Much like their great teams of the 1990s, this version of the Indians was built from the bottom up, utilizing a mixture of prospects from within and outside the organization. Add a few veterans to the mix and the Indians have become my favorites to win the division. All of that and a payroll that totals well under $50 million means a bright future for the franchise.
Worth Every Penny
If someone told you before last season that Victor Martinez was going to be the most valuable fantasy catcher in baseball, you'd have looked at him funny. Well, Martinez was and will be again. The switch hitter from Venezuela led all catchers with 108 RBIs last season (22 more than Pudge Rodriguez and Javy Lopez) and tied Lopez with 23 home runs. He's only getting better, as are the rest of his teammates. Chances are that your league mates have him rated fifth or sixth among catchers, so as soon as Rodriguez, Lopez or Mike Piazza is picked, you should grab Martinez.
About to Blossom
One of the keys of fantasy baseball is differentiating between those who are good from those who are hot. This is the year that Jake Westbrook falls into the former group. After struggling last spring Westbrook earned a rotation spot and ran with it. He finished the season third in ERA and led the AL with five complete games. Armed with a great sinker, Westbrook will benefit from the addition of defensive star Alex Cora, who will share time at second base with Ronnie Belliard, and the soft hands of Aaron Boone at third. Westbrook is a keeper.
Juan Gonzalez is on the roster, for now. The former AL MVP hasn't played 100 games in a season since his last stint with the Indians in 2001. Gonzalez, 35, appears to be past his prime and has had trouble making his way onto the field day in and day out. His presence keeps players like Grady Sizemore, Ryan Ludwick and Franklin Gutierrez from playing a major role. I can't envision Juan not being gone from Cleveland by the middle of the season.
Do You Feel Lucky?
Boone is returning from the torn ACL that cost him the 2004 season and his contract with the Yankees. Before the injury, Boone had 24 home runs and 23 steals combined for Cincinnati and New York. In 2002 those numbers were 26 home runs and 32 steals. While those steals numbers are probably going to be somewhat muted, the power certainly can return. He's a great sleeper pick since most people base their draft rankings purely on last season's stats.
Coco Crisp has become a cult figure in Cleveland and for more than just his catchy nickname (his given moniker is Covelli). He's a heck of a player too. Last season Crisp hit a career high 15 home runs while chipping in 20 steals. With regular playing time, a repeat of those numbers is likely.
If Something Should Happen To Bob Wickman
If nothing happened to Wickman it would be a big surprise. The injury prone closer was effective last season when he returned from Tommy John surgery but contemplated calling it quits in the offseason. Should his elbow cause him more trouble, the Tribe will turn to former White Sox closer Bobby Howry. Hard-throwing David Riske had personal problems last season but should be back at full strength and is also in the mix.
Don't Forget About
C.C. Sabathia, Casey Blake, Ben Broussard, Kevin Millwood
Don't Bother With
Jason Davis, Belliard, Jose Hernandez, Scott Elarton
David Sabino is the associate editor in charge of statistics at Sports Illustrated and the author of the book, Dominate Your Fantasy Baseball League (Muska & Lipman/Premier-Trade).