Monday, November 30, 2009

Around the division: Indians

The Cleveland Indians fell apart almost completely at the end of the season — 7-25 in September/October — and ended the season at 65-97. This wasn't the worst record in baseball (Washington lost 103) or even the worst in the American League (Baltimore lost 98, and Kansas City also lost 97), but it certainly wasn't good.

So naturally the organization:
  • is likely to make no significant player moves this offseason, and
  • replaced manager Eric Wedge with Manny Acta, who had himself been fired by those 103-loss Nationals in mid season.

Actually, the first is more explicable than it sounds. Cleveland, by the time of its collapse, had already done a pretty through job of exchanging its "today" players for "tomorrow" players. "Today" players being the guys who are on the roster for purposes of immediate contention but don't figure to be long-term foundation pieces. Maybe, like Casey Blake, they're getting onto the wrong side of 30; maybe, like Victor Martinez, they're going to become too expensive for the payroll.

So the challenge for Acta isn't so much 2010 and 2011 as 2012. He has the task of developing Justin Masterson into a top-of-the-rotation starter, the assignment of figuring out which of Lou Marston and Carlos Santana is the catcher of the future, the mission of picking the right place for Matt LaPorta (left field? first base?).

Then there are the reclamation projects. Is there any hope for Fausto Carmona? (Not unless he finds command of the strike zone.) Will Travis Hafner ever return to his 2004-06 levels of production? (He's going to be 33 and he's hit 21 homers the last two years combined, so no.) What's with Jhonny Peralta? (He's a good hitter for a shortstop and a mediocre one for a third baseman, so if Cleveland's sold on Asdrubal Cabrera as its shortstop, Peralta isn't helping them.) Can Grady Sizemore bounce back? (Yes. And he will.)

In most of these cases, the point isn't having these players help Cleveland contend. It's establishing enough value to exchange them, too, for players who will someday help Cleveland contend. (Sizemore and maybe Carmona are the exceptions.)

Wedge got canned because the Indians, who came oh-so-close to beating the eventual World Series champs in 2007, never really contended in either 2008 or 2009. Now CC Sabathia is in New York (by way of Milwaukee), Cliff Lee is in Philly, Martinez is in Boston and Acta is in Cleveland, with far lower expectations.

Kansas City isn't going to contend this year because there's little evidence the front office knows what it's doing and why it's doing it. Cleveland isn't going to contend either, but there is a discernible plan.

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