Last night, the Cleveland Indians played the biggest game of the season and Terry Francona had to fill out a lineup card that included veteran Chris Gimenez at 1B and rookie Tyler Holt in right field.
We don’t think that was plan back in April.
Look, while Francona can be criticized for some in-game decisions, the reality of the situation is he has kept a flawed baseball team in the race for a post-season spot until the final week of the season. You also have to credit his pitching coach, Mickey Callaway, for putting together a starting rotation that has been dominant throughout August and September.
It is apparent that at the end of July, when the trading deadline takes place, the front office didn’t see the dominant pitching coming. The Indians were 53-56 and sat six games behind the second wild card team, the Toronto Blue Jays, and GM Chris Antonetti decided to deal free agents to be Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson, and basically get prospects in return.
To be fair, neither Cabrera nor Masterson were having good seasons, but in dealing those two, Antonetti didn’t address the Tribe’s weaknesses, mainly a right-handed bat and pitching help.
The inability to address the former led to Gimenez and Holt being thrust into a race for a playoff spot.
Antonetti and his boss, team president Mark Shapiro, can say anything he wants, but it is clear he didn’t have any faith that his ballclub would arrive at the last week of the regular season with a chance to make the playoffs.
We wonder what Francona thinks about the lack of confidence in his players.
When the Tribe made an August surge, going 18-9 for the month, the front office brought in some reinforcements to help out when players suffered injuries. Gimenez was brought in when Yan Gomes suffered a concussion, J. B. Shuck was eventually added in September after David Murphy and Nick Swisher went out of the lineup.
Those two have combined to go 1 for 30 while wearing a Cleveland uniform.
Meanwhile, players like Josh Willingham (Kansas City), Adam Dunn (Oakland), and John Mayberry Jr, (Toronto) were all moved during August, and while none of them have been difference makers down the stretch, they aren’t 1 for 30 either.
The point is even on July 31st, six games out isn’t enough to toss in the proverbial white towel. Maybe Antonetti didn’t see Corey Kluber becoming arguably the American League’s best pitcher, nor did he see Carlos Carrasco turning into a right-handed version of Sandy Koufax, but you don’t know if you will ever get that type of dominant starting pitching in 2015.
That’s why you have to go for a post-season spot whenever you have the opportunity. And that’s why the front office failed the players, the manager, and the fan base, who want to be convinced the organization wants to win.
While the rotation looks good for the future, we all know pitching isn’t the most stable commodity. It is doubtful that Kluber will pitch this well next year, and who knows about the rest of the rotation, who really don’t have a track record in the major leagues.
And whatever you want to say about Terry Francona, there is no question that he knows how to get the most out of his players. His belief and trust of his players offset any weaknesses he has in the in-game strategy department, and he squeezes the most out of his guys.
It’s too bad the front office didn’t understand this. As close as they came this season, any help that would have come in could have put the Tribe back in the playoffs this fall.