With a quiet week of Cleveland sports coming up (Browns bye week, Indians season just ended, Cavs preseason does not start for about another week) I thought this would be a good time to begin talking about the Indians past season.
The Indians season can be summed up in one word: weird. This team was one game away from going to the World Series last year, and they finished this season with a record of 81-81.
Aside from bringing in Jamey Carroll and Masa Kobayashi, the Indians did nothing in the past offseason. I believe this is one of the main reasons why the team did not do as well this year. When you are one game away from winning the ALCS, and you collapse against a good Boston Red Sox team, you have to make some changes. When a team makes changes I feel that it brings some sort of excitement to the team, and their fans. How can you go into the season with the same exact squad you had, with the bad taste of the collapse versus Boston? The team needed a little bit of a shake up, and they did not do that. Remember when the Indians traded for Kenny Lofton last year? Remember how much excitement that brought to both the team and fans? I remember Kenny got a standing ovation when he came up to bat, and the stadium in his first game was full. Kenny was an important part of the Indians success last year in the playoffs. While his stats did not wow anyone, he worked the counts against pitchers, and when he got on base, he was always a threat to steal, and he was always a good left fielder. By not bringing in any new blood, the Indians would just hope that some of our players would continue their great play, but this often times does not happen. Players do not have career years every year. Aside from Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez, what "great" players does this lineup have? Every playoff team in the AL has 2-3 great hitters in their lineup. Boston had Manny, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia. Angels have Vlad, Torii Hunter, Mark Texiera. Chicago has Jermaine Dye, and Carlos Quentin. Tampa Bay has Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford and B. J. Upton. The Indians need great players in their lineup, and by not having a great hitter in our lineup this season (minus Sizemore) really hurt us. Here is also what went wrong this offseason:
Injuries really killed this squad as well. Joe Borowski, Jake Westbrook, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, Josh Barfield, and Fausto Carmona all suffered injuries this year. All of these guys except Borowski all spent time on the 60 day DL. I felt that these guys were all major parts of the Indians rise in the Central Division last year. When your 3 and 4 hitters in your lineup, closer, 2nd and 3rd starters go down, the odds of your team doing aren't that good.
The bullpen was extremely inconsistent. Aside from Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis, the Indians have a set of inconsistent arms. My father could pitch better than Joe Borowski, Rafael Betancourt seems to have lost his touch, Tom Mastny is not that reliable, Masa Kobayashi is not a closer and he seemed to get tired by the end of the year, and Edward Mujica just wont cut it. Our bullpen had a 19-25 record with a 5.13 ERA. You don't make it to the playoffs with a record like that.
The platoon in left field sucked. David Dellucci and Jason Michaels are not supposed to be starters on a playoff team. I feel that this really killed the team because I feel that everyone but Mark Shapiro knew this was a bad idea. I heard from Terry Pluto (one of the best sports writers in Cleveland) that Eric Wedge wanted Ben Francisco in left field, but Shapiro opposed it. These two guys really sucked the life out of the offense because they couldn't hit or field. When we brought in Francisco, we finally got some offense from left field. I like Francisco and I feel that hes a solid 3rd outfielder. Even though he tailed off a little bit in the second half, he can be used as a stopgap until Matt LaPorta comes in, or be used as trade bait at a later date.
Now that I have gone over what went wrong this season. I feel that Cliff Lee, Shin-Soo Choo, Grady Sizemore, Jensen Lewis, and Rafael Perez all had good seasons. I feel that Ryan Garko and Jhonny Peralta had solid seasons as well. Cliff Lee became the first Indians pitcher to win 20 games since 1974, Choo destroyed in the second half (.343 11 HR, 48 RBI) , Sizemore continued his great fielding and had a nice surge in power (33 homeruns) , Lewis saved 13 games, and Perez continued to be the dominant lefty in the bullpen (4-4, 3.54 ERA, 86 strikeouts and 2 saves). If theres anything to salvage from this season, its that all of these guys are at or are under the age of 30. We can continue to build our team around these guys.
What to do in the offseason?
Sign a reliever or two.
I feel that this team is very close to going back to the World Series. The first thing the Indians must do is sign a couple of bullpen arms. I'm sorry, I cannot rely on a couple of AAA prospects to come into our bullpen and carry us to the playoffs. Octavio Dotel and Matt Herges will be free agent, maybe look into signing one of them. After the trades of CC Sabathia, Paul Byrd, and Casey Blake, the Indians were able to shed some salary, so they have some wiggle room to spend this offseason ($14 million, according to Terry Plut0). Since K-Rod is way out of our price range, the most probable way of getting some good arms will have to come through a trade. By trading for a couple of solid bullpen arms, you can add them to the mix of Perez, and Lewis which will solidify the bullpen. If Mastny, Kobayashi, or Beatancourt can return to the way they are capable of pitching, the Indians will have a solid bullpen. We wont be relying on a bad closer in Joe Borowski, or an inconsistent Edward Mujica.
Trade for JJ Hardy or Brian Roberts
These guys would really solidify our infield. With the emergence of Kelly Shoppach at catcher (21 HR, 55 RBI in 112 games), Victor Martinez can be moved to first base. This makes either Hafner or Garko expendable. Teams would probably prefer Garko because he makes less money, is younger, and has played better the past two seasons. The Brewers are trying to shed salary this offseason, and I am sure Hardy will come up in trade talks. Brian Roberts is due for 8 million dollars next year, and I don't see the Orioles going anywhere next year. They can shed his salary, and add some young prospects through a trade. Garko does not make nearly as much as Roberts or Hardy do, so it makes fiscal sense for these teams to make a trade. Lets say the Indians try to get Roberts, they can trade Garko (who came on very strong at the end of the year and his value increased), Sowers/Laffey/Barfield/Franklin Guiterrez (one of these three), and a top level prospect (3B Jared Goedert, he batted .317, 20 HR and 74 RBI in Class A Kinston). You might say why are we trading a 3B prospect? Well we have 2 3B in Wes Hodges (.288 15 HR 71 RBI in Class A Kinston) and Beau Mills (.261 6 HR 42 RBI in rookie ball) waiting in the wings. Shapiro has to have the attitude that he has 2-3 years to win a World Series, and that he might have to deal away with a couple of top prospects to get a player like Brian Roberts. So lets say we get Roberts, we have Victor at first, Roberts at second, Asdrubal at short, and Peralta at third. Our lineup then becomes:
If we get JJ Hardy, we would keep Asdrubal at second, and Hardy would play shortstop. Not bad of a lineup. You have speed at the top, Grady can continue to hit for power, Victor and Hafner can hit homers, and the rest of the lineup rounds out to be pretty solid. We cannot win a World Series with Jamey Carroll or Josh Barfield in our infield. I feel that adding Roberts (.296 9 HR 57 RBI and 40 stolen bases) or Hardy (.283 24 HR 74 RBI) would solidfy not only our infield, but our lineup as well.
Sign or trade for a 4th or 5th starter
Cliff Lee, Fausto Carmona seem to be the two penciled in starters next year. Scott Lewis seems like a good candidate to be the third starter. This leaves the 4th and 5th rotation spots open. I feel that Zach Jackson is not that good, and at best he is a 5th starter. Sowers and Laffey have both been inconsistent and one of them could be traded. If we sign or trade for a 4th starter, we can add him to the rotation of Lee, Carmona, Lewis, 4th starter, Laffey/Sowers/Jackson or upcoming prospect. Jake Westbrook should be back near the middle of the year, so he can help fill the rotation as well. By signing a solid 4th starter, the Indians will not have to rely on 2 inexperienced or inconsistent starters. As I said before, I think this squad can go very far next year, and they cannot rely on rookies or second year players to carry them.
If the Indians do what I have suggested, to me, they are the team to beat in the Central. Chicago got lucky this year, and they are very old. Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Ken Griffey Jr., and Paul Konerko will all be over the age of 33 by next year. The Detroit Tigers are cutting salary this offseason, and they have no pitching to speak of. The Minnesota Twins seem to be the team that will battle with the Indians next year. . With a young nucleus of pitchers (Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, and Kevin Slowey) and hitters (Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Delmon Young, and Michael Cuddyer), the Twins will be around for awhile. The Indians went 44-30 in the second half of the year. By adding a Hardy or Roberts, along with a healthy Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner (start making your money) to a lineup that played better in the second half of the season, the Indians can make it back to the playoffs. By solidifying the bullpen, the Indians will finally be able to close out games, and they wont be worn down by the frustrations of a two blown saves a week. By adding a starter to the rotation, the Indians will have depth, and a solidified rotation. The Indians showed in the second half that they have the ability to be a good team in the AL. The hitting had improved, the starters were pitching better, and the bullpen began to become stable. By making some additions in the offseason, the Indians can make a lot of noise next year.
The Indians have some young prospects waiting in the wings as well. Matt LaPorta came from the CC trade, and he looks like the real deal. Also, the Indians will be choosing between OF Michael Brantley (.319 4 HR 40 RBI in AA Hunstville) or 3B Taylor Green (.289 15 HR 73 RBI in Class A Brevard County) to complete the CC trade. Beau Mills and Wes Hodges are both solid infield prospects, Adam Miller is a top pitching prospect who is being moved to the bullpen, and catcher Carlos Santana, who was acquired in the Casey Blake trade (.324 14 HR 96 RBI in Class A minors, Victor Martinez anyone?) was named the California League MVP.
I agree with all the trades Shapiro made. CC was not going to re-sign with us, and we weren't headed to the playoffs WHEN we made the trade. Instead of getting 2 draft picks, we got two very good prospects (LaPorta and Green/Brantley) who will help us greatly now (shedding CC's salary) and in the future. Casey Blake was hitting well, but again, the Indians were going no where, so getting Santana to me was great. Blake is basically a 4 month rental to the Dodgers, and hes 35 years old. Cutting off Paul Byrd's salary was also a good idea. The Indians were able to shed salary, pick up 3-4 good prospects, and were able to evaluate and give ample playing time to youngsters such as Scott Lewis, Anthony Reyes, Zach Jackson, former no. 1 pick Bryan Bullington, and Michael Aubrey. Other youngsters who got playing time such as Franklin Guiterriez and Andy Marte did not do that well. Marte is not that good, and Franklin is a good defensive outfielder and is a 4th or 5th outfielder, not a starter.
Finally, I want to comment on the fact that the Indians need to learn from their past mistakes. They need to know that they need to make some moves in the offseason to give some sort of excitement to the fans, and inside the clubhouse. If you do not make changes, your team will begin to get stale. I mean look at the Cavaliers in the 2007-2008 season, they made no moves in the offseason, and they looked sluggish throughout the whole regular season. Also, this team needs to learn with pressure. I feel that this team gets tentative when they feel pressure, and this was evident in the Boston series last year, and this year as well. Lets take a look at the numbers: In 2005 the Indians went 93-69. They cut a 10 game lead to a 1 game lead, but they were unable to make the playoffs. That year the Indians were supposed still be in the middle/late stages of rebuilding. No one expected them to even contend for the Central. The expectations, the pressure was not there. They flew under the radar, and they played well. The next year in 2006 , many people believed the Indians would win the Central, but they finished 78-84. The team came out sluggish, and had a horrible April, and never recovered. After a disappointing 2006, people did not have great expectations for them, and what did they do? You guessed it, they won 96 games, and were very close to going to the World Series. This past season, many people, including ESPN's Buster Olney and Mike Greenberg predicted the Indians to go to the World Series. The pressure was on to go far in the playoffs, especially after winning 96 games the year before. What did the Indians do? Ha, right again! They won 81 games, and finished in 3rd place in the Central. Eric Wedge needs to sit his team down and tell them that they need to learn how to play under great expectations, and they need to fight through the adversity of a 182 game season. Now I am sure there are other factors to the reasons why the Indians played the ways they did in the last few years, but the pressure and expectations were still there.
Well I know this was a long assessment of the Indians season, but I feel that I touched on most of the important stuff that happened, and what needs to happen. Usually I will be writing about one topic, and not a huge assessment or summary like I did right now. I want to thank all of you for reading, and I hope you will leave your thoughts in he "comments" section. Again thanks, and I wish you all the best! Go Cleveland!