Despite all the additional questions surrounding the Cleveland Indians, this has to be one of the most exciting off-seasons in memory. It isn’t just about the higher profile signings that the Indians have made either. This team feels fresh and new, from manager Terry Francona all the way to the guys competing to sit on the bench like Jason Giambi. I have no idea if it is going to work or not, but I’m trying to enjoy the ride. Excitement isn’t always a precursor for good things, but it is almost undeniably beats the alternative, right?
Giambi isn’t the slugger he once was, but nobody’s asking him to be that either. Indians fans don’t even need him to be as good as Eddie Murray was for the Tribe in the 90’s. If he can make the team, be a good citizen and come off the bench and find 10 homers in his bat over the course of 60 to 75 games, that would be good enough, presumably because he also brings something extra to the table in terms of leadership. It just feels funny to say that, because minus the experience and leadership, isn’t that what Shelley Duncan did for the Tribe last year?
Similarly, Mike Aviles isn’t a world beater either, but he is a backup with a career .277 average and an ability to play in the field. He’s replacing guys like Brent Lillibridge, Jose Lopez and Jason Donald. While I don’t dislike those guys, I do expect Mike Aviles to bring a higher level of play and consistency to the plate and the field when he’s out there.
Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher aren’t Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, but they don’t really need to be either. There’s one thing we’ve learned from baseball is that you can’t buy World Series rings. For the most part you can usually buy playoff appearances, (despite the Angels missing last year.) Once any of these teams get into the playoffs, all bets are off. The Indians can’t afford to guarantee themselves a playoff appearance, but this off-season, they’ve given themselves the best chance to play over their heads as a group that any of us have seen in a long time.
Noticeably absent from the rest of this post is the starting pitching. Obviously the Indians couldn’t solve that problem outright via acquisition. There are some guys on this team who are just going to have to play better than they did a year ago. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez are obvious. Somewhere in the muck and mire of unknown players including Brett Meyers, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and even invitee Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Indians will need to come up with some solutions.
In the end, the biggest problem with the Indians the last few years is that they weren’t anywhere good enough to make the playoffs. Yes, they flirted with contention for extended periods of time where they looked to be somewhat formidable. The collapses were starting to become routine and no matter whose fault it really was, this team desperately needed changes from manager on down into the lineup. The problems they seemed to be experiencing reached further than just the roster. They seemed to lack chemistry, which became especially apparent in their lack of ability to finish seasons or even stop negative streaks.
I don’t know how this feeling gets projected on an entire organization, but didn’t it really feel like nobody wanted to be in Cleveland the last few years? Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore were more like countdown clocks than players for this team. Shin-Soo Choo also just seemed like a guy who was never going to be here. Chris Perez, even if he was speaking truth bombs, seemed to be writing his own ticket out of town too.
Now, the simple fact of importing players, even those whose best games are clearly behind them, who desperately want to make it work in Cleveland is decidedly different. No offense to Johnny Damon, but he came here and just walked right onto the field because the team was so desperate. This year Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jason Giambi among others will be pushing and competing to make the team.
This might all just be off-season bluster that ultimately means very little. Baseball is just unpredictable that way. Even with this makeover the Indians haven’t “bought a playoff appearance” like the Yankees usually can do. They haven’t even made themselves the favorite over the Tigers in the division. Still, it feels like they jack-hammered open the contention window that slammed on our hands the last few years.
It feels so very good today because this team and organization needed such a massive makeover and for once it feels like management and a group of players are all rallying toward doing something in Cleveland as opposed to biding their time until they can leave. Now, how are these words going to look after July fourth has come and gone?