Cleveland Indians' catcher Carlos Santana waits for his turn at bat during their MLB spring training baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Scottsdale

Springtime Storylines: Will the Cleveland Indians build on last season or take a step backward?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: Cleveland Indians.

The Big Question: Will the Cleveland Indians build on last season or take a step backward?

Cleveland got off to an unexpectedly tremendous start last season only to fade badly down the stretch, finishing below .500 and 15 games behind a Detroit team they actually led as late as mid-July. Despite going 33-40 after the All-Star break the Indians still improved by 11 games compared to 2010 and 15 games compared to 2009, which seemingly makes them a strong candidate for another step forward this season.

However, there’s reason to be skeptical. For one thing Asdrubal Cabrera is an even stronger candidate to come back down to earth, at least a little bit, following an out of nowhere power breakout, and midseason blockbuster pickup Ubaldo Jimenez hasn’t looked like himself since early 2010. Beyond that the Indians’ runs scored and runs allowed totals suggest they were more like a 75-win team last season instead of their actual 80-82 record.

Toss in the now-annual hope that Grady Sizemore can return to his previous stardom having already been dashed by knee surgery and Fausto Carmona’s status being totally up in the air thanks to the revelation that he’s not actually Fausto Carmona and … well, the Indians have some big question marks. Fortunately they also have several players capable of much bigger things than last season, chief among them star-in-the-making Carlos Santana, star-who-was-injured Shin-Soo Choo, and promising second baseman Jason Kipnis.

What else is going on?

  • Kipnis has secured the starting second base gig, but the Indians opted not to hand third base to Lonnie Chisenhall and instead gave the job to veteran Jack Hannahan. He’s an excellent defender at third base, but Hannahan is a 32-year-old career .231 hitter with just 24 homers and a measly .358 slugging percentage in 400 games. Presumably he’s just keeping the position warm for Chisenhall, but if Hannahan playing everyday is combined with Cabrera and Casey Kotchman regressing the Indians may struggle to score runs.
  • Chris Perez was brilliant while emerging as the Indians’ closer in 2010 and at first glance he was excellent last season as well, converting 36-of-40 save opportunities with a 3.32 ERA. However, his strikeouts per nine innings plummeted from 8.7 to 5.9 and his average fastball velocity dipped 1.2 miles per hour, which is a worrisome combination. If he gets back to missing more bats the Indians’ bullpen has the potential to be very strong with Vinnie Pestano, Rafael Perez, Dan Wheeler, Joe Smith, and Tony Sipp in setup roles, but Perez is trending in the wrong direction.
  • Sizemore and Travis Hafner returning to their former glory is wishful thinking at this point, but Choo should be able to bounce back after missing 77 games and performing poorly in a season filled with multiple injuries and a DUI arrest. Prior to last season Choo was one of the best, most underrated all-around outfielders in baseball, hitting .302 with a .397 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage from 2008-2010.
  • Cleveland gave up top prospect Drew Pomeranz and solid prospect Alex White to get Jimenez from the Rockies at midseason, only to see him struggle down the stretch while showing significantly diminished velocity. Between his contract and the cost to acquire him the Indians paid for Jimenez to be an ace, but since going 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA in the first half of 2010 he’s 14-20 with a 4.39 ERA in 283 innings spread over 47 starts and his fastball was missing 2-3 miles per hour last year.

How are they gonna do?

Based on the progression from 65-97 to 69-93 to 80-82 the Indians look ready to make another big jump this season, but instead their question mark-filled roster makes me think another season around .500 seems more likely. That should be enough to make another run at second place and perhaps even remain in contention for the division title into the second half, but it’s tough to see the Indians hanging with the Tigers all year long unless just about everything breaks right.

There will be no criminal charges arising out of Curt Schilling’s video game debacle

Curt Schilling
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In 2012 Curt Schilling’s video game company, 38 Studios, delivered the fantasy role-playing game it had spent millions of dollars and countless man hours trying to deliver. And then the company folded, leaving both its employees and Rhode Island taxpayers, who underwrote much of the company’s operations via $75 million in loans, holding the bag.

The fallout to 38 Studios’ demise was more than what you see in your average business debacle. Rhode Island accused Schilling and his company of acts tantamount to fraud, claiming that it accepted tax dollars while withholding information about the true state of the company’s finances. Former employees, meanwhile, claimed — quite credibly, according to reports of the matter — that they too were lured to Rhode Island believing that their jobs were far more secure than they were. Many found themselves in extreme states of crisis when Schilling abruptly closed the company’s doors. For his part, Schilling has assailed Rhode Island politicians for using him as a scapegoat and a political punching bag in order to distract the public from their own misdeeds. There seems to be truth to everyone’s claims to some degree.

As a result of all of this, there have been several investigations and lawsuits into 38 Studios’ collapse. In 2012 the feds investigated the company and declined to bring charges. There is currently a civil lawsuit afoot and, alongside it, the State of Rhode Island has investigated for four years to see if anyone could be charged with a crime. Today there was an unexpected press conference in which it was revealed that, no, no one associated with 38 Studios will be charged with anything:

An eight-page explanation of the decision concluded by saying that “the quantity and qualify of the evidence of any criminal activity fell short of what would be necessary to prove any allegation beyond a reasonable doubt and as such the Rules of Professional Conduct precluded even offering a criminal charge for grand jury consideration.”

Schilling will likely crow about this on his various social media platforms, claiming it totally vindicates him. But, as he is a close watcher of any and all events related to Hillary Clinton, he no doubt knows that a long investigation resulting in a declination to file charges due to lack of evidence is not the same thing as a vindication. Bad judgment and poor management are still bad things, even if they’re not criminal matters.

Someone let me know if Schilling’s head explodes if and when someone points that out to him.

Andrew Miller for Lucas Giolito: WHO SAYS NO?!!

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 28:  Lucas Giolito #44 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning during a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on June 28, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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The rumor mongers are churning up some good stuff about the Yankees and the Nationals maybe talking about an Andrew Miller for Lucas Giolito deal. It started with Jon Morosi saying that the Nationals were willing to trade Giolito, one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, to the Yankees for Miller straight up.

Taking two steps back, the idea of a Miller-for-Giolito deal seems like it’d be something the Yankees would jump at in a heartbeat. Giolito would, in the normal course, be worth more than a relief pitcher. Even a good one under team control like Miller is. So if the Nats were willing to do this, the Yankees would be fools not to accept, right?

Well, no. Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman are saying that the Yankees are looking for a massive return for Miller, more than what Cubs gave them for Aroldis Chapman. That deal netted New York prospect Gleyber Torres and three other players who have future value. Gioloto is worth more straight up than Torres, but the Yankees want another big package, not just one guy. Assuming those reports are true, are the Yankees being greedy?

Maybe not! Maybe it’s not about the Yankees’ eyes being wide. Maybe it’s about the nature of prospects and how all of our eyes get a bit wide over them, especially when national rankings are released each spring. We see Giolito or someone like him named the top prospect — or maybe a top-3 prospect — and immediately believe they are untouchable or, at the very least, close to invaluable.

But here, if the rumors are to be believed, the Nats are offering him for a relief pitcher. And the Yankees are saying “nah, we need more.” Maybe they both see something the prospect raters and coveters don’t. Maybe, in the abstract, they’re just as high on him as the raters and coveters are but maybe they don’t live in the abstract. Maybe they have the added benefit of (a) experience with the fortunes of young pitching prospects; and (b) a downside risk in loving them too much that the raters and coveters don’t have. No prospect rater risks being fired if the guy they rank #1 in any given year blows his shoulder out. Team employees have been.

I have no idea if there are legs to these rumors. I know that I like Giolito as a prospect, for whatever that’s worth, and the Yankees definitely have a need for young, projectable and controllable pitching talent. Likewise, given that they’re in a transitional period right now and given that they Have Dellin Betances, they could do without Andrew Miller if they needed to. He’s someone they could deal in order to get a guy in Gioloto who would instantly become their top prospect.

But it’s the deadline and people get a bit nuts. Teams ask for the stars, yes, but those of us on the outside tend to forget that a huge number of prospects, especially pitching prospects, never pan out. For all of the hype a deadline occasions and for as much as we see a beautiful future for each and every young hurler that comes down the pike, there are no clear answers about who is or who isn’t being unreasonable here. That is, if any of this stuff is true.

Enjoy the trade deadline, everyone. Just remember that no one knows anything and everyone, on some level, is making a bet.