Browns Subs Lose Pre-Season Finale

First of all, if you are on the Cleveland Browns roster and you are playing in the fourth pre-season game, either you are a rookie or your career isn’t going as well as you would like.

Of the 22 starters in last Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay, only two were even suited up last night in the 24-0 loss to the Chicago Bears.

In other words, if you are real important to the Browns when the regular season starts a week from Sunday in New Jersey against the New York Jets, you didn’t even suit up yesterday.

So, can anything be taken away from last night’s contest?

Despite reports prior to the game that WR Dwayne Bowe might be released if he didn’t show a lot against the Bears, coach Mike Pettine said after the game that the veteran’s spot was not in jeopardy, and we will take him at his word.

We believe that Isaiah Crowell will be the principle running back at least until rookie Duke Johnson is ready to go.  That statement was made when Terrance West got most of the carries in the first half.

We have said all along that Terrelle Pryor would make the team, and that Pryor got a few touches in a “wildcat” formation proves that.  Why put it in if the former Buckeye signal caller isn’t making the team.

Our guess is that one area of extreme interest for the Browns in scouring the waiver wire will be offensive line help.  Yes, the starters should be solid, and first round pick Cam Irving lends some depth, but the rest of the reserves are sieve-like.  GM Ray Farmer needs to find one or two more solid players at that spot.

Several players probably played themselves out of any chance to make the final roster with key mistakes.

WR Darius Jennings fumbled inside the Bears 15-yard line.  He later had a long kickoff return, but with the wide receiver position already loaded at least in numbers, that didn’t help.  Also, Cleveland has a number of smaller wide outs, of which Jennings is one.

There were several defensive backs who played poorly as well.  However, that is one of the team’s strengths, so those guys didn’t figure to make the team anyway.

It will be interesting to see what Pettine and Farmer do about WR Josh Lenz.  If they keep eight receivers, he will probably make it.  The first year player out of Iowa State even played defensively at safety, a good sign that he has impressed the coaching staff.

He looked the best out of the wide receivers who played last night.

He also believe that the only way Pettine keeps three quarterbacks is if Johnny Manziel can’t play in the opener.  Thaddeus Lewis completed a bunch of short throws, but fumbled once and was picked off twice against the Bears’ second team.

He didn’t make a very good case for himself in the Windy City.

So now, Pettine and Farmer will lock themselves in a room with the rest of the coaching staff and begin the difficult chore of paring down the roster to 53.  And for the first time in a while, they will have to cut some players who have the ability to play in the NFL.

Letting Phil Taylor and Ish Kitchen go earlier in the week was the first sign of that.

However, even after the roster is pared on Saturday, there will still be some changes, particularly in the offensive line.

It will definitely be an interesting weekend.


Our View of Shapiro Based On What He Didn’t Do.

Well, the Indians made it official today as team president Mark Shapiro announced he would be leaving after the year to be the president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays.

There is no question that Shapiro is an exceptional human being.  He has created a caring atmosphere with the front office employees and players alike.  And all in all, no one can really complain about that.

However, as we wrote last week, baseball (really, all professional sports) is judged solely on wins and losses, and it is there that we find Shapiro’s record lacking.

In 14 seasons where the Princeton graduate has either been the GM or the president of the Indians, there has been only four winning seasons and two post-season appearances.

Our opinion of the executive is based more on what he didn’t do, rather that what he did.

You see, every GM who has been around a long time will make good trades and bad trades.  And perhaps, Shapiro would be judged better if one of his earliest moves, trading Bartolo Colon for Grady Sizemore (all-star), Brandon Phillips (all-star, just not here), and Cliff Lee (Cy Young Award winner) wasn’t so successful.

And maybe he would have more support had he not followed John Hart as GM, and whether you like Hart or not, he was in charge during perhaps the greatest era of baseball in Cleveland history.

But when we said he will be judged here for what he didn’t do, we mean that when the Tribe was in the hunt, Shapiro never made the big splash move.

In 2005, the White Sox got off to a great start, but the Indians were in the wild card hunt at the All-Star break.  The Indians made two in-season deals, the first moving Alex Cora to Boston for Ramon Vazquez, and the last was dealing Jody Gerut to the Cubs for Jason Dubois.

Not exactly blockbuster moves.  The Tribe missed the playoffs by two games, and would have made the post-season by winning just one game during the last weekend of the season.

In 2007, Cleveland was a game out of first at the break, and 1-1/2 out on July 27th, when Shapiro acquired 40-year-old Kenny Lofton for minor league catching prospect Max Ramirez, who was well regarded at the time as a hitter.

Lofton did hit .283 the rest of the season, and contributed, but it was hardly a “going for it” move.

Contrast those moves with those made by Hart at the deadline, who traded for Ken Hill (’95), Kevin Seitzer (’96), John Smiley and Bip Roberts (’97), etc.  Not all of those moves worked, but there was the feeling the front office was doing everything it could to bring a title to Cleveland.

To be fair, we don’t know what deals were available to Shapiro at the time. Perhaps teams were asking for way too much for marginal players. But with baseball being the sport that it is, if you get in the post-season, you pretty much have the same shot as anyone else does.  Market size no longer matters.

We have said this in regards to Terry Francona, there is a fine line between patience and stubbornness and Shapiro’s patience toward some players has hurt the team at times.  Eric Wedge was kept on as manager well after he became a cliché with his “grinding” mantra.

And the franchise kept playing guys like Aaron Boone and the David Dellucci/Jason Michaels platoon after it was proven not to work.  That lack of urgency still permeates the franchise, with Michael Bourn and the non-promotion of Francisco Lindor this season as prime examples.

Perhaps it was lack of support by ownership or maybe overconfidence in his building of the franchise, but people can criticize Mark Shapiro on his trade record all they want.  To us, it was the moves not made which make up his legacy.


Browns Show Blueprint Of How They Need to Play

If you wanted to know how the Cleveland Browns envision themselves as a team, last night’s 31-7 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the blueprint.

The Browns’ defense stopped the run early, then confused rookie QB Jameis Winston, sacking him twice in the first quarter and then forcing a turnover (an interception by rookie CB Charles Gaines).

It is amazing how much better the defense looked with Pro Bowl CB Joe Haden on the field.  He improves the pass defense immensely, and tonight was the only game in August he will play.

After the first series was a three and out by Tampa, the special teams came up with a big play as Travis Benjamin returned a punt 57 yards for a touchdown, and Mike Pettine’s crew was off and running.

QB Josh McCown didn’t throw the ball downfield much, but he was efficient, completing 17 of 23 throws for 117 yards and two touchdowns.  After last week’s game where he made two bad throws that resulted in interceptions, he did not turn it over last night.

The running game worked well too, and it appears that Isaiah Crowell took the lead in the running game derby with 27 yards in eight carries, while Terrance West did more dancing than we are sure the coaches will like.

Crowell also caught two passes for 12 yards.

Duke Johnson ran the ball well once, in between the tackles, gaining four yards before leaving with a concussion later in the first half.  We would have liked to seen more of the rookie.

But this is how the Browns want to play, and it is encouraging that in the one pre-season game that both teams game plan for, Pettine and his staff had his team prepared and they executed.

However, let’s remember that the Bucs had the first overall pick in the last spring’s draft and they didn’t trade for it.  They are a bad football team.  Still, Cleveland took care of business.

Had they lost to Tampa, the negative members of the fan base and media would be citing this game as proof that the Browns will be horrific during the regular season.

Rookie Danny Shelton continues to look like the beast in the middle he was projected to be, and DE Desmond Bryant had two sacks, but we are also impressed with another first year player, S Ibraheim Campbell, who is always making plays, and has done so in all three games.

Gaines is another rookie to be excited about, as he made several nice plays.  Besides the interception, he broke up two other Winston passes.

With no one of consequence playing Thursday night at Chicago, this is the last we will see of the best Browns’ players until the opener against the Jets on September 13th.

Thursday will determine who makes up the end of the roster, probably spots 45-53.

And hopefully we will see Terrelle Pryor, who we believe will make the team whether he plays or not.  We believe Pettine and GM Ray Farmer have seen enough of his athletic ability to understand someone will pick him up if the Browns cut him loose.

Quite frankly, Cleveland isn’t in the position to cut someone who can be a difference maker on offense.  They simply have to keep him.

Until then, Pettine has to be very satisfied with the result last night.  It is just as they wanted the script to be written when the regular season starts in two weeks.


QB Obsession For Browns By Media is Out of Control.

We’ve reached a new record with the Cleveland Browns in terms of the sports talk industry.

Yesterday, we heard hosts and fans discussing the 2016 NFL Draft in terms of what quarterbacks are available, even before one game of the 2015 NFL regular season has been played.


The media and some fans are simply obsessed with the position of quarterback, making it the end all, be all, regarding success of a pro football team.

Isn’t Atlanta’s Matt Ryan a very good NFL QB?  The Falcons went 6-10 last season.

New Orleans’ Drew Brees once led the Saints to a Super Bowl title.  Yet, his team went 7-9 a year ago.

On the other hand, Andy Dalton has led Cincinnati to the playoffs each of the last three years, and the Bengals went 10-5-1 in 2014.

The Houston Texans used Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, and Case Keenum as quarterbacks last season, and that squad went 9-7.

Is having a good quarterback important for a football team?  Of course.  Does it guarantee success in the NFL?  No.  Does not having one doom your team to a 3-13 record?  It does not.

We have even heard some talk show hosts suggest the Browns should tank the season so they can get their franchise passer in next spring in the draft.  Here is a list of QBs taken in the top five picks in the draft over the last 10 years–

2014–Blake Bortles (#3 overall)
2012–Andrew Luck (#1 overall)
2012–Robert Griffin III (#2 overall)
2011–Cam Newton (#1 overall)
2010–Sam Bradford (#1 overall)
2009–Matthew Stafford (#1 overall)
2009–Mark Sanchez (#5 overall)
2008–Matt Ryan (#3 overall)
2007–JaMarcus Russell (#1 overall)
2006–Vince Young (#3 overall)
2005–Alex Smith (#1 overall)

Out of those 11 signal callers, how many would you call an elite player?  Certainly, Luck qualifies, and Ryan would certainly be in our list of the top ten quarterbacks in the NFL.

And you can make an argument that Newton and Stafford should be in that group as well.

That means four out of 11, (36%) of passers drafted in the top five become very good players.  Not exactly a reason to throw away a season.

Two of these guys (Russell and Young) can be considered out-and-out busts, while Smith and Sanchez would probably be placed in the “journeyman” category.  Griffin and Bradford have been hampered by injuries throughout their career, and it is too early to evaluate Bortles.

What kills us is the Browns know they need to upgrade the position, but unfortunately, the NFL isn’t going to cancel the season until they do, nor does the team want put its fans through a 2-14 season either.

So, they are trying their best to minimize the amount of influence the quarterback has to the team’s success.

We have documented before that when the Browns get decent play from their QB, they can win football games.  That was certainly on display last year, when Brian Hoyer led Cleveland to a 7-4 start, before he started turning the ball over on a regular basis.

We are also not claiming that Josh McCown is going to be the second coming of Johnny Unitas nor that Johnny Manziel will be the next Brees.

If the Browns get lucky, they will get average, decent play out of the position.

However, we aren’t going to obsess about not having Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisburger either.

Slowly but surely, we think the Cleveland Browns are building a very good football team.  Their roster is in far better shape than it was three or four years ago.

That should be the story going into this season.  As Gene Hackman said in Hoosiers, “we hope you judge us on who we are, rather than who we are not”.


Does Tribe Need Tito To Be Tougher?

Cleveland Indians’ manager Terry Francona has a public persona that is all about being a player’s manager.

He seems to run a loose ship, letting the players play and very, very rarely takes one of his guys to task in the media.  We assume that he does discuss mistakes with his squad privately, and we only say that because we are not in the locker room.

In reading the book about his tenure in Boston, Francona is very protective of his players, and depends on veterans to help police the locker room, something he doesn’t seem to have right now with the Indians.

Jason Giambi fulfilled that role in the clubhouse the last two seasons.

However, we have seen several things over the past few weeks that makes it appear Francona may need to get tougher with his troops at least privately.  And some of these mistakes, most in fact, were done by veterans.

Francona has been publicly critical of Carlos Santana’s defense at first base recently, and when asked why Chris Johnson was getting most of the time at first instead of Santana, Tito replied that he told the player he needed to be the best defensive player at that position to be out there.

It is no secret that Santana has been subpar defensively all year.

We understand that the Tribe has had a disappointing season, and we are in the “dog days” of the season, but we have seen other mental errors by older players that should be addressed, particularly with young players like Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela being on the roster.

It doesn’t seem like a good example is being set.

While many alluded to the horrible call on the double play ball in Saturday’s game, and it was a complete joke, no one is discussing the base running by Jason Kipnis.

Kipnis was on third after Lindor’s single moved him there with one out.

Why wasn’t Kipnis running on the ball Michael Brantley hit to first base in that situation?  You have to at least get a run if the Yankees were going to turn two on the play.

Brantley beat the play at first, so there were still first and third with two out.  It was a bad baserunning mistake.

Perhaps not as bad as the one the next day by Mike Aviles, who tagged up on a fly ball to left by Carlos Santana and didn’t slide to try to elude a tag on the throw to the plate.  We aren’t sure Aviles would have been safe had he went to the ground on the play, but he certainly would have had a better chance.

With the Tribe struggling to score runs all year, these are glaring mistakes, and they are mental errors, not physical ones.

Then we have yesterday’s game in which apparently the Indians forgot that Cubs’ starter Jon Lester doesn’t like to throw to first with a runner on.

Cleveland didn’t have many base runners, they had just six hits and a walk on the day, but they didn’t attempt a stolen base until Lester left, and he was replaced by former Indian farmhand Hector Rondon.

Again, we don’t know what happened in the clubhouse, but we hope Francona addressed these blunders with his ballclub.

It’s one thing to have a poor record, it’s another to appear to be going through the motions.


If Shapiro Leaves, What is His Legacy?

The report came during Thursday’s pre-season game between the Browns and the Bills, so it kind of went under the radar at the time, but it got legs on Friday morning, at least in Cleveland.

Fox Sports/MLB Network correspondent Ken Rosenthal came out with the story that the Blue Jays are targeting the Indians’ president Mark Shapiro to be their new team president.

Shapiro has been with the Tribe a long time, since the early 1992  working under John Hart, and served as the Tribe’s GM from 2001 or 2002 (depending on the source) through 2010, when he was promoted to president, with Chris Antonetti promoted to general manager.

From ’93-’98, Shapiro was the head of minor league operations, and was responsible for a fertile farm system that promoted many players who contributed to the success the Tribe had in the late ’90’s through 2001.

Hart is the GM of record for 2001, but it is said Shapiro was running things that season as Hart was stepping down following the year.  However, according to record, Shapiro was GM for nine season, turning in a 704-754 record (a .482 winning percentage).

In that time, there were two winning seasons, and one playoff appearance in 2007.

Since Antonetti was his hand-picked successor, in the 13 seasons of the Shapiro regime, the Indians have a .488 winning percentage, four seasons over .500, and two playoff appearances.

Shapiro has an incredible reputation around baseball and has been mentioned by several people as someone who could be the commissioner of baseball at some point in time.

However, he seems to have more support outside of Cleveland than in it.  This is mostly because he took over after perhaps the best era in the history of the franchise, and has not been able to sustain success.

The problem with the Indians since Shapiro has been in charge, either as GM or president, is they are always in a building phase, because they can’t repeat winning.

A 93-69 record in 2005 was followed by a 78-84 record in 2006.

After winning the AL Central in 2007 with a 96-66 record, the Tribe fell to 81, 65, and 69 wins over the next three seasons.  It’s difficult to build fan support when you can’t repeat success.

It was in this span that Shapiro dealt two Cy Young Award winners, C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee, the latter even though he was still under club control for a full year after the deal, and also moved professional hitter Victor Martinez.  Those players were moved in the 2008-09 season.

The Indians would not have back-to-back winning seasons until the past two years (2013 and 2014), but they will not make it three in a row this season.

Shapiro likes a stable organization, which is good if you are successful, but the record shows differently.  He held on to Eric Wedge as manager for several seasons beyond where he should have.

His relationship with Terry Francona enabled him to bring the two-time World Series manager to Cleveland, and that has worked out brilliantly.

However, there has always seemed to be a lack or urgency under Shapiro’s leadership here.  The organization never seized the opportunity to win when they were in contention.

In 2007, the big move was to bring back 40-year-old Kenny Lofton, which helped the Tribe down the stretch, but wasn’t a real impact deal.  In 2013, the big trade was getting lefty reliever Marc Rzcepczynski.

Shapiro also has to be responsible for the abysmal drafting record of the team when he was GM.  The only first round choice of consequence from 2002-2010 was Jeremy Guthrie, who is a journeyman at best, and pitched in just 16 games for the Indians.

So the reputation around the game for Shapiro isn’t based on a lot of winning or success.  He is by all accounts a tremendous human being, and that is great.  He has reflected well on this franchise.

Still, baseball is a business where you are measured based on wins and losses, not on humanitarianism.

Perhaps he is given credit for keeping the Indians fairly competitive with a payroll usually in the bottom third of the sport.  However, the Rays and A’s are in the same predicament, with much more success.  Tampa has four post-season appearance from ’08-’13 and six straight seasons over .500.

Oakland in the same time span as Shapiro’s GM/President years here, has six playoff appearances, and nine winning seasons.

The bottom line is the Indians probably need a breath of fresh air through the offices on Carnegie and Ontario.  It’s time for a change.

Maybe a fresh viewpoint is exactly what the Cleveland Indians need going forward.


Browns Lose, But They Are Still 0-0

Last night’s Browns-Bills preseason contest should be exhibit A in any case where a football fan wants to sue NFL teams for charging full prices for these games.

It was that ugly.

Besides the numerous players on both teams that sat out the game with injuries (the Browns had 19 players listed as inactive for the contest), the play from both teams was sloppy and inconsistent.

That should be expected considering the number of guys who played that wouldn’t if the game really counted.

If you were upset early on with Browns’ CB Johnson Bademosi struggling in coverage, remember that if Mike Pettine has to have him covering the starting wide receivers from the opponent, it will indeed be a looooong season for the brown and orange.

And that wasn’t written to denigrate Bademosi, a very good special teams player.  However, on the pecking order, he is behind Joe Haden, Tramon Williams, K’Waun Williams, Pierre Desir, and probably Justin Gilbert.

The game was entertaining only to the two head coaches, Pettine and Rex Ryan, who seemed to have a contest on who could dial-up a more exotic blitz package against the other.

Josh McCown looked like a journeyman, throwing two bad interceptions, but we thought the play calling was odd, not that it matters in the pre-season.

Against a team with a pass rush like Buffalo, you almost have to pass on first down to stay out of second or third down and long situations, but offensive coordinator John DeFillipo wanted to establish the run, and McCown had to face a hard rush because the running game wasn’t working.

The veteran did have a good drive before the half, and Isiah Crowell had a couple of good runs, and once Terrance West figured out to make one move and cut up field, he had more success than he did early in the game.  McCown needed that, if only to restore confidence among the fan base.

Johnny Manziel led the Browns to their only touchdown drive, and although he is still is looking more and more like a pro QB, he had to run for his life for most of the half.  Still, he did make plays.

It would be interesting to see Manziel with the first unit if only to see if he can make plays from the pocket.  It is worth noting that GM Ray Farmer needs to find some offensive linemen when teams start cutting down, because outside of rookie Cam Irving, the second team line is a sieve.

TE Rob Housler looked good and probably put himself back in good graces, but undrafted free agent TE E.J. Bibbs continued to impress as well, meaning somebody with talent may not make the team if Cleveland decides to go with three tight ends.

WR Shane Wynn caught the Browns’ lone touchdown pass and had an electrifying punt return called back by penalty, but isn’t he the same player as Travis Benjamin and Taylor Gabriel?  The brown and orange need a big target, and that is why Terrelle Pryor is so intriguing.  He has size.

He also may have the ability to score from the Browns’ own 30 yard line.  Name another player on this roster who has this capability.  That’s why the former quarterback will be given every opportunity to make the final roster.

Next week is the “dress rehearsal” against Tampa Bay.  Our guess is several of the players with minor injuries will play that game, and that game only.

That should give us a better idea about this team going into the regular season.  Because right now, we can’t say we know anything.


There Are Some Positives Regarding Browns

For most football fans nationwide and even some in Cleveland, the persona of the Cleveland Browns is negative.

The owner is a “lite” version of the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, the head coach and general manager don’t get along, and the recent drafting history of the team is abysmal.

That’s just recent history.

To be truthful, since the Browns returned to the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1999, there has been just one playoff appearance and two winning seasons, the last being in 2007, which is only eight years ago.

We get it.  There isn’t any real reason for optimism, especially if you buy in to the premise that unless you have a great quarterback, any franchise is doomed to failure.

Of course, stories like Mark Sanchez leading the New York Jets to an AFC Championship game, and Colin Kaepernick taking the 49ers to the Super Bowl prove that theory wrong.

Let’s just say it is definitely tougher to achieve success without a stud signal caller.

However, there are a lot of good things going on with the Browns, but it seems like people just continue to focus on the quarterback, and on Josh McCown being a journeyman.

That isn’t going to change.  Aaron Rodgers and/or Andrew Luck aren’t going to magically show up in Berea, nor is the NFL going to cancel seasons until the Browns get a “franchise” signal caller.

Until that happens, here are some good things going on with the city’s football team.

The offensive line should be one of the NFL’s best.  They have two Pro Bowl players in Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, and another who is on the verge of that status in Joel Bitonio.  John Greco, Mitchell Schwartz, and rookie first round pick Cameron Irving should be solid.

Having a very good line should help the running game and give the passer time to survey the defense and find open targets.

Even mediocre wide receivers will get open if the quarterback has enough time to throw.

The secondary is also a position of strength.

Joe Haden is one of football’s best cornerbacks, and both Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gibson made the Pro Bowl a year ago.  Free agent signee Tramon Williams from Green Bay, made the squad in 2010.

There is also depth with second year players Pierre Desir, K’Waun Williams, and rookie Ibraheim Campbell.  That’s why Justin Gilbert’s struggles are only an issue because he was a first round pick.

He’s not leaving a huge void on this team.

The defensive line is also deep with rookie NT Danny Shelton, and veterans Phil Taylor, John Hughes, Billy Winn, Desmond Bryant, and Armonty Bryant, and Randy Starks was added as a free agent.  Xavier Cooper is another new addition via the draft.

This should allow defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil to keep these guys fresh, and hopefully that enables them to stop the run better, a huge weakness for the ’14 Browns.

So, there is a foundation for success with this front office.  We can’t think of any Browns’ team with three areas of strength over the last 15 years.

And while the muscle pulls keeping players off the practice field is a problem, none of the injures have to do with knee injuries or broken bones that will keep players out for extended time.

For example, we are sure that Haden and Thomas would have played last week if it were a regular season game, and that is probably true with several other players.

So, you can focus on not having the QB, but there are several teams in the same boat around the NFL.  On the other hand, we choose to look at the glass half full until proven otherwise.


Looking Toward ’16 During Last Six Weeks

The Cleveland Indians are currently holding auditions for the 2016 season, all able-bodied players in their system should have a chance to state their case to be on next year’s Opening Day roster during the last six weeks of the season.

If the Tribe were putting an ad in the sports pages, that is what it would probably look like.

You would have to think that among the everyday players, only Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes are for sures to be here next April.  Although, Francisco Lindor is making a pretty good case for himself as well.

However, with players who do not have a track record should be required to earn their spot.  So, if Lindor came to Goodyear not in the best shape, or he hits .150 in the exhibition games, it’s not a guarantee that he makes the squad.

Our guess is that Carlos Santana will be moved elsewhere because the Tribe doesn’t want to pay him $8 million next year for the production they have received. And we believe Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn will be free agents after the 2015 campaign.

Chris Johnson will likely be back because of his $9 million deal for 2016, but that’s a tradeable deal so that is not etched in stone.

Giovanny Urshela has been impressive defensively, but we aren’t sure he will hit enough to play everyday.  And if Jose Ramirez continues to hit like he has since his call up, Terry Francona will have to find a spot for him, unless, of course, GM Chris Antonetti uses him to bring back a legitimate bat.

So, the tryouts are really at the following positions:  1B, 3B, CF, RF, DH.

Even if Lonnie Chisenhall hits well down the stretch, the front office cannot be fooled by that.  Chisenhall was tremendous in the first half last season, but hasn’t done much since.

Fans will get a good look at players like Jerry Sands and Abraham Almonte in August, and many at bats will be given to guys like Tyler Holt, Jesus Aguilar, James Ramsey, and Zack Walters in September.

Can Sands be the Tribe’s version of J.D. Martinez?

Can Holt and Aguilar contribute if given steady playing time, something they haven’t received in any of their big league stints?

Can Almonte and Ramsey at least be steady enough to hold down the fort until Bradley Zimmer arrives in Cleveland?

Can Walters ever make contact?

There is no doubt Antonetti will need to find some veterans to fill in at the beginning of the year, but those players should be given one or two-year deals, at mid-range dollars.

The team’s foray into the big time free agent market should be over.

Most all-star type players don’t hit the market until they are past 30 years old, so what you are buying is the player’s declining years.  Even Los Angeles’ Albert Pujols isn’t the same player he was in St. Louis, and the Angels will want to get out of that deal soon.

If we were the brass, we would start working on a 10 year deal with Lindor, so he will be here through age 31.  We will that strongly about his talent, and because of his unproven talent, it would not cost the franchise $200 million to do it.

Think of the deal Evan Longoria signed in Tampa during his first year with the Rays.

So the positions that are open will need to be filled with either youngsters or whatever return you get in dealing Santana and/or Ramirez, and/or some pitching.

Even if the Tribe doesn’t want to move a starter, they have some bullpen depth, and should really open next year with at least three new faces in the relief corps.

And yes, we would consider moving Cody Allen for the right price.  As former GM John Hart once said, closers grow on trees.

The organization cannot be fooled by any success the Tribe has over the last six weeks.  They have several spots to fill before the 2016 season begins.

As we said before…let the auditions start.

Nothing Really Learned From Browns Last Night

When watching NFL pre-season games, this is the rule of thumb we use–

For the first game, only the first quarter matters.  For the second game, the first half matters.  In the third game, the “dress rehearsal” if you will, the first three quarters matter.  And the last game is just to decide who makes the back-end of the roster.

So, what did we learn from last night’s game against the Redskins?  Not much.

First, it is tough to judge anything considering the Browns’ two best players, Joe Thomas and Joe Haden, didn’t even play.  Nor did Dwayne Bowe, Terrell Pryor, Duke Johnson, and several others who could be key members of Mike Pettine’s squad when the regular season starts on September 14th.

The morning newspaper was filled with praise for new starting QB Josh McCown, which we thought was jumping the gun a little bit.

McCown played just one series, made the throws he needed to make, benefited from a pass interference penalty, and otherwise dinked and dunked the Browns into the end zone.

This is not to say, we don’t think McCown will be better than Brian Hoyer, because we think he will, but we didn’t see anything special about the performance last night.  We want to see more.

As for the backup quarterback, Johnny Manziel, he showed improvement from last year, mostly in that he looked like an NFL quarterback.

Gone was the “Johnny Package”, the read option non-sense that is being phased out by most NFL teams because defenses have caught up to it.

And although Manziel scored a touchdown on a run, it was the type of run he should have made.  He dropped back, the defense parted like the Red Sea, and he took the opportunity to get his team in the end zone.  But, there was a marked difference in the way he approached the offense this year.

Overall, the offense was pretty vanilla with mostly short, safe throws, and perhaps the reason for that was the absence of Bowe, Pryor, and Johnson, who we think will be a big part of the passing game.

It was a little disturbing to see last year’s first round pick, Justin Gilbert, get torched on the opening series of the game, losing Pierre Garcon wide open on a deep pass, which he dropped.

He also whiffed on his next chance, a sideline route.  He did recover to defend two passes in the end zone, but he needs to be better in the next couple of contests if he is going to contribute.

The run defense, which was arguably more of a weakness than the quarterback play a year ago, didn’t shine, so that is a bit concerning as well.  They still have a hard time keeping backs from getting outside.  To be sure, that will be a point of emphasis this week in practice.

Next week, we will get to see the people who are going to play in the regular season a whole lot more, probably through the first half.  At that point, we should see more things to start forming opinions.

It was good to see football again, but that’s about all we saw.  Nothing to get excited about, nothing to be depressed about.

That’s probably the ideal circumstance if you are Mike Pettine.