Go to an Indians message board or comment section and you’ll likely see sentiments like: “Fire Shapiro and Antonetti!” ”Dolan needs to sell the team!” ”It doesn’t matter what they do, they’ll never win.” ”Until Dolan sells the team, I’m not going back!”
Oh ye of little faith.
After finishing 68-94 in 2012, the Cleveland Indians are going to look like a brand new team when they take the field in 2013. While there were many issues that led to their failure, so many things have been addressed, and that is with 95 days until Opening Day.
With over three months remaining until the club officially takes the field for games that count, Indians fans should be happy, excited, elated, joyful, jolly, and merry as Christmas approaches.
Why? Well, here’s a partial list.
- The Player’s Manager, Part II
For all of the positive attributes that being young and inspiring your players could have, the fact remained that Manny Acta wasn’t getting the job done. His history working with Latin players made him a hot commodity for several years, and he was a great hire for the Indians. However, when he was unable to stop incredible collapses over the last two seasons, his time was surely running out.
The Tribe still has a manager who can relate to his players, as Terry Francona is considered one of those “player’s manager”-types, as well, but Francona has something that Acta may never have: success. Francona brings immediate clout into the clubhouse, with two championships that help to create a respect that no manager in recent Cleveland history could match. Francona helped to make the Indians relevant, and that is why some of the deals that Antonetti made were possible.
- Bullpen and Bench Help
When you look at who is gone from the 2012 team, specifically the bullpen and the bench, the names include: Jack Hannahan, Esmil Rogers, Tony Sipp, Aaron Cunningham, Jason Donald, and Brent Lillibridge.
Considering the success that Rogers had once arriving in Cleveland (3.06 ERA, 54:12 K:BB in 53 IP), when he was traded, I questioned what was to become of a bullpen that ranked 23rd in MLB in 2012. You’re going to deal from your weakness, really? However, Antonetti did well in the trade with Toronto, acquiring Mike Aviles (who can play second, third, and shortstop) and Yan Gomes (who has played third, first, outfield, and catcher) to fill the bench with versatility.
By adding Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw from Arizona along with Trevor Bauer in the three-way trade with Cincinnati, Antonetti added a couple of nice bullpen arms. Albers and Shaw combined to go 2-7 with a 3.25 ERA over 80.1 innings with the Snakes last year. While neither are shutdown, late-inning relievers, they provide some depth to an extremely weak area from 2012.
- Middle-of-the-Order Power: The Right-Handed Variety
Sunday’s signing of Nick Swisher was huge for the Indians. When the team traded Shin-Soo Choo, fans should have worried that Ezequiel Carrera was a starting outfielder on existing depth charts. Not only did Antonetti deal a player who probably wasn’t going to be around in 2014 (Choo’s unwillingness to negotiate can be blamed on Scott Boras, his agent), but he filled the void by signing one of the offseason’s top free agents.
Swisher is a switch-hitter, which along with Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana could give Francona a 3-4-5 of switch-hitters, which provides challenges to opposing managers and their bullpens in late-game situations. His career .828 OPS and 26 home runs per year average over eight full seasons were also very inviting.
By signing the powerful, right-handed hitting Mark Reynolds to a one-year deal, the Tribe addressed another area that had been vacant since Manny Ramirez left for Boston: a right-handed masher in the heart of the order. While Reynolds could frustrate fans with his inability to make contact, the 181 bombs over six seasons should ease those concerns.
- Controllable Young Talent
Antonetti absolutely stole Trevor Bauer. By giving up Choo for Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs, the Indians were able to flip Gregorius (a slick fielder who has a career .271/.323/.376 line in 1909 minor league plate appearances) with Sipp and Lars Anderson for Bauer, Albers, and Shaw.
Bauer may have his oddities when getting prepared to pitch, but the talent is there to become an ace. For a team to consider dumping one of the top pitching prospects in baseball over their unwillingness to have an open mind about his conditioning seems completely ludicrous. Antonetti pounced on Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers’ goal of acquiring a young shortstop, taking advantage of their…stupidity?
The Indians haven’t had a firesale, but Antonetti was still able to flip talent to upgrade, specifically in an area of weakness in the organization in young pitching. Even if the club doesn’t deal Asdrubal Cabrera for a couple of solid prospects, Antonetti has done a great job in getting Bauer alone.
- The Grade: A+
Hats off to Chris Antonetti, who, in the month of December, signed Nick Swisher and turned Shin-Soo Choo and a couple of spare parts (Sipp and Anderson) into a huge defensive upgrade in center field (Stubbs) and a potential ace (Bauer). Whoever Antonetti became over the last two months, Indians fans should be happy about the upgrade.