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Indians Indians Archive Heap Cold Winter
Written by Jerry Roche

Jerry Roche

Cold WinterIt is almost September, and the Indians are starting to ask their chief if the coming winter is going to be cold or mild.

When he looks at the sky, the chief can’t tell what the winter is going to be like, but to be on the safe side, he tells the tribe that it is indeed going to be cold and that everyone should start collecting firewood.

Being a practical leader, he wants to verify his off-the-cuff prediction. So he phones the National Weather Service. “Is the coming winter going to be cold?,” he asks.

“It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold,” the meteorologist responds.

So the chief goes back to his people and tells them to collect even more firewood.

A week later, he calls the National Weather Service again. “Are you sure that the winter is going to be very cold?”

“Absolutely,” the man replies. “It’s looking more and more like it is going to be one of the coldest winters ever.”


“How can you be so sure?” the chief asks.

The weatherman replies: “The Indians are collecting firewood like crazy.”


It is going to be a cold winter in Cleveland. Just when we Indians’ fans thought the “window of opportunity” would be opening in 2012, it slammed in our faces — to the tune of about 90 losses.

Here’s where the team is now: the 2012 season is over. No matter that there are still 40-some games to play. Actually, it appears that the season has been over since just after the All-Star break — at least for the players, who have stumbled and bumbled to a miserable 4-19 record since July 26th, often being blown out before the start of the fourth inning due to some sad, sad starting pitching.

This season is a testament to the talent assessment woes of Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti during the past 10 years.

Somewhere, somebody might be keeping a record of all the roster moves the team has made since the season opener. Yet, Antonetti and Shapiro must feel like they’re moving at a snail’s pace, if at all. It would not be a stretch to say that they are moving the team backward.

That those two guys still have their jobs is beyond amazing. The only possible reason is because owners Paul and Larry Dolan don’t really care about the Indians’ record, which — except for two “glitches” — has hovered around 75-89 during most of the last 10 years. Given the owners’ and front office’s body of work, even the most charitable overlord would have canned all of them five or six years ago.

Because Major League Baseball’s rules allow the big-market teams to gobble up most of the talented, proven players, the Indians (like other mid- to small-market teams) are forced to depend on supple drafts to provide future players. And the Indians have been total failures in that department. What they are left with is a rag-tag lineup of mediocre talent, with more holes than a bowl of Life Savers — and no help forthcoming from Columbus, Akron or Lake County.

“We’re going to have to find a solution in left field, we’re going to have to find a solution at first base, and we’re going to have to find a solution at DH. That’s pretty obvious,” says Manager Manny Acta, exhibiting a sense of realism that apparently escapes those above him. “And the third base situation is not determined either.”

Left field, first base, third base. Today’s problems. Yesterday’s problems, too — and probably tomorrow’s problems. Who was the Tribe’s last accomplished left-fielder? David Justice, on the downside of a career in 2000. Albert Belle in 1996. Who was the team’s last accomplished first-baseman? Cecil Fielder, who had a cup of coffee here on the downside of a career in 1999. Who was the team’s last accomplished third-baseman? Maybe Casey Blake in 2008; for sure Travis Fryman in 2002. (Maybe the now-injured Lonnie Chisenhall in 2013?) Those are some pretty long dry spells, sports fans.

A look at the current roster is enough to make a baseball fan weep. Only a handful of players are even worth keeping, much less watching: Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Justin Masterson, Vinny Pestano, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin Soo Choo, maybe Zach McAllister, maybe Joe Smith, maybe Chris Perez. Over the winter, Choo is gone; he’ll garner a larger salary in free agency than the Indians will be willing to pay him. Perez also could be gone, given the tumultuous history he’s had with the fans here, his recent consistency problems, his trade value, and Pestano’s potential to be an effective closer. As for the remainder of the roster, there’s nobody who wouldn’t be at home in a heap of cow dung.

And there’s not one potential clean-up hitter in the bunch. The only possibility would be catcher/first-baseman/DH Carlos Santana — and only if management is willing to slip a .230 hitter into that slot. Either that, or Santana finally lives up to his long-hoped-for potential by hitting .275 with 30 homers and 90 RBIs, starting next season.

That’s just the everyday lineup. The pitchers — especially the starters — have been inconsistent at best, terrible at worst. Only McAllister and Masterson among the starters have ERAs lower than 5.00. Jeanmar Gomez (now toiling in Columbus) is at 5.18; the departed Derrick Lowe is at 5.52, supposed “ace” Ubaldo Jimenez is at 5.59, and the injured Josh Tomlin is at 6.36. Roberto Hernandez, formerly Fausto Carmona, has a 7.50 ERA in one major-league start since coming back to the States. There’s just one word for the starters’ cumulative performance: heap big "Ugh."

Many callers to local sports-talk radio programs are praying for action on the trade and/or free-agent fronts over the winter. They can pray all they want. Won’t help. What they fail to realize is:

(1) Trades mostly average out to be zero-sum propositions. Teams trade players at positions of strength to get players at positions of weakness. Usually, the talent levels, going and coming, somewhat match. Very seldom do teams actually increase their overall talent level via trade — and that certainly has been the case here. The cumulative talent level of the Cleveland Indians right now is somewhere way south of average.

(2) The free agent market is weak this winter, cluttered mostly with players way past their prime like Russell Branyan, Jason Giambi, Scott Rolen, Miguel Tejada, Andruw Jones and Carlos Lee. And, anyway, what free agent would want to come to Cleveland? Really.

We fans might not be quite so disconsolate if players in the upper minors offered some relief. I won’t spend a lot of time on prospects, because Al Ciammiachella did a complete rundown in his August 18th post. I will say that, by acclimation, the only player who might provide some additional offense on the major-league level is shortstop Francisco Lindor, drafted eighth in 2011 and now a top-10 prospect in all of MLB. Beyond him, the cupboard is bare, at least for the next two to three years.

Heap cold winter coming, Tribe. Start collecting firewood now.

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