Tonight, the Indians will face off against one of their former Cy Young winners, CC Sabathia. Who will be in tonight’s lineup to face the Yankees southpaw? None other than Matt LaPorta, the man who was the centerpiece of the Sabathia deal with the Brewers in 2008. LaPorta had a brief stay in the majors earlier this season, but had just 11 at-bats with the Indians before he returned to Columbus. Reliever Frank Herrmann was sent back to the Clippers to make room on the roster for LaPorta.
I’ve expressed my views on LaPorta in the past, but I will give a quick recap for those that may have missed it. Watching Matt LaPorta bat at the major league level makes me absolutely insane. He’ll mash in the minors, and come to the majors and struggle against the stronger pitching. A lot of pitchers make him look foolish, something that is amplified by the fact that he seems to let go of the bat during swings and misses more often than any other player. (Seriously, if you’re sitting behind the third base dugout this weekend, stay alert or wear a helmet). Even though his major league statistics are much worse than his Triple-A numbers, I will acknowledge that he’s not that bad compared to some of the Indians’ other options at first and in left field. At the same time, no amount of rational thought will make me less annoyed by him; he’s just one of those players that irrationally drive me nuts. When someone like me, who is far from LaPorta’s biggest advocate sits back and asks, “uhhh, why haven’t they called LaPorta up yet?” you know that something is drastically wrong with their decision making process.
LaPorta is 27, and as of next spring, is out of options. That means he either makes the roster out of spring training, or the Indians have to designate him for assignment and hope that he clears waivers without another team claiming him. Since LaPorta has quite a bit of pop in his bat, I find it hard to believe that he’d make it through waivers (unless the Indians deal him over the winter). Since the clock is ticking, why wasn’t he up here earlier this season? They’ve let Jason Kipnis play through his struggles and slumps this season. Once it was obvious the season was lost, why wasn’t LaPorta afforded the same opportunity? I’m not sure if they’ve completely given up on LaPorta, or if they feel his struggles are beyond hope at this point, but don’t you think he gets ample opportunity to confirm your decision? I could also understand if LaPorta was some kind of clubhouse cancer, or a guy that was always causing problems. From all accounts, he’s an extremely personable and friendly guy – the kind of guy you want as a teammate. The only possible rationale I have at this point is that the Indians are afraid he’ll tank if they call him up to the majors, and they don’t want his trade value to drop any lower. That scenario doesn’t seem to make much sense to me, but then again most of what the Indians do anymore doesn’t make sense to me.
August 31 is Looming
The waiver trade deadline is just a week away, although all seems quiet on the trade rumor front at the moment (at least where the Indians are concerned). There were a few players connected to rumors prior to July 31 – Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Masterson, and Chris Perez specifically. I really find it hard to believe that the Indians are able to keep Choo long term, not when his agent is Scott Boras and he’s already expressed interest in exploring the free agent market. While I thought he may be the most likely to go before the end of the month, this report on MLB Trade Rumors says that the Indians would explore trades for Choo this winter. Yesterday, owner Paul Dolan said that the jobs of Manny Acta, Chris Antonetti, and Mark Shapiro were safe for now. Either that means that nobody is losing their jobs, or it just means that heads will roll this offseason. It’s entirely possible that the Indians do make some major changes, but just wait until the season is over.
I recently participated in a roundtable at Wahoo’s on First where I offered my thoughts on the 2013 season; namely, whether or not the Indians could compete in 2013. I may be a negative and pessimistic fan, but I absolutely refuse to throw in the towel on 2013 in August of 2012. I know things look bleak right now, and the Indians aren’t likely to spend in the offseason. At the same time, a lot could change and it could end up being for the better. There could be better performances from guys like Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez (although that could be a big “if”) and more consistent offensive production from guys like Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis. To be fair, as I typed that sentence right now I had a flashback to the numerous times myself (and others) have lamented “oh, if only Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner were healthy for an entire year.” I know the Indians may be waiting to call up guys like Tim Fedroff because they’re hesitant to start their major league service clock earlier than they have to, but why not give them a shot during the last month of the season? I’d also like to see what outfielder Thomas Neal (Akron Aeros) has to offer. He was in Triple-A at one point, but the Indians moved him down to Akron since the outfield was crowded in Columbus. In Akron he’s hit .310/.400/.467 with 12 home runs, made the mid-year all star team and was just named to the postseason all star team. The Indians received him in a trade with the Giants for Orlando Cabrera last season; he was a 36th round pick by San Francisco in 2005. Not that I think he’s necessarily the next Mike Trout or anything, but he’s done well and bats right-handed. Why not at least give him a shot?
What would I like to see this offseason? In an interview with Sirius/XM a few weeks ago, Manny Acta said he’d like to see the Indians get three bats and a starting pitcher. That’s certainly a good start, and I’m sure it’s super easy for a cheap team like the Indians to go acquire all of that without a problem (sarcasm). They could do some more trading, but I’m not sure if I trust them in that regard at this point. I know that Ubaldo Jimenez has pretty much been a debacle, but to be fair, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White could also end up being busts. Their drafting has been better over the past few years, but I’m so haunted by those drafts of the early and mid-2000s that I automatically don’t expect much from their young prospects. They could have hung onto both, and both of them could have flopped. I think the only alternative plan would have been to trade both of them for someone other than Jimenez. Other teams seemed very interested in the pair; they probably could have gotten someone more reliable than Jimenez. The last two months have been such a phenomenal disaster, you can’t really trace it back to a single person in management/the front office, or even a single player. As I said before, I still wouldn’t be sad about the firing of anyone not named Sandy Alomar, Jr. whether it be the coaching staff or folks in the front office.
For all of the Indians’ woes and complaints about being impoverished, the team still had the highest operating income of any team in the majors in 2011. According to Forbes Magazine’s Business of Baseball Report, the Indians had an operating income of $30.1 million. The report implied that it’s due in part to the money they take in from STO, but they still had more income than two of the more prominent teams that own their own regional sports networks – Boston ($25.4 million income) and the Yankees ($10 million income). STO’s ratings were down about 24% earlier this summer, even though the network had the largest jump in ratings from 2010-2011 than any other major league team. If viewership continues to decline (which it probably will) it will be interesting to see if the team has such a sizable operating income this year.
It’s pretty obvious at this point that fans are frustrated, mad, disenchanted…any similar adjective. I read a great post from Alex Kaufman, a Cleveland-area high school senior, that focused on his anger and what he hoped to see from the Indians moving forward. Other fans are taking a different approach – there are plans for a protest of sorts on Friday, September 14 at some of the downtown bars around Progressive Field. The idea behind the event is that by watching that night’s game from local establishments Indians fans can show they’re still passionate about the team, but that they’re not going to spend money at the ballpark that night. (As a bonus, some of the local bars get additional business that night). The event I linked to mentions The Clevelander on Huron – that’s where I plan to hang out that evening. If you like the idea though, you could make it happen really anywhere. Is it likely to change anything within the organization? Very doubtful, but it would be cool if it got good crowds, along with some attention and publicity. Plus the Indians are probably more watchable if you’re viewing the game with a bunch of like-minded people. A few beers probably wouldn’t hurt either!