Should Be Make or Break Year for Tribe Regime

The Dolan family bought the Cleveland Indians during the 2000 season they made the famous claim that they wanted to win multiple World Series championships.  Kind of makes them the Miami Heat right now, doesn’t it.

Of course, the city is still waiting for just one, and it doesn’t appear to be on the horizon soon.  Several baseball people wonder about the fact that currently, the Tribe has no one under contract for the 2013 season.  Not a single player. 

There is speculation that the current owners are planning to sell the franchise and Sportstime Ohio, the broadcase entity they started several years ago, and what better way to make the Indians sellable than to have no future large contracts on the books.

After the rollicking 90’s, with constant participation in the sport’s post-season and two trips to the World Series in a three year span, the 11 full seasons of Dolan ownership has returned Indians fans back to the desert. 

For the record, 11 seasons, three years over the .500 mark (2001, 2005, 2007), and two trips to the post-season (’01 and ’07).  And for the record, let’s remember that the first of those years were done with players already on the roster from the great AL Central Division title teams of 1995-1999. 

Yes, the Dolans did sign OF Juan Gonzalez to replace the departed Manny Ramirez, who went to Boston via free agency, but the rest of the core of that team was already in place.

So, when Indians’ fans display some anger about the recent past, it’s with reason.  The plan structured by former GM Mark Shapiro, now the team president, and continued by current GM Chris Antonetti hasn’t been very successful. 

Shapiro decided to start the rebuilding process in 2002, trading Roberto Alomar to the Mets for several players, most notably OF Matt Lawton and big time prospect OF Alex Escobar.  Shapiro was right to deal the future Hall of Famer, his last productive year in the bigs was 2001, but while Lawton turned into a serviceable player, even making an All-Star team with the Indians in 2004, Escobar had injuries and was a bust.

The biggest move Shapiro made came in the middle of ’02, when he made the famed Bartolo Colon deal, which netted the Tribe a bevy of all-stars:  2B Brandon Phillips (now with the Reds), OF Grady Sizemore, and former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee. 

It was that deal, along with the development of pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, C Victor Martinez, SS Jhonny Peralta, and a minor deal which netted DH Travis Hafner for C Einar Diaz, that put the Indians in the mix for the post-season in 2005 and 2007.

Since then, it’s all gone south for the front office.

The last four seasons has seen 81 victories as the high water mark (2008), and two seasons of over 90 losses.

Hafner and Sizemore have been ravaged by injuries, keeping them off the field for most of that time period, while Cleveland has traded Sabathia, Lee, Martinez, and Peralta as they approached big paydays in free agency.  The best player acquired in any of those transactions has been P Justin Masterson.

You can certainly question the front office for either not identifying at least one of those players as keepers and making them the face of the franchise (Sabathia should have been that guy), and making poor judgments in the players received for these guys. 

The point is this, right now the current regime simply isn’t getting the job done. 

Antonetti made a bold move last season with the Tribe off to a great start (30-15), trading for former 19 game winner Ubaldo Jimenez for two former first round draft picks, LHP Drew Pomerantz and RHP Alex White.  If Jimenez doesn’t regain the form of 2010 (19-8, 2.88 ERA), this deal will be viewed the same way the Sabathia, Lee, and Martinez trades have been evaluated.  As failures.

This isn’t to say the front office hasn’t made any good moves.  They basically have stolen OF Shin-Soo Choo and SS Asdrubal Cabrera in minor deals with Seattle, and pilfered C Carlos Santana from the Dodgers.  The farm system has provided 2B Jason Kipnis and 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, who should be contributors over the next several seasons. 

However, if the Indians don’t finish over .500 this season, it will be five consecutive years of non-winning seasons.  It will be time to make a change in the way the team does its business. 

Patience is running out for the fans.  It should also be doing the same for the people who write the checks.

KM

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