I find myself in a peculiar position this baseball off-season. As opposed to other years, I find myself feeling very patient with the Cleveland Indians. Consider that this has been most of the Indians news-cycle so far this winter.
The Indians lose Joe Smith to the L.A. Angels? Alright. The Indians lose Scott Kazmir to a two-year deal in Oakland? O.K. Winter meetings come and go without anything but some anecdotes about Chris Perez personal P.R. meetings with teams? Fine by me. The Indians have been really quiet, and this year, that’s just fine by me. It’s a new credibility for the Indians bolstered by a playoff appearance and most importantly their second-year manager Terry Francona.
The Indians have made some moves, of course. This week they signed John Axford to a deal that seemed pretty palatable to most fans I interact with. Maybe the brain-washing that Jon has been executing with regard to major league closers is finally starting to work. Now everyone say this with me in a brain-dead monotone! “The Cleveland Indians shouldn’t spend valuable resources on a luxury position like closer, because it’s a really inefficient way to add wins to your club.” See? It’s just rolling off the tongue now. Jon continues to tell me that this is reserved for the teams that don’t fret over $10 million.
Same with the minor league deal the Indians gave to Shaun Marcum yesterday. He’s not exactly a Scott Kazmir type of a player, but it’s the kind of deal that feels like it might even be smart considering what Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway pulled off just a season ago with Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez. These guys were tinkered with from a mechanics standpoint, but it can’t be overstated how bold Terry Francona was in how he used those guys. Jimenez was put on a short leash that would have had most managers figuratively skewered and roasted over hot flames.
We know all too well that every move won’t work out. Brett Myers was an unmitigated disaster, and there’s no telling that the Indians won’t have a 2014 equivalent. The difference is that now that we’ve seen a year with Francona working alongside this front office and we’ve seen them take a team they didn’t even know all that well to an unlikely playoff berth, they’ve earned a little bit of my patience as they try to put some more pieces together for the coming season.
This is the kind of goodwill that guys like Eric Wedge and Manny Acta could never have garnered. That’s not to say that they aren’t good managers who don’t know the game. It’s just to say that in a situation like Cleveland’s, if we believe Jon’s efficiency theories with regard to closers, then you must also counterbalance that by looking at the Indians organization and finding the most efficient way to spend money. In the case of this organization, that means this team needed a confident, strong, expert of a manager if the club was going to go forward with the Shapiro/Antonetti front office.
It’s not magic that Francona brings to the club. He’s a guy who brings experience, confidence and leadership that many in the Indians fan-base didn’t trust or think was present in the organization before he arrived. Yes, the Indians made the playoffs last year, and that’s not nothing, but there’s more of a perception thing going on right now for me. Whether you are a fan of Shapiro and Antonetti or not – I have been – there’s no doubting the perception was that they’d failed. There was little reason to have confidence that these same guys would be able to change course and fix it.
With Terry Francona on board, the perception is totally different. As a result, it’s renewed my patience for this team, even as we endure what seems to be a pretty slow off-season.
(AP File Photo/Mark Duncan)