But yet they are still not “tanking” in the traditional sense.
The Indians are instead in some unknown middle area where they could easily win the American League Central in 2021 or finish with 70 wins.
Would either outcome be more surprising than the other?
One goal this season should be to figure out what direction the organization wants to take moving forward.
Should a rebuild happen soon, or is this team built to win now?
MLB.com’s Will Leitch went through all 30 MLB teams and picked one goal for each team this season.
His goal for the Indians is to “justify a shift in the right direction.”
That makes 2021 one of the more pivotal seasons in recent team history.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) March 13, 2021
Finding a Path Forward in 2021
The Indians have not finished under .500 since 2012.
Then Terry Francona showed up in 2013 and the team has made the postseason in five out of eight years.
But things have a different feel in 2021.
Lindor is in New York and so is Carlos Carrasco.
So much for applying all the savings to new talent.
The payroll has been slashed and the front office is looking for proof that a team can win this way in Cleveland, similar to how the Tampa Bay Rays operate.
Winning solves all and a playoff berth in 2021, or even a winning season, would justify continuing forward with the core of talent in place.
But what happens if the team looks terrible.
How a Rebuild Could Begin
— LINEUPS BETTING (@lineupsbetting) March 13, 2021
The Indians have a stockpile of prospects just waiting for a chance to prove they belong.
Anyone who has not blown away the front office would be moved on from if cheaper options with more potential are available.
Just look at what the Baltimore Orioles are currently doing and you will see a worst-case scenario in terms of tanking.
Another possibility is the Indians do yet another mini-rebuild in 2022 by moving on from some veterans, but adding others.
The Rosario move was an example of the team making a small move with the goal of winning still in mind.
2021 is all about finding this team’s identity for the next five years.
Rebuilds are not fun for fans and players don’t want to take part in one either.
Winning this season can solve everything, while a sub-.500 year could see the most transition take place since the last managerial change was made back in 2012.