Wednesday, July 19, 2006


"What's our record?"
"How'd we ever win 45?"
"It's a miracle."
"It's a miracle."

That Bull Durham reference seems apropriate considering what the 2006 season has been for the Indians: bull. I'll try to steer clear of the tirades and rants, though they are a manifestation of my frustration. This year, 2006, was supposed to be the year of fruition. The Tribe would return to the postseason and make a legitimate run at the World Series. However, the best laid plans often go awry, and GM Mark Shapiro, realizing that, has been dealing faster than a Colombian drug cartel.

It's no secret the Indians are not contenders this year and are a far cry from the motivated bunch who made a pennant push last year. The offense has rocked the Jake on certain nights, bringing hope. On other nights, it hasn't even gotten off the team-chartered buses or planes. The starting pitching has been mediocre, the bullpen below average, and the defense, baserunning, situational hitting, managing, and effort (am I forgetting anything?) can all be filed under "A" for "abysmal."

Before the trade deadline, I had started writing a piece where I lumped every Indian into categories based on tradeability. Of course, I never got to publish that draft before Wickman, Broussard, and Belliard were shipped out. Of course, the true "core" pieces (Hafner, Sizemore, Martinez, Peralta, Sabathia, etc.) were safe, but everyone else could have been dealt. Now, I get to play the always fun role of second guesser. Of the Indians four notable pre-deadline trades, I have given them four different distinctions: excellent, good, fair, and poor.

EXCELLENT - Eduardo Perez to Seattle for Asdrubal Cabrera
If the Tribe had been contending like Shapiro and Wedge had hoped, Perez would've been a good fit against left-handed pitching. But ultimately, he was a platoon player, past his prime, and in return for him we got a 20-year-old defensively solid prospect in Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera may not be offensively strong yet, but at 20, he's showing he can at least hit through a AA level, or he wouldn't be playing in AAA. I don't know what the future holds for Jhonny Peralta, who is the most disappointing Tribe position player by far this year, but at least now we have an insurance policy at short. Omar couldn't really hit in the minors, either, and Cleveland got him from Seattle.

GOOD - Ben Broussard to Seattle for Shin-Soo "Big League" Choo
I am probably in the minority here among most writers. Most think Shapiro got ripped off, but I think most highly over-estimate the ceiling on Broussard. I always liked Ben's friendly demeanor and thought, from a personality standpoint, he was a good fit for the Indians. This year, his high batting average indicated he was resembling the former minor-league batting champ the Tribe traded Russell Branyan for. However, Benny B started to slack with the glove, which made no sense because that was among his alleged strengths. His effort left something to be desired, even in 2005, and that landed him in Wedge's doghouse, to which he had been chained ever since. The trade is also an indication that Cleveland is going to stick with Wedge, despite the under-achieving this year.

Choo provides not only an outlet for witty puns (see mine above) but also gives the Tribe another high energy outfielder, Grady, of course, being the first. He's 24, has hit well above .300 in AAA, and likes to steal bases! An Indian with speed?! It can't be! If the John Hart high-octane offenses taught us nothing else, it's that if you want to score a lot of runs, you need good "table-setters." The Indians traded one away in January in Coco Crisp (and I won't be labeling that trade yet, but if Andy Marte turns out to be a bust, so does that trade.) Now, Cleveland may have another one. Jason Michaels has been better than I thought but nothing to write home, or in a blog, about. Choo will have the rest of the season and spring training next year to earn a spot in the 2007 Indians starting outfield. Of the up-and-comers, I see only Ben Francisco and Franklin Gutierrez providing a challenge, unless the Indians make a big free-agent signing. Wait, Larry Dolan is the owner. Nevermind.

FAIR - Bob Wickman to Atlanta for Max Ramirez
I would have liked to have seen the Indians all-time saves leader and all-around good guy finish his career in Cleveland. "Robert Rolaids" may not have been a bastion of efficiency or fitness, but he still entertained and saved a helluva lot of ballgames. This is why Atlanta was willing to give him a shot, though his career is all but over. I expect a retirement in the off-season.

I lumped this under "fair" because I have no idea what we got in return. Supposedly we got a young kid who could hit in Max Ramirez. That's a good start. Why no pitching prospects? The Braves system is famous for breeding pitching. Why couldn't we have at least snagged a young starter in AA or A out of it? Here's hoping Ramirez hits like Manny and thinks like Sandy someday.

POOR - Ronnie Belliard to St. Louis for Hector Luna -- straight up!
OK, this one I don't get, not just because I liked Belliard about as much as any other Indian. I don't understand how Hector Luna was all they could get for him.

I'll start with Luna. Yes, he's young, so anything could happen. But in St. Louis he got settled into a utility role, and ulitilty is futility for the Indians right now. The Tribe has Vazquez and Inglett, who, by the way, appears to be a contender for a starting job at second base next year. Is Luna a "decent" acquisition? Sure. But the odds he will ever develop into an impact player are slim.

I'd like the deal more if we had been able to swindle one other major-league ready player out of the deal. After all, with a .291 batting average and several "Web Gems," Belliard was the most coveted Indian on the trading block, no doubt. The Indians bullpen is insanely young after veterans like Sauerbeck tanked this year. An experienced set-up man, or even any pitching prospect with good stuff, would have sweetened this deal for me.

My argument for why Cleveland shouldn't have done this deal has to mean that the cons outweigh the pros, and they do. Ronnie Belliard, Shapiro's best free-agent signing by far in 2004, has done nothing but impress and play hard in an Indians uniform. I realize he was about to demand a multi-year deal, but he is one of the few of the former Indians I thought deserved a 3-4 year deal. They gave up on Phillips (ouch!) so that should have solidified Belliard as the long-term second base solution. He's not an injury-prone guy, so I would have been in favor of the investment. I suppose it's still possible, since Belliard will be a free agent at the end of the year, that Cleveland will make him an offer, but the deal signals that it's not likely.

What do the Indians get out of it? A career backup. To be honest, Casey Blake looks like the best option at second. They almost moved him there in the spring of '05 before re-signing Belliard, and I think he'll give you much better production than Inglett or Luna ever would.

Now, as the season limps toward the finish line, Indians fans are haunted with the mantra of "next year." We, as fans, hope for two things: 1.) The slumps of Cliff Lee and Jhonny Peralta are flukes and 2.) Mark Shapiro is doing what he thinks is best, not what Larry Dolan says he can afford. The rest will take care of itself.

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