Baseball is my favorite of the professional sports, and since I live in Northeast Ohio, the Cleveland Indians are my favorite team. The Indians’ fortunes have been up-and-down in the past several years. Last year, they began with high hopes, as they were going with basically the same team that went 96-66 the year before and captured the Central Division crown by 8 games. But a disappointing first half left them in last place and 16 games under .500, and they had to give up on the season, trading away C.C. Sabathia, Casey Blake and Paul Byrd for minor leaguers. However, the rest of the season gave the Tribe hope for this coming year. They went 44-28 after July 9, the second-best record in the American League during that stretch. Since then in the offseason, they’ve made some smart moves to improve the team, and league observers feel that they’ve done a good job.
Recently, the Indians’ overall fortunes have gone up and down with the success of the bullpen. With that in mind, they signed closer Kerry Wood, who will have the best fastball that any Indians’ closer has had in a long time. If he stays healthy, Wood will DOMINATE. They also added right-hander Joe Smith via trade. In the infield, they added prospect Jorge Valbuena in the same trade that landed Smith. He’ll start the season in the minors, but he’s close to being major-league ready. If someone gets hurt, he’ll get the callup. So he provides depth for this year, and he might be a starter in years to come. They also added veteran Mark DeRosa, a high on-base-percentage (OBP) guy with some pop, through another trade. He will play third base, but he also can play at second, first, and the corner outfield. He’ll probably be the #2 hitter in the lineup. Remarkably, in these trades the Indians didn’t lose anyone that we fans should lose sleep over. Franklin Gutierrez (who was traded for Smith and Valbuena) is one of the best outfield defenders in baseball, but it’s questionable whether his bat will ever be good. He has some power, but doesn’t hit breaking balls well and will probably continue to have a low batting average and a subpar OBP. In the DeRosa trade, the Indians only lost 3 minor leaguers: Triple-A reliever Jeff Stevens, and Class-A pitchers John Gaub and Chris Archer. Although Stevens was good bullpen depth, none of them was among the Indians’ top 20 prospects. So, give General Manager Mark Shapiro credit for a job well done, as usual. The Tribe’s front office is considered to be one of baseball’s most advanced in statistical evaluation, and while Shapiro has made some mistakes, he’s one of the best GMs in baseball. It’s fun being a fan of a team that knows what it’s doing.
Shapiro also signed Carl Pavano to an incentive-laden one-year contract. Pavano was a pretty good pitcher several years ago, but injuries derailed his past few seasons. This is a low-risk, high-reward type of deal. It may not turn out well (Pavano might get injured or he might just suck), but it doesn’t have to, since the Indians don’t have much invested in him, and they also have decent minor-league depth.
Peter Gammons recently talked about the Indians’ offseason. I uploaded the video to the ‘Videos’ section. Take a look.
Sporting News has another positive article about the Indians. Click on this link to read it