Coming into this season for the Cleveland Indians, there are those players we are supremely counting on to get things done (CC, Victor, and Grady), those that we need to bounce back from a rough 2007 (Hafner, Pronk, and the guy that wears number 48), and those that we hope can avoid a sophomore slump (Asdrubal, Fausto). There are others though that need to step up, and those players could become the keys to our season more so than the players named. These players have seemingly slipped through the cracks this offseason. I say no longer. We need the following players to have big years:
Hard for me to say this, but it’s coming close to do-or-die time for Jhon. The Tribe have him under contract until 2010 with a club option for 2011. Peralta has yet to live up to his rookie numbers, in which he posted his career highs in doubles, triples, homers, RBI’s, and on base percentage. While last year was a step in the right direction coming off of his sophomore slump, Eric Wedge has to figure out a way to get Jhon to thirty home runs and at least 90 RBI’s. This might require Peralta to be shifted around in the order, but getting him up to those numbers will be a crucial factor in the success of the 2008 Cleveland Indians.
Just like in last years postseason, the Tribe will rely on Byrd to be the bastion of stability in the rotation. Between Eric Wedge already coming out and saying, “don’t expect the same year from Fausto”, the contract talks of CC, the gigantic question mark that is Jake Westbrook, and the seemingly revolving fifth starter door this season, Byrd might be the only starter the Indians can throw out all year that doesn’t have to worry about perceptions off the mound. Every other person in the rotation has something to play for, ranging from pitching in a contract year to pitching for your livelihood. Byrd doesn’t have to worry about those, or any of the other issues. He needs to pitch with that clear head, and give us another 15 win season.
He has to be pitching this season with the notion that at any point during the season, he could be called on to close. Joe Borowski has made more Clevelanders invest in Bayer asprin than any pitcher in recent memory (and yes, my recent memory includes Bob Wickman and Jose Mesa circa 1997), and Masa Kobayashi is looking like he may need some seasoning considering his first few spring outings. This will be Betancourts job eventually, and if it is this year, the Tribe will need him to perform, because it will mean we lose some of our bullpen depth. Will he be ready if called upon? I don’t know, but ask the 2006 Cleveland Indians what a reliable bullpen can do for a ballclub.
This is the guy answering the phone at three in the morning. It’s early, but I can forsee him having to make some very hard decisions this season. What happens if Borowski falls apart, what to do about the corner outfield positions, how long should the leash be for Andy Marte, and is Asdrubal Cabrera’s future at shortstop? Expectations are still very high for the Wahoo Warriors, on a team that is virtually unchanged, in a division in which the Detroit Tigers will be breathing down their neck all season, a veteran team with a veteran manager leading them. Wedge has had to grow up real fast in his tenure as Tribe skipper, but this year may be the most crucial of them all.