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Corner of Carnegie and Ontario:The Road Not Taken

Corner of Carnegie and Ontario:The Road Not Taken
August 4, 2012
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A road less traveled…

The Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” is a famous one, and one that the Indians’ Chris Antonetti likely could have referenced several times over the past year.

Many people reference that “quote” from Robert Frost when discussing taking an unconventional path in one’s life to built character or stand out. The poem itself has been analyzed correctly and incorrectly since it’s been written, but I’m not about to start a poetry circle here at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario (as the collective readers here at IPI let out a collective sigh of relief). Still, the poem itself covers the Indians quite well, no matter which analysis you choose to take with regards to Frost’s classic.

One could make a case that the Cleveland Indians management has taken a road less traveled in creating their baseball club over the past several years, but I’m going to go one step further. While “a road less traveled” never actually appears in the Frost poem, I’m going to focus strictly on the actual title: “The Road Not Taken.” You see, the Indians Chris Antonetti chose a path a year ago, then apparently got lost in the woods.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Chris Antonetti found himself at a junction on July 31, 2011. The Indians had surprised many all season long, grabbing ahold of first place in April and running to a 30-15 record. They had fallen into second place by July 31st, behind the much more talented Tigers, but were only 2 ½ games back. Many experts felt that the Indians make-up of scrappy, blue-collar players might just be the answer to a Tigers team that was loaded with star power, but perhaps didn’t have the heart to win anything.

The Indians, with a newly promoted Jason Kipnis raking, looked as though they might be able to make a move after sputtering through the summer, playing .500 baseball.

There Antonetti stood. In front of him were two paths.

Down the first was the Indians modus operandi: do nothing, save money, and hope that “internal options” could take the Indians past the Tigers. We like to call it divine intervention in Cleveland, and lord knows there hasn’t  been much of that in the sporting world.

Down the other, less traveled path for Cleveland (but not other teams in the AL Central), was another path.  The Indians could make a major trade. Last season, the Indians had something they hadn’t had in awhile: commodities. In Columbus, Cleveland and Akron, the Tribe had four players that were either in the bigs already, or ready to make the move soon. Jason Kipnis, Drew Pomeranz, Alex White and Lonnie Chisenhall were four guys that many teams coveted. Antonetti had the commodities to make two or three big moves, but he had to have the cuts to pull the trigger.  The road less traveled would be a scary, bumpy ride, and one that many fans likely wouldn’t care for, but big-time GMs often take this path regardless. It was a path that John Hart took many times here in his years in Cleveland, but one that Antonetti’s mentor, Mark Shapiro rarely took.

Here was Antonetti’s chance to carve out his own trail in Cleveland Indians’ lore, separate from Shapiro. But, it would be a risk.

Now, in a perfect world, as the poem suggests, Antonetti would have been able to take both paths. He could have made a move getting a big-time player to boost their chances of winning and not lost any of the big four. Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to happen. Antonetti then made a splash and actually took the road less traveled.

He traded for Ubaldo Jimenez.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

Jimenez, while struggling and with many mechanical issues, was not-even-arguably the most coveted starter being rumored to be traded last summer. The Indians outbid the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds for the services of the Rockies’ ace, and down the path the Indians went. He couldn’t see the end of the road he was about to take, but there was no turning back now. The Indians had declared “their window,” and their style of movement going forward.

Jimenez was signed for another season, with a club option for 2013. In other words, the Indians had him for 2 ½ more seasons.

Antonetti realized that the Indians had a couple of years to make a splash, and Jimenez would be a part of that process. Yes, the Indians had more moves to make at the time. They needed a right-handed power hitter, in particular, but it was clear that the Indians would do something in the offseason to address their needs. With Ubaldo signed for 2012 and 2013, to go along with guys like Asdrubal and Shin-Soo Choo ready to become free agents, Tribe management announced with authority that they were going to do something. You don’t make a move for one pitcher, giving up Drew Pomeranz and Alex White to do it, without being ready to pull the trigger on other moves to solidify the team. The Indians would need more help, but it was clear they were down the path less traveled.

Yes, the Indians had fired their shot across the bow of the American League. Antonetti and the Indians were going to play with the big boys for a couple of years.

And both that morning equally lay
 In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

The Indians were past the point of no return. The Jimenez deal triggered an interesting reaction in Cleveland. Many hated the deal (I did), while many loved it. As I’ve said from the start, the move was misguided only because Jimenez was struggling at the time, and most experts believed that his arm was either damaged, or that his mechanics were past the point of no return. There were reports of trouble in the clubhouse, and I didn’t think that the Indians should deal high prospects for a guy that hadn’t pitched well in over a year. In fact, he had been remarkably average during that stretch.

While I hated the actual deal, I felt that if Ubaldo could turn into a #2 or #3 starter, and if the Indians would tack on another starter and a couple of more right-handed bats in the offseason, they could become a force in the American League.

Surely this was the path they were on, right? Surely Antonetti couldn’t stop himself and say, “I screwed up that Jimenez deal, maybe nobody will notice I gave up our top three pitching prospects in the deal. I won’t do anything else.” Surely he understood the folly in that thinking…right?

With the top of the Indians minor league organization lacking talent, they had to be all in. The Indians next window was taking shape in 2015 or so with some fantastic drafting of young upside players led by Francisco Lindor. The current window would close at the end of 2013. Time to buy…no going back.

The Indians needed several pieces. They needed an outfielder, a first baseman and a couple of starters. There were plenty to be had if the Indians were aggressive, and it looked like they would be. Remember, they went after Jimenez.

On Halloween, the Indians traded a non-prospect, Chris Jones to the Atlanta Braves for Derek Lowe, who may have been the worst pitcher in baseball after July. Oh, you’ll hear an occasion metrics guy blather on about how his peripherals were okay, but that’s utterly ridiculous. Maybe if those same metrics guys would actually WATCH a game, they would have seen an absolutely putrid pitcher that just didn’t have the stamina to pitch an entire season. The Indians took a flier on him, and that’s fine as a complementary move, but more needed done.

They signed Grady Sizemore after he and his agent absolutely played the Indians. The five million dollar deal was loaded with another four million in incentives. Antonetti said at the time that Sizemore would play the “vast majority of games” in 2012. Yeah, he actually said it…out loud…and didn’t laugh hysterically.

The Indians signed catcher Matt Pagnozzi to a minor league deal, with a chance to make the big league team.

In early December, rumblings of a Casey Kotchman signing began, and yes, even Casey Blake. The Indians called Mark DeRosa, to gauge his interest.

The Indians then signed Felix Pie.

The Indians first major outside target was Josh Willingham, and they were believed to be the front-runners. He signed with the Twins after Cleveland would only offer him two-years. In fairness, Willingham, 33, had injury issues in the past. Truth? You have to be a risk-taker to go and get him. That’s a part of being a GM in major league baseball. When you go all in, there comes a point when you just go the extra year. Antonetti blathered on about not officially making an offer, but all indications were that he made it clear he was willing to go two years, but not three. The Twins took the risk.

So, the Indians signed Jose Lopez.

On the same day they signed the enigmatic Lopez, the Indians then traded away a solid minor league closer, Cory Burns, to San Diego for outfielder Aaron Cunningham. Cunningham was a nowhere man, and it was obvious from the start. Burns wasn’t a top prospect, but he was a guy that buzzed through the minors, saving 65 games in 2010 and 2011. Cunningham was a safety net, right? At best, he’s a #4 starter. More needed done. They signed Jose Lopez on the same day.

The Indians signed Andy LaRoche.

Antonetti made a run at free agent Carlos Beltran, the top outfield free agent on the market. You remember Beltran, right? Antonetti had made a similar run to deal for him during the deadline that brought them Jimenez. Beltran said no then, or, his agent said no then, but Antonetti went after him anyways. Guess what…Beltran said no again. Go figure. It was pure and utter folly.

The Indians then passed on signing Cuban defector Yeonis Cespedes, because of his big contract.

The Indians signed Robinson Tejeda, Chris Seddon, Chin-lung Hu, Chris Ray, Jeremy Accardo, Fred Lewis, Gregorio Petit and Ryan Spilbourghs.

They then found out that Fausto Carmona was Roberto Hernandez…then traded reliever Zach Putnam for starter Kevin Slowey.

They signed Julio Lugo, then didn’t sign Lugo.

The Indians then put themselves in play for Roy Oswalt, with Carmona changing names, then signed Jose De La Torre and Ryan Rohlinger. They lost out on Carlos Pena, when he took less money to stay in Tampa. He figured if he had to sign a one-year deal, he might as well stay home. They then signed Dan Wheeler.

The Indians then signed Casey Kotchman after losing out on everyone else, as well as International League MVP Russ Canzler.

The Indians then sort of signed Jon Garland, and were in talks with the Yankees to sign A.J. Burnett. Then Garland didn’t sign.

This goes on-and-on. Through it all, Sizemore had to have surgery and hasn’t played, and the potential Abreu deal, which was a joke to begin with. Then they signed Damon after the season started, and that was that.

Antonetti did nothing. You can say he tried to, or you can say he said he tried to without real intentions. Whatever you believe, the Indians didn’t do a thing

Amazingly enough, the Tribe came out playing fairly well again, even without addressing ANY issues. Without going into the trials and tribulations of this season, the Indians still had a chance to make some moves to do some damage.

There was a bunch of talk that the Indians shouldn’t do a thing because they couldn’t win in the playoffs. That was ridiculous. After the Ubaldo deal, to do nothing would be giving up for 2012, and likely for 2013. There’s no going back once you take that fork in the road.

Except the Indians didn’t do a thing. Oh, sure, they dealt for Matt LaPorta…er…Russ Canzler…er…Vinny Rottino…er…Lars Anderson. It was a deal that they could have made any time.

Now, Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe have been designated. Chris Seddon, Corey Kluber, Vinny Rottino and Ezequiel Carrera are all in the bigs, and the Indians are done.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

So the Indians took the road less traveled in taking Ubaldo Jimenez. After getting lost in the forest since then, they have reappeared, and somehow ended up on a brand new path. Why? Chris Antonetti, Mark Shapiro and the ownership would rather not continue the risk started with Ubaldo. Why? Is it lack of creativity? Is it lack of money? Is it lack of understanding? Is it lack of organization? Is it a lack of caring whether or not they win, as long as they make some sort of profit?

Could this Indians team have won in the playoffs this season? We’ll likely never know because of the road not taken by the Indians management.

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 jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Tony
August 6, 2012 - 10:35 AM EDT
Good stuff from Jim, and I disagree it is just re-hashed hindsight. Almost all of the activity (non-activity) since the Jimenez trade is listed merely to show where the Indians front office went wrong.
Jim
August 5, 2012 - 8:36 AM EDT
Thanks for all of the comments...including you Norm...

Of course, that doesn't mean I don't find your comments "tedious," which would be an understatement in this case. You see, you seem to backload your comments with an extreme knowledge of what everyone posts, including my...what was it you said, "my path afterwards." Of course, you're just ignoring the fact that I've bashed the deal since the day they made it, instead, wanting them to go after a bat in the offseason with their commodities.

I appreciated the gamble, it was something not seen in Cleveland in years, but it was the wrong player to gamble on...and that's just facts.

As per the Willingham/Sizemore deals, the difference is simple...WILLINGHAM IS HAVING A BIG SEASON. As per the Sizemore deal only being a year, whatever...5 million for a year for NOTHING in Cleveland is a big deal. Sure, it's only a year, but what...are you going to pat Antonetti on the back and say, "Good job on the year deal Chris. Way to have foresight?" Utterly ridiculous.

Now I know, Norm, that you have issues with "hindsight," (I daresay I don't expect any of your future posts to have anything of that nature in them), but guess what..job performance is based on just that very word. I'm always cracking up at the folks that bash fans or writers that use hindsight, as though they never had any opinions on the matter prior to that..since clearly...that's not an acceptable practice.

I can see it now...

"Wow, you cost the company millions...that's okay...we'll keep you around...don't want to use any hindsight!"

Give me a break.

Joey--I don't disagree with your thoughts at all on Bavasi. While working for another blog back in the day, I did a piece on Bavasi unrelated to the Indians talking about how moronic is moves were. I do think the Indians were smart in making deals with them, and him in particular, but sure, in hindsight (oh-oh!), they were just one of many...
shy
August 5, 2012 - 12:52 AM EDT
White and Pomeranz combined have a comparable ERA and WHIP than Wildbaldo, and that's pitching half the time at Coors field where pitching ERA's run about a buck over the league average and WHIPS run 25 basis points higher. The MLB beat writer in Denver says Pomeranz can be an ace- says his stuff is as good as Kershaws, he just needs to learn how to pitch in altitude. And yes he's young and getting better. White's a 2 pitch guy who throws a lot of fastballs up in the zone- that doesn't play well at Coors Field. But his last start in St. Louis he held the the Cardinals - yes the World Champion Cardinals to one run and the Rocks won the game. These are 2 number one draft choices from major college programs. Guys like Wildbaldo are a dime a dozen in the D.R. I could maybe see Antonetti wanting to trade for Ubaldo in 2010 when he was throwing 97-98 and guys couldn't hit him- even if he was on juice. But anyone that watched him pitch in Denver in 2011 could see whatever he had to get people with out on a consistent basis was gone. As far as Acta lobbying to bring in Lowe, you don't know that. And it's not Acta's job to watch Lowe fall apart on video second half in the National League, it's Antonetti's. I'm going to go further and say I get the impression the players have less and less respect for Antonetti and Acta probably doesn't either, he's just a bit more skilled at concealing it.
Joey
August 4, 2012 - 11:25 PM EDT
Totally agree Seth
So your're saying Norm, both White and Pomeranz at age 23 can't develop into better pitchers in the next 2 or 3 years? Not to mention McBride going 2-4 with a 2B and RBI in his MLB debut

Jose Bautista was 29 years old when he hit his 54 homeruns
Cliff Lee won the Cy Young at 29
Ryan Vogelsong 2.38 ERA at age 34 this year
The list goes on, the term is "late bloomer"

So to write off Alex White at 23 as a reliever and Drew Pomeranz as being as good Jimenez as busts this soon is idiotic. Youre probably on the other hand the type to defend the Cliff Lee trade and say "wait and see" for those players.

Seth
August 4, 2012 - 10:59 PM EDT
I didn't say anything about Acta, that was a poster below?

"Justify my rants"? "As good as Jimenez is now"? Do you really need me to say the Ubaldo trade hasn't worked out, and that there's been nothing "good" about it? Jimenez has a 5.29 ERA and FIP. That's not ace territory, that's DFA territory. I'd have been quite happy to see Antonetti succeed with the Ubaldo gamble, and make some additional moves to put together a strong team this year and next. But Jimenez was not a sure-thing pickup, and Antonetti's subsequent non-moves clearly call into question the larger strategy, or lack thereof. I'd feel much better with Pomeranz and White in my pocket and am still bullish on both, but really the opinion of their potential isn't that important to the discussion. They were most definitely highly-valued prospects they traded away for 2.5 years of Jimenez, who's been not-very-surprisingly bad for the first year of that, but more importantly, when you finish 15 games out, trade away your two highest-valued prospects to add Jimenez and nothing else, to contend now, despite admittedly shortening your window of contention ... man, you are seriously going to defend this?

I'd actually consider myself one of the more optimistic Indians fans. The Jimenez trade definitely gave me a bad feeling about their future, but they were a couple moves away from fielding a solid team this year, and I still think they can be good next year if they pick up a couple pieces. I have no confidence in Antonetti to pick up those pieces though, and if they aren't seriously in it next year then it's off to another rebuild next July, in which case the future is very bleak.
Norm
August 4, 2012 - 9:20 PM EDT
Seth, you are trying to set the rules in hopes you can salvage something from your rants IMO. Only Pomeranz looks like he has a chance of ever being as good as Jimenez is now and that is if his arm holds together, which is not a given with his mechanics.

White is a reliever with two pitches and would not be a closer unless his arm holds on but will never be as good as Perez or Pestano. The point is, all you guys do nothing but bitch about everything. Pretty typical of Indians fans nowadays.

Speaking of Grady, as I recall, the loudest voices of discontent on the site were Tony and me. But, under the circumstances, I cannot recall either of us having a great solution after the Upton deal fell apart.

You don't have to worry about Acta going anywhere. Not only is he not that good, but I think it very likely the Indians will be headed elsewhere by 2016. And Acta was a big party to many of the deals you mention. He approved of the Sizemore deal because he did not think Brantley could Play CF. He was ecstatic about the Lowe signing. Pretty much an o-fer IMO. You really remind me of one of the posters we once had named Dennis Nosco. I am not sure Seth is not an alias for Dennis.
Seth
August 4, 2012 - 7:53 PM EDT
Norm, the point isn't about how they would have been this year, is it? It's about their future. When they sent White and Pomeranz packing, with the Indians' contract situations at the big league level they mortgaged 2014 and beyond. Prior to that trade they were in a position to field a competitive team now and in the future, with a core of young players of Pomeranz, White, Carrasco, Kipnis, Chisenhall, Brantley and Santana. That's something to build around. You remove Pomeranz and White, and it's not much. Had they not made that trade, you could talk feasibly about Lindor and some of the other youngsters making an impact a couple years from now. Once they rolled the dice on Jimenez, they HAD to go all in. I hated the Jimenez trade largely for the fact that it was Jimenez they picked up and I pretty much expected what we've seen from him: a below average performance that isn't even an upgrade over what they would've got from Pomeranz THIS year. But they could have traded for Roy Halladay and it's still indefensible if you don't go and fill other needs. It's not second guessing, people hated the trade when it happened and disliked the Sizemore signing when it happened for the exact reasons that have played out, and I fail to see how anyone could justify Antonetti's actions. He's been an unmitigated disaster. These are no-brainer moves that any competent GM makes. I kept thinking he must have something up his sleeve, but no, they had nothing. This was the plan. The results were entirely predictable.
Norm
August 4, 2012 - 5:44 PM EDT
Just another boring rehash of second guessing. Seems that is pretty much all that Jim can do. If I wanted to read tedious one sided opinions, I can get a boatload of those from the political races. So simple to pick the path afterwards.

Just out of curiosity, how much better would the Indians have fared in 2012 with White, Pomeranz and Gardner compared to Jimenez? Those three must have really lit up the performance of the Rockies this year, huh?

How was the decision on Sizemore any different than Willingham? They made the wrong choice but in the case of Sizemore, it was only a year. Just like the rest of the decisions they made last year. That might give a person a clue that they did not want to repeat the mistakes that got them to this mess and did not have money to do more. But that would require thinking and balance which is missing from this write.
shy
August 4, 2012 - 5:03 PM EDT
Just another comment on Antonetti's trade acumen. The Clips loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning last night. Then Matt LaPorta struck out. Then Lars Anderson struck out. The Clips didn't score. Anderson had an O-fer w 2 K's in his debut. I think Steven Wright is debuting tonite for Portland Sea Dogs. Antonetti traded a pitcher who was in the top 4 in all pitching categories for a left handed first-baseman who was not in the top 20 in any category. That's bright. OK here's some poetry for you. It ain't Robert Frost :
I was in the right place
But I musta made the wrong move
I was in the right car
But I musta made the wrong turn
My head was in a bad place
I wonder what's it good for

Dr. John, the Night Tripper 1973
Steve
August 4, 2012 - 3:32 PM EDT
Missed this column last week Jim. Love the points illustrated here.

I don't fault Antonetti for the Jimenez deal. In fact, I applaud him for the courage. The risk backfired, but I applaud the effort nonetheless. However, as you've illustrated, every move since has been a joke. I'd have to look at the specifics, but the money they spent on Kotchman, Damon, Sizemore and Carmona (err.. Hernandez) has to equal about the yearly salary of a Willingham or Beltran. Can you imagine how much one Willingham or Beltran would add to this team compared the collective unit previously mentioned?

The fact that the team did not pull the trigger and get Willingham or Beltran is inexcusable.

Yet, still pitching seems to be the team's biggest flaw this year, and I suppose some was out of Antonetti's control. I sure would have preferred Carrasco and Hernandez on this staff over Lowe and Tomlin/Gomez.
shy
August 4, 2012 - 3:22 PM EDT
Not to belabor the point, but Antonetti's approach has been misguided. He thinks he's going to add a Derek Lowe or a Ubaldo Jimenez, or Johnny Damon and catch lightning in a bottle. Well you have to put lightning in the bottle, not dead batteries. The Indians have a couple position players who are expected to play at a high level and by and large are- Cabrera and Choo- a couple players who have been nice surprises- Brantley and Kipnis and the best set-up/close combo in the division w Pestano/Perez. Everybody else -including Carlos Santana- is pretty shaky. All these guys have to be 100% up for each game to perform at a high level. It's hard to to be up when you're down 4,5,6 runs after 4 innings, just human nature to lose your edge when you're down that much. It's especially hard on Pestano, Perez. They live for the rush of close ball games in the 8th and 9th inning. If they have nothing to save they're not going to want to stay in Cleveland. Indians could have got something good for Choo and Perez. Teams w legitimate trade prospects were calling Antonetti everyday. Not now.... My guess is Acta is going to want to talk to other teams when his contract is up. He was dealt a rough hand in D.C. and a rough hand in Cleveland- I could see him wanting to go somewhere where he would have more to work with both on the field and in the office
Joey
August 4, 2012 - 3:09 PM EDT
Freddy Garcia and Ben Davis for Mike Morse, Miguel Olivo and Jeremy Reed.
Joey
August 4, 2012 - 3:07 PM EDT
i said this on another article, what are your thoughts?

Kearns was a minor league deal and lucked out he did well because the PTBNL for Kearns depended on his performance with the Yankees. And DeRosa we gave up 3 pitchers for him, one of which is Chris Archer who was Tampa's #1 prospect and made his MLB debut this year, he isnt great, but better than what we have now.

And as for Eduardo Perez and Broussard deal,
Everybody seems to forget that Mariners GM Bill Bavasi made horrific lopsided trades to many teams, just not Cleveland.

Mike Morse for Jeremy Reed
Carlos Guillen for Ramon Santiago
Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez
Matt Thornton for Joe Borchard
Yorvit Torrealba for Marcos Carvajal

I give credit to Indians management for making those deals, but it doesn't make them geniuses, just opportunists.

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