Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports posted a story today where he argued that small market failures have no excuses. In this story, his unofficial spokesperson from the Indians is none other than Chris Perez. When I first heard that Perez was making comments to the media again, my first instinctual thought was “ugh, buddy…enough.” Once I read what he had to say though, I couldn’t find much to disagree with. In fact, he mostly mentioned things that I often think about myself. Perez lampoons the Dolans for being cheap, and praises Mike Ilitch, owner of the Detroit Tigers, for his willingness to spend money on his team. He points out that it’s not just ownership’s fault, that there is little margin for error when you are a small market team. Perez also jumped on the fact that the team did not sign Josh Willingham this offseason. While that was obviously a mistake, I highly doubt that Willingham would have made a huge difference at this point, not unless he’s been concealing previously unknown pitching abilities thus far in his career.
People question Manny Acta’s job security after this season, as they probably should. While he’s definitely not the only person at fault in this disaster, managers are always the first to go in these kinds of situations…the sacrificial lamb, so to speak. You can bring in someone new, and maybe they’ll change the dynamic and provide a spark for a while, maybe they won’t. It’s not going to change the fact that there are fundamental structural problems with this organization. In February, Keith Law of ESPN rated the Indians’ farm system at number 29 out of 30 teams. (Insider link, sorry) In the past 11 years (the tenure of general manager/president Mark Shapiro) the Indians have finished at or above .500 four times – 2001, 2005, 2007, and 2008. They lost 90 or more games three times – 2003, 2009, 2010 and we can potentially add this current season to that list. Shapiro is lauded for his excellent trades of the early 2000s, the ones that brought Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips to Cleveland and the times they fleeced Seattle for Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera. And while I certainly give him credit for those, I feel I should point out that he was aided by some incompetency on the Seattle end (as Morosi points out) and by a simply terrible situation unfolding in Montreal. As brilliant as he was for bringing Phillips, Lee and Sizemore to Cleveland, he turned around and made the boneheaded move of flipping Phillips to Cincinnati for next to nothing.
What I’m trying to say that this organization is a mess from the top on down the line. People criticize the Dolans for being cheap, as they should. I’m not going to act as an apologist for their miserly ways. However, to put the blame solely on a lack of money, to say that if the Dolans sold this team everything would just be awesome, is to ignore the myriad of problems in this organization right now. Just look at the 2008 and 2010 Seattle Mariners – a team that spent almost $100 million in both those seasons and also lost 100 games. Spending more did not translate into additional wins. The problem is that in Major League Baseball, you either need competency, or money, or some combination of both. At this point, the Indians have neither. Plus just look at this list of free agents compiled by MLB Trade Rumors. Is there anyone on that list that excites you, particularly in the first base, starting pitching or outfield sections, the Indians’ most glaring positions of need? (Disclaimer: I’m ignoring the guys with options for now, going by the hunch that their teams will pick them up.) Of course Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn are good options in the outfield, but we all can be fairly certain that they’ll never fork over the money for any of those. Here’s where the lack of money screws us, we will never be able to afford improving this team significantly through free agency. There are minimal options internally and via trade – Shin-Soo Choo and Chris Perez are probably the best options for trade bait. At this point, do you trust the front office to make a good deal for them? After the Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia deals, I pretty much except them to botch any trade. (And we could argue that Lee and Sabathia were of much higher value than Choo and Perez, even though Sabathia was a part-season rental.)
The purpose of this whole rant is to point out that I really don’t think you can change one aspect of this team and expect to see improved results. You can fire a manager, you can spend more money…those things alone aren’t enough anymore. I no longer trust the leadership of Shapiro and Chris Antonetti at this point, and I think it’s time to change direction in a big way. I don’t even know this team’s philosophy anymore, it just seems like they want to keep stockpiling cheap players that can play multiple positions, or retreads. I get that versatility and flexibility are important, but that really seems to be their only discernible goal at this point.
While this feels bleak, and it certainly is pretty bleak, it’s not the end of the world. To use Chris Perez’s example, the Tigers lost 119 games in 2003 and by 2006 had won 95 and made it to the World Series. This can be turned around. I’m just not sure if I trust this particular front office group to be the ones to pull it off.