The possibility is sickening.
In recent weeks certain observations I've made have brought up a few questions about just how in touch I really am with the current state of the Indians. To completely rethink all the bad things I've said about management have left me utterly shellshocked. To find out Larry Dolan was born and raised in Cleveland and that he actually played for the Indians at one point was just confusing. How can a man that presumably understands the city and its obsessive and almost maniacal love of sports cause so many tribe fans to hate him?
For one its the "cheap" and "bottom bin bargaining" mentality that Dolan brought with him when he purchased the team 5 years ago. He's annually said that he will spend the necessary funds to get players here that will help the team right away but when that time comes, his wallet disappears or he opens it up just enough to sign the most inexpensive and injured luxury player the market has to offer. All the while knowing that these guys he gives a contract to has an extremely high risk level.
Second its his character that has made me almost hate the man. How many times have you seen him hold press conferences or interviews talking about the type of organization hes running and hopes to improve on? how many times has he come out and voiced his disappointment with how the team is playing? I understand that sports are a business. gone are the days of loyalty, joy and interest that an owner holds for the franchise hes in charge of but seriously, SHOW some interest and let the fans know that you're not just relaxing in your hawaiian condo counting all the money we gave you after another season of has beens that YOU gave US? He cant even argue attendance figures. albeit they have been horrible lately but Forbes magazine gave figures for the most profitable MLB team in 2005 and guess who was number 1? The Cleveland Indians. the money is there, he just cant stomach spending money on players he deems as too expensive.
Then I started to look at current contracts of players that have been deemed "the future" and got really, really nervous. C.C. Sabathia, Travis Hafner, and Jake westbrook are all eligible for free agency at the end of the 2008 season and will no doubt command high dollar salaries, especially the first 2. The farm system is said to be one of the best in the league with an almost bottomless supply of young pitchers that are perhaps already big league ready. This is no doubt a good thing but for the simple fact of Mr. Dolan possibly thinking this is how you build a team is rather absurd and definately does not hold much water considering a teams "prospects" dont just get called up and immediately produce (unless its a pitching machine by the name of Francisco Liriano). the process takes time. hence the term "rebuild".
To try to further my point I will need to get alittle off topic...
Our pitching prospects might be some of the best around but what about the position players?Namely and most recently Ryan Ludwick. Ryan had already lost his "prospect status" when he was in the Indians system but I personally feel he was never given much of a chance. He put up numbers that more resembled a backups role but he proved time and time again that he could hit major league pitchers. Then only into the second month of the 2005 season was optioned to Triple A Buffalo but with no more options was subsequently released. Brandon Phillips..yea, I know, I'm sorry but this is another guy. The kind of numbers after his trade to the reds last season were unreal. He seemed destined for the label I speak of below and then all of a sudden his batting average is one of the best in baseball? that was a disgusting feeling.
Franklin Gutierrez is quickly garnering the label "4-A" player. Franklin is no doubt a player with tremendous talent and has been one of baseballs top prospects for some years now. When he was acquired from the Oakland A's in the Milton Bradley trade Franklins potential was right up there with current Cleveland centerfielder Grady Sizemore. Its just that evertime he's been called up he falls on his face. whether it be his mechanics or that he's just trying too hard is difficult to figure out. Brad Synder and Michael Aubrey are two other notable position players that are starting to scare scouts away. Synder I dont really know his case but I know hes nowhere near where the Indians organization wants him to be. Aubrey is an extremely talented player that caught wind of the injury bug some years ago and cant get rid of it. He should be starting every day in Buffalo or even as a bench player in Cleveland but he'll start yet another season in Double A Akron.
Fans disliking of Dolan might also be due to how he handles players during negotiations. The Jody Gerut escapade is a prime example and ultimately resulted in Gerut being traded...a trade I bet he asked for. He was told that he had been dealt to the cubs during a game. you cant treat a player much lower than that and who knows if dolan even had direct involvement but its his team, he knows whats going on, or well, is supposed to.
It just seems that where the Indians improve in one area, they decline in another. However, in regards for the need of big league caliber position players, that change might be coming sooner than later.
That will be the Indians 2007 starting infield. This will be Peraltas 3rd year in the majors and in '05 he posted numbers better than any shortstop in as a rookie. After all criticism the front office took for letting Omar go Peralta had some serious shoes to fill and he did that and more. in 2006 Peralta's defensive statistics resembled those of the year before even with all the errors he commited it was just his bat that disappeared. we learn now that it was just his eyesight and that he took care of this matter. If Jhonny can revert back to the offensive production he had in 2005 then this position is arguably the strongest on the team.
Victor Martinez with all his throwing woes is still the best power hitting catcher to come along in years. he was named an all star in just his second season as well as posting career numbers that same season. His swing is just beautiful and has the ability to take a pitch that is level with his head and crush it out of the park. Victors biggest problem is his weak arm that allows runners to steal at will. He's apparently spent all offseason working on the mechancs necessary to fix this problem and hopefully has it under control. still, I dont know of many catchers I'd rather have than this guy.
The other 3 are relatively unknown, at least from a Major League standpoint. Josh Barfield was a rookie last year with the padres and instantly became a sensation. Hes out of the black hole of Petco Park and will no doubt see his numbers jump drastically at Jacobs Field. the stats he accumulated while playing on the road should have every indians fan drooling. Perhaps hes a 5 tool player but he instantly fills a need that doesnt waste anyones time and I guarantee he'll make everyone forget about Ronnie.
Andy Marte is considered to be the crown jewel of 3rd base prospects. He was acquired last spring for Coco Crisp and spent most of the season in Buffalo. He got off to a slow start, heated up, slowed down and then got insanely hot. He was called up initially to light a fire under boone but just took over. while his strikeout numbers are a big turn off, its his power potential and already exceptional defense that will make the 3rd base job his to lose. He's a projected .300 25-30/100 rbi opposing pitchers nightmare just waiting to come to life.
Ryan Garko. Ok, well. the catching thing failed and with victor no doubt in control his only option was first base. I like the kid, I really do but his defense is being said to be worse than martinez playing first. ouch. this guy is a textbook power hitter. all brute, no brains. cant run but can straight crush a fastball. lets hope the things I've read of him have been immensely worked (or wrong to begin with) on because I really wanted kouzmanoff more. Still, these are things that can be fixed.
This all being said. its how these guys got here and who brought them here that has triggered this epiphany. Through all the names I've called him, for all the mismanaging I've accused him of. I owe Mark Shapiro one.big. fucking. apology. Starting with the revamping in 2002 hes done nothing but thoroughly scouted and targeted guys he knows for a fact will excel in the major leagues.
Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee were simply an afterthought when Shapiro traded for Brandon Phillips and as I mentioned look where he is. Then his ability to rob Texas of a slugger by the name of Travis Hafner that resembled JIm Thome in every way and who I think will be better than Jim? holy shit, how could I have been this wrong about the guy? He found a shortstop in venezuala who couldnt even speak english, turns him into a catcher and who now is a perrenial all star? He felt strongly about another shortstop's ability despite the backlash and fans are now seeing why. In another riske move he trades a fan favorite for Andy Marte Then knowing full well the team has no 2nd base options in the minors he trades two very talented prospects in exchange for a guy that will be a force for the next decade. are you kidding me? This guy is best friends with Scott Pioli, general manager and vice president of the 3 time in 4 years superbowl champion New England Patriots. was that my red flag?
The problem is clearly not Mark Shapiro. again, hes done nothing but improve this team from the minors up. its his boss that wont help him. To me, the only terrible decision Shapiro has made so far was hiring eric wedge after all wedge did was put together a few winning seasons in buffalo. there are umpires that have taken longer to get to the majors then wedge did. My opinion of wedge is that just doesnt have the balls or brains necessary to manage a major league team and its a mystery to me why Shapiro doesnt can him. I actually think wedges job is the safest on the team.
Larry Dolan must commit to spending the necessary dollars to retain players like C.C. and Hafner. they are 2 very key components in the indians future. Dolan says he lives and dies with cleveland baseball but in 5 years hasnt once proven it to the fans. what really scares me is that every other MLB team will break the bank when Sizemore becomes a free agent. He has a good head on his shoulders but at some point may want to return home to seattle, or like all of these guys, want to play for an owner dedicated to winning, not just fattening his pockets.