Forecasting the 2016 Cleveland Indians

By Kevin Yanik, Senior Editor


2785686720_3e92b44af2_zCleveland Indians pitchers and catchers officially reported to Goodyear Ariz., yesterday to start Spring Training, and the club’s home opener is now less than 50 days away.

A number of baseball experts and projection systems are high on the 2016 Indians. The PECOTA projection system at Baseball Prospectus, for example, is forecasting the Tribe to win an American League-high 92 games this year – enough to win the AL Central and put Cleveland in the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

So, are the pundits right about the 2016 Tribe? Or, are the predictions as lofty as Sports Illustrated’s 2015 pick that had the Indians winning the World Series for the first time since 1948?

Let’s go around the diamond to see what this year’s Indians are made of and if they’re capable of putting together an October run.


A healthy Yan Gomes, who suffered an early-season injury a year ago, is pivotal to a successful 2016 season. In 2014, Gomes earned a Silver Slugger as the American League’s top-hitting catcher. But the 2014 version of Gomes was rarely seen last season. After returning from injury, Gomes appeared to press significantly to be the player at the plate he was the year before. Gomes recapturing his 2014 form is one domino that must fall in place this season if the Indians plan to contend. Behind Gomes, Roberto Perez offers pop off the bench and is a viable backup whom other clubs reportedly coveted in trades over the winter.

First base

The Indians haven’t had a 40-home run threat at first since Travis Hafner was healthy and physically able to man the corner. The Indians won’t have 40-home run power at the position again this season, but they made a slight upgrade defensively with the addition of free agent Mike Napoli. Napoli is expected to handle the bulk of the first base duties, pushing Carlos Santana, last year’s first baseman, into the designated hitter’s role. Don’t expect 40 homers or even 30 from Napoli, but 20 is a possibility if he remains healthy.

Second base

Jason Kipnis returns at second base, giving the Indians once again one of the best players in baseball at the position. No worries here assuming Kipnis stays healthy and doesn’t encounter some of the nagging injuries that have plagued him throughout his career.


Francisco Lindor, who got the call to the bigs last season, starts his first full season with the club. Lindor was a huge spark for the Tribe in 2015, providing electrifying defense up the middle and giving the Indians a legitimate player to slot into the No. 2 hole. This kid is the future of the franchise, and building on his stellar rookie campaign is central to contention in 2016.

Third base

Giovanny Urshela, like Lindor, is entering his first full big-league season. Urshela offered a defensive upgrade over the inconsistent Lonnie Chisenhall in 2015, but he didn’t necessarily deliver the offensive production that’s expected from players who handle the hot corner. At the moment, the Indians appear to be intent on giving Urshela the full-time job, but veteran third basemen like David Freese and Juan Uribe remain on the market. The Indians could sign such a veteran to a one-year deal if they aren’t confident Urshela is ready to handle the full-time job.


This is where my biggest reservations about the Indians lie. They have arguably the best left fielder in the game in Michael Brantley. But Brantley may not be ready for Opening Day because he’s recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. He’s trying to make himself ready for the start of the season, but rushing back could hamper his performance throughout the year. (See Gomes’ rushed return last year, which had lasting negative effects, as an example of an injury that derailed the Indians.) On the flip side, if Brantley misses significant time in April, the Indians could find themselves five or more games out of first place come May. The Tribe has, after all, played poorly in April for a number of years. Beyond Brantley, the outfield looks pretty bleak. Rajai Davis was another off-season signee, and he’ll take up left field at the outset if Brantley isn’t healthy. Still, don’t expect Davis to be an everyday player. He’s a platoon guy much like the rest of the outfield, which will consist of guys like Abraham Almonte, Joey Butler, Chisenhall and Collin Cowgill. Good luck finding an All-Star in that group.

Designated hitter

As mentioned previously, Santana will shift largely to this role in 2016 while filling in as needed at first. Santana is no All-Star but he’s a model of consistency, delivering at least 18 home runs, 74 RBIs and 100 walks over the last five seasons.

Starting pitching

This group, which carried the team in 2015, will be counted on to do the same this year. Competitors coveted the Tribe’s pitching in the off-season, but the organization stood pat and carries over one of the game’s best staffs. Corey Kluber is a bona fide ace, and Carlos Carrasco is a budding ace. Danny Salazar is capable of delivering 200 strikeouts in the No. 3 slot, and Trevor Bauer is a more-than-capable No. 4 starter. Josh Tomlin will likely secure the fifth spot. Based on the stuff Tomlin flashed at the end of last season upon a return from injury, he could be the most pleasant surprise on the 2016 Indians. If not, Cody Anderson, T.J. House and others will serve as fantastic fill-ins at the back end of the rotation.


The Indians bullpen has been a tough group to project in recent seasons. They’ve been a team strength in seasons when little was expected from them, and they’ve been a mess when pundits expected them to be a strength. There’s a lot to like about this year’s bullpen, starting with Cody Allen at the back end. Bryan Shaw returns as another reliable right-handed arm, and the recent signing of Tommy Hunter is a welcome addition. The Indians have enough solid arms in the bullpen to bridge the gap from the starters to Allen. Still, Indians bullpens are unpredictable.

My projection

So what’s the verdict on this team? Are these Indians capable of winning 90-plus games and competing for the AL Central, or is another .500 season in the works? My prediction: 83-79.

I love the pitching and firmly believe Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar and the others will keep the club in games. Still, how many 1-0 and 2-1 games can the Indians win to ultimately contend? This team will again struggle to score, particularly in the season’s first weeks if Brantley isn’t fully healthy. The early hole will force the Indians to play catch-up all season long, and in a division that includes the World Series champion Kansas City Royals and a reloaded Detroit Tigers, the Indians will finish third.

Kevin Yanik joined North Coast Media in 2012 and has worked in B2B media for more than seven years in various editorial positions. Kevin is a Cleveland native (although you might not guess it from this projection) and a 2006 graduate of John Carroll University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications.