Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tomahawks with Grief & Regret

As I stared at the back of Corey Kluber’s jersey this past Sunday afternoon, before I decided to continue on with my Sunday (oh…about 1:30 PM) without the Tribe, I was struck that Kluber’s last name reminded me of a name that I saw those many years ago at some Psych 101 class at the University of Dayton.  Bored as I watched the Red Sox batter Kluber, I did a quick search on the Interwebs, which drew me to the name Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.  Now, if you have taken any kind of Psychology class, that name might look familiar to you as Kubler-Ross famously wrote “On Death and Dying”, in which she identified her “Five Stages of Grief” regarding terminally ill patients coming to grips with their mortality.

Though I will NEVER attempt to equate something as meaningless (in the grand scheme of things) as baseball or a Cleveland Indians’ season and a terminal patient and/or death, reading through Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages, I was struck by how every Indians’ fan (and maybe every Cleveland sports fan) currently finds themselves in one of these categories…particularly since the season (and perhaps organization) defining losing streak a couple of weeks ago.

Though I don’t think too many people are in “Denial” (although anyone who thinks that Matt MaTola still represents a viable option for this team going forward or if he “deserves that chance” is certainly in denial) about what’s happened here and probably “Anger” is where most of the North Coast sits right now, with “Bargaining” probably coming in the off-season as trades involving Dave Huff, Zeke Carrera, Jeanmar Gomez and Mark Trumbo are bandied about among Tribe fans.  Certainly, “Depression” and “Acceptance” are feelings that can be found among the fanbase, although “Apathy” is probably more applicable than “Acceptance” to the particular situation, even if the Tribe is no longer at the bottom of the MLB Attendance list.

But this season certainly has a terminal feel to it and, regardless of where you sit on Kluber…I mean, Kubler-Ross’ Stages of Grief chart, know that there are others right there with you, even if we are still just talking about baseball.  But “talking about baseball” is what we do in this space, so with that said (and with you remembering how you got that Psych requirement in pursuit of your degree) let’s get some Tomahawks in the Air…

With the Indians now having won 4 of their last 7 since the end of the 11-game losing streak (hey, that’s better than average) against the Red Sox and the Angels, anyone else noticing a trend in terms of the games the team is winning and those they’re losing?

Somehow, when the Indians get good starts (McAllister on Saturday, Masterson on Monday), they win.  Conversely, when they get lousy starts (Kluber on Sunday, Ubaldo on Tuesday), they lose.  Who had that one figured out?

Wait…it’s tied into PITCHING, and STARTING pitching at that?
I thought that the oft-repeated choruses involving some combination of “RH Bat”, “Damon/Duncan”, and “Kotchman” buried this team.  You’re telling me it was the pitching and, more specifically, the starting pitching?

While I know that you think that this dead horse has been beaten, then beaten some more (particularly by me), I will point back to something that I wrote in this space just a week ago, particularly as this “Roberto Hernandez” fellow is ready to take a turn on the bump for the Tribe.  Lest you forget, last July the Indians had a rotation going of Masterson, Carrasco, Carmona, and Tomlin all looking pretty solid (even if the wheels were starting to come off for Carrasco and Tomlin and Fausto had been…well, “Bad Fausto”) with the Indians making the decision to add Ubaldo to that mix.  Again, even if this was just written here last week, this cannot be overstated in terms of the starting pitching and the events over the last 13 months:
What has transpired since that trade has been beyond catastrophic for the organization, as Carrasco went under the knife, Fausto was exposed as being the Dominican Don Draper, and Ubaldo didn’t come close to resembling the front-end-of-the-rotation “stopper” that they thought they were getting.

So now here we sit, with Ubaldo and Masterson looking alternatively good and bad, Tomlin likely out for an extended period of time (and does anyone else wonder if Tomlin has been dealing with this injury for a while and didn’t fully reveal it, being in MLB and all), and with Zach McAllister looking like the best starting pitcher for a team that has purported itself to rely on starting pitching from the day that the current regime took office.  Now, Fauberto’s return to the mound this week really brings to a point how “catastrophic” the turn has been for the rotation and how it really took the Front Office by surprise, both in terms of injury (Carrasco and now Tomlin), regression (Masterson/Ubaldo), and fraud (Carmona/Hernandez) to the point that I don’t think they even considered the “Plan F” that was going to be necessary when things started imploding. 

If you don’t think that the Fauxberto thing caught them off-guard, here’s what Hoynes (never one to mince words) wrote on Fauxberto’s deception and his re-worked option:
The Indians must decide if they exercise Hernandez’s watered-down $6 million option for 2013. The option was originally worth $9 million, but the team was so upset at Hernandez’s fraud, and the fact that he could not leave the Dominican Republic for more than half the season, that they restructured his deal.

It’s important to remember that Lowe was acquired in November, leading Grantland’s Jonah Keri to proclaim the Indians’ pitching staff as “Worms’ No. 1 Enemy”, with the rotation of Masterson, Ubaldo, Carmona, Lowe, and Tomlin/Gomez/McAllister figuring to pitch the majority of the innings for the Tribe in 2012.  Two months later, Fauxberto was exposed and the young, high-level, high-impact depth that was compromised by the Ubaldo deal and the Carrasco injury left the Tribe looking at Tomlin and Gomez with guaranteed spots in the rotation and with Lowe as their de facto #3 starter…after the Braves basically paid the Tribe to take him.

Certainly, Lowe and Gomez (most notably) started out strong, but there’s a big difference between Gomez and Tomlin battling it out for the 5th spot and BOTH of those pitchers being in the rotation from Opening Day through mid-June (in the case of Gomez) and into late-July (in the case of Tomlin) for a team that had any thoughts of contending as Fauxberto’s exclusion from the team – and he’ll have about 10 starts this year, which is 2 less than Mitch Talbot (remember him) had for last year’s club – threw the organization back on its heels at a time (in January) when most FA arms have already been signed for a month or longer.

Though I’ll get into this a little later, since the beginning of the 2008 season, the player that has worn #55 for the Tribe has been affecting the plans that the organization has and hasn’t made because of expectations for him and because of his assumed “presence” in the rotation.  This season, “presence” has had nothing to do with it as his surprising “absence” – and the timing of that news – was just as, if not more, impactful than any point than any season…

So with no guarantee that Fauxberto – who always seems to throw a wrench in the Indians’ best-laid (or seemingly best-laid plans) – will even be back in a Tribe uniform (though that $6M salary is almost too enticing when Aaron Harang got a 2-year, $12M deal last off-season...and check the whole list) and with Carrasco still on the mend with Tomlin about to hit the shelf, it’s been well-documented (here) about how the Indians’ starting pitching remains their weakness going forward.  

With little of interest expected to emerge from the Farm next year in terms of starting pitching and with McAllister, Gomez, and Kluber all largely unproven (and, for whatever reason, I see Gomez as the long man and Kluber as a bullpen arm in the future), what do the Indians do?

Certainly, there are questions all over for the organization, but I do think that it is worth noting that the Indians have actually been active on the FA market in the past when it came to adding a veteran SP to fill a hole…and I don’t mean Derek Lowe, as he was acquired via trade.  Rather, it’s worth pointing out that when the Indians were full of a talented lineup and a young and uneven (if talented) pitching staff in the mid-2000s, they did go out and augment the rotation because nothing was ready to contribute from the Minor Leagues to complement the pieces already in place.  Of course, I speak of that “magical” Kevin Millwood signing (for $7M) in 2005, then Paul Byrd getting a 3-year, $21M deal back in 2006 to “replace” Millwood as examples when the Indians did go out and spend some money on the FA market to add to the starting rotation with a veteran arm.

Now, you may say that neither Millwood nor Byrd was a top-tier FA arm, or a “stopper”, which is what this team needs, it might be interesting to see what the Indians do this off-season in terms of dedicating some payroll – in terms of years and dollars – to an arm.  Though they might have thought they were doing that in the Ubaldo deal and FA starting pitchers are NEVER cheap – in terms of years and dollars – the Indians may survey the scene, look at their projected payroll (and this “guess” at the 2013 payroll is pretty solid and suggests that there may be some room for flexibility), and decide to make a move to add to their obviously-depleted and in-need-of-help rotation.

While I’m ACUTELY aware of the presumed Modus Operandi of this ballclub, I can’t help but shake this idea that the ownership and Front Office aren’t also ACUTELY aware of that presumed Modus Operandi and go out to make an addition that falls closer to the Byrd signing (again, 3-years at $7M per) than the Carl Pavano ($1.5M guaranteed with a lot of incentives) as they have to realize that they’re at a crossroads in terms of their ownership and the Front Office regime with the Tribe.  Certainly, I’m not suggesting that Zach Grienke is about to don the Chief, but players (as mentioned in the aforementioned payroll article) like Joe Blanton, Brandon McCarthy (assuming health), Shawn Marcum (assuming health), or Dan Haren (say it with me…assuming health) might all be intriguing options for the Indians to look at, particularly if the Trade Market doesn’t develop for them in terms of adding a starting pitcher.

Because, short of internal help and not being able to count on an arm coming via trade (without having to give up Choo…with no suitable replacement anywhere close), the other way to add pieces to a team is via FA.  And while the Indians have certainly dabbled in FA, their shopping habits – which is closer to rummaging around the bargain-bin with about 22 to 25 other clubs in MLB – may have to change if they want to seriously consider making a run in 2013.  Maybe ownership won’t even let THAT happen, but with the Padres (THE PADRES) being sold for $800M (and yes, $200M of that is upfront money as part of the Fox Sports San Diego media rights deal scheduled to take place), you would have to think that the Dolans could make one last push as owners before seriously considering whether this whole “I want to own the Indians” dream is more of a nightmare.

That one last “push” – if it were to come – would be nice to see about 60 feet and 6 inches from home plate in 2013, particularly given the state of the starting rotation and of the franchise…

Finally and speaking of the “state of the franchise”, with the return of Fauxberto on our doorstep and with the Indians’ DL (again and still) populated by Hafner and Sizemore, it is worth noting that the 3 players that the Indians essentially “bet” on to carry them through contention for a couple of years back in 2007 and 2008 are still on this 2012 roster together…likely for the last month or so here.

Though I know that nobody needs a history lesson – as it’s all too painful to recall – dating back in April of 2008, the Tribe signed a thought-to-be-24-year-old pitcher coming off of a dominant year in 2007 to a contract that guaranteed him “only” $15M, AND gave the team flexibility to potentially control him through the 2014 season at what looked to be pretty affordable numbers.  What has happened since has been well-documented and tragic on many levels, but 6 months after #55 stared down the Yankees between the midges, he was inked to a deal that he’s still working off of (if at a reduced rate), even if the end of his Indians’ career may be in sight.

If Fauxberto may not be long for the Tribe, the player for whom the end has almost certainly been reached as an Indian is Travis Hafner.  Remember, less than a year before the Carmona extension, the team extended Hafner in July of 2007 with the largest guaranteed contract ever handed out by the team that kept him under club control through 2012.  The deal came on the heels of a 3-year stretch in which Hafner was among the game’s elite hitters (third in wOBA, in fact, in all of MLB over those 3 years), with the other names on that list still plugging away as the elite among MLB hitters these 5 years later.  As we all know, Hafner’s career was derailed by too many injuries to recount, with the latest just feeling like the final straw for a player whose greatness (yes…“greatness”) at the plate for that 3-year stretch will unfortunately be overshadowed by what happened after that 3-year stretch of time.

Speaking of 3-year stretches, the 2008 season started with Grady Sizemore just having finished a 3-year stretch (from 2005 through 2007) in which he was the 5th most valuable player in MLB, just having turned 25 in August of 2007.  His career comparables after that 2008 season were flush with recognizable names, some of whom would end up in the Hall of Fame.  Now, as he struggles to even get on the field having just turned TWENTY-NINE, with the glimpse provided in 2011 of what he once was and what we thought he could become still leaving those pangs of regret, Grady has also likely played his last inning with the Indians, a career unrivaled – really in all of MLB – in terms of promise and potential at a young age being completely snuffed out far too early as we all still wonder what might have been.

And “what might have been” is the overwhelming feeling with those three as the end of the 2007 really wasn’t all that long ago, in terms of flips of the calendar.  But for those three, these five years could not have been more unkind and since the beginning of that 2008 season through today, the career paths of that trio have mirrored that of the organization that they were once thought to lead into a new “Era of Champions” or at least of contention once again.  Instead, each faded away in their own way, just as the promise of that 2007 season faded away into just a “what might have been” memory…


CLohse said...

There is a nickname for Kluber here, I can feel it. Something grief-related. Something to do with mortality. 5 Innings of Grief? The 5 Stages of Kluber Relief? Corey "Acceptance" Kluber? Grieving Corey Kluber? Corey Sixth Stage? Or should we limit ourselves to smartass comments about how the fifth stage of Kluber pitching is a home run trot by the batter?

doby14 said...

Thought you were going end with


The PR firm that got paid for that should not get an extension.

Spills said...

So I was about to come on here and preach that the Tribe should go out and grab a top-5 free agent, because this is one of the few chances they may have left to be the cream of the town with what would seem to be the upward projections of the Browns and Cavs. Then I looked at the potential free-agents, and while my knowledge of baseball outside of the NE Ohio has fallen off a cliff over the past few years, I could not come up with a top 5.

I mean... Greinke? Sure on paper, makes a lot of sense as a clutch addition. But, I get the feeling that he is going to disappoint whatever team goes all in after the guy. Maybe Josh Hamilton? Again, not exactly the type of guy a small market should be making a run at. I'd have preferred Fielder this past year. David Wright would seem to make a lot of sense, but he has a club option for $16 mill for a NY team. Maybe they decide he's not worth the cash, but it would seem silly to just drop the guy for a $1 mill buyout.

I think that I have hit the Apathy stage. I wonder how the Brownies are doing tonight...

Unknown said...

1. "El Klubercabra".

2. I'm very, very mildly optimistic about the pitching next season, if only because literally anything would be an improvement. This is the worst non-Coors Field staff in baseball, and they're irrefutably uninspiring, but they're not THAT bad.

I remain optimistic about Blue Jeans Gomez -- say what you will, he's stayed healthy and got his reps in -- and McFarland and House have had some intriguing seasons, to say nothing of getting CarCar and Fauxberto back. Again, it ain't pretty, but squint and you can see league average. Coupled with solid relief, it might do.

3. It's the bats that worry me. Chisenhall staying on the field should help; Kipnis and Brantley have made some good strides; Choo is, happily, Choo. And Santana and Cabrera can be productive, if not stunning as we hoped.

That's half a lineup, and it's still horrifically susceptible to left-handed pitching. I'm not convinced there's an answer. That's the argument for blowing it up, anyway. That, and my need for catharsis.

MTF said...

I was optimistic about the pitching until I (thanks to LGT) became worried the Little Cowboy might be going under the TJ knife soon.

Hyde said...

@Spills: The problem, or at least one of them, is that the Indians aren't even doing smart things that fall within a typical Dolan budget. Here's another "for example:" what if we had outbid the Red Sox for Cody Ross, whose righthanded bat would look terrific in the middle of our lineup, and who has a track record of performing in the clutch? He could have been ours for less than we're paying Sizemore to be the baseball version of Greg Oden.

An organization that isn't in the market for major free agents has to be creative. It has to be smarter than the other guys. It's not enough to have a Blake-for-Santana steal twice a decade--they have to outwit the other teams consistently, and take advantage of the big leveler in the sport, the draft. The Indians are failing at all of this.

Spills said...

Not closing on Cespedes or Willingham can also be thrown onto the pile of 2012 gaffes.

So where do you stand, Hyde? Should we blow up management, the team, both, or continue with business as usual?

I do not think that the Tribe has BAD management (Assuming 2011-2012 is their basement performance), but at this moment, it seems closer to average than good.

It is interesting to compare the NFL's strategy when it comes to management vs MLB's. In the NFL, if you do not have things going in the right direction in 3 years (Sometimes less for poorly ran teams like the Browns), it is very likely that you will be fired, and the entire management situation will be rebooted. In MLB, it seems VERY uncommon to have a management group (Only talking GM and executives here, not actual baseball managers) last less than 5-8 years.

While most of the difference is probably linked to the dynamics of each sport's drafts (3-5 years to have a not fully developed player to reach the majors after being drafted in the MLB), it makes you wonder about how you can accurately grade a management group in an environment with so many inaccuracies. Look at today's piece on the draft, and some of the "Good" management groups performance for the 2008 draft. The sport is a crapshoot.

If you haven't read it already, check out Adam Burke's piece on WAR, and how it relates to Acta and the Tribe. The only way to guarantee a consistent winner (not necessarily a playoff winner mind you) is to outspend your competition by a very significant margin. I don't see that happening any time soon in Cleveland, especially not with the way that the economics have been set up in MLB.

Hyde said...

The difference with the NFL is that it's been demonstrated that turning a bad team into a good one can be done very quickly without going on a big spending spree. It's also the case that there's a lot of randomness in the NFL because the seasons are so short--a team that's generally thought of as "good" can go something like 6-10 with a little bad luck, but good major league teams simply don't ever win just 70 games.

The problem with the column in The Cleveland Fan is that the Indians' problems are not primarily "small market problems." Even if one accepts the need to trade Sabathia and Lee (and I certainly don't in the case of Lee, whose contract was not excessive even for this market), getting minimal value out of those trades is all on the front office. And the failure to develop any kind of offense at the positions where finding talent should be easiest (left field and first base) can likewise not be explained by the size of the market. Joey Votto plays in Cincinnati.

There's a significant difference between the failure of the 2003-04 rebuild, which produced two big winning seasons amidst a lot of underachieving; and the current rebuild, which has yet to give us a single season with more than 80 wins. It's not that hard to see the Indians having a winning season next year even with a similar cast--a return to form for Masterson and Jimenez wouldn't be any more unlikely than Cliff Lee's 2008 turnaround--but I wouldn't bet on it right now. Antonetti and Shapiro blew it and need to go. The front office needs new blood.

sjwebber28 said...

This is a depressing team to watch Paul! I find myself looking forward to next year already, hoping they will at least do something over the winter to help support some of the younger players on the team. In the meantime, Acta has to go! Radinsky should not have been let go and now it shows that has done nothing to help the team. I understand Acta doesn't have a lot of talent to work with, but the bottom line is he is never going to be a playoff caliber manager. Give Alomar a chance over the next year and half and see what he can do, we all know he is going to be a manager some day, why not give him a chance now, rather than lose him, when we know what we have in Acta. This team needs a shakeup and Acta doesn't have the ability to do that.