The 2012 Cleveland Indians season wasn’t the one the front office had intended for you to see.
At the beginning of the season, there was reason to be optimistic about this Tribe team. After a surprising near-.500 finish in 2011 it appeared that the promised “window of opportunity” was starting to open. No one expected a championship parade down Euclid Avenue this October, but with a roster full of young, high-upside players it looked like the Indians would at least be able to stay in the race most of the year.
As we all know, that’s not what happened. A pair of legendary long losing streaks highlighted an abysmal second-half collapse. After three months of nonexistent hitting, poor starting pitching, and a clubhouse filled with torpor, Cleveland finished with 94 losses and the second-worst record in the league. If the window of opportunity had been opened, someone must have forgotten to remove the screen.
And so, the Indians find themselves at a crossroads. It’s not yet clear what they should or will do this winter, but one thing is certain: They need to do something.
What should be next for the Tribe? Contention in 2013 is a possibility. The Indians still have a strong core of players and great depth in terms of MLB-capable (though not impact) talent. Returns to form from the more than a dozen players who dramatically underperformed in 2012 could realistically carry Cleveland back to the neighborhood of .500. Throw in a left fielder, a first baseman, and a good starting pitcher and this team could definitely make a serious run at the playoffs.
On the other hand, we’re now faced with the reality that our crop of young core players haven’t developed the way they were supposed to. There isn’t enough talent on this roster to start a new Cleveland dynasty, and it might be a mistake to bet the house on a couple more seasons of a maybe-good-but-not-great team. Call it what you will (the “rebuilding” label is no longer in vogue), but if Asdrubal Cabrera isn’t going to be around the next time the Indians are playing meaningful baseball in October (or at least September), it makes sense to trade him now for someone who will.
Upgrade now. Build for later. Either choice is defensible, but both options require action. You want to compete in 2013? Better bring in some reinforcements. Don’t think these guys have it in them? Then it’s time to start planning ahead. Either way, the isn’t going to happen without some major dealing this winter. It’s go big or go home, but you have to go home big too.
I say all this not because it’s some profound idea that no one else has thought of but because it hasn’t happened yet. It’s been a month and a half since the 2012 Indians walked off the field for the last time, and the only major personnel change we’ve seen was a trade that didn’t really do much. That doesn’t mean the front office isn’t working on anything else, just that nothing has happened so far. And yes, it’s still early in the offseason, but pitchers and catchers report in just three months.
There’s no clear answer to what the Indians should do from here, just the necessity that they choose one and then commit to it. Double down on the current core or cut lose and start over—either way, there are risks and uncertainties. But one thing’s for sure: standing pat and hedging our bets won’t do the team any good.