Cleveland Indians 2004 Preview

The Cleveland Indians are optimistic coming into the 2004 season. They did not sign any major free agents and made no blockbuster trades. Their team is relatively the same as it was last year. So why, after a 68 win 2003, is Cleveland looking forward to 2004? The answer is simple: everyone is one year older. Indians management is not claiming to be a contender this year, but they do feel that they are moving in the right direction.

The outfield will look very similar to last year. Opening day will probably see, barring a trade, Matt Lawton in left field, Milton Bradley in center, and Jody Gerut in right. Youngsters Coco Crisp and Alex Escobar will also compete for starting jobs. The outfield is considered by many to be the strength of the Indians. There was talk of trading Matt Lawton in the off season, but nothing came to fruition. The 2004 season will largely depend on how many of the young players can have breakout seasons. If the outfielders do not perform well, it could be a long season in Cleveland.

The infield will pose many questions for the tribe. Does Omar Vizquel have one more quality season left in his 36 year old body? Will Ben Broussard turn into the quality first baseman that Indians upper management had hoped for? Who will step up and become the everyday second baseman? Ronnie Belliard is slated to start at second on opening day. However, Brandon Phillips will challenge him for the spot in Spring Training. It looks like Casey Blake is a lock to play third this year. He had a very good 2003 and no one appears to be ready to challenge him in 2004. Ricky Gutierrez and John McDonald are adequate replacements and will rest the other infielders when needed. Victor Martinez and Josh Bard will battle for the starting catcher job. Martinez is the early front runner but a lot can happen between now and opening day.

The pitching staff will be another big question mark for the Tribe. C.C. Sabathia returns as the ace of the staff. The rest of the rotation is up in the air. Off season acquisition Jeff D'Amico figures to fit in somewhere. Youngsters Jason Davis and Cliff Lee will also be fighting for spots. Jason Stanford looks to be the early favorite to round out the rotation unless Jason Bere can return to the form he had early in his career. The bullpen will look to be a major contributor this year. The Indians went out and got Jose Jimenez to complement David Riske and Scott Stewart. The closer role will be veteran Bob Wickman's to lose. He has above average stuff and will look to pass his knowledge on to the younger pitchers on the staff.

The upcoming season brings a lot of uncertainty for the Cleveland Indians. If the younger players can step up and play the way they are capable of playing, this could be a breakout season in Cleveland. If things don't go as planned, it could be another long year.

Prediction: 65-97 5th place in the American League Central

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