As spring training winds to a close, optimism for the regular season abounds in Tribe Town.
And how couldn’t it? Last year, after all, was an incredible ride. But that was months ago.
With just a few weeks to go before meaningful games begin, it’s time to make as many predictions as possible, if for no other reason than looking foolish come November.
With that in mind, it’s time to designate one player as this year’s X-factor for the Tribe. Someone who will serve as a barometer of sorts. As he goes, so goes the club.
And believe it or not, even with a roster as loaded as Cleveland’s seems to be, the team is chock full of question marks.
It’s tempting to choose centerfielder Michael Brantley. He’s coming of major surgery, and he, at least formerly, was a great player. Dependable, steady and talented, Brantley could absolutely carry this team.
Speaking of outfielders, both Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer are strong candidates for the title. Should Naquin suffer a sophomore slump, or should Zimmer find his way to the majors and light up the stat sheet, these two’s seasons would reflect the team’s success or failure.
But the real x-factor, the man who will determine how far the Tribe’s smoke signals carry this year is catcher Yan Gomes.
His 2016 season was truly horrific. When he wasn’t hurt, he was hurting the team. He batted an abysmal .167 with only 42 hits. He struck out 69 times, and baseballreference.com slotted his WAR at -.8.
In 2013 and 2014, he batted above .300 and had a WAR near 4.0.
Backup Roberto Perez has proven himself to be just that: a high-quality backup.
This team needs Gomes to perform like he did a few years ago. Even his 2015 batting average of .231 would be a huge boost for the club.
In 2017, as the Brazilian backstop goes, so goes the Tribe.