With everything going on with the current landscape of the Cleveland sports scene, is it actually possible that the Indians are in a position to take the city by storm once again? Sure, nothing will compare to the magical mid-90’s runs when the Indians roster was full of rock stars, but are we looking at the makings of a similar situation? When you look at the current landscape of Cleveland sports, the case can be made that the Indians are on the verge of becoming Northeast Ohio’s flagship team.
Warning: We’re about to venture into NFL and NBA territory here for a second. I promise there is a point to it. Now please, buckle your seat belts and keep your arms and hands inside the ride at all times. It’s about to get ugly up in here.
Let’s start with the Browns. They’re coming off of another playoffless 5-11 season, just fired and hired another head coach, and are in the beginning stages of yet another organizational reboot, owner and all. The excitement and luster of the Browns’ 1999 return from football hibernation has officially worn off. The fans are less patient than ever and the idea of enduring yet another losing season as the result of the rebuilding “process” is unacceptable at this point. It’s made things even more cantankerous than normal considering the team appeared to be moving in the right direction before owner Jimmy Haslam and president Joe Banner pulled the plug on the Mike Holmgren/Tom Heckert regime. The more things change, the more they just seem to stay the same over at the “Factory of Sadness.”
Then there are the Cavaliers. Where do we even begin with that trainwreck? You can make a solid case that the team is worse now than it was the year after LeBron James bolted for Miami. Through 40 games the Cavaliers are 9-31, good for the second-worst record in the league, and they look like they’re headed for another top three pick in the draft. While I agree with their strategy to lose big in order to acquire as much top talent as they can via the draft, it doesn’t make it any easier to watch. And all that losing, all it does is breed apathy within the fan base. Does anyone watch the Cavaliers? No, not really. The Cavaliers are unwatchable at this point. Kyrie Irving is a stud, but so far the jury is still out on the rest of their young core. It’s very much a work in progress.
That brings us back to baseball. The Indians went out this winter and did something the Browns were unable to do: hire the best available managerial candidate on the open market in Terry Francona. He’s won two World Series, both in Boston (Boston! Seriously… Boston! I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that) and has the type of managerial style that seems to bring the best out of his players. Francona also has the résumé and reputation around baseball that can help lure higher quality free agents to Cleveland. We’ve already seen this play out with the likes of Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, and Brett Myers.
The front office, led by Chris Antonetti, has been boldly wheeling and dealing for two years now to make this team better. Say what you want about the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, but it was a bold move aimed at making the team better immediately. This offseason Antonetti pulled off the ruse of the century by flipping Shin-Soo Choo for Drew Stubbs and Trevor Bauer. Odds are he isn’t done yet, and based on the talent already on the roster, it’s possible we could possibly see Asdrubal Cabrera and/or Chris Perez flipped for additional talent.
The Indians also have a significant number of young and talented players already on the big league roster who could be poised for break out seasons. We have yet to come close to seeing the best of Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Carlos Santana, Carlos Carrasco, or Vinnie Pestano. Waiting in the wings are Bauer and stud shortstop Francisco Lindor. Six years ago we saw what can happen when a whole bunch of young talent clicks at the same time, and this group may potentially have a higher ceiling than the 2007 version.
Where am I going with this? It’s simple: Of the three teams in town, the Indians are the closest to winning the whole damn thing. That’s a huge deal.
And no, I’m not just saying the Indians are the closest to winning a championship because the Cavaliers and Browns are so bad. Yes, that helps, but the fact of the matter is that this Tribe team has potential not just this upcoming season, but in the years ahead. Even with the few holes remaining on the roster (most notably DH) there should be an excitement beginning to build for this team as we move closer to Spring Training.
Will that excitement translate to a drastic change in the team’s abysmal attendance figures? Probably not initially as the Indians will need to prove their worth both on the field and in the standings. But over time? Certainly. If everything breaks the right way we could be looking at a baseball renaissance in Cleveland that may not mimic the mid-90’s but almost certainly could be as exciting as the mid-2000 run this team made while being far more sustainable.
Fans have spent the better part of a decade insulting the Tribe and mocking the team’s fiscal conservatism. But if you look at the Indians now, you’ll see that they’ve been busy making their way to the top of the Cleveland sports mountain.