A rainy day on the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario
As Corner of Carnegie and Ontario makes it's first annual fall move to Wednesdays, I can help but ponder if the season we have watched unfold in 2012 is the worst in my lifetime. The Indians were bad in the 1970's and the 1980's, and had a horrendous couple of seasons in the early 1990's, but the bitter pill of 2012 is a hard one to swallow. The promise was there. The 2011 season showcased a youngish team ready to break-out. There were pieces in place, and there seemed to be pieces coming. All was well on the reservation.
So what happened? How, in the blink of an eye (it sure seemed that way, didn't it), did the Cleveland Indians go from promise to the garbage can? Even worse, how did a front office leave the cupboards bare for 2013, and perhaps even 2014?
It's hard to stomach the Indians at this point. Manny Acta's body language screams of a man who quit. While there are still players scrapping and playing hard, there are others that have called it in as well. The GM talks clearly is confused as to why the Indians aren't contending, and the President is talking about having money to sign free agents that won't come here anyways.
Here we stand, a team without direction, and seemingly out of touch with its fan base. It truly is a rainy day at the corner today. And the minor league season is over...
It’s hard to fathom, but with the Indians loss to the Twins on Tuesday Night, the two teams are tied at 61-87 on the season, and 20 ½ games behind the Chicago White Sox. To put that in perspective a bit, on May 24th of this season, Cleveland was 26-18 and in first place. They were 3 ½ games ahead of Chicago for first place, and 11 games ahead of Minnesota. Since then, the Tribe is 35-69. Talk about a drop off of the face of the baseball earth.
Historically,the Indians have had some pretty bad baseball teams, but this season really feels fairly historic. Being Cleveland fans, any time the term historic and bad are put together, hyperbole could be at play. This season…not so much.
The key to the momentous bad this season is on three key points. The first is the start of the season. While a case is clearly there that the first place run through May was smoke and mirrors, that’s almost secondary. The simple facts are that they WERE in first place as late as June 23, and were as close as 3 ½ games behind the White Sox on July 26th, the day they beat Verlander in as stirring a game as the Indians have played in recent memory.
Of course, hindsight is 20-20, but you could make a case that as marginal as the talent was and is on this team, that they could of, and even should have been players at the trade deadline. Now, I’m not going to dive down that road yet again, as I’ve done just that on several occasions, highlighting just how bad the front office played free agency and the trade deadline. My point is simply this: the 2012 season is bad. There was the 11-game losing streak to start of August, followed by another nine-game losing streak in the middle of August, followed by a six-game losing streak to close out August. The month of August could clearly be the worst month of Indians baseball…of all time. Again, that’s not hyperbole, as I mentioned in yet another piece a few weeks back. Now, September already has a five-game losing streak, and with only 14 games left, the Indians are likely headed for a last place finish.
While they need to lose 13 of their final 14 games to finish with 100 losses, the potential is there. They have six games remaining with the White Sox, two with the Twins, and six with the Royals.
While the turn from good to bad is the major point to be made here, it isn’t the only one. In past years, the Indians were expected to be bad. In 1991, the Indians lost 105 ballgames, and while that team stands out as being a particularly bad team, there were signs of potential improvement. The Indians had dealt Joe Carter for Carlos Baerga and Sandy Alomar, who were both on the verge, and one Joey Belle had made his mark that year with 28 homers. Even Alex Cole was on that team, and while the Indians made a mockery of the entire season by moving the fences back to utilize Alex Cole’s speed (he had stolen 40 bases the year before, and followed up with 27 that season), there was hope.
Greg Swindell was only 26, and had ace potential. Charles Nagy was only 24, and had ace potential, and Steve Olin looked like a legit closer. This team had something to build on, and John Hart took advantage of that.
The 2012 version of the Indians weren’t in that realm. While there were folks that correctly pointed out that this roster wasn’t a first place team, there weren’t many that thought that this team was that bad. The key point here is that the front office didn’t believe that either. Now, far be it from me to back a thought propagated from this front office, but again, that’s secondary. This team was built to win in 2012, and not only did they not, but they may lose 100 games.
On top of it all is the future potential with this team. As I mentioned in 1991, a season in which they lost 105 ballgames, the Indians had hope for the future. The simple facts in 2012 is that there doesn’t appear to be any future with regards to this team in 2013, or any other year. Ponder the team in Columbus, loaded down with the likes of Matt LaPorta and Lars Anderson and Vinny Rottino…and the list goes on and on. There are prospects there, don’t get me wrong, but we aren’t talking about top ten or even 20 prospects. The top guys there right now are guys like Tim Fedroff, and while he is a legit prospect, he’s not a team-saver by any stretch of the imagination. He’s a part.
Akron won the Eastern League championship this year, and while the team has quality veterans, the majority of the team looks a lot like Columbus. There were a few prospects of note in Akron during that playoff run: Jesus Aguilar, Ronny Rodriguez, Danny Salazar and Shawn Armstrong. While all four are likely going to be major league players in the next two years, they will all likely start the season off in Akron, and make a late season push to Columbus. All will be a factor in 2014, but are still question marks in the foreseeable future.
The Indians of 2013 are seemingly entering no-man’s land. The roster does have promise, with players such as Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana and Justin Masterson. All those players are complimentary pieces, and with the upheaval that’s likely to happen with players such as Shin-Soo Choo and Chris Perez, the make-up of this team is an unknown.
Folly is to stay with this club in its current state. The Indians could decide to keep this team intact, add some mid-tier prospects, and make a run. The sustainability of that seems ridiculous at this point, considering the fact that the roster will be identical, and the front office has proved time and time again that they won’t make the necessary moves.
More likely a scenario would be for the Indians to blow this team up. Trade Choo. Trade Perez. Even consider trading Cabrera. No, the haul for those players likely isn’t the coup that the Indians need to contend in a year or two, but it would help fundamentally shift this club into a different direction…which is exactly what is needed at this point. I’ll get into the exact deals I want in my year-end piece in a couple of weeks.
So is this the worst season in Cleveland Indians’ history?
There are two seasons in recent memory that are worse, in my opinion. In 1993, the Tribe seemed on the precipice of something bit. They had won 76 games the year before, and signed Bobby Ojeda, among others, to be a veteran presence on the roster. Of course, a spring training accident would take the lives of Tim Crews and Steve Olin, and the team never really recovered. The victory that season was Bobby Ojeda returning from that accident to pitch. The season also marked the end of Municipal Stadium. While the Indians only won 76 games that year, it stands out to me as one filled with sorrow.
The one season that most resembles 2012 to me was that now infamous 1987 season. Of course, that 1987 Cleveland Indians club was fronted by the likes of Joe Carter, Tony Bernazard, Julio Franco, Brook Jacoby and Cory Snyder. While there were several players that had good season, the Indians did not. They finished the season in last place in the A.L. East, with a worst-in-the-league 61-101 record. Pat Corrales was fired halfway through the season, and Doc Edwards was hired. It was a mess of mammoth promotions.
While 1987 certainly competes with 2012 in pathetic-ness and disappointment, there was hope to that team, as there were players that could front any ballclub. The roots of that club helped create the foundation for the 1990’s success.
Can this club do the same?
With the right moves, I believe it can, but it would be a long haul that will have to incorporate new players in trades with a solid nucleus of prospects that are starting to filter into Akron and Carolina. We’ll see if THIS front office can do it, or if another is put in place to do just that.
Either way, this is a bad..bad season on many levels.
Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shapiro had his moments, good and bad...and had his trades....but there has never been a clear plan...or accountability that's gone beyond the field...
The run we had in the 90's was the result of great drafts by Hank Peters. The only way we can compete with the big market teams is via the draft. John Mirabelli litterally destroyed this franchise by bad drafts yet he was not held accountable but rather recieved a promotion from his buddy Shapiro.
Antonetti is a joke, another clone of Shapiro and Mirabelli. Until these losers are removed the mediocrity will continue.
As a lifelong Tribe fan since 1970 , take your pick for the worst team in franchise history. My pick was the 1991 team that was 57-105.
They have to be a lot more open with fans, and show progress, or they won't draw flies next year. Then there will be rumors starting about moving the team.