Things looked like they were going to go so smoothly for Terry Francona in Cleveland. Hell, it looked like Cleveland was going to not only break its sports curse but maybe start a new winning tradition.
“Tito” took over the Indians in 2013 after a year removed from fried chicken and beer (and 2 Curse crushing World Series titles) in Boston. First year at the helm, BOOM! Back in the playoffs. A Wild Card game at home no less with images of a Francona versus Boston Division Series showdown dancing in everyone’s heads.
It didn’t happen and 2014 fell short of the post season. But with young players and a Cy Young winner in Corey Kluber, the Tribe looked like a World Series contender (or winner according to Sports Illustrated) at the same time that LeBron James was going to make the Cavaliers champs.
The Cavs came up 2 games short. The Indians… well they traded away any veteran who wasn’t nailed down at the trade deadline.
But this is not a total breakdown and rebuild. This might simply be a misfire and reload for 2016 that might not be as complex as you may think.
Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher are both on the wrong side of 30 and expensive. They were dumped to Atlanta who keeps getting involved in curious deals.
They got Rob Kaminsky, a decent pitching prospect, for Brandon Moss, who was not an effective player this year. And they flipped Marc Rzepczynski (pronounced Rzepczynski) for 26 year old Abraham Almonte, who has played well his first few games in Cleveland.
The Indians have a lot going for them in 2016. Francisco Lindor is already up in the majors and getting his proverbial feet wet at age 21. Jason Kipnis will only be 29 next year when he comes back. Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes will be under 30 and Carlos Santana at first will turn 30 around opening day, making him the grand old man of their lineup.
Their outfield is currently, besides Bourn, a whole lot of “YEEESH” (assuming Almonte’s hot start is a bit of a fluke.) Plus their closer situation has had its ups and downs, as has Trevor Bauer’s temper.
But the 1-2-3 punch of Kluber, Carrasco and Salazar is as good as any top three (and when Bauer keeps the ball in the yard he can be super effective.)
Essentially the Indians STILL have a young core and a solid rotation.
They need 4 things:
They need a hitter.
They need another hitter.
They need yet another hitter.
They need to be healthy.
Short of getting the pool from Cocoon installed into their clubhouse, the fourth thing could be out of their control. But if they had two outfielders and a DH, they would be in contention right now.
The Indians are going to have one of the lowest payrolls next year again and with their piss poor attendance and revenue streams, they are not going to be in the feeding frenzy for David Price or Johnny Cueto. But they already have an ace in Kluber.
Plus they have more young players coming up through the farm, like Bradley Zimmer who could be in the big league lineup by mid season 2016.
The one thing Cleveland does not want to do this year is miss an opportunity with this starting staff and this talented young infield intact and signed for the next few years is coming up short in an area that can be fixed.
Of course Cleveland fans can have a pipedream of reeling in Jason Heyward or Alex Gordon. But you know and I know that isn’t happening.
Could they get into the mix for a Justin Upton for a shorter deal or one with an opt out clause? Maybe.
Could they get into business with the Dexter Fowlers or Colby Rasmus’ of the world? Maybe.
But there are two teams that they should be looking at closely in terms of precedence. Those 2013 Red Sox mixed and matched relatively inexpensive veterans hoping they had one more good year in them. Not everyone worked but enough did, with solid pitching and some young infielders, to put them over the top. Brantley with 4 different veteran outfielders and a young Zimmer might be the combination.
And also keep in mind what happened with the Mets this year. All year they had solid starting pitching but got virtually no offensive production, especially from their outfield. (Sound familiar?)
They did not get the biggest players, but the combination of veterans (and Cespedes) gave the other players protection and shed light on a little piece of wisdom: Mediocre is better than bad. The result is the good pitching staff is taking advantage of those extra runs and winning games.
An improved Indians team in an American League where anyone can contend could be the key in 2016. They were smart to throw in the towel this season and turn it into extended spring training for next year.
Perhaps this winter they would splurge. More likely they should wait and see which outfielder is hanging around free agency and would be willing to do a one and done deal, like Nelson Cruz did with Baltimore in 2014.
The team that will bring a title to Cleveland will be worshipped like no other team I can imagine, save for the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Terry Francona is in a position to manage both of those teams and punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame.
3 hitters and health… that is the recipe.