Heading into September, the Cleveland Indians still had a shot at the AL Central Division title. They had a bunch of games against the Detroit Tigers remaining, and if they played well against them they had a chance to make the playoffs.
They went into the season’s final month just 5-1/2 games out with six games remaining against the Motor City Kitties. Taking four of the six would give Manny Acta’s crew a shot.
We all know what happened. The Indians lost all six, being outscored in the games by a composite 50-19. They didn’t come close and wound up the season 15 games behind Detroit.
They headed into the off-season with questions in LF, 1B, and the fifth starter. With less than two weeks to go in spring training, two of those problems still remain.
Why weren’t they addressed? Especially with Forbes Magazine’s report that Cleveland made over $30 million in profit last season.
GM Chris Antonetti traded for veteran RHP Derek Lowe to shore up the rotation, but with Roberto Hernandez’ absence from camp due to mistaken identity, one spot still remains open.
Jeanmar Gomez has pitched better than anyone in the competition, but still hasn’t been given the gig, mostly because it says here that the organization would rather have veteran Kevin Slowey win the job.
Antonetti traded for Slowey after the news about Hernandez, giving up reliever Zach Putnam, who may have been able to help in the bullpen this summer. Slowey was 0-8 last season in Minnesota, but Antonetti felt the need to give up a decent prospect to get him, even after the Twins had sent him to Colorado earlier in the winter.
As for LF, the front office thought they solved that issue by re-signing CF Grady Sizemore, the oft-injured player, who hasn’t been healthy since 2009. That would put Michael Brantley in left, although he’s never been a solid offensive option thus far, but he’s only 24 years old.
Most predicted Sizemore couldn’t stay healthy all of the 2012 season, but no one figured he would get hurt before one exhibition game would be played. But he did, and will likely be out until June or July with a back injury.
Shelley Duncan has emerged as the best option in LF, but management is reluctant to give him the job. He does have a limited track record, but it’s no more hazy than the others in the competition, like Aaron Cunningham and Ryan Spilborghs.
Would you believe Duncan’s OPS the last two seasons is better than Brantley’s?
This is not to say if Dunc played everyday, he would hit .260 with 25 HRs. Whether he can play everyday and be effective is certainly up for debate, but he should get the opportunity. At the very least, we know he can hit southpaws, and should be in the lineup somewhere if a lefty starts.
The Indians feel they filled the 1B spot by signing Casey Kotchman, but let’s take a wait and see attitude. Kotchman’s .306 batting average last season was 38 points higher than his lifetime figure and his career slugging percentage is under .400.
Prediction: Acta will be looking for some offense out of first base by the middle of May.
So, what exactly did the front office do doing the off-season? A team that finished below .500, yet stayed in contention until Labor Day, really did nothing to improve the ballclub even though it has been reported the team made money (and a lot of it!) last year.
If the Tribe doesn’t contend in 2012, then Chris Antonetti should have a lot of explaining to do.
Of course, with the Cleveland Indians and their we do all the right things mentality, it will be status quo for 2013.
Remember this Cleveland fans…if the Tribe finishes below .500 this year, that will be nine of the last 11 seasons with losing records.