It would seem appropriate on Super Bowl Sunday to write something about football today, but for fans of the Cleveland Browns, that game is a myth, something along the lines of a unicorn.
So, instead, with spring training starting in less than two weeks (how great is that to say), we will discuss the Cleveland Indians, a time with a chance to make the playoffs in 2016.
Unfortunately, that chance is slimmer than it could have been if the front office would have been more aggressive this off-season, instead of its normal philosophy of “wishin’ and hopin’.
There is no doubt the Indians have a championship pitching staff, their starting rotation is one of the five best in major league baseball, and may very well be #1.
But team president Chris Antonetti and new GM Mike Chernoff didn’t do Terry Francona any favors by signing two players with plenty of age on them, Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, as the only additions to the lineup.
And of course, rumors have them pursuing another aging veteran hitter in Juan Uribe.
This isn’t to say none of these guys can help the Tribe, in fact, we believe Napoli in particular could be a big help this season, but as a whole, the rampant conservatism that permeates the front office was en vogue again this winter.
In our opinion, one of the reasons the Indians get off to slow starts is they begin the season playing veterans who don’t have much left, and by the middle of May or early June, the management finally realizes that and replaces them with younger, more productive players.
Last year, it was Michael Bourn (Nick Swisher was hurt). Francona wrote Bourn’s name in the lineup 95 times last season, and his 608 OPS dragged down the offense. We would have moved the centerfielder after his ’14 season showed he was declining.
In 2014, Ryan Raburn was struggling after an excellent ’13 campaign, and he and Swisher, who was struggling physically, hampered the offense.
And don’t forget the Indians started playing better when Asdrubal Cabrera was traded and Jose Ramirez was inserted as shortstop.
Also, remember Orlando Cabrera, Jack Hannahan, and Johnny Damon?
That’s why we would pass on Uribe and let Giovanny Urshela and Jose Ramirez platoon at third base. What are the odds that Uribe will be much better than the two youngsters, who will probably improve with regular playing time.
It’s also why if Tyler Naquin hits .420 (or thereabouts) in the Cactus League, we would have him make the Opening Day roster and give him regular playing time.
After all, the Tribe’s current starting outfielder consists of 35-year-old Davis, a journeyman in Abraham Almonte, and Lonnie Chisenhall, who in his brief major league career has demonstrated wild inconsistency.
We would rather see Naquin than Collin Cowgill, Shane Robinson, or Joey Butler, because Naquin will get better. It’s hard to see the other three doing that.
And if one or all of them go to the minor leagues, you have a fallback if the rookie struggles in the bigs.
The fear in Cleveland is that a young player will be ruined by early career struggles. We believe if the rookie is tough mentally, he will overcome that.
Remember, Francisco Lindor was hitting around .210 after his first month in the majors. Was he crushed by it? No!
We understand that Lindor is a special talent, but why not give more young players a chance?
It may just help the Indians get off to better starts to seasons.