By: Adam Tortelli ~Staff Writer~
Fresh and relaxed from a long winter break, the Cleveland Indians have resumed play as they look to build off the heartbreaking climax to their very exciting 2013 campaign.
The red-hot Indians were bounced out of the playoffs by Tampa Bay in the American League’s sole Wild Card Game with a score of 4-1, putting an end to what was an unexpected 21-6 September, highlighted by finishing the season on a 10-game winning streak.
The offseason was underwhelming for the Tribe, as their only big signing came in former Texas Ranger outfielder David Murphy to a two-year, $12 million deal and St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher John Axford, who received a $4.5 million dollar deal primarily for this season.
Consequently, standout starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez, (now at Baltimore), and Scott Kazmir (Oakland) found new homes in free agency — a mediocre effort after signing Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn the year before. Ace starting pitcher Justin Masterson also never received a much deserved contract extension.
However, this season brings hope in other ways that should excite all Cleveland fans.
Carlos Santana made the move from catcher to third base in hopes of providing additional production at the plate and solidifing the position that has been a revolving door since the late 90s.
This switch also means more playing time behind the plate for Yan Gomes, a fan favorite.
In what seems to be the theme for anyone not named Masterson early in 2014, Gomes signed a six year $23 million extension the same day the Indians opened their season with a 2-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
Only four days later, the club also inked all-star second baseman Jason Kipnis to a deal that will pay him $52.5 million over the next six season and the possibility for the 2020 season.
The extension frenzy began in February while the Tribe extended outfielder Michael Brantley’s contract for four more years at a total price of $25 million with an $11 million option for Brantley to return in 2018 per the front office’s decision.
In the first series of the year Cleveland impressed in Oakland by beating the A’s in two out of three games; leaving the defending AL West champs off to a slow start.
April 1 fooled anyone trying to see the teams’ second game as Mother Nature forced an April 2 doubleheader.
After Scott Kazmir shut out his former team for the majority of game one, Brantley earned his new contract in the ninth inning of game two with a two-run single for the lead, redeeming himself for a dropped ball earlier in the game.
When finished with the west coast, the Indians returned to the shores of Lake Erie for their first series in front of Cleveland faithful against the Minnesota Twins. The home opener went just as planned, slugging away the Twins 7-2.
Nick Swisher led the team with three RBIs while Brantley also contributed a pair.
Conversely, the remaining two games of the series were a different story, losing both of the weekend’s games by scores of 3-7 and 7-10.
As the Padres series ensues, there are a few players in particular to watch. Will Kipnis, Brantley and Gomes continue to earn their new contracts?
Will Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher prove that they are worth every penny received from last year’s signings?
Most importantly, which Asdrubal Cabrera will be playing this season: the 2011 Asdrubal who hit .273 with 25 homers to take ownership from the constantly injured Grady Sizemore, or the one that crumbled without the nightly weight on his shoulder?
It’s Tribe Time, Cleveland.