The 2013 Cleveland Indians seem to be much improved, at least on paper. Considering the additions of Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Brett Myers, Mike Aviles, Trevor Bauer and several others, the Tribe will have greater depth and much more reliable talent on the roster.
However, the moves above won't make the team a championship contender in 2013, so if you compare this club to the star-studded casts that were on the Boston Red Sox from 2004 through 2011, when Terry Francona's teams won an average of 93 games per season, it would be laughable.
Speaking of laughable, Francona's teams in Philadelphia weren't very good, as the 1997 to 2000 Phillies never finished higher than third place and never won more than 77 games while Francona finished his tenure in Philly with a .440 winning percentage.
It is hard to compare this roster to Francona's former teams because they won't be nearly as good as any of the Red Sox clubs that he managed, and they won't be nearly as bad as the Phillies were.
If I had to say that this 2013 Indians team matched up to any of Francona's earlier teams, I would say that it would be the 1999 version of the Phillies.
In 1999 the Philadelphia Phillies won 77 games and posted a .475 winning percentage, their best year under Francona. The club had two 15-game winners in the rotation, Paul Byrd (15-11, 4.60 ERA) and Curt Schilling (15-6, 3.54 ERA), with a lot of question marks surrounding them in Robert Person, Chad Ogea and Randy Wolf, who combined to post a 22-26 record and a 5.17 ERA over 426.2 innings.
The 2013 Indians have a lot more question marks, but with Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson and Brett Myers as the top three starters, you would assume that the group would be solid inning-eaters, while Zach McAllister and Carlos Carrasco bring a lot of unpredictability to the rotation due to their youth and lack of long-term experience.
The 1999 Phillies had some interesting talent in the everyday lineup.
Mike Lieberthal, the catcher, hit 31 home runs and drove in 96 while posting a .914 OPS that season, earning his first All-Star game appearance and his only Gold Glove. Rico Brogna posted his second straight season of 20-plus home runs and 100-plus RBI in 1999 while striking out in 21 percent of his at-bats. Scott Rolen was in his third full season and was establishing himself as a superstar, and Bobby Abreu was in his second full season and broke out in 1999 to become a star in his own right.
The 2013 Indians have an All-Star caliber catcher in Carlos Santana, who will turn 27 years old in April, the same age that Lieberthal was in his breakout 1999 season. Mark Reynolds can play the role of the slugging strikeout artist at first base for Rico Brogna, only his power numbers and strikeout totals should easily eclipse Brogna's.
Asdrubal Cabrera is the All-Star superstar who patrols the same side of the diamond as Rolen, but he will have a hard time posting 26 home runs and 77 RBI that Rolen did in 1999 unless he maintains his power stroke over the entire season.
The Indians have some talent in the outfield, but none of them are likely to post a .995 OPS like Abreu did in 1999. Drew Stubbs could easily reach 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, while Nick Swisher provides some power with patience. However, combining the talents of Stubbs, Swisher and Michael Brantley still wouldn't give you the player that Abreu was in his prime.
There are a lot of similarities between the 1999 Philadelphia Phillies and the 2013 Cleveland Indians, but the only spot-on similarity will be the manager, who has probably changed quite a bit since being let go by Philadelphia after the 2000 season.
The Phillies probably had a lot more dependable offensive talent and the presence of Curt Schilling, even in 1999, was huge for the difference to the rotation.
But...you shouldn't sleep on the Cleveland Indians in 2013. They may or may not have done enough to drastically improve their 68-94 record from 2012, but the team has a lot of solid balance.
Some very talented offensive talent was added with Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana. The bullpen, which was very top-heavy in 2012, is much deeper. If the club gets some consistency out of their rotation, they could easily top the 1999 Phillies 77 wins in 2013; however, it remains unlikely that any team managed in Cleveland by Francona will ever be as good as any of his Red Sox teams.
Statistics collected from baseballreference.com.
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