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A new optimism

How the front office can fix the Indians this offseason

The Major League Baseball playoffs started over the weekend, which means that despite the fact that the Indians season has been officially over for a little less than a week, you could say that the Indians have been in offseason mode for months now. So rather than review this season, I’ll just jump straight into what the Indians should do in the offseason, after the break.

The Indians got a jump on their official offseason a couple weeks ago, when they fired Manny Acta with six games left in the season.

Subjectively, I liked Manny Acta. I thought he did a good job of balancing moneyball with small ball, related well with his players and wasn’t afraid to try new things. He was great for the Cleveland community as well, getting involved in Cleveland Indians Charities and generally representing the club well. Objectively, Manny Acta wasn’t the problem this season. In fact, relative to the Indians’ pitching, hitting, and defensive woes, he was one of the bright spots of the 2012 Indians. Nonetheless, there aren’t many managers who suffer 20-loss months and keep their job (case in point: Terry Francona, who went 7-20 in September 2011 with the Red Sox), and someone had to take the fall.

So today, the Indians announced the hiring of Terry Francona as manager after only a ten-day search. The only other major candidate was former Indian and former All Star Sandy Alomar, who was the interim manager for the last six games of this season. I admit I was (pleasantly) surprised by the hiring: if the Indians were just trying to sell the most tickets at the lowest cost, Sandy Alomar would have been the choice. And frankly, Sandy Alomar would have been a pretty solid and defensible choice. But rather than hiring a manager with little to no experience again, the Indians went with the (I’m guessing) more expensive and more seasoned Francona.

I’m a little worried that Francona will struggle dealing with the Indians’, er, “challenges” in the payroll department. But if this season in Boston can tell you anything, it’s that you can’t buy a championship with money alone. While Terry Francona guided the Red Sox to two World Series crowns in four years, Bobby Valentine guided the Red Sox to their worst season in over forty years. Meanwhile, the Oakland Athletics, champions of the American League West and playing in the Division Series against the Tigers, have the lowest payroll in baseball, about a third of that of the Red Sox.

To win in this league, you have to find talent where others miss it, and that’s especially true in the Indians’ case. And if you had to put your finger on it, that’s where the Indians have failed the last few years. The Indians haven’t drafted well in years, and so far the Chris Antoinetti signature trade was two first round pitching prospects for an ace who can’t throw strikes. The blame lies partially on Antoinetti, sure, but it lies mostly on the scouting department that consistently misses talent. Apart from some good luck, a revamp in the way the Indians do scouting is the only surefire way to improve this organization.

But these changes can’t happen overnight. So here are some actions the Indians should take this offseason that will make them better in 2013.

  • Re-sign Travis Hafner. Or at least, make him a reasonable offer and hope he takes it. Look, Hafner’s last contract was a classic example of the Indians scouting department failing them and costing them badly, but it can’t be argued that while healthy, Hafner was a force in the Indians lineup. He wasn’t a $13 million force, he wasn’t even a $5 million force, but the rest of the Indians offense (Santana in particular) played better when Hafner was in the lineup protecting them. So if I’m Antoinetti, here’s my offer: one year, $2 million base salary, $500,000 incentives for 81 games, 100 games, 120 games, 20 HR and 30 HR respectively. The Indians would have a club option for 2014 at whatever Hafner was paid in 2013 (base salary plus whatever incentives he earned) and could buy out that contract at $1 million.

    Honestly, Hafner might not get a better offer. But to me this seems like a fair, low-risk offer to a player who has produced results in the past and probably has some left in the tank.

  • Trade Chris Perez. I defended Chris Perez back in May, but I did so with the assumption that that would be his only major non-performance-related incident of the season. It turned out that wasn’t the case: he was in the news all throughout the summer, first for cussing out a fan (inexcusable), then questioning the front office (definitely forgivable) and finally turning on Manny Acta, a guy who defended him his entire time in Cleveland (inexcusable). He’s a distraction. If veteran teams like the Yankees or Red Sox falter under distractions, then what does that say about inexperienced teams?

    And furthermore, Chris Perez might be peaked. It’s still a dirty little secret in baseball that closers are inherently overvalued, and Chris Perez, who finished 2012 with the fourth-most saves in baseball, is probably a pretty tantalizing option for any team that struggled at closer this year (Detroit? St. Louis again?). If the phrase is “buy low, sell high”, Chris Perez might not go any higher.

  • Start shopping Shin Soo Choo. Choo is due to become a free agent at the end of the season, and being the best all-around player on the Indians and having Scott Boras as his agent probably means that 2013 is his last season in Cleveland. So start floating his name out there, because if a team like the Royals or the Blue Jays or the Pirates get off to a fast start next season, you might convince them to empty their farm system for a guy they’ll only get to lease. And farm system talent is something the Indians desperately need.
  • Four words: right-handed power hitter. After a great debut quarter-season, I think Russ Canzler will settle back to earth a little bit next season, and so it’ll be important to have a right handed bat that can hit for some power. Left field is the natural choice, but as far as I’m concerned, third base, first base and designated hitter are all up for grabs, so the Indians are pretty flexible there.

    And although my title says “power hitter”, what’s more important is plate discipline. Carlos “Pedro Cerano” Santana has to prove he can lay off the curveball before he’ll be taken seriously as an elite hitter, and the Indians need someone who can counter his aggressiveness with patience and bat control.

Terry Francona is nothing if not excited about this opportunity. But he also has to realize the challenges the Indians face as a team and as an organization. Hopefully he can bring some change to the Indians. Otherwise, in four years, we’ll be talking about the failed Terry Francona experiment and wondering: if not him, then who?

Originally posted on Cleveland, Curveballs and Common Sense on October 8, 2012 at 9:14 PM. Post text content © 2012 Jimmy Sawczuk. All rights reserved.