July 23, 2014

On Losing (Hope): Despair and the Indians’ Losing Streak

I realized something during the 14-3 shellacking laid on the Indians Monday night. I’ve written about this team since the beginning of the 2008 season—not quite five full seasons. This is the third losing streak of at least ten games that I’ve covered.

This seems like a lot, right? I mean, three losing streaks of at least 10 games in less than five seasons? I don’t know. Seems like a lot to me, anyway.

And when I tweeted that fact, someone asked me if this most recent one didn’t feel a bit different. A bit rougher. A bit more disheartening. He suggested that it might be because this losing streak did not involve many close games—that we were getting clobbered most nights, rather than losing by the slimmest of margins.

On the one hand, he was quite obviously right. The team has been destroyed during the losing streak in historic fashion, as laid out nicely by Jordan Bastian. But that isn’t why this streak has been particularly hard to endure. At least not for me.

No. This streak is different for me because of the context. In 2008 and 2009, the team was supposed to be bad—it had been designed that way, starting with the Sabathia trade and culminating with the Cliff and Vic trades a year later. But even more than that, the badness seemed to signify a plan toward a future that was…well…less bad. We were forced to endure those years because we had restocked our farm system with talent that had to mature. We watched helplessly as players like Mark Grudzielanek and Russell Branyan and Tomo Okha and Niuman Romero and Wyatt Toregas slowly sucked the life out of us. But at least there was a supposed point the misery. At least it felt purposeful.

All we have now is the detritus of a failed plan. A window that slid shut without warning, while we were hanging our heads over the sill, idly thinking playoff thoughts.

And this is what’s got me so down these days. The Indians have started to DFA the older players, signaling a changing of the guard. But there’s no Santana to call up, as there was in 2010. We have no Brantley waiting in the wings, no Pomeranz to dream on. There will be no #FreeRussCanzler campaigns. Or if there are, we really need to get a life.

The upper levels of the farm system are as barren as they’ve been in years. We’re staring down the barrel of losing our best position player to free agency without any viable replacement. Our starting rotation has an ERA over 5.00, with no projectable arms anywhere above the Carolina league to help them out. Our best pitcher was obtained in a straight-up trade for two months of Austin Kearns, and he allowed ten runs in one inning on Monday night. Our best prospect is 17 years old, and even by the most optimistic assessments, he’s a half decade from reaching the Majors. God only knows whether that will coincide with a contention window. We just can’t think that far ahead.

I hate to sound so hopeless. As much as I think this season is an emblematic failure for the front office, I’m also hopeful that next season doesn’t have to be such. Things can turn on a dime, as we’ve seen in the last few weeks. It wasn’t so long ago that I thought this team had a strong core of players, and hey, I can guarantee I’ll think it again before too much longer. They’re called hallucinegenics, and I highly recommend them.

But I think it’s still pretty telling where we find ourselves in August of 2012, halfway into the contention cycle initiated by the Ubaldo trade last July: no team in the American League has been outscored by a bigger margin than the Cleveland Indians. Another way to write this would be to say the Indians are currently the worst team in the League. When they were primed to contend.

I’ve written about some pretty crummy baseball in Cleveland over the last five years. That’s nothing new. But for the first time, I’m starting to feel defeated by it—not because of what I see in front of me, but because of what I don’t.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rick.roscoe.14 Rick Roscoe

    I suggest cutting all marketing and advertising. The Indians are in danger of losing even the core diehard fans now. To stabilize that drop in attendance, only winning will do. Put every M and A dollar into the purchase of free agents next year. The Indians had better turn it around, and fast. Do you think, perhaps, it was Dolan’s idea all along to kill the franchise here in Cleveland (a la the movie “Major League”) and take it to another town. What a terrible and dishonorable slap in the face to the fans and city of Cleveland.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rick.roscoe.14 Rick Roscoe

    I think Chisenhall will be OK. He was just starting to hit when, you guessed it, a season ending injury (so what else is new?). The Indians have played well at times this season, but baseball is a game of constant adjustment. And with 162 games, you have to be consistent. If you play well for 25 games, how can you play lousy for 11 games in a row? Lack of consistency.

  • matt underwood

    Terrible idea – Bob Feller was an A-Hole.

  • Steve

    The Rockies were and are terrible and needed a rebuild, and only moved Jimenez for a king’s ransom. Or are we going to question every player who is ever traded?

  • Steve

    I always go back and forth on the bad drafting. Guys like Miller, Aubrey and Snyder were considered fantastic picks who got hurt. No doubt there have been mistakes (thinking they could move Crowe to 2B), but there’s a lot more at hand, and I’m worried that there is a systemic problem in developing these younger draftees at the low levels.

  • Dee P

    Now Knapp released? ugh…

  • Steve

    If the leaked financials are to be believed, marketing, PR, admin and general expenses cost ~15 mill/year. Considering that marketing is only a part of that, and you can’t gut it completely, you might be able to sign one perfectly mediocre player with that cost savings. Sure, I guess it could help, but not much.

  • mgbode

    thanks for the heads up. and ugh indeed.

  • markn95

    I agree with you BuckeyeDawg on Kipnis, Cabrera, Santana, Brantley, and Chisenhall being a pretty good core. I just wish one or more of them had a little more power. Santana looked like he would be that middle-of-the-order bat last year but up until a few weeks ago, there was no sign of that 30 HR guy this year. For times these last 2 years when Hafner has been healthy (don’t laugh–there’s been a couple 2-3 week periods here and there when his OPS has been in the high .900′s) this offense has been actually really fun to watch. The question is whether you can obtain that on the FA market. Is there another Willingham-type late bloomer out there? Probably not and almost certainly not at $7M per year. I’m not totally against trading Choo or Perez if we can get back a middle of the order bat who can knock out 25 and drive in 100. although my bet is that the organization would use Choo and Perez to acquire starting pitching because that’s the more urgent need.

  • mgbode

    ok, that is fair. but, if it is a systematic issue of developing the talent then it is a failure of the FO to realize and fix that issue.

    i usually hate a top-to-bottom cleanout because it signifies a couple of years of pain (at least), but I think that is what the Tribe needs right now.

  • nj0

    Ugh.

  • Steve

    Yeah, we’re due for another Millwood or Pavano

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Pardon moi Mr. Fashion plate! ;-)

  • Dakota

    Please also add that we have lost to some teams that were not even playing well until they played us and pummeled us.

  • Steve

    Right, I’m not saying that everything is a-ok with the drafting and things will be fine.

    I’m not sure about cleaning everything out. Beg Belcher to come back, absolutely, shake up the scouting and lower level coaches, sure. But Antonetti has been highly desired for the last few years, and our front office is widely respected.

    The biggest issue with the cleanout is that so many people demand it, saying they won’t come back without it. But they won’t say that they will come back. Imagine if this team went through a Browns-esque decade, revamping every few years. There would be no one at the park.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Put another check in the column for bad player evaluations as the Indians released Jason Knapp today. For those who forgot Knapp was one of the four the Indians received for Cliff Lee from the Phillies in 2009. At the time Knapp was injured with arm problems.
    http://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2012/08/tribe_releases_jason_knapp_key.html

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    But Antonetti has been highly desired for the last few years, and our front office is widely respected

    SAYS WHO? YOU BETTER PROVIDE PROOF SINCE YOUR THE ONE WHO ALWAYS LIKES TO CALL ME OUT FOR MY UNSUBSTANTIATED OPINIONS.

  • Steve

    That’s not a bad player evaluation, that’s not being able to get an MRI on a guy before you trade for him.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    So bad on so many levels.

  • Selltheteam

    How do you write an article like this and fail to mention the ownership??? They are the lone reason that we have no hope and no future. Want proof? Then replace anyone in the FO or Acta with anyone you choose. No one could win with this team, under this payroll.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    This is like debate a few friends were having on Facebook – when was rock bottom. Was it the Perez blown save a couple days ago? The next one? This huge drubbing? Or was it when they thought signing Sizemore was their best option back in the summer?

    Sure – Brantly, Kipnis, Asdrubal, Santana, and Chisenhall could all be a solid core. Sure, Pestano in the ‘pen, Masterson, and a turned around Ubaldo and healthy Carrasco could be the start of a nice staff. If it was all perfect.

    But the reality is that none of those are top-level studs. Those guys would all be great… one level back. Masterson as my #2? Awesome. Stick a Ryan Braun in that lineup? Suddenly everyone looks better.

    The problem is that Cleveland will NEVER be able to get such a player under the current MLB structure. We love to focus on the Dolans, and Antonetti, and Shapiro, and Chris Perez’s mouth, but we’ve given up on the pathetic structure that is Major League Baseball. Yes, the Dolans should get out of it, but that’s only because the league sucks so much.

    The Indians were hoping that Matt LaPorta would be the Ryan Braun that people thought he would, and with that piece (and Choo) they’d look a whole lot better. But unless everything goes perfectly for a small-market club, it’s over.

    And now, it’s over. There’s no real turnaround – no farm system, nothing. They have to hope the current guys net them a ton in talent in a couple years, and then they can rebuild again. Maybe.

  • Steve

    What is? They couldn’t get an MRI result because he never had one, and you can’t perform medical procedures on guys on other teams. It’s an incredibly bad break, and if I were Shapiro would seriously make me reconsider any other trades with the Phillies, but I’m not sure what you could have done to prevent it.

  • Steve

    Maybe you’ve missed the broad discussions on ownership that litter this site. Maybe you just wanted to rant. Feel better now?

  • sgtkickarse

    I was just messing…making fun of what someone posts on the Plain Dealer everytime there is an article about the Tribe. I don’t care where Santana bats, he has regressed at the plate and mostly sucks behind it.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    As many times as I heard and read about this trade I don’t ever remember a single instance where this mentioned. Since your such a believer in facts care to direct me to where I can read this for myself? I distinctly remember hearing and reading that Knapp was injured at the time of the injury so even if what you say is true shame on the Cleveland Indians for accepting him in the trade. The real problem is I seem to remember the Indians talking Knapp’s inclusion in the deal up at the time but then again they’ve always been good at talk.

  • Wheel

    Agree, but you need to add Shapiro. He has been poison to this organization for years. And I can’t help but think he is still pulling the shots.

  • Wheel

    Good reminder that it’s easy to judge now. To me, the real question that needs to be answered is, how can the Indians have NO ONE in their entire minor league system that is ready for the bigs? It is an organization-wide failure. Mr. Dolan, some one needs to be help accountable for this disaster.