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Postcard from Camp: Indians

Posted: Thursday March 10, 2005 11:25AM; Updated: Thursday March 10, 2005 1:34PM
Cleveland INDIANS
Site: Winter Haven, Fla.
2004 Record: 80-82
2005 Team Preview
2005 Schedule

By Peter King, SI.com

Player I Saw Whom I Really Liked
Well, I saw a few in shorts in the clubhouse. I saw a few in the breakfast line, having some fruit and danish and cereal and coffee. I saw some neat blonde streaks in Aaron Boone's hair. But there was a rainout Wednesday, folks. Yanks-Tribe, washed out, as games were all over Florida. So I saw a few Tribesmen taking batting practice under a roofed cage as the rain pelted down, but as far as a prospect or reborn veteran, sorry. Can't help you there.

Team's biggest strengths
A strong-hitting team with lots of choices for manager Eric Wedge. The Indians had a higher team batting average than the Yankees last year (.276-.268), scored two fewer runs than Texas (858-860) and had more doubles than any American League team but Boston. Even if Juan Gonzalez fails to stick in right field (he was guaranteed only $100,000 to sign), stud prospect Grady Sizemore waits in the wings to supplement new outfielder Casey Blake and Coco Crisp. If Boone struggles in his return from ACL surgery, Blake could move back to third. And Ben Broussard and Travis Hafner form a better-than-average first-base/DH combo platter.

Team's biggest weakness
Pitching depth, both in the rotation and the bullpen. Cleveland's only major free-agent acquisition was Kevin Millwood, but the Indians have no idea if they're getting the 18-8, 3.24-ERA near-ace of 2002, or the 23-18 guy with a mid-4.00 ERA of the past two years. C.C. Sabathia and Jake Westbook are two nice, but not dominant starters, combining for 25 wins last year. The fourth and fifth starters, Cliff Lee and Scott Elarton, are huge question marks. The Indians failed to sign closer Troy Percival, and so Bob Wickman -- who missed the first three months of last season with a strained elbow and came back to save 13 in 14 tries -- gets the closer job again. The lefty setup guys have improved with Arthur Rhodes and Scott Sauerbeck, but this is a bullpen that could blow a bunch of late leads.

Clubhouse confidential
If I ran a baseball team, I'd want Blake on it. He's a selfless, team-first guy who gives Wedge the comfort level of knowing he'll play third, second, first or the corner outfield spots. ... The Indians are thrilled to be rid of the defensive deficiencies of weak-armed Matt Lawton. ... Sabathia will miss a start or two in April because he strained his oblique muscle warming up on Sunday, March 6. He looks terrific, though, with some of that baby fat gone. ... Wear your thermals in April, Men of the Tribe. Cleveland plays its first 14 games in what could be Tundraville: Chicago (three games), Detroit (three), at home (six) and Kansas City (two). Who thought of that schedule, an Eskimo? ... The shortstop job legitimately is up for grabs between two good prospects who haven't hit yet -- Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Phillips. ... GM Mark Shapiro says Blake looks like he's been playing the outfield for years. "He's a natural," Shapiro says. ... Think Cleveland's still a year away? Could well be. But remember, the Tribe was one game out of first place in the AL Central last Aug. 14.

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