I know, I know, you came here for a roundtable, and you’ll get what you came for, I promise. But first, let me tell you a little bit about the people I follow on Twitter. First, there are family and friends, mostly with small followings and mainly deliver messages about their day or a funny circumstance. There is, of course, the WFNY staff (all of whom any Twitter-person reading this should be following), along with plenty of other members of the Cleveland media and fanbase. This is the group I want to talk about; we’ll come back to them. There are the respected national baseball writers and reporters, most of whom in possession of large followings and have their finger on the pulse of the league. And finally, there’s a large group of comedians, comedy writers, improvisers, and general funny people who, ideally, break up the feed with amusing things. Of course, that’s the ideal operation of my Twitter feed—friends, Cleveland sports, MLB, and funny—but it’s far from that simple.
You see, the majority of my Twitter following, myself included, happens to have similar, progressive-liberal ideologies, and a selection of them happens to post a fair amount of politically-oriented material. Now, this doesn’t fit with my expressed reasons for using Twitter, but as long as those people are also tweeting about the topics for which I followed them in the first place, I don’t particularly mind the political stuff. It’s in line with my own views, and mostly I thoughtlessly scroll right past it. Often times, it helps me see things from a new light and generally makes me feel at home on what’s often an anarchical and cruel website. Still, I spend enough of my internet time on Twitter that I receive a fair amount of my political content from this select group of people. I know that some of the tweets are likely inaccurate or oversimplified, but ones, because I don’t look it up. I’m not there for political commentary in the first place. And, if I do see tweets of other political leanings, they’re mostly either morally reprehensible or unfathomably stupid sentiments that my Twitter people have retweeted to expose and bash. This is great for me feeling good, but for being a fully informed person or a person capable of accepting other views? Not so much. I feel things, see them confirmed or even extended on Twitter, and then I feel them more. That’s called confirmation bias, and it’s plaguing the Cleveland Indians fanbase right now.
With a smaller payroll and less talented roster than 2018’s, that feeling of anguish is understandable. The Indians were expected to be a contender in 2019, but the front office behaved this offseason less as if there was a good chance of victory, and more as if it was a foregone conclusion. Turns out announcing your plans is a great way to hear God laugh.1 They allowed longtime left fielder Michael Brantley to walk without even extending him a qualifying offer, which would have at least guaranteed the Indians some compensation, should his decision still have been to depart. He promptly signed with last year’s conquerors in Houston and has responded to the relocation with one of his strongest seasons. So too has Yandy Diaz, a fan favorite and right-handed stick who would look fierce in the Indians’ lineup. He was flipped to Tampa Bay, despite receiving no real opportunity here in Cleveland. The Indians did acquire Carlos Santana for Edwin Encarnacion, and also received the promising Jake Bauers from Tampa in exchange for Diaz, but the net results of the offseason was a loss of talent and a 15 million dollar shrinkage of the payroll. Cleveland’s only free agent signing? Oliver Perez, one year, two point five million dollars.
It gets worse. Further compounding fan disenchantment with the franchise were the comments of owner Paul Dolan, whose explicit resignation about Francisco Lindor’s departure through free agency and risible complaining about having a middle seat on a commercial airline (GASP!) has deservedly earned mockery, as well as some harsh vitriol. Regardless of how one feels about this team or its offseason on the personnel side, there’s little doubt that Paul Dolan’s comments were souring. Even if his words are true, and he really cannot afford to spend more money because of attendance and money flow issues (and we never will know if it’s true—MLB teams tend to keep their finances secret), his comments were a decidedly inappropriate response.
So, here’s a team with a disappointing offense, disappointing PR, and now a disappointing start to the season; you can guess what emotion the fans are feeling (spoiler alert: the answer is disappointment). So put all of these disillusioned Indians fans on the internet together, and what’s going to happen? Confirmation bias. People are angry, but more tellingly, they want to be angry. People have more anger toward this team than they know what to do with.
There was no version of the Indians that could have endured this terrible start by Jose Ramirez, a month-long injury to Francisco Lindor, and the several-month-long injuries to Mike Clevinger and Corey Kluber. This team was always going to win through those pieces; without those players at full strength, the Indians never stood a chance, and especially not when the Minnesota Twins are 40-18. Shit happens. Maybe the Indians would be a couple of games over .500 with Brantley and Diaz, but they certainly wouldn’t be winning this division. And hey, some of the decisions they made this offseason were defensible, or even good, but people seem happy to look past the excellent trade of Yan Gomes, or allowing Cody Allen and Andrew Miller to walk.
When this team wins, the attitude is the cliche about the blind squirrel, it’s bound to happen sometimes. But when this team loses, my goodness. Everything is questioned. If only the offseason had been different, or Francona always puts in the wrong pitcher, or Van Burkleo? What does that guy even do??? In reality, the front office could have prepared for the worst while hoping for the best, but there’s no way to prepare for the injuries and unpredictable performances that have plagued the 2019 Indians. As far as management and coaching staff, who the heck knows? Players play, and coaches coach. We, the public, see the former, but not the latter. Sure, Jose Ramirez still isn’t where we’d all like him to be, but we can’t possibly know whether he’s not being helped, or if he is receiving quality, dynamic coaching and just carrying it out poorly. I’ve heard people say “I watch all the Indians game, and I haven’t seen Jose Ramirez make a single adjustment. That’s on Van Burkleo.” Let me tell you, dear reader, that I watch lots of baseball, and I have for all of my life, but there’s no way I could be able to notice some minor mechanical alteration from one angle in real-time. To claim otherwise would be to belittle the difficulty of coaching hitting and also to falsely overstate one’s own ability. If you want to complain about Van Burkleo or Francona when things are going south, that’s fine, I can’t control you. But next time they win, consider the coaching staff and management. Shouldn’t they share the credit for victory?
But that’s just one man’s view—what say you, WFNY staff?
On a scale of 1 to 10, how much faith do you have in…
Gerbs: Six. I love Tito, despite my Tito Boyzz article detailing the problems with having a players-friendly coach a few years back, but the beer-and-fried-chicken stories are almost ready to come pouring out soon. Yes, there are plenty of great Francona stories of players he has “rescued” or helped find and he’s a fantastic press conference answer, but there are myriad issues that Francona has not found a solution to. Some of those are including but not limited to: not finding Yandy Diaz playing time to hone his craft and come into his own, his reliance on older players and the seeming insistence that every roster has at least a player on the wrong side of 30 that are there to provide “clubhouse leadership”, his inability to mix in younger players on the everyday roster, and the injury handling of those vets is maddening. I do truly love Terry Francona as a manager, and the unquantifiable impact he has had on the team and organization is inevitably greater than I can think or imagine, but the issues are starting to grow heavy.
Bode: Seven. Not much has changed from the 10 Questions Indians preview post with Andrew in Spring Training.
Many within the Indians fanbase wish Terry Francona were more like his protege Kevin Cash (Tampa Bay Rays manager), who has embraced the current analytic movement full force (controversial usage of an opener, defensive alignments, et cetera). Francona has meanwhile made some rather questionable decisions with his lineups, bullpen moves, and seems to have an influence on roster moves. The treatment of Yandy Diaz seemed to highlight many of these deficiencies to the point Lindor had to accompany the youngster to a meeting with Tito. The other side is Francona has no doubt added a legitimacy to the ballclub. The team has not finished below .500 under his stewardship. There have not been any significant clubhouse divides reported. No big scandals. Not even a single soup-throwing incident. Also, despite a desire for more, Francona has allowed analytics into game day decisions.
Poloha: Six. I love Tito, I really do. He helped turn the Indians into something special and a legitimate World Series contender for quite some time. What I’m hung up on is when he plays favorites, such as Jason Kipnis. It’s obvious that Kip is overpaid, we all know that, but what’s his obsession with batting him high in the lineup? Last year it seemed to be in the No. 2 spot; this year it’s the cleanup hitter. The Yandy Diaz Experience is another example. There are plenty of reasons to love Tito and all of them are legitimate, it’s just that there are a number of reasons to question his decision making as well. With the Indians struggling and underachieving so far this season, those negatives have stuck out more than ever.
Jay: Seven. The word “faith” is what threw me for a loop here, since it mainly asks how I feel about Tito moving forward. If I’m examining his career in the rear-view mirror, I have a much more positive view. One of the best six-year runs in franchise history was immediately sparked by his hiring. He’s yet to post a losing season as manager. He’s made it to the postseason in four of the six full seasons he’s been here. But, moving forward, my faith isn’t nearly as high as my satisfaction with his tenure. His stubbornness to stick by subpar veterans is maddening sometimes, and his lineups irk me on a regular basis. I’m not calling for his firing, but he needs to be more nuanced in several aspects of managing.
Ty Van Burkleo?
Gerbs: Three. The quotes about “not changing approach from what they have been doing for years” is more than likely overblown, but the results are not helping. In 2018, Jose Ramirez had more home runs in each month than he has in 2019 in totality. The Tribe has hit more than 75% of their home runs as solo shots, which wouldn’t be so much of an issue if they were hitting more, but they are 13th out of 15 teams in the AL in total home runs hit as well as runs scored. Probably more is blamed on hitting and pitching coaches than what they are actually capable of helping with, but something has to change for this offense to get better.
Bode: Four? I do not know how to even answer this question. His statement that he hasn’t changed much over the last seven years gained a lot of traction online due to the huge advancements in baseball development technology over that period, but it could easily be overblown from the point he was trying to make that baseball is baseball. What we can see is the lineup is struggling to score runs and there are few hitters who have seemed to hit above their weight, especially among the younger hitters. That many hitters go down to Columbus and come back as better hitters don’t exactly speak highly of what is being developed at the MLB level either. But again, it is diagnosing the symptoms without much knowledge about the source.
Poloha: One. How is he still employed by the Indians, especially as the hitting coach? While the front office hasn’t supplied him with the best of hitters, especially in the bottom of the order, most of the batters in the lineup performing as poorly as they are is bad enough. Bode summed it up perfectly above. I just don’t understand why the Indians aren’t taking a chance on another hitting coach, maybe giving this team a much-needed jolt of energy before it’s too late.
Jay: Four. I’m trying to avoid recency bias here, but it’s hard. The hitting coach is usually quick the chopping block when a team stops scoring runs, and sometimes unfairly so, but something tells me that a Van Burkleo firing wouldn’t be so unfair. Maybe someone else can connect with Jose Ramirez better.
Gerbs: Seven. Willis is not the issue with the staff, it’s health. Getting the rotation back up to snuff is important, but Willis and de facto assistant Trevor Bauer have done enough to help the staff unlock new levels of development. Mickey Callaway did not harness Bauer’s brain enough to extract knowledge from it, something Willis has felt comfortable enough doing. No issues here.
Bode: Six? Again, the team purposefully does not allow us much insight. One huge benefit of Willis though is he is allowing Trevor Bauer to mentor the young pitchers, which apparently Mickey Callaway would not allow. Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger have directly stated he has had a huge influence on their improvements. One could point to the success of the bullpen to be another feather in the Willis cap, but it is similar to Van Burkleo without more knowledge (though thankfully from the side of success rather than failure).
Poloha: Seven. Whether it’s allowing Trevor Bauer to essentially be an assistant pitching coach or just doing the best he can with what he was given, Willis has done a solid job taking over after Mickey Callaway left for the New York Mets. The injuries obviously aren’t his fault and with the way the bullpen has overperformed, Willis has almost done everything we could have asked of him.
Jay: Eight. No complaints here. As my colleagues have mentioned above, I like how he has opened up the leadership of the pitching staff so that players (Bauer) have established a visible back-and-forth amongst each other. His laissez-faire approach works well with this group. Shane Bieber turning into a stud only helps his cause.
The front office?
Gerbs: Six? The trades they make often are spectacular, such as Esmil Rogers for Yan Gomes and Gomes into Jefry Rodriguez and Daniel Johnson, Vinnie Pestano for Clevinger, Jake Westbrook for Corey Kluber…but the inability to fully engage a roster that should be pulling out all the stops on it’s path to the World Series is damning. Not making enough moves in the offseason was borderline irresponsible, and you can see on this year’s team why a stars and scrubs roster is impossible to contend with. Once the important Jenga pieces are missing, that tower looks awfully wobbly.
Bode: Impossible to measure without giving more context. So, let’s just break it down by different facets. Stability is a 10. Ability to extract value in trades is an eight. Contract negotiations is a seven. Ability to identify the best free agent position players to give minimal contracts to is a three. Ability to identify the best free agent pitchers to give minimal contracts to is an eight. The last one is a combination of drafting ability and development, which is the most important facet of for an MLB front office in a small market. And again, we are left without much context… it is likely they are behind St. Louis, Houston, and Minnesota (now) with perhaps a few other teams also ahead of them. But, they had invested in advanced development and do seem open to continuing to push (though perhaps not with the veracity we would want). I suppose a middle road of five is fair here.
Poloha: I repeat everything Bode stated above. I’m really just disappointed with what they did— or let’s be honest, didn’t do — this offseason, especially in a contention window.
Jay: Seven. I would truly love to see what this front office could accomplish with $50 million more in payroll allowance. Pipe dream, I know. But with the budget constraints they’ve been on for the past decade-plus, they’ve done a remarkable job in drafting, developing and trading so that this run of success is sustained. Additionally – maybe this is just the nature of being a small-market team – but there are very few instances of the front office shelling out bad contracts since the infamous Swisher-Bourn offseason.
And finally, what should the Indians do at the trade deadline, buy or sell?
Gerbs: Oh hi did you see my column from yesterday? Check it out. If you don’t click the link though, tl;dr-they should sell but they don’t have good pieces to sell.
Bode: Until they are eliminated from Wild Card contention, they should add. I offered a helpful guide if the front office would like to use it.
Poloha: I really want them to be buyers just because I know selling only means that the rebuilding will start sooner and the contention window will close much, much faster, but if they continue to remain far behind the Twins, the Indians being sellers at the deadline seems inevitable. Let’s hope they can somehow turn things around even with all the injuries.
Jay: Unless the wheels really come off, it won’t be a full version of either of the two, I don’t think. A full-on rebuild would be impulsive and flat-out dumb, in my opinion. But trading for two or more rental bats would be a massive risk, and the Indians aren’t necessarily prone to those. I would expect them to target controllable pieces above all else. While longer contracts mean higher asking price, the organization should not be afraid to deal away prospects. The front office can’t lose sight of this team’s chances at a World Series (yes, I say that with the team currently toiling around .500) at some point in the next 2-3 years.