The Reason The Tribe Waves The White Flag

Wanna know why your Cleveland Indians are a last place team and have been such a disappointment over the last three years? I’ve got the answer.

After months and months of over-thinking, trying to understand why GM Mark Shapiro does what he does, watching game after game of maddeningly inconsistent baseball, and seeing our high priced (or soon to be high priced), talented players be sent packing for prospects, I’ve figured it out.

Take your two index fingers on each hand and point them in the direction of two men – Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner.

Now stay with me here. It’s not as cut and dry as you think, but its true.

Since the day Grady Sizemore was brought up in 2005 (only because the Juan Gonzalez part deux experiment lasted one whole game) through the 2007 season, you could easily argue that Sizemore and the man they called Pronk (I say “called” because to me, Pronk doesn’t exist anymore) were the two most important offensive forces in the Indians rise to prominence.

Grady was considered a five-tool, lock all-star (he made three) who had the good looks and could do it all. Your all-American boy. His stats, while very good, didn’t tell the full story of his game. His speed changed the game, as did his range in center field. Not to mention, Sizemore had the “it” factor. During a four-year run when he was making his reputation as one of the games stars on the come, his numbers were impressively consistent:

2005: .289 BA/22 HR/81 RBI/111 runs/22 steals/.832 OPS

2006: .290 BA/28 HR/76 RBI/134 runs/22 steals/.908 OPS

2007: .277 BA/24 HR/78 RBI/118 runs/33 steals/.852 OPS

2008: .268 BA/33 HR/90 RBI/101 runs/38 steals/.876 OPS

On to Hafner. Look, I am not going to go all revisionist history on you. When the Indians handed him a four year, $57 million extension, I was on board. Little did I know that before that extension kicked in (before the ’09 season), the player that signed that deal no longer existed as we once knew him.

When Pronk burst onto the scene in 2004, he was a beast. A mountain of a man who was an RBI machine. Between ’04-’07, the guy AVERAGED 31 homers and 108 RBI. He was one of the most feared hitters in the American League and seemed like the next Jim Thome; an aw-shucks, country personality that the town seemed to eat up.

I for one thought that the Indians had these two guys as cornerstone players they could build around with more young talent. Then came the injuries and the under-achieving.

The 2008 season saw the Indians come in as a chic World Series pick. While there were various reasons that team fell way short of expectations (Fausto Carmona’s drop, the horrific bullpen, an awful April), Travis Hafner’s shoulder problems killed the middle of the order. He only played in 57 games and hit a putrid .197 with five homers. The Indians came on strong at the end when the games didn’t count and finished 81-81. At the time, we chalked Hafner’s bad season up to the shoulder injuries. Then we were lucky enough to listen to the “Pronk is “back” and fully healthy verbal diarrhea during the winter of 2009.

Even during the magical ’07 season, Hafner’s decline was beginning. He dropped from 42 to 24 homers despite 90 more at bats. His batting average fell from .308 to .266 and his OPS went from .836 to .628.

The 2009 season was ripe with expectations again. The Indians brass went “all in” and stretched their payroll as far as it could go with the additions of Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa. We all know how that turned out.  Another brutal start from an Eric Wedge team, coupled with another horrible bullpen and a group of young players who failed to take the next step ended in a 97 loss season and a fired manager.

Say what you want about what I just described above, but again, it was Hafner’s failures at the plate and Sizemore’s sub-par/injury marred season that were the real flies in the ointment. Hafner, who couldn’t play more than three games without resting the next (and he is a DH!), finished with 16 homers and 49 RBI’s in 338 AB’s. Grady, usually a picture of health, played in only 106 games hitting just .248 with 18 homers and 64 RBI’s in 436 AB’s.

Fast forward to 2010 and Grady was hitting a paltry .211/0 HR/13 RBI/128 AB’s before needing knee surgery which could cost him the rest of the year. After another winter of “Hafner is finally healthy” chatter, we’ve watched him put up pedestrian .264/4 HR/17 RBI/148 AB’s numbers. Is that what we can expect from a guy making $14 million and can’t play the field? Hafner has turned himself into Russell Branyan, except he can’t play anywhere and doesn’t have half the power Branyan does.

After reading what I just wrote, you may be asking “where are you going with all of this?” Here is the truth. If the Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore we saw during their four-year runs of greatness (Hafner ’04-’07, Sizemore ’05-’08) played the way they were supposed to, the Indians organization would not be what it is today.

You tell me how thing would have worked out if Grady’s 2008 season went in tandem with a Hafner .300/35 HR/120 RBI season? Think they would have been better than 81-81 and contended in a weak AL Central that the White Sox took with 89 wins? If that goes down, no way the Indians trade C.C. Sabathia in early July, Casey Blake in late July, and Paul Byrd in August. They ride it out and hang around in the race.

You can say “well then the Indians wouldn’t have Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta.” I say  maybe they could have played in October again and built off that momentum for 2009. After all, they did think they were a contender during that winter, signing Wood and trading for DeRosa. Not to mention, with Brad Grant now running the draft, watching C.C. and Blake leave would have netted them first-round compensatory picks. Grant’s first two drafts look promising with Lonnie Chisenhaul and Alex White.

2009 also could have been much much different. The Indians still entered the season as a favorite in the division with the reigning Cy Young award winner in Cliff Lee heading the staff, a real closer in Kerry Wood, young studs in Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera charging hard, a star in Sizemore and the alleged return to health from Hafner. Sizemore and Hafner did not hold up their ends of the bargain and it cost the offense dearly.

Again, if these two both have their peak year seasons, it is contagious. The lack of offense problem disappears last season, the team hangs around in the race long enough to sell more tickets; not saying the house will be full, but enough will be sold that the Indians aren’t hemorrhaging money, thus the Lee and Victor Martinez deals aren’t needed so badly.

The ugly truth about those trades is that the team was losing so much money and everyone knew it, that they were at a clear disadvantage when negotiating the deals. Lee’s “haul” didn’t bring any of the Phillies top four prospects. The Red Sox didn’t have to part with Clay Buckholz, their top pitching prospect whom the Indians allegedly demanded straight up for Vic The Stik. Instead, they received a tweener (Justin Masterson) who the Sox couldn’t figure out, and a top prospect coming off Tommy John Surgery (Nick Hagadone, who has the chance to be the best of the lot).

Sorry to say it, but Hafner and Sizemore’s failures to live up to their hype/potential as franchise cornerstones have forced the organization’s hand.

Now proceed to rip me to shreds in the comments!

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    Good stuff, TD – though I wouldn’t necessarily omit the third guy in the above image, even if he is your boy now after that romantic night at the GCSAs….

  • Lyon

    Good point Scott. If Jhonny would actually play beisbol every now and then offense wouldn’t be as dreadful.

    Every time I read one of these Indians posts I feel like the groundskeepers from Major League.

  • Chrisjake

    Sizemore plays the game all out. He’s sacraficed his body so often that its starting to catch up with him. Its a shame.

    Hafner on the other hand… I hate to put this out there, but his decline seemed to start right as the harsher steroid penalties came into effect.

    I too was on board with Hafner’s extension. Who wouldn’t have been with the years he was having. Its one of those things that just didnt work out for us…….again. [sigh]

    Right now, all I can hope for is that there is some team out there that wants a lazy infielder that waves at ground balls and spells his 1st name incorrectly come trading deadline.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com TD

    @ChrisJake – I think we all know the real reason for Pronks’ decline…

  • Nullster

    Hard to rip you TD when you’re right on the money especially if you were to add Peralta to the flop pile

  • http://www.dillonhamilton.com Dillon

    bingo.

  • MrCleaveland

    I don’t see any reason to rip any of that to shreds.

    Maybe Grady’s pressing because he thinks he has to do it all. As for Hafner, ’tis a mystery.

  • http://www.whitecollarredneck.com Narm

    While I still think Hafner is productive – in his scenario he did kill off those competitive years.

    Here are some other thoughts –

    What is Adam Miller pans out?

    What if Lee finds “it” in 2007 instead of 2008?

    What if Fausto keeps pitching in 2007 form?

    What if Peralta didn’t suck so, so bad?

    The payroll jumped from $61 mill in 2007 to $79 mill in 2008 (good for 16th in majors) so the Dolans proved their promise to spend when we were ready to compete. Unfortunately, a bunch of players underperformed and Shapiro wasted all that extra payroll on bad long-term deals (though, at the time they looked good) and bad FA signings (Delucci).

  • Wheel

    Sad but true…liked the ‘fly in the ointment’ reference.

  • Alex

    decline is offensive production = increased steroid testing, just saying

  • Chris

    I really cannot remember despising a player more than I do Peralta. He has this constant “I don’t give a sh#$” look on his face that makes me want to throw something at the TV every time I see him.

  • http://www.60bpm.com/ Robbie

    The Indians did what this market sized team is supposed to do: Lock-up the young talent early on when it looks like it’s panning-out. Unfortunately, Peralta and Hafner were signed long-term after their final productive seasons.

    Which is why the cap-less MLB hardly interests me anymore. Oh well… the market will bear what it can bear.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-6513-Cleveland-Sports-Examiner clevexaminer

    Chris- I can’t stand Jhonny O-fer. He’s the king of stat-padding; getting more meaningless hits than any other player I’ve ever seen.

    At least Sizemore gives it his all. I hope he can recover, but two seasons in a row of injury doesn’t look good. At least he’ll be cheap to re-sign once his contract is up.

  • Omega King

    The only thing I take issue with is the concept that the Indians were losing a ton of money – maybe they were. But Dolan, with STO, is RAKING IN THE CASH. It comes down to Dolan valuing his wallet more than winning (which is his prerogative), so I don’t think that the “losing money” argument is valid to excuse the Tribe getting totally rooked in the trades they made last year.

  • http://clevelandhope.blogspot.com Cleveland’s Hope

    We can blame the coach, gm, owner, players, etc… but until the MLB does something about the salary disparities the Indians mostly won’t be competing.

  • Ken Barrett

    This makes me want to take down the poster hanging up in my classroom I teach in… Grady and Hafner, ough….

  • Tim

    Looks like your article is inspiring the Indians to have a perfect game thrown against them. Peralta just struck out on a pitch that was nowhere near the plate.

  • Tim

    Ahahahahaha Jim Joyce takes away perfect game from Gallaraga. It makes me feel better to see another team get screwed.

  • Jack

    @Tim – Not cool, dude.

  • BisonDeleSightings

    Hooray umps!

  • Tim

    The ball did roll around in his glove a little bit before it came to rest, but I still think it stopped before Donald’s foot got to the base. And Jack, lighten up, that comment was said to bitterly commiserate, not to laugh at them. I hate a lot of the Tigers, but I feel bad for Galarraga for sure. I have long considered Jim Joyce to be the worst umpire in the league, so I know what it’s like, although not on this scale.

  • Jack

    @Tim – Haha, that was supposed to be lighter. I was going to make a joke in the second sentence about your pic which displays a similar play. Sadly, I sent before finishing by bumping the laptop mouse pad. But I was too lazy to go back and add it.

  • Tim

    Haha ok, my bad. Tone is so easy to misinterpret without the sarcasm font. I’m just glad they got the call in my picture right. This is such a dark time for the Indians; it’s no wonder Joyce missed the call- how could this Indians team be involved in a “perfect” game?

  • Gren (not Glen)

    I still remember ESPN talking up Hafner as a 3rd place contender in the MVP race one year. Shame he went from that to a waste of a roster spot.

  • Mallalubba

    if if’s and buts were candy and nuts…

  • DK

    shappetti.

  • Summit Omar

    Great analysis! I agree that is the start of the snowball that has turned into the avalanche of misery that is the Tribe.

  • SmithBob

    Hafner “pronk” = product of the steroid era. As soon as the media spot light began to shine on the use of steroids in baseball, Hafner’s game went from great to just plain bad. Hell, just look at pictures of the guy from 06-07 and compair them to now, he was a beast back then and now he is just a skinny guy who can’t hit a fastball.

  • Clevelander100

    While you are 100 percent correct about what you point out about Grady and Travis, the entire mess really points to two things—the management failures of Mark Shapiro and his team, and the under financing of the Dolan Family. There needs to be MLB rules about ownership that does not allow for the purchase of a team unless the new owners have 4 years of the average budget of all teams in escrow. If the ownership group wants to add to the budget, that’s fine, but the rule has to be that there is a yearly baseline that MUST be available.

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