Indians, WWW

Wanting what others have and an Indians offseason of bad optics: While We’re Waiting

It’s incredibly easy to look at someone else and want what they have. In grade school, you’d look down at your PB&J and then across the long table with eight circle seats and see the spoiled kid with his Lunchable, or even worse, the kid that had a morning appointment and came back with McDonald’s for lunch. Sooner than later, everyone would be driving their newer cars purchased by while you got in your 1989 Plymouth Sundance (similar vehicle featured below, this was not actually mine).1 Even later, you’d be working your retail job full time, while in college full time, eating 89-cent-packages of hot dogs on slices of white bread with ketchup because buns were an extra commodity that you could not afford, but yet when you log into Facebook back when they only allowed people with college emails to be members and before they became socially ubiquitous, you’d see friends on spring break vacations in the Caribbean.2

Envy and covetousness are normal, so much so that one of the 10 Commandments is to not do those things. But because we are humans with flaws and feelings and farts, it’s have expected that we want what others have. As Indians fans, that often means the toys that other franchises get to have. Those “toys” could be players, such as wishful daydreaming of signing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, or simply the money so as to sign uber-elite shortstop Francisco Lindor to a lifetime contract so as to not see yet another player play prime years in a big market after a trade while we kick the prospect can down the road again. Fans want to see big moves and big names brought in to compete for a title, even though an AL Central championship seems all but assured.

I bring up this covetousness as the optics of this offseason have laid waste to fan expectations and general hopefulness going into the 2019 season. The big moves have not happened across the board, as evidenced by the fact that the best outfielder and reliever (Harper and Craig Kimbrel) both remained unsigned, and the best free agent infielder (Machado) signed just this past Tuesday with five-ish weeks to go until Opening Day. Cleveland was never going to be a true player in any of those signings, but it should be mentioned that they have yet to sign a single player to a major league free agent contract that did not play for their team in 2018. Yes, there have been trades, but no free agent signings despite the payroll clearing is a bad look for a team that should be opening its coffers for some help. Instead, mostly incremental, non-roster invitee type deals have been made, such as Matt Joyce, Tyler Clippard, and Alex Wilson along with those few trades, but again, those do little in the way to excite fans. Nobody is getting turnt up because of Asher Wojciechowski or Dioner Navarro being offered minor league deals.

If you want a clear idea of how some fans have been disappointed by the offseason, check out Josh Poloha’s piece just yesterday here on WFNY. While it’s not quite as drastic, and no Indians fan is going full Darth Vader, the immortal words of Yoda hold true: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” We fear that our team will be bad, or lose in the postseason. That fear leads to anger at the front office and others for not doing more, for not signing some good healthy relievers or an established major league hitter to longer than a spring training invite. The anger leads to hate and then we all suffer as nobody shows up to watch the games, leading to less spending on talent, which leads to drastic measures, like new ownership or even moving the team.

Part of the issue fans have with how this offseason went was the letting players like Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, and Michael Brantley walk to other teams, the latter two going to AL competitors, with no clear sign as to who is going to replace them. Of little importance to fans was that Allen and Miller both had such horrendous 2018 campaigns that their departure might actually net an addition-by-subtraction type situation.3 No, it was the fact that the two stalwarts of the amazing 2016 World Series run were gone without names as big as theirs replacing them. Internal options Adam Cimber and Nick Goody hope for comebacks of varying degrees, as Cimber was not the same guy in Cleveland as he was in San Diego and Goody is on the path back from Tommy John surgery. Dan Otero was extended through his arbitration years, Neil Ramirez is still in the second year of his, and Oliver Perez was re-signed. The latter two of those had good-to-actually-really-good under the radar 2018 campaigns. Alas, none of those incremental moves made the fan needle so much as twitch as a centimeter, while the pennant competitors New York Yankees signed both Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino to big contracts to fill out an already impressive bullpen and other useful relievers signed cheap-ish deals around the league.

Michael Brantley is gone without receiving a qualifying offer from the club, thus meaning that no compensation via draft pick would be returning for the former All-Star. His signing in Houston will be a storyline all fall if/when the Astros and Indians meet up again in the postseason. I’ve written long pieces and numerous times about the good and bad merits of Brantley and his various options and was against offering him the qualifying offer this offseason, but his departure leaves a hole in the lineup and left field that has yet to be filled, unless you think Matt Joyce, Oscar Mercado, or Tyler Naquin will light the world on fire. Was the trade of Yan Gomes a win? Hard to say but Jefry Rodriguez throws hard and can be useful out of the pen and Tyler Johnson has upside down the road if his hit tool improves. If it doesn’t, he’s a fourth outfielder on a playoff team, which when coupled with what Rodriguez can bring, is probably more valuable in the long term than what Gomes was going to give in 2019. All of this while Nelson Cruz signs in Minnesota to try and compete with Cleveland in the division, longtime trade rumor Andrew McCutchen goes to Philly, and A.J. Pollock increases the glut of bats with the Dodgers, and Edwin Encarnacion and cult hero Yandy Diaz were dealt away in payroll-clearing ventures.

Speaking of the Dodgers, the biggest optics snafu of the offseason was the continued rumor mill windup consisting of trading one of all-world starting pitcher Corey Kluber or wunderkind Trevor Bauer. On the surface, trading away one of the strengths of the team seems flawed and regular fans were irate at the thought of two time Cy Young winner Kluber not pitching Opening Day. After countless days of discussing the possible return for such a trade and the realizations that hey Shane Bieber is really good and we might not miss Kluber or Bauer that much as a starter and oh wow we could fix all our roster problems with a trade with Cincinnati or LA and get at least one exciting player like Nick Senzel or Cody Bellinger or Alex Verdugo — the worm turned. Twitter timelines were refreshed endlessly, Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman notifications were set up, alarms were set by the 5:00 pm Jon Morosi tweet saying talks were continuing or progressing or stale or ongoing all without saying much of anything. There was genuine interest and excitement about trading two pitchers at or just past their prime. However, the closer to Opening Day we got, the less and less likely it was that we were going to get a Kluber deal. Then the worm turned again.

Suddenly, the front office is asleep at the wheel. They don’t care that this is probably the best chance the franchise has at making a run in the postseason and we might have Jordan Freaking Luplow as a starting outfielder April 1st.4 Nevermind that the Opening Day outfield in 2016 was Marlon “PED” Byrd, Collin “My Parents Already Gave Me An Extra L For My Name” Cowgill, and Rajai Davis. Forgotten is the fact that Juan Uribe was the starting third baseman, not Jose Ramirez. Tommy Hunter, Jeff Manship, and Ross Detwiler were in the bullpen and Andrew Miller was not, since he was acquired as a trade deadline move.

I bring up all of those oddities of 2016 for a reason. Optics aside, this is a roster that has potential. Any of the starters, yes any, even you Shane “Not Justin” Bieber, are good enough to win the Cy Young. Francisco Lindor could and should miss Opening day and the rest of that week to rest his calf strain, but when he plays, he’s a top-five player in all the majors along with the GOAT. Carlos Santana is back, whether it be at DH, first or inexplicably the outfield. Jake Bauers is going to be the new crush of the female fandom, for his looks and his abilities. Jason Kipnis is the starting second baseman, for better or worse, and the “dirtbag” should have a big chip on his shoulder to live up to his contract. Leonys Martin almost died last year, so you have to root for that.

Should there have been more moves made? Yes. We never know exactly how much money teams make off of ball clubs, but we always expect they pocket more than they put back into roster development. And while Cleveland can’t and won’t compete with the Yankees and Red Sox in terms of dollars spent, there were definite upgrades that could have been signed over the winter. The front office team of Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff have a lot riding on some buy-low, possibly-high-ceiling options this summer, and while I don’t hate the idea of giving some kids the chance to do the damn thing, I think we can all agree there were some better, less risky options available. The optics of trying to combine win now and cut spending is extremely difficult. But we shouldn’t forget that this is still a good roster and magic can happen again. Maybe this will be the year that everyone looks across the table at us, holding the trophy, and wants what we have.

Rant Of The (Every Other) Week

I wrote a couple weeks ago about the @Indians Twitter account and how they seemingly have fallen down into the depths of self-awareness. It’s gotten worse y’all. In an effort to maybe try and stop people from complaining about their lack of transactions(?), the account tweeted out a video of Lindor spitting superlatives about the front office and how they know what they are doing. The tweet only had the text “LISTEN UP” alongside the video, a call to action for fans to pay attention to the franchise star as he waxes poetically about the front office. Now again, I can get behind some of the moves or non-moves, just scroll on back up and see, and the front office has done a great job of building a roster that has World Series aspirations…but is engaging the fanbase through Twitter to attempt to curtail the maligning Antonetti and Chernoff suffer in the best interest of the organization? At one point this week, the bio on the account read: “You’re probably mad at us for something you think we control, but that’s okay, let’s talk about it.” Trying to corral the masses via Twitter is not a winning strategy here, and it makes the front office and the ones running the account look petty.

  1. Mind you…I graduated in 2004. The car was only five years younger than me when I got it, but it was bought and paid for by my parents, so cheers! []
  2. It’s now gotten too real. []
  3. They combined to total 0.4 fWAR, so while they didn’t actively hurt the team from a WAR viewpoint, the argument remains. []
  4. No offense Jordan, I’m sure you’re a great guy. I hope you do well against lefties again. []