Over the course of a regular season, the Tigers will face off against Cleveland a whopping 19 times. In past years they have proven to be a bit of a nemesis for the Tigers, and a point of struggle and contention.
This year, the Cleveland team looks a little different, missing one of their best players thanks to a Francisco Lindor trade to the Mets, and few offseason moves to bolster their roster. Dare we say the Tigers might be able to be competitive against this new version of the Cleveland club?
We talked to Matt Lyons, managing editor of Covering the Corner, the newly-renamed Cleveland SBN site (the “Corner” in this case is a loving reference to Progressive Field, which is nestled at the corner of Carnegie Street and Ontario Avenue). Matt offered us some insight into that nasty trade, and what came after for the team.
BYB: How would you describe Cleveland’s offseason moves?
ML: In a single word: NotAsBadAsItLooks. Trading Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco were horrendous from a fan perspective, but I feel like they got a decent replacement in Andrés Giménez and until they stop pumping out pitchers, I’m not going to doubt their ability to do it. They still have plenty of pitching depth, even if it’s unproven. Signing Eddie Rosario at least gave them a real outfielder, and he’s the only one they have right now. I also loved their Rule 5 selection of Trevor Stephan, who was a starter in the minors but has approached 100 mph out of the ‘pen in spring training. I think he’s going to play a big part in a very underrated bullpen this season. So, overall? Still disappointing, but it could have been worse.
BYB: Obviously losing Lindor was a huge blow. It sounds like extension talks might be stalled with the Mets, could you see Cleveland moving to reunite with Lindor in free agency? [Ed. note, we sent this question pretty much right before the extension was announced, but Matt’s answer was too good to not include.]
ML: Oh, no. Oh no no no. Even if the Mets hadn’t locked up Lindor mere hours after you sent this, there was zero chance of a reunion. Cleveland made it clear they wouldn’t go above $250 million for him, and I have a sneaking suspicion they knew he wouldn’t sign it, anyway. There is zero chance he’s coming back. Maybe when he’s 39 and a free agent again.
BYB: Who surprised you the most, for better or worse, in spring training?
ML: I was especially disappointed in Oscar Mercado. After his promising rookie campaign in 2019 it looked like Cleveland finally had a good center fielder and now… not so much. He was all but given the job prior to spring and he played his way out of it. A lot of it seems to be mental and being in his own head, so maybe some time in the quiet alternate site and some ego-building against Triple-A pitching will help.
BYB: What do you think will be Cleveland’s greatest strength this season?
ML: Pitching all the way. Starting pitching will be incredible — Shane Bieber, of course, but you also can’t sleep on Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale’s rebuilt arm action and new split-change. I think these three can eventually rival the Kluber-Carrasco-Bauer trio that Cleveland enjoyed for a few years there (before trading them all away). Relievers are going to be sneaky good, too. James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase will get all the headlines with their wild stuff, but Phil Maton is a Statcast marvel (seriously, look him up on Baseball Savant, he’s ridiculous) and eventually, the results will catch up to it.
BYB: What’s your boldest prediction for Cleveland in 2021?
ML: So, this involves a lot of luck, but my hot take is that Andres Gimenez finishes with a higher WAR than Francisco Lindor. I think Lindor might struggle to acclimate to New York right away, at least long enough for Gimenez to steal a season battle from him. We already know how good Gimenez is on defense, and I think his bat can approach average again. If he can do that and Lindor tanks for a year? Heck yeah.
BYB: Which Tigers player will you be keeping your eye on this series?
ML: WILLI CASTRO. I still can’t believe how disastrous that trade was for Cleveland. Castro wasn’t seen as much more than Triple-A depth for a time, but he’s flourished in Detroit and I’m thrilled for him. The most notable thing Leonys Martin has done since the trade is having his Twitter account hacked and selling fake PS5’s for a couple months. I’ll be interested to see how much of Castro’s 2020 was BABIP luck, and how much he can repeat.
Our thanks to Matt for the pre-game chat. If you’d like to read more of his work and that of his team, head over to Covering the Corner for more Cleveland Baseball Team coverage.