Reflecting back on May 17...
The Cleveland Indians were in first place, leading the AL Central by four games with a 22-16 record. The pitching was fantastic, led by Derek Lowe's dazzling early success and the team was pretty healthy.
Then May 28 happened. The Indians were up by .5 games and lost it the next day, only regaining the lead for a brief four-day period from June 19 to June 23. Since June 23, though, the Tribe has sunk to a 17-36 record (.321 winning percentage), and have basically eliminated themselves from hopes for the postseason, with only the mathematical offerings to cling to.
It has been an ugly two months and an even uglier 25-game stretch, where the Cleveland Indians have gone a highly unimpressive 4-21, including a current eight-game losing streak.
Tribe fans need to point the finger at someone, so who is to blame for this hot, hot mess that is the 2012 Cleveland Indians baseball season?
This is the face of an 81-year-old man who Cleveland Indian fans have come to loathe. Since taking control of the team in 2000, the Indians have gone to the playoffs twice (2001 and 2007) and have a 929-976 record (.488 winning percentage), so it has not been all bad in a little over a decade.
The issue fans seem to have is the payroll.
2012: $ 78,430,300 (21st in MLB)
2011: $ 49,190,566 (26th in MLB)
2010: $ 61,203,966 (24th in MLB)
2009: $ 81,579,166 (15th in MLB)
2008: $ 78,970,066 (16th in MLB)
2007: $ 61,673,267 (23rd in MLB)
2006: $ 56,031,500 (25th in MLB)
2005: $ 41,502,500 (26th in MLB)
2004: $ 34,319,300 (27th in MLB)
2003: $ 48,584,834 (26th in MLB)
2002: $ 78,909,449 (9th in MLB)
2001: $ 92,660,001 (5th in MLB)
The salaries were high in 2001 and 2002 because of the contracts that were signed by previous ownership. Since those contracts have come off of the books, the Indians payroll has sunk to the bottom half of the league, averaging about 23rd in MLB in spending out of 30 teams. 2007 was outside of the norm and the success led to a bump in payroll, to the middle tiers in 2008 and 2009. They have sunk right back to the bottom since then, though.
Larry Dolan is to blame because the high payrolls of the Jacobs family were what kept the Indians talented, which sold out Jacobs Field. The Indians finished first or second in the AL Central from 1994 until 2001, appearing in two World Series.
Larry Dolan was said to be worth $3.3 billion in 2009. Someone with that kind of money should be investing in some talent, right? Someone with that kind of money who really wants to win shouldn't be concerned about attendance and revenue being the only way for the Cleveland Indians to make enough money to field a winning team, right?
With the drop in payroll, there has been a drop in relevance. Who better to blame than the man who signs the paychecks, while pricing the Tribe out of contention?
Mark Shapiro's trading history consists of:
6/27/2002: Traded Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew to the Montreal Expos for Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens
6/30/2006: Traded Eduardo Perez to the Seattle Mariners for Asdrubal Cabrera
7/26/2006: Traded Ben Broussard and cash to the Seattle Mariners for Shin-Soo Choo and Shawn Nottingham
7/26/2008: Traded Casey Blake and cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Carlos Santana and Jonathan Meloan
While we all like to dwell on this one:
7/7/2008: Traded C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for Matt LaPorta, Zach Jackson, Rob Bryson and Michael Brantley
Or this one:
7/29/2009: Traded Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco to the Philadelphia Phillies for Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson and Jason Donald
You can't discount the fact that Mark Shapiro did some fantastic things in his career as general manager of the Cleveland Indians.
At the end of the 2010 season, Chris Antonetti was named general manager while Shapiro was promoted to Team President. Antonetti, of course, brought Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians on 7/30/2011 for Matt McBride, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. The trade has worked out pretty miserably for both teams to this point.
Say what you want about the lack of moves and the moves that haven't worked, but this is where the hands begin to get tied by what you're able to do with the resources that you are given.
While all Indians fans would like to see the Tribe upgrade to Prince Fielder at first base, Matt Cain and Justin Verlander in the rotation and Michael Bourn manning the leadoff spot and center field, Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti can only spend what ownership gives them, and can only acquire players who fit within the budget by dealing players that trading partners want to trade for.
With that said, the money could be spent more wisely in the coming seasons.
Who were they competing against when they guaranteed Casey Kotchman $3 million to play first base in 2012? If Derek Lowe had an ERA of 4.57 in the National League, why would you expect him to do better in an American League with a designated hitter in the lineup? Why did they not address the left field job prior to signing Johnny Damon in April, when they knew that Grady Sizemore was facing injury concerns prior to spring training?
All excellent questions created by an amazing writer. Questions which remain unanswered.
A record of 203-245. 4-21 in the last 25 games. Two straight seasons with totally disastrous second-half collapses. Should Manny Acta be feeling the pressure? On August 6, Chris Antonetti said that Acta would return in 2013. His 2013 option was exercised at the end of the 2011 season.
That isn't to say that Acta could be fired along with Antonetti...or Shapiro for that matter, who is signed through 2013. Should you blame the guy who makes the lineup? The Oakland Athletics are winning with a group of mixed talent, but they still have pitching, something that Cleveland clearly doesn't have.
Personally, I don't think that you can blame Manny Acta. He is playing with the cards that he has been dealt, and his hand should have been folded a long time ago. He had the roster playing well for far longer than some expected, myself included, and it all crashed down at the same time, right around the injury to Lonnie Chisenhall, who may have been more valuable to the Indians than anyone really thought.
Acta deserves to have some talent around him. He is a very cognitive manager who utilizes statistics along the lines of the Moneyball Billy Beane teams in Oakland. He has made some decent moves this season, including the move of Shin-Soo Choo to the leadoff role and expanding the role of Lou Marson to keep Carlos Santana fresh in the second half.
Acta just doesn't have a lot to work with.
So much for the value of veterans to help get the Cleveland Indians over the hump in the 2012 season. The acquisition of Derek Lowe from the Atlanta Braves and the free-agent signing of Casey Kotchman were supposed to make the Indians matter. It did for a little while, but it crashed quickly.
On May 15, Derek Lowe was 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA. From that point on, Lowe was 2-9 with an 8.28 ERA.
Casey Kotchman hit a career-best .306/.378/.422 in 2011, playing near perfect defense at first base and posting a 3.0 WAR. He has rewarded the Tribe with a .234/.296/.354 line and a -0.6 WAR, meaning he has cost the Tribe wins over a replacement player in 2012. Kotchman has been awful away from Progressive Field—.217/.296/.332—and in the second half—.214/.277/.311.
Jack Hannahan in April: .290/.375/.403, two doubles, one home run and 14 RBI in 62 at-bats. Since May 1: .193/.267/.289 with seven doubles, three home runs and nine RBI in 166 at-bats. I like to blame Jack Hannahan for everything, myself. He has no business on the current roster as a soon-to-be 33-year-old who is arbitration-eligible. Awful isn't the right word for his attempt to play baseball over the last four months.
All three of these players were supposed to play major roles. Lowe was to add a veteran presence to the rotation and Hannahan and Kotchman were to add veteran leadership on the field and solid defense. Unfortunately, there is no defense for how awful the three veterans have been or were for the Indians in 2012, and the only people they are leading are the fans away from Progressive Field.
Hey you...you didn't buy tickets to the game. The Indians finally moved out of last place in MLB in attendance with the last homestand, but they are still 28th and average 20,677 per home date. The Indians are on pace to finish with the second-lowest attendance figures since moving to Jacobs/Progressive Field in 1994, with only the 2010 season being worse than the 1,654,171 that they are on-pace for.
If you don't go to the game, you don't support the team. If you don't go to the game and buy a $5 fried Snickers, you are not only missing out on one of the most amazing experiences that your taste buds will ever have, but you aren't lining the pockets of ownership by paying $5 for a candy bar dipped in lard and fried.
If you aren't at the game, why should Larry Dolan and Company put a product on the field? If 52.4 percent of Progressive Field has been empty for the 59 home games to date, you are to blame for the failure of the franchise. You are to blame for the fact that ownership keeps payroll so low and you are to blame for the struggles of the left-handed dominated lineup and the atrocious pitching staff.
You should have known that without showing up and hitting the three-million mark in attendance, as the Indians did from 1996 to 2001, that the Indians would have no choice but to trade core players and draft poorly.
You are the reason that Chris Perez is right whenever he rants about being booed and you are the reason that ownership will continue to play dumb with payroll.
You are the smartest fans in the world because of that. Cleveland loves their teams emphatically and they are smart. They stay away when they aren't pleased and they have no reason to be happy with the state of the current Cleveland Indians. While you are to blame because you're not lining the pockets of ownership with profits so that they have the resources to compete, you don't need to.
You've been waiting since 1948 for a title. If ownership isn't willing to make sacrifices to bring another title to Cleveland, that is their fault, regardless of the blame that Dolan throws on the fans.
Zach McAllister is the future of the rotation and showed that he isn't to blame with another fantastic start on Wednesday in Seattle. However, there is blame to go around and then some for the terrific collapse of the 2012 Cleveland Indians.
The consecutive losses that have seen an 11-game skid and now an eight-game skid in recent weeks are the proof that change is needed. For all of the blame that gets tossed around toward players, management and ownership, who do you think is most responsible for this embarrassment?
While owning a baseball team seems to be a goal for some successful businessmen who love sports, some just aren't cut out to do what it takes to succeed in all facets of life. To me, the Dolans need to move on. It isn't like the Indians are a storied franchise full of championships like the New York Yankees, but they had something special going until the team was sold in 2000, appearing in the postseason five straight years and averaging 94 wins per season, including 100 in the 144-game 1995 season.
Maybe the Jacobs family was over its head in payroll and it was bound to collapse, but something tells me that the three-million-plus fans who entered Jacobs Field in those seasons were happy and proud to be Indians fans, something that can't be said by anyone right now.