Going into this recent offseason, both the astute and casual fan understood that the starting rotation needed to be corrected to avoid another 90+ loss season in 2013. However, a quick glance over the thin and unimpressive free-agent list left most to wonder how the front-office would address the rotation.

The answer was, in grand small-market fashion, to address the defense instead.
They pulled a dual surprise by signing both Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, (and at the time of this writing are in the mix to sign Kyle Lohse). The Bourn signing has people thinking about the Indians as a dark-horse American League playoff contender. Everybody likes an underdog, the Indians have put themselves in the headlines, and are striving to become this season's equivalent to the the A's or the O's of 2012 .

When you look closer, the Indians seem to be well below the Tigers, and about on par with the Royals and the White Sox in the Central. Despite everything the Indians have done, people still question the starting rotation, and for legitimate reasons. On Cleveland sports talk radio, fans and "experts" express concerns regarding the Indians’ starters, and consensus seems to be that the Indians don’t have enough pitching. They did add Brett Myers and Trevor Bauer, but they still have a rotation fronted by Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jiminez.

It’s true that starting pitching isn’t the team strength. If it were, the Indians would look a lot better than they do, and we wouldn’t be talking about them as a dark horse. In fact, they probably would have competed for a wild-card spot last season. As already noted, the Indians have not dramatically and directly upgraded their rotation with new personnel, and nobody knows what Masterson and Jimenez will deliver. What the Indians have done is upgrade their staff indirectly, especially with the Bourn signing. A year ago, the Indians finished last in baseball in UZR, at -57 runs. Not coincidentally, the Indians’ pitchers posted a collective 4.40 FIP but a 4.79 ERA. The staff was already below league average, but the team defense made it look worse. Given the exact same personnel going forward, one would expect the Indians to regress closer to the mean, but the Indians’ defense was a big problem.

This offseason, the Indians have brought in Bourn and Swisher, and they also acquired Drew Stubbs in a trade. Bourn is one of the game’s premier defensive center fielders, Stubbs was one of them, too, and Swisher is a jack of all trades who can play any position (even quoted as telling Tito that he could spot Carlos Santana on a Sunday afternoon). I think it’s worthwhile to attempt a quick team UZR projection.
We can skip over catcher, as UZR doesn’t make an attempt. My suspicion is that Santana is an overall negative, but he’s not changing, and we’ll just write this off as a catcher mystery. They didn’t make any changes at catcher, so assuming something like similar performance seems pretty safe. Let’s move on.
First base looks like it could be occupied by both Swisher and Mark Reynolds, with Reynolds maybe playing more often. Swisher’s record is fine; Reynolds’ record is worse. Put together, I think we can give these guys a -5. Understand now that we’re estimating, and of course these targets are only ranges. A -5 is closer to 0 than -10.*