It is funny to me how once the World Series rolls around, most people I know are all but done with baseball. It is almost the exact opposite of the NBA and NFL where the sport becomes even more popular at the end. In case you missed it, the San Francisco Giants used their incredible pitching, great defense, and clutch hitting to dispose of the big bat lineup of the Detroit Tigers. On the east side of Cleveland, as the clock struck midnight, your boy was lying in bed with a smile.
The free-spending Tigers desperately wanted to win a World Series for owner Mike Illitch (and his hair). Illitch, Dave Dombwoski, and Manager Jim Leyland thought they were built for this title. They had their pitching lined up the way they wanted it and came in smokin’ hot off a sweep of the New York Yankees. The Giants, who faced six straight elimination games and won them all heading in, seemed to be the big underdog. Their best two pitchers wouldn’t go until games three and four and they were sending Barry Zito up against Justin Verlander in Game One.
If you had the Giants sweeping four straight with all of that factored in, then you are either a liar or you had a copy of “Grey’s Sports Almanac.”
If anything was learned in this series, it’s that once again great pitching always beats great hitting. Two years ago the Giants did the exact same thing to the Texas Rangers and their All-Star laden lineup. Need I remind you of the 1995 World Series?
There is no doubt the Tigers will be back though. They have too much talent not to, not to mention an owner who has already proven he wants a World Series before he dies so badly that he will deficit spend to the hilt to do so. The top three of their rotation, Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, and Max Scherzer are all back and in their primes. Anibal Sanchez, who was so good after the Tigers after coming over at the trade deadline from Miami, is a free agent, but expect the Tigers to do what they can to bring him back. Dombrowski already has said re-signing Sanchez is a top priority. With Rick Porcello in the fifth spot, the Tigers rotation will be amongst the best in baseball. Throw in the return of DH Victor Martinez and 2013 could be their year.
In the meantime, your very own Cleveland Indians, with new manager Terry Francona in tow, get to hang in the same division with the Motor City Kitties. They too have decisions to make in a winter than could change the course of the franchise for the next five years. It’s obvious to anyone who has watched this team that there are gaping holes in left field, first base, and in the rotation.
The first of these big decisions will come in just three days when the Indians have to choose to either pick up or decline the team options on three players. Each of the three have had a big impact on the organization during their time in Cleveland. Lets examine them one by one.
Travis Hafner – $13 million option, $2.75 million buyout. Will the Indians pick up his option? No.
Ah, Pronk. He was such a cuddly figure wasn’t he? The gentle giant of a man hit moon shot homers and was passed the torch from Jim Thome as the next great Indians left-handed slugger. Hafner earned that four-year, $57 million extension that wouldn’t kick in fully until the 2009 campaign. His 2008 salary would get a bump as a part of the contract as well. At the time, most people lauded the move, as the Indians were actually ponying up to keep one of their own.
Instead, essentially from the second he signed the deal, Hafner’s career took a dip straight down. On top of the diminishing skills, he could never stay healthy. From 2008 to 2012, Pronk played in an average of 86 games a season. The most games he appeared in was 118 in 2010. The most homers he hit in a season during that five-year span was 16. His strikeouts went up and his walks went down.
During the final year of the deal (2012) when he was healthy, he was close to an automatic out in clutch spots. He hit just .128 (10-78) with no homers with runners in scoring position. With runners on, Pronk hit .161 (18-112) with just six extra-base hits. He was also 0-9 with the bases loaded and hit .191 against lefties.
So lets see, the Indians could exercise a $13 million option on a 35-year old, glorified singles hitter, who can’t play the field and hasn’t been able to appear in more than 118 games since 2007 or pay him $2.75 million to walk.
Put it this way, if they pick up the option, they should cease to exist as a Major League Baseball franchise. They obviously won’t, but the biggest concern I have is that they would bring him back for another year at a low salary. I’ve said this until I am blue in the face – it is time to move on from the Travis Hafner/Grady Sizemore era.
Roberto Hernandez – $6 million option. Will the Indians pick up his option? No.
Fauxberto’s situation is much different from that of Hafner’s. The Indians are bereft of any sort of rotation depth and will be on the market for cheap starting options for 2013. The question is do you ride with the devil you know or the devil you don’t?
Hernandez’s situation has been well documented but to me it comes down to execution on the field. When Roberto Hernandez was the hard-sinker balling machine in 2007 known as Fausto Carmona, picking up this option seemed like all but a formality. He was going to be the future of the rotation. We all knew CC Sabathia would leave via free agency. Carmona was supposed to be the next ace in line. With Fausto and Cliff Lee 1-2 for the next few years, the Indians window would be wide open.
Instead, Carmona’s game fell straight off the table, he was a mental mess, and then we came to find out he was not who we thought he was, both on and off the field. Other than the 2007 gem season, the best Fauxberto could be was a back end of the rotation, innings-eater. That’s a far cry from what we all hoped he would be. Obviously we didn’t see much of him in 2012 thanks to the identity issues plus the league suspension, but when we did, he made just three starts (allowing 12 earned runs in 15.1 IP) and missed the rest of the season with an ankle injury. A year earlier he was 7-15 with an ERA of 5.25 and a WHIP of 1.40.
So explain to me again why the Indians would pick up his option? The only reason to do so is that $6 million is essentially just above the going market for back end of the rotation free-agent starting pitchers with a decent track record. To me, I’d rather see Corey Kluber at under $1 million dollars do the same thing.
Ubaldo Jimenez – $5.75 million option - Will the Indians pick up his option? Yes
Ubaldo has been a hot-buttom topic since he set foot in Cleveland. I, along with many others on this site, have dissected him over and over. Talk about an enigma. Tribe GM Chris Antonetti decided to put all of his eggs in Ubaldo’s basket a season and a half ago in attempts to get his team a front of the rotation starter, who was under club control through 2014. He sent his two best pitching prospects to Colorado to get him. It was a gigantic risk that to say the least has been a complete disaster.
Not only has Antonetti’s talent evaluation skills taken a major hit, but you look up and at times question how could he have taken on a guy with such obvious red flags while giving up so much to do it? The Rockies were more than willing to give him up with a club friendly contract in his prime years, and their wasn’t any hesitation of questioning why?
I can’t get into this again. I’m already fuming. Regardless, Ubaldo as an Indian has been essentially a fourth or fifth starter. The stats tell part of the story. 42 starts/13-21/5.32 ERA/1.57 WHIP/205 K’s/122 BB’s.
On top of that, Jimenez is a five and fly guy who taxes the bullpen and a mechanical disaster.
With all of that said, the Indians have invested so much in him, giving up on Ubaldo now wouldn’t be prudent. $5.75 million is well worth giving him another shot to turn things around under a new pitching coach, yet to be determined. Francona is known as a master motivator with his players and maybe he can help light a fire under Jimenez. There were times last season where he looked like a beast. Yes, they were very few and far between, but if Ubaldo could ever get it all together, he would still be a very productive pitcher.
Maybe a renaissance season from Jimenez could help clean some of the egg off of Antonetti’s face.
To me, all three decisions are pretty easy. Then again, this is the same front office that gave Grady Sizemore a $5 million paid vacation last season.
(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)