The Indians infield should see a marked improvement offensively, at the cost of a slightly worse defense. Defensive specialists Jack Hannahan and Casey Kotchman are both gone, replaced by power hitting Nick Swisher and Mike Aviles. There are a few starters who will be keeping their places in 2013 as well and all three are solid offensive producers as well as dependable on defense. Asdrubal Cabrera survived the offseason and looks to be a veteran presence from short stop while Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana will also retain their positions of second and catcher respectively.
Lonnie Chisenhall will be taking over the hot corner to start the season for the first time (even though it should be for the third time). Despite originally being further along than Kipnis, unfounded favoritism pushed Kipnis to be a starter early (where he has excelled) while Chisenhall remained in AAA for no reason. With Hannahan to the Reds, there is now absolutely no one who could compete with the Chiz Kid for the starting third baseman job. He has not had as much experience in the Majors as he should have at this point (after missing most of last season when hit by a pitch in the arm), but should provide a spark from the bottom of the lineup. He has also improved defensively over the years and is no longer a liability on defense.
After the signing of Michael Bourne pushed him out of the outfield, newcomer Nick Swisher became the top candidate for the new first baseman. He has played 307 games at first and holds an impressive .994 fielding percent. He shouldn't be a huge drop off from Kotchman last year defensively and will be a huge upgrade offensively. During his four years in New York, Swisher averaged more than 25 home runs a season, immediately making him the Indians top power threat.
Mark Reynolds will be the Indians main designated hitter, but his versatility will allow him to play first (or third in an emergency) when necessary. This is the first time in a long time that the Indians will have a DH that can play in the field. This will be especially beneficial this year with the increase in Interleague play. Instead of relegating a top hitter to the bench (only useable as a pinch hitter), the Indians would be able to use Reynolds at first, Swisher in right field and bench either Drew Stubbs or Michael Brantley. Reynolds came as a free agent and is expected to big a strong middle of the lineup force after hitting 23 or more home runs every year since 2008.
As part of the Indians big spending spree this offseason, former Yankee Nick Swisher will be joining the team as well. There will be a lot of pressure on Swisher to earn his contract (an average of $14M per year through 2017) in his first year. He will be in Cleveland for a long time, so making a good first impression will be important with the fans. He will also be expected to make up for the loss of Choo in the lineup and will likely bat somewhere right in the middle of the order. He was originally slated to play in right field, but with the addition of Bourne, he will be relegated to firstbase. He will likely play some in the outfield as the season progresses, but his glove is a significant drop off after considering the other three outfielders.
The combination of Swisher and Reynolds offers a great opportunity for the Tribe to have a first baseman hit more than 21 home runs for the first time since Thome hit 52 in 2002. Since Thome left, the Indians have never found a solid first baseman, using the low average/low power hitters Ben Broussard, Ryan Garko, Matt LaPorta and Casey Kotchman. Both new hitters should be better than all these players combined.
The infield bench is yet to be cemented, but will likely include two players acquired from Toronto early in the offseason, Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles. Aviles will directly replace Jason Donald (who went to Cincinnati in the Shin-Soo Choo deal) as the back-up short stop and second baseman. He should also be able to play third when needed, but since the infield is still very young and has proven durable to this point, he shouldn't be needed often. It is yet to be seen how Terry Francona will manage this team, but if it is anything like when he was with Boston, he will play his starters every day (a style contrary to both Manny Acta and Eric Wedge).
Gomes should be the back-up catcher, replacing Lou Marson, although Marson is still with the team. Gomes is younger with much more upside and at this point everyone in the Indians organization must be completely frustrated with Marson's performance and ready for something new.
The last utility infield spot is completely undecided, but has many contenders. It will likely be a player who can play first, DH and possibly corner outfield like 2012 rule five pick Chris McGuiness or Mike McDade. Jason Giambi and Ryan Rayburn are both in camp after disappointing 2012 campaigns and are long shots to make the team.
Jason Kipnis should be the center of the team, on defense and offense.