With less than a week until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, the Cleveland Indians' offseason has been underwhelming -- and they know as much.
Rather than chasing big name free agents -- or even retaining a few of their own -- the three-time defending American League Central champions planned to rely on one of the best starting rotations in baseball and a top-heavy lineup to carry them into a fourth consecutive October, where, as they'll be the first to tell you, anything can happen.
But before the Tribe could even touch down in Goodyear, those plans hit a snag. On Friday, the team announced that All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor will be out 7-to-9 weeks after suffering a moderate calf strain. Lindor's injury will cost him all of Spring Training and could very well carry into the start of the regular season, shrinking whatever margin for error the team had left.
So what now?
How much Lindor's injury impacts Cleveland's 2019 season will depend on how quickly he can recover and how long the effects of the calf strain linger. On the short side of his timetable, the 3-time All-Star would be back on the field by March 29 -- one day after the Indians' season opener vs. the Minnesota Twins.
Should his recovery run nine weeks -- or longer -- he'd miss at least 12 regular season games, eight of which come against opponents in the AL Central.
For a team that's done little more than tread water -- if that -- this offseason, that's hardly insignificant. Although Cleveland is favored to win its division for a fourth straight season, who's to say this won't be the year the Minnesota Twins and/or Chicago White Sox make a leap?
Plus, with Michael Brantley now in Houston, the Indians' top-heavy lineup had already been weakened before Lindor's injury became public on Friday. Without his fellow MVP candidate in the lineup for the next two months, the onus will now fall on third baseman Jose Ramirez to carry a Cleveland offense that was already without a dependable designated hitter or proven corner outfielders.
It's not all doom and gloom.
In the grand scheme of things, Lindor is expected to miss a maximum of two weeks, a relative blip in a 162-game season. Even if the 25-year-old is forced to play himself into game shape, his injury shouldn't affect more than the first month of the Indians' season, assuming the timetable provided by the team is correct.
Still, a Cleveland offseason that's been short on bright spots to this point indisputably just got a little bit dimmer.
The Indians may still be the favorites in their division, but is that even the bar they should be trying to clear? And if so, how many hits can they continue to take before they're unable to merely maintain the AL Central's status quo?