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.

10 Comments

  • The Doctor says:

    The outright refusal to let LaPorta play is baffling to me, especially considering the water trash we’ve been playing in LF all season.

  • Mark says:

    “…there are teams that manage to put a great product on the field every year on a minimal budget.” Agree and you don’t have to look very far to find one right here in the state of Ohio. The Reds payroll is around $82M vs $78M for the Indians. At the same time the Tribe tanked, the Reds took off! They have picked our pocket several times over the years (Brandon Phillips for Jeff Stephens; Danny Graves for John Smiley, etc.). They somehow always manage to have decent starting pitching pursuing Matt Latos, for example, this past off-season. Can we learn something from our fellow Buckeye franchise?

  • Mary Jo says:

    I would be reluctant to fire all the staff save Alomar, and then turn around and make him manager. Not because I think he won’t be a good manager but because I DO think he will be someday. Why saddle him with the current roster? IMO there are just a couple guys worthy of playing on a ML field and until that is improved the manager has his hands tied. No sense in making Sandy look like he’s incompetent and stain his career because he doesn’t have a team that would win no matter who managed.

    • Mary Jo says:

      Mark, where did you find those numbers? The reference I have always used is Cot’s Baseball Contracts, now part of of BaseballProspectus.com. They show the current years’ payrolls for the Reds at $87,826,167 and the Tribe at $65,430,300. That over $22 million difference as opposed to the $4 million of yours. Just think of how many more crappy players our FO could acquire for that $22M!

  • Drew says:

    If there ever was a time for a wide-scale institutional change, this is it. This small-market team BS is killing me. Wasn’t Cleveland a small market in the 1990s? Their payroll was $65M this season. Milwaukee has a $98M payroll and there is no way you could convince me that Milwaukee is a bigger market than Cleveland.

    Ohio is the 7th largest state in population and has 2 baseball teams. Each of the top 6 have at least 2 as well.

    With Hafner, Sizemore, & Lowe coming off the books in 2013, to the tune of $20M, they could re-sign Choo, get a LF (that is if you believe that Tim Fedroff or Jared Goedert cannot pull off a Will Middlebrooks-like performance), and legit starting pitcher and stay under $100M. Keeping a $100M payroll and locking down players like Choo will put at least 30k people in the stands.

    Furthermore, I just looked up and saw that the Indians have an average ticket price of about $25. This team is drawing an average attendance of 21,000 fans a game, the worst in MLB. That equates to about $42M in ticket revenue projected for this season. Capacity is 42,000 at Progressive Field. They could easily increase average attendance by 10-15,000 by actually making a move this winter on a LF, DH, 1B, or SP. Furthermore, by making such a move, the additional attendance will increase ticket revenues by $20-30M a year (Cole Hamels just signed for $24M a year), and that’s just ticket revenue. What if those fans also purchased concessions and merchandise or for heaven’s sake watched more games on STO thus increasing the advertising revenue?

    So here is how I see it:
    1) Sign a legit starting pitcher at $20M a year.
    2) Sign Choo at $15M a year. (+10M from where he is now)
    3) Sign a LF for $10M a year.
    I just added $40M to payroll and $20M is coming off the books. That’s an additional $20M over this season’s payroll thus bringing the Indians to $85M in 2013. They did sign Cabrerra and Santana to extensions, and I think there are some other players who are arbitration eligible which will push the payroll to $100M, but that’s a good figure now-a-days.

    Keep in mind that selling out Progressive Field alone would nearly cover a $100M payroll. And there are still plenty of other revenue sources that may more than double ticket sales.

    So seriously, the only rationale that I can fathom for why the Indians are so cheap is that they have projected cash flow problems. And as you know, the Dodgers nearly went bankrupt last season yet still sold this year for $2B and are a 1/2 game out of the lead in the NL west.

  • Jeremy C says:

    Drew of course the indians are a small market team. Do you live in Cleveland or do you just not go outside or read a paper? And great article Stephanie. I was at both of Perez’s blown saves and this kinda sums up the feelings

    • Drew says:

      I grew up in Cleveland and thus an Indians fan. I live in a small city on the east coast without a major league baseball team but I do still have family in the region and remain loyal to several Ohio-sports teams.

      However, Jeremy, would you please validate your comment, “of course they are a small market team”. As I pointed out, did the size of Cleveland prevent the team from spending money and fielding a successful team in the 1990s? The Minnesota Twins, Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners, and Milwaukee Brewers all have payrolls greater than that of the Indians. Can you actually tell me that any of those cities are significantly larger in size than Cleveland? Please show me the metrics!

  • Jeremy C says:

    In 2011 the Milken Institute ranked the “best preforming” cities. for the cities you mentioned:
    http://bestcities.milkeninstitute.org/
    Seattle-23rd
    Cincy-138th
    Minneapolis-143rd
    Milwaukee-123rd

    And Cleveland a beautiful 176th in the country

    Tada! We are definately a small market team. It has nothing to do with size and trust me Cleveland is shrinking. It has to do with the economy of the city

    • Drew says:

      Great link, thank you. Is this one of those times when I should put my foot in my mouth?

      I guess I am comparing Cleveland in size to my current city, Richmond, VA, and think that is significantly larger. By further review of link, I noticed that only two cities with MLB teams have lower population-bases than Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee. Coincidentally, both of those teams spend significantly more in payroll than the Indians do.

      But then again, don’t residents of Akron and Canton identify more with Cleveland than any other major metropolitan-area? If so, that adds another 1M people and then what do you do with Columbus? It’s pretty split between Cleveland and Cincinnati fans.

      But anyway, I thought I read that the Cleveland-metro area actually increased in the last census compared to decades of declines.

  • jeremy cronig says:

    I think it is shrinking but that’s besides the point. Detroits owner owns the pistons, red wings and the tigers. And he dumps a ton of money on the tigers. That would be wonderful to have that type of owner its very rare

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