Tribe Happenings: Buy, do not sell
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Note: This piece has been absent the past few Sunday’s because I have been away and unable to complete it in a timely fashion for a normal Sunday posting, and it is posting later in the day today because I was traveling home from South Carolina all day yesterday. I have one more busy weekend next weekend as I will be away from Thursday through Sunday for the Susan G. Komen 3-day Walk for the Cure and be completely off-line that entire time. One of the other site writers will likely do a guest piece for the day.
The only option is to buy
“Are the Indians buyers or sellers?”
That is the question I constantly keep hearing people ask, and then with the outcome of each game the answer to that question changes based on what happened.
Well, I am here to tell you the only answer to that question right now is that they absolutely should be buyers. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Yes, the Indians have a flawed roster and a mediocre team. Yes, they probably will not get enough consistent starting pitch and offense to go on a run and overtake the White Sox and Tigers.
But any time you have a shot at the playoffs this late in the season, you go for it. With the control of good players only for four to six years, every decision to “wait until next year” means those players are one year closer to an exit from Cleveland. The window of winning with good players like shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, second baseman Jason Kipnis, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, and so on is only open for so long. It also means teams like the White Sox and Tigers have another offseason at their disposal to fix their roster issues as well.
So you go for it now.
Even if this season may be lost, the buying does not necessarily have to be to help for this season only. This is why the Indians are not very interested in one year rentals in a trade. They want players that can not only help this season, but next season or even beyond as well.
Buying now could be a move that helps them not only improve the Indians’ chances this season, but next season as well as they feel there is a window with the current group of players that is open from 2012 to 2014. Even if they have given up on this season the focus should be on making moves now to strengthen this roster in 2013. To be proactive and start that process now and don’t wait until the offseason when every team is looking to make improvements.
Besides, if the Indians are to become sellers, what exactly are they going to sell? They have several free agents to be with the likes of Johnny Damon, Casey Kotchman, Jose Lopez and Derek Lowe, but that would be more of a garage sale than anything as they are not getting anything for those guys right now and would probably just have to designate them for assignment if they wanted to move on from them.
If the notion to sell would be to trade someone like Choo or Chris Perez, then what is the point? If the Indians are going to sell them for prospects and star that vicious cycle again, then why stop there? Why not dump Justin Masterson, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ubaldo Jimenez, Joe Smith and others that are all gone in two or three years anyway?
The Indians made a clear signal last July that they are “all-in” when they traded for Ubaldo Jimenez. To not supplement the roster now and start to trade off major pieces would make the questionable Jimenez trade last year even more baffling. It would show the organization failed not only with the trade itself, but in their decision making since that trade with how they supplemented the roster and evaluated their own talent on the roster.
I think it is too early to pull the plug, and while I do not think jobs are on the line, I think the Indians front office still believes they can win this year and the next two years. To do otherwise is an admission to complete failure, and with that in mind that is why I think they will be buyers now and through the end of August (or at worst stand pat).
The Indians have long had a risk-averse approach to their roster.
But it may be time for them to rethink this strategy and being a little more aggressive with their moves with regard to the 25-man roster. For too long they have been way too gun shy about trading or picking up players that make a large sum of money over a large period of time in fear of a player breaking down or not living up to their contract.
But sometimes all of the data crunching in the world does not matter and you just have to go on a gut feeling or your instincts. Like a good poker player, you know all the percentages on every hand and have crunched all the possibilities in your head, but sometimes you take a risk even though the percentages are against you because you have a gut feeling about a hand.
The non-signing of outfielder Josh Willingham this past offseason is a prime example of this.
The Indians had interest in picking Willingham up in a trade last July and August, and then were very interested in signing him in the offseason as a free agent. I heard from two reliable sources back when he signed with the Twins for three years $21 million that he was set to sign with the Indians if they would have bumped their offer from two years (believed to be $14 to $15 million) to the three years and dollar amount he got with the Twins. But the Indians drew a line in the sand and said they were not going to offer him more than two years because of his injury history and defensive issues. Thus, he signed with the Twins.
Since then the Indians have continued to search for a left fielder and the production from that spot in the lineup has been one of the worst in baseball hitting .212 with 9 HR, 37 RBI and .621 OPS (29th in MLB). In the meantime Willingham has gone on to hit .273 with 27 HR, 78 RBI, and .959 OPS in 96 games for the Twins this season, and their left fielder position is 2nd in all of MLB thanks to Willingham’s contributions.
Instead of paying Willingham the $21 million over three years, the Indians felt like they could manage the risk better by signing Grady Sizemore to an incentive laden one year $5 million contract. Then when he was not ready to play, they signed Johnny Damon to a one year $1.25 million deal in April. But at this point that $6.25 million they spent on Sizemore and Damon has pretty much been thrown away, and that money is almost exactly the difference between them signing Willingham for $14-15 million over two years and $21 million over three years.
I am completely on board with a sound approach to finances and not going crazy with contracts past four years. It is crazy to give any player a deal longer than four years where the contracts are guaranteed and a player can get hurt or have a sharp decline in their performance; however, there are a lot of smart deals that can be made for four years or less.
Back when the Indians were trying to resign outfielder Manny Ramirez in the offseason between the 2000 and 2001 seasons, they added insurance for his loss by signing Ellis Burks to a three year $20 million deal. He was a player that came with lots of injury concerns and had become nothing more than a designated hitter, yet they took the risk and signed him because when he was healthy he performed.
Of course back then they had more room for error with signings because they had more money to work with under the Dolan’s because the stadium was sold out every night. Also, it was a different general manager in charge as it was John Hart’s final offseason as the general manager of the Indians, and he was always someone who took more risk in his moves than the current regime of Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti.
But again, it comes down to a willingness to take a risk.
Keeping the faith
Fan morale with the Indians is at an all-time low right now, at least in the Progressive Field era since the ballpark opened in 1994. There is not only a lack of faith that the Indians can keep their star players, but a lack of faith that the front office and ownership will do what it takes to strengthen this team and win when they are able to.
That’s not good for a team starving for attention and trying to stay relevant in a three sport city.
After two fire sales from 2001-2002 and 2008-2009 where they traded star players such as Roberto Alomar, Bartolo Colon, Chuck Finley, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Victor Martinez to name a few, it would be hard for the fans to accept a third reboot in ten years. If they reboot now and start to sell, then any remaining faith in the Indians will evaporate.
The Indians need to restore that faith and a belief that they can improve the team when they are winning. Whether you like the Ubaldo Jimenez deal or not last July, it at least was a sign from the front office that they were willing to improve the team and add quality talent to the Major League roster in the hopes of winning now. It was a move that had many believing that Antonetti would be more of a risk taker and take a more aggressive approach to fixing any roster issues on the team.
But since then the Indians have done little to piggyback with the Jimenez move, which has left a lot of people confused about what they were really trying to accomplish with that trade. Had the Indians gone out in the offseason and added a solid free agent or two, or made a notable trade to follow the Jimenez acquisition, then there would be a lot more faith today that the Indians would do what they can this July and August to improve the team, and continue to improve the team this offseason.
But with a lack of moves of any quality since the Jimenez trade, any renewed faith from that deal has since evaporated and things have deteriorated quickly. There is feeling of despair among Indians fans that this team will ever be able to achieve greatness not only with the current economic climate in the game which is very unfair for small market teams, but also that they do not have the personnel in charge to capitalize and efficiently use the resources at their disposal.
A lot of the focus is always thrown at the Dolan’s because they don’t spend, but I still believe what they spend is well within reason given the yearly attendance figures and the revenues they bring in as a team. The front office does take heat from the fan base, but they usually get a pass because of the belief that they can only do so much with a limited budget.
But when you see what the front office for the Oakland Athletics has done time and time again by winning and bringing in quality players with a small budget, it makes you wonder if the Dolan’s are holding the people accountable that they have entrusted with running their franchise.
I may be wrong, but I do not get the feeling that Chris Antonetti - and Mark Shapiro before him - is under as much pressure from ownership to win and produce results as the other 29 general managers in the league. Yes, they are surely under pressure to improve the team and put a quality product on the field, but what are the repercussions if they do not? I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to believe if the Indians struggle the rest of this year and next that the Dolan’s would even consider firing Antonetti.
I’m not saying that they should fire Antonetti; I’m merely just stating if this team were to continue to make questionable decisions with the construction of the 25-man roster and allocation of resources, I do not have this feeling that they would be held accountable and lose their jobs.
Antonetti is one of the brightest executives in the game, so the Dolan’s will surely give him and his staff several opportunities to mold this roster into a championship caliber team. But with that said, I think what a lot of people want is a feeling of accountability in the organization from ownership down to the front office because right now the feeling I am getting from fans is that there is none.
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.
BTW - Can we all agree to not watch/compare ourselves to the A's? Seriously, how many playoff series have they won in the last ....
Personally, I think that Headley should be a prime target, and trade off Chisenhall as part of the deal. Headley is controlled through 2014, and could possibly be signed to an extension without too much cost.
Duda (not sure if he's on the market, but the Mets seem to be low on him) could fill in at 1B and provide more offense than Kotchman and be moved off to DH once Hafner's contract is done.
Victorino and Morneau may be too expensive, but could be interesting pickups.
First of all you clearly are out on the west coast if you haven't been watching what management is doing to this team. I have been a fan since Joe Charboneau burst on the scene so don't ever tell me I am fair weather. You clearly are otherwise these moves would make anyone sick who is a passionate fan like Tony. Clearly you are just some coward hiding on the west coast probably wearing your USC gear when you get a chance. Second, you clearly don't know a thing about business; if you don't like the product then you don't pay for it. Dolan refuses to put money into it; lets cronies hire their friends to run the business then expects fans to come out? Third, come tell me to my face to shove it next time you are in Cleveland I will give you my address offline you little coward
I am however qualified to comment on Matt's idea that fans are justified in not coming out because they're frustrated with ownership. Dude (and everyone else who trots out this tired argument), shove it! Having moved to the west coast a few years ago, I would love to go to a game at Progressive Field, and I attend one or more every time I come home.
The Indians are our team, and we should come out and support them rain or shine, win or lose. People didn't bail on Ohio State just because John Cooper couldn't beat Michigan did they?
In sum, to all the fairweather fans out there: put up or shut up.
Let's hope Antonetti doesn't use the same guy to check out Marte who checked out Ubaldo, Willingham and Slowey, and whoever thought picking up Lillibridge and then actually PLAYING him in two of 3 games at a crucial juncture in the season was a good idea. Or do the opposite of what that guy says. That's what Antonetti needs to do. Like when George Costanza started doing the opposite of whatever inclination he had, because every decision he ever made was a bad one. "Hmm, this Marte guy, we'll have control over him for 6 years, doesn't do anything great but has a little power, has a little speed, seems like a good deal ... which obviously means I should NOT do it."
Would have been a lot cooler if they didn't half ass it and do something to solidify the team in the off season.
If things again go the wrong direction and they're out of it, then blow up the team next year when at least you have a better sense of who's already developing in the farm system, and when you can still get a decent return for a player like Choo. After you already got rid of the two core prospects who could've helped in a new "rebuild"--White and Pomereanz--they cannot rebuild again. Right now, there's no reason to. I thought the Jimenez trade would mostly hurt them after 2013, and didn't like it (among other reasons) because it narrowed their window to win this year or next. If they trade Choo now, it's killed any hope for the next half-decade
If they trade Choo, fine, do it. But then might as well trade Masterson, Cabrera, Perez, Jimenez, and Smith because they have weakened the team for 2013, a year where most of those guys are in their last year.
Just a horrible idea if you ask me if I step outside of the box and observe. As a prospect guy, sure, i'd love them to acquire more. But I just think another dump of vets for prospects, even ML ready ones, is a poor idea for management and the fans will pretty much be done. It's to the point now where after four and a half years guys are being dealt now. That's a terrible precedent.
At some point to get the fans back and increased revenue the FO will have to show it's desire to win. Antonetti has to distinguish himself outside of the Shapiro mold soon.
Outstanding article! I could not agree more! You are right on with your comments. The whole problem I have with this regime is the lack of accountability for poor moves as well as no clear direction or plan. The facts are 1 playoff appearance in 11 years under this regime, and despite all the fire sales this team has had the minor league cupboard is completely bare even if they try and say the "low minors" is loaded with talent, as soon as these guys seems to hit AA they disappear. Throw in the fact that the drafting was horrible under Mirabelli, yet he gets promoted to VP?? I work and manage at a billion dollar company and believe me, you would not be promoted to a staff position let alone a "VP" with Mirabelli's track record, he would be on the street as well as this regime.
It is exactly why the fans don't come out. They are tired of no direction, tired of signing retreads like Kotchman, Lopez, Damon and whoever else will sign a minor league deal. If made the move to get Big U to "go for it" then the off-season should have been about getting the horses to do it like Willingham not broken down Sizemore. We are sick and tired of hearing stupid sabermetrics (by the way how many WS has Billy Beane won with all of his "genius") , coined phrases of "If Sizemore and Hafner stay healthy" and "Carmona can find his form" and the complete ignorance about "the majors are not 70% rH pitchers so we didn't need to make a move". That phrase there should have had someone fired.
Anyway, this regime should look and the mirror, stop lying to themselves, stop worrying about Snow Days and be honest and upfront with fans and work hard to build a winner, even if it means gutting about 10 VP's and actually going out to scout players instead of a computer. Otherwise, the fans will never come back and they deserve a heck of a lot better than this.
Chris, thanks and I hope you are well. Maybe you will get back to the states sometime soon! And I agree with a lot of what you said. Some of the comments I am reading here give me an idea to maybe write a Letter to the Indians article and just let the fans voice their displeasure or what they like about what is going on. Some interesting takes.
League Park, I don't think it is delusional to make a trade now that helps not only this year but next year as well. Get a head start on the offseason, you know, when 29 other teams are trying to improve their club whereas right now only half or less are. And if you don't think this roster is good enough now, then why would it be good enough to wait until the offseason to make moves? Point blank....if the feeling is this team needs a lot of pieces and is far away, then this coming offseason won't fix all the problems.....and that means you just blow the team up. Trade Masterson, Cabrera, Perez, Choo, Smith, etc and just rebuild.....again. Ultimately, that may be what happens, and I am one that can live with it....but one point I was trying to reference in the piece is that I think a large majority of the fans won't accept it and it just destroys any bit of loyalty/faith/hope fans have left for this team.
1. Trade Choo for Sterling Marte as being reported by
Ingraham in the News Herald (Let's face it, Choo is gone
after 2013). Let's get a 5 tool player for 6 more years for 1
1/2 years of Choo).
2. Make Chris Perez the cornerstone of a trade for Juston
Upton. Instead of trading Lindor or Aguilar, make Perez
(who is contract friendly) the cornerstone of the deal.
Obviously, Pestano becomes our closer and Allen fits the
set up role. This way, we have Brantley, Marte, and Upton
are our outfielders with Chisenhall, Cabrera, Kipnis, and
Santana as our core infielders
3. Move Santana to first and make Marson the everyday. The
Kostchman signing was a mistake albeit for 1 year). Move
Carlos to 1st and make Marson our everyday catcher.
4. Bring up Kluber and send Josh Tomlin down. At some
point, we can't consistenty be down 2-3 runs before we even
come to back. Unfortunatly for Josh, Baseball is a
business. You either produce or you don't. Sorry.
5. When Fausto (er, Roberto) is ready, release Lowe. After his
shutout on May 15, its been nothing but down hill.
I think all of these moves puts the Indians in good shape for 2013.
Thanks, but I disagree. This whole "We can compete now and later" is what we've been seeing for the last dozen years. Despite some good core players in the fold now, the most frustrating thing about rooting for the Shapanetti Tribe is that they never truly commit to rebuilding. I'm tired of watching my guys show up to gun fight after gun fight with two bullets and hoping to get lucky.
Sorry to be out of touch for so long. You know where I am now...some interesting challenges and a different world!
Since you brought up your Komen walk, want to inquire, if you care to respond, as to how your recovery is progressing. Always send you the best wishes.
Congrats on your site expanding. I hope the Premium feature is raising some much needed revenue for you. I hope I will be in a position to sign up before long.
As for the Tribe, I appreciate your loyalty, as you are much closer to things than most of us, maybe all of us. I can certainly agree with you that the Shapiro regime has gotten far more leeway with their lack of success overall than most or all other FOs would receive. Yes, Antonetti, and the entire staff, are very bright guys, but being book and algorithm smart isn't necessarily baseball smart. There is a positive business and organizational structure, but not an overall, long term baseball rhythm to the building, regardless of their claims. The current roster is poorly constructed, and has been for a number of seasons. The upper Farm teams can be considered weak, but the guys who have been busting their butts for the organization for some years who are being productive in Columbus deserve more than to be ignored while the Tribe continues to show the prolonged poor production by half the MLB team.The Farm System has been filled with many more safe players that fit skewed skills rather than enough high ceiling players to mix in. (2012 Draft appears to be a move away from the Tribe Formula to include some higher risk/reward prospects. Thanks goodness.)
I feel like the Shapiro/Antonetti group will continue to be off target by maybe 5-10% every year in their concepts, sometimes more. An over reliance on volumes of stats, not enough on superior baseball instincts, will continue to handicap this group.
I don't see this cycle changing as long as the current make up of the FO remains.
I think Paul Dolan is entirely too comfortable with people with whom he personally relates.
Hope I wasn't too run on!!! Thanks for the forum, and good luck to you and your family, IPI, and the Cleveland Indians.
I think for this current version of the Indians, if we're going to blame the ownership, it's less a matter of money and more a matter of ownership being okay with the Antonetti doing a horrible job. Shapiro, I don't know, I actually thought he did a decent job. Their draft strategy was bad, but he pulled off some brilliant trades. Why wasn't Mirabelli shown the door? Who knows. But Antonetti ... like you said, you trade two young, cost-controlled pitching prospects for Jimenez, who's turned into a solid #5 starter, and then you do nothing else to upgrade the team? You think Willingham is too much of a risk at $21 million for 3 years, but Grady Sizemore for $5 million is cool? And spending about $10 million on Damon, Sizemore and Kotchman is fine?
Every move Antonetti's made has been bad. Jimenez. Not signing Willingham. Signing Sizemore. Trading for Slowey. Aaron Cunningham. The Damon process that required promoting him when he wasn't ready. It's been utter failure, especially since if he makes the right moves, the Indians are a serious contender this year and next. Can you imagine the alternate reality, where they have Willingham right now, likely sitting in 1st place, with Alex White and Pomeranz sitting in their pocket as trade chips? (or holding down spots in their rotation and bullpen ... they've both struggled mightily in Colorado, but so did Esmil Rogers, and Pomeranz has still been slightly better than Jimenez) The only thing that stopped that from happening was poor decision making by Antonetti. Really poor decision making. You hoped when you saw these moves that Antonetti and their brain-trust knew something the average fan did not, about Jimenez, and about the health of Sizemore and Willingham. Nope. They didn't.