The Indians went as far as a team can go without winning the World Series last year, and they weren't even completely intact.
Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, who some might describe as co-aces with third-place Cy Young finisher Corey Kluber, were sidelined by hand and shoulder injuries, and their best hitter, Michael Brantley, got only 39 at-bats all year because of a shoulder issue. Just imagine what they could do at full health.
But wait, there's more.
Andrew Miller, whose postseason usage seems to have transformed the way the industry values shutdown relievers, will be there from the start, combining with closer Cody Allen to deflate the opposition in the late innings.
But wait, there's more.
Edwin Encarnacion, who has consistently ranked among the best hitters in Fantasy over the past five years, has been added to the mix. Between him and Brantley, the Indians lineup could feature two hitters better than any of the ones they ran out there in 2016 -- when, again, they came within two outs of winning the World Series.
We still haven't seen this team's ceiling, in other words.
The lineup may have actually become its greatest strength, which is saying something given how highly regarded the pitching staff is. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are sort of like lesser versions of Brantley, excelling in batting average while still offering some assistance in power and speed (the former is quickly emerging as one of the game's top shortstops), and Carlos Santana is sort of a lesser version of Encarnacion, combining plus power with plus plate discipline. And then there's Jason Kipnis, whose production is less predictable from year to year but who always manages to make himself an asset in Fantasy.
Plus, for all the moves they made at last year's trade deadline, the Indians did manage to retain their best hitting prospect, Bradley Zimmer, a potential Grady Sizemore-level talent who could provide some insurance for Brantley or push out Lonnie Chisenhall before season's end.
How will Edwin Encarnacion fare outside of Toronto?
Oh, he'll get over it.
Yeah, Toronto is the team that made him after he wore out his welcome in Cincinnati, using the same magic that worked on Jose Bautista, but it was five seasons of steady Eddie production. You couldn't find a more consistently elite bat in Fantasy, unless you were talking Mike Trout.
By now, that kind of performance is ingrained in Encarnacion, right? And the change in venue shouldn't be a big deal. The Rogers Centre has more of reputation for being a hitter's paradise, but Progressive Field's park factors are nearly identical.
Honestly, the biggest threat to Encarnacion's production is his 34 years of an age, and that would be an issue no matter where he played.
Can we count on Michael Brantley?
That's a dangerous game, as we learned last year. In theory, Brantley was supposed to recover from shoulder surgery in time for the season, but he didn't. And we kept hearing optimistic timetables, and he kept falling short, making only 39 at-bats overall before finally submitting to another surgery in August.
He kept us on the hook for two-thirds of a season, kept us believing we were on the verge of getting our stud outfielder back, thus preventing us from filling the need in a more permanent way. Drafting Brantley may well have ruined your 2016 season.
And this offseason surgery reportedly was to re-anchor muscle to bone. It was more serious, in other words, so you should take those reports of him being ready for spring training with a grain of salt. Sure, you could potentially nab him with a 14th- or 15th-round pick, but the wound is fresh, in more ways than one.
For the possibility of second-round production -- especially in Head-to-Head points leagues, where his strikeout-to-walk ratio is golden -- it may be worth the risk. Just understand there's a more than decent chance it's a completely wasted pick.
Does Andrew Miller have any chance of closing?
It ain't happening. Sorry.
I kept an eye out for any possible signs the final two months of the season and got precious few. Then after the way the Indians bullpen fueled their playoff run, it would take a complete collapse from Allen for Terry Francona even to entertain the possibility.
He wants to keep Miller, his best reliever, flexible, and you can't argue with the results. If the lead is on the line in the bottom of the fifth inning, he'll bring in Miller and maybe get the 1 2/3 innings that make all the difference. Or he'll take his starter out in the sixth and let Miller pitch the seventh and eighth before turning over the ninth inning to Allen.
Miller is an out machine capable of shortening games by more than just the final inning the closer is assigned to pitch. So really, the way Francona uses him, as frustrating as it is for us, is forward-thinking.
It doesn't mean Miller won't get any saves. Sometimes the ninth inning will be the logical time for Francona to use his best reliever, enough that I'm thinking a dozen or so is in the offing. And since he's perfectly comfortable working multiple innings and will only pitch in close games, Miller should pick up his share of victories as well. He might be the most valuable setup man in Fantasy Baseball history.
But that's probably all he'll be, so calling him a top-20 reliever in any format is, in my mind, a stretch.