The Cleveland Fan on Facebook

The Cleveland Fan on Twitter
Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

Casey Kotchman can hear Matt LaPorta's AAA HR's in his sleep.When the very best is expected from you, your very best effort should be put forth.  Anyone collecting a paycheck should understand that, but that being said, some people just need an additional fire lit under their ass.  Sadly, I’ve had a front row seat for this, as have many others in corporate America during this economic struggle of the past decade.  Some people found themselves in a predicament where they were forced to work hard, or risk being unemployed, but do we really need to be threatened in order to demonstrate our best efforts?

Sadly, that might just be the way of the world, but that really isn’t the point.  It seems that folks today are best motivated by the threat of doomsday, but that type of peril may actually be some weird type of positive re-enforcement when all else fails.  Generally, threats with no context are a very discouraging thing, tied to nasty terms like “blackmail” or “extortion”, but sometimes they are just a fact of life.  Personally, I don’t take very kindly to empty threats, so let’s focus on some real ones as they pertain to the Cleveland Indians in 2012.

For years, you could say that Grady Sizemore walked on water as a “made guy” in an organization headed up by Indians Team President Mark Shaprio.  He was, after all, the lone remaining piece in that legendary Bartolo Colon for Lee Stevens and Prospects trade that happened nearly a decade ago, a savvy transaction that put Shapiro on the map as a savvy General Manager.  The respect was justified when you’re talking about the guy who played 382 consecutive games in Center Field, averaging 25 dingers and 25 base swipes over a four year period; even the most cynical person wouldn’t argue that point.

When it came to job security with Grady, there was no threat attached to it, and there didn’t need to be.  To validate this, Coco Crisp, the only other viable Center Field option for the Indians was shipped off to Boston before the 2006 season.  The job belonged to Sizemore for the foreseeable future, and absolutely nothing would threaten that fact.  When Sizemore missed time, starting in 2009, the best options were cheap band-aids like Ben Francisco and Trevor Crowe; neither were exactly Lou Gehrig to Sizemore’s Wally Pipp.

The potential of Sizemore's future is skewed by the reality of injury.Of course, we know that’s all ancient history.  During this past off season, the reality of the 2012 Grady Sizemore threatened the legacy of what we all hoped was a budding superstar just four years earlier.  The powers-that-be gave him his walking papers, but the threat of the grass not being greener anywhere else inclined him to return to Cleveland at a discount.  Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same; Grady has spent the duration of his second go-around with Cleveland on the Disabled List, but we are drawing closer to his expected return by the day.

Perhaps Michael Brantley is hearing those metaphorical footsteps, and perhaps he’s had the thought in his mind of being the odd man out in the Indians outfield when the oft-injured former phenom returns.  Of course, my timing is terrible right now, so it’s difficult to sell anyone on Brantley during this 1 for 16 slump that he was wearing going into play on Tuesday, but we’ve seen good things from Brantley this month.  Prior to these last four games, Michael had a seven game stretch where he hit .449 and struck out just three times in 29 at-bats.  Sure, this isn’t overwhelmingly impressive at face value, but his season batting average is .261, quite the jump from his sub-Mendoza .196 on April 22.  Without any real threat of utility outfielders like Aaron Cunningham or Johnny Damon taking over the Center Fielder duties, Brantley, who has started 40 of 42 games there may have been a little complacent.  If only for a week, it was nice to see Brantley resemble a Major League ball player.

I’ll have my eye on what Brantley does when the Indians nail down a date range (sometime after June 3) for Sizemore’s return.  I also have my eye on Casey Kotchman, who weighs 220 pounds, and is glad to be “hitting his weight” right now.  He was signed by the Indians over the winter, tagged as a defensive First Baseman, and he has held up his end of the bargain there, but the amount of offense that Casey sacrifices from a usually valued corner infield position has made him a liability through the first quarter of the season.  Depending on whom you talked to at the beginning of the season, there was really no reason to believe that Kotchman’s strong hold on the job at First Base was going to be in jeopardy this season, and that might just sum up why the former Tampa Bay Ray has started 34 games, despite batting just .149 in April.

Pay no attention to the man trotting around the bases in Columbus.  Nothing to see here.Depending on who you ask, there is still no one to threaten Kotchman’s job, but he’s been better in May.  Of course, he still strikes out too much, and his recent hot streak (in relative terms) has only boosted his average to .225, but he is hitting .306 in May, and I have this wild idea that someone in AAA may be gracing the folks at Ontario and Carnegie with his presence sometime soon.  The knock on that guy is that he can’t hit Major League pitching, so we will allow for him, his .321 average, and his 13 HR’s to remain nameless.  Maybe Kotchman sees AAA First Baseman from Port Charlotte as a threat, and maybe he doesn’t.

There are others that have to play whenever they get the chance, always with the imminent threat of being replaced.  For Jack Hannahan, he knows he’s playing with house money, that the Indians didn’t draft Lonnie Chisenhall to win International League championships in AAA, and it’s only a matter of time before he concedes the hot corner over to the Chiz Kid.  For Jose Lopez and/or Shelly Duncan, it is probably just a matter of a right handed bat becoming available to replace their lumber, and there isn’t much they can do to address that threat.  With the pitching staff, it all depends on who we are talking about.

If we’re talking about so-called Aces of the pitching staff, no imminent threat exists, aside from injury.  We’ve seen enough of the struggles from Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez to remind us that the only option is to ride it out, and hope it gets better.  However, for the back of the rotation guys, there’s always a Kevin Slowey or David Huff that’s ready to stop riding the bus, not that either one of those minor league arms is exactly baffling the opposing bats down on the farm.

While some might argue that the young Vinnie Pestano might be able to handle the job, there is no threat of Chris Perez losing his place as the closer on this team.  Apparently, he is threatened by the pathetic attendance at his home confines.  Now, I’m the last person that wants to attach the word pathetic to home crowds because I am part of the exodus that Cleveland has seen over the last decade, hence I am part of the problem.  However, the problem is deeper than just the departed portion of the population; fans are finding excuses not to watch this first place ball club.  Even those who choose to ignore Perez’s unkind words should remember that one lingering threat over any team in any sport with attendance issues in a small market.  What happens when you don’t have the option whether or not to go to the home games because there is no home team?

Beltran signed with the World Champs, not just the highest bidder outside Cleveland.Beyond the departure of free agents, and well beyond the losing culture that seems to exist on the shores of Lake Erie, the threat of losing your team to another market takes precedent.  Without making this about the Browns, who Cleveland didn’t lose due to on-field failures, their 1995 departure is the biggest sting the fans of my generation have had to endure.  When the sensitive fans get over their feelings being hurt by Perez’s words, and they were out of line, they will realize that his remarks hold water.

Carlos Beltran’s decision to sign with the defending World Champions in the National League for a slightly lighter paycheck probably isn’t the best example, but I hear the implied threat that Perez throws out there.  Philadelphia, or whatever other pastures that he deems to be greener, is a more fun place to call home in the eyes of Perez, and that’s a problem.  You see, not everyone is as blunt as “Pure Rage”, and like the cockroaches you don’t see, there are other players that share his sentiment.

A close second to the fear of not having a team is having a team that doesn’t compete, but again, this isn’t about the Browns.  My problem is that no one wants to stay these days, or at least it isn’t a financially viable option when employed by the Dolan family, so goes the perception.  It’s a shame that the players point their fingers at the fans, then the fans point their fingers at the Dolans, and the Dolans can point their finger at the market in which they exist.  There’s one fatal flaw in this Mexican stand-off; with all of the threats being thrown in every which direction, everyone loses sight of the fact that this dysfunctional relationship that the players and team management are having with the fans is currently centered around the subject of a first place baseball team.

Perhaps, we need to move on from this.  Those days are over.I know, I know.  First place in May doesn’t get you any trophies or guarantee games in October, as we learned a year ago, but the only real metric we have for 2012 is what’s happened in April and May.  If you’ll listen to my two cents, I personally think things are different this year, and that there is no other shoe waiting to drop.  However, the threat exists, and if that motivates Manny Acta’s team to keep their foot on the gas this summer, so be it.

All of these threats can be viewed in a positive light.  If the fans respond to Perez’s threat by coming to the ballpark and not booing the home team, the athletes enjoy being there and the revenue boost enables the “cheap” to spend when they contend.  Perez and the rest of the team needs to walk the walk though, with the check his sound byte has written, another downfall like last year will abandon a large part of the fan base, so winning has become mandatory.  And, isn’t winning all that matters?

At the rate things have gone so far, with so many things going badly, a looming threat will exist to the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball; that’s when things start going smoothly at the corner of Ontario and Carnegie.

The TCF Forums