When the Cleveland Indians traded for Ubaldo Jimenez last July, I was truly excited for the move. It was bold (something you rarely see from the Tribe front office) and with the stuff Ubaldo packs in that right arm of his it’s easy to talk yourself into his having a massive impact.
Then it turned out he’s a mediocre pitcher at best, loses the plate with regularity, can’t strike anyone out despite being able to throw a baseball through a Holstein (I’d assume—cutter, get it?) and has generally pitched quite poorly. The team also mortgaged the future by dealing Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, two fine pitching prospects who have since struggled in Colorado because that’s what happens to pitchers in Colorado.
So now the Indians are stuck with an ace that can’t get anyone out, nothing too great coming down the pipeline, and a rotation full of retreads: pitchers who can’t hit 90 mph on the gun and converted relievers who can’t get lefties out. There are some nice pieces in the field—Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis around the keystone and Shin-Soo Choo in right for another year—but these guys are more good role players than true franchise-carrying stars. Think Jayson Werth in Philadelphia compared to a healthy Chase Utley. Both put up good numbers, but only Utley is a cornerstone.
At this point, fans have to ask themselves: What is this team doing? They’re not particularly fun to watch, they’re not going to win much of anything even if they do make it to the playoffs (we will not give up hope yet, no matter how impossible it may seem) and there’s no magic pill in the form of money or stud of a prospect that can save the day. Really, it leaves only one choice.
Blow it up.
What’s that you say? You don’t want to suffer through another 100-loss season? Shuddering from memories of 2010? Who would want to go back to that? Well, I’ll tell you—someone who wants a winning team. Right now the Indians are stuck in a strange world of quasi-contention, a purgatory of baseball that might keep you around .500 but won’t ever get you anywhere. Remember last year? With a final record of 80-82, the Indians showed just what they were, and they haven’t particularly improved this season.
So what you do is you trade players to teams that actually can win now, either via the waiver system this month or in the offseason. Choo should go, he’s going to want more money than the Indians can give anyway. Cabrera too; his team friendly contract and value at a premium position (despite his defensive issues) could attract a wonderful package of prospects.
The key, of course, is pitching. Think way back to the mid-90’s and those great Indians teams. The Tribe built a powerhouse by going gangbusters on the winning key of the time, offense. Pitching as a whole was in the doldrums (here is where we won’t mention the Atlanta Braves), so hitting was enough to take a team deep into October. Now, with Progressive Field proving itself to be a run-suppressing park and the game as a whole turning towards pitching, defense and speed, this is what the Indians need.
What would be really great is a Grady Sizemore 2.0. Grady was the perfect baseball player of the modern era, someone that you really could build around. In fact, he was the last real franchise player the Indians had. It’s hard to think of a pitcher being a franchise player because his impact is felt only once every five days instead of every day. And besides Sizemore, who have the Indians had? Victor Martinez maybe? He was good, but he was borderline dreadful behind the plate.
It’s fun to dream so we will, right here, and think about the Indians getting another player like Sizemore. So what if he’s a once-in-a-generation talent? That’s one of the reasons the Tribe should cut bait so harshly, to keep rolling the dice on prospects.
Anyway, back to the key of all this: pitching. That’s what is needed to win. In the 2011 World Series we saw two of the best offenses in the game face off. But It was the Cardinals’ pitching that really made the difference. The Texas Rangers had no real ace, just a collection of very good arms. The Cards had Chris Carpenter and a ridiculous bullpen and they were able to silence a thump-happy Ranger lineup. Asdrubal could potentially bring a real ace to the Indians, a top-10 type prospect. And with his contract he’d be coveted by any team in contention: rich, poor, or Rays.
WIthout a doubt hitting the reset button would hurt. It’s tough enough being a Cleveland fan as it is. To have to suffer through meaningless baseball years (plural)—it’s just hard to fathom that again. But this mucking about and sort of winning is just tiresome. The surges early in the season have been fun, but after two collapses like this you almost would rather they stay bad all season so it doesn’t hurt quite so much when you finish 15 games out of first.
If failure can bring in some great arms, why not? Look at the Nationals. Sure, they have a multibillionaire owner who wants to spend money, but the real reason they’re winning is because of the draft. Their best pitcher and hitter are both homegrown, their core arms were acquired through the draft and trades, and their entire infield was homegrown along with their bullpen. Heck, the only regular starter whose services were bought is Jayson Werth, and he’s criminally overpaid.
There’s a difference between making the smart decision and making the popular one. The reality is that the Indians are not built to compete anytime soon, and they don’t have the resources to simply import the pieces they’d need to truly contend. Blowing it up and starting the rebuilding process over again would be painful for fans and team alike, but it’s the only way for Cleveland to really build a winner.