Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Lazy Sunday Nearing the End

While I deal with The DiaBride’s bad back (with her physical therapist recently asking her how much of a “hands-on husband” she had to limit her lifting/laundry/etc. burden), the Lazy One is coming a little short this weekend.  While that may be cause for joy in some corners, since I realize that most have turned their attention to the Browns or to the MLB pennant races – as very little has changed regarding the Indians in the past…um, two months – and as the Indians’ season s…l…o…w…l…y crawls to Game 162, most attention has been placed on whether the Indians will be drafting fourth of fifth next year (who said the Browns have a monopoly on the amateur draft generating…um, excitement) and what moves will be made to the Indians coaching staff and Front Office.

While most of that will shake out in the coming weeks/months, there is still this overwhelming sense of “what just happened here” surrounding the Tribe.  Yes, I know that it’s been a solid couple of months since the bottom fell out…with the bottom falling out a couple times after that and people at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario are running out of fingers to point in a direction other than their own.  But to watch this team absolutely slog through the last two months (and look BAD doing it) is to echo the sentiments of what a “Front Office Type” had to say to B-Pro’s John Perrotto regarding the Tribe and their recent…um, performance.  And…well, it’s not pretty:
Indians: “They might be the worst team—from a fundamentals standpoint—in the big leagues. They kill themselves with silly mistakes.”

And for as much as people can point to a flawed roster and to an unproductive off-season (both valid points), isn’t that what we see – night in and night out – a team that finds new ways to lose?

For as much promise that there seemed to be after last season with certain players, how have the Indians looked THIS bad for THIS long?

As frustrating as it is to watch the Indians in terms of stalled development and regression, the appearance of a team that’s going through the motions and is either ill-prepared or ill-equipped to compete at the MLB level is what gnaws at most of the fanbase…at least those that are still watching.  Whether that goes back to the coaching staff or the Front Office that assembled the “talent” for said coaching staff to put into the lineup and into the pitching staff is a question that’s been asked before in this space (and in others); but it’s the MAIN question facing this organization going forward.  Because it goes back to the “Nature vs.Nurture” argument from a month ago in that it has to be asked whether these players are simply flawed and were overrated in expectations for them or if the players (seemingly the whole lot of them) can regress this quickly and this profoundly.

Is there talent there – the talent that was on display at times in 2011 and (ever so briefly) in 2012 – and the execution is lacking or is the lack of execution a by-product of the flawed “talent” on hand?

Because for as much talk as there is to say, “hey, look at Oakland…THAT’S what the Indians should be and THAT’S how they should be approaching their off-season”, does everyone really realize what Oakland did this past off-season, and in the years prior to this one?

Prior to this year, the A’s have largely operated in that “no-man’s land” of 70 to 80 win seasons (the “purgatory” that everyone was so afraid of for the Tribe about two months ago…that “8th seed in the NBA playoffs” spot) for the last 5 years.  They made move after move (everyone knows they traded Carlos Gonzalez and others for Matt Holiday, who would play 93 games for them, right?) in an attempt to find the lightning in the bottle that is currently taking place in the Bay Area.  And this past off-season was probably the biggest make-over since the Mulder, Hudson, Zito days came to an end.  In case you weren’t paying attention to Oakland’s moves at the end of last October, the A’s saw Josh Willingham and David DeJesus depart via FA, along with Rich Harden, Hideki Matsui and Coco Crisp.  Though Crisp would return later in the off-season on a 2-year deal, that’s basically the ENTIRE A’s offense from a 74-88 A’s team from last year with 4 of their 6 most productive hitters (if you count Ryan Sweeney, who was traded…but I’ll get to that) from a pretty putrid 2011 offense moving on, largely via FA.

Then, from December 9 to December 28, they traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, Craig Breslow, and the aforementioned Ryan Sweeney for a group of (what was deemed at the time to be) prospects as the A’s were unquestionably seen to be “rebuilding” as the scope of what was changing from 2011 to 2012 bordered on seismic.  Just to be clear here on the players that they GOT RID OF, Cahill was a 23-year-old pitcher who had an uneven 2011 season (4.16 ERA, 1.42 WHIP), but was a season removed from his 2010 campaign, in which he posted a 2.97 ERA, 1.11 WHIP as a 22-year-old RHP.  Further than that, Gonzalez was a 25-year-old LHP who had posted an ERA of 3.23 in 2010 and 3.12 in 2011.  At the time he was traded, Gonzalez was about to enter his first year of arbitration, meaning the A’s had THREE more years of control over Gonzalez, which is actually one fewer year of control than Oakland had over Cahill, who was under club control through the 2015 season when he was traded.

So, they traded 3 years of club control over a 25-year-old LHP that had posted back-to-back seasons with ERA’s under 3.25 and four years of club control over a 23-year-old RHP that had already posted a sub-3.00 ERA season in MLB, with a career 3.91 ERA in 96 starts.  That’s their #1 and #3 starter when the 2011 season started (with Brett Anderson being their #2 starter before he was injured) that would be traded the following off-season…and pitchers that were their 2nd and 3rd most valuable starters.  They also traded their closer in Bailey and their top LH set-up men in Breslow, this after trading another of their top set-up men (Brad Ziegler) at the Trading Deadline in July of 2011, and 3 of their top 4relievers, as measured by FIP.

Again, that was a 74-88 A’s team in 2011 that gave up MULTIPLE years of control over two of their best young starting pitchers, their closer and other bullpen arms, AND watched their two best offensive players (Willingham and DeJesus) walk for nothing. 
Of course, in making those moves, they added a number of key contributors to the 2012 club that finds itself in contention (plus the Cespedes signing), but at the time those trades were consummated, few saw the players that they acquired having this much of an impact…particularly this quickly, and you should read this if you think this was expected or what they have done provides any kind of blueprint.  But to reshape their team and “create” a contender in short order from a 74-88 team in 2011, that’s what the A’s did this past off-season…

If you want to try to put that into context for the Indians in the present tense…well, you can’t because the A’s turned Cahill and Gonzalez into MORE valuable young pitching and the Indians simply don’t have an equivalent to what Cahill and Gonzalez were for the A’s last off-season.  If you want to look at the most valuable trade chips, you already know who they are – namely Cabrera and Santana, with Perez, then Masterson coming in behind those guys and Choo likely being past that, largely based on club control and assumed salaries.  Brantley would be in there somewhere, as would McAllister, but those two are still largely unproven in MLB…at least not to the extent that the players the A’s traded last off-season were.

Maybe you break up the bullpen past Perez (Joe Smith and…um…) to see if you can net more starting pitching, but the A’s are being paced by a pitching staff that boasts young arms and to acquire young and under-club-control-for-a-while arms, you need to give up something of value to receive those arms to wish on in an effort to improve this Indians’ team in the present tense and (more importantly) the future tense as pitching is what wins for small-market teams and – for as much as it would seem to make sense for the Indians to make a play for Ike Davis (if he truly is available…and a terrific write-up from Ryan Richards of LGT here on the situation – the Indians need to identify the young arms that are going to pull them out of this crevasse.  In terms of those arms that figure to be around in 2013 – and I’m not counting Fauxberto among them – none of them has been even close to league average (compared to the offense, which has a fair share of above-MLB-average players...and that list does not include The Chiz) and unfortunately you’re looking at the same arms for next year.

And what’s frustrating there is that Oakland (and I’ll keep invoking them just because they’re the “flavor of the month” and this year’s model of a small-market team that “proves” that money isn’t the biggest factor) has EIGHT starters with a better ERA+ than any Tribe starter, with five of those aforementioned A’s eight being 25 years old or younger.  Perhaps guys like Masterson and Ubaldo are able to “find” some semblance of their effective selves and maybe McAllister and/or Kluber is more than the barely-back-end-of-the-rotation fodder that we’ve seen from Tomlin/Huff/Gomez, and maybe Carlos Carrasco (who is younger than Kluber) comes back from TJ surgery to assert himself at the top-of-the-rotation going forward.  But short of those things – that ALL haven’t happened yet – happening and short of a large influx of (likely ill-advised) FA spending in a market that doesn’t have that many attractive options, the Indians are in a position not all that dissimilar to what the A’s (and a number of other small-market teams) faced last year as a case can be easily made for a complete dismantling of the roster, just as a (much less compelling) case can be made for augmenting what is already in place, with the additions coming via FA.

But that’s what faces the Indians this off-season, as much attention figures to be paid to who will be filling out the lineup card and what the Indians’ Front Office looks like when some MAJOR restructuring looks to take place.  Because over the last couple of months – where the club that (in the words whispered in Perrotto’s ear) “might be the worst team—from a fundamentals standpoint—in the big leagues” has limped and slogged to the finish line, anything that could have been looked at as a “bright spot” has been overshadowed by the pall hanging over this team and this organization. 

Whether it is truly “darkest before the dawn” is what will be tested this off-season as the alternative is…well, some awfully dark days ahead.


MTF said...

Could Masterson be injured, too? Last night's edition of "bad outing 101" has me wondering.

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