They're a really young group, and would probably be even younger if it weren't for the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, which sent 2 first rounders, a 2nd rounder and a 3rd rounder to Colorado; all four of whom could be a factor in Denver in the next few years if things go correctly. Based on the small sample of 64IP that Ubaldo had post-trade, that trade is going to be a disaster. Obviously, we should expect Ubaldo to return to form, based on an elevated babip, 65% strand rate, and an ERA a full run higher than his FIP.
Obviously, the Indians think that they're pretty well ready to contend, based on their decision to make that trade and mortgage a big chunk of their future. Drew Pomeranz, the centerpiece of the deal, should be a mid-to-front of the rotation guy relatively soon, and has 6 years of control in front of him. Throwing in 3 more prospects is a pretty high price to pay, especially since the 2014 club option on Ubaldo's contract becomes a player option with the trade.
From what I gather, the Indians plan on getting a shit-load of groundballs, and having their infield defense solve the problems. They traded for Derek Lowe, and have Ubaldo and Justin Masterson, so that at least partially address their problem in the run scoring department. They're really banking on improvements from Shin-Soo Choo, Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana, plus the emergence of new regulars Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall.
This team started the season hot, and that helped them finish 5 wins above expectation (though that's probably skewed a bit thanks to the fact that they got blown out of the water about 10 times over the last month of the season). They have definitely improved, but probably only to the point where they will win as many games as they did last year, since they shouldn't have won that many in the first place.
It's not pretty, especially now that they've shipped four prospects away to Colorado, and have graduated the aforementioned Kipnis and Chisenhall. They've still got some guys built up in the system, but their top guys look like #10-20 guys in most good systems. The good news is that they're still a very young club at the major league level, so there isn't a huge need to find minor league talent. According to John Sickels of minorleagueball.com, he can see this system returning to top-10 within a few years if the current batch of low-level talent develops well.
They could surprise again, but I doubt it. They're probably pretty close to peaking in terms of the talent that they've currently got in their organization, so by the time the Tigers regress, they should be on their way. I'd worry about a lack of organizational depth, and likely wouldn't have made the Ubaldo trade for that reason, based on their win curve, though perhaps there was a worry about getting everybody places to play or something. Still, they're a young group who might surprise and contend for a Wild Card spot if they can find an extra little push.
Projection: 81-81, 2nd in the AL Central
I'd like to point out that I had a full-on spreadsheet of projections drawn up, and made a last minute change to it last night, when writing my Mariners preview. I also think I'm too ambitious by a win or two for Oakland, and whichever team adds Roy Oswalt will need another win or two added in there somewhere. As result, there's a really good chance that (1) I don't go back and fix everything due to laziness and lack of caring, and (2) All the wins and losses don't add up to equal the correct number of games played. If it looks like I'm making this up as I go, well, I wasn't, but I am now.