July 24, 2014

The Masochism of September: The Indians’ Final Month

I’m not sure how other Tribe Scribes deal with meaningless September baseball, but for me, this is one of the most difficult times of the year to write.  It’s too early to write about fun off-season stuff like arbitration hearings or player options or free agents.  It also feels premature to write any season recap pieces, since, you know, the season isn’t actually over yet.  By the same token, it’s way too late to bring up any sort of positional changes or batting order issues; what’s the point in that, really?

To top it all off, even if I manage to come up with some really great idea or angle, it’s likely that half my audience will have that glazed-over, football season look that seems to permeate the North Shore this time of year.  You know it well, I’m sure: something between hope and anger, usually dulled by the effects of cheap grain alchohol.

But as the Tigers continue to play their way into the upper echelon of the AL playoff race, there are still some storylines I’ll be paying attention to.

First, I just can’t get over this Matt LaPorta thing.  This has to be his last stint in the Major Leagues for the foreseeable future, right?  Last week, I drove home the point that he’s been arguably the least valuable player in all of baseball over the last two years.  To me, this suggests that there’s no way the Indians can enter another season with him on the 25-man roster.  Furthermore, since he still has an option year left, he won’t be exposed to waivers, so no other team can give him a shot.  In short, I have to think that the smart money has him serving the rest of his baseball career with the Columbus Clippers.  I say all this only to mention that I’ll be watching how LaPorta deals with what he must know is his Swan Song in Major League Baseball.  Morbid? Yes.  But beneath me?  By no means.

Second, I want to see what Grady Sizemore can do in the last month.  Small sample sizes being what they are, I sort of hope the front office has already made up its mind on how it will deal with Sizemore’s impending $9 million option.  Nonetheless, I have a feeling that this last month might play some role in the Indians’ strategy—especially if they choose to decline the option and negotiate a new deal.  It’s been written a thousand times, but a healthy and productive Grady Sizemore is worth well over $9 million; we’re just not quite certain about either of those adjectives right now.  Perhaps September can clear up some of those issues for us.

In a more subjective vein, I want to see how Manny Acta deals with his young team, now that they are out of contention.  Do they continue to play hard?  Do they improve their defensive focus, which at times has been woefully poor for swaths of the season? In short, can Manny Acta do anything in the last month to solidify a contract extension?  I’m fairly certain that he should be extended.  But then again, I didn’t want to fire Eric Wedge.  I believe a stable presence in the clubhouse is necessary, especially with a group of mostly young players.

Finally, I want to watch Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis continue to develop—especially against left handed pitching.  It’s crucial to use these last few weeks to give them as many at bats as possible.  It was a good sign to see Lonnie go yard twice last week against Mark Buerhle, and if this team is going to have any shot to score runs next year, we’re going to need to see some sort of reasonable presence against southpaws.  Is that asking a lot from two young left handed bats getting their first taste of MLB action?  Sure it is.  But giving those at bats to anyone else at this point in the season is a waste of Dellucian proportions.  Or is it Kobayashian proportions?  Whatever.

There will be time for the post-mortems of this season—time to look back on what was, what could’ve been and what might be next season.  For now though, I’m going to sit back and watch this team play out the last few weeks.  There’s plenty to watch for, even if it won’t be a division title.

  • tsm

    “meaningless September games”….not for me. I have bets with 3 of my friends that the Tribe will win 77 games this year. Only 5 more to go! I was one of the few fans shifting back & forth from the Browns to the Tribe this past Sunday on the tube.
    On a more serious note, Duncan should be in their plans for next year. He has power from the right side, and can be used at 1b, of and dh. If he can hit .270 he would be good to keep.

  • mgbode

    LaPorta – Alex Gordon is the only hope we have that Matty Boy can become a useful MLB player (top10 pick that was terrible for years and magically became a good player when switched to the OF)

    Sizemore – to the option: Just.Say.No.

    Acta – hopefully he drives home the point to finish above .500 to the team.

    Lonnie & Kipnis – really want to see them finish strong just for the optimism of the offseason

    Bullpen – you didn’t mention, but they have been shaky and over-used lately. hopefully, we can let some of the youngsters pitch some here and see if we might have a few more gems for next year’s bullpen stashed away.

  • GhostToMost

    I hope they decline Grady’s option and offer him a deal similar to what Jeff Francouer got from the Royals. 1 year deal around 2-3 million with an option for a 2nd year with a pay raise if things go well. Maybe they could include performance incentives, x amount of dollars for making an all star team, playing 130 games, etc…

    I dont know if Grady would come back on a reduced salary, I almost think he would rather go elsewhere for a fresh start if he has to take a paycut, but we shall see. I might be crazy but I still hope he’s back next season.

  • Scotty

    Definitely should not be thinking about a coaching change…

  • JM

    See what Grady does in September? I’m gonna guess sit half the games and not do anything in games he plays. He hasn’t been the same player for years now.

  • mgbode

    I know he takes alot of flak at times, but there is little denying that he has done alot of good things as well. Shapiro moving onto a big market club and taking some of our methodologies to use with a much bigger budget is intriguing as an idea (and scary in that he’ll be taking away some of the draft prospects and FAs that we would also covet).

    note: this is only a 1way interest at this point (shapiro to cubs)

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/page/rumblings110913/detroit-tigers-roaring-postseason

    —————————————————————

    We’ve heard lots of famous names connected with the Cubs’ general manager gig. Well, here’s one fascinating name we haven’t heard: Indians president (and longtime GM) Mark Shapiro.

    According to people in the game who are close to Shapiro, he would be “intrigued” by the Cubs’ job, and has always looked at the Cubs as a special franchise. Those people describe Shapiro as being happy where he is and not looking to leave Cleveland. But the Cubs’ job represents such a unique set of compelling circumstances, they believe that if Shapiro were approached, he “probably would listen.”

    There are no indications the Cubs have spoken with him. And when Rumblings contacted Shapiro, he declined comment. But he seems to fit the profile of the kind of GM that new owner Tom Ricketts is hunting for.

    Shapiro grew up around the game, spent nearly two decades working in baseball operations in Cleveland before becoming club president, was in the forefront in embracing new technologies, has exceptional people skills and is still only 43. So he is a name that “makes a lot of sense for them,” said an official of one AL team. “I could see the combination of the baseball challenge, along with the Cubs’ other challenges, having great appeal to him.”