Beset with injuries and saddled with some weak performers, Cleveland’s 2008 season was a major disappointment. Symptomatic of their season, the Indians failed to hammer out a contract extension with ace C.C. Sabathia and unceremoniously traded him in July. Despite a huge void atop their rotation, the 2009 forecast in Cleveland is sunny and mild provided some key components return healthy and motivated. In a fairly wide open AL Central, the Indians have enough talent to be viable contenders. That should help their fantasy talent likewise retain value all season.
Cliff Lee (SP): It’s doubtful most fantasy gamers even scouted Lee one year ago. Following an impressive run in which he averaged 15 wins annually from 2004-06, things unraveled. Battling an abdominal strain in 2007, Lee was ineffective and eventually demoted to Triple-A. The final tally was fewer than 100 innings and just five wins with Cleveland. Entering 2008 he faced an uphill challenge merely to secure a rotation spot. His triumphant return has “made for TV movie” emblazoned on it. Lee sizzled out of the gate, recording six consecutive wins. He seldom faltered, only twice dropping consecutive starts, en route to a virtuoso 22-3 finish and the AL Cy Young Award. It’s difficult envisioning a return to those rarified heights, but if he compiles 200 innings, Lee should snag 16 wins.
Victor Martinez (C/1B): Martinez is a major reason the Indians disappointed last year. Expected to anchor the offense, he became a magnet for various ailments, enduring elbow, hamstring, neck and hand injuries. The cumulative effect restricted him to just 266 at-bats. His power stroke landed in the deep freeze as he didn’t smoke his first homer until September. September did portend an improved 2009, however, as Martinez closed out the month with a .288 average and 14 RBI. Increasing, his 2007 season looks like an outlier (.301, 25 HR, 114 RBI). With a return to health and strict limits on his time behind the plate, though, a rebound can be expected. He’ll likely see added time at first to minimize wear and tear while retaining catcher eligibility in most mixed leagues. Here’s hoping Martinez remains healthy long enough to contribute 17 homers, 85 RBI and a .295 average.
Johnny Peralta (SS): No one benefited more from the absences of Martinez and Travis Hafner last year than Peralta. Batting cleanup, he proceeded to establish a career-high 89 RBI, clubbed 23 homers and scored 104 times to lead all AL shortstops. Peralta had struggled under the weight of expectations following a superb 2005 campaign (24/78/.292) but has finally reconciled with it. He’s among the few shortstops offering 20 homer, 80 RBI potential and should return meaty value if selected in the ninth round.
Mark DeRosa (3B): It’s difficult to register a career season in your walk year, but DeRosa orchestrated it beautifully. He merely established career highs in homers (21), RBI (87), walks, runs scored, on-base and slugging percentage in 2008. He was rewarded with a trip to Cleveland when traded by the Cubs to dump salary. DeRosa will start at third and given his versatility will probably see action at the other infield slots. He turns 34 this season, so last year’s power numbers are due for some regression. Absent injury, he should provide 16 homers, 80 RBI and a .280 average. His ability to play multiple positions makes him more valuable for fantasy purposes than in real life.
Kerry Wood (RP): Another former Cub transitioning to the AL, Wood joined the growing list of starting pitchers shifting to closer. Wood’s mechanics were causing recurrent injuries as a front liner, but coming out of the pen proved therapeutic as he etched 34 saves in 2008. Equally impressive were his 84:18 K:BB ratio in 66 innings with just three home runs allowed. Wood gives Cleveland a power closer for the first time in eons and should garner 40 saves if his shoulder doesn’t betray him. He has missed time this spring with a stiff back but don’t let that deter you. If he falls to you in the 12th round, grab hold.
Ryan Garko (1B): Garko was touted as an explosive bat in the middle of Cleveland’s lineup entering last season, but the power appeared sporadically. Yes, he contributed 90 RBI but hit just 14 homers and recorded a puny .404 slugging percentage. He’s a defensive liability which will further restrict playing opportunities, as both Martinez and Kelly Shoppach are expected to see additional time at first this season. Given the muddled picture, Garko will be fortunate to belt 15 homers with 75 RBI.
Kelly Shoppach (C): Stepping in for the oft-injured Martinez, Shoppach had a most successful audition, establishing career highs in homers (21) and RBI (55). He will certainly be retained as Martinez’s backup and also receive the occasional start at first base. Unless Martinez goes down again, it’s doubtful Shoppach will approach his 2008 totals. Don‘t bid expecting last year‘s model.
Travis Hafner (DH): “Pronk” hasn’t hit 25 homers or batted .300 since 2006. He lost virtually all of the 2008 season to a right shoulder injury. Upon returning for a September cameo, hit just .122 (5-for-41) with one homer. He underwent off-season shoulder surgery and is currently rehabbing. A late bloomer, Hafner turns 32 this season and there is no assurance he will regain his once formidable power. His 2009 exhibition debut has already been postponed due to lingering shoulder discomfort and he is only DH eligible in most leagues. To quote Inspector Harry Callahan (aka Dirty Harry), “Do you feel lucky? Well do you?”
Carl Pavano (SP): Cleveland resorted to extreme measures to fill its starting rotation with the signing of Pavano as its third starter. Following an 18-win season in 2004, Pavano inked a four year, $39.95 million dollar deal with the Yankees. He expressed his gratitude in a novel way, recording nine wins…over four seasons. He is always on the verge of a comeback only to fall victim to some new injury. Given his track record, it’s highly unlikely he’ll give Cleveland meaningful innings or rack up many wins. Abandon ship.
Shin Soo Choo (OF): A stellar talent that Seattle literally gave away, Choo received regular playing time and was sensational during the second half of 2008. He batted a scintillating .343 with 11 homers, 48 RBI and a pulse quickening .614 slugging percentage. He represents another lefty bat in the lineup and is viewed as a lock to start in right field. He doesn’t run much (four steals a year ago) but like most Asian imports, Choo is a highly disciplined hitter with few exploitable weaknesses. He won’t sneak up on anyone this season, so his average should moderate. He qualifies as a major sleeper with 20 homer, 80 RBI and .290 potential, representing an excellent 15th round value.
Fausto Carmona (SP): When Carmona was unleashed upon the league in 2007, Cleveland never expected to reap a 19-win bonanza from the 23-year old. Although expectations last year were high, Tribe brass hoping for even 15 wins were driven to tears. Carmona contracted a severe case of sophomoreitis, finishing just 8-7 with an ugly 5.44 ERA. His woes began with a strained left hip sustained in May that shelved him for two months. After returning, Carmona was besieged by opposing batters, stumbling to the finish 3-5 with a 7.61 ERA in his last nine starts. Carmona walked more batters than he struck out, the kiss of death for a finesse pitcher. He’s slated as the Indians’ No. 2 starter but unless he solves the control issues it could be a short-lived assignment. Expect his ERA to drop at least a run with perhaps 12 wins. Even when he’s racking up victories, his elevated ERA and inability to strike anyone out make him a risky proposition for mixed leaguers.
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