Maybe that's an exaggeration, because if you are a Cleveland Indians fan, you have seen the same things that I have in recent times that make me think the end of these troubles are nowhere in sight. Eric Wedge can not manage his way out of a paper bag. He is supposed to be a great teacher, yet he can't teach a group of professionals how play defense, or how to bunt. When I played ball as a kid, every single coach I played for stressed fundamentals, so why are fundamentals killing this team? What makes all of this worse is the fact Wedge was a catcher in a former life, yet no catchers on this club can throw out a baserunner. How is that even possible?
I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is we will not see Bob Wickman blow any more saves. And we will not have to hold our breath during the saves he converted, since we shipped him off to Atlanta for a bag of balls and some broken bats. Remember when Larry Dolan said he would increase the payroll? Does anyone think by dumping Wickie's salary, this will open us up to trade for some ML talent? NO F'ING WAY. When Hollandsworth, Mota, Boonie, Belliard, Broussard, etc get traded, we are only going to receive prospects in return, meaning our salary will be terribly low. So what is Dolan doing with the money from the gate, the revenue sharing that will come from the Yankees and Red Sox (among others), and SportsTime Ohio (you know, the Indians baseball network that was supposed to increase revenue and therefore payroll)? Larry Dolan may rank as one of the worst owners in all of professional sports. Now I am not asking that he just spends money to increase payroll just to bring new players in. I am fully behind the idea that we spend wisely. But at some point the front office will have to grit their teeth and pay more than they feel a player is worth to bring them here. I am a firm believer that something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. But in baseball, if 25 teams are willing to pay more for a player than you are, you are not spending wisely, you are being cheap.
I am sure Larry Dolan is a decent businessman. He has/ had money, and he had to make it somewhere. But was buying the Cleveland Indians such a good idea? When Dolan bought the club, they were a team full of allstars, with an increasing payroll, a good mixture of young and old guys. The team won ballgames and division titles in bunches. The stadium was sold out every game for years (455 straight games, for those who forgot.) Now, I am not an economist, but one would think that if the stadium was constantly full, the team was probably at it's maximum earning potential. How could Dolan increase the teams margin? Well, he could have started a television network to gain revenue in order to keep players OR he could cut payroll. Dolan cut payroll, shipped off established players for prospects. He chose not to resign veterans at high wages (I am not totally against these moves, more on that to come) and let them leave as free agents. You know what happened? The team started losing. The stadium was less and less crowded. Then economics dictated that payroll had to be cut even more. Which leads us to where we are today.
I still love this team. But they make it harder as time goes on. I am glad they did not saddle themselves with huge contracts that would not have allowed them to surround a few superstars with any talent. I'd rather see a team full of solid players that will help get wins than one overpaid superstar and an uninspired supporting cast. But are these the only 2 options? Before this season, the Jim Thome decision looked to be so right. There was no way in hell they could have paid Millwood what he was asking. The Manny contract is one of those things we may never see again. Although the Sox won a WS with Manny (and others) making huge contracts, how has the A Rod contract worked out for the teams he's played for? But the Yankees and Sox will always play off of each other in a game of Keeping up with the Jonses. If either team decided to ignore the other, the press and fans in that city would be outraged to the point there would probably be bloodshed. But the Indians plan of dumping players and not bringing suitable replacements will not lead to a championship. When the Indians were running away with the AL Central there was more leeway, but with the White Sox winning a WS, the Tigers resurgence, and the Twins having some success this year, the Indians have reached the point of no return. The either have to compete or rebuild. They can no longer do both. There are holes that must be addressed. Players need to be paid to come here. There is a lackluster manager who seems to be on autopilot and can not win a close game. This will not be solved today, it will not be solved at the trade deadline, and I do not think we will have any clearer view going into spring training next year. Wedge should be gone. Shapiro may walk, going to a team willing to spend money. Dolan going may be the best bet, but he's the guy that supposedly signs the checks, and unfortunately I think he's staying. That's the bad news.
Bill Livingston had a good column in today's Cleveland Plain Dealer. The text of that follows:
Indians failing chemistry class
Friday, July 21, 2006
Plain Dealer Columnist
Thank goodness for the Wedgiro partnership. Or maybe it should be called the Shapedge partnership. It's hard to tell.
The Indians, a distant fourth-place in a five-team race, say General Manager Mark Shapiro and Manager Eric Wedge are partners. They go together like meat and potatoes, or, given that the Indians are the topic of discussion, a walk and a steal of second.
You would not want a chief because, after all, they are all Indians. When John Hart had Shapiro's job, he was known, not so secretly, as "chief of all chiefs." What an outmoded and authoritarian approach that was! What's worse, he and manager Mike Hargrove were as different as the Yankees' payroll and Larry Dolan's. They didn't complete each other's sentences. You just can't have such a disconnect in the front office.
What, other than five straight division titles and two pennants, did they ever win?
Those were, of course, the days of a big payroll and a new ballpark. It was easier to subordinate personality differences when the lineup card listed an All-Star at every position.
But is the only alternative the Wedgiro/Shapedge Indians?
A GM is the manager's boss. When you declare a partnership with the manager, where is the accountability? Where is the creative tension? Where is the impetus to shake things up when a season is circling the drain?
Shapiro deserved more credit than Wedge last year, because, despite the Casey Blake-Aaron Boone-Ben Broussard busts, more of his deals worked out.
The Tribe lost more one-run games than anyone in baseball. Because you manage more in tight ballgames than in blowouts, Wedge's style was a poor fit for a close race. He stuck with his pets too long. He managed without a sense of urgency, in the way of a minor-league manager who was developing talent.
This year, Shapiro missed on a lot more acquisitions. The partnership has produced a team with a lot of third basemen (Boone, Jhonny Peralta, Andy Marte in waiting) and no shortstop. Peralta plays there, but his range limitations show how much Omar Vizquel covered up.
They could have kept Brandon Phillips, a fine defensive player who could also play short, but Wedge thought he would ruin the team chemistry as an unhappy utility infielder. Phillips has flourished since going to Cincinnati for a bowl of Skyline chili.
They also have no second baseman if Ronnie Belliard, who plays it in the manner of a softball rover, leaves.
First base? Travis Hafner seemingly can't play it, and Victor Martinez, who can, is still behind the plate, struggling with his throwing.
Problems crop up at the corners in the infield and outfield. The whole lineup, other than Hafner at DH and the currently slumping Grady Sizemore in center, is full of question marks.
What's interesting is that Wedge definitely got his way on Phillips. Shapiro was also a big admirer and personal friend of Eddie Murray, fired last season as the hitting coach.
Next year will be Wedge's fifth. That's a long time without a playoff appearance. But no one expects Shapiro to dissolve the partnership early.
Dolan's unopened wallet is always going to be the biggest fan complaint. But the sense that nothing will change hurts, too. The front office marches on, side by side, with an incomplete team, but with complete sentences, conjoined in what amounts to an endorsement of mediocrity.
this article can be seen in it's original format here