Are the Indians Following 2008’s Path?
Normally, I try to be optimistic about the Indians. There are enough negative comments, articles, and conversations that go on about this team, so someone has to keep finding the silver lining. I like to think I’m that person, or one of those people in most situations. Recently I wrote an article explaining that we shouldn’t panic about the Indians lack of activity this offseason and that they have a very specific plan in place.
Well, after thinking about it long and hard I’m still on board with the notion that the Indians have a plan and are executing it to the best of their abilities. However, after doing a bit of digging and even more thinking, I’m starting to get nervous. This offseason is beginning to bear a striking resemblance to the offseason heading into the 2008 season.
I assure you, that is not a positive statement and one that should be cause for concern. Allow me to explain.
If you recall, the 2007 Indians came “that close” to doing something really special. After winning the AL Central, they came within one win of making it to the World Series. Unfortunately, they dropped the final three games after taking a 3-1 series lead and watched from home with the rest of us while the Boston Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies. To this day, that will be the one that got away. Losing to the Marlins in 1997 hurt, but the Marlins were built to win that championship. The Rockies were a team that got hot at the right time and ran out of magic a little too soon. That World Series was ours.
Heading into that offseason, expectations were high that the Indians would make a substantial number of big impact moves to improve the roster and get back to the playoffs. The only problem is that never happened. In fact, that never even came close to happening. Unless of course you consider acquiring Jamey Carroll, Masahide Kobayashi, and Jorge Julio as big time moves. Oh, and they added Craig Breslow to the roster after an impressive spring performance. So there’s that. Otherwise, the Indians roster remained virtually the same.
As Jeff Mount previously pointed out, the standing pat strategy is one that can be disastrous. For the 2008 Indians, standing pat proved to be disastrous. They finished the year in third place in the AL Central with a record of 81-81, dealt with injury issues, and regression from several players that had played a key role in the prior season’s success. What could go wrong, did go wrong and it took five years for the team to fully recover.
Now here we are, a few months removed from a playoff appearance and ready for the Indians to make a big splash to improve the roster and take that next step towards winning a championship. The only problem is that the Indians don’t seem to be on board with this plan. Instead, as previously mentioned, the Indians are choosing to bide their time before making any hasty decisions. That’s all well and good and has kept them from over spending on mediocre players, but at what point does not spending go frombeing smart to overly cautious? Admittedly, it’s a fine line and not one that is easily defined.
So far this season, the Indians big expenditures have been David Murphy, John Axford, David Adams and David Cooper. Other than the affinity for all things David, this year’s free agent haul is bearing a striking resemblance to the sub-par 2008 acquisitions in terms of the potential lack of impact. No one is saying the aforementioned players won’t contribute, but no one is envisioning David Murphy leading the charge to an AL Central crown.
Another added wrinkle is the parallels between C.C. Sabathia and Justin Masterson. The 2008 season was a contract year for Sabathia and given his track record he was set for a mammoth pay-day that the Indians would not be able to afford. As the season gradually slipped further out of control, the Indians eventually traded away their ace in order to avoid losing him over the winter for nothing. Now the Indians find themselves in a similar situation with their current ace, Justin Masterson.
Now obviously, Masterson is not do for a contract anywhere near what Sabathia earned from the New York Yankees. He has not had the same type of prolonged CY Young caliber performance that Sabthia had heading into free agency. However, given the current market for starting pitching, it is likely that a team will be willing to overpay for Masterson’s services in 2015. Knowing that, we may once again see the Indians backed into a position where they will have to make a difficult decision in regards to Masterson’s future with the team. If the 2014 season follows the same script as the 2008 season we may see Masterson dealt away come July 31. This is something we need to be prepared for.
Naturally this is all putting the proverbial cart before the horse, but these are the type of scenarios we should consider as we get closer to the start of the 2014 season. And while the economics of the game have changed considerably since 2008, it’s hard not to see the parallels and potential pitfalls that are presenting themselves. Regression is going to happen somewhere. Let’s just hope that the Indians will have done enough in order to balance it out. As of today, I’m not so sure they have, but I’m still confident that they can do something with the time remaining this offseason.