Sunday, June 29, 2008

The mistakes that cost a baseball season
Being a baseball executive has to be harder than being the director of public relations at the Roger Clemens' headquarters.

I start like this because it seems like a broken record when I use this space to be critical of the Cleveland Indians.

Mark Shapiro's job is not easy, but most of us (myself included) act as though it is.

We are at about the halfway point of what has become a rather dismal baseball season on the shores of Lake Erie. At some point, I plan on writing an interim report, but unlike last year, the blog post won't have too many glowing remarks.

Some of the blame for the Indians fall from grace is no fault of the organization. A team missing two-fifths of its starting rotation to injury, and two of its most vital hitters from the lineup, is bound to struggle.

Still, as PD columnist Bill Livingston pointed out today, blaming the team's misfortune on its health is far too simple an answer.

The Cavs made it to the NBA Finals in 2007. Less than a year later, general manager Danny Ferry took a blowtorch to the roster, bringing in Ben Wallace, Joe Smith and others. The Cavaliers didn't reach the finals again, but they were competitive in the playoffs before losing to champion Boston in the conference semis.

The Browns went 10-6 in 2007, perhaps one bad Derek Anderson pass from the playoffs. Regardless of how 2008 turns out, no fan can blame the organization of resting on its success. General manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel made several key aquisitions on defense, and even brought in a high-priced receiver (Donte Stallworth) to improve one of the team's primary strengths.

The Indians, after a 96-win season and a trip to the ALCS, did pretty much nothing. They added Jamey Carroll, a good reserve infielder, and Masa Kobayashi, a steady reliever.

But Shapiro, Wedge and maybe more importantly Indians ownership, decided against being bold. The Indians did part ways with Kenny Lofton, Trot Nixon and Chris Gomez, who all played roles on the championship team.

What the Tribe needed this winter was at least one more consistent hitter, in case Travis Hafner's decline continued, and/or Victor Martinez got hurt. The Indians may have asked about Jason Bay or Xavier Nady, but in the end, passed on making a trade.

In reality, the 2008 Indians season ended June 12, when Martinez joined Hafner on the disabled list. The Indians had one hitter capable of a superstar effort after that, but Grady Sizemore can only do so much.

And all of this doesn't even begin to address the bullpen, which hasn't looked at all like the powerhouse it was last season.

The Indians' management can rest comfortably behind the injuries, using them as a scapegoat for the team's dropoff.

But blame does not escape Wedge, Shapiro and the Dolans.

And there's something else. Should the Indians decide to trade C.C. Sabathia, it will be difficult to talk about being a contender next year.

Sabathia likely is gone in the offseason no matter what. Paul Byrd is a free agent, but there's some question if the Indians even would want to bring him back. Jake Westbrook will miss a significant portion of the season.

Closer Joe Borowski is in the same category as Byrd, meaning the Indians will probably sign a reliever with a "damaged goods" sign around his neck to replace him.

The Indians have no third baseman in waiting, since Andy Marte looks like a bigger bust than Saved by the Bell: The New Class. There are few impact position players in the system.

For all the talk of organization building, the Indians future is looking, at least for the moment, rather bleak.



At 8:07 AM , Anonymous Erik said...

Predictably, a team bound to finish in last place one season after making the ALCS is taking a groin shot at the gate:

Bet there's not a lot of love between the Tribe's ticket sales people and the baseball operations people at this point. Shapiro and his minions aren't exactly giving the ticket sales department a whole heck of a lot to sell to the ticket-buying public.

Shapiro blames it on injuries and the squbsequent lack of winning. The ticket sales people blame not having a whole heck of a lot to sell beyond Vic, Grady and Hafner. What is the ticket sales angle now? Come watch Grady not make the all-star team because his batting average is too low? Come watch C.C. before he's gone? Come watch a bunch of regular guys leave it all on the field every night and still lose 5-0?

In the spat between ticket sales and baseball ops, wonder which side Dolan is going to take?


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