Sunday, April 02, 2006

Back Where It Belongs?

All this energy calling me
Back where it comes from
It’s such a crude attitude
It’s back where it belongs

- Cleveland Rocks

The White Sox weren’t the only AL Central team who has been waiting an interminable time for a Major League Baseball championship. Fifty-seven years have passed since Cleveland fans have had a World Series trophy back where it belongs. The last dynasty won six division championships and two AL pennants, but went O-fer in the World Series. More frustrating is that the new dynasty being built by General Manager Mark Shapiro is struggling the same way previous GM John Hart's did.

In the 90s, the Indians were literally a murderers row of offense, but lacked the key arms necessary to put them over the top. They never made the deal they needed for a #1 starter, despite aces like Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson being available. Meanwhile, their bullpen, while good in stretches, never showed the dependability that Tribe fans sought.

A decade later, history is repeating itself. Stacked with young offensive talent, Shapiro has sought to upgrade his pitching and failed. This year, the starting rotation certainly didn’t improve, and may have slid backwards. The bullpen, while it has plenty of solid arms, is anchored again by soft-throwing, 37-year-old Bob Wickman. He’s old enough that his first year as a closer was during the last Tribe dynasty.

The rotation is anchored by last night’s starter C.C. Sabathia, who was taken out of the game for what looks like a pulled stomach muscle. (The only surprise is that he found any muscle to pull there.) It isn’t hyperbole to say that there isn’t a team that would be hurt more by an injury to a starting pitcher than the Indians would be hurt by an injury to Sabathia. He’s their ace, he eats innings and he’s left-handed kryptonite to their division rivals. Plus, they haven’t acquired the arms they need around him.

Obtaining front line starting pitching can be difficult, but the same can’t be said for some of the offensive positions that have been left unaddressed. Last night Cleveland’s #2 hitter was Jason Michaels, a 29-year-old 4th outfielder that they obtained from the Phillies. He was starting in one corner outfield spot while the other was manned by Casey Blake, a 32-year-old who was best described as a “career minor leaguer” as recently as 2002. Blake was inadequate as a corner outfielder last year. Rather than replace him, they duplicated him.

The tragedy about Michaels and Blake starting in this lineup is that Cleveland is so strong offensively at defensive positions. Victor Martinez (C), Jhonny Peralta (SS) and Grady Sizemore (CF) are young, cheap and all-star caliber players. Two of the easiest positions to upgrade offensively and cheaply are the corner outfield spots, but Shapiro, for whatever reason, hasn’t made a move.

An outsider can only be so critical about non-moves, because sometimes there are not moves to be made. But two wide-open free agent seasons have passed, and the Indians have again been unable to find the last pieces of the championship puzzle. That may well have cost them a championship in the 90s, and a playoff spot last year. Another quiet offseason, combined with an injury to their most indispensable player last night, may mean another season wondering what could have been.

So find a place
Grab a space
And yell and scream for more...

Twins Takes

It doesn't make up for leaving Jason Bartlett off the 25 man roster, but Ron Gardenhire should get some credit for bringing Jason Kubel (way) north to Toronto. Kubel showed everything he needed to show in spring training, but his injury gave the Twins had the excuse they needed to send him to Rochester. Bringing him instead of a a designated left-handed pinch hitter took some courage.

It will take more courage to play him regularly. They'll get their chance tomorrow night as they face hard-throwing right-hander Roy Halladay. That's exactly the kind of pitcher that Michael Cuddyer should be resting against, and exactly the kind that Kubel needs to face. It will be interesting to see if Gardnhire is willing to bench his starting right fielder for the better matchup on opening night.

And more courage will be necessary if Kubel thrives, and earns more playing time. And yet more will be necessary if Cuddyer also thrives and Batista struggles. The inclusion of Kubel on this roster was the right thing to do, but raises all kinds of possible headaches for the manager. It'll be fun to watch Kubel, and equally fun to see how Gardenhire handles all this.


TBird41 said...

I don't know if fun is the right word for how Gardy will handle this. The Bartlett demotion doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

We shall see, though, we shall see. And, wow, is that Halladay-Santana matchup going to be fun to watch

SBG said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SBG said...

Does Kubel make it if Sierra isn't hurt?

No way.

brianS said...

if Sierra is hurt, why was he assigned to the Minor League camp instead of put on the DL?

spycake said...

It's my understanding that they wanted Sierra to play himself back into shape at AAA. Maybe they still want some more leeway to cut him at a later date, or maybe they just don't want to pay him a ML salary while he's still trying to make the team (he's only on a minor league deal so far).

tradewind said...

Sierra is assigned to the minor league camp instead of being put on the DL because he is under a minor league contract, that is, not on the 40-man roster, so there's no suitable disabled list for him.

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