It wasn't supposed to be like this. After a stellar 2007 season and an exciting core of young talent, the Cleveland Indians were poised to contend for the Central Division Championship for years to come.
Then the 2008 season happened. It started with no key off-season additions and continued into the season with injuries, a slow start, and a bad bullpen that derailed the '08 campaign.
Finally, the trade of CC Sabathia signaled the end of what was a promising year. Many Indians fans thought this was just a bump in the road. An off-year complete with bad luck and bad slumps, much like the '06 season.
So the Indians front office went to work this past winter to set the club up for a solid run at Central Division in 2009. The Tribe traded for reliever Joe Smith and made a splash in free agency by signing closer Kerry Wood to a $10 million a year deal to solidify the bullpen.
Indians GM Mark Shapiro hoped for bounce back years from Rafael Betancourt and Masa Kobayashi. The bullpen looked like one of the best in the AL coming into the year.
Shapiro then added a bat, bringing out 2B/3B/OF Mark DeRosa from the Cubs via trade. Shapiro's final move was to sign a quality veteran starting pitcher. He settled on Carl Pavano for a one-year deal, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle like he did with Kevin Millwood in 2005.
So how did all those off-season moves play out? What went wrong? Maybe the better question is, what went right? The Indians' re- built bullpen has an AL-worst 5.13 ERA and has blown numerous games, especially in the eighth inning.
Joe Smith started slow, then went on the DL, and hasn't done any better since coming back. Kerry Wood has been unhittable at times and performed very poor at others.
One problem is that he hasn't been getting consistent opportunites, which goes to show how few times the Indians have been leading in the ninth inning and how many blown leads have happened in the eighth.
In Wood's return to Wrigley Field in Chicago, he blew back-to-back games. One of his problems has been throwing his slider for strikes, and when he only has a 95 mph fastball to throw, its just a matter of time before hitters catch up to it and send it a long way.
When the Indians signed him last winter, you had to think: is a closer really worth $10 million a year? The tribe find themselves regretting that decision now that they are out of the race.
As for Carl Pavano, Indians fans got a glimpse of what to look forward to when he gave up nine runs in one inning in the third game of the year at Texas.
After losing three of his first four starts (a ND in the other), Pavano came out of nowhere to win six of his next eight starts. He slipped up and lost three of his next four but has rebounded to win his last two starts.
It's been an up-and-down season for Pavano and he will now surely be used for trade bait. As for Mark DeRosa, he started off very slow but picked up his power and had a great June.
With the Tribe out of contention, Shapiro swiftly shipped him off to St. Louis for reliever Chris Perez, who bombed in his first two outings.
Injuries once again hit the tribe this season. Grady Sizemore went on the the DL for the first time in his career. Travis Hafner was hoping for a comeback season but landed on the DL one month into the season. He's back now but limited to just three games a week.
Asdrubal Cabrera had an amazing start the year, then went down with a shoulder injury. Projected starters Scott Lewis and Anthony Reyes have been on the DL since April. Aaron Laffey went to the DL and just returned last week.
Raffy Betancourt has been on the DL and is slowly making his return. Jake Westbrook is coming off Tommy John surgery and was hopeful to be back by late June/eary July. After a setback in rehab, he'll now be lucky to be back by early August.
As for the rest of the pitching staff, Rafael Perez, Jensen Lewis, Fausto Carmona, and Jeremy Sowers have all spent time in the minors due to poor performance. It's been one piece of bad news after another at Progressive Field this summer.
So where do the Cleveland Indians go from here? They sit at an AL worst 35-54 and 14 games out of first place as of July 16. They will look to trade Pavano and possibly Jhonny Peralta (if anyone will take him).
Many people have discussed trading Victor Martinez or Cliff Lee as they both become free agents after the 2010 season. But the Indians want to contend in 2010 and hopefully be able to re-sign one of them, so a trade there is unlikely.
In the meantime, the Indians will evaluate players and will be very interested in the performances of their September call ups.
Expect Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Andy Marte (remember him?), Hector Rondon, Carlos Santana, Josh Barfield, Wes Hodges, and Jordan Brown to get the call.
Shapiro must also look at the players on the roster right now. Sizemore, Choo, Martinez, and Cabrera are keepers. Luis Valbuena has been solid and should get better at the plate with more at-bats.
The Tribe is stuck with Travis Hafner so they are hoping for big things out of him in the second half. But the front office must make decisions on Ben Francisco, Ryan Garko, Kelly Shoppach, and Jhonny Peralta.
The pitching staff is a complete mess. Cliff Lee and Kerry Wood are the only certified Major Leaguers. This year could be Jeremy Sowers? Will any of the newcomers shine? Can David Huff continue to improve? How will Jake Westbrook look when he comes back?
There are a lot questions for a pitching staff that has been the root of this terrible season and the backbone to 2007. Mark Shapiro has a ton work to do to rebuild the pitching.
And it is possible the Indians could wipe the slate clean and completely rebuild much like they did in 2002-03. Complete with a new GM and manager as Eric Wedge, who has just one playoff appearance in seven seasons, seems to be on his last leg with the Cleveland fans.
Instead of a pennant race in September and a rowdy Progressive Field on a crisp October night, Indians fans will be stuck watching a last-place team trot out a makeshift lineup in a half-filled ballpark muttering to themselves, "it wasn't supposed to be like this."
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