Now that we’ve all had some time to digest Wednesday night’s gut wrenching loss, it’s time to take a realistic look at what happened, where the Indians are, and where they plan to go. It’s time to take this team and and put it all into the proper perspective. How else can we begin to understand what needs to be done if we are all caught up in a never ending cycle of over-reactionary nonsense?
The first thing we need to understand is, “what happened?” Well, the answer to that question goes deeper than they lost a playoff game. To really know what happened, we have to understand the entire 162 game schedule, the expectations that were put on the team before the season began, and how well they may or may not have lived up to those expectations.
Think back long and hard to this past offseason. Remember the sense of dismay we had all experienced thanks to yet another 90-plus loss season and an August meltdown that was one for the ages? Yeah, none of us were feeling too great about the 2013. Then the Indians started making moves. A trade of Shin-Soo Choo netted Trevor Bauer, Drew Stubbs, and Bryan Shaw. Esmil Rogers brought back Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles from the Blue Jays. Nick Swisher decided you can come home again and Michael Bourn signed seemingly out of nowhere.
The end result of that was a renewed excitement for the Indians, but did anyone expect them to be contenders? The record would most certainly be improved, how could it not, but by no means did anyone think the Indians had been transformed into a legitimate contender in a stacked American League.
But a crazy thing happened. After a rough six weeks to start the season, the Indians began to gel. They went on one of the most impressive stretches we have seen in quite some time and were catapulted back into contention for the AL Central and Wild Card races. Despite the ups and downs along the way, they stayed in contention throughout the season and gave us something we haven’t experienced since 2007. Meaningful games in September and October baseball. That, folks, is a success. Despite the ending, the Indians gave us more than we could have realistically expected in 2013.
So where does that leave the Indians as of today?
For starters, the Indians have a tremendous amount of momentum as they head into the offseason and 2014. They went from being a team on the rise that was a year away at best to a legitimate title contender. Winning the hot stove season won’t be enough this time around. They need to assess the roster and figure out who is a part of the problem and who is part of the solution.
That is probably going to lead to some tough decisions, the most likely of which involve Asdrubal Cabrera, Chris Perez, and Scott Kazmir. Do they continue the Lonnie Chisenhall experiment at third base or do they seek a more established, external solution? All of these questions and more will need to be addressed.
But, where does that mean the Indians are headed?
If the Indians can make an honest assessment of their current situation and make the move necessary to fill in the gaps, this team could be even better in 2014 than it was in 2013. With the Tigers continuing to age and many of the Indians young players beginning to enter into their physical primes, the time is now. As the Tigers begin to regress and the White Sox and Twins continue their rebuilding projects, it will come down to the Tribe and Royals for AL Central supremacy.
It won’t come easy, though. Thanks to a successful run in 2013 there will be a target on the Indians’ backs. No longer will they be able to sneak up on anyone or take the American League by surprise. The Indians will have the label of contender in Spring Training, before they even play a single, meaningful game in 2014. Thanks to the experience of 2013, the Tribe should be prepared to meet those expectations head on and head straight to the top of the mountain.