Apparently, the Indians’ buzz phrase for the winter is, “The nucleus for success is here.”
It already has been spoken in some form by General Manager Chris Antonetti, who survived the team’s catastrophic August plunge and will hold on to his job for another year.
Should I feel better about the team now that I’ve been told there is a solid foundation of talented players on hand? Let’s think about that. The rosters of most, if not all, clubs include a group of skilled players on which to build a winner.
Does the group of core players in Cleveland give the Tribe a leg up on other teams in the American League Central Division? I would trade the Indians’ lineup for the Royals’ in a heartbeat, and Kansas City is nowhere near ready to compete for the division championship.
So I guess I am not impressed by assurances that having Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Lonnie Chisenhall, Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith and Justin Masterson gives the Tribe a competitive advantage against other division rivals.
Did I miss anyone? If you want to include Carlos Carrasco, Zach McAllister, Russ Canzler or Cody Allen, go right ahead. All of these players might develop into valuable assets, but neither the Indians’ deep thinkers nor anyone else is in a position to know for sure.
In fact, unless the Indians gets real lucky, they will have as many or more problems than any team in the American League next year. Let’s start with the obvious questions: Who will play left field? Where is the designated hitter? Anyone want to select a first baseman from the players on hand?
The biggest question: How can Antonetti and his henchmen turn the rotation into a lethal weapon in one offseason?
How about this for an ace: Masterson finished the season with nearly a 5.00 ERA and struggled to find the consistency he needs to keep his delivery together and command the strike zone. But at least Masterson has a super-live arm and has shown he can dominate a lineup.
McAllister took a giant step toward maturity this season but probably will develop into no more than a No. 3 starter. Carrasco and Josh Tomlin will be coming off elbow surgery (Tomlin won’t pitch until deep into the season), so it’s unfair to put short-term expectations on either of them.
Over the long haul, it’s conceivable that Carrasco might mature into a No. 2 starter and Tomlin a No. 3. But first they have to scrape off the rust that comes with a long period of inactivity.
Then there’s Ubaldo Jimenez. It’s probably time to stop asking the question, “What were they thinking?” and move on to the reality of what to do with him. Antonetti has little choice but to exercise the $5.75 million option clause in Jimenez’s contract and hope for the best.
Maybe Jimenez will see the wisdom of actually using his vast ability rather than camouflaging it if he wants a big contract in 2014.
Most of the rest of the rotation’s candidates look to be No. 4 and No. 5 starters. I’m talking about Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Roberto Hernandez and Corey Kluber.
Not to get too technical, let’s just say the rotation is a mess. Aside from the pitchers on the roster, what can Antonetti do about it? There’s the farm system. Then again, forget the farm system, at least the upper levels of Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus.
Free agency? That is almost a foreign concept to the Tribe. Unless Antonetti can raise several million dollars selling Girl Scout cookies or persuading the kids of his front office executives to hold a car wash during the next few weekends (“For an extra $100, we’ll clean the rearview mirror”), it’s hard to imagine the club gathering a big enough pile of cash to buy a bona fide free agent.
Antonetti can make a trade, but who can he afford to lose without digging a giant hole at one position while he fills another? Yes, we know he can trade Chris Perez. Teams probably are dying to acquire him for his oratory, alone. The problem: Most good teams (that is, clubs that have marketable prospects) already have a closer.
How about Choo? Any time the name of his agent, Scott Boras, is brought up by two fans sitting at a bar, the conversation takes this turn: “Might as well trade him now, because we’ll never re-sign him.”
Why not? Boras works with other clubs all the time; otherwise, he wouldn’t be in business. Is he a last-dollar guy? Sure. But what is the last dollar for Choo?
Just because Boras represents him doesn’t mean Choo can command $20 million a year. Unless he exceeds every positive number he has ever attained next season, Choo is not going to be a $15 million man. Probably more like $11 million or $12 million.
Is that too rich for the Indians? Depending on how many years Boras demands, it shouldn’t be. Of course, it might be, which is part of the team’s continuing dilemma.
If the Tribe does get rid of Perez and/or Choo, it will be an indication that the bricklayers and carpenters have arrived to embark on another rebuilding project, and you know that the fans — those still paying attention — will love that.
Do the wishes of the fans figure into the immediate plans of owners Paul and Larry Dolan or Antonetti? No general manager can afford to conduct business on the whims of the customers. But the dwindling fan base — that is, the people who buy tickets, especially season tickets — has to be a concern.
How do you give the partisans what they want and still run a viable operation in the front office? At this moment in Indians history, neither the owners nor Antonetti can give the fans what they want: an instant contender.
That option disappeared when the roster was botched this year. The best the Tribe can do now is avoid breaking up the team but add value this winter and next, hoping that by 2014 there are enough quality players in house to make a run at the division title.
The fans won’t like it, but what choice do the Indians have? More postgame fireworks?