Tag Archives: Ubaldo Jimenez

Cleveland Indians Thanksgiving

 

First off, I want to wish all of you readers out there a Happy Thanksgiving!

For the first time in several years, Cleveland sports fans can actually be thankful for their teams. That got us thinking at MTAF: Cleveland — What would different members of the professional organizations be thankful for as they sat around the table sharing Thanksgiving dinner?

As a fan of the Cleveland Indians, I attempted to delve into the mindsets of several different members of the organization, trying to ascertain what they would be giving thanks for.

Chris Antonetti & Mark Shapiro

My first thought with regard to what Chris and Mark would be thankful for would be getting Terry Francona to come on board and coach the Tribe. But then I sat back and looked at the larger picture. If I was Chris or Mark, I would be thankful for how well the trades they’ve made over the past ten years have worked out. Just look at how a handful of the following trades worked out (in terms of production) for the Indians:

Year CLE Sends CLE Receives
2002 Ryan Drese & Einar Diaz Travis Hafner
2008 Casey Blake Carlos Santana
2009 Victor Martinez Justin Masterson & Nick Hagadone
2006 Ben Broussard Shin-Soo Choo
2006 Eduardo Perez Asdrubal Cabrera
2002 Bartolo Colon Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips & Cliff Lee

And those are just a few of the trades that have been made. Think about this: In a three team deal involving the Cardinals and the Padres, we gave up veteran pitcher Jake Westbrook and received 2014 AL Cy Young Winner Corey Kluber. Had Matt LaPorta worked out better, the Sabathia deal (which included 2014 MVP finalist and Silver Slugger award winner Michael Brantley) would have been seen as more genius than the Colon deal.

As Mark and Chris pass the gravy boat, they’re going to be giving thanks that so many of their trades worked out so well.

Terry Francona

As Terry Francona rides his scooter to the store to pick up cranberry sauce, I imagine he too will think about what he’s thankful for. I would venture a guess that he’s thankful for several things:

1. His health

2. Mickey Callaway

Tito has probably never worried about his health (see: Urban Meyer). I’m not old by any stretch (I’m 23). I’ve found out that older men are thankful for their health, regardless of how healthy they actually are. Next, Tito should be counting his lucky starts that he has Mickey Callaway sitting on his bench coaching up his pitchers. Think about 2013. Mickey Callaway turned around a struggling Ubaldo Jimenez into quite possibly the best pitcher of the second half in the American League. I feel that if Tito had started Ubaldo in the place of rookie Danny Salazar, the Indians may have gone on to be World Series champions. Then we look back at 2014 and (channeling my innermost LeBron here) not one, not two, but THREE examples of what Mickey Callaway can do. First, Corey Kluber. Mickey has said that he really didn’t have to do much with Klubes this past season. As much as I’d like to believe that, there’s a reason he’s the pitching coach. Mickey worked with Corey to develop his secondary pitches and propel him into the upper echelons of pitching talent in the MLB. Next, there is Trevor Bauer. Bauer’s problem in 2013 was consistency and immaturity. Unfortunately for Trevor, he is young and often impatient. He need time to develop under more mature, accomplished pitchers. He got that with Justin Masterson and Corey Kluber. This year, while he had his troubles, Bauer was much more consistent and flashed some of the greatness that made the front office go out and get him. Finally, we have Carlos Carrasco. Known affectionately as “Cookie” among die-hard Tribe fans, Cookie experienced many of the same issues that Bauer faced — inconsistency and maturity. Remember his ejection and subsequent suspension in 2011 against Kansas City? How about his ejection for plunking Kevin Youkilis in 2013? That wasn’t a wild arm. Tito and Mickey worked with Carrasco and put him in the bullpen in 2014 and boy, did he deliver. Carrasco was electric out of the pen and proved to be the long-reliever we needed, especially when one of our starters couldn’t make it out of the 4th or 5th inning. How many times can you remember Carrasco putting in three to four quality innings, saving our bullpen arms for the home stretch?

Finally, The Indians are thankful for YOU, the fans.

When you go to a game or buy a jersey, you help finance the continued journey toward that elusive World Series title. When you get on Twitter or Facebook and talk about the Indians, you help them make a branding impact on new fans or fans who just don’t know it yet. When you write odes to Tom Hamilton or romanticize what the Tribe means to you on a t-shirt, you help the Indians build an regional identity. In a city like Cleveland, our professional sports teams need their fans as much as we need our teams. In some ways, we define one another. The Indians wouldn’t have much meaning without us and we wouldn’t have much meaning without them. So when the front office, the coaching staff and the players sit around their respective tables to share food and make memories, they will probably reflect, even if it’s only for a moment, on what it means to put on the Tribe uniform day in and day out for the best fans in the major leagues.

As for me, I’m thankful for football, a lot of food and a day off to enjoy it all with my family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving fans. Enjoy your turkey.

Five Storylines for the 2014 Cleveland Indians

With Spring Training underway, the Cleveland Indians are gearing up for a strong follow up season to the surprising 92 win 2013 campaign. While this off season lacked the major free agent acquisitions of last season, manager Terry Francona is still able to field the same core group of players that played a major part in their success last year. There is some concern that with the lack of a major roster addition the 2014 squad’s output will resemble the 2008 Indians, however the pieces remain in place for the Tribe to continued success. Here are five storylines for the 2014 Cleveland Indians season.

 

 

1. Improvements from Swisher and Bourn

While the Indians didn’t sign a big name free agent (David Murphy anyone?) there are still plenty of things to be excited about on the roster as far as the players acquired last season, specifically Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. With a free agent pool that was not impressive, the Indians instead are relying on Swisher and Bourn to rebound from underachieving seasons instead of taking on another large contract.

 

 

If you just go by the numbers, Swisher was slightly down but close to right on par with his career averages. Last year for the Tribe, Swisher hit .246 with 22 home runs, 63 RBI, 27 doubles and 74 runs scored. Compared to his numbers in four years with the Yankees Swisher disappointed, however more was asked of him as he was hitting higher in the lineup for the Tribe. While it’s unfair to expect Swisher to his upwards of .275 with 30 home runs, an increase in production isn’t unfathomable, especially considering his on base percentage was down nearly 20 points from his career average (.358 OBP career vs. .341 in 2013). Swisher’s overall power numbers also declined as he only had a .423 slugging percentage compared to a career average of .462. His lack of RBI production was partly due to the instability around him, but look for Swisher to improve after having a season to adjust to a new ball club and an off season to rest an injured shoulder that hampered him for the majority of the season.

 

 

The Indians will also be expecting an increase in production from leadoff hitter Michael Bourn. Bourn only appeared in 130 games last season, the lowest number for him since 2007 with Philadelphia. Hopefully Bourn put the injury bug behind him, but it’s his production down the stretch that the Indians are really hoping improves. The speedster boasted a batting average of .304 through the month of June when his hitting took a nose dive. Bourn never hit better than .247 following the month of June and in the months of July, August, September and October Bourn only hit .236. Bourn’s on base percentage dipped lower as the season progressed as well, never reaching above .300 for the last couple months of the season.

 

 

He also failed to excite once he got on base.

 

 

Known for his speed, Bourn only managed to steal 23 bases for the Indians in 2013. Compare that to the 42 stolen bases in 2012 and 61 in 2011 and the disappointment is obvious. While this might partly be due to playing his first season in the American League and partly due to injuries, these numbers – the steals especially – will have to improve for Bourn.

 

 

2. The Carlos Santana Project

The Cleveland Indians have lacked a solid third baseman since Casey Blake, and Blake won’t ever be confused Mike Schmidt. With Lonnie Chisenhall failing to take a strong hold of the position, the Indians are hoping to successfully move Carlos Santana over to third. Santana has spent the majority of his career at catcher but does have minor league experience playing third base, although the majority of that was very early in his career. Despite that, Santana has committed to a position change and despite what one would think the reviews haven’t been all that bad. While he may have looked a bit uncomfortable at first, reports from the Dominican winter ball leagues were generally positive and optimistic. Santana also spent time with fellow Dominican Republic native and former third baseman Fernando Tatis working on his game at the hot corner. Expecting Santana to be a gold glove third baseman would be naïve, and with Chisenhall and Mike Aviles on the roster the experiment could end up being short lived, but if Santana can prove to be a serviceable glove at third base the Indians might have found a way to maximize Santana as he would be able to see more playing time at third base than he would’ve at catcher. The Indians would potentially get more offensive output at third base in one year than they’ve had in several years combined should Santana become the regular third baseman.

 

 

3. The Goon Squad Graduates

The Indians roster depth last season played a huge role in their overall success. Dubbed the “Goon Squad” and made up of Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes and Jason Giambi, this group played a big role in the Indians post season push. Now these goons look to have an expanded role on the club.

 

 

Whether or not Santana becomes the everyday third baseman it seems fairly certain that he will not be the teams regular catcher, that role now belongs to Yan Gomes. Gomes played sparingly early in the 2013 season but saw more opportunities as the year went one, opportunities he capitalized on. Gomes showed some pop last year, hitting 11 home runs and 18 doubles in 293 at bats. Gomes also played extremely well defensively behind the plate and showed good chemistry with the pitching staff. If Gomes is able to build on his production from last season the catcher position will remain an asset on offense while becoming stronger on defense.

 

 

While the success Gomes had last year was a nice surprise, Ryan Raburn’s season was equally as surprising and impressive. Like Gomes, Raburn made the most of his opportunities and he was rewarded with a contract extension during the 2013 season. With the departure of Drew Stubbs, Raburn will likely see more time in the outfield. Whether the expanded role will result in an increase in production remains to be seen, and expecting him to duplicate an impressive .543 slugging percentage is probably unrealistic, but Raburn does have the talent to be at least a platoon player in the outfield.

 

 

4. The Starting Rotation

While the aforementioned Goon Squad played a big role in the team’s success last season, it was the starting pitching that played the biggest role in the Tribe’s 92 wins. Loaded with question marks last year, guys like Scott Kazmir, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Zach McAllister elevated their games while Ubaldo Jimenez finally became the pitcher the Indians traded for and was arguably the best pitcher in the American League in the second half of the season.

 

 

This year the Indians will need the same type of overachieving production. Jimenez is now a member of the Baltimore Orioles and Kazmir is with the Oakland Athletics. That means once again the likes of Kluber, Salazar and McAllister will have to elevate their games. Carlos Carrasco will have to realize his potential and more than likely somebody else will have to emerge much like Kazmir did last season. While prospect Trevor Bauer has the talent to emerge for the Tribe, don’t sleep on Shaun Marcum. The 32 year old right hander has proven to be a reliable starting pitcher during his career. If you take away a poor season for the New York Mets (1-10 with a 5.29 ERA in 78.1 innings pitched), his career numbers are pretty solid (57-36 with a 3.91 ERA before arriving in New York). While he will never be a top of the rotation type of guy, Marcum is a very real possibility (assuming he is fully recovered from surgery and makes the team) as the Indians number four or five starter as the year progresses, especially if Carrasco continues to struggle in the big leagues. Marcum signed a minor league deal with the Indians with an invite to Spring Training.

 

 

5. The Ax Man

The Indians bullpen will have a new look to it this season, anchored by new closer John Axford. I’ll take a risk in saying Axford has big shoes to fill, considered how former Tribe closer Chris Perez’s time ended in Cleveland, but Perez as a whole was more good than bad and his departure left a definite hole in the bullpen. Axford is similar to Perez in that they both enjoyed dominate seasons recently and both have struggled to duplicate the production.

 

 

Axford has the ability to be a solid closer for this team, the key to that equation is whether or not Pitching Coach Mickey Callaway can get through to Axford. For a better explanation than what I can provide of what needs to be done to fix Axford, click here, but if he is able to get back on the right track Axford would be a huge asset for the Tribe.

 

 

Despite winning 92 games last year, there are plenty of questions regarding the 2014 squad. Whether or not Swisher and Bourn can produce at a higher level and who will emerge as a reliable starting pitcher are the two biggest concerns surrounding this team. The Indians managed to lock up a Wild Card spot last season last season with similar concerns, so if those concerns can turn into assets similar success can be had.

Indians Offseason Review: Part One

New Indians Closer John Axford will look to rebound from a poor season in 2013 as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.

February 17, 2014, marked one significant beginning and one final ending for your Cleveland Indians. Day one of the full squad workouts on one hand and Ubaldo Jimenez signing with Baltimore on the other. The workouts start the long journey but the loss of Ubaldo marks a likely end to the chances of the Indians making a noteworthy move this offseason. Signing Ubaldo to a contract of four years and $50 million chips would not have made sense for the Indians so let’s clear that up right away. However that’s not what really matters here, it is what this event represents that truly does.

 

The Cleveland Indians organization had a golden opportunity this offseason and they didn’t seize it. That is what this story is all about.

 

Let’s take a step back for a moment and remind ourselves of what last offseason meant to this franchise. Due to a combination of several factors, the Indians were able to hand out wads of cash, including the signing of Nick Swisher to the biggest free agent contract in club history. Three key factors allowed for this to happen: New TV money for the Indians, teams not understanding the impact of draft pick compensation on the free agent market and the rare nonexistence of the New York Yankees on the market. The Indians had some extra dough to work with and didn’t have the draft pick compensation issue that other teams had, since all Top 10 picks are protected. While the offseason acquisitions, none bigger than bringing in Two-Time World Series Champion Manager Terry Francona into the fold, gave the organization relevancy, it also created unrealistic expectations for Tribe fans.

 

Unless of course a Tribe “fan’ was paying any attention rather than just listening to their biased heart.

 

It’s quite simple really, the Indians have not spent big money on bringing in free agents in the Dolans tenure as Owners. Last season for the reasons that I outlined, was an anomaly. So it should not come as a surprise that the Indians used their “limited” resources on accessing the biggest needs. In my view, they did address those needs. The bullpen was priority number one and for good reason: The Indians lost a closer, one of the best setup men in baseball and two other key components to last year’s pen.  While replacing Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Rich Hill and Matt Albers with John Axford and Josh Outman may not seem very sexy, the did what they needed to do. Especially when considering how mediocre this unit was last year until the last two months of the season.

 

I have my doubts about Axford but I do not about the men setting him up. Outman and fellow lefty Mark Rzepcynzki provide two lefty stoppers, righties Cody Allen and Brian Shaw will step in to the seventh and eighth innings and the rest of the Indians depth such as Carlos Carrasco (if he doesn’t make the rotation), C.C. Lee, Austin Adams and the bevy of minor league signings give the Tribe depth in Cleveland and Columbus. The only question marks are Axford and former eighth inning stud Vinnie Pestano. Worst case scenario: They both struggle and Allen moves to the ninth with the depth stepping in to replace his innings. Best case: Axford mimics the Chris Perez who did a fine job during most of his tenure in a Tribe uniform and Pestano only adds more to an already deep batch of options. Bottom line, I believe a mediocre bullpen last season will be replaced with a very solid to great bullpen this year.

 

Shifting from the bullpen to the lineup, the Indians only noteworthy move was replacing speedy strikeout machine Drew Stubbs with David Murphy in right field. Murphy joins the trio of Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn looking to rebound after dismal campaigns last year. While I like the idea of a Murphy/Ryan Raburn platoon in right field, it is clear that this team will sink or swim in part due to the performances of the other three veterans. The Dolans and General Manager Chris Antonetti spent their money last season on offense so I don’t begrudge them for not dedicating more time to it this year. It is hard not to expect this team to hit better with so many proven veterans capable of improvement and added versatility such as Carlos Santana playing some third and Ryan Raburn as another option at first along with the outfield. What the offense is missing is the right-handed power bat. Unfortunately those are nearly extinct and everybody wants one. Hard to fault them for not landing what so few have and all teams covet. So what exactly is this golden moment that they missed out on, you know the one I teased several paragraphs ago…

 

The Indians could have made a huge statement by adding a top of the rotation starter.

 

They chose not too for several reasons, but money is the driving force behind this team’s inability to make a historic move. Antonetti made it clear that they were not going to sign a borderline major league starter which I agree with. When you have one starter, Masterson, who you can feel comfortable counting on and several other unproven but talented options, a decent starter at a bad price doesn’t do much for you. Last year the Indians were successful due to surprises like Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, Salazar and Kluber (the latter two will likely follow Masterson in the rotation this year).  The organization would tell you that they have more options today than they did at this time last year and they would be right. Zack McAllister is your #4 starter and the fifth spot will be a competition among Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer and spring training invitees Shaun Marcum and Aaron Harang. Of this group, only Masterson and McAllister started the year in the rotation. While this power in numbers is a nice concept, it provides a world of risk too. Hence why the Indians should have added a front line starter and the trade route would have been the way to go. Why? Two reasons specifically: The availability of David Price and Jeff Samardzija.

 

Part Two on the Indians Offseason will be published on MTAFCleveland on Friday at 4:00 p.m

If Choo, Cano Sign in the AL Central

Yesterday, I saw multiple reports that shook my inner Indians fan to its core.

First Buster Olney said this…

Then reports surfaced that Robinson Cano was on his way to Kansas City to sign with the Royals.

Gulp…

If you’re an Indians fan, this all hurts tremendously.

First of all, the Tigers, should they sign Shin-Soo Choo, might just be the best team in baseball. Take a gander at this lineup, should Shin Soo make his way to the Motor City.

Shin-Soo Choo
Ian Kinsler
Torii Hunter
Miguel Cabrera
Victor Martinez
Torii Hunter
Nick Castellanos
Alex Avila
Jose Iglesias

That lineup at its face value could easily take on any in the league. Meanwhile, Detroit houses baseball’s best pitching staff.

Justin Verlander
Max Scherzer
Anibal Sanchez
Doug Fister
Drew Smyly

The worst part of it all is that Dave Dombrowski seems to be on a World Series mission and will use all of the cash in the world to get there.

In other words, they’re not done yet. Not even close.

While the Tigers will certainly have the upper hand on the Indians seemingly regardless of the situation, the Tribe could at least compete with a Choo-less Tigers lineup. Once you put the former Indians star at the top of that order, who knows just how far the talent gap will grow.

All the while, Omar Vizquel has taken the job of first base coach in Detroit.

First Victor. Then Omar. Now Choo?

Detroit is slowly but surely destroying the Indians and their fan-base former player by former player.

Meanwhile, another AL Central team seems be on a mission and ready to spend some cash.

Rumors yesterday are showing that Robinson Cano may just be the newest member of the Kanas City Royals, in what would be an earth shattering development. Should that splash happen, the Royals could easily move into the second rung of the AL Central ladder and could become a legitimate World Series contender.

David Lough
Alex Gordon
Robinson Cano
Eric Hosmer
Billy Butler
Mike Moustakas
Lorenzo Cain
Salvador Perez
Alcides Escobar

Add in the top end of their pitching staff and they might be one of the most under-the-radar teams in all of baseball.

James Shields
Jeremy Guthrie
Ervin Santana
Wade Davis
Bruce Chen

First, the Tigers go out and get much better by moving Miguel Cabrera to first base, adding Ian Kinsler to the mix and potentially adding Shin-Soo Choo. Then, the Royals get the most highly sought after free agent in all of baseball.

Of course these are both hypothetical, but reported, circumstances, but in any case, can the Indians catch a break?
Sure, the Indians did get better on Wednesday by signing David Murphy to take over the everyday right field duties, but the Indians can’t compete with the suddenly big market teams in Detroit and Kansas City, should these deals go down.

The worst part is, there’s really nothing they can do about it.

The Indians don’t have the money to put a bid in on Robinson Cano. They can’t make a deal to bring back Choo. They just simply can’t make these splashes as, apparently, Detroit and Kansas City can.

This is all to say, Indians fans, that maybe last year, despite its heartbreak towards the end, was as good as its going to get. Maybe the magic that Jason Giambi, Nick Swisher and Ubaldo Jimenez brought to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario last season was as good as its going to get for a while.

The Tigers and Royals may be on the verge of taking over the American League and leaving the lowly Indians, White Sox and Twins in the dust.

Despite all of the good that Terry Francona, Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro have done for the Indians and for the city of Cleveland, it may all be for naught. The Indians, for the forseeable future, may be trapped in the dark, vast dungeon of the American League Central Division.

Is there anything they can do to get out, should Choo and Cano sign within this division?

Yes, but it would be very, very unlikely.

First of all could get out of the dungeon by getting lucky again and again as they did last season with Scott Kazmir, Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles. If Antonetti continues to pull off moves such as those, the Indians can compete.

Even then, however, things will still be difficult.

They would still have to spend money to solidify their rotation, which is decent but needs a little help. They would also need prospects like Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Jesus Aguilar to be all that we expected and more.

Again, its not impossible, just very, very unlikely.

Other than that, just hope that these two rumors were nothing but. Hope that Choo and Cano sign with the Yankees, as that organization is a continual mess.

If you’re an Indians fan, however, just accept that should Cano and Choo sign in the Central, the new era of Indians excellence may come to a tragic and screeching halt.

All of the hope and optimism could be over with a few simple swoops of a fateful pen. Enjoy it, Tribe fans, because very soon, the fun could be over.

Catching Up Cleveland Style

After taking a couple of weeks to myself to reconfigure my schedule and alleviate some of the stress that comes with heading back to school, I’m back and ready for another big run here at More Than a Fan.

I know you all didn’t miss me too much, but I missed a lot of action, so I guess it’s time to play some catch up.

Let’s start with the Tribe.

Here we are, just six games away from the end of what has truly been a magical run for the Indians in the 2013 regular season.

In a weird way, this Indians season has gone exactly how many people imagined it would.

Most Tribe fans and baseball analysts alike thought the Indians would finish at anywhere from 80-90 wins and would compete for the Wild Card until the very end. Well, as you can tell, that’s been exactly the case as the Indians are now 86-70 and could win as many as 92 games, should they win every game for the rest of this season.

While the record has been parallel to our collective thought process as a fan base, the the reasons for our accurate prognostication has been completely contrary to our previous beliefs.

Coming in to 2013, the Indians looked to win games thanks to their revamped offense and shutdown bullpen.

Clearly neither has been as good as advertised and instead, the pitching staff has blown everyone away and taken this Indians team to this playoff-caliber level.

Unbelievably, it all starts with the resurgence of Ubaldo Jimenez.

If you were to tell Indians fans that Ubaldo Jimenez would guide you to playoff contention in late September, they simply would have laughed you off and looked for other pitching options.

Well, it’s happened. Ubaldo Jimenez is earning major money in his contract-year, as well as the trust to pitch in some big games for the Tribe down the stretch.

The massive divide between Jimenez’ pre and post All-Star numbers is absolutely staggering.

Before the break, Ubaldo allowed 94 hits, 53 runs, 13 homers, and 53 walks while striking out 94 batters and posting a 4.56 ERA. Oddly, however, Jimenez had a 7-4 record heading into the Midsummer Classic.

After the break, again, Ubaldo has been a completely rejuvenated pitcher.

Thus far, Ubaldo has allowed only 59 hits, 19 runs, three home runs and 23 walks and has 80 strikeouts with a 1.77 ERA.

He’s truly been the Indians second-half MVP and if the first half of the season went the same way as the second, we might be talking about Ubaldo Jimenez as the unanimous AL Cy Young award winner.

It will be interesting to see what the Indians will do with Ubaldo next season. He’s certainly earned the opportunity to put on an Indians uniform in 2014, but the cost-benefit may not favor the Tribe, as he will be looking to make big money next offseason.

The Indians are so close to the playoffs you can almost taste it, but we must be patient. Let’s not count our chickens before they hatch. There are six games left and anything can happen. If we are patient and let things fall where they may, the taste of victory and a playoff berth will be that much sweeter.

I hope you’re ready for a wild week, Tribe fans. It all comes down to this!

While the Indians have filled the heart of Cleveland with hope and pride, the Browns front office did the exact opposite on Wednesday evening.

Seemingly out of the blue with no trace of a previous mention of the deal, the Cleveland Browns traded away 2012 first-round pick and number three overall selection, Trent Richardson, to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 first-round pick.

On the surface, it seemed as if the Browns were giving up, cleaning house and upsetting their fan-base all at the same time.

Callers made their way through the airwaves to tell local sports-radio hosts that they were “done with this organization” and “had enough” with the way the Browns handle their business.

It was a sad day for many Browns fans, but not for me.

I was never a Trent Richardson fan from the beginning. This has been well documented.

Consider this Browns fans, Trent Richardson absolutely could have been- and was- a product of one of the best offensive lines in the history of college football.

It was Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack, and DJ Fluker lead the way for Richardson to be the back he was, yet no one realized that until it was too late.

Richardson proved from day one that he was a product of the men up front, as he danced and juked his way to one-yard gains, two yard losses, and three-yard dives.

When the hole is there, he absolutely is one of the better running backs in the game, just based on his toughness and incredible agility. The problem is, however, that those holes don’t exist at the NFL level. The defensive players are too good to allow for the gaping holes that paved the way for Richardson’s success at Alabama.

While Browns fans whined and moaned that this team gave up too soon and Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi and Jimmy Haslam should all be fired immediately, the Browns got a first round pick for a backup backup running back.

The Browns absolutely won the deal.

If anything, this trade proved the inability of the previous regime. Holmgren and company moved up in the draft to acquire Richardson, who is no longer with the Browns.

Do you sense a problem there?

There are other moves that further the trend, but watch this move play out in the Browns favor and watch the ineptitude of the previous regime become more and more obvious as the new regime settles into place.

Of course, after the Browns trade Richardson and start Brian Hoyer, they win a game.

It’s typical, as nothing ever seems to make sense in Cleveland.

Except that it does.

The Browns got a win Sunday because Minnesota struggles through the air and struggles on defense. The Browns have an strong front seven, an awful secondary and a struggling offense. If they were going to win a game this season, it was going to be against the Vikings.

While the Browns did have to pull some trickery to get the job done, they did come away with a victory and Chudzinski proved that he has more guts and more determination than any coach we’ve seen in Cleveland since 1999.

I wouldn’t expect too many more W’s from the Brownies this season- unless Brian Hoyer proves that he’s the real deal- but expect more moves from the front office and expect them to make this team better in the near future.

What Should the Indians Do At the Deadline?

The Indians are facing an incredibly difficult decision within the next couple of weeks. The July 31st Trade Deadline is approaching, and the Indians could benefit greatly from a couple of moves.

GM Chris Antonetti and VP Mark Shapiro are deliberating in earnest just what their course of action should be. They’re tiptoeing the incredibly thin line that separates the “win now” mentality from the “win in the future” mentality. Whatever their decisions may be could affect the foundation of this ballclub.

“Should we grab a starting pitcher?”

“Should we scrap the farm system and go after a big-time player?”

“Do we grab a bat or a reliever?”

“What do we do?”

The answer is a tough one, but I believe you can find the perfect formula for winning both now and in the future.

First of all, I am somewhat against trading for Matt Garza, or any starting pitcher for that matter, because they neither give you the ability to win now or win in the future.

Garza is a great talent who could certainly propel the Indians to the playoffs this season. My problem is, however, that the price isn’t worth the production.

The Cubs are going to want some major prospects for their ace, and the Indians have a couple they can afford to give away. Garza will only be an Indian for half of a season, while the prospects could change the face of the Chicago Cubs for many years to come.

That’s the problem. If you sign a rental type player like Matt Garza, it’s not going to do you any good this or next season. Garza could lead the Tribe to the playoffs, but he wouldn’t make enough of an impact to get past the first round.

If you can sign Garza for a couple years after this season, I’d be all for it. However, it doesn’t seem likely that Garza would resign with Cleveland.

The other pitchers on the market have the same issues, Yovani Gallardo and Chris Sale especially.

The Brewers and White Sox are more than willing to give up players, but they’re going to come at a big price. Gallardo is statistically no better than Ubaldo Jimenez, and trading Chris Sale to a Divisional opponent may take Francisco Lindor, and that’s not something the Indians are willing to give up.

Unless…

It’s for a big time player like Cliff Lee or Giancarlo Stanton.

This is where I’m fine with giving up any collection of prospects in the system. Lee will get you a playoff berth and may even take you to the ALCS. Stanton might bring you to the Fall Classic. A trip to the ALCS and/or the World Series would be worth any asking price.

I’d be more than willing to trade most of the special farm pieces for guys who are going to help the Indians go deep in the postseason this year. Stanton or Lee would all do that.

That, however, doesn’t seem all that likely. The Phillies, for whatever reason, seem to think they are still buyers, while the Marlins have the face of their future in Stanton. Of course, they’d like to unload Stanton before his price tag becomes out of their reach, but that time may not be at hand quite yet.

If the Phillies or Marlins are willing to budge, I think you have to go for it.

The smartest and most realistic course of action would be to make a move for a reliever and a bat, preferably a reliever and a bat that would stick around for a couple more seasons.

The Indians bullpen has become an absolute liability. The starters and their lack of ability to pitch past the sixth inning certainly doesn’t help, but the bullpen can no longer be completely trusted when the game is on the line.

While adding a reliever would be a perfect gameplan, it doesn’t seem like their are all that many out there who could help this Indians team. I think one of the best options was Matt Thornton, but the lefty reliever has already been moved to the Boston Red Sox.

Then there comes the bat. The Indians are an incredibly streaky team in the batters box and could greatly benefit from having a solid bat in the middle of the lineup. Think of another Michael Brantley, although Brantley is a one of a kind.

I really like what the Milwaukee Brewers, who are going to be extreme sellers, could give to the Indians. Ironic how it could be the Brewers, the team with which the Indians traded to acquire Michael Brantley, who could bolster the lineup.

Norichika Aoki would be someone to keep an eye out for. An outfielder with a .294 batting average and a .360 OBP, Aoki could certainly put a solid, middle of the road hitter in the Indians lineup.

This may be a bit of a stretch, as he probably will not be moved, but I love Carlos Gomez of the Brewers as well.

After a poor 2012, Gomez is hitting .295 this season with 14 home runs, 45 RBI, and a .337 OBP. Gomez would add the lethal combination of power and contact that the Indians oh, so desperately need.

Tribe fans, I’ll leave it at this.

I’d much rather add a bat and a reliever over a starting pitcher. I think you have your starting pitcher to get you to the postseason, and his name is Danny Salazar.

Salazar is the real deal, and I think he could have a Jarrett Wright like impact on this club. The Indians certainly could trade some pieces and go after a starter, but I don’t think it’s in their best interest.

The way I see it, the Indians will win 90 games if they stand pat. There’s no sense giving up the future to barely squeak into the playoffs. Instead, find players who can stick around and who will get you deep in the postseason and keep the majority of your future at the same time.

I know this is much easier said than done, but I finally have faith that Antonetti and Shapiro can do it.

Cleveland Indians Need to Make Every Effort to Acquire Cliff Lee…and Soon

by Ryan Isley

As the end of July approaches, it marks yet another trade deadline in Major League Baseball. And for the second time in three seasons, the Cleveland Indians appear to be buyers, not sellers, on the market as they sit just 2.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers for first place in the American League Central Division.

While the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline might be on July 31st, for the Cleveland Indians it is actually a week before that. Why, you ask? Simple – the Cleveland Browns veterans report to training camp on July 24th. For the Indians to keep the fans of Cleveland engaged and interested in baseball while the Browns are underway in preparation for the upcoming season, they need to make a splash prior to the opening of training camp. As I pointed out in a previous piece about the Browns, Cleveland is a Browns town.

This has been something I have never understood when it comes to Cleveland fans. The Indians and the Cavaliers are free game for criticism, but the Browns are off-limits.

But why?

The only answer I ever get is because Cleveland is a “Browns Town.” This excuse is complete and utter crap. What exactly have the Browns done to earn this title? Sure, they won the city’s last championship. In 1964. The Browns have done nothing but kill the hopes and dreams of sports fans in the city since their return to the NFL in 1999. And please don’t come with that “the league screwed the Browns from the start” argument. What the league did in 1999 is not playing a factor in what the Browns do in 2013. Or what they did in 2010. Or 2008. You get the picture.

For this reason, the Indians need to act quickly. But the question is who should they target? For me , the answer is to go after someone with whom everyone is familiar – Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee. The reason that the Indians should go after Lee is easy to understand – he is simply one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball as evidenced by his 10-2 record and 2.73 ERA this season.

Lee would give the Indians a legitimate front of the rotation starter that they have been missing. In his 18 starts this season, Lee has failed to pitch at least seven innings just three times, a stark contrast to what the Indians rotation has done this season. While Justin Masterson has three complete game shutouts (Lee has one), the Indians No.1 starter has gone seven or more innings in just nine of his 19 starts. In fact, Indians starters have gone six innings or more just three times in their last 13 games dating back to June 27th.

The Indians need an anchor in their rotation – a guy who they can hand the ball to every fifth day and know he gives them a great chance to win the ballgame. They just do not have that right now, despite Masterson being an All-Star. Masterson has been wildly inconsistent and Ubaldo Jimenez has as well. Plus Jimenez has shown that he is no longer a guy that can give a team seven innings, having pitched 5.2 innings or less in 11 of his 20 starts this season, including six in a row before going six innings on Tuesday night. And while Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber have flashed signs that they can pitch at the Major League level, the Indians have gotten nothing from Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer.

Lee would be a huge boost for the Indians in the second half of the season, especially since the Indians will be facing three teams from the National League East after the all-star break when they face the Miami Marlins (August 2-4), Atlanta Braves (August 27-29) and New York Mets (September 6-8). Lee is a combined 4-0 against those three teams this season with an ERA of 1.69 in those four starts. That also included his one complete game shutout of the season which came against the Marlins. Lee has also faced the Minnesota Twins and earned a win, going seven innings and giving up just two earned runs. The Indians have four series and 13 games remaining with Minnesota.

The left-hander also had one start against the Boston Red Sox this season, going eight innings and allowing just one earned run on four hits while striking out eight. This would provide the Indians some much needed help considering that the Indians would potentially see the Red Sox in the postseason if they make it there and the fact that the Indians are 1-6 against the Red Sox this season.

Speaking of the playoffs, another dimension Lee would bring is postseason experience and success. Despite going a combined 0-3 in 2010 and 2011, Lee has an overall playoff record of 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA. Of the pitchers currently in the Indians rotation, only Jimenez and Scott Kazmir have any career postseason starts and they are a combined 1-4 with a 4.66 ERA in 12 starts. Kazmir also had a relief appearance and Masterson has nine appearances out of the bullpen.

What would or should the Indians be willing to part with in order to get Lee? They have to be willing to hear out deals for just about anyone in their minor league system with possibly the exception of Francisco Lindor, but I would say even he isn’t untouchable. Remember – this is a front office that was willing to part with two of their top pitching prospects in Drew Pomeranz and Alex White when they obtained Jimenez at the 2011 trade deadline. Using that trade as a barometer, it is logical to think that the Indians would be open to dealing their top prospects if it means having a chance at winning.

If there is one team that knows prospects are not a sure thing, it would be the Indians. In the last five years, players such as White, Pomeranz, Matt LaPorta, Zach Jackson, Jason Knapp and Nick Hagadone have all been involved in trades made by the Indians.

Now I know that the first thing that will be brought up is Lee’s contract situation and the financial obligations for a team to get him. Lee is owed $25 million each season from 2013-2015 (approximately $12.5 million left this season) and has a club option for 2016 worth $27.5 million which carries a $12.5 million buyout if not exercised.

Unfortunately for the Indians, I don’t think they have any choice but to be willing to pay for what they want and need. It was evident in the way that the Indians spent money this past offseason that they want to win and they want to do it soon. When a team makes a commitment to winning by signing guys in the offseason, they do so knowing that the pressure to win will be even greater and that they may need to add pieces later on to help them reach their goal. The Dolans have found out the hard way that if you don’t spend money, you get to watch other teams celebrate championships.

The second thing that will be mentioned is that Lee’s contract contains a no-trade clause to a number of other teams. Even if the Indians are on the no-trade list for Lee, it would be hard to imagine that he doesn’t waive it with the Phillies now sitting in third place – 7.5 games out of first place in the National League East – and 5.5 games behind in the race for one of the National League wild card spots. Especially after the Phillies were 81-81 last season and missed the postseason. Lee will turn 35 this August and has yet to win a World Series, so going to a team that is set up to make a run for the postseason should appeal to him more than staying in Philadelphia and watching October baseball on television like the rest of us.

Even if Lee isn’t willing to come back to Cleveland, the Indians have to at least make every attempt possible to make it happen. At the end of the day, if the decision is up to Lee and he decides to stay in Philadelphia or accept a trade somewhere else, the blame can’t be put on the Indians ownership and front office. Now when was the last time we could say that with confidence?

After an aggressive offseason, the time is now for the Dolans, Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti to keep the pedal to the metal and try to make this team a championship contender. Acquiring Cliff Lee would be a great (and bold) move in that direction.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at ryan@morethanafan.net

Talkin' Tribe: Losing Should Not Mean Panic

I’m going to state the obvious: the Cleveland Indians are struggling as of late.

They were swept by the Yankees, have lost 12 of their last 16 games, and are currently one game above the .500 mark. They have a tough stretch of baseball coming up that includes a trip to Comerica, a trip to Arlington, and a series against the Washington Nationals. Their bullpen has struggled, their offense has struggled, and their starting pitching has struggled.

The rough stretch for the Indians has been the inverse of their previous stretch of 18 wins in 22 games. During those games, everything clicked. The offense was hot, the pitching was dominant, and the bullpen did enough to win games.

So what has changed? Why are the scorching hot Indians now the ice cold Tribe?

The answer: nothing. Nothing has changed. This is just how baseball works.

Baseball is a crazy, crazy game. It’s a marathon, lasting an entire summer, which makes it incredibly hard to refute any thinking that isn’t judgement.

“The Cleveland Indians are winning at the moment, that means they’re great.” “The Indians can’t win a game right now, that means their horrible.” No. Both of these are oh,so wrong.

The bottom-line is this: the Indians are a decent baseball team going through a valley at this moment in time. They went up a hill, and have fallen down the other side. Here’s the good news: another hill is standing right in front of them. They’re going to start a new journey up that hill very, very soon.

The Indians are much more susceptible to the ups and downs of a Major League season than most because of their “feast or famine” offense.

It reminds me a lot of my mother when I was younger. When we would sit down and watch the Tribe together, every time Jim Thome, (my favorite baseball player of all time), would approach the plate, my mom would say, “well, he’s either going to strike out or hit a home run.” Most of the time she was right. That’s just the player that Thome was. His colossal hacks would result in more strike outs than majestic long-balls, but he still put together one of the greatest, and steroid-free, careers of all time.

On this current Indians roster, there are many guys who are a lot like Jim Thome. They’ll either strike out or hit a home run. Mark Reynolds is more like Mr. Thome than anyone else.

Mark Reynolds was in the AL MVP race for the first month and a half of the season. Now he’s tied for fourteenth, with fellow Indian Drew Stubbs, in the league in strikeouts.

After a decent start, Nick Swisher is mired in a mighty slump. He’s hitting .059 in the month of June, and his batting average has dropped 29 points, from .278 to .249, since May 29th.

Carlos Santana has gone through maybe the quietest, but largest, slump of them all. Santana started May with a .395 batting average and a .483 on-base-percentage. Fast forward to June 6th and Santana’s average has dropped over .110 points, to .284, and his OBP is now at .391.

These slides have coincided with the Indians lack of wins as of late. Just as they’ve slid down the hill, they’ll start walking up again, slowly but surely.

Some encouraging things we can take away from this slump, and I hope these stay true, go as follows: Ubaldo Jimenez, Mike Aviles, and JC Romero.

Ubaldo Jimenez has continued his dominance throughout the slump. While he was rocked in one start by the Detroit Tigers, who he faces tonight in a re-match with Justin Verlander, the Indians last win was thanks to a eight inning, four hit shutout from Mr. Jimenez. We all know what Justin Masterson can do, but if Ubaldo Jimenez can solidify himself as a good number two, the Indians are much better off than they were at the start of this season.

Now, when I said Mike Aviles, I meant the Indians depth. We all know that Asdrubal Cabrera could spend some extended time on the disabled list, so having a guy like Mike Aviles to take over his role is huge for this ballclub. It allows the Indians to not miss a beat, and that’s something they haven’t had in the past. Yan Gomes, like Aviles, is also a guy that is invaluable to this ballclub. Carlos Santana has had his woes behind the plate, so having a guy like Gomes to step in, play great defense, and hit the cover off of the baseball, is helping the Indians greatly. You also have Ryan Raburn coming off of the bench to give the outfield a break, and that’s a commodity in it’s own right.

Finally, JC Romero. Romero was recently signed by the Indians to a minor-league deal, but I would expect to see him at Progressive Field sometime in the near future. The Indians have been aching for a solid left-handed reliever and Romero could be a great fit, as far as a “rental” is concerned. I don’t see him around for more than 2013, but Romero adds something to a bullpen that certainly needs all that it can get.

I’ve seen a lot of you panicking about the Tribe, and I guess that’s founded. We’ve all seen what has happened the past couple of years; the great start and subsequent tumble has become a pattern. However, the “I am sick of Tito”, “trade Stubbs”, “bench Swisher”, and “demote Jason Kipnis” talk is ludicrous.

The Indians need to keep the status quo, aside from one thing: Lonnie Chisenhall. Chiz is putting up LaPorta like numbers in Triple A and I think it’s safe to say that he has his confidence back. Especially with the loss of Cabrera, it’s time to bring Lonnie back up to the club.

I’m not saying that Lonnie is the reason that the Tribe has collapsed, as I believe it could be purely coincidence that the Indians are 10-14 since his departure, but it certainly can’t hurt to bring him back now. Terry Francona has said that Lonnie is going to be a big part of this ball-club going forward, so I think he needs to at least see if Lonnie’s numbers were just Triple A pitching or Lonnie being Lonnie.

Lonnie would also help end the Mark Reynolds experiment at third base, which has been an absolute train-wreck. Reynolds needs to be a consistent fixture at the DH spot and first-base. Third base should be a once in a while thing for him to give Lonnie a day off. Reynolds is simply one of the worst defensive third basemen I have ever seen, and his hitting has slowed tremendously since becoming the every-day third baseman.

Aside from the promotion of Lonnie and putting Mark Reynolds back where he belongs defensively, the Indians need to stay the course, even through this mighty storm.

The Indians are still a game above .500 and only down 2.5 games in the AL Central Division, with a HUGE opportunity to close that gap this weekend. If the Tribe get swept and look awful against Detroit, I still wouldn’t be all that worried.

This team is going to have streaks like this. They’re going to win a ton and lose a ton, and it’s going to be back to back, all season long. Just as you can’t get too high when they win 18 of 22, you can’t get too low when they lose 12 of 16.

I have trust in Tito, and you should to. This guy has won in situations filled with pressure that we could never dream of.

The baseball season is not a sprint. It is a marathon. We, as the most crazy, passionate, and loyal fan-base in America, must learn to calm down and take things in stride. There’s a lot of season to go, and I’m confident that we’ll be right in the thick of things come September.

Thoughts on the Pacers, the Indians, and How They Connect.

Tonight could be epic, so this piece I’m writing is going to be, well, epic… at least in terms of length. (I’m sorry, I like to write, ok!)

Anyways, tonight there are two things on my agenda:

  1. Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees on ESPN at 7:00.
  2. Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat on TNT at 8:30.

I will be flipping vigorously back and forth between games starting at 8:30, and I am more than excited about it.

While the night could potentially end in disaster with both the Heat and Yankees winning, I would CERTAINLY take a win in one and a loss in the other. No way do I believe that the Pacers and the Indians will win tonight. That would just be far too good.

Anyhow, I’m going to take on these two topics, so here goes nothing.

Tonight could be historic in terms of the NBA. The Indiana Pacers, potentially, could defeat the Miami Heat and take their place among the greatest upsets in the history of sports.

Tonight, not only are the Pacers preparing to battle the Miami Heat, they are preparing to battle forces beyond their control as well. No, not the half-empty crowd in the American Airlines Arena at tipoff. Not the “all-white-everything” that has become the motto for the Heat throughout their playoff runs. Not the distraction of a 75,000 dollar fine that was completely unnecessary, (“no homo” simply means, “I’m not gay, though”. If he would’ve put it that way, it would be a non-issue. But, I digress.) No, no, no.

David Stern, the NBA, and the media would all be facing a nightmarish scenario if the Heat lose tonight.

I can assure you, right now, that the NBA is doing everything it can to set up a Miami Heat victory tonight. David Stern is calling up the refs, “reminding” them that “this is a superstar’s league, so call it that way”. They already set up a diversion for Indiana by fining Hibbert. I’m sure if an Indiana Pacer looks at LeBron the wrong way he’ll be given a tech. These things are already in the works, and they are all in the way of an Indiana Pacers NBA Finals appearance.

With San Antonio already in the Finals, the NBA NEEDS a big market team like the Heat competing for a championship so it can bring in some money. If Indiana magically pulls out the win tonight, you might as well kiss the cash goodbye because nobody, (most people now-a-days are front-runners), will watch. Period, end.

Could you imagine a Spurs vs. Pacers NBA Finals? For those of us that enjoy basketball at it’s purest level, it would be glorious. No egos, no attitudes, just plain, solid, fundamental basketball. For the rest of the front-running world, it would be torture.

But it won’t happen, unless the Pacers pull off some sort of miracle.

LeBron will most likely go crazy, a-la last year’s Game 6 in Boston, which is difficult enough to beat by itself. Then, the refs will call ticky-tacky fouls all night long against the Pacers. Finally, close game or not, someone is going to get ejected on the Indiana sideline for something asinine like standing on the court or making an illegal substitution. The Heat will win easily, just like David Stern wanted.

While the Heat have a legitimate chance of getting swept in the Finals by San Antonio, that doesn’t matter. As long as the Heat get there, Stern will make his money and be more than happy.

While the Heat losing in the Finals would provide amazing amounts of hope for LeBron’s 2014 return to Cleveland, which I understand many of you would not enjoy, for reasons beyond my wildest imagination, it would offer so much more hope if they didn’t even have the chance to compete. With Wade losing a step each time he touches the court to Chris Bosh inability to make any sort of physical contact with an opposing player, LeBron is already by himself. Remember that he left Cleveland to have “help” to win an NBA Championship, or “nine”. If they fail this year, things should only get worse next season and LeBron’s 2014 departure will be imminent. And glorious.

The NBA, however, will provide the help that LeBron has always yearned for, so the Pacers challenge awaits them tonight.

Beat the Heat, beat David Stern, beat the front-running world, beat the best player in the world while he’s in “beast mode”, beat the refs, and beat big markets and your in. It’s as difficult as that.

They won’t do it, but it’s always fun to dream right?

Before all of this happens, the Indians game will be on. Nasty Masty will be taking the hill against veteran Andy Pettite in Yankee Stadium. It will be the first return to the Bronx for Nick Swisher since he joined the Indians and will most likely be an emotional night for him.

When thinking about the Indians, I think of something that the infamous Hiram Boyd brought up on a weekly radio show I put together with Jake Dungan for the Indians Baseball Insider Radio Network.

Hiram brought up a trade that the Indians should explore that sends Tribe prospects Francisco Lindor, Danny Salazar, and Shawn Armstrong to Kansas City for James Shields.

While I hate this particular trade for some reason, I think Hiram brings up a valuable point. The Indians need to sacrifice the future in order to win now.

In Cleveland, draft day is one of our favorite days of the year. It brings us hope for a bright future, something that has always alluded our beloved city for so many years.

Finally, I think the Indians have arrived at that future and we’re staring at it so hard, that we’re almost missing it.

The Indians farm system, outside of Lindor, is essentially depleted. The talent simply isn’t where it used to be. I don’t think we’ll be seeing any Vinnie Pestano’s or Carlos Santana’s making their way to Cleveland anytime soon.

The Indians roster is the best it has been since the 90’s, (If you want to argue about 2007, contact me on Twitter @H_Grove. I’ll be glad to tell you that 2007 was a fluke.). The Indians spent money that they have, quite literally, never spent before. They didn’t spend that money for the future. They spent that money for now.

While the Indians are certainly a decent team, I don’t think anyone would consider us legitimate World Series contenders as of right now. The starting rotation has been surprisingly good, the runs come and go in what seems to be a wave-like pattern, but our supposedly “tremendous” bullpen has been lackluster.

The Indians desperately need a good left-handed reliever. They would also benefit greatly from an elite starting pitcher and an added bat.

So my question is this: why not get these pieces and get rid of guys like Lindor, Salazar, and Armstrong?

Francisco Lindor could be a stud elsewhere, but who cares? If the Indians can get a top of the line guy for him and in turn become a legitimate contender, then who cares? Don’t you think that it would be worth it to make a World Series run without Francisco Lindor than to watch Francisco Lindor sit in a lineup of crap a la Jim Thome in 2002?

If you get the right piece, Lindor, Salazar, Paulino, or any other minor league prospect should be dispensable. That’s the nitty gritty of it.

The problem becomes who that missing piece should be. Maybe it’s a bunch of smaller pieces that bring us to contention. Maybe it’s one stud. Who knows, but I know that piece is out there somewhere.

Maybe the Indians should consider bringing back Cliff Lee for a final-go-round as a member of the Cleveland Indians? Maybe Shields is the guy like Hiram said? Maybe, it’s Derek Holland from the Texas Rangers or Matt Moore from the Tampa Bay Rays?

Maybe it’s a couple of hitters, like Aramis Ramirez and Norichika Aoki from the Brewers? Maybe it’s a couple of lefty relievers to fill out the ailing bullpen. Who knows?

The point is that the future should not inhibit the present, especially in this case.

The front office has built this team to compete this year, next year, and maybe the year after. There are key guys that could stick around, like Mark Reynolds and Ubaldo Jimenez, if a couple of moves are made in order to help this team move itself into “legitimate contender” status.

Can you imagine being in October for the next couple of years. It could be magical. This team is like any we’ve seen in Cleveland for a very long time. We have a brilliant, energized, and experienced manager. We have high-profile stars and under-the-radar professionals. We have role players that are making the most of a second chance and formerly overrated guys who are living up to the hype.

It’s time. We can worry about the future when it arrives. Let’s live in the present and seize the opportunity in front of us.

We must sacrifice the future to win now, or we, as a collective Tribe Town, will always regret it.

So as you watch the Tribe and Pacers tonight, give this piece a little thought. Remember that, in both cases, you could be watching the future unfold right in front of you. With a Pacers W, LeBron could be well on his way back to Cleveland. With a couple of moves, the Tribe will be back in World Series contention.

The Pacers might not have a chance, thanks to the greed that is the NBA, but the Tribe certainly does.

In both of these cases, the future is right now.

Cleveland Indians at the Quarter Pole

Indians Chief WahooI’m sitting here with a glass of wine (WINE. Chris Barron has somehow influenced me) re-watching the Cleveland Indians beat the Seattle Mariners with walk-off heroics for the third time in a four game series. (I’m also flipping back and forth to an old River Monsters, because who wants to ever swim in any body of water ever again?)

The Indians are leading the American League Central with a record of 26-17, and hold a 2.5 game lead over division rival (AT LEAST WE’RE NOT) Detroit Tigers. With 43 games played in the 2013 MLB season, I’m ready to grade the Indians on and off the field through a little more than 25% of the race behind us.

Arms ~ B

I spent roughly half of my life during Indians Spring Training telling people that I was scared of the Tribe’s starting rotation. I remember all of these conversations well since I’m still saying the same things, but I have to admit that the Indians starters have pitched much better than I thought they would.

Justin Masterson has been fantastic so far. He’s eating innings – 70 innings pitched in 10 starts – and managing to average 9.1 strikeouts per nine and only allowing a batting average against of .210. Those are both top 10 in the American League. Oh, and did I mention the seven wins? Masterson is tied for second in AL wins with Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish (Tampa Bay Rays Matt Moore is freaking 8-0 with a 2.29 ERA and is way out in front as the early speed of this year’s AL Cy Young race)

After Masterson, there haven’t been any really disappointing starters on this Indians rotation, except for Brett Myers. But even Myers’ habit of being terrible hasn’t brought this rotation down thanks to the surprisingly decent outings by Corey Kluber and the (so far) fulfilled expectations from Trevor Bauer. Grant it, Kluber and Bauer have only appeared thus far in six and three games respectively, but either man has already proven to be a better option than Myers. That means a lot to the depth of this rotation.

I left out much maligned Indians hurler Ubaldo Jimenez for a reason; because there’s been a ton of backlash by Ubaldo fans against the backlash of all the Ubaldo “haters” earlier in the season. I said on the first MTAF Cigar Podcast that Ubaldo Jimenez would be my least favorite player at the end of the 2013 season because he wouldn’t be consistent enough to be a solid #2 pitcher for a playoff team. Since I talked all that crap, Jimenez reeled off three straight wins and pitched well in a no-decision against the Mariners this past Friday. In fact, aside from two disastrous outings in April – wherein he allowed 14 earned runs over the course of six innings in losses to the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees – Jimenez has pitched well this season.

There could be any number of explanations, but the most likely scenario to my eyes is that Indians manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway have given up trying to change the confounding mechanics of their lynch pin hurler and just told him to go relax and throw the ball however he feels comfortable. If that’s the case, I’m completely okay with not trying to over tinker with a wind up that a watch maker couldn’t figure out.

In the face of Ubaldo pitching well, I’ve been asked if I’ve changed my tune in my judgement of him. I have, slightly. I don’t think you’re going to catch me on the mountaintops singing the praises Jimenez’s crooked-wristed windup unless he strings together 10 games of big time dominance, but I’m willing to say that I’m now cautiously optimistic when he takes the mound. I don’t expect an Ace’s outing, but I also am starting to feel like the Indians can pencil in five or six solid innings and keep our offense within striking distance at all times.

There’s not much to say about the bullpen except that they’ve been awesome. Sure, each guy has made a few mistakes, but as a unit Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, Matt Albers, Rich Hill, Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez have been great. If Nick Hagadone didn’t constantly set fire to everything, I’d be on cloud nine. Seriously, if there were crying in baseball (there’s not), we’d all be crying about Nick Hagadone.

Bats ~ B+

What can I say about this Indians team offense that isn’t readily apparent from looking at their team stats? Cleveland is in the top 10 of every major statistical category except for at-bats. That’s runs (208, 8th), hits (383, 9th), doubles (90, 5th), triples (9, T-4th), homers (57, T-2nd), total bases (662, T-3rd), average (.265, T-6th), on base percentage (.334, T-4th) and they lead the league in slugging percentage (.459) and on base plus slugging (.793). That’s an awful lot of silly numbers to say one simple thing; this lineup is freaking great.

From Mark Reynolds‘ 12 home runs and 37 runs batted-in to Michael Brantley‘s .306 average and 48 hits, this Indians lineup has found its mojo from top to bottom. There’s been so much Bat Magic so far in 2013 that I’m beginning to worry that there won’t be any chickens left for Jobu when the stretch run starts.

Heads ~ A

The Indians coaching staff has outdone themselves so far this season. Sure, Tito gets all the headlines, but bench coach Sandy Alomar, Jr., Callaway, bullpen coach Kevin Cash, third base coach Brad Mills, first base coach Mike Sarbaugh, and hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo all deserve a hearty shout out and kudos. The players are the guys making the plays, but there’s talent on lots of major league rosters that don’t produce like this Indians team. That means something.

Overall ~ B+

If there were a grade for “Dealing With Fans Who Use Social Media to be Completely Insane and Send Death Threats to Closers”, the Indians would get an A+, therefore pushing their overall grade to an A. As it is, the Indians clubhouse has done a great job winning and focusing on the majority of fans who love and support the team. And, let me tell you, it’s been awesome, bro.

On a non-baseball note, once in a generation tornadoes spent Monday ripping through the Midwest. If you’re like me and don’t live close enough to physically help those affected, there are still a couple of things you can do. 

To donate $10 via text:

Send STORM to 80888 for the Salvation Army

Send REDCROSS to 90999 for the American Red Cross Disaster Fund

Send FOOD to 32333 for the Disaster Relief Food Bank

And if you can’t do that – don’t feel bad, I’m not loaded, either – give blood. Sometimes we’re too far away to provide the sweat and tears, but we can still give blood.  

Follow Josh on twitter at @Railbirdj and stalk More Than a Fan at @MTAFSports!