With Opening Day rapidly approaching, MLB.com spent a few minutes discussing the state of the Indians with Cleveland's radio team of Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus in Goodyear, Ariz. They discussed the pitching staff, offense, challenges ahead and a favorite moment from the Tribe's Wild Card run last summer.
MLB.com: We've been in Goodyear now for a couple of weeks. We've been able to see the team and see the decisions they're making. Tom, they lost a couple of important pitchers from last season, Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. They're trusting guys like Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar. What do you think about the rotation and how it looks going into this year?
Hamilton: Well, you know what I think? In asking Tito (Terry Francona) that same question, he feels better about the starting pitching now than he did a year ago at this time, because Kazmir hadn't pitched in the big leagues for a couple of years, and with Ubaldo Jimenez, he hadn't had a good year for a couple of years. Obviously, they gave the Indians a lot last year, but you've got Josh Tomlin back, and I think he's a guy that's going to be a big part of this. He's kind of a guy that's flown under the radar.
McAllister and Kluber are a year old, and Kluber is a guy who could really break out ot it. And Danny Salazar for a full season. You know how it is. That pitching depth can be gone in the blink of an eye, and we've seen that, whether it's Florida or Arizona this spring, the plethora of Tommy John surgeries has been incredible. That can devastate the season.
MLB.com: Along the lines of pitching depth, too, there was lots of turnover in the bullpen. There's a new closer, John Axford. A young guy, Cody Allen, is the new setup guy. Vinnie Pestano is back on the team after an up-and-down year. Jim, what do you think about the bullpen and kind of its new look and the potential it has for this year?
Rosenhaus: I think in John Axford, you're looking at someone who finished the season very strong a year ago and, as a result, there's a lot of confidence there. But I think it was important to keep, at least at the start, Allen and (Bryan) Shaw in familiar roles for them. And then, if things develop in another direction, they can adjust from there. At least at the start, keeping them in their roles I think was important. And Vinnie Pestano looks this spring like the Pestano that we were used to seeing prior to last season, and that's got to be a big help in terms of depth.
Then you have some kind of wild cards in there. Scott Atchison could still make this ballclub. Blake Wood has been very impressive this spring. He might start in the Minor Leagues, but who knows? We may see him at different points in the season. So there's some options there, and I think they like what they have from the left side, a little more depth this year heading into the season than they had a year ago, with Marc Rzepczynski and Josh Outman. It's potentially a deeper bullpen this year.
MLB.com: The offense was one of the better ones in the American League last year, even though it had guys underperform. Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher maybe didn't live up to their own personal standards, and certainly maybe what fans expected. So there's some potential for a bounceback. Then, they add a guy like David Murphy to come in here. What do you think about the offense and where it might stack up this season?
Hamilton: I think you hit it on the head. When you talk about the three guys -- Cabrera, Swisher and Bourn -- that didn't have their typical years. Nobody had a career year. Usually, when you have a surprise playoff team that maybe came from nowhere, and I think a lot of people thought that about the Indians a year ago, two or three guys have career years. Nobody had that last year. In fact, guys as you mentioned, were below what they normally do. So, I think if guys just have average years, that this offense is even that much better than it was a year ago.
I think, too, you're going to see Carlos Santana have an even bigger year, because he's not going to be catching. He may be the backup catcher, but I think he's going to really blossom not having that burden of being an everyday catcher and whatnot. I think Santana's going to have a big year. So, I think offensively, it's a better team than it was a year ago.
Now, again, you'd like to see Michael Bourn healthy, and you really do wonder about that leg now, because that hamstring, this is the second year and he had all winter to get better. You need to get Michael Bourn back healthy.
MLB.com: Tom mentioned Michael Bourn's legs. Jim, what would you see as the biggest concern that faces the team entering this season? Whether that's health, whether it's an aspect of the roster, what do you think is going to be a big challenge?
Rosenhaus: I wonder, and it certainly it appears as if they're heading down a road where Carlos Santana would be that everyday third baseman, and then backup catcher as well. No one else in the Major Leagues has that dynamic, and you wonder just if they would get caught short in late-game situations, if they feel they have to substitute defensively for him, and you're without a backup catcher late in a ballgame. I think that might be tricky to manage early on, but gosh, would you put it past Terry Francona to kind of figure it out and see what happens? I think they're going to at least try it at the start of the season and see how it goes.
MLB.com: There were a lot of great moments last year. A lot of people point to your call of the Jason Giambi home run in September. Do you have a favorite moment from last season? Does that rank up there? Was it the last play of the final game? The Wild Card Game? What was your favorite moment from last season?
Hamilton: I think it's Giambi, and it has nothing to do with my call, because Jason Giambi is the guy that provides the theatrics and made that last week possible. I just thought, had they lost that ballgame, they would not have recovered. Yeah, I know you're supposed to put yesterday in the rearview mirror, but when you get that close that late in the season, that would've been a devastating loss that I don't think they would've recovered from. Because of what it meant, because of maybe who did it and how well thought of Jason Giambi is, that was one of those magical moments that we kind of expected back in the mid-90s, and we revisited it last September.