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Tribe Happenings: Acta fired, Antonetti survives

Tribe Happenings: Acta fired, Antonetti survives
September 30, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Antonetti to return next season

Indians President Mark Shapiro gave General Manager Chris Antonetti about as glowing an endorsement this week when he and ownership confirmed that his job is safe and that he will be retained as the team’s general manager:

"I feel he's controlled the bulk of what he can control well. [Indians CEO Paul Dolan] and I still endorse strongly his vision for how we can be competitive and, ultimately, a championship team.”

And so ends all the speculation that the Indians are in for major changes this offseason. The way it looks right now, they are going to retain all the decision makers in the organization but clean house with the coaching staff. The same thing they did three years ago when Eric Wedge was fired.

Antonetti really caught a break here. Sure, this is only his second season at the helm as the general manager of the organization. Also, he may need more time for his “vision” to be realized. But he has actually been heavily involved in the decision making process for more than the two last two years as he worked side by side with Shapiro in his final years as general manager. And since taking the wheel and being given full control of the organization his driving record has not been all that great.

That may sound harsh, but his resume to date leaves little to speak highly about. Take a look for yourself.

Last year in Antonetti’s first year as general manager his major signings in the offseason were minor league deals to third baseman Jack Hannahan, infielder Adam Everett, outfielder Austin Kearns, first baseman Nick Johnson, and outfielder Travis Buck. His big free agent splashes were second baseman Orlando Cabrera and right-handed reliever Chad Durbin. He also made minor depth trades to acquire right-handed pitcher Joe Martinez and traded away left-hander Aaron Laffey for a minor league infielder.

In the middle of last season Antonetti traded two low profile minor leaguers for outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, and a few days later traded Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Joe Gardner, and Matt McBride in a career defining deal for right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez.

Then this past offseason Antonetti resigned oft-injured outfielder Grady Sizemore to a guaranteed one year $5 million deal. In addition to resigning Sizemore, his big free agent splashes were first baseman Casey Kotchman and outfielder Johnny Damon.  He signed several other players to minor league deals like infielder Jose Lopez, right-handed reliever Jeremy Accardo, outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, right-handed reliever Dan Wheeler, and shortstop Christian Guzman.

On the trade front Antonetti sent away a Single-A pitcher to the Braves for right-handed starter Derek Lowe, traded right-handed reliever Zach Putnam to the Rockies for right-handed starter Kevin Slowey, and traded right-handed reliever Cory Burns to the Padres for outfielder Aaron Cunningham. Over the summer he traded for infielder Brent Lillibridge.

That’s it.  Those are all the major moves Antonetti has made in his two years as GM.

There are tons of other small moves where they signed many others to minor league deals or claimed players off waivers like Russ Canzler and Esmil Rogers, but the moves listed above were the most significant moves that the Indians have made while under Antonetti’s reign.

The results speak for themselves as almost every one of those signings and trades has not worked out. Yet, Shapiro actually came out and said he feels that Antonetti has “controlled the bulk of what he can control well”? I just don’t agree with that at all.

I know a lot of fans are not happy Antonetti is coming back. His track record does not inspire a lot of confidence in the fan base that he is creative or aggressive enough to make the moves this team needs to make to get things right. But it doesn’t matter at this point and is nothing but useless banging of heads against the wall because he is coming back next season.

The focus now should not be about whether or not Antonetti should be fired, but how turns this thing around.

So how is Antonetti and his staff going to turn this thing around?

The Indians may be limited by their market with finances, but the options are limitless with whatever strategy or philosophy they take as an organization.  Even though the Indians, Rays, Athletics, and Pirates are all in the same market so to speak as far as spending goes, the way each organization operates and the philosophy each organization has could not be any more different than the way the Indians do things. It all starts with the strategy used in the procurement of players, and I really believe the Indians passive bargain bin scraping approach of the past in free agency and trades needs to be dumped for a more aggressive approach where they step out of their comfort zone more often and take some risks in deals.

If Antonetti and the Indians have learned anything this season it is that their plan and way of constructing a roster is not working. They need to go back to the drawing board this offseason. With Antonetti getting a boost of confidence from Shapiro and ownership, he needs to be creative in finding a way to better maximize their limited financial resources and be keener on identifying those diamonds in the rough that teams like the Athletics and Rays do such a good job of finding.

Acta fired

On Thursday the Indians announced that manager Manny Acta had been fired.  This was hardly surprising news as it was a forgone conclusion that Acta would probably be the guy to fall on the sword and lose his job over a very disappointing season. When the team cratered in August by biblical proportions going an all-time franchise worst 5-24 for the month, the writing was more than just on the wall. It was already on Acta’s termination papers.

Acta’s three year tenure is one that will be quickly forgotten in Cleveland. He went 215-266 (.447) with the Indians, and in his six year managerial career that includes three seasons with the Nationals he is 373- 518 (.419). That is one of the worst career winning percentages for a manager that has managed as many games as he has.

But it is hard to fault Acta for the results on the field when he was not given much of a chance considering the roster he was given. This is not to say the entire roster was garbage as that is not the case at all. The Indians have several core pieces that they can really build around. But at the same time there was a lot of dead weight on the roster this season and some poor acquisitions over the past two years that limited what Acta could do.

Acta did not make the Jimenez trade. He did not sign Damon and Kotchman to fill the left field and first base holes. He did not resign Sizemore. He did not trade for Lowe and sign what seemed like 500 minor league retreads to minor league deals this past offseason.

But, plain and simple, no matter how talented or untalented a roster a manager is given, he is still graded by wins and losses.

In addition to the poor record in the standings, Acta was not exactly a popular guy in the clubhouse.  The players are saying all the right things and being openly apologetic for their poor performances that ultimately led to his firing, but inside that clubhouse I know there are a lot of guys that are glad he is gone. For whatever reason Acta had a disconnect with a lot of his players.  There is a lot more to it than this, but I am sure his managing style where he rarely argued close calls on the field and stuck up for his players did not help.  Bottom line, the clubhouse is not in much shock over his firing and there are actually several relieved faces that he is gone.

As for the timing of the move, it may seem strange that the Indians announced their decision to end the Acta Era with six games remaining in the season. The reasoning the Indians gave it that the decision was made now because this last week at home they are already preparing for next season and did not want to involve Acta in the process for next season when they had already determined he would no longer be a part of the organization.

Keep in mind they did the exact same thing with former manager Eric Wedge when they fired him in the last week of the 2009 season – though he agreed to finish out the year and remained on as the manager for the final six games of the season.  So the timing of the move makes sense for the most part.  If the Indians truly have decided to move on, then why not get the process started right away to find a new manager?

They also get the benefit of seeing a very small sample size of how the team responds to interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. and how he does as the field general. They can also get a head start on bringing in guys that are not currently with another organization to interview for the manager’s vacancy. This should allow them to be one of the first to interview a guy like Terry Francona who will probably be sought out by a lot of teams this offseason for vacant manager openings.

Whether or not it was right or wrong, Acta is gone and the Indians now have to go through an extensive process to vet all the candidates down to three or four for final interviews before making a decision sometime shortly after the conclusion of the World Series. While the league discourages teams from major announcements during the playoffs, the Indians can still interview candidates and come to a decision while the playoffs rage on. They just can’t officially announce anything until the World Series is over.

In fact, one can argue that they may already have their guy in Alomar Jr., but will go through the extensive search simply to respect the process and to be sure they do not miss on a potential candidate they may not have considered. All that said, realistically speaking there is no way any veteran manager candidate is going to seriously consider the Indians manager’s opening. It’s a losing proposition that a savvy veteran manager knows to avoid, but that a young first time manager can’t pass up.

That is why Alomar is probably the best and most likely fit, and why a guy like Francona ultimately will probably decline and go to another team. He knows that the support from ownership is limited due to very finite resources because of the “realities of their market.” He knows there is not much help on the immediate horizon in the minor leagues as the minor league talent pool for next season is pretty dry because almost all of the high valued prospects in the system don’t have an ETA until 2014 or later.  He also knows that Antonetti’s track record of constructing a Major League roster for the manager is not very good at the moment.

The interesting thing will be if Alomar interviews for other jobs and if he spurns the Indians for another manager’s post elsewhere. If that happens and Francona moves on as expected, it would be interesting to see what Plan C turns out to be. Triple-A Columbus manager Mike Sarbaugh will also probably be in the mix, but there would have to be a few other options so it will be interesting to see what other names the rumor mill churns out these next several weeks while they interview potential candidates.

Where are the Dolan’s?

Every owner is different. Same are in the forefront like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, while others like former Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner keep themselves as far away from the spotlight as they possibly can.

The Dolans have always mostly stayed out of the spotlight, though do from time to time make themselves visible. But during this whole second half collapse not a lot has been heard from them other than a few prepared statements that have been released to the press and an interview conducted at a charity function several weeks ago.

I think it goes without saying that Shapiro is the voice of the franchise, and with matters regarding the team he is the spokesperson for ownership. But a lot of fans have wondered where they have been in this mess of a second half. I know this because I get email after email and tweet after tweet asking about it.

I wrote back in early August and wondered if the Dolan’s would hold anyone accountable for what has transpired in the second half. If the firing of pitching coach Scott Radinsky and Acta is their answer to accountability, I am not sure it is the right message they are sending to the fan base.  With it being announced that Antonetti is returning next season, a lot of people are wondering why he is coming back and why he is not being held accountable for his struggles.

I have no problem with Antonetti. I think in a lot of ways he is dealing with the hand he has been dealt with managing a limited amount of dollars available for payroll. But I also feel he has fallen well short in several of his player acquisition decisions. Hopefully he has learned from those mistakes and a new strategy will help him make better decisions going forward. That appears to be what the Dolan’s are banking on.

Also, it is not very often that you see a general manager fired just two seasons into the job. It may have happened before, but it is very rare. It is always easier to replace the manager than it is to fire and replace the GM. With a new GM often comes a lot of new staff in player development, scouting, baseball operations, and so on. It’s a complete reboot, and I don’t think the Dolan’s are quite ready for that and want to give Antonetti at least one more year to see what he can do.

But that is just me rationalizing why Antonetti was brought back.

It would be nice to just hear the Dolan’s themselves explain why they are bringing back Antonetti. It would also be nice to hear them explain that they will demand more accountability from everyone in the organization.

Infirmary report

Left-hander Rafael Perez underwent an arthroscopic debridement of his left throwing shoulder on Wednesday. He last pitched in the big leagues on April 25th before going on the disabled list due to left latissimus and shoulder soreness. He attempted two different rehab assignments in over the course of the year but had setbacks each time, which is why surgery was deemed necessary. He is expected to be fully recovered by the start of spring training in February.

Right-handed starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez struggled with an ankle injury in each of his last two starts. He had the ankle examined this week and it was determined that he has a sprained right ankle and has been shut down for the season and will miss his final start. His contract for 2013 is not guaranteed as the Indians will need to decide in the next few weeks whether to pick up his $5.75 million club option for 2013 or decline it and pay a $1 million buyout.

Right-handed starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez threw 60 pitches over 4.0 innings in a simulated game on Wednesday at US Cellular Field in Chicago. He will not start a game the rest of this season, but may find his way into one or two of the final four games in a relief role.   He is being built back up as he will likely pitch winter ball in the Dominican Republic when play starts up in mid-October. His return to the organization is in doubt as he has a $6 million club option next year (no buyout) and with all issues stemming from the identity fraud, his health, and performance, he probably won’t be back next season except maybe on a new low cost deal.

Parting shots

Second baseman Jason Kipnis has really struggled in the second half of the season, but he still became just the 4th Indians player in the last 25 years to hit at least 10 home runs with 70 RBI, 80 runs scored and 30 stolen bases in the same season. Roberto Alomar (1999-2001), Kenny Lofton (2000), and Grady Sizemore (2007-2008) are the others. … With just a few games remaining in the season the Indians are still holding steady onto the #5 pick in next June’s draft. They are tied with the Twins for the 4th worst record in baseball, but the Twins hold the tiebreaker because of a worse 2011 record. The Indians at best can end up with the 4th pick and at worst the 6th pick. … While the MLB season is winding down, the offseason leagues are getting ready to kick up as the Arizona Fall League starts play next Tuesday October 9th.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Joe Eversole
October 2, 2012 - 2:56 PM EDT
Tony, I appreciate your realistic, fair assessment of our team and management. I was a boss for years and if I had made so many bad hires/decisions I would not have kept my job. Antonetti has not even been right 25% of the time not to mention 50%. We need a proven baseball man who can build this team position by position so we cac put 9 major leaguers out there every day.First, we have to find and sign those major leaguers-at least 4 new ones not to mention 2 starting pitchers. Past history is usually the best predictor of the future and that is not a good sign with Shapiro and Antonetti at the helm.
October 1, 2012 - 7:45 PM EDT
For next year, I'd be interested in Victorino. Had a down year this year, but would've still been a huge upgrade to what the Indians were throwing out there. And he still killed left handed pitching. Upton, but he's scares me ... he'd fit right in though, inconsistent player who never seems to live up to his potential and strikes out a ton.
October 1, 2012 - 7:41 PM EDT
Tony: Appreciate the input. If that is indeed the case, I'm still hesitant to go that "extra mile" with a 30+ guy. I understand that's an supremely unpopular position in this case because Willingham- to date-belies the premise and because it's not sufficiently critical of the Indians. But I'd rather spend that $7M on extensions for arg-eligible organization guys or on players lucky enough to reach F.A. in their 20s or on luring top scouts to the org or something as opposed to being willing to blithely write it off down the road. Or simply pocketing it.

At least we know the "free agents don't want to play here" lament is a crock. It should be neither talk-show evidence of a doomed franchise nor an excuse for front office inactivity.
October 1, 2012 - 6:31 PM EDT
I agree somewhat Jeff. But the major difference with Willingham and the others is that he wanted to come to Cleveland and had the Indians gave him the third year like he requested from them, he'd of been an Indian. All of the other players talked about last offseason were not nearly as close to a done deal. Willingham was except the Indians just did not want to go the extra mile.
October 1, 2012 - 6:05 PM EDT
In addition to the ones I mentioned, names like Cespedes, Upton, & C. Lee were among the bunch of OF/1B options being thrown around. To focus on Willingham as though he were the one and only obvious option oversimplifies the situation somewhat. Of course, one could make a case that a transcendent G.M. would do exactly that...

It could very well just be me, but signing ANY 32 y.o. to a multiyear deal in this era of increased PED testing is a gamble I'm not sure I'd make. YMMV.

That being said, who among this winter's F.A. OF crop looks interesting?
October 1, 2012 - 3:56 PM EDT
The only two outfield names I saw the Indians attached to were Beltran and Willingham. I would have been all for Beltran and certainly would've preferred him to Willingham, but once that fell through ... You have a right handed outfield bat, who even if you were inexplicably counting on Sizemore to play a full year, could have been used at DH or even 1b, who has put up 3.0, 2.6, 3.0 and 2.1 WAR the past 4 years, available for $7 million per year with a contract that runs perfectly through your self-described window of contention, and plays a position you have zero internal options for, how do you pass on that? At that cost, as long as he gives you two solid years it's well worth it, he could drop off the face of the earth the last year and you still got your money's worth. If he were going for 3 years $31 million I could see them being hesitant, but $21 million, for a player who filled such a crucial need, it was a no-brainer.
October 1, 2012 - 3:40 PM EDT
I think Tony does an excellent job at offering well-placed criticism when it's due. The fact that he's not yet another woe-is-us print columnist or sky-is-falling screamer on the airwaves is a pleasant departure from the bulk of the Cleveland sports scene.

As for Willingham, it's interesting to me that, after the fact, group opinion has become that he was the obvious solution. IIRC, names like Pena, Sanchez, and Parra were being tossed around the blogosphere on a roughly equivalent basis during the off season. To put it gently, none of those guys would've been a difference-maker this year, yet their names are forgotten due to a retroactively laserlike focus on Willingham. Also, it wasn't too long ago when we were all excoriating the team for giving a three year deal to a 32 year old outfielder coming off one of his best seasons. Now, suddenly, it was obviously the right thing to do?

This doesn't excuse this front office for its many missteps to date. But rather than complaining about a flawed crystal ball not providing tunnel vision towards Willingham (or Chavez, or Hairston, or Ross, or any veteran for whom it was "obvious" they would take off), I'm much more concerned about a "wave of arms" which turns out to be a trickle. Or a scouting process which leads to drafting/signing injury-prone player after injury-prone player. Or the general failure to thrive or outright regression we see on the M.L. roster year after year.

Those are fundamental, basic, organizational flaws which scare me a lot more than the unwillingness to pay a 35 y.o. OF an 8-figure salary on the off chance he bucks the usual aging curve a couple years prior. How will THOSE shortcomings be addressed this off-season?
October 1, 2012 - 8:59 AM EDT
Thanks Dick. Yes, it can be uncomfortable to be so critical of the team and specific personnel, but by the same token I have always been fair in that regard and given them many props for things in the past too. My hope is that while I know some of the critical comments are not liked, it at least comes off as constructive and with some thought behind it rather than a bash session. I'm not into berating people.

Seth, I completely agree. I think this is one of the most interesting offseasons for this organization in some time for a variety of reasons. It will be interesting to see if their approach changes at all and if it does what it is....or if it is the same old same old. It will be interesting to see what kind of support the Dolan's provide even though revenues are tanking. They have very little as far as salary commitments go for next season, so should have a good amount of money to pour into trades and FA.

As far as relocation goes....I just don't see it. There is no market out there that is open that would be an improvement over Cleveland. It's not like a few years ago when DC needed a team. Or with the Browns where Baltimore (a better market) needed a team. Where are the Indians going to move? New Orleans? Indianapolis? Raleigh?San Antonio? There just are few if any options available for relocation....and I just don't see it happening.
September 30, 2012 - 5:24 PM EDT
Mark Shapiro has a lifetime job with the Dolan family. Results do not matter, nor does the losers this idiot hires in Mirabelli or Antonetti.. Dolan buyes in to the Shapiro lies of the small market excuses.

Truly pathetic but it is what it is. My guess is that Cleveland in the next couple yrs relocates in to another city as the Clowns did in Baltimore.
September 30, 2012 - 2:42 PM EDT
The Steven Wright trade...that one (of all these) is the one that bugs me the most. We don't have a ton of SP...or at least quality SP depth...and someone like Wright very well could have helped plug holes in the rotation and pen for the next few season, at worst.

Guys like Lars are a dime a dozen, and they would of had no problems picking up a guy like him on the FA market this offseason,
September 30, 2012 - 12:21 PM EDT
That Antonetti has been "dealing with the hand he's been dealt" is a huge cop-out. If pretty much anyone who reads this site had been GM, i.e. anyone who knows anything about baseball and Cleveland's needs, the Indians never would have made the Jimenez trade and definitely would have signed Willingham. And they would be a massively better team for it. Also wouldn't have traded Steven Wright for the completely worthless Lars Anderson.

This will be an interesting off season, and a good GM could make some moves to put them back into position to contend next year. I can't see Antonetti suddenly making good moves, after demonstrating for 2 years that he's incapable of it, even when something as obvious as Willingham is out there.

This off season should also show the Dolans true colors. To this point, I'd see the bigger failing has to do less with not spending and more with accepting the failures of Antonetti (and to a lesser extent Shapiro). With the increased revenue from the national TV contracts teams should be getting and the expiring Hafner contract, they should reasonably have $30 million/year to spend on long-term on free agents, to go after a 1b and LF and a starting pitcher. If they don't renew Jimenez and Hernandez, $40 million for next year.
September 30, 2012 - 10:13 AM EDT
Good column (as usual) Tony. What I can't do is separate Shapiro from Antonetti. They are a packaged deal. From a baseball ops view, a look at the 40-man roster and the potential promotions to that roster show an organization lacking in top-tier talent. Five straight years of losing and no end in sight. Shapiro was GM for part of that. The moves he made back then are being felt right now. Antonetti is merely following the blueprint set forth by Shapiro and it is a flawed blueprint. Shapiro can't fire Antonetti because it is an attack on his own blueprint for franchise success.

It is up to the Dolans to take action to change the direction of the organization. I wonder if they secretly own a futbol team and are distracted by that endeavor.
September 30, 2012 - 9:44 AM EDT
Insightful article! It seems Tony is in an interesting position. It may be uncomfortable for him to be critical because he needs the goodwill of management in order to get the excellent access he has to MiLB brass and players.

But I suppose it is a two way street. He and IPI serve to attract fans and keep interest in the organization in spite of the apparent ineptitude of ownership's decision makers.
September 30, 2012 - 9:23 AM EDT
Antonetti goes along with the philosophy of being able to be on the very fringe of respectability for about two or three years every decade, while agreeing to maintain team profit levels on a consistent yearly basis. The problem moving forward is coaches from the glory years don't fill seats, players do. The team will have to go at bare bones payrolls to maintain profits when the attendance crashes next year and all the following years.

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