The last time the Cleveland Indians made the playoffs prior to 2013 was in 2007, when Eric Wedge led the Tribe to the American League Championship Series, losing to the eventual World Champion Red Sox (managed by Terry Francona) in seven games.
After that season, then GM Mark Shapiro basically hibernated. The lone transaction of note was acquiring utility infielder Jamey Carroll from Colorado.
Later in spring training, Shapiro added left-handed reliever Craig Breslow on waivers from the Boston Red Sox.
That was it.
Many fans and baseball experts were critical of the Indians for not following up a Central Division championship season by strengthening the ballclub.
That brings us to 2014.
After a terrific month of September that sort of ignited baseball interest in Cleveland, GM Chris Antonetti hasn’t made a big splash in terms of getting help for his baseball team.
The biggest moves were signing OF David Murphy and reliever John Axford as free agents and trading OF Drew Stubbs for lefty reliever Josh Outman.
That won’t have fans flocking for ticket booths.
Now, we liked the Murphy pick up because it appears that the 2013 season was a blip on years of being a solid hitter, and Stubbs was superfluous because of that signing. Axford’s had some good years as a closer, but didn’t have the job last season. But it isn’t enough to have people excited about the Tribe.
Nor does it offset the loss of starting pitcher Scott Kazmir and the real possibility that Ubaldo Jimenez, the team’s best pitcher down the stretch, will be elsewhere this season.
The organization will explain things away with the usual discussion about the economics of the game, but they won’t tell you where the money from the sale of SportsTime Ohio and the new televsion contract is, and skipper Terry Francona will tell everyone that this team can and will compete for the division title this season.
And truth be told, Antonetti has done a good job bringing some low risk, high reward free agents such as pitchers Shaun Marcum and David Aardsma, and OFs Jeff Francoeur, and Nyjer Morgan.
He did the same last season in getting Ryan Raburn, Kazmir, and Jason Giambi, and those moves worked out pretty well.
We still believe the Tribe will sign another starting pitcher before spring training begins, now that the Yankees have signed Masahiro Tanaka, thus freeing up the market for starters.
That’s why we said it’s a possibility that Jimenez will be gone.
Maybe the attitude brought here by Francona and the veteran leadership he brought in last year will indeed allow the Indians to battle into the playoffs in 2014.
Still, if the team slips back to the .500 mark, people will point to the relative inactivity by Antonetti as the reason for the decline in the Tribe’s win total.
While we agree with not trading the system’s top two prospects, SS Francisco Lindor and OF Clint Frazier, the organization is ranking in the middle of the pack among all major league farm systems, meaning there are players desirable to other teams.
Why not trade one of these pieces to get another proven bat or another starting pitcher, players who could vault the Tribe into the favorite role in the division?
Instead, they have chosen the conservative route once again. The path that doesn’t get a fan base excited.
There seems to be a parallel to 2007. Let’s hope for a different result the season after a playoff berth.