The State of the Tribe Part I: Antonetti
The Indians have been really bad lately. In fact, they’ve been the worst team in the majors since the all star break. Most rational people didn’t think that this Indians team would run away with the AL Central, but most rational people didn’t expect a nose dive of this magnitude. The eleven game losing streak really killed any hopes of the postseason (even with the extra wildcard), and this current eight game streak the team is riding will probably get someone fired. Pitching coach Scott Radinsky was already a casualty from the earlier streak, and while manager Manny Acta got the dreaded “vote of confidence” from GM Antonetti earlier this month, he might not see September.
I certainly don’t have any answers for the team, but thankfully it’s not my mess to worry about. Is it really a mess, though? I guess it depends on how you view the Tribe system and its front office. Let’s take a look at the people involved and give them an entirely arbitrary grade – the old confidence vote. From the top:
General Manager Chris Antonetti: C. I don’t really want to commit either way on this one. I can’t really see his job being in danger as he hasn’t been at the helm for two years (or three if you count the 2010 season where he was the known successor to Shapiro.) Now that a year has passed, the Ubaldo Jimenez trade does not look very good. It could be a lot worse, though. Alex White and Drew Pomeranz haven’t exactly been tapping the Rockies out west, although White did manage a DUI. I think I’ll consider Antonetti’s only major trade a wash at this point, though I think Pomeranz still has a lot of upside. 6’5″, solidly built lefties don’t come around very often.
Where Antonetti loses points in my arbitrary rating system is his 2011 offseason. The biggest acquisition was Casey Kotchman. I think we’ve all seen enough weak groundouts to dock some points here. I love a man with good leather as much as the next guy, but I want my first baseman to mash. I’m not talking about mashing in some sort of Pujolsian/Votto out of this planet type of mash, but would slugging .450 be out of the question? It’s not like first base is the only hole we had to plug. Like Manny Acta said in an interview last week, we need at least three more bats to compete. Left field this season has been an absolute black hole. I know it’s been said many times, but look at the season Josh Willingham has put up for the Twins: .260/.368/.540 with a 3.8 WAR. As so often is the case in life and in baseball, it is an issue of length. Anthony Castrovince pointed it out best:
The best option, though, might be the one the Indians targeted this winter, only to fall short when they wouldn’t go to a third guaranteed year — Josh Willingham. Hindsight is any sports fan’s specialty, but, seriously, how good would Willingham have looked in this lineup in this first half?
It does give me a little bit of solace that we were targeting Willingham at all. The front office is not dumb. They know we need/needed a right handed bat, preferably one that can not be a statue in left field. Hell, we even dragged out the corpse of Johnny Damon for 56 games of sadness. He seems like a nice enough guy, but there’s just nothing left there. So we swung and miss on Willingham and Beltran, but what other options were out there? Granted, we’ll never know who the team was actually in talks with. The remaining options weren’t all that enticing: Scott Hairston, Coco Crisp, Cody Ross, Ryan Ludwick. In hindsight, any of those guys would have been a pretty huge upgrade over the Duncan/Damon/Cunningham debacle. Admittedly, Ezequiel Carrera seems to have turned a new leaf and could make for an interesting fourth outfielder going forward.
Grady Sizemore re-upped with the team on a one year deal for $5 million. Generally, there is no such thing as a bad one year deal, but Grady Sizemore’s creaky back and knees beg to differ. He won’t be returning this season.
Leaving left field and first base alone, it doesn’t begin to address the starting pitching. If the starters are getting shelled regularly, you can’t expect a team (even with offensive juggernauts such as Scott Hairston) to put up seven runs a night. The starting pitching has been really depressing as of late. Going into the year, the Indians made the age old mistake of believing they had starting pitching depth. With Justin Masterson coming off a very impressive 2011 campaign along with the (un)founded hope that Ubaldo fixed his mechanics, the front of the rotation looked quite respectable. Add into the mix the little cowboy, Josh Tomlin, along with veteran Derek Lowe and youngster Jeanmar Gomez and the rotation looked to be at least league average. When the usual injuries started to add up, the depth of Kevin Slowey, David Huff, Scott Barnes and Zach McAllister could be called upon. Flash forward four months and Zach McAllister is probably the most reliable starter. Derek Lowe was DFA’d and is on mopup duty for the Yankees. Jimenez is just as mercurial as ever. Masterson is hit or miss, and Tomlin needs Tommy John surgery. So much for depth.
Going forward, Antonetti has some thinking to do. The season has had some positives. Michael Brantley has established himself as a solid-average major league player. He’ll likely never be a first division starter, but at least center field won’t be at the top of the offseason shopping list. Shin-Soo Choo has been rock solid in right this year, but with his contract expiring in 2013 coupled with the fact that he’s a Boras client, he’ll likely be dealt before the trade deadline next season. Choo could net the Tribe some much needed upper minors depth, hopefully under team control for a few years. Carlos Carrasco will be returning from Tommy John surgery for next season. He actually is scheduled to pitch this week in the Arizona Rookie League, per Hoynes.
In terms of expiring contracts, Casey Kotchman and Grady Sizemore will be off the books. I wouldn’t mind if we gave Sizemore a minor league deal with some incentives or maybe the veteran’s minimum. I doubt seriously that there would be much demand for his services around the league, especially as he can’t be counted on to play center field anymore. As far as players with team options, there are three: Travis Hafner, Ubaldo Jimenez and Roberto Hernandez (insert name joke here.) There’s no way we pay $13 million for the 35 year old Hafner. The $2.75 million buyout is a no brainer. I would expect the club to pick up Jimenez and Hernandez even though both pitchers are dangerously bipolar.
Where does that leave the team? Needing three bats and a starter. Sound familiar?
Manny Acta just told us on “Inside Pitch” Sirius 209 & XM 89 that they need 3 Bats & Starter to compete with the Tigers & WSox going forward
— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) August 14, 2012
Manny Acta drops truth bombs. The Indians need to find answers at first base and left field. They’ll have the DH spot to experiment with. Looking at the free agent options for 2013, it’s not exactly encouraging. First base is in a sad state. Mike Napoli is the only name on the list that gets me excited. It’s not like we won’t have the payroll flexibility to chase someone of Napoli’s caliber: the Tribe only has $11 million in committed payroll next season. There aren’t many options in the minors for first base unless you fancy a four-A type like Russ Canzler or Matt LaPorta. Jesus Aguilar is interesting, but he’s a long, long way from Cleveland. I think Antonetti should target Napoli. Santana/Marson could share time behind the plate with Napoli spelling them occasionally. Napoli/Santana could brotate at first base and DH, respectively. Nick Swisher would be a great addition in the outfield, but he seems poised for a huge payday. Even if the team does have some money to burn, the contract length could get ignorant if the Indians get into a bidding war.
Really, Antonetti’s rating is a C right now but it could go up or down two full letter grades depending on what he decides to do with this offseason. There is a lot of flexibility with the team’s payroll currently, but there are also some glaring weaknesses that need to be addressed if the team expects to compete in 2013. His job is safe currently, but things could change quickly. Antonetti needs to take a healthy swing this offseason. He might whiff, but the scary thing is he might not be around to worry about the consequences of some bad contracts. Either way, the Jimenez trade and this offseason’s big acquisition will define the Antonetti era as Cleveland’s general manager.