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Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: "Time, is on our side?"

Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: "Time, is on our side?"
July 15, 2012
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It’s birthday week here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, and as I bury my head in my hands staring at the number of candles on my birthday cake, I can’t help but start thinking about time. While I flash back to many, MANY birthdays spent at Municipal Stadium, Jacobs Field and the Prog, my mind naturally wanders forward, and I have to ask the question:

Will the Cleveland Indians win a World Series before I stop counting birthdays?

I know, it’s a ridiculous thought, right? It’s not like I’m an old man by any stretch, but I remember thinking, in my younger days, “I’ve got another 60 years on this planet…surely the Tribe will wins one by the time I croak.” Well, if I have another 60 years on the planet after Sunday’s birthday, I’m relatively certain that a bunch of them will be spent not knowing my own name, where I’m at, or whether or not the Cleveland Indians are a baseball team or the group of people that walk into my room every day to feed me my daily dose of medication. My “window” isn’t going to be open forever, and I’m starting to worry that it’s not going to be open long enough to taste the glory of a World Series victory.

I know there’s a bunch of you younger folk out there saying to themselves, “This guy is crazy. This team will eventually win one.” Well, my Dad turned 70 years old last year, and while he vaguely recalls the 1948 World Series victory when he was the ripe old age of seven, he distinctly recalls having a conversation with my grandpa after that series about the Indians having a stacked team that would surely win two or three more by 1955. Well, how did that go for him?

My point on my birthday isn’t to discuss death, or quite frankly, birth. What I do want to talk about is Time, and in particular, how the Indians perceive time in this day and age of small market teams having their own “windows” of winning, and how those windows are generally only open for a year or two. The Indians have been dealing with these windows for years now, and it’s extremely clear that the Tribe’s window is currently open, and as much as I’m fearful of saying it, it may be as open as it’s going to get.

When the Indians traded C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez, their usable haul was Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco, Nick Hagadone and Justin Masterson. There were other names in there, like Rob Bryson, Jason Knapp and Bryan Price, but those guys were either secondary in the deal, or extremely young, and not really a factor in this window we are talking about.

The Indians also made a deal in the middle of all that in which they acquired Carlos Santana for Casey Blake.

On top of that, the Indians had guys like Shin Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Travis Hafner, Trevor Crowe, Grady Sizemore, Vinny Pestano, Tony Sipp, Chris Perez, Rafael Perez and Fausto Carmona. The list of players goes on from there, but these guys are the focal point of the Indians going forward after the 2010 season. Why? Because it appeared as though the 2012 season would be a year of convergence. The older guys would be in their final years of deals or club options. The younger guys would be entering the final year of their arbitration years, and the minor league guys would be entering their productivity years. The Indians were banking on it because their drafts had been atrocious over the past few years, and their rebuild was dependant on dealing away the stars of their last “window,” in 2007-2008.

Enter 2011, and a funny thing happened. Everything seemed to converge, and while several of the guys mentioned in above trades weren’t a major factor, there were others that seemed to carry the team through the window whether they wanted to go or not. Justin Masterson really led this team throughout that season, but many of the guys listed above were a factor in one way or another.

In July, Chris Antonetti had a choice to make. He either had to commit to the 2012 window, or start looking towards the future window. With a decent core of guys that would be under control through 2015 or longer, combined with a solid draft led by Drew Pomeranz, the Indians seemed to have pieces in place to open another window in 2014 or 2015, led by Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Carlos Santana, Alex White and Drew Pomeranz. The problem was this team was winning in 2011. Which time period should Antonetti deal with?

Then he did something nobody expected: he made the biggest splash at the trade deadline and acquired a guy that several other “better” teams wanted. Antonetti outbid them all, crimping that 2014 window by giving up Pomeranz and White, but propping up the 2012/2013 window by bringing in Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez would remain under club control through the 2013 season. It was clear that Antonetti wasn’t looking to the future. The future was now.

It’s been well documented how I feel about the Jimenez deal, so I don’t want to rehash it too much. I value Pomeranz and White as high as anyone, but I wasn’t opposed to dealing them. I just didn’t feel that Jimenez was the right direction to go in. For Pomeranz and White, a price arguable steeper than what they got in return for Sabathia or Lee, Jimenez was an unknown. The catch, though, was control. The Indians would get 2 ½ years of his services, while Sabathia and Lee were a half-year rental, and a year-and-a-half rental. Regardless, the move showed Antonetti’s hand, and committed him, for better or worse, to the current window. This Indians team was being built to win in 2012 and 2013, with the potential for a chance in 2014, depending on who stays and who goes. The future would have to wait.

Antonetti went after Carlos Beltran and Josh Willingham over the offseason to compliment the Jimenez deal, but were outbid and outmatched by “contenders” or more money, which brings up the flaws of being a GM in Cleveland. Antonetti’s thought process was correct. The first volley’s of this team entering playoff contention were moves made prior to 2008, with moves that brought in Cabrera (under control through 2014 after an offseason deal) and Choo (under control through 2013)…two brilliant moves that are often overlooked because of bigger failures. From 2008-2010, Shapiro continue to retool the club with youth, and while the big moves didn’t pan out, the smaller ones brought in Santana and Perez (under control through 2014). The homegrown guys were coming up as well, with Kipnis established, and Chisenhall a comer. The pitching staff had Masterson and Jimenez controlled through 2014 and 2013 respectively.

Everything fit into place, but the one constant that doesn’t fit in Cleveland is always free agency. The Indians were on the precipice of being good, but needed a couple of guys to supplement the offense. It didn’t pan out, and the Indians went out and paid Grady Sizemore (mistake) and Casey Kotchman (good supplemental guy, but not a starter) for the offensive side of things, and made a low key move for Derek Lowe.  He tried to throw a dart at Bobby Abreu to play the outfield, and when that fell through, Johnny Damon became a target. Again, both guys were secondary thoughts.  It’s imbecilic to think that Antonetti didn’t realize that other moves would have to be made. The only issue was whether or not the Indians would have enough to keep themselves in contention through July.

The Tribe brass felt they did.

Guess what, they did.

While this team and management take hit after hit, a case can be made that they have done their job as well as could be expected. I’m as critical as the next guy, and rightfully so. Their misses tend to be big. Their hits are more under-the-radar, but have brought impact players. But, the Indians are sitting in second place on July 15th, a game behind the Chicago White Sox, and a half-game in front of the Detroit Tigers. Most experts completely ignore the Indians in playoff discussion, and it’s clear why, there’s no stars on this team, and it’s extremely flawed. There’s no Paul Konerko or Adam Dunn. There’s no Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder or Justin Verlander. There’s also not a whole lot of capital to make a big move going forward.

But that’s where the Indians are sitting.

Antonetti made his bed in 2011 when he traded for Ubaldo Jimenez. He literally gave up the farm to get him, but knew it was only one move in what had to be a series of three or four to take the Indians to the next level. Some of it would have to be internal, with player improvement, or a return to solid play from a guy like Sizemore or the Fausto-turned-Roberto fiasco. But clearly, some has to be external.

And that’s where Antonetti is sitting. Time is winding down for the window in 2012 for the Indians to make moves that impact this season, and potentially next. The Indians have one BIG piece at play in Francisco Lindor. There are several other pieces that may or may not be valued, likely starting with guys like McAllister and Gomez, and ending with Cody Allen and Jesus Aguilar. There are several guys in the low minors as well that might intrigue some teams, but the endgame is Lindor.

A year has passed for the Indians GM, and he again sits where he sat last year. The Indians are in second place and the Tigers are breathing down his back. Will Antonetti decided that he made a mistake dealing for Ubaldo last season and not make a move to gain the BIG piece or two to improve the team? Will Antonetti decide to continue to prop the window open and attempt to make a deal, and just not be able to make one with the pieces he has? Will the he make a deal discarding Lindor for a rental, or for a guy with multiple years, since 2013 is clearly in play? Or, will Antonetti make several smaller moves to bring in some guys prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, and after during the waiver month of August to help supplement this team?

I believe that Antonetti is going to be in play for every major player that will be dealt. He may even get one, if the price is right. Clearly, there’s going to be a bidding war, and clearly, other teams have more to offer. Unfortunately for Antonetti, because of the club’s own moves, and because of the MLB culture, the road over the next two weeks will be a tough one. In the fickle land of Cleveland, he CAN’T make a move that will be liked by a majority. If he deals for a big bat and uses his big piece, he’ll likely get slammed for using that piece, or only making one move, when they need two or three. If he makes a deal for a starter and a bat, I’m sure one won’t be up to snuff, and again, the price will be too high. In other words, I don’t think Antonetti is worried one way or another. He’ll do his job, be in play, and don’t count against him making a move nobody sees coming.

Will it be the right move(s)? That will play out over the next couple of months. If he gets shut out of making any move of consequence?

Well, it all comes back to time, doesn’t it?

If Antonetti can’t make a move, will the current club have enough time in 2012 at the top, or will they be drowned in the wake of likely moves from the Tigers and the White Sox? Will the Indians be able to make a move in the offseason of 2013 and keep that window propped open for one more year?

Time is a funny thing, and Antonetti knows that all too well. If he doesn’t manage it well, his time may be running out.

As for my time…C’MON, I’M NOT GOING TO LIVE FOREVER! Now, if I can just find the address for Alcor. Rumor has it the cooler next to Ted Williams head is available.

I’m not going to roll through all my half-season awards in this piece. If you want them that badly, listen to last week’s Smoke Signals. Tony and I rolled through the season in the bigs, and the minors. Instead, I want to talk about two parts of the team that are absolutely at the top of the league, and two that aren’t. The top of the Indians lineup is absolutely outstanding. It doesn’t get much better than Shin-Soo Choo, Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera. You have to want to pound yourself in the head at the thought of Carlos Santana’s struggles. If he could figure things out, imagine that front four. Right now, the Indians plug in Michael Brantley at the five spot behind them, and you could have something special. If the Indians make a move and get a bat like Carlos Quentin, you could plug him in at the five-hole, and Brantley moves to six. If you don’t think that line-up would match-up well with anyone else, you are kidding yourself. It’s not perfect, but there isn’t a perfect line-up out there.

I’m equally ecstatic with Pestano and Perez at the back-end of the bullpen. There isn’t a better tandem in baseball. Again, imagine what this team turns into with Tony Sipp, Joe Smith and a finally getting healthy Rafael Perez just pitching like their supposed to. Throw in a sprinkle of Cody Allen and Scott Barnes, and you could have the best pen in baseball.

These two pieces are big-time, and the supplemental should get better.

The starting rotation makes me want to pull my hair out. I love Masterson as a starter, and am extremely happy to see him start off the second half of the season pitching as well as he did. I hope he continues. That said, I personally feel like he’s a complimentary starter, a #1a or #2 guy. While I may get hammered because there are others that think he’s an ace, I’m just not completely there. I think he can dominate, and I think he’s outstanding, but I don’t think he’s a stopper in that strict sense of the word. That’s where Jimenez was supposed to come in. Both, this year at least, are inconsistent. While they both have had stretches of fairly brilliant baseball, they’ve also had stretches of just bad starts. Blame the pitching coaches or their make-up or whatever you want to. Either way, the only way these two are effective 1 and 2 guys THIS YEAR is if their supplemental pieces are good as well. Talk about a mixed bag of nothing. I like Gomez and Tomlin and Lowe, but you can only have one of these guys on your roster as a #5. They are all the same to me at this point, even if they are all at different points of their careers. They are five or six inning guys, and can be good to bad. That’s what they are. If any of them prove me wrong, and they won’t, but if they do, great. They overachieved. Zach McAllister is a wild-card to me. I’ve thought he was a #3 or #4 guy since they got him, and now he has his chance. I’ll hold my final thoughts until his second go around through the league. If he pans out, you have Jimenez, Masterson, McAllister and Lowe/Tomlin. Then you hope they go out and get a guy like Dempster to plug into the three hole. That rotation gives you something special, and if you get ANYTHING out of Roberto Hernandez this year, the rotation would look something like Jimenez, Masterson, Dempster, McAllister and Hernandez. On paper, it looks pretty good, and you can have inconsistency at the top. Of course, that’s on paper, and a lot would have to happen to get that rotation in place.

Left field is absolutely terrible, and I’m not going to hammer that point home, but just say that if the Indians don’t address left field, Antonetti should be fired. I know that there’s a lot out of his control, but to not get anyone worthwhile there and to not have any viable minor league options is unforgivable. Sure, if you’re not a contending team and you are in rebuild mode, it’s fine, but the Indians are neither. You can blame LaPorta for sucking, or the market for putting guys like Beltran out of play, but at the end of the day, it falls on Antonetti’s shoulders. YOU CAN’T have a hole that blazing on a team that’s got a short window of time…especially if there’s no injury issues. Sorry, before you bring up Sizemore’s name, he doesn’t count. The ONLY guy that thought that was a good move was the GM…and again, that’s his fault.

The Indians are a good team, and left field could ultimately prove to be their demise. Sure, there’s more, but it’s the only MAJOR weakness. If that one position had a right-handed power bat…or even an acceptable .270 hitter with so-so power…this roster looks completely different. Some will say easier said than done. I say, so what. You take a GM job in Cleveland, and excuses go out the window. You open up the window and set the tone, so when that window is open, you better have the players ready to go. If you don’t…

Guess what…you run out of time…

It’s a beautiful weekend for baseball…everybody…

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
July 16, 2012 - 10:05 AM EDT
Yeah, if the Indians push their offer from two to three years, then they have Willingham in the fold. That guy wanted to come here. So, yeah, that is looking like a big mistake at the moment, especially in light of the $5M they have blown on Sizemore this year.
Seth
July 15, 2012 - 5:55 PM EDT
The Indians as a team are 24th in OPS in left field and 27th in OPS at 1b. And that's with Cunningham getting at bats, Duncan playing full time against right-handers for a month and Damon getting his spring training during major league games in May.

I don't think Soriano is a realistic target with his contract: he's still owed like $45 million. Even if the Cubs ate half of that, he'd still be more expensive than Willingham's contract, which the Indians balked at, and Soriano has health issues.

For pitching, I don't see a good reason why the Indians couldn't be in on Dempster or even Hamels though. $ wouldn't be a huge issue, since it's a half-year rental, so then it's about prospects, and I don't know that any team's going to give up a top prospect for a half-year rental. The Indians are 4 games out now though, so depending on what they do in the next week, they might not even be in position to trade for anyone.
Joey
July 15, 2012 - 5:21 PM EDT
Yeah but i disagree with you on the OPS still, Indians Left Field OPS and AVG are 26th and 27th respectively in MLB. I honestly would like to see LaPorta there for about a month and see what he can do but we all know that won't happen. Like you said, getting Soriano and maybe ditching Cunningham, and make Damon the bench OF job and let Duncan /Kotchman platoon first. I’m not an all-about-defense guy like most Indians fans it seems but id have to say Soriano in Left is definitely a good upgrade along with his bat.

I agree with you Cunningham is completely worth-less 7th inning and later closer Left Fielder, he can’t hit, steal or even throw, most his throws hit the ground short of the target.

And to your starting pitching opinion, Ben Sheets just signed a deal and had a great first start with Atlanta, can’t think he couldn’t be any worse than what we have now, not to mention he’d be LHP in the rotation with “veteran leadership”

Seth
July 15, 2012 - 5:03 PM EDT
Eh, I doubt Delmon Young performs better or worse than Damon going forward. Young's actually hitting slightly better this year than last, and in both cases it's pretty terrible. I don't think a GM would take either player over the other: both might be out of jobs after this year. But I think Damon can continue to OPS in the .720-.750 range, and Duncan will continue his feast or famine ways that even out to those of a pretty average offensive performer, especially if he faces mostly lefties Duncan's OPS stood at .782 today, .854 against lefties. If he platoons with Damon from here on out, I think getting something around a .750 OPS from left field is well within expectations, and acceptable. Cunningham does need to go, he's worthless with the bat and on the bases and isn't a viable backup.

We'll have to just agree to disagree on this one though. I'm not saying Damon's a good player or I'm glad they have him, just that right now some other areas should have more priority and are likely easier to upgrade. I think the biggest need on offense would have to be a good right handed bat who can play 1b, but it also comes down to who is available. In general, I'd think it also easier to upgrade 1b, since you can stick a lot of guys there. If they can get a good outfielder though, and then platoon Duncan with Kotchman at 1b, I wouldn't be against it. It would have to be someone who can at least put up Alfonso-Soriano-type numbers though.

There are a number of really good starting pitchers in contract years who will definitely be traded to someone, and I think that should be the number one priority.
Joey
July 15, 2012 - 4:54 PM EDT
Happy birthday Jim! I don't comment much, just usually tweet questions or opinions but I do read your articles and almost always agree with you. I know you said you don't like metrics but in your defense, a .762 OPS is considered a D on Bill Jame's OPS chart. I don't live by that chart or any baseball metric because i always believe that you can't rely 100% on stats, but can sensibly use them to analyze trends. I agree completely and would take Young over Damon in any situation. My point is kinda of scattered on this but I just believe our left position is a large hole. Damon, Duncan and Cunningham, our trio of left fielders are hitting .161 with RISP. .236 with bases empty. I don’t know if that is just untimely hitting or what they do in meaningful at bats. Young is at least hitting .289 with RISP.

Now regarding Delmon Young, I’d take him since he is a younger and probably healthier than Damon. Damon has a .114 ISO power number and Young, not much better has a .142, but Young has a better power potential than Damon does. Also, Young is a slightly better defender than Duncan and Damon, while Duncan should really play first base.
Sean
July 15, 2012 - 3:38 PM EDT
Happy birthday to Jim.
Willie
July 15, 2012 - 3:32 PM EDT
First, Happy Birthday! Its also my wife's.
Second, I believe your spot on, the Tribe will be active and probably make a couple moves.
Last yr the mind blower was Jimenez, like you I'll not waste the time going in to that. Although White has had his struggles...
CA moved aggressively in moving for Jimenez, and also added Fukudome and later Thome, I think we see more of the same. The Tribe began to develop a little earlier than many of us fans and the experts expected. That said I think we fans also had greater expectations from last yr going into this season. Maybe prematurely? Nonetheless this team is very close to contending for the division and within striking distance.
Personally, I believe we will see the Tribe make several moves in effort to win the division.
Jim
July 15, 2012 - 3:17 PM EDT
Well, if I'm the owner and you are the GM...and you come to me and say, "I'll take Damon over Delmon Young based on numbers..."

I'd fire you on the spot. If you think that Damon trends higher than Delmon going forward, you are just kidding yourself. I'd take Young every time...if we're basing it on numbers. Now, as far as quality of person...that's another story...

As per first base...again, there's no doubt that Kotchman is a hole at first. I'd argue that his trends are going to be higher than Damon going forward, but would take an upgrade there as well.

As per third, offensively, I'd take Lopez and anyone else other than Hannahan. I've never been on Mr. horrid OPS's bandwagon, and never will be. So I'll agree that I'd take ANY of those positions...

but please don't sell me on how well Damon has been playing. "Everyone has bad at bats?" Sorry Seth, I respect you as a poster here...one of the best...but there's more to Damon than a bad at bat here and there. I would have to imagine that his "bad at-bats" are localized around runners actually in scoring position. I'm not a metrics guy, but know that he's one of the worst players on the team driving in runs. While that may be relative (especially when taking into account first and third), you can't make a legit case that first is a bigger need than left or third for that matter. At best, their equal...

I concur with Santana, but he's untouchable on any team. Are you going to bench him? trade him?

I agree with starting pitching...and have for weeks here...but don't agree with your assessment of Damon. It's where metrics drive me crazy. I watch the games...and see the crazy amount of empty Damon at bats there are (not saying he has more or less than first or third)...

there are many...

...at the end of the day Seth, I don't think we disagree on much, but left field is a massive issue...as is third...with first behind it...IMO. I'd prefer another guy in front of Kotchman, but he is what he is. I think the Indians will make a move at what they can get with their limited bullets, but if they take left field off the table because of this defense...then Antonetti should get canned on principle...
Seth
July 15, 2012 - 3:01 PM EDT
Jim #2, everyone has bad at bats. A .762 OPS is not bad though, and there's decent reason to think Damon can keep up close to that level of production, since he was in the .750 range the last 2 years, and by all rights he should have spent the first half of May getting ready in Columbus. A .750 OPS is better production than Delmon Young, and is on par with what the White Sox are getting from Dayan Viciedo and what the Royals are getting from Alex Gordon. (defensively, Damon is obviously lacking)

I think it's pretty hard to argue that left field right now is even in the top 3 of Indians' needs. Starting pitcher(s), left-handed reliever, and 1b are greater needs (Kotchman's .677 OPS isn't remotely comparable to what the White Sox and Tigers are getting from this position--and while he might be a little better going forward, his career OPS is only .728), they could also use another good right handed reliever, and while I'd give an edge to the Hannahan/Lopez combo over Damon/Duncan, they've been getting pretty similar production for the last 6 weeks from those positions. Does left field need to be addressed before next year? Definitely. But to make a trade this year, when you have limited bullets in your gun to swing a deal that's going to seriously impact the team? I think there are easier and bigger upgrades to be had with starting pitching and 1B.
Jim
July 15, 2012 - 2:29 PM EDT
Ha...Jim...I occasionally have one or two moments of clarity...then I watch a game...;)
Jim
July 15, 2012 - 2:28 PM EDT
Seth, I don't agree at all....left field is a hole, and there isn't a metric that will change my mind. Today's game is a microcausm of why. Damon has so many weightless at bats...just painful...

I will agree though...that the offense as a hole is better.

My point is, and will remain...this offense needs extended, and a righthanded bat in left does that perfectly (third as well)...

I do agree that a starting pitcher is equally important...mentioned that in the piece...but I don't weigh one over the other.
Jim Piascik
July 15, 2012 - 2:20 PM EDT
"In the fickle land of Cleveland, he CAN’T make a move that will be liked by a majority."

I don't know why, but that line is sticking with me. It's 100% true.
Seth
July 15, 2012 - 2:09 PM EDT
You can blame the market, or actually more Beltran's wishes, on not signing Beltran, but Willingham was signed for cheap. It was a fair deal with his expected production, and with the production the Twins have actually received thus far, it's been a fantastic deal for Minnesota. That was a big mistake. They were obviously counting on Grady Sizemore, which is a crazy thing, and they are paying Sizemore 1/4 of Willingham's total contract.

That massive failure is on Antonetti, (and between that and the Ubaldo trade I do think Antonetti should be fired regardless, unless he demonstrates competence in the next couple months) but I don't actually see a huge need to address left field right now. They've actually managed to coax 1.0 WAR on the year from the Damon/Duncan platoon, and Damon has a .762 OPS since the beginning of June. Not great, but that's decent if he can maintain it. Cunningham is absurd to keep around, but I'd be fine with calling up Crowe or Carrera as a 4th outfielder/pinch runner.The biggest problem with the offense right now is Santana not performing up to expectations, and Kotchman's performance is still weak for first base--and is about what we expected of Kotchman. Overall though, I'd actually say right now the offense is performing better than I at least expected: Brantley's been awesome lately, Choo's back to his pre-2011 production, Cabrera and Kipnis have been very good, and Hafner's hit with some power and has a good OBP. If the right guy came available, sure, but what Antonetti needs to go after now is a good starting pitcher. If he can land a good one, I'd be fine with them leaving left field as is this year.

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