The Indians appeared in the MLB postseason in both 2013 and 2016. Two unforgettable characters from those teams were Jason Giambi and Mike Napoli. The “veteran presence” components of two particularly talented rosters each received credit for the Indians success. These kudos were certainly deserved and having composed veterans is not to be approached with disdain. Still, the Indians seeming reliance on them is either meaningless or speaks volumes about the current core.
The Indians are now linked to second baseman Chase Utley. There doesn’t seem to be a place to put him other than displacing another- better- regular. So, the conversation moves towards Chase Utley, veteran presence.
Wonder if the leadership void in the clubhouse with the departure of Napoli has something to do with this. Utley is STRONG presence. https://t.co/yRWQacDS04
— T.D. Dery (@TD1TribeKU) February 8, 2017
I definitely agree with the motivation of the move but I find that motivation to be troubling. Having a healthy clubhouse is a credible goal. It is not a secret around the Indians that Brandon Moss and Nick Swisher were personalities who grated their teammates during a disappointing 2015 campaign. Indeed, as someone who spent my high school summers travelling the East coast playing baseball- sleeping in Motel Six with a bunch of hormone-heavy 16 year olds- having a healthy clubhouse is vital.1 The people you travel with, spend intense days with are important and that reality of clubhouse chemistry I will always support.
Yet, I find it disappointing to even think that this roster would need to bring in a veteran presence. The team is managed by Terry Francona. If he is the best manager in baseball not named Joe Maddon, he likely is, why must the Indians be concerned with collecting sub-optimal fits to have a healthy clubhouse? What does it say about this core?
This Tribe team came within one ninth inning run of winning the World Series, added a Top 15 hitter in baseball, deepened an elite bullpen, and lost no one of note outside the easily upgraded Napoli. When a team gets to the World Series with a core that has largely played together for almost a half decade, there should be no need for a veteran locker room presence unless there is some larger organizational dissension.
Perhaps an issue is Kluber’s quiet brilliance or teh youth of the team’s best player being only 23 years old.2 Perhaps Kipnis’ brash attitude does not sell as well in the clubhouse as it does publicly via sportswriters pull quotes. Maybe Trevor Bauer is a divisive figure. With all these caveats, Kipnis, Brantley, Kluber, Carrasco, Gomes have been leading this core for awhile, have reached a World Series, and look to lead the most loaded team in the American League in 2017.
The time for signing mildly productive veteran leaders is over. The 2017 Cleveland Indians is full of veterans that know what the Indians need to do to reach the World Series again.