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March 20, 2014

Can the Indians stay competitive?

By Joshua Hoover

In 2013, the Cleveland Indians shocked much of the baseball world, both by acquiring free agents Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn and by making the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

In the 2013-14 off season, however, the team didn’t make very many moves, with the signing of outfielder David Murphy to a two-year, $12 million contract the largest one, while losing several players to free agency, including two starting pitchers and their set-up man.

This has left many questions regarding the ability of the team to stay competitive in 2014.

Who will be the fifth starter?

Justin Masterson, coming off of a career-best season in 2013, is unquestionably the ace of the staff, and he will be followed by Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar.
The fifth starter is being determined during Spring Training, with the candidates narrowed down to Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco and Aaron Harang.

According to Nick Camino, WTAM’s Indian’s reporter, Carrasco and Tomlin seem to be slightly ahead of Harang. Both pitchers have started for Cleveland in the past, and both have looked very good through Spring Training so far.

No matter which one ends up as the fifth starter, there is a very good chance that all three will pitch for Cleveland at some point during the season, as it is common for teams to use up to 10 different pitchers during the season, both to account for injuries and as spot starters for double headers.

Can Carlos Santana be the everyday third baseman?

During the off season, Carlos Santana, the Indians former everyday catcher, began playing third base in the Dominican winter league. Santana did this as a way to stay on the field, as the emergence last season of Yan Gomes as the Indians everyday catcher threatened to send Santana to a role as the team’s designated hitter, something that he wanted to avoid if at all possible.

During spring training, Santana has been playing mostly third base, where Camino says, “He surprised me, he looks like a third baseman.”

If Santana starts off as the opening day third baseman, it could push former top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall to a bench roll, or he could be optioned down to the Indians Triple A team in Columbus.

Will Swisher, Bourn and Cabrera return to form?

Last season, Swisher, Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera all had years that ranked among their career-worst.

For the Indians to remain competitive this season, they are all going to have to contribute closer to their average numbers.

“I think that Cabrera will have a bounce back year,” Camino said. “He’s a guy that was an all-star, and he’s coming into a contract year.”

Both Swisher and Bourn were injured for some of the season last year as well, so a return to health should help them bring their numbers back in line with what they are capable of. Bourn, however, injured his hamstring during the game on March 16 and could miss Opening Day.

With the emergence of Danny Salazar as a fire-balling young pitcher, a return to form from some of the veteran players and the continued success of the bench, the Indians should remain competitive in the American League Central this season.

With several highly regarded prospects coming through the system, including Francisco Lindor, ranked No. 10 by the MLB, the Indians have the ability to stay competitive into the future as well.

You can follow Nick Camino and all of the Indians action on WTAM 1100 and Fox Sports Ohio.

*Correction: In the print edition, the photo was incorrectly credited to Joshua Hoover. It was actually taken by Keith Allison.