Big-ticket signings fail to lift Indians in loss

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When the Indians added Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn in free agency, it was supposed to energize the fans and signal the start of a new era. And it probably did help with the latter, if not the former.

However, while neither Swisher nor Bourn went bust in year one in Cleveland, the performances of both left something to be desired. That continued on Wednesday, as both veterans went 0-for-4 in the 3-0 loss to the Rays that resulted in a quick postseason exit for the Indians.

The postseason struggles were nothing new for Swisher, who was routinely attacked for it in New York. Tonight’s 0-for left him with a .165 average and just eight RBI in 158 postseason at-bats. Bourn was playing in his first career postseason game.

Of course, it’s hardly fair to say Swisher and Bourn were signed to carry the Indians, even if their average salaries of $14 million and $12 million, respectively, dwarf those of anyone else on the team (after those $56 million and $48 million deals, the next biggest contract on the Indians is Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-year, $16.5 million pact). They were signed to supplement Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis, not overshadow them. And they did that in the regular season, even if they were modest disappointments. Swisher hit a respectable .246/.341/.423 with 22 homers, but his total of 63 RBI was troubling for someone who spent half of the year batting cleanup. Bourn went from hitting .274/.348/.391 with 42 steals for the Braves in 2012 to batting .263/.316/.360 with 23 steals this year.

As the Indians head into 2014, Swisher will probably remain the best interview, but the team will be built around Santana and Kipnis. Cabrera could well be traded, even though top prospect Francisco Lindor probably isn’t ready to take over at shortstop quite yet. Closer Chris Perez, the fourth highest-paid player, seems sure to exit as well. The Tribe won’t necessarily need Swisher and Bourn to star to remain contenders, but they do have to hope any continued decline is a slow process.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.