Big Summer for Cavs, Bigger One for Irving

Tomorrow, the Cleveland Cavaliers will conclude a very trying season.  On Thursday, the wine and gold will embark on an off-season which be as important as the one since LeBron James left as a free agent in 2010.

The franchise is at a proverbial crossroads for sure, and most of it centers on the team’s best player, Kyrie Irving.

Irving was the first overall pick after the first season without James, arriving after Cleveland suffered through a horrible season.

Unfortunately, they still haven’t made the playoffs with Irving in a Cavs’ uniform and this year, with the young players who the organization has accumulated with a slew of high draft choices supposed to be coming into their own, instead with a loss in the season finale tomorrow night will have a 50 loss season once again.

Is this all on Irving?  Of course not, the Cavs waited until this season to appear to want to start winning, and didn’t bring in any quality veteran players to help the now 22-year-old learn the ways of the NBA from dealing Ramon Sessions to getting Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes this season.

They also didn’t hire a head coach with a track record of developing young players either.  It is galling that young players like Sergey Karasev and newly acquired Scotty Hopson didn’t get a minute in the past two games, both played after Cleveland was eliminated from the playoffs.

However, you have to wonder about Irving, who seems to not have the ultra-competitive gene.  He seems content to get his numbers while his team loses night after night.

That’s not good.

It reminds of Vince Carter, who while in Toronto complained that the team didn’t get better.  As the Raptors’ best player, it was his responsibility to make the team better.  He didn’t want any part of that.

If that is Irving’s attitude, not only should the Cavs trade the two-time All-Star, they need to do it this summer, and move on.

That’s why this is such a key summer for Dan Gilbert, and whoever will be in the team’s front office, whether it be a president of basketball operations and/or general manager.

They have to make the determination as to whether or not Irving wants to be the best player on a championship team, or if he would like to be famous and make commercials and get endorsements.

And they have to figure out if Irving will do whatever is necessary to be that type of player.  Will he play better defense, will he share the basketball, will he take responsibility when the team loses?

Those are the things leaders do for their teams, plus they make all of their teammates better players.

If the Cavs determine Irving can be that type of player, then they should keep him here with a maximum contract extension.  He’s that talented of a player.

If he can’t do that for the organization, then they should deal him while he still has a tremendous amount of value around the NBA.  The ransom the wine and gold could get for a young player of his caliber would be enormous.

However, another year like this one, and the whispers will start as to whether or not he’s another guy with tremendous skills, but doesn’t play a team game.

There is no question the Cavs have some talented players on the roster.  If their supposed best player can’t play with them and raise all of their games, then the franchise will be forced to make a very tough decision, at least from the outside looking in.

From the inside looking out, it would be a smart decision because the losing needs to end right now.  Kyrie Irving has to decide if he wants to be part of the solution, starting right after tomorrow’s game.

 

JK

Tribe Pitchers Need to Throw Strikes

The biggest worry most fans of the Cleveland Indians had going into the season was the starting pitching.  With two weeks of the season having been played, that concern still exists.

Despite the absence of Michael Bourn and slow starts by Nick Swisher, Asdrubal Cabrera, and to some extent Carlos Santana, the Indians have scored enough runs.  They rank 3rd in the American League in runs scored, averaging 4.83 tallies per game and the team’s OPS ranks tied for 4th in the junior circuit.

Unfortunately, the two teams they trail in runs per night are teams they have played thus far in the 2014 season:  The Twins and White Sox.  Are those teams hot, or are the struggles by Cleveland’s starters responsible for their impressive ranking.

Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway’s pitching staff has struggled throwing strikes, leading the American League in allowing walks.  They also lead the AL in striking hitters out.  This combination leads to high pitch counts for the starting pitchers, and that puts a huge burden on the bullpen.  And we all know how Francona likes to protect his relief corps.

In the Tribe’s 12 games thus far, the starter has completed seven innings just twice (Justin Masterson on Opening Night, and Zack McAllister vs. San Diego), and in only two other games have they thrown six frames (Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, both this past week against the Padres).

That’s two out of every three games that the bullpen is forced to get more than nine outs per game.

To be sure, Callaway and the skipper would prefer the starters to be more efficient, throw strikes and let hitters put the ball in play to get outs.  Masterson has walked nine in 15-1/3 frames, Carlos Carrasco has walked five in 10-1/3 innings, and Danny Salazar has issued five more free passes in 9-1/3 innings.

Speaking of Carrasco, it appears he isn’t pleasing his bosses.  He struggled in his second start of the season on Friday night, but what had to have Francona and Callaway shaking their heads were the two walks he issued after the Tribe tied the game at three for him.  Response runs have been a problem this season for the whole staff, but when they occur because of walks, it makes the manager upset.

After the game, reporters received the dreaded “ask him” answer from the pitching coach, a very good sign of his anger.  Callaway sent a clear signal to the pitcher that he is no longer covering for him.  And both he and Francona go out of their way to take the player’s side when at all possible.

The right-hander had his next start, scheduled to be Thursday at Detroit, delayed until at least Saturday vs. Toronto, but the guess here is that the front office is buying time to see whether or not to use Bauer or maybe Josh Tomlin in that spot with Carrasco staying in the bullpen.

Blake Wood (seven walks in 4-1/3 IP) could be sent to Columbus to make room in the ‘pen for Carrasco, as the organization tries to find a spot for the young right-hander and his electric stuff.

If he fails in the relief role, GM Chris Antonetti will likely have to cut ties with Carrasco.

While it is still very early in the campaign (less than 10% of the season has been played), the Tribe needs to get more length out of the starting pitchers.  If the current guys can’t do it, Francona will make changes.  He isn’t about to throw away a season because of this problem.

MW

Raptors Did What Cavs Couldn’t

Four years ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost LeBron James to the Miami Heat via free agency and the team went from a perennial NBA power to a team that has been in the draft lottery every year since.

That same season, another team lost a premier free agent to the Heat and that team has recovered very nicely despite not having as good of a record as the wine and gold had the year before James left.

That would be the Toronto Raptors, who lost Chris Bosh, and yet they will enter the playoffs as the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. And they did it despite not having the top pick in the draft twice since Bosh departed.

The Raptors won just 22 games the first year after their star free agent left, compared to the 19 games the Cavaliers won in the first season of the post-James era. So, there wasn’t much difference that first season.

The following season, Cleveland added first overall pick Kyrie Irving and the fourth choice in Tristan Thompson, who was selected one pick ahead of Toronto, who picked center Jonas Valanciunas, who sat out the following season because of a contractual situation in Europe.

The Raptors went 23-43 in the strike-shortened season, while the wine and gold were just two games behind, finishing up at 21-45.

In year two of the post-superstar era, Toronto traded for guard Kyle Lowry and drafted Terence Ross with the eighth overall pick in the NBA draft. Cleveland chose Dion Waiters with the fourth overall pick.

The Raptors also traded for Rudy Gay using Jose Calderon and former first round pick Ed Davis, and saw a player picked before Bosh’s last season with the team, DeMar DeRozan, blossom into a budding star.

Toronto jumped to 34 victories last season, while the young Cavaliers went 24-58, mostly because they won just four games the last two months of the season.

This past off-season, led by new GM Masai Ujiri, the Raptors traded former first overall pick Andrea Bargnani to New York for Steve Novak, some expiring contracts and draft picks. They also added Tyler Hansbrough as a free agent.

With DeRozan’s emergence, they were also able to deal Gay to Sacramento during this season, for John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, and Chuck Hayes, who have contributed greatly to the team’s success this season.

Cleveland also added some veterans to the roster this year in Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes, and the team improved over the second half of the season, playing .500 ball, but a horrible first half of the season has them currently with 12 less wins than the neighbors to the north.

The key move for Toronto looks to be trading a starter and a first round pick for Gay, and then swapping him out for some key role players once DeRozan replaced him as the primary scoring option.

That is to say, they traded from strength. They had Lowry, meaning Calderon was superfluous, and DeRozan’s play made Gay expendable as well.

The Cavs had plenty of talent tied up in two positions (point guard and power forward), but hasn’t used it to their advantage.

Hopefully, even though they started rebuilding at the same time, the Cavaliers are a year behind the Raptors and the 2014-15 season will signal the wine and gold’s return to Eastern Conference prominence.

However, the Cavs can tell you about the “process” all they want, but another team went out and started winning games.

It’s another reason to take a good hard look at the organization this summer.

JD

Tribe Starters Need Length, Decisions to be Made

First of all, let’s all calm down Tribe fans.  The season is only one week old and the Cleveland Indians emerged at the break even mark at 3-3 even though the performance of the starting pitchers wasn’t good.

It is too early to panic because outside of Justin Masterson, each of the starters made just one appearance.  Let’s give each of the starters three or four starts before jumping to any conclusions.

However from a team standpoint, Terry Francona can’t be happy about having to use his bullpen this much this early.  Already, the Indians’ starters have gone less than five innings in exactly half of the games, and the club has had five straight starts where the starter hasn’t gone six complete frames.

So, it will be interesting to see the games tonight and tomorrow when Corey Kluber (3-2/3 IP) and Zack McAllister (4 IP in his first start) take the hill against the San Diego Padres.  If both can pitch up to the level they achieved last season, then any concern will be eased for both fans and the skipper and Mickey Callaway.

Fortunately, the bullpen has done the job so far, allowing just seven earned runs in the six contests, and five of the eight members of the relief corps haven’t allowed an earned run as of yet.

But it’s the amount of innings they have pitched so far (24-2/3, an average of 4 per game), that has to concern Francona and Callaway

We could be sitting here a week from today after five consecutive solid outings by the starters and be concerned about the relief pitchers getting enough work.  That’s why you can’t make bold statements regarding a baseball team after one week.

The Tribe front office will have some decisions to make in the next week or so regarding the make up of the roster when Michael Bourn and Jason Giambi are ready to be activated from the disabled list.

OF Nyjer Morgan has gotten on base (.500 OBP) so far, and it is easy to say he stays over Elliot Johnson (0 for 5 thus far) when Bourn is ready, but it is more complicated than that because Morgan swings from the left side, and the Tribe is overloaded with left-handed hitters.

If Morgan was right-handed it would be a no-brainer, and it is difficult to see Francona and GM Chris Antonetti going with six left-handed batters (with three more switch-hitters) among their 12 position players.

The fact that Johnson can hit from the right side may be (along with his versatility) his biggest edge.  With the opponents throwing southpaws in five of the next six games, Johnson will get a chance to prove he should stay.

When Giambi comes back, it could be at Lonnie Chisenhall’s expense, or the Tribe could decide to go with one less relief pitchers.  This would assume the starting pitching gets straightened out.

If that’s the case, the two candidates to sent back to Columbus would be Vinnie Pestano and Blake Wood.  Wood had a leg up until yesterday when he took to loss by walking two, hitting a batter, and then allowing a three-run double to give Minnesota the lead.

Pestano has allowed runs in both of his outings in the young season.

The battle(?) between these two is something else to keep an eye on this week.

Even though spring training is over, the front office and the skipper still have roster decisions to be made.  That’s something to watch this week.

KM

Forget Last Ten Games, Cavs Need to Examine Organization

With the recent surge of good play over the last week or two, many basketball fans around the area have thrown out the idea that enough progress has been shown by the Cleveland Cavaliers to keep the status quo.

That would mean keeping acting GM David Griffin is his position and bringing back Mike Brown as head coach.

Those people are also ignoring the first 65 games of this NBA season, and focusing instead on the last ten.

That is a dangerous mistake.

Remember where most experts thought the Cavs would be when the season started, and that is the playoffs.  Instead, the wine and gold will be watching the post-season again, and will once again be a part of the draft lottery, although not with the probability of getting one of the higher picks.

With the maturation of third year players Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and the experience gained last year by Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller, along with the return of Anderson Varejao and the signing of Andrew Bynum, most people had the Cavaliers ready to make a decided leap in the standings.

Bynum didn’t work out here, but then-GM Chris Grant dealt him to the Bulls for two-time all-star F Luol Deng, and Griffin added another quality big man in Spencer Hawes at the trading deadline.  Still, the wine and gold will be on the outside looking in when the playoffs arrive.

And you can’t forget the embarrassing losses to Sacramento and New York on the road, and to the Lakers at home, when Los Angeles had to play with a player who had already fouled out to end the game, and the Cavs still lost.

This is not to say that owner Dan Gilbert should clean house, but he should do an overview of the entire organization to see what the front office should be and should do going forward.

The first step would be to hire a basketball lifer and let him run the operations of the franchise, and it turn let that person decide who should be the GM and the coach.  This is something the owner has proven to be too emotional to handle.

Our suggestion would be George Karl, who learned the game from Dean Smith and has spent an eternity in the professional game.  But, anyone else with that type of background will do, and preferably no one with Piston ties (there is that emotion again).

That person should pick the GM, maybe Griffin, maybe not and let the GM pick the head coach.

We have been critical of Brown since he was hired, and let’s face it, he’s not an elite NBA head coach.  The organization needs to at least look and see if there is someone more qualified to be on the bench guiding this young team.

Let’s face it, outside of Waiters, has any of Cleveland’s young talent thrived under Brown?  There is no question that Irving, Thompson, and Zeller aren’t better than a year ago, and at their ages, they should be getting better.

Out of the rookies, only Matthew Dellavedova has seen significant playing time, while first overall pick Anthony Bennett and fellow first round choice Sergey Karasev will really be spending their rookie season in year two.  Their development has been delayed by one year.

No matter what happens the rest of this season, the worst thing Gilbert should do is overlook the first half of the season because of the last month.  That’s what bad organizations do.  They take one good thing and project it over everything else.

Yes, it is difficult to make changes after one year, and Gilbert will set him up to look foolish by making a change.  However, if in the end it makes the franchise better, then it will be the right thing.

That’s why you bring in a basketball person (again, not Isiah Thomas or Joe Dumars) to run things.  Then, it is their decision to make changes to move the team forward.

That’s the wisest course of action for the Cavaliers.

JK

It’s Opening Day!

Today is the day that signals spring is officially here in northeast Ohio.  It’s the home opener for the Cleveland Indians, a day for the even the casual fans around town to stop talking about the NFL draft and salute the return of the Tribe.

We have seen a lot of Opening Days in town and we thought we would share a couple of the most memorable.

The one that stands out right away is 1975, a historic day for the sport of baseball as well as the Indians.  It was Frank Robinson’s first game as the first African-American manager of a major league team, and he put his name in the lineup as the DH and hit a home run off Doc Medich in his first at bat, leading his team to a 5-3 victory over the Yankees.

The other obvious choice in most fans’ memories occurred 20 years ago, as then Jacobs Field played host to its first regular season game.  Walking into the new building after spending so many years at the armpit known as Municipal Stadium was a thrill.  You couldn’t believe a facility like this was built right here in Cleveland.

The game was a classic as well, and it was a harbinger of things to come.  The Tribe was being no-hit by Randy Johnson into the eighth inning before rallying to tie and then won the game in extra innings on a Wayne Kirby single, the first of many, many walk off wins by the home team in the new park.

People as old as we are still refer to Progressive Field as the “new ballpark”, and it is now 20 years old.

There were other more obscure games that we recall though.

The ’71 opener was a 3-2 victory for the Indians, highlighted by a game winning single by utility infielder Gomer Hodge who went 2 for 2 and proclaimed he was hitting 2.000 after the game.

In 1974, an opening day record of over 74,000 packed the old stadium to watch Gaylord Perry and the Indians outduel Mickey Lolich and the Tigers 2-1 on Chris Chambliss’ home run.

In 1980, the Tribe came home after a 1-5 west coast swing to beat the Blue Jays 8-1 behind the pitching of Rick Waits and a home run by eventual American League Rookie of the Year Joe Charboneau, who went 3 for 3 on the afternoon.

The 1986 loss to Detroit was perhaps the coldest opener we attended.  Phil Niekro started for the Tribe and seemingly went 3 and 2 on every Tiger hitter that day which made the 7-2 loss even more chilly.

The first home game in 1992 went 19 innings, before the Red Sox won 7-5 with Tim Naehring winning the game with a two run homer off Eric Bell.  In the starting lineup for Cleveland were these guys who were cornerstones of the teams that game the post-season year after year later in the decade:  Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, and Sandy Alomar Jr.

The 1996 lidlifter featured the Indians getting their 1995 American League Championship rings in a 7-1 loss to the Bronx Bombers.  Why else was that game significant?  Yanks’ rookie SS Derek Jeter hit his first big league homer in the game.

Today, someone will have a memory that will stick with them for many years.  That is the magic of baseball and the home opener in particular.  It’s a special day especially if you are a real fan.

Finally, it’s here.  Let’s play ball!

MW

Hopefully, Kyrie Learned While He Observed

A couple of weeks ago, Kyrie Irving injured his bicep and there was speculation that he would miss the balance of the season. The prevailing thought was the Cavaliers’ slim playoff chance went out the window.

Then, the team started winning and currently sit just three games out of the #8 spot in the Eastern Conference with the team sitting in that spot, the Atlanta Hawks, in a free fall.

Now, Irving is ready to return and the hope here is he learned while he has been sitting and watching his teammates win four of the last five games.

What has been clear to everyone watching the wine and gold over the past week is that the offense has better ball movement. No longer is the ball dominated by one player eating up the shot clock, instead everyone is getting involved.

And players who were thought to be underachieving are getting more results.

Jarrett Jack has been a whipping post most of the season by fans, but suddenly, he been very productive, averaging 15.0 points and 5.8 assists per game since Irving went down.

Luol Deng, another veteran who fans have felt hasn’t been as good as advertised, is shooting 48% in the last six games (he missed two games with a sprained ankle), compared to the 42% field goal percentage he has compiled since coming to Cleveland.

The simple answer is that suddenly the Cavs are a better team without Kyrie Irving, but that’s ridiculous.

Irving is most definitely a talent. He’s made two All-Star teams and was the MVP of the game this year.

However, at times, talented players need to understand that he has to trust his teammates. The biggest thing Phil Jackson accomplished in Chicago was getting Michael Jordan to understand this.

When Irving arrived here as the first overall pick, he was without question the only true offensive player wearing the wine and gold. If he didn’t make things happen when the Cavs had the ball, then no one did.

Now, Cleveland has some other options to score. Dion Waiters is showing he is capable of running the team and can certainly score. Jack can put the ball in the basket, and Deng is an all-star talent as well.

Newly acquired Spencer Hawes is a threat from behind the three-point line.

Irving has some players to run with and he has to make sure they get the ball where they need it to be effective and he has to understand that it is a hindrance to the success of the team to dominate the basketball. He has to get everyone involved.

When he takes the court this week, he needs to show his teammates that he wants to be part of the recent success the wine and gold has had.

That means showing that he and Waiters can not only co-exist, but start forming a very formidable backcourt tandem for the organization.

It also means deferring to Jack at times, and making sure that not only do Deng and Hawes get shots, they get the ball where they feel comfortable.

That’s called being a point guard and a team leader.

If Kyrie Irving does that for the rest of the season, it will go a long way toward the ultimate success of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and also show he is willing to pay the price it takes to be a winner in the NBA.

JK

Tribe Will Fall Just Short of Playoffs in ’14

For every baseball fan, today is a day filled with anticipation.  Opening Day will be here tomorrow, and despite the weather from yesterday, baseball will be played at Progressive Field by the end of this week.

Can the Indians repeat their unexpected run to the playoffs (and yes, Kenny Lofton, they did make the playoffs) in 2014?  That is the question on all Tribe fans minds this spring.

We believe the AL Central Division race will be highly contested this summer with the defending champion Tigers, Indians, and the Royals all in contention, and we also feel that less than 90 wins will take the title.

All three teams will win between 83-89 games, so Terry Francona’s squad will be in the mix all season long.  And because the division will be so close, things like injuries and deadline trades will have a huge factor on how things will turn out.

That said, we believe the Tribe will finish second in the division once again, but this time will fall just short of a post-season spot.

Why?  Because the front office just didn’t do enough to offset the losses from this winter, mainly the departure of two starting pitchers, Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir.

We agreed with letting both pitchers depart because the contracts they signed were more than we would have paid either hurler based on their past performance, but we believed GM Chris Antonetti would have acquired at least one innings eater to replace the 340 innings that left via free agency.

As we wrote last week, if Danny Salazar and Corey Kluber reach the performance expected of them this season, the loss of two starting pitchers will become a moot point, but that’s a tough leap of faith considering they have combined for less than 300 innings in their career.

The Indians’ offense also sputtered at times last year even though Cleveland finished fourth in the AL in runs scored.  Francona could have used another established bat in the lineup and instead Antonetti signed David Murphy, who has a good track record (.275 lifetime batting average, 778 OPS), but hit just .220 last season for the Rangers.

The Tribe needs comeback seasons from Nick Swisher, bothered by a shoulder problem in 2013, Michael Bourn, and Asdrubal Cabrera, who will be a free agent following the season, in order to have a more consistent attack.

They will also need continued improvement from two hitters entering their age 27 (entering prime) seasons in 2B Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley.  Everyone praised Brantley’s ’13 season, but actually his OPS and batting average were down from 2012 (728 OPS/.284 in ’13 compared to 750/.288 in ’12).

He has the talent to be a premier offensive player (.350 OBP, .450 slugging percentage) and needs to reach those levels in 2014.

Kipnis needs to be more consistent.  He hit .301 (897 OPS) before the All-Star break, and just .261 (714 OPS) after the Midsummer Classic.  As the #3 hitter in the lineup, he needs to stay away from weeks where he is producing like a bottom of the order hitter.

We also have doubts about the experiment of playing Carlos Santana will work out.  Santana hit .268 with 20 HR last season, and you would think his production will increase without the burden of catching more than 100 games a season, but will the switch in positions affect him at the plate?

And, of course, will his defense be solid enough to play at the hot corner on a daily basis.

The division will be close and the Tribe will be playing meaningful games in September.  However, there are enough questions to think they will fall just short.

However, if some of the scenarios outlined above reach reality, the Indians could win the division and make the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since the late 90′s.

MW

Yes, Browns Need a QB, but Do They Need One at #4?

The prevailing debate among Cleveland football fans is the quarterback position and how it relates to this May’s NFL Draft.

Local sports talk shows have been discussing it since the end of the season, and the bad news is, there is still five weeks of draft talk to come.

Should the Browns take a passer with the fourth overall pick?  If you don’t believe they should, then people think you believe the Browns don’t really need a QB, and they should settle for Brian Hoyer because he’s a hometown guy.

First, we feel Cleveland should draft a quarterback in 2014, but we don’t feel any of the passers coming out, including the “big three” of Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, and Blake Bortles, are worthy of the fourth selection.

We have said this before about all professional drafts.  The idea of the draft is to make poor teams better, to upgrade their talent level.

Drafting a player who may be the 15th best talent in the selection process with the fourth pick is just stupid.  And moving a player that many spots up the board because they play a certain position defeats the idea of the draft.

You are just pushing better players down to the better teams, which in turn makes them stronger.

Look at how this year’s playoff teams acquired their quarterbacks:

Denver-Peyton Manning:  signed as free agent, although he was the first overall pick in 1998
New England-Tom Brady:  most famous sixth round pick of all time
Cincinnati-Andy Dalton:  second round pick
Indianapolis-Andrew Luck:  first overall pick in 2012
Kansas City-Alex Smith:  acquired in trade, but was the first overall pick in 2005
San Diego-Philip Rivers: fourth overall pick in 2004.

Seattle-Russell Wilson:  third round pick in 2012
Carolina-Cam Newton:  first overall pick in 2011Philadelphia-Nick Foles:  third round pick in 2012
Green Bay-Aaron Rodgers:  first round pick (22nd overall) in 2005
San Francisco-Colin Kaepernick:  second round pick in 2011
New Orleans-Drew Brees:  second round pick

So, out of the twelve playoff teams, five had their quarterbacks drafted in the first round, but two of those (Manning and Smith) are no longer with the teams that originally drafted them.

Three of the first round picks (Manning, Luck, and Newton) were all considered no-brainers for the first overall pick.  They were highly decorated college players, and no one debated Rivers as a top ten selection either.

Smith was considered the best QB in a mediocre lot, and he’s already on his second team, but to be fair, he’s turned into an efficient player and he’s been a winner as of late.

Three more players were drafted in the second round, and one of those (Brees) is likely headed for the Hall of Fame, and Kaepernick has played in a Super Bowl and two other NFC Championship games.

While there are zealots who will tell you that Manziel, Bridgewater, and Bortles will become great NFL players, there are also scouts who have their doubts.  That’s why you can’t take them at #4 if you are the Browns.

With that pick, GM Ray Farmer has to take a player who can start immediately and be an All-Pro in a couple of years, regardless of position.

Why not pick up Derek Carr or A.J. McCarron or Jimmy Garoppolo in the second or third round and develop them for a year or two behind Hoyer?

When the Browns had decent quarterback play last season, they won some football games.  If Hoyer plays smart, and Cleveland has a solid running game, they should escape the 10 loss season streak.

They don’t need to play a high stakes game of poker.  Besides, it’s not like quarterback is the only hole on the roster to fill.  The team needs offensive line help, another wide receiver, linebackers, and secondary help.

Why not fill one of those spots with a player who has a higher floor.

Yes, the Cleveland Browns need a quarterback, but there is plenty of evidence that you don’t have to take one in the top five to win in the NFL.

JD

Tribe Needs Five Players to Come Through in 2014

The Cleveland Indians will open their season less than a week from today and they are pretty much the same team that lost the wild card game against Tampa, 4-0.

The question is will that be enough again this season?

A lot probably depends on the other teams in the Central Division.

The Tigers seems to not be as strong as they were last season, losing Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, and Doug Fister, plus they have suffered a rash of injuries in spring training.

However, they still have Justin Verlander, Max Sherzer, and Anibal Sanchez at the top of their rotation, perhaps the best 1-2-3 combination in the major leagues.

The Royals stayed in the race until the middle of September and their young core of talent is starting to mature. They’ve also added 2B Omar Infante, leadoff hitter Nori Aoki from Milwaukee, and starting pitcher Jason Vargas.

If ever Kansas City is going to make the leap into the playoffs, this looks to be the season.

While the Royals were adding to the roster, the Indians lost two starting pitchers from last year’s squad, Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, who the Tribe is trying to replace from within.

We don’t think the Indians will win 92 games again this season, but we also see them in contention because we don’t believe any team in the Central will win more than 90 games.

It will be a three team race with the White Sox hanging around the fringe, with the Tigers, Indians, and Royals all winning between 84 and 88 games.

For the Tribe, their success depends on better seasons from their two big free agent signings a year ago, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, and a free agent to be at the end of this season in Asdrubal Cabrera.

All three had down years in ’13, and an adjustment to their career averages would certainly help the offense that finished 4th in the league in runs scored. They will need the extra production because it is doubtful that Ryan Raburn will duplicate what he did last year.

Last year, the Indians jumped into contention because of their pitching which finished the year 7th in team ERA as new pitching coach Mickey Calloway performed magic with his young starters and also salvaged Jimenez’ career.

The front office is asking Calloway to do it again, putting more pressure on him to duplicate the success Corey Kluber had last season, and to bring along fireballing phenom Danny Salazar, and making him a successful starter for an entire season.

Because if the Tribe wants to get back to the post-season this fall, the starting pitching needs to be better than it was last summer. And that means Kluber and Salazar have to perform at a high level.

Justin Masterson will give Terry Francona 200 innings as usual. Carlos Carrasco, if he indeed starts the year in the rotation, is the wild card, capable of winning 10 or more games, but he could also be in the bullpen by May.

The Indians need Kluber and Salazar to be consistent; giving the ballclub quality starts throughout the season. If they can, Cleveland will contend.

If they can’t the organization will be scrambling for replacements. Josh Tomlin looks like the 2011 version of himself, but is Trevor Bauer ready to take a regular turn in the rotation?

They would be the next pitchers up.

The key to whether or not this will be a fun summer at Progressive Field depends the how the Tribe’s young starters will perform. In what should be a competitive division, that could make all the difference.

KM