The Indians announced a roster move today, designating Jose Lopez for assignment and calling Frank Herrmann up from Columbus to fortify a taxed bullpen. It’s a move that’s not that surprising, considering that Lopez was hitting .249/.272/.366 with four home runs and an OPS of just .639. To put that in perspective, the only players with a lower OPS are Casey Kotchman (.636) and Brent Lillibridge (.444). There were others below Lopez, but they have now departed from Cleveland – Johnny Damon (.610), Aaron Cunningham (.493), Jason Donald (.435), Juan Diaz (.620), Luke Carlin (.500), and Matt LaPorta (.364). Out of the list of departed players, only Damon and Cunningham spent a significant portion of the year on the roster. When you consider number of at-bats, only Lopez, Damon, and Kotchman have more than 200 at-bats with the Indians this season.
Herrmann, who was a staple in the “Bullpen Mafia” last season, has yet to see playing time at the majors in 2012. He had a poor spring, and hasn’t been fantastic in Columbus either – 2-2 with a 4.28 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 53 strikeouts, and 7 saves in 9 save opportunities. I found myself thinking “ugh” when I heard that Herrmann received the call-up. To be fair, I couldn’t name a player I’d rather see at this point from Columbus. Scott Barnes has already had a few opportunities in Cleveland, you might as well give Herrmann another shot.
This brings me to my thoughts and feelings when I heard about this move, which can basically be described as “who gives a %&#$?” I know that’s awfully harsh, but this kind of move isn’t going to suddenly save a team that’s in a tailspin. Yes, it gets rid of an underperforming Lopez and fortifies the bullpen, but in the long run it seems like a non-issue. Not every move can be some dynamic, earth-shattering move, and there certainly is no easy fix for the myriad of problems facing this team right now. I’m to the point where I no longer even know what to suggest, or what I even want to see happen. Part of me wants to cheer for a fire sale, but I honestly don’t trust their decision making skills at this point. I don’t trust that they would get the return they need, and deserve, from doing so. They could DFA some of the other players that are considered “dead weight” and make room for some of the young guys from Columbus. This is probably the most logical move; if you’re going to lose so spectacularly, you might as well do it with some of the guys from Columbus, rather than some of the washed-up vets that remain. I would like to point out that I’m not necessarily a Matt LaPorta fan, and definitely wouldn’t consider myself a LaPorta advocate. With that being said, why isn’t he getting another chance? Have they already completely given up on him, with exactly 11 major league at-bats under his belt this season? Don’t forget, he’s out of options after this season. He either makes the team next spring, or is designated for assignment (or to be fair, he’s traded). Watching him bat makes me crazy, but there’s no good reason that he’s not in Cleveland right now. They’re doing a great job of losing ballgames without him, so what’s the harm in him being with the Indians?
So beyond letting young guys play, what do I think could help this team? I can’t see anything helping at this point outside of major institutional changes, and even those may do no good. I mentioned on Ryan’s post last night that I’m typically pretty conservative when it comes to firing a manager or members of his coaching staff. They can’t necessarily bat or pitch for the players, and the grass may not necessarily be greener on the other side of the fence (i.e. new manager and coaches). At the same time, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope that everyone not named Sandy Alomar, Jr. got the axe. I can’t deny that there’s something about the atmosphere of this team that just bugs me, and it may be time for a change. I know it’s not necessarily fair for Manny Acta to be canned after just three seasons, but I just don’t think it’s working out for him here. Perhaps they were too quick to pick up his option last September, but I think it best to just eat that money and release him. You may remember that he was also up for the managerial position with the Houston Astros back in 2009 (he coached in their farm system), but went with the Indians because they provided an extra year on the contract. Houston is under new ownership and about to move to the American League; they’re having a terrible season and will likely fire manager Brad Mills and start fresh next year. This could work out for the best with Acta, perhaps he could end up in Houston after all. Not that I think that a new coaching staff (with Alomar staying, preferably managing) would be an automatic solution. I just think it’s become clear that this just doesn’t seem to be working. I wouldn’t be too sad to see Chris Antonetti or Mark Shapiro go either. Outside of a few good trades and a playoff appearance in 2007, what lasting success have they brought to Cleveland? While everyone points to the fact that the Dolans are cheap (they are, I’m not denying that), there are teams that manage to put a great product on the field every year on a minimal budget.
While everyone secretly hopes that the Dolans sell the Indians, would a new owner be any better? I guess it’s fair to say they probably couldn’t be any worse. I always figured that they’d never budge, since they essentially overpaid for the team at the time when they bought it from Dick Jacobs. I saw an interesting story on Deadspin today, about how much the value of the San Diego Padres climbed in just three years. When there was talk of the Padres being sold in 2009, the offer for the team was projected to be around $500 million. The current projected sale price for the Padres sits at about $800 million – an increase of $300 million in just three years. The Deadspin story implies that this is a “bubble” within baseball of unsustainable high prices driven by lucrative television deals. One day the bubble will burst, and these deals will not be sustainable. Since the Indians have their own network, STO, it’s not clear how much more (or less) money they get from that compared to other sports networks and teams. So the Indians could theoretically sell for well over the $323 million the Dolans paid for the team in 2000. It may cripple the next owner, but it’s still a possibility.
Like I said before, I have no idea if any of these moves would work. They could sell the team, fire everyone, and still play dismal baseball. I think that is what’s become scary about this dreadful stretch from the Indians – it looks pretty bad, and I’m not very optimistic on any quick turnarounds.