Season 18 was a disappointing season in Cleveland. Another year of regular season success was followed by more post-season misery. The Spiders were quickly bounced in the division round.
This year is a "bridge year" for the Spiders. With two of their division foes in the midst of deep rebuilds, the goal is to edge out the Pawtucket Patriots for the division title, attempt to control a budget sprialing out of control, and create space for the next crop of minor leaguers.
Budgetary issues dominated the Cleveland offseason. The budget has ballooned to $107M despite the jettisoning of some lineup fixtures.
Apollo Payton, a round 2 rule 5 selection in S9 who collected 3105 at bats over 10 years, was not offered a contract. Season 9 second rounder Johan Perez and the Spiders could not come to terms on a long term contract and he was traded to Kansas City for a relief prospect. Defensive wizard Deacon Phillips will not be patrolling center field this year and closer Slash Clay has moved on after both were not offered new contracts. Prize IFA starting pitcher Odalis Leon was traded in the middle of last season after 5 1/2 years in Cleveland when the brass realized that they would not be able to afford him.
Even Russ Mercedes, the owner of almost every career Spiders record - largely on the basis of his having 2,000 more at bats then anyone else in the franchise's history - will be doing a farewell tour this year. The 34 year old's quickly declining range and dissipating power are much in evidence as he rounds out his career in Cleveland.
These budget issues will prevent the Spiders from signing any big-ticket free agents this year. Instead, in order to fill the holes related to these free agent departures, Omar Olivares will move to center field, college shorstop Rico Mendoza will move to the keystone from right field, and Season 16 MVP Enrique Astacio makes the long awaited transition to shortstop from second.
A handful of lesser prospects will make the jump to the majors this year. The backstop duties will be handled by two rookies, organizational soldier Alejandro Osuna and offense-oriented Brandon Grabowski. The bullpen will be rounded out by three new members: Sammy Johnson, Yusmeiro Rios and Pat McCullough.
The prizes of the Cleveland farm season, 23 year old Kelvin Torres and 21 year old Davey Pedroia are slated to make their debuts next year. However, if Russ Mercedes or journeyman right fielder Del Fuentes falter, Torres will be counted on to ride to the rescue. The lower levels of the Cleveland farm system are bare, with the exception of Tony Plata.
In Summary: The Spiders will not deviate from their core strengths. A talented rotation led by Cy Young winners Rick Christensen and Luis Herrera is backed up by a duo of devastating relievers and a strong defense. The loss of Deacon Philips and the decline of Russ Mercedes have affected that defense, but a positional shuffle will hopefully minimize the negative effects. The lineup is centered around team leaders Michael Dransfeldt and Enrique Astacio and the manager will continue to think of creative solutions to put men on base in front of them.