What went wrong: Cleveland Indians

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The following is the first in a series profiling of some of 2009’s biggest disappointments.

Cleveland Indians



Record: 59-76 (4th in AL Central)



How It Happened:



With
the one of the top all-around talents in the game in Grady Sizemore,
the defending American League Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee, a
fully-healthy Victor Martinez, and the additions of a valuable
utilityman in Mark DeRosa and a capable closer in Kerry Wood, it
appeared as though the stars were aligned for the Indians to compete in
2009, but they have suffered through a perfect storm of misfortune.




Despite a return to form by Martinez, the offense simply failed to
take off. Sizemore, who has played in at least 157 games every year
since 2005, was limited to 106 games due to inflammation in his left
elbow. Helped by a strong August, Sizemore managed a .248/.343/.445
line to go along with 18 homers, 64 RBI and 13 stolen bases. The
Indians finally shut him down on Friday, with a pair of surgeries on
the docket in the coming days. He should be ready for the start of the
2010 season.




After consecutive 20-homer seasons, Jhonny Peralta is batting
.275/.335/.412 with just 11 homers and 72 RBI. An April injury to his
left elbow effectively zapped his power output in what should have been
his age-27 breakout year. It doesn’t help that manager Eric Wedge has
been unable to lean on Travis Hafner’s sore shoulders, either. Despite
a .272/.358/.487 line to go along with 14 homers and 40 RBI and a .844
OPS (highest since 2006), Pronk can’t play more than back-to-back
games, thus he only has 265 at-bats this season. And while Franklin
Gutierrez is blossoming into a star in Seattle, Luis Valbuena has been
underwhelming at second base.




While the offense has been inconsistent, the pitching has been even
worse, putting up a 4.97 staff ERA (third worst in the majors),
including a 5.09 ERA for their starters (fourth worst) and a 4.78 ERA
in their revolving-door bullpen (again, third worst). Wood imploded in
the first-half, compiling a 5.28 ERA and four blown saves while serving
up six bombs in just 30 2/3 innings. Fausto Carmona was demoted on June
5 after pitching to a miserable 7.42 ERA and 36/41 K/BB ratio in 60 2/3
innings. Anthony Reyes was expected to be the No. 4 starter behind Carl
Pavano, but he underwent elbow surgery in May and will likely never see
a mound with the Tribe again. And after missing the second half of the
2008 season with Tommy John surgery, Jake Westbrook hasn’t thrown a
pitch in the big leagues this season. He was shut down after
complaining of elbow soreness during a rehab stint in August.




Add it all up and the Indians were 14 games out of first place at the All-Star break.



Silver Linings:



– Shin-Soo
Choo continues to be one of the game’s most underrated players, batting
.302/.396/.476 with 14 home runs, 74 RBI, 33 doubles and 18 stolen
bases. The 27-year-old South Korean is about league average against
lefties (.426 career slugging percentage), but he is a steady weapon
against right-handers (.505 slugging percentage). Throw in his cannon
from right field you have a very capable partner alongside Sizemore for
years to come.




– Asdrubal Cabrera missed nearly a month with a sprained left
shoulder, but it hasn’t derailed his breakthrough season. The
23-year-old shortstop is batting .310/.362/.438 with five home runs, 56
RBI, 16 stolen bases and 71 runs scored in 110 games. With more speed
than expected (he had just 53 stolen bases over 430 games in the
minors) and an adequate glove, Cabrera is a fine building block for the
future.




– While the Indians traded away Lee, Martinez, Mark DeRosa, Ben
Francisco and Ryan Garko, they have managed to acquire an impressive
haul of prospects including RHP Carlos Carrasco, RHP Chris Perez, RHP
Jess Todd, LHP Nick Hagadone, RHP Jason Knapp, SS Jason Donald, C Lou
Marson and LHP Scott Barnes, all ranked in their team’s top ten
prospects, according to Baseball America.




Sometimes it’s tough to bite the bullet and rebuild, but general
manager Mark Shapiro has done it in a very creative and savvy way,
namely taking advantage of a situation in which Blue Jays general
manager J.P. Ricciardi was asking the moon for Roy Halladay. The trades
weren’t popular, especially with rumors of Knapp being damaged goods,
but in truth, Shapiro has laid a groundwork for contention in the long
run.




Looking ahead:



– The Indians are expected to evaluate Wedge
and his staff in the weeks to come. Many believe a managerial change is
inevitable given the high expectations of the past two seasons. Wedge
has guided the Indians to a 555-551 record over six seasons.




– The trades of Martinez and Garko will finally allow young stud Matt
LaPorta (51 homers and .944 OPS over 224 games in the minors) to get a
full season under his belt in 2010.





– The Indians already have roughly $50 million in contact commitments for
2010 including $11.5 million for Hafner, $11 million for Westbrook and
$10.5 million for Wood, contracts that will be very tough, if not
impossible to move. In turn, they won’t have much payroll flexibility
headed into 2010. They’ll sink or swim with an infusion of youth.

Javier Baez: “This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it.”

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Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.

While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.

Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”

He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”

Mike Trout proposes change to spring training umpiring

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Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.

According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”

Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.