Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: The Mother's Day Edition
It’s Mother’s Day eve on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, and while the Indians are in “Bahstahn” playing the “Sahx,” there’s plenty to do here on the North Coast, with the picking up of presents and food and other trinkets to make sure the Missus has a fantastic day tomorrow. While I’m fairly certain that there won’t be many mothers on the planet that will likely reads this, I’d still like to throw out a Happy “Mahthah’s” day to all that may perchance come across this column. I’m humbled daily by you all for simply giving birth to your children. Everything after that is absolute gravy as far as I’m concerned. I thank the heavens daily for being a dude, but that's certainly not for this website, or this blog for that matter.
I would also like to apologize early on for my weak attempt at “Bahstahn” talk. Whenever the Indians play the Sahx, I go into ‘Kennedy-Mode,’ as my wife calls it, so you’ll just have to deal with it. I actually sound more like a redneck than a New Englander when I try and talk “Bahstahn,” and I type it even worse. Unfortunately for you, that won't stop me from doing it.
So with the smell of bacon, eggs and pancakes wafting through the air thanks to the kids' day one attempt at cooking breakfast for my wife, it occurred to me over the past week or so that as an Indians’ fan, watching the standings has become an interesting sport in and of itself. I often find myself staring at the A.L. Central portion of the standings pondering the scenarios in which the Indians could find themselves in the playoffs at the end of the season. It’s generally not a long process, and either ends in a humbling chuckle, or with the launching of my coffee mug across the kitchen. With that said, the Indians have somehow maintained a two-game “stranglehold” on first place.
It’s May 12th.
So, as I sit here staring at the standings, and staring at my still-intact coffee mug, and staring at the write-up regarding Ubaldo’s most recent implosion during Friday Night’s game (and back at my now quivering coffee-mug), I can’t help but think about what the future holds for this first-place Indians’ team down the long road known as summer baseball.
On one hand, the Indians hold a two-game lead on the Tigers, who look incredibly human after making an inhuman signing in the offseason when they picked up Cecil Fielder Jr.. On the other hand, the Indians were 22-10 last year, with a 4 ½ game lead on the second place Kansas City Royals and a seven-game lead on the third place Tigers. On one hand, the Tribe doesn’t feel like they’ve even come close to playing as well as they could, with Masterson and Jimenez struggling, as well as an offense that just hasn’t found it’s groove yet this season. On the other hand, this could be exactly what this team is going forward.
So what good has watching the standings done for me? Well, I do get to buy a bunch of new Indians’ mugs every year, so there’s that.
Let’s take a walk to the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, shall we? I’ve got a “Wicked Pissah” of a day planned for my wife tomorrow, and a short window to do it.
I’m a big Michael Brantley fan, but for a statement as simple as that, it sure is one of those enigmas wrapped in a riddle. I really don’t have any semblance of a reason to think highly of the Indians’ centerfielder based on his play with the big league club. Sure, he’s had his ebbs and flows over the past few seasons since first joining the club in 2009, but he’s more ebbed-than-flowed, if you know what I mean. For whatever reason, Brantley has failed to find the consistency many thought he’d have with his seemingly advanced approach in the minors. Maybe it’s been injuries. Maybe it’s been lack of consistency at any one position or one spot in the line-up for any length of time. Maybe that’s just who he is. I suppose that’s the question that still needs to be answered going forward. Who in the hell is Michael Brantley?
Think about it. Brantley doesn’t really have a spot in the lineup. He hasn’t done anything in the lead-off spot, and wouldn’t be a better option than Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Shin-Soo Choo or Travis Hafner in any of the slots from 2 through 6, which leaves 7, 8 and 9 left. He seems to be perfectly suited to batting ninth, but now has found a niche in the seven-hole? I can honestly say I didn’t see that coming.
I just can’t seem to let go of the fact that Brantley is likely the last cog in the now-old CC Sabathia deal from 2008 that can actually make me not want to send my current blue-tinged Chief Wahoo mug careening off my refrigerator door every time I think about it. Brantley’s sample size (parts of four seasons with the big league Indians) is small enough for me to hold out hope that he just hasn’t had enough time to figure things out yet.
In 2009, Brantley was called up to the Indians and played quite well in September and brief October play. There was no power to speak off (and we didn’t expect that), but he hit .313, had an OBP of .358, and looked every bit the lead-off guy that we thought he was back then, and likely still could be now (sorry, still have hope).
In 2010, the Indians rewarded him with a starting gig to start the 2010 season, and while it was deemed to be temporary, he struggled and was sent down to the minors. He was back by July thanks to an injury to Shin-Soo Choo, and he did play better, but we’re talking a jump of average from .157 to .246. Still, it was his first extended look as a starter in that second half of the season, and he managed to hit .284, with eight doubles, three triples, two homers, and ten stolen bases, in 52 games. He only struck out 26 times, and managed 18 walks. No, we aren’t talking all-star stuff, but I got the general impression that Brantley was starting to figure things out.
In 2011, Brantley seemed to find his groove. In April, he was the player we had all heard about with regards to that "professional hitter approach," and as on-base machine. He hit .297 in 23 games in April, with a .381 OBP, thanks to 13 walks and only 11 K’s. Things started to deteriorate after that, slowly at first, but then much quickly once the summer months kicked into full gear. He ended up missing the end of the season, but rumors are abound that Brantley had hurt his wrist sometime in May or June.
Enter 2012, and Brantley has started the year off slowly. He opened the year in the leadoff spot as the new centerfielder, and did nothing but struggle. As a lead-off hitter, he's hitting .247, which doesn’t really concern me all that much if the OBP is up, but it wasn't, at a less-than-stellar .309. You can't be a lead-off guy with a poor OBP like that. For all of Grady Sizemore's swinging faults, he always had an above average OBP when he was healthy. Acta did the right thing and dropped him to the seven-slot, and since then, he’s been a different player altogether, batting .297. Of course, his OBP is still down, as he’s without a walk in that role. But baby steps. You'd like to see a player be able to figure things out in a more timely fashion, but clearly Brantley's learning curve is a bit different.
While I could go into the intricacies of Brantley’s approach in the minors, The only thing I will say is that he walked 292 times in 566 games, while only striking out 218 times. His career OBP was .388, and his career average was .303. It’s natural to think that there would be a drop-off moving up to the majors, but not the type that would predicate a move to the #7 slot in the line-up. Yet, here we are.
So, who is Michael Brantley? At 24-years old (25 this coming Tuesday...Happy Birthday Michael), do we really have any idea? Is his ceiling .280, with okay speed, an okay bat, can play okay outfield at any of the three slots, and a #7 hitter (as many are suggesting)? Is his ceiling that .300 guy, who gets on base at a near .400 clip and can steal timely bases, and can be a centerfielder (what we thought we were getting)? Or, is he worse than that, and just a guy that will turn into a #4 outfielder, and ultimately end up on the bench?
The answer is a complicated one, but I do believe it’s closer to the .300 guy than it is as a #4 outfielder. That feeling may be based more in hope than in reality, but there still is a viable chance that his numbers have been hurt by lack of consistent playing time, position, batting order and health, and not by lack of talent. The door is still open there though. I would love for him to just grab hold of the centerfield slot over the next month, and make Damon expendable when Grady Sizemore comes back.
Many people think his speed is gone, think that he's not explosive enough to be a regular outfielder, and think that he's proven to be inadequate as an answer to any of the Indians problems. While I can agree that he needs to be a centerfielder to be an effective player on this team because of his lack of power for the corner outfielder slots, I don't buy any of those arguments completely. There may be truth to pieces of each, the whole of who Michael Brantley is is greater than those statements. There's the riddle.
Can he put it all together? If he does, many questions will be answered going forward.
Ubaldo Jimenez reminds me of the first blu ray player that I bought, but before I get to that, I truly am sick of any sort of discussion with regards to our "ace." I really can’t help myself, to be quite honest, so I bring this on myself. I’ve been an ardent hater of the deal that brought him here from the very start. While valuing prospects before they become major leaguers is flawed thinking in general, I definitely don’t agree with that principal when you take into account this deal. Regardless of how I valued the pieces that the Indians gave up to get him (fairly high, and while Drew Pomeranz was sent down to Colorado Springs, Alex White was called up as a starter, and took a loss, even though he went 6 1/3 innings pitched, giving up only six hits, two runs and two walks, while striking out five), Jimenez was an absolute mess leading up to the deal. It wasn’t even a question. So liking, or not liking the deal because of who the Indians gave up isn't the point. It's using those prospects for a flawed player like Jimenez that is.
This year, we could certainly use a big-time, right-handed bat for that outfield. There's even speculation that the Indians will trade for one. So, I ask you: Just who will they deal?
In report after report after report, Jimenez was a clubhouse enigma, had lost three miles per hours off his fastball, had horrible mechanics, and wasn’t generating as many deals of interest when it came to a package of prospects from much of anyone. I'm not saying teams weren't interested and weren't willing to deal big-time players, but I am saying that most teams were tentative, and certainly not willing to deal two of their top five prospects, especially their future arms. There were some teams willing to lay some lower-level top prospects (sub-Double A pitching, but high upside guys), but not many that were willing to give up major-league ready pieces, which the Rockies were demanding.
That’s likely what brought the Indians into play. The Jimenez deal would give them a starter for the end of 2011, and two more seasons after that. It’s absolutely wrong to think that the 2011 season should be a wash. Sure, the Indians weren’t going to tinker much with anything then, but it wasn’t a “lay-of-the-land” sorta year either. You don’t exactly announce that you’re giving up on the year by dealing for the top free agent pitcher. I do believe that if he could have righted the Indians ship, it would have been icing on the proverbial cake for Shapiro and Antonneti, but I do think there was a part of that deal that was hoping for that very thing.
So, the Indians made a deal for a “known commodity” for their “two-year window.” Was he a known commodity? No, we aren't talking about Mark Prior here, but was he a no gamble player, and a guarantee two-and-a-half year "fix" that the Indians needed? Sorry folks, but if you deal Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, that's what you are saying. You don't deal those guys for a question mark, and if you say he wasn't than, and isn't now, you are absolutely delusional.
Can he be fixed? Sure, but how long is that going to take, and will it actually work? Many say no, or that it will take the majority of his two years to even see if it can happen. In the meantime, we'll continue to scream for the Indians to deal for a right-handed bat, without many commodities to do it, and at the same time, watch White and Pomeranz develop in their land of unknown for two years as well.
Like I said, it reminds me of my first blu ray player.
I went out and I bought one a few years back, and hopped through my consumer reports, as I always do. I saw all the expensive brands and their solid-to-lackluster reports. I went to several stores, struggling to actually find one of the top three or four, but sure enough, I found a Samsung that was at the very bottom of the list, expensive as all get out, but available. So, while it wasn’t a best buy, and had several consumer report warnings, I bought it anyways. Why? It was available, right in front of me, a few dollars off, and I figured if it lasted a couple years, I could get another much cheaper.
I bought it…and about four months later, it went on the fritz. Sure enough, the very-limited warranty was over. It’s funny about that blu ray though. Every so often, the thing will work, clear as a bell. But when it doesn’t, the picture is blurry, the sound is fuzzy, and everything seems just wrong…but you can’t help but hope that it's going to work that next time. When it does, I want to throw a block party. When it doesn't, I want to throw my mug.
Shoulda listened to the consumer reports I guess…
A friend of mine was watching a game with me at a local watering hole a couple of weeks ago, and he wondered aloud if the team might not end up moving out of town in the next ten or twenty years. We laughed it off, but got to talking. If it doesn’t get better in the next couple of years, might there actually be talk of the Indians actually leaving the Forest City? I’ve had a belief for awhile now that the big city owners would love to have a league that consisted of more of “them,” and less of “us.” While there aren’t any more markets for big league clubs in cities that would be a big market team, I do think it wouldn’t be hard to envision a league in the future that involves only major and mid-major teams. The economy could force that hand.
I could also envision a league in 50-years or so from now that includes only major market teams in the U.S., as well as major market teams from outside the U.S. Major media outlets promote only major market games now for the most part (and I can’t fault them for that, although it’s a cycle they created when they started paying ridiculous fees for the rights to games, which in turn, assured that only big-market viewership would only yield them an abundance of money), and while I don’t see the majors turning into a global even in the near future, I could see a long term plan that would have MLB across the hemispheres, playing in massive markets that would draw better, and add potential viewership.
Imagine, if you will, a Western Hemisphere division that would include 7-10 major market U.S. teams, combined with 7-10 major market Latin teams (not sure they have 7-10, but you could include Latin communities in the U.S., if you had to). Then, imagine a 7-10 Asian division, as well as a 7-10 division anywhere else, for the Eastern Hemisphere. Oh, we're not close to that, but it sure isn't out of the question that it's not going to ultimately head in that direction at some point. I could see a scenario that would see Cleveland as a minor league spot in the grand scheme of things, which in many ways, we are already.
So, back to the topic at hand. Could the Cleveland Indians actually move? Well, could the Browns? It doesn't seem all that long ago that the Indians were rumored to be heading to New Orleans, and while they would never move there now, I'm sure a city could be found if every there were one needed (Charlotte comes to mind). Things would definitely happen before the Indians would every jump ship. There’s no doubt major league baseball would try and find an owner to keep the team in Cleveland first, and I believe that they would clearly would be able to find one (Dan Gilbert, Mark Cuban)…but the question you have to ask yoursef is would they really even want to keep the team in Cleveland, or would they allow the type of owner that would be needed to make the Indians a consistent winner to purchase the team. MLB is just rife with an ownership that has no clue what they are doing in the big picture, and because of it, every small-market team should be quaking in their boots.
Yeah…try NOT to answer that one.
So no, I don’t think the Indians are moving any time soon, and no, I don’t think I’ll live to see a globalization of baseball, but if you squint your eyes just right, is it really THAT impossible, and even THAT far away?
I had a flight from Cleveland to New Orleans about twenty years ago, and I sat with a Red Sahx fan on the way down. We had a good baseball talk that day, and there really was a true feeling of kinship between the Sahx fans, and the Indians fans because it had been so long since we'd won a series. While the Sahx hadn't won a series in many more years, the Indians had been just horrible over the years.
I wonder how that conversation would go today?
With that said, this past month has been interesting in Bahstahn to say the least. While I don't dream to think that a manager would be safe in Cleveland for any reason, I can guarantee that a manager that would win two World Series titles in three years would be able to write his ticket until he took a dirt nap. Not in New Yor...er...Bahstahn. In Bahstahn, he gets run out of town and replaced by Bobby Valentine (who is a good manager, but at the wrong place, at the wrong time). From there on, it's been a PR nightmare, culminating in the Josh Beckett boo-rade on Friday night, which was one of the best things I've ever seen. Beckett, the former hero, is now as big a villian in Boston as LeBron is in Cleveland (well, maybe not).
With the Red Sox in last place, and in disarray, I can honestly say I feel a bit of kinship with them again. Okay, I don't, but I at least get where they're coming from.
I can't believe I'm saying this, but I get why Tony Sipp and Dan Wheeler are on this team. Last night was a case in point. You don't throw out a Nick Hagadone and a Cody Allen against a team you are down six runs against, at least not in May. They are absolutely terrible (Wheeler and Sipp) right now (last night's game notwithstanding), but you keep guys like that for this ugly mop-up duty. Now you've got a fresh pen for the weekend, and will be able to use them in games that may mean something. Sure, you call up the studs if they are ready to roll, or if it's later in the season, or even if there is an injury. But right now, you keep seasoning them in Columbus or the back end of the pen in Cleveland (Hagadone). It will be interesting when Perez comes back, but no way he moves Hagadone. Sipp should be on notice.
I throw out my parting shot to Johnny Damon. I do believe that he is a cog that makes the line-up fit much better, with regards to the depth. But, he has to perform. I'm sickened that the Indians clearly promised him a spot in the line-up this early. He's still figuring things out after missing spring training, and at some point, you have to ask yourself if having a guy working through spring training during the season is all that helpful to a team that will need to acquire some wins now, as opposed to the much more difficult schedule that will be put in front of them after May. He's just not helping all that much. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I can't wait for Grady's return. I know...I know...be careful what you wish for.
Alright, I'm gettin' a wicked bangah thinking about Jimenez and Damon. Time to get started on a sunny Mother's Day weekend. Zach McAllister is on the hill this afternoon after Tomlin was scratched, and am I the only one that thinks he has a better shot at a win that Ubaldo? Yeah, didn't think so...
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.
Main problem with Jiminez deal, as you pointed out Jim, is the Indians knew he was damaged goods (at least mentally) coming in to the deal, yet still traded their top two and three out of top five pitching prospects for him. The red flags were up, but the Indians ignored them. Are we really that desperate that we need to trade for a pitcher hoping to regain lost form? Is that the best we can do?
I still believe the Indians could have gotten Gonzales from the A's or Fister from Seattle for similar package.