from injuries, while Bauer is hoping to see the benefits of last season's delivery changes.
2. Can Santana handle third base?
Santana spent a portion of his offseason working out at the hot corner during winter ball in the Dominican Republic. With Yan Gomes entrenched as Cleveland's starting catcher, the switch-hitting Santana is looking for more ways to stay in the lineup. The Indians still have Lonnie Chisenhall for third base, but his inconsistency helped pave the way for the experiment with Santana. The versatile Santana will see action at third base this spring to see what the future holds.
3. Can the Indians' bullpen overcome losses?
Cleveland parted ways with former closer Chris Perez, and also lost setup man Joe Smith, righty Matt Albers and lefty Rich Hill to free agency this winter. Axford will assume the ninth-inning duties, while the Indians hope relievers such as Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski and Outman can make up the innings lost. The Tribe traded a lot of experience for potential, but the team feels the pieces in place can mesh to create a solid bullpen.
92-70, second in the American League Central
Projected batting order
1. CF Michael Bourn:
.263 BA, .316 OBP, .360 SLG, 6 HR, 50 RBI in 2013
2. 1B Nick Swisher:
.246 BA, .341 OBP, .423 SLG, 22 HR, 63 RBI in 2013
3. 2B Jason Kipnis:
.284 BA, .366 OBP, .452 SLG, 17 HR, 84 RBIs in 2013
4. DH Carlos Santana:
.268 BA, .377 OBP, .455 SLG, 20 HR, 74 RBIs in 2013
5. LF Michael Brantley:
.284 BA, .332 OBP, .396 SLG, 10 HR, 73 RBIs in 2013
6. SS Asdrubal Cabrera:
.242 BA, .299 OBP, .402 SLG, 14 HR, 64 RBIs in 2013
7. RF David Murphy:
.220 BA, .282 OBP, .374 SLG, 13 HR, 45 RBIs in 2013
8. C Yan Gomes:
.294 BA, .345 OBP, .481 SLG, 11 HR, 38 RBIs in 2013
9. 3B Lonnie Chisenhall:
.225 BA, .270 OBP, .398 SLG, 11 HR, 36 RBI in 2013
1. Justin Masterson, 14-10, 3.45 ERA in 2013
2. Corey Kluber, 11-5, 3.85 ERA in 2013
3. Danny Salazar, 2-3, 3.12 ERA in 2013
4. Zach McAllister, 9-9, 3.75 ERA in 2013
5. Carlos Carrasco, 1-4 6.75 ERA in 2013
The new guys
RHP David Aardsma: The Indians added the 32-year-old Aardsma on a Minor League deal, giving him a chance to compete for a bullpen job. He saved 69 games for Seattle from 2009-10, and had a 4.31 ERA in 43 games for the Mets last season.
3B David Adams: Signed to a Major League contract this winter, the 26-year-old Adams hit .193 in 43 games for the Yankees last season. The third baseman posted a .771 OPS at Triple-A in 2013 and has an .817 career OPS in the Minor Leagues.
RHP Scott Atchison: The 37-year-old Atchison, who has a 3.64 ERA in parts of seven Major League seasons, will be in camp as a non-roster invitee with the Tribe. Last year, the righty posted a 4.37 ERA in 50 games for the Mets.
RHP Axford: The 30-year-old Axford signed a one-year deal with a base salary of $4.5 million after posting a 4.02 ERA in 75 games for the Brewers and Cardinals last season. The right-hander had 105 saves for Milwaukee across the 2010-12 seasons.
RHP Travis Banwart: Banwart joined the Indians on a Minor League contract, giving the club a layer of starting depth. Last season, the 27-year-old right-hander went 10-5 with a 4.60 ERA in 29 games at Triple-A Sacramento (Oakland).
C Luke Carlin: Carlin, 33, rejoins the Indians after spending last season with Triple-A Salt Lake in the Angels' system. The catcher spent the 2010-12 seasons between the Minors and Majors with the Tribe, and has 56 big league games on his resume.
RHP Tyler Cloyd: The 26-year-old Cloyd signed a Minor League contract with the Indians after going 5-9 with a 4.71 ERA in 19 starts at Triple-A for the Phillies in '13. He has a 5.98 ERA in 19 career games for Philadelphia between the 2012-13 seasons.
OF Jeff Francoeur: Francoeur, 30, signed a Minor League contract after a subpar season in 2013, during which he was released by both the Royals and Giants. The outfielder hit just .204 last year, but had an .805 OPS in 2011 and has hit .285 (.800 OPS) against lefties for his career.
LHP Colt Hynes: The 28-year-old Hynes signed a Minor League deal with Cleveland and is one of six lefty relief options slated to be in camp. Last year, he had a 1.52 ERA with 58 strikeouts against just two walks in 47 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A for the Padres.
INF Elliot Johnson: The utility infielder hit just .209 in 111 games last year between stints with the Royals and Braves, but did post a .277 average (.712 OPS) in September for Atlanta. Johnson, 29, can play the infield and outfield and will be in camp as a non-roster invitee.
1B Bryan LaHair: The 31-year-old first baseman and corner outfielder signed a Minor League deal with the Indians and will compete for a bench job this spring. Hit .230 for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks last season in Japan, but was an All-Star with the Cubs in 2012.
RHP Marcum: In camp as a non-roster invitee, the 32-year-old Marcum will be looking to continue his comeback from thoracic outlet syndrome. The righty went 54-32 with a 3.67 ERA between 2007-12 with the Blue Jays and Brewers, but went 1-10 with a 5.29 ERA last year with the Mets.
OF Nyjer Morgan: The 33-year-old Morgan returns to a big league camp after spending last season playing in Japan. A non-roster invitee for the Indians, Morgan has a .280/.341/.364 career slash line in parts of six Major League seasons.
OF Murphy: Signed to a two-year, $12-million contract, Murphy will take over as Cleveland's regular right fielder, especially against right-handed pitching. The lefty-hitting outfielder hit just .220 (.656 OPS) with Texas last season, but had a .304 (.859) showing in 2012.
LHP Outman: Cleveland aquired Outman from the Rockies in December in exchange for outfielder Drew Stubbs. Outman (out of options) is a favorite to land a bullpen gig after holding lefties to a .198 average in 2013, when he had a 4.33 ERA in 61 games for Colorado.
C Matt Treanor: The 37-year-old Treanor sat out all of last season while recovering from surgery on his left knee. The backup catcher signed a Minor League contract with the Indians and has a .221 average in parts of nine seasons in the big leagues.
LHP Mike Zagurski: The 31-year-old left-hander has a 7.05 ERA in 89 games in parts of five big league seasons spent with four teams. Last year at Triple-A (between three different organizations), Zagurski had 83 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings to go along with a 3.04 ERA.
Prospects to watch
1B Jesus Aguilar The right-handed-hitting first baseman posted a .275/.349/.427 slash line with 16 homers, 28 doubles and 105 RBIs for Double-A Akron last year. Aguilar then launched 18 homers in 58 games in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason.
indians top prospects
RHP Cody Anderson: The 23-year-old starter went 9-4 with a 2.65 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 136 innings between Class A (high) Carolina and Double-A Akron last season. Anderson was the recipient of the Indians' 2013 Bob Feller Award, honoring him as the system's top pitcher.
RHP Bauer: Acquired from the D-backs last offseason, the 23-year-old Bauer overhauled his delivery in '13, going 6-7 with a 4.15 ERA in 121 1/3 innings at Triple-A for the Tribe. The righty also had a 5.29 ERA in four starts for Cleveland, who will give him a shot at a rotation job this spring.
LHP Kyle Crockett: Selected in the fourth round of the 2013 Draft, Crocket posted a 0.36 ERA with 32 strikeouts and five walks in 24 2/3 innings across three levels. The lefty reliever ended the season at Double-A and is already on Cleveland's radar.
RHP C.C. Lee: The 27-year-old sidearmer posted a 4.15 ERA in eight games for the Indians last year and will be in camp vying for a bullpen job. At three Minor League levels last year, the righty had a 2.48 ERA with 37 strikeouts and 10 walks in 29 innings.
SS Francisco Lindor: Cleveland's top prospect will get a taste of big league camp this spring after posting a .303/.380/.407 slash line in 104 games between Class (high) Carolina and Double-A Akron last season. Lindor is viewed as the future shortstop for the Indians and could debut in the Majors this year.
RHP Bryan Price: Acquired in the 2009 trade that sent Victor Martinez to the Red Sox, the 27-year-old Price is now knocking on the big league's door. Between Double-A and Triple-A last season, the righty had a 2.04 ERA with 92 strikeouts and 16 walks in 75 innings.
On the rebound
CF Bourn: Bourn dealt with a variety of injuries in his first season with the Indians, limiting him to 130 games. The center fielder's on-base percentage slipped to .316 and he stole just 23 bases after averaging more than 50 thefts in the previous five years.
SS Cabrera: The switch-hitting shortstop got off to a slow start, dealt with injuries and sustained another second-half fade. The result was a disappointing .242/.299/.402 slash line for Cabrera, who will be looking to bounce back in a contract year for Cleveland.
RHP Frank Herrmann: While competing for a bullpen job, the right-hander sustained a right elbow injury last spring that required Tommy John surgery. After sitting out all of last season, Herrmann will once again be vying for one of the vacancies in the Tribe's relief corps.
RHP Vinnie Pestano: After posting a 2.45 ERA with 160 strikeouts in 132 innings across the 2011-12 seasons, emerging as one of baseball's top setup men, Pestano dealt with injury, inconsistency and a trip to the Minors in '13. He'll be competing for a spot in the Tribe's bullpen this spring.
1B Swisher In the first year of a four-year contract with the Indians, Swisher posted a .246/.341/.423 slash line, falling short of expectations. A strong September helped him finish with a team-high 22 home runs, but Swisher will be looking for more production this season.
RHP Tomlin: The right-hander won 12 games for the Indians in 2011, but then sustained a right elbow injury in '12 that required surgery. Tomlin returned from Tommy John surgery last year, but only appeared in one game for Cleveland. He'll be vying for a rotation of bullpen job this spring.
RHP Blake Wood: Another veteran of Tommy John surgery, Wood showed off a high-velocity fastball in a brief stint with the Indians in September. The right-hander will be among a long list of arms trying to win a spot in the bullpen this spring.
RHP Albers: The right-hander logged 63 innings for the Indians last season, posting a 3.14 ERA in 56 games. He signed a one-year, $2.25-million deal with the Astros this winter.
LHP Hill: The left-hander appeared in 63 games for the Indians in 2013, turning in a 6.28 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings. He signed a Minor League deal with the Red Sox.
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez: Jimenez played a key role in Cleveland's run to the postseason, going 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA and 194 strikeouts on the season. He remains unsigned as of this writing.
LHP Scott Kazmir: The lefty went 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA and 162 strikeouts one year after pitching in Indy ball. He signed a two-year contract worth $22 million with Oakland this winter.
OF Jason Kubel: Acquired via trade last season, Kubel hit just .167 in eight games with the Indians down the stretch. He inked a Minor League contract with the Twins.
C Lou Marson: Cleveland cut ties with the backup catcher after injuries limited him to only three games in the Majors last season. The Phillies signed Marson to a Minor League contract.
RHP Perez: Cleveland's all-time saves leader (124), Perez was released after a turbulent year both on and off the field. Perez signed a one-year, $2.3-million deal with the Dodgers.
RHP Smith: The veteran sidearmer turned in a 2.76 ERA in 303 games in parts of five seasons with the Indians. He signed a three-year, $15.75-million deal with the Angels this winter.
OF Stubbs: Serving as the Tribe's main right fielder last year, Stubbs turned in a .233/.305/.360 slash line in 146 games. He was traded to Colorado in December in exchange for Outman.