The Indians are setting the tone for a lousy summer. Just when it appears the team is getting hot, the bottom falls out. Get swept at home by Oakland? No worries, this year’s club answers by sweeping Detroit and beating Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer (no decision) in the process. Now a series sweep at the hands of the White Sox has many wondering—again—if the current campaign can be saved.
One-third of the season is in the books and the Tribe (24-30) is struggling. Offense, defense, hitting, throwing, catching. There’s problems everywhere. It’s easy to look back in the rear-view mirror, but I can’t help but wonder if there was a way this team could’ve improved during the offseason.
• The Indians uncharacteristically spent big money two winter’s ago by signing free agents Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. That expenditure led me to be believe the front office would be a little more conservative this past winter—and they were. But how good would Nelson Cruz look wearing the “Block C” hat? Cruz leads baseball with 19 homers (a 1.038 OPS) while playing for Baltimore.
Cruz became an Oriole when signed his 1-year, $8 million deal at the end of February. While it looks like a steal now, Cruz did have some red flags. He was coming off a 50-game PED suspension, he would’ve cost a high draft pick, and he’s 33. But a one-year deal at $8 million? That’s the type of bargain shopping this franchise lives for. Wasn’t Brett Myers given $7 million a season ago?
Maybe Chris Antonetti looked at Cruz earlier in the offseason, and made an offer. Maybe Cruz was looking for Johnny Peralta money, which was out of the Indians’ league. Maybe the Tribe just moved on by signing David Murphy to solidify the outfield. Yet with spring training around the corner, Cruz got desperate. After turning down the Rangers qualifying offer of $14.1 million in November, he signed with Baltimore for less.
The offense can be just so darn hard to watch. You’ve heard it by now. Cleveland went 30 innings without an extra-base hit until Jason Giambi unloaded a bomb in the series finale against the White Sox May 28. There was no reported link between between Cruz and Indians last winter, but here’s hoping the front office at least kicked the tires on a player who would be a difference maker this season.
• Thank goodness for Jason Giambi. Is their anyone else on Cleveland’s roster who has you thinking long ball every time he steps to the plate? Giambi is 3-for-22 on the year, but two of those hits have been homers. He’s clubbing a home run in every at 11 at-bats. For a team that’s scored seven runs over their last four games, I’ll take it.
• Back to some other non-moves. Hindsight tells me that resigning Scott Kazmir and hanging out to Aaron Harang would’ve been good ideas. As was the case with Cruz, there was some risk with Kazmir. Would he regress and be back pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters next year, or would he continue to build on what he accomplished in Cleveland last summer?
Oakland wanted to find out and will pay $22 million over two years for the answer. So far, that money’s been well spent, with Kazmir going 6-2 with a 2.36 ERA.
You could argue Kazmir wasn’t worth the risk, but that line of thinking doesn’t hold up for Harang. The Indians always seem to have one of these older vets who come in and help out, and it looked like Harang was next in line. Carlos Carraso ended up beating out Harang for the fifth spot in the rotation. Now Harang now pitches for the Braves, while Carrasco pitches in the bullpen because as he showed last season, he can’t start.
And in case you’re wondering, Harang is making $1 million in 2014 and saved Atlanta’s staff. The veteran is 4-4 with a 3.32 ERA and has a career-high strikeout rate of 25.9 percent.
• Michael Brantley doesn’t get the credit he deserves nationally. It doesn’t take advanced scouting to see that the former Brewers’ farmhand is really coming into his own. He’s not among the top five players in the All-Star voting at his position, which is a bummer, but hardly a surprise.
He’s hit safely in 14 consecutive games where he’s batting .393 (1.058 OPS), the longest active streak in the majors. He comes up huge in big moments, recording his seventh (seventh!) career four-hit game earlier this month in addition to the first walk-off hit—a home run—of his career.
With the glove, he has a fielding percentage of .990 and leads all of baseball with six assists. His lone miscue came during the second game of the season when he ran into Ryan Raburn just minutes after moving from left to center field.
Brantley’s not flashy, he just goes about his business as Dr. Smooth. He’s slashing .284/.342/.416 with nine homers, 52 RBIs and an .887 OPS (1.8 WAR). He’s one homer shy of tying his career-high. Some players do develop power after being in the league a few years. Hopefully that’s the case with Brantley, because his ceiling only seems to get higher.
• Put me in the faction that would promote Francisco Lindor from Class AA Akron right now. Forget Columbus, we need his glove in Cleveland. The shortstop position is usually played by a great athlete, and unfortunately that isn’t Asdrubal Cabrera. Even Francona is on record saying he believes Lindor’s glove is ready for The Show.
Cabrera is two season’s removed from his last All-Star game, and he won’t be going back in 2014. With mega-money just months away, Cabby is floundering in his free-agent season, slashing .246/.324/.369 (.693 OPS). He also plays the most important defensive position on the field and already has eight errors, after committing nine all of last year.
Fangraphs rated Cabby as the worst defensive shortstop in 2013 (-16.8 UZR). For the current campaign, Cabrera currently sits 17th (-0.9).
Picking on Cabby here is easy because Swisher, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall and Yan Gomes have all had problems. Combined, Tribe mishaps have resulted in 39 unearned runs, compared to 51 last year. That total could be shattered byJuly 1.
The Indians defense is rated as the second worst in the AL (-24.7 UZR), according to Fangraphs. Only the Houston Astros are worse (-31.9 UZR).
(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)