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Tribe Happenings: “What happened?” Well…

Tribe Happenings: “What happened?” Well…
August 26, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians’ notebook…

So what happened?

"I don't really know what's happened to this team.  It's going to take more time to assess what we have and what we need and what we're capable of doing.  Hopefully sometime this offseason, we'll be able to assess and move from there."

That is a quote from Indians CEO Paul Dolan said on Thursday at Manny Acta’s charity bowling outing.  There is a lot more that Dolan said on Thursday, but the overall impression he gave was that he has no idea what happened and why this team has fallen apart over the past month.

Coming from the head man in the Indians’ organization, that is something that should give Indians’ fans a feeling of discomfort.

Media covering the team and fans watching at home can see plain as day a lot of the problems the Indians have. How they are a flawed team. How even though they were “contending” they were only a mediocre team that was contending because of the poor division they were in. How they have an inconsistent starting rotation with lots of issues and a lineup that has no balance.

The list goes on and on.

So for Dolan to say he does not know what has happened to the team is concerning. Maybe he was playing it coy and management has a much clearer picture on what has gone wrong because if he has truly been watching the games and following his team then he should see the problems clearly.

Those who know me know that I often defend the Dolan’s and how they have been misunderstood by the fan base. How they pour a decent amount of money into all areas of the organization. How they are spending a lot more in payroll in almost every season than Dick Jacobs ever did and with much less in revenues to work with. How they want to win just as much as everyone else.

But when they make comments like they made this past week, it makes you wonder a lot about them. They already have a poor connection with a fan base which distrusts them, so all his comments did was add more fuel to the fire about their passion as owners and how much they truly pay attention to the team on a day to day basis. A fan recently told me that they almost come off like former Browns owner Randy Lerner - but with much less money – where they have zero connection with the fans, seem disinterested, and are afraid to step into the limelight and demand accountability when the product on the field does not live up to expectations.

Now, you have to note that Paul Dolan was approached by reporters at a charity outing that Acta sponsored. So in no way was he going to say anything negative about Acta’s future with the organization, or anyone generally involved with the team. And really, charity outing or not, he probably would not say much at all about any potential changes they may be making anyway. They are not going to throw someone under the bus and blindside them with negative stuff in the media.  That’s just not how he and the Indians as an organization operates, which is something I applaud them for.

Dolan and the Indians probably already privately know what went wrong this season. They will do their due diligence in researching everything between now and the offseason to solidify their findings, but it is clear as day what went wrong. But in case he really does not know, I’ll help him out.

The big problem has been the starting rotation. Going into Saturday night’s game with the Yankees, as a unit the Indians starting rotation is 13th in the American League with a 5.12 ERA, with only the Minnesota Twins worse with a 5.49 ERA. Both the Indians and Twins have the two worst records in the AL, so it’s pretty easy to see what the most important area of any team is in baseball. Indians’ starters have also allowed the 2nd most walks (282), are 13th in strikeouts (478), 13th in opponent’s batting average (.280), and have allowed the 4th most total bases (1251).

It all starts with the starting rotation and that is one area they are going to have to make wholesale changes with in the offseason, otherwise they can expect the same inconsistency next season as they had this season. The Indians should bring back right-handers Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister, but beyond them they should consider moves significant changes to fill the last three spots in the rotation, or at least two of the other three spots.  This would mean letting the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez and Roberto Hernandez go, something I talked about last week.

The other significant problem with the team is they have clogged the roster up with too many guys either in the twilight of their career that are trying to hang onto it or guys brought in as minor league free agents that have made the team over the last year or so. They have to squeeze anything they can out of every last dollar they have within a finite budget, so these signings were in some cases necessary; however, they have gone overboard with them.

Consider how many guys they picked up on the clearance rack and brought in this offseason either by trade or free agency as well as guys they signed to minor leagues deals this year or last season that were on the 25-man roster this season at one point or another:  Jeremy Accardo, Jairo Asencio, Luke Carlin, Aaron Cunningham, Johnny Damon, Shelley Duncan, Jack Hannahan, Casey Kotchman, Brent Lillibridge, Jose Lopez, Derek Lowe, Esmil Rogers, Vinny Rottino, Chris Seddon, and Dan Wheeler.

That’s 15 guys that have been on the 25-man roster at some point this season that were all either bargain bin offseason or in-season acquisitions or were recent minor league free agent signings. That breaks down to 15 of 43 players that have been on the 25-man roster this season (35%). That’s way too many guys on the roster that should only be fill-in types, but are pressed into more significant roles because of the over-reliance on them.

And of course the other big issue has been the offense. The Indians offense is ranked 11th in the AL in runs (516), 11th in home runs (113), 11th in total bases (1653), 9th in batting average (.252), 7th in on-base percentage (.323), 11th in slugging percentage (.390), and 9th in stolen bases (82). The offense has not been as bad as the starting pitching, but it has been a sore spot all season due to their inconsistency and the lack run producers in the middle of the lineup.

The Indians lineup is very left-handed heavy, something that would not be so bad if the one or two right-handed hitters they have were good performers and their switch-hitters Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana were more consistent. But that has not been the case this year. The sad thing is, their offense as-is is better than the Tampa Bay Rays, but the Rays are so good because of their very good starting rotation.

So if Paul Dolan wants to know “what happened”, it is pretty obvious what went wrong and what areas they need to improve upon next season. They need an overhaul with the starting rotation, less focus on shopping in the discount bins, and they need more balance with the lineup.

Now whether or not any of that is achievable this offseason with a finite budget of somewhere between $60-70 million dollars is another thing. But even with a limited payroll and a lack of resources from which to pull, it all goes back to how that money is spent as teams like the Rays and others have proven if you spend your money wisely and develop your own talent, you can be pretty good.

I don’t envy the situation Dolan is in this offseason as he may have to make some tough decisions regarding the structure of the organization. He probably knows a lot more than he is willing to say, but what has happened is his team has turned into a train wreck and he is in for a long, tough offseason to get this team back on track.

LaPorta’s final chance

This is it for outfielder/first baseman Matt LaPorta. This is the fourth and final chance that he will have to earn a spot on the team and remain in the Indians’ future plans.

LaPorta, 27, is out of options after this season, so he will need to either make the Indians opening day 25-man roster next spring or be placed on waivers at the conclusion of spring training. If he fails to show anything these last six weeks of the season and continues to struggle, it is not out of the question that the Indians could place him on waivers sometime this offseason to clear a spot on the 40-man roster or try to trade him.

This is LaPorta’s fourth go around with the Indians. He was up for about a week back in June, but he only received a total of 11 at bats before he was banished back to Triple-A Columbus until he was brought back on Friday. In 2009, 2010, and 2011 he flashed good power and potential, but he was mostly inconsistent with the bat struggling with breaking stuff that went away from him and with his defense in the field.

The Indians probably poorly timed LaPorta’s promotion because they should have considered giving him this extended look back in June when he was going well at the plate. When he was called up on June 1st he was hitting .307 with 14 HR, 32 RBI and 1.007 OPS in 46 games for Columbus. His confidence was soaring. But after his short stay in Cleveland and limited opportunities, he was sent back to Columbus and has only hit .230 with 5 HR, 30 RBI and .675 OPS in 55 games since returning there.

LaPorta will split time between first base, left field and designated hitter. He does not necessarily need to show he can be a starter at first base or in left field, but that he can be a suitable option as the Indians right-handed power bat off the bench next season. Shelley Duncan currently fills that role, but the hope would be that LaPorta could at least do what Duncan does right now, especially when you consider Duncan is heading for arbitration this offseason so would cost roughly double or more than what the Indians could pay LaPorta for the same or better production in such a role.

For a team looking to maximize their finances, this is where they need to be smart with how they spend their money on the final four to five spots on the 25-man roster.

Sizemore will not play this season

The Indians made it official on Tuesday when they announced that outfielder Grady Sizemore would not play this season. After yet another setback during his rehab (right knee soreness) they shut him down and with just a few weeks left in the season there is not enough time to get him game ready to play before the end of the season.

Sizemore, 30, looks to be near the end of the line with his career. He’s had many injuries, surgeries, and setbacks over the last four seasons and has played a grand total of 104 games the last three seasons. The Indians took a calculated $5 million risk that he could come back this season, but his body did not hold up and they ended up throwing away the money to essentially pay a player to rehab all season.  Had it worked out it would have been great, which is how it goes with a boom or bust signing like this.

Sizemore’s career is probably not over as he will surely look to latch on with a team in the offseason for a final chance next season to show he can get healthy and be a productive player. But he is now in his 30s, has had tons of injuries the last four seasons, and his body is in rapid decline, so if that final nail in his coffin has not been hammered in yet, it is in place waiting for that final strike from the hammer.

At this point I do not see any way a Major League team gives him a guaranteed contract for the 2013 season, even for a small one year base amount of $1-2 million with lots of incentives. He is probably going to have to go the route where he signs a minor league contract with a team and has to show he can be healthy in spring training next spring. Don’t be surprised if the team that he signs that minor league contract with is the Indians as no one knows him better than them and he has a feeling of comfort in the organization and knows if he is healthy that he will be given a realistic opportunity to play.

Tomlin has surgery

As expected, right-handed pitcher Josh Tomlin underwent ligament transplant surgery (Tommy John) on his right elbow, a surgery performed on Wednesday by renowned surgeon Dr. Lewis Yokum.  Tomlin originally consulted a team physician before visiting Dr. Yokum for a second opinion, and Dr. Yokum confirmed the initial opinion that surgery was needed on the elbow.

Tomlin, 27, will be out the next 12 to 18 months, so his 2013 season is pretty much over before it even started. Due to the grueling rehab in front of him and how the Indians will be cautious with his workload in his initial return to the mound around this time next season, they will likely limit him to a few rehab outings at rookie level Arizona or one of their other local minor league affiliates to give him some innings in a low pressure environment. It is possible that he could come back and pitch out of the big league bullpen late next season, but that appears to be a long shot.

The injury is something that probably came up some time ago as Tomlin has complained of some elbow soreness for most of the season. Results of his elbow tests which shut him down last season have never been made public (whether there was a tear or not), but it is clear that he was less than 100% when he pitched most if not all of this season. This helps to explain why his performance nosedived after a very promising rookie campaign in 2010 and a good year last season up until his injury that shut him down.

Parting shots

Left-handed reliever Rafael Perez had another setback in his rehab from a left lat injury as he sprained his right ankle in his last rehab appearance with Triple-A Columbus. His rehab assignment has been ended and he has been shut down temporarily, and his return is unknown at this point. … Right-handed pitcher Carlos Carrasco is expected to begin a rehab assignment and pitch for rookie Arizona sometime this week. He will not pitch at the Major League level this season, but he is working in games late this season and likely in winter ball in the offseason to get him ready for spring training next year. … Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall is close to a return from his fractured right forearm.  He is expected to begin baseball activities during this homestand by taking batting practice, groundballs in the infield, throwing from third to first, and doing some base-running. If all goes well, he will probably play with Double-A Akron in their postseason before joining the Indians sometime mid-September.

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

Chris
August 29, 2012 - 2:35 AM EDT
No way the Indians DFA Tomlin. They didn't acquire Youkilis because the Red Sox wanted him included in the deal. Also, players on the 60-day DL don't count against the 40-man roster, so there is no reason to release him to free up a roster spot.
Tony
August 27, 2012 - 12:15 AM EDT
I see no way the Indians DFA Tomlin to clear a roster spot. Too easy to be picked up by another team, and would be frowned upon by player's union with a guy just having surgery. I may be mistaken, but I believe there is a rule in place that does not allow teams to release players or put them on waivers if they are on the DL (or it is an unwritten rule).
Vinny
August 26, 2012 - 4:11 PM EDT
I feel like someone like Brandon McCarthy would be someone worth pursuing in the off-season to help fill out the rotation. He does have an injury history but I think he's a guy that would fit very nicely as our 3rd starter.

I can't see oakland resigning him when they have all those young cheaper alternatives and the Indians should have a little cash to spend... we paid Derek Lowe about 5 million this year so I think somewhere around that could get the job done.

You then have Masty, McAllister, McCarthy and then you've got Carrasco, Fausto (possibly) Ubaldo (possibly), Scott Barnes, Corey Kluber, McFarland, Gomez to fill out the last two spots

All it takes is one of the younger guys to take a step forward or one of the vets (Fausto/Ubaldo) to pitch more consistently and the rotation may not become a strength but it could cease to be a weakness.
Bric
August 26, 2012 - 2:04 PM EDT
How much, in $, did all those 4-A players cost?
Add them all up and you're half-way t a major free agent.
Better to have had Prince Fielder with Thomas Neal, Tim Fedroff, Jason Donald, LaPorta, David Huff, providing the supporting cast, than what the Indians had this year.
NOTHING happened this year!
This team was terrible to begin with, and just played over its head for a few months as many teams do at the beginning of the season.
We may still finish last in the American League, and we will do so having played Lowe, Damon and other veterans who will not be a part of the future of this team.
Richard T
August 26, 2012 - 1:55 PM EDT
It was not too many years ago that Tony was singing the praises of David Huff. The problem with pitching is that you never know. Someone like Sabathia is a rare gem -good every year. Variability in performance over time is the norm. Just look at Cliff Lee's career.

It's got to be hard to give up on guys like Jiminez and Hernandez who have exceptional stuff and previous success. A promising starting staff has been beset by bad luck and poor performances beyond Jiminez & Hernandez. Handy whipping boys but not the whole story .

Just the same CA / ownership really has not done very well providing Manny with players to support pitching, good or bad.
Richard
August 26, 2012 - 12:59 PM EDT
Here's the problem with taking the off season to "access" what happened. Deals are being made, and players are being put on waivers - right now.
If the Indians could fill just one hole on this roster, before the season is over, that would be a huge start. Trying to solve all the problems in one off season would be a monumental task.
Seth
August 26, 2012 - 12:39 PM EDT
Regardless of where the event occurred, it makes you wonder how you get in a position of someone like Paul Dolan, yet have no sense of PR or how to conduct yourself in an interview. Don't say you don't know what happened. The rest of the statement is fine, but telling everyone that you're clueless is never a good idea.

The collapse definitely wasn't surprising, and while I agree that Antonetti is largely to blame for the middling state of this team, I do think Acta is culpable for this swoon. Just the other day I see he was again making excuses for Asdrubal, saying how he was playing hurt. Cabrera has made so many inexcusable mental errors this year, and his focus comes and goes (as always). Even if he is hurt, there's no need to make excuses for him in the media, and a bulk of Asdrubal's struggles at least defensively are definitely mental, not physical. If anything, he should be called out for his lack of focus and not being in shape, which is probably the cause of a lot of his physical ailments. Or what about Chris Perez? I think few managers would allow him to get away with saying whatever he wants about the team and city with zero consequences. Acta definitely has issues motivating his players. It was the rap on him in Washington, and you see it now ... this was a team that didn't believe in itself, and could never seize momentum. I don't think it's a coincidence that they collapsed after not upgrading at the trade deadline--a lot of the players, Cabrera and Perez in particular, seemed to give up. They were never going to be world-beaters, but the second-half sloppiness is inexcusable.
Madthinker88
August 26, 2012 - 12:16 PM EDT
With Tomlin being unavailable for next season, will he be kept on the 40 man (60 day DL) or might they outright him for a roster spot this offseason??
shy
August 26, 2012 - 11:04 AM EDT
Good stuff Tony. I don't think Paul Dolan is lying when he says he doesn't know what happened. I don't think he's an eat, sleep and XXXX baseball guy himself, and in fact that breed of owner is somewhat disappearing in baseball because the high cost of ownership excludes them. That's why he hired Chris Antonetti. He knew Antonetti was young and inexperienced and that's probably why Mark Shapiro was kept on the payroll- to guide him and keep him from making mistakes. It just hasn't worked. They need a GM that knows the game, knows the league, knows players and what it takes to play 162 games and finish 15 games over .500 in the AL Central. I suppose for Dolan, GM's are harder to find than managers, but that's what he needs to do, IMO
Robert
August 26, 2012 - 8:40 AM EDT
As bad as Hafner was this year when he played - without him in the lineup - we score essentially nothing. Our total runs scored distorts the pitiful offense we have had in the 2nd half.

And then there are the "poor" major league statistics of LaPorta - ones that dwarf the nothing we got from Damon - but LaPorta was not seen as better than Damon? Idiocy!

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