The Hooley, Wednesday, March 29

posted by Bruce Hooley -

There's no such thing as a sure thing in Major League Baseball, but the Cleveland Indians are about as close as you're going to get.

And if you're a Tribe fan, I understand why that would make you nervous.

The consensus of the predictions this spring peg the Indians for a return trip to the World Series after losing to the Chicago Cubs in extra innings of Game 7 last year.

Unfortunately, it was the Cubs who shed their more-than-100-year drought since their last world title, not the Indians, who now own the longest such streak in the Majors at 68 years and counting.

Will that frustration end this Fall. Well, if it doesn't, it certainly won't be due to the Indians not going all in or losing a major cog from last season's success in the off-season.

Still, it must be noted, even when the Indians dominated the AL Central in the 1990s, winning five straight division titles and six in seven years, they never made even one back-to-back World Series appearance.

In 2007, after taking a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and blowing it, optimism abounded for 2008. But the Indians promptly went 81-81 the next year.

And who could forget the Sports Illustrated cover photo of Cory Snyder and Joe Carter from 30 years ago when the Tribe, coming off a strong finish in 1986 were SI's pick to win the World Series.

Yeah, the Indians promptly went 61-101.

But that's not going to happen this year, right?

Not with one of baseball's best starting pitching rotations back in its entirety.

If that had been the case last fall, we might be talking about the Indians as MLB's reigning champions.

Instead, the Tribe had to make do with a post-season rotation of Cory Kluber, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer after injuries sidelined Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.

All five are healthy now and moderately priced at just over $14 million. Not each...in total.

That's a sign of how smart the Indians' front office has been when it comes to locking up the club's young corp.

Why is that important, other than it helps the small-market Indians' survive in the American League while teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and Rangers spend like a socialite with her sugar-daddy's gold card.

The Indians rotation last year made just over $14 million. This year, its collective salary rises to $23.6 million, but that's still less than Boston pays David Price ($30) and far less than the Red Sox pay Rick Porcello ($20 million) and Chris Sale ($12 million) combined.

That's why -- in tandem with the money the Tribe made off its World Series success and a soft market for free-agent sluggers -- the Indians were able to sign former Red Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year, $60 million deal — the richest in club history.

Encarnacion made an impact before his first spring training at-bat, hiking the enthusiasm for the Summer of 2017 sufficiently to trigger a spike in season-ticket sales.

Where he'll likely provide another power surge is at the plate, where Encarnacion hit 42 homers and drove in 127 runs last year for Toronto.

He is the right-handed power bat the Indians have pined for since Manny Ramirez departed.

Encarnacion, who has hit 193 homers since 2012, and him hitting either in front of or behind Michael Brantley is going to get one of them a lot of fastballs to attack.

That's right, Brantley is back from a season lost to lingering shoulder injuries. He's looked great in spring training so far, although we're not quite past the fingers-crossed-he-stays-healthy stage quite yet.

The Indians will open the season Monday in Texas without second-baseman Jason Kipnis and outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall. Both are on the disabled list with spring training injuries.

Kipnis has the longer projected recovery period, but nothing other than the lingering fear from how long Brantley wound up being out last year suggests Kipnis won't return by May 1.

Until then, the Tribe will play with Jose Ramirez -- their stunning discovery last season -- at second base.

I haven't even mentioned Carlos Santana or Francisco Lindor yet, two guys who combined to hit over 50 home runs and total more than 150 RBI last year.

So the Tribe has a lot of pop in its lineup, as it does in the bullpen.

The trade-deadline deal for Andrew Miller last season not only brought baseball's nastiest reliever to Cleveland for a post-season run, Miller came with a contract that has him signed at a manageable $9 million for each of the next two seasons.

Closer Cody Allen and set-up men Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero and Zach McAlister are back, too, and the Indians added lefty specialist Boone Logan in the off-season. He struck out more batters than he had innings pitched last year.

In fact, Miller and Logan combined to pitch 120 innings in relief last year and struck out 180 batters.

So, it's safe to say, if you're holding a bat in your hand, the Cleveland Indians have made it their mission to ruin your life.

Now, if you're a Reds fan, you might be thinking the same thing, or at least, how long is this rebuild going to take?

The Reds improved four games last year and still won only 68 times. They've been under .500 for three years, which is tough to take on the heels of back-to-back playoff seasons and three post-season trips in four years.

Reds fans can't set the lofty expectations that exist for their counterparts in Cleveland. Simply not finishing as one of baseball's worst teams, or avoiding a third straight last-place season the NL Central would be considered progress.

Only the Minnesota Twins had a worse record in 2016, and it’s hard to see how the Reds get much better in 2017.

The trade of fan-favorite Brandon Phillips to Atlanta creates a spot at second-base for Jose Peraza. I wonder how long Zack Cozart, who's 31, will hang onto shortstop with 23-year-old prospect Dilson Herrera waiting to take over.

The Phillips' trade raises the prospect of a full bailout, but getting rid of Joey Votto will be tough because his contract runs for eight more years, with the Reds owing him $192 million.

Whoever signed him to that deal in THAT market should have taken a Breathalyzer first.

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