Do the Indians Have a Leader?

Leadership is a funny thing when it comes to baseball.  First, it’s nearly impossible to quantify, which leaves stat geeks like me at a bit of loss.  Second, you can’t really lead a team if you are, ya know, bad at baseball; the other players don’t want to rally behind a guy that isn’t any good.  Finally, despite all the things a manager can do, he can’t really lead the team by himself: good teams always have players who police the clubhouse, teach rookies how to play the game the right way, and stand up for other players during confrontations.

And this brings me to last night’s situation with the Red Sox.  As TD touched on this morning, Josh Beckett was being his normal, jerky self last night.  The Indians were probably already looking for some blood after Boston took out Carlos Santana the night before, but Beckett started head-hunting in the first inning, hitting Shelley Duncan.  Then, two innings later, Beckett drilled Shin-Soo Choo in the knee.

It was on.  The Indians’ bullpen threw at both David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre, and benches cleared.

But who was leading the group?  Turns out it was Shelley Duncan and Coach Steve Smith (he of “The Amazing Race.” Indeed.)

So the fracas got me thinking about which players, if any, are leaders on this team.  Now that we’ve shipped off most of our veterans, the Indians are a young team, without much major league experience.  Let’s vet the leadership candidates.

Asdrubal Cabrera: Manny Acta has nominated Cabrera for the leadership role.  The question is whether he can do it.  Believe it or not, Cabrera has been in the major leagues for less than three years, making his debut on August 8, 2007.  On the other hand, he’s one of the longest-tenured position players on the active roster.  That’s some serious turnover.

I like the idea of Cabrera as a leader, especially for some of the young players who are coming up through the ranks.  Cabrera had his work ethic questioned early in his career, and was sent down to AAA in 2008.  He took the demotion well, worked hard, lost some weight, and came back in better shape and ready to play.  That sort of resilience could go a long way with someone like Luis Valbuena and Michael Brantley.

Nonetheless, Cabrera doesn’t strike me as a vocal leader.  I remember when Mark Shapiro and Eric Wedge used to talk about Grady Sizemore leading by example.  That’s great, but you also need someone to fire up the clubhouse, and quietly going about your business doesn’t seem to do that.

Shin-Soo Choo: If being good at baseball were the same as leadership, we’d look no further than Choo.  He is the best player on the team, by far, and works hard every day to get better.  I do wonder if Choo is a fiery leader, which might not be entirely fair.  He seems so consistent, so level, so quiet, that it’s hard for me to imagine him leading the clubhouse.  And there’s also the language barrier, which tends to isolate Asian players especially.  I would love for Choo to be the leader on this team, but something tells me that he isn’t.

Shelley Duncan: I have to say, I loved Shelley Duncan getting in Josh Beckett’s face last night.  It reminded me of the Spring Training fight he got in with the Tampa Bay Rays a few years back by sliding hard into second base.  Another plus?  Duncan is the oldest player on the active roster—the only guy born in the 1970s, believe it or not.  Maybe the kids will start looking up to Shelley, and he does seem to bring some fire and competitiveness to the team, so that’s a plus.

But it’s hard to rally around a guy who’s spent nearly his entire career in the minors.  Despite Duncan’s apparent work ethic and affable nature, he’s never been able to stick on a major league roster, and that has to cost him some credibility with some of the kids.  Regardless, I loved his performance last night, and if we can keep him on in a utility role next year, I’d be fine with it.

Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner: Ahh, the grizzled (and injured) vets.  They’re obviously both going to be around next season, and will represent more major league experience than anyone else on the team.  They may both be able to offer quiet leadership, but sooner or later they’re going to have to perform on the field, which neither has done for quite some time.  And either way, they’re both out of consideration for this season as long as they linger on the DL.

Carlos Santana: Until he was hurt, Santana looked to be the most likely player to lead the Indians going forward.  He stepped into the middle of a big league lineup, performed consistently, handled the pitching staff, and even polished his English to the point he could speak with his pitchers and the press.  I still believe that going forward, he’ll be a vocal and emotional leader on this team, but there’s still no word on how much time he’ll lose to this injury, and we need leaders now.

Fausto Carmona: Another guy who should be ready to step into a leadership position.  He’s been with this club through the highs and lows.  He’s had his confidence and mechanics completely overhauled, and now he finds himself as the anchor of the youngest rotation in baseball.  These are all good things.

But I find two major reasons to doubt Fausto’s leadership.  First, he’s a starting pitcher, which means he doesn’t play everyday.  Not that he can’t still lead by example, but it’s hard to have a consistent impact when you’re not playing most of the time.  Second, I still don’t know if Fausto has the emotional makeup to put a team on his back.  I know I’ve harped on this before, but I still think that Fausto is a fragile guy, and I don’t know if he’s ready for the additional pressure that would come with being a “team leader.”

Chris Perez: Pure Rage.  I like his fire and competitiveness.  I’m not a huge fan of him throwing people under the bus.  Time will tell if he can grow into a leader, but I think it’s safe to say he’s a definite upgrade at the back of the ‘pen.  For now, I’ll take it.

Lou Marson: Just kidding.

I’m excited by what this team might become, both for the rest of this season and going into 2011.  We’re going to see things that Yankee fans and Red Sox fans rarely do: a group of young players coming together, trying to make an organic team.  That mix can take some time to gel, for leaders to emerge.  Next season the Indians might be led by anyone.  But it’s going to need to be somebody.  Someone will need to step up into the void that hasn’t been filled since Victor’s departure.

In other words, we’ll know when this team has a leader when we don’t have to think about it anymore.  And I can’t wait.

  • JNeids

    “And there’s also the language barrier, which tends to isolate Asian players especially.”

    But their league-assigned translators would translate their pep-talks, giving them a better chance to be the leader over Hispanic players.


  • mgbode

    just taking Santana’s place in the lineup was enough to give Lou Marson the power for a HR.

    Santana is the leader.

  • Narm

    Beckett is the Garnett of baseball – he loves to puff out his chest when he knows he doesn’t have to back it up or is playing against an inferior opponent.

  • Robbie

    I think it’s Asdrubal Cabrera, possibly combined with Carlos Santana* as he develops. Asdrubal is the real deal and the true heir to the SS position that was vacated with Omar’s leaving. Without Peralta around to stumble around and break his bones, I could see him as a lock at SS and the beginning of the line-up for years to come.

    Choo is entering/has entered his arbitration years, no? If he doesn’t sign a long term contract, I would assume that means he’s leaning towards taking his talents elsewhere.

    * I must have missed any discussion on his injury. I read somewhere about a severely sprained ligament on the outside of the leg and he’s on the 15-day DL. This is good, right?

  • Jon

    @ Robbie: This is Choo’s final pre-arbitration year. Same with Cabrera. They’ll both get raises this off-season, whether in the form of arbitration settlements or new contracts.

    Just a side note, but with the escalators in Grady’s, Fausto’s and Hafner’s salary (combined about $4.6 million more than those three made this year) coupled with significant raises for Choo and Asdrubal, we’ll eat a good portion of Jake’s $11 million “excess”.

    That means if we keep payroll similar to this season’s, we can add about $11 million in salary (Wood’s salary). I’ll be curious how that plays out.

  • TD

    dont forget, the leader of the 2007 Tribe – Trot Nixon. And he SUCKED. Shelley is my leader!!!

  • Largebill

    I hesitate to point at any one player and say “yep, that’s the team leader.” However, I have no problem identifying who can’t be the leader. Can’t be team leader from the trainers room. That eliminates (for now) the DL guys. It also eliminates the guys who sit themselves over minor pain. Team leader needs to be tough enough to play banged up. Not saying injured. just banged up. Can’t be an overly quiet guy. Sure, you lead by example, but you can’t be THE LEADER only by example. Can’t be a back up. If you’re not good enough to play instead of another guy then you’re not going to be listened to by all.

  • Harv 21

    “you can’t really lead a team if you are, ya know, bad at baseball”

    That’s right. Hart brought in Eddie Murray and Dennis Martinez and Orel for leadership while they could still play. Aaron Boone, Trot Nixon, Mike Redmond .. that would be like Hart bringing in Wayne Kirby to be a “leader” rather than just a utility guy.

    The obvious problem with established, good players who role model for the youngsters is that they generally get market value multi-year contracts. When an Indian gets there (Victor), time to say bye-byes.

  • Mark

    Anytime I see a PhotoShopped Simpson’s reference, I am happy.

  • Gbwoy

    I don’t know about the leader, but Duncan should definitely be the enforcer on the team.

  • Max

    ding! ding! ding!….and in this corner…weighing in at 250 pounds…Shel-ly Duncan!

    I would hope his inability to stick to a team, while keeping the faith and toiling away in the minors would be more of an inspiration to the younger guys. Moreover, I hope it would possibly be a signal to them that they may have more talent than he does (since they are in the big leagues at such an early age), and therefore they should not waste their opportunity.

    I hope.

  • SxDx

    I like Shelley Duncan, call me crazy but I think he could be more than just a utility guy if given the opportunity.

    To be fair, Duncan has never gotten a chance to play everyday in the bigs. He had a few cups of coffee in New York, where the Yankees are obviously stacked and just didnt need him. Hes 31 years old but hes only had 263 at bats in the majors. In fact, Shelly has 117 at bats this season which is far and away his career high. He never had more than 74 in New York. I dont know, Ive been wrong a million times before and I could be wrong about this, but I think Duncan could be a 25-30 home run guy if he was given an opportunity to play everyday. Id rather see Shelley DH’ing for the Tribe next season than Travis Hafner. But thats just me.

  • Robbie

    I’m changing my vote to Andy Marte. He’s tearing it up tonight!

  • Karsten

    I would say Grady going forward, but I CAN’T STAND how emotionless and quiet he is. If he started wearing his heart out on his sleeve a little more, and pep talking the others, he would be the perfect guy to rally around when he’s healthy. Otherwise, Fausto is a charismatic guy when he’s not pitching. He always plays around in the dugout, and does the whole towel and gatorade thing for the guys who hit home runs… he’s definitely got a great attitude, and I think with continued success he’s a reasonable choice for at least the pitching staff to look up to.