Despite a multitude of injuries to key players and much of their starting pitching rotation, the Cleveland Indians rose above the challenges and were just one victory away from winning their first World Series Championship since the 1948 season.
And as the Indians prepare for the 2017 season, one in which they fully expect everyone’s best shot on a night-to-night basis, there is plenty of optimism in Cleveland’s clubhouse.
“We have good reason to be excited,” manager Terry Francona said prior to the start of spring training. “I think we’re all really excited to get this thing started. It’s another long year. A lot will happen, we know that, but we’re going to go prepare, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being excited to go get that thing started.”
In addition to the mid-season acquisitions of left-handed relief pitcher Andrew Miller and outfielder Brandon Guyer last summer, the Indians made plenty of offseason moves to bolster the starting rotation, bullpen and lineup.
The Indians re-signed all but one of their arbitration-eligible players and added one of the most prolific hitters on the free-agent market, Edwin Encarnacion, through the biggest contract ever given to a player from the organization. Additionally, they signed left-handed reliever Boone Logan in the offseason.
“Regardless of what external opinions are, whether it’s good or bad, what really matters is how we feel in the clubhouse,” Francona said. “Our goals are going to be lofty, as they should be, but as long as we play by that and not what other people are saying, we’ll be okay.”
In 12 years at the Major League level, Encarnacion has a .266 batting average with 1,439 hits in 5,409 at-bats in 1,513 career games. Of those 1,439 hits, 629 were for extra bases, including 311 doubles and 310 home runs. Also, Encarnacion has driven in 942 runs, scored another 829 and drawn 662 walks in his career.
During his final year with the Blue Jays, Encarnacion hit .263 (158 for 601) with 34 doubles, 42 home runs and 127 runs batted in over 160 games. He set career highs with the 158 hits, 99 runs scored, 76 extra-base hits, 127 RBI and 318 total bases. The 42 round-trippers matched his single-season career best.
Additionally, the Indians are working outfielder Michael Brantley back into playing shape after a second surgery to clear up a shoulder injury last August.
In 2014, Brantley was the first player in the 114-year history of the Indians’ franchise, and ninth player in MLB annals, to have 200 hits, and at least 45 doubles, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the same season. Brantley was the ninth member of the Indians’ 20-home run, 20-steals club, and the first Cleveland player since 1996 to reach the 200-hit plateau.
“If you think about it for a minute, adding Brantley and Encarnacion to any lineup, you’re talking about a legit three-four hitter,” Francona said. “One hitter changes your lineup. Two, it gets really fun. We always talk about when something goes bad, you try to make something good.
“Losing Brant was tough, okay, but you get the emergence of Jose Ramirez, so we know we have another everyday player and a pretty good one, so it’s going to add depth to the lineup. It gives us versatility. It gives us another switch hitter, and I know everybody’s getting excited.”
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