Normally, when I write about the Indians, I try to keep a pretty neutral voice. After all, I’m an Indians fan, but more than that I’m a baseball fan. Even if the Indians are losing I still love and enjoy the game.
But this one hurts.
As I read, listened to and watched coverage of the Cliff Lee trade to the Phillies, I was reminded of what the Indians were doing two years ago at this time. Do you remember?
- After a disastorous start against the Red Sox, Cliff Lee stormed off the field, sarcastically tipping his hat to the crowd as he left. The Indians ended up losing 14-9 (I happened to be at that game), and he was sent to Buffalo the next day, and came back only for September call-ups.
- On July 27, the Indians traded Single-A catcher Max Ramirez to the Rangers for former Indian Kenny Lofton. That night, he returned to a standing ovation and sparked the Indians to a 10-4 win.
- CC Sabathia lost his 6th game on July 29, 2007, en route to a 19-7 Cy Young Season. His ERA was 3.58.
The Indians, of course, went on to the ALCS that year and were within one game of the World Series. Two years, two Cy Young winners traded, and one (soon to be two) Octobers on the golf course (i.e. not in the playoffs), the Indians are in rebuilding mode. What happened?
- The bullpen implosion. In 2007, the bullpen was a strong point for the Indians. Rafael Perez and Rafael Betancourt did great getting the ball to Borowski in the ninth, who would either completely blow up or completely dominate, most of the time the latter. In 2009, Betancourt is on the Rockies (after a decent, but injury-plagued first half), Perez is in Columbus (oh yeah, we switched AAA teams since 2007) and Borowski is out of baseball. It’s been downhill since then.
- Injuries. Grady Sizemore, who hadn’t missed a game in two years in 2007, has been on the disabled list once and now has a recurring elbow problem. Travis Hafner had a miserable 2008 and is now only starting to get his form back. Victor Martinez (who may be next to depart) disappointed in 2008 as well due to injuries. Jake Westbrook hasn’t pitched in the majors since June of 2008. The Indians’ stars have just had some bad luck injuries.
- Inconsistent offense. When you roll out a different lineup for almost every game in a season, it’s usually a telltale sign that a team isn’t getting on any kind of a roll. That’s been the Indians’ case the last two years. Early last season, the pitching was phenomenal but the Indians just couldn’t score runs. They seem to go through those stretches where no one in the lineup is hitting.
- Pressure. The Indians collapse when the pressure is on. Only when there are few expectations for the season (i.e. when they’re 15 games under .500) do they seem to play well. (Trot Nixon did a great job in 2007 of keeping the young guys loose and not putting too much pressure on themselves.)
Now what? Unfortunately, the analysis is that the Indians got a pretty good package of prospects, but they won’t be ready for a couple years. Let’s face it: right now, the only Indians starters that are starters on most other teams are Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-soo Choo, and maybe Jhonny Peralta. Everyone else (and now that Lee is gone, this includes pitchers) are probably out of their element in the majors.
Even worse news: in the article I linked above, the word out of the Indians front office is that this was a move in order to make some room in the payroll this off-season; ownership won’t be chipping in more funds to sign players. Hey, with the Indians last in the league in attendance, can you blame them? The Indians aren’t winning enough games to fill the seats, so the Indians can’t afford to pay for players to win games, and the cycle perpetuates. I’m hoping Shapiro is right, and that in 2011, the Indians will be competitive again, but if the economy doesn’t improve, I don’t think there’s much of a chance of that.
Did anyone notice the year Franklin Gutierrez is having? The Indians traded him to Seattle in the offseason for Joe Smith (who, every time I turn around, is blowing another game. Seriously, what were we thinking bolstering our bullpen with someone from the Mets, the master of bullpen collapses?), because they thought Francisco had more upside. As it turned out, Francisco is gone too, but Gutierrez is having a nice year with Seattle, hitting nearly .300. Francisco was hitting .250. It’s the Brandon Phillips syndrome: what is it with playing in Cleveland?
Well, Indians fans, all you can do is wish Lee, Francisco, Ryan Garko, Rafael Betancourt and Mark DeRosa the best and hope that at some point soon, we’ll be trade deadline buyers, not sellers.
By the way, did anyone see who is replacing Lee in the rotation? You got it, Fausto Carmona, who was 19-8 in 2007, injured last year and sent to Single A this year. My, how times have changed.