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Neither snow, blizzards nor sleet will stop the 2018 season

 It doesn’t look like it now with snow swirling and accumulating on sidewalks and driveways. This is the kind of weather the winter press tour would usually encounter when it was still delivering the good word on Indians' baseball so many years ago.

The Tribe’s bus caravan would be in some place like Erie, Pa., stopping at Hector’s Restaurant for some great Italian food, and get snowed in. But Erie was recently buried in 65 inches of snow in three days. If that happened during the Tribe’s press tour, half the traveling party would have never been heard from again. They would have just stayed at Hector’s.

Which is a roundabout way of saying, spring training is coming. Once the calendar flips to Jan. 1, there’s no stopping it. Snow, blizzards and sleet have no chance. It’s coming, so get ready.

We’ve already looked back at the Top 10 moments from the Tribe’s 2017 season. Now let’s look ahead at the Top 10 questions — some may call them problems — facing the Indians for 2018.

No. 1: Does Tribe have successors for Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith?
Chris Antonetti, president of baseball operations, recently said that the signing of Yonder Alonso to a two-year $16 million contract burned through most of his free-agent bank account. Maybe the Indians can pull a rabbit out of the hat as they did by signing lefty Boone Logan last February – Logan’s season ended in July with an injury – because judging by the looks of this free-agent market there are going to be plenty of players still looking for jobs.

Still, Shaw gave the Indians five years of industrial strength relief and the only arm in the bullpen that came close to matching him was closer Cody Allen. There’s no way the Indians put Allen back in a set-up role, especially with him entering his walk year. Somebody is going to have to replace Shaw’s output and that somebody isn’t in the pen right now.

Smith made only 21 appearances for the Tribe after being acquired at the July deadline from Toronto. But he did make the postseason roster ahead of Dan Otero, Zach McAllister and Nick Goody. Replacing him will be easier than replacing Shaw.

No. 2: Will Yonder Alonso keep launching the baseball?
Has Alonso come out of his cocoon power wise or is he just a watered-down version of Brady Anderson? In 1996, Anderson, then center fielder for the Orioles, hit 50 homers. The most he hit before that in a season was 21. The most he hit after that in a season was 24.

If Alonso gives the Indians somewhere between Anderson’s before and after numbers for the next two years, they’d be happy. But here’s the thing, he hit 28 homers in 2017. He’d never hit more than nine in a season before that.

We saw what a change in launch angle did for Francisco Lindor last year. It put him in a funk for much of the first half, but it helped him hit the most homers (33) for a switch-hitting shortstop in one season in big-league history.  Alonso and the Indians feel the changes he’s made in his swing to hit more balls in the air have deep roots. That’s good to hear, but swings change, pitchers get smarter, slumps happen and every year is different.

In other words it will be up to Alonso to rinse, recycle and repeat in 2018.

No. 3: Will Tribe's free-agent exit continue in 2018?
So far the Indians have lost Shaw, Smith and Carlos Santana to free agency this winter. Fellow free agents Austin Jackson, Jay Bruce, Craig Breslow and Logan are expected to be gone as well.

At the end of the 2018 season, Michael Brantley, Allen, Andrew Miller, Zach McAllister, Lonnie Chisenhall and Josh Tomlin will be eligible for free agency. There’s a chance that the Indians could keep one or two of them, but usually when a player gets this close to testing the market that’s exactly what he does.

That’s a lot of talent leaving the roster in a two-year stretch, especially in the bullpen. No organization has that much talent in the minors to plug that many holes. All of which increases the emphasis on the Tribe’s performance in 2018.

No. 4: What to do with Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis?
The signing of Alonso indicates that Brantley, when healthy, will play left field. There was speculation that he may move to first base after recovering from right ankle surgery. No matter what his position, Brantley still might not be ready for the start of the season.

Jason Kipnis remains in limbo. Will he return to second base? Will he bounce between the outfield and infield? Will he be traded? Will he play left field until Brantley is ready to return?

Stay tuned. The sands are still shifting.

No. 5: How will Tribe pitchers react to coaching changes?
Pitching is one of the things the Indians do best, but there has been a shakeup this winter among the men who coach those pitchers.

Mickey Callaway was named manager of the Mets after spending five years as the Indians pitching coach. Jason Bere was fired as bullpen coach at the end of the year as well.

Carl Willis was hired to replace Callaway and Scott Atchison was promoted to be the new bullpen coach. Willis was the Tribe's pitching coach from 2003 through 2009 under manager Eric Wedge. He has also coached big-league pitching staffs in Seattle and Boston.

Atchison pitched in the Tribe’s bullpen in 2014 and 2015. He spent the last two seasons working on advance scouting reports and assisting the big-league staff. This will be his first coaching job.

Early indications are that this should be a smooth transition on a coaching staff that hasn't undergone many changes under manager Terry Francona in the last five years.



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