The 2012 Cleveland Indians might be one of the most frustrating teams to root for. I honestly can’t decide if I love them or hate them.
From a character standpoint, there’s a lot to like about the team: Shin Soo Choo plays with such a calm self-awareness and professionalism; Asdrubal Cabrera dazzles at short and comes up with timely hitting; Jason Kipnis is a throwback player that the oldest of fans can admire but still appeals to the youngest of Tribesters with his exuberant play; and Chris Perez is, well, wonderful is his own unkempt, loud, arrogant, self-aggrandizing, nasty, confident way.
But the lack of depth, Grady Sizemore, starting pitcher issues, Grady Sizemore, lack of timely hitting, Grady Sizemore, dearth of power especially at “power” positions (LF, 3B, 1B, DH), Grady Sizemore, complete incapability to hit left-handed pitching, Grady Sizemore, Nick Hagadone breaking his hand punching a wall, Grady Sizemore, no right-handed bats, Grady Sizemore, the unwillingness it seems of the front office to make a big move, and Grady Sizemore being paid five million dollars to be injured all the time absolutely drives me nuts about this team.
I really want to believe that this Indians team is a legitimate playoff contending team, but it’s really tough right now. Cleveland is competing with the Tigers and White Sox for the Central Division, which is their best bet for getting into the playoffs.
Both of those teams have demonstrated a willingness to make any move that can get them over the hump. Detroit did it last year trading for Doug Fister at the trade deadline and also this past winter by signing Prince Fielder in free agency.
And Chicago jumped the gun already this season by acquiring Kevin Youkilis from Boston for basically nothing (more on this move later).
The Wild Card will be a little tougher to get into even though the Indians are only one game out as opposed to being three out in the Central race. The reason it will be tougher is because they're battling teams like the Angels, Red Sox, and Tigers (again) who all have very deep pockets, as well very tough East teams in Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Toronto.
I’m not convinced that the Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro are going to make a move that will drastically improve this team. They could have gotten Youkilis for virtually nothing but for some reason, even though he fit everything the team needed (1B/3B/DH, RH power hitter who gets on base at a very high rate).
Instead he went to the division rival White Sox for a utility player and an average minor league pitcher, not to mention that the Red Sox are paying most of his salary.
It was clear that Youkilis just needed to get out of Boston get himself right again and it’s sure showing, as in 13 games with Chicago, he has a .989 OPS with three HR’s and walk-off hit to boot.
Now, I don’t think Youkilis will keep up his current pace for the rest of the season, but it’s obvious to everyone that he’s a different player since the trade.
The Indians basically decided that Aaron Cunningham (a fairly comparable player to Brent Lillibridge) was too valuable to give up. My question then, given the current state of the roster and inability to hit left-handed pitching, is “Are the Indians really in position to turn down three-time All-Stars who twice won the World Series as well as a Gold Glove at first base just because they had a bad couple months at this point?”
I think not.
It’s tough to believe in a team when they aren’t willing to make even low-risk moves like that. It’s even tougher when the other professional teams in town are making big moves.
Chris Grant of the Cavs got it started back in February 2011 by taking on a bad Baron Davis contract to get a draft pick that ended up being Kyrie Irving.
Tom Heckert and the Browns kept the ball rolling by trading away a high pick to get future selections that resulted in the team being able to land a QB/RB combo of Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson that should anchor the team for the next five to seven years.
Not to be outdone, the Cavs made another big splash in the draft taking the dynamic scorer Dion Waiters and then traded back up to get a solid center in Tyler Zeller. The Browns came right back on Thursday and took a dynamic player of their own, wide receiver Josh Gordon, in the supplemental draft.
The Indians brought in Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman. Not exactly the players that will get the fans energized.
Now I’ll give them credit, last year they went out and made a controversial trade to bring in Ubaldo Jiminez who has played much better over the last month or so than he did all of last year with the Tribe.
They’re going to need another bold move like that if they are serious about being playoff and World Series contenders in 2012.
If they can find a way to bring in a player like Justin Upton, who is under contract through 2015, then I will shout their praises from the highest mountain (metaphorically speaking, of course).
My love for and trust in the Indians franchise has vacillated quite a bit since my family moved to Ohio when I was 10 years old.
Having grown up a Red Sox fan, I quickly got sucked up into that late 90's Tribe team that was so loaded with great hitters. But when the team began to fall apart at the turn of the century and the owners allowed all the stars to walk, it wasn't very difficult for me to follow my favorite player, Manny Ramirez, back to Boston and the team of my youth.
But now that Manny is no longer with the Red Sox and that they have essentially turned into the Yankees, coupled with the fact that I miss living in Northeast Ohio to the point that rooting for Cleveland teams is my only way to stay connected, I am really trying hard to stick with this Tribe team.
But they don't make it easy. And I don't feel like I'm the only one who feels this way about this team.
Antonetti and Shapiro better be aware that if they don't make a significant move to get better or if they begin to fade at all over the next couple weeks, they will lose the fanbase for good when Browns training camp opens on July 28.
And the Cavaliers Summer League schedule starts this Sunday, so they might just lose me there.
Look, I don't want this to come off as angry, bitter Tribe fan. I feel like I've said this a hundred times, but I really want this team to be good.
However, the team as currently constituted is not good enough to make the playoffs. It's time for the Indians front office to grow a collective pair and make some moves to get Cleveland excited about baseball again!
We saw it with the team in the 90's and it rings true today as well: "If you build it, they will come."
Build us a winning baseball team, Antonetti, and the fans will come out and support it.
You can follow Benjamin Flack on Twitter @ClevelandFlack.
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