Indians fans will have to learn a lot of new names when the season opens Thursday. The team has overhauled its roster, as 13 players from last year’s team are gone, either through free agency or trades. The Tribe will also start the season without two key infielders. Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis are recovering from calf injuries.
WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says it's going to be an interesting year for the three-time Central Division champions. The opening day starting lineup has just three returning players from 2018: Jose Ramirez, Corey Kluber and Tyler Naquin. All of the other positions will be different.
The players who are gone: Yonder Alonso, Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion, Yan Gomes, Yandy Diaz, Rajai Davis, Brandon Guyer, Lonnie Chisenhall, Josh Donaldson, Melky Cabrera, Cody Allen, Andrew Miller and Josh Tomlin. The only significant addition is first baseman Carlos Santana, who returns to Cleveland after one year in Philadelphia.
"Terry Francona said that in his seven years managing here, he's never had an Indians team with this much turnover," Pluto says.
The last two years, the Indians have cruised to the Central Division title, as other teams in the division have been rebuilding. This year Pluto has predicted the team will win 88 games and win its fourth straight division title, but it won't be easy.
"The guys who are coming back realize, quite frankly, the team is not as good and that could actually make for a much better regular season."
Players with a lot to prove
It could be much more exciting because Pluto says there will be a number of players trying to prove themselves, especially in the outfield, with Jordan Luplow, Greg Allen, Tyler Naquin and Jake Bauers. Only one of the seven outfielders on the 40-man roster, Leonys Martin, has been a starting outfielder in the majors for a full season.
"There's a lot to watch, a lot of new names to learn and a lot more changes coming on during the regular season. The front office is going to be challenged here, because a lot of these young guys aren't going to work out."
The Indians also signed veteran outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who spent 10 seasons with Colorado. He's signed a minor league deal. "They've stashed him back in Goodyear (Arizona) trying to get him some more bats, trying to get him ready," Pluto says.
A stellar pitching rotation
Still, the Indians starting pitching rotation remains intact, with Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber.
"The starting rotation is incredible," Pluto says. "MLB.com rates the top 100 players in baseball. The four starters all rank in the top 82."
And Pluto says that top-notch pitching staff is all that matters to manager Terry Francona.
"Francona has won a World Series in Boston with great pitching and OK hitting. He said he'll take the pitching and will figure out how to score the runs."
"I don't think this will be a banner season for the Indians. I think there will be a fair amount of frustration, but I also think you won't be yawning through it because there will be players coming and going. And I do think because of that, the players themselves, the front office and the coaching staff will be putting a little more pressure on these guys to perform, because it's not just handed to them."