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Six years gone

Eric Wedge

2009 wasn’t supposed to go like this for the Cleveland Indians. After getting off to a terrible start in 2008, the Indians rallied to finish the year 81-81, with the help of some promising young talent from Buffalo. The 2009 Indians brought back Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, added free agents Mark DeRosa, Kerry Wood and Joe Smith, and were poised to compete in the weak AL Central division.

It didn’t work out that way. Whether it was injuries, ineffectiveness, or just plain bad luck, the 2009 Indians had their worst season in almost 20 years. When you assess a season like this, where do you begin? My review of the 2009 Indians is after the jump.

  • Eric Wedge – C- Look, I’m not of the belief that the manager should accept the blame or accolade for much of anything. Ultimately, he’s standing in the dugout doing pretty much the same thing you and I do when we watch the game: scream at the players for missing bunts, stranding runners, or making mental mistakes. I happen to like Eric Wedge’s style of managing: a grind-it-out, 110% effort, trust your players type of guy. That said, maybe that didn’t work for his very young team, and after two consecutive disappointing seasons (the latter being particularly disappointing), it was time for him to go. In the paraphrased words of the immortal George Costanza, “it’s not you, it’s us.”
  • Victor Martinez/Kelly Shoppach – C- Since the former was traded to the Red Sox in July, this grade is the average of their performances. Victor got a solid B: he pretty much carried the team as best he could in the early going and rebounded nicely from a disappointing season, but he cooled off just before the trade before going on a New England honeymoon. Kelly Shoppach gets an F. You cannot strike out 1/3 of the time you come to the plate, hit .214, and regress defensively and expect to make it in this league. It’s a problem when you start Chris Giminez, a first basemen, instead of your starting catcher. Next season, look for Lou Marson or Wyatt Toregas to make a bigger impact.
  • Ryan Garko – C+ Garko played well enough this season to earn a pass out of Cleveland to San Francisco and play in a pennant race. He adapted fairly well to left and right field (a move that was at least questionable) and since his benching in 2008, has played with as much effort as anyone. I don’t know that he’ll ever be a premier first baseman, but he’s a solid hitter with two strikes (when he’s right) and will drive in runs.
  • Andy Marte – C Andy Marte came up when Garko was traded and started off well before cooling off and losing regular playing time. Perhaps he’ll do better with a different manager or coaching staff, as his work ethic and ability aren’t really the question here: it’s just a matter of getting results. One thing’s for sure though: his hot stretch when he came up made me believe he could be a good player in this league at some point, it’s just a matter of which team.
  • Luis Valbuena – B+ Valbuena is kind of like the counter to Asdrubal Cabrera – a wizard defender who’s a natural second baseman. He originally couldn’t hit at all, but made improvements as the year progressed and had a better than expected rookie campaign. The double play combination of Cabrera and Valbuena should be fun to watch next season.
  • Asdrubal Cabrera – A Perhaps the brightest spot of the Indians season, Asdrubal Cabrera proved himself a serviceable hitter and an above-average shortstop, once the Indians finally moved him there. If he can repeat this season in the years to come, he’ll have a long, productive career.
  • Jhonny Peralta – C- Jhonny had a rough year: he started off the season in a slump, as he normally does, and on top of that, had to change positions. He played third base fairly well, and he’ll have a full spring training there next year to hone his skills, but Jhonny needs to learn how to hit in April and May.
  • Shin-Soo Choo – B+ If Choo can learn how to be a less streaky hitter, he’ll be an All Star.
  • Grady Sizemore – C+ I know Sizemore has power, and I know he was hurt, but as a leadoff man, .248 won’t cut it (and no, it won’t cut it for a number three hitter either). I didn’t see as many diving plays in center field this year either. That said, I look for him to bounce back next year and maybe change positions to left field (leaving center to Michael Brantley or Trevor Crowe), which will better suit his weak throwing arm.
  • Travis Hafner – I Travis Hafner had times where he was Pronk, and times where he was not. The Indians paid him $11.5 million this year, and hitting .272 with 16 home runs and 49 RBIs isn’t exactly a win on that investment, but it’s far better than the .197/5/24 he notched in 2008, especially recovering from his shoulder issues. The real test will be next year: will he continue to improve towards 2006 form, or regress towards 2008 form?
  • Indians starters – D Cliff Lee and David Huff had nice seasons this year, and everyone else was below-average or worse. The Indians should get Jake Westbrook back next year, and hopefully a Fausto Carmona that’s closer to his 2007 form, which should make the loss of two Cy Young winners in two years a little more bearable (not much, though).
  • Indians bullpen – F The Indians bullpen was supposed to be a strength, but apart from Kerry Wood, who was solid this year when used, the Indians bullpen was inconsistent at best and downright disastrous most of the time. Note to Mark Shapiro: don’t add any pitchers from the “collapse like a house of cards” Mets (Joe Smith) and expect it to help your bullpen.

And that’s it. Overall, times are bleak in Cleveland, but hopefully a decent showing in 2010 and a little bit of luck will set the Indians up for a more prolonged run of success in the future.

Originally posted on Cleveland, Curveballs and Common Sense on October 11, 2009 at 12:46 AM. Post text content © 2009 Jimmy Sawczuk. All rights reserved.