Tribe Talk: Think the 2009 Indians Are Bad? We've Seen Worse

Samantha Bunten@@samanthabuntenAnalyst ISeptember 18, 2009

MIAMI - JUNE 12:   Manager Eric Wedge #22 of the Cleveland Indians shares a laugh on the bench with pitching coach Carl Willis #51 (C) and third baseman Casey Blake #1 (R) in the first inning against the Florida Marlins during interleague play at Dolphin Stadium on June12, 2007 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Welcome to Tribe Talk, where Bleacher Report's Tribe fans weigh in on the ups and downs of the Indians each week throughout the season.

This week we weigh in on the worst Indians' team in recent memory, mull over why Andy Marte is still around, and debate who the bigger mess is: Indians or Browns.

I would like to thank this week's participants Nino Colla, Jeff Poore, and Scott Miles for their contributions.

This discussion is open to all, so please feel free to comment below and pitch in your thoughts on the questions we're addressing this week.

Go Tribe!


1. Three weeks left to go in the season, three months since we gave the season up for lost. Time to start reflecting back on 2009, even if most of us would prefer to forget it.

Is this the absolute worst Indians team in your recent memory? Or at least the most disappointing? At what point did you realize that the season was a lost cause? Do you expect things to get better next year?

Samantha Bunten: This team can't even begin to touch the 2003 squad when it comes to claiming the "Worst Team In Recent Memory" title. Bill Selby, anyone?

I think I've blocked out most of the rest of the 2003 roster, it was so bad. This team, however, was more disappointing.

We've said it a million times over the course of the season: Part of the reason watching this team has been so upsetting is not because they've been so bad, but because we expected them to be good and never saw it coming.

Subconsciously, I threw in the towel after the Milwaukee series in June but refused to officially hang it up until the All-Star break. Even after the break in August, fellow contributor Scott Miles and I entertained hopes of a Major League-like comeback from 11 games back in the central. We know, we know: silly us.

Still, I do think things will get better next year. MUCH better. Whether or not this is an accurate prediction or a foolish hope will remain a mystery until next April, but it would be hard for things to get worse.

Nino Colla: Has it been three months since we've given up? Damn, time flies when you're sorrowful.

They aren't the worst, not by a long shot, but certainly one of the most disappointing teams, right up there with last year's squad. However, I think I'd go with last year's squad as more disappointing. They had starting pitching and not as many injuries. This one had a lot of injuries and starting pitching that was suspect from the start.

I think expectations of a bounce-back, plus the addition of two higher priced veterans in Wood and DeRosa gave this team even more expectations.

I'm highly disappointed in them, but I'd actually go with last year as more of a disappointment the way they started out of the gate and the way they finished, even without Hafner, Sabathia, a healthy Martinez and everything else.

Things will get better next year because expectations aren't to win. I can already feel a better start or season next year because no one is expecting the Indians to do anything. Yet they've got talent as we've seen and they'll probably do what they did in the second half all of next year.

They won't completely suck, but they won't be world-beaters by any means. Expectations won't be high, so they'll play above them and everyone will feel good.

Jeff Poore: Worst team was 2003 after the sell-off of 2002. It ended the Jacobs Field Era of Champions and ended it hard.

The most disappointing was 2008 as many of the core pieces (especially starting pitching) were in place for a run and the team flopped big time. After the first month when it was apparent that Cliff Lee was the only pitcher you could count on, I started to worry. The Interleague debacles versus the Cubs and Brewers sealed their fate.

Scott Miles: It's a toss-up between this team and the 2003 team (68-94).

For me, it boils down to this: which scrubs were the worst? 2003 featured legends like Shane Spencer, Tim Laker, Ricky Gutierrez, Bill Selby (Granny off Mariano Rivera!), Jason Boyd, Ricardo Rodriguez, Nick Bierbrodt...essentially, the 1927 Yankees.

In five or 10 years, we'll look back at the 2009 Tribe and see a roster littered with Chris Gimenez, Niuman Romaro, Tony Graffanino, Tomo Ohko, Jess Todd, Jose Veras, Masa Kobayashi and also shake our heads. So it's a toss-up for which team is worse, but the '09 version is certainly more disappointing.

I had a bad feeling about this season from the get-go, after Cliff Lee got shelled on opening day and realizing that (at the time) we were relying on him, Fausto, Pavano, Scott Lewis and Jeremy Sowers to carry the pitching staff. Yikes.

Will it get better next year? Well, can't get much worse, can it?


2. No matter who is to blame, no one can deny that Tribe pitching, on the whole, has been awful.

How much do you blame pitching coach Carl Willis for this? Was Willis simply not provided enough talent to build an effective staff, or should he shoulder much of the blame for failing to get a productive season out of what staff he had?

When viewing the situation independently of what happens to Eric Wedge, would you fire Carl Willis? Who would you like to see replace him?

Samantha Bunten: The sad band of has-beens and greenhorns that made up this season's pitching staff could not have been turned into anything other than what they were (a mess), by any pitching coach.

I don't care if you're Leo Mazzone, guys like Jose Veras won't be any great shakes whether they've had good instruction or not.

That being said, Willis still needs to go. While I don't blame him for what has happened this season, I will hold him accountable for failing to put together a halfway decent bullpen EVER over his entire career (save once, in 2007, when I believe he just got lucky).

Truth be told, Willis is probably the first guy I would fire. A pitching coach, especially one no one will miss, is infinitely more replaceable than a manager or a General Manager. There are a million former pitchers out there who couldn't do a whole lot worse than Willis has, and perhaps a fresh perspective could change a lot.

Nino Colla: I can blame Willis all I want, but really it's on the players for the most part. You can nit-pick on Willis for players, but when you've got Rafael Perez stinking up the joint and completely baffling us as to what is wrong, I can't blame Willis. Not even Columbus figured him out and people regard Scott Radinksky (Columbus pitching coach) as better than Willis because they are that anti-Wedge regime.

So there is nothing you can say towards Willis on that matter, no one has fixed Perez, he's baffling.

There wasn't much starting pitching here to work with. I hold him accountable for the young arms though. David Huff, Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers, Carlos Carrasco. He needs to be responsible for those guys now and in the future.

The Indians have done what they could with Fausto Carmona and it seems to be having some effect, but the move is for the long-term, not the short-term. They want him to be a pitcher, and in that regard, I tip my hat to Willis.

You can say the guy coached two Cy Young Award winners in a row just as much as you can say he lucked into that. It doesn't matter. He's largely responsible for the Cliff Lee turnaround just by showing Lee he had faith in him.

Sometimes that's all you have to do. Anthony Reyes didn't see eye-to-eye with Dave Duncan. That guy might be a miracle worker, bu Willis' style is different and was something Reyes warmed up to.

Carl Willis isn't the greatest pitching coach in the world and he isn't everyone's favorite, but you could do a far worse. I don't think I can view the situation independently. If there is another guy out there that you can assure me is better, that would be cheaper, then sure.

But if Eric Wedge goes, Willis staying has to be up to the guy coming in. If the Indians solution to this year's problems is to fire Willis, you better have a damn good replacement and you better be sure of it.

Jeff Poore: The entire coaching staff needs to go. Players play and coaches coach and the players have played poorly, however, the coaching staff has never "fixed" any of their players, ever. Especially on the pitching staff.

For example, Fernando Cabrera, Jason Davis, Fausto Carmona, Jensen Lewis, Rafael Perez and many others. It's all about accountability and being able to reach the players. Carl Willis' voice has run stale.

Scott Miles: Do I need to repeat the names of the starters that I listed above? Or mention Ohka or Kobayashi or Veras again? The fact that the organization brought in approximately 429 pitchers this summer through trades should indicate the talent (or lack thereof) in the system as a whole.

No one will confuse Willis for Dave Duncan in St. Louis, but he hasn't been bad as a pitching coach. He must be doing something right to have two straight Cy Young winners.

All that being said, it would be interesting if the Indians could lure John Farrell from Boston back to Cleveland.

Farrell, the longtime Red Sox pitching coach who pitched for the Indians (and whose family still lives in Cleveland...I got to know his son Shane through collegiate summer baseball) has long been rumored to be a managerial candidate, and his vast experience handling staffs could only help. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out with the coaching staff.


3. While the future of much of the Tribe's roster is, at best, uncertain, one player whose future is even more of a mystery than his the rest of his current teammates is the ever-struggling, oft-maligned Andy Marte.

What do you think the future holds for Marte? Will he still be in the organization next Spring?

Did you see the Indians' move to convert Matt LaPorta to a first baseman as a clear signal that Marte should start packing his bags? Would you be sorry to see him go, or relieved?

Samantha Bunten: Marte is, was, and always will be the same guy he was when he first came to the Indians' organization: an excellent triple-A player, and a colossal failure as a major leaguer.

Truth be told, I can't stand seeing Marte out there. He's been given too many chances, has consistently squandered them all, and then every year his bat gets hot in triple-A and we all have to hear a bunch of people clamoring to know why Marte hasn't been called up "despite hitting so well."

All of this of course goes back to the Brandon Phillips situation, a little thank you gift left behind by the departed Phillips that will forever have our organization terrified of giving up on a young player who failed to reach expectations.

The Indians need to cut bait and realize that Andy Marte is not Brandon Phillips. The upside of that is that Marte will never be the whining, excuse-making jerk that Phillips still is today. The downside is that he will also never be the productive player Phillips has turned into either. Let Marte weigh down someone else's roster. It's time to let go.

Nino Colla: It's beginning to look a lot more like Marte will be with this club next year in one way or another. Be it as a backup corner infielder, with Jason Donald being the backup middle infielder, or as the starting THIRD baseman, the probability is growing.

They could make it easy and trade Peralta to save some cash and more importantly, the headache that is he is because of his pouting and resistance. Or they could keep Marte around. I think the move to first base for LaPorta was before Marte even was called up.

That has no bearing on Marte. The only reason Marte is playing first base right now is because that's the only spot to get him playing time at. If he's here next year, he'll be a backup at the corner infielder, or he'll be at third with Peralta gone.

LaPorta will probably make the move to first permanently next year as Michael Brantley and Trevor Crowe are both better outfielders and they both figure to play a part in the outfield battle, probably with both ending up on the roster as LF and backup OF.

I'd be sorry to see Marte go, especially after what he's accomplished. There is no better story this year for the Tribe than Marte's resurrection from obscurity. Everyone left him for dead and he went from being a little-used backup in Columbus, to starting at first in Cleveland.

I think the turnaround is for real and while he might not be the top prospect we all thought he was going to be, he's serviceable for a year or two, especially since he's still young.

Jeff Poore: Marte is of no value and should not be here. He is what he is. He'll hit under .250 with a giant hole in his swing and play average defense. He is only here because the Dolans and Shapiro are afraid of another Brandon Phillips situation. That being said, he could still be here if the Tribe brass tries to cut more money and trade Jhonny Peralta.

Scott Miles: I have long maintained that the Brandon Phillips trade has crippled the team's evaluation of young players. They have no idea how long to leave someone in the lineup when they're struggling, when to call someone up to the big leagues, etc.

To put it simply, the team has stunk in developing talent from the minor leagues. Marte is caught in that same rut, as he just can't seem to make that transition from AAA to big leagues.

But with the team going nowhere next year, I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the big league roster at the start, probably splitting at bats between third and first. But I have no idea what his future holds, only that he better start hitting—and quickly—if he wants to stick.


4. Speaking of Andy Marte, he's a perfect example of the criticism that many foist on the Indians for giving certain players far too many chances while not giving others nearly enough.

Jordan Brown has been the poster child for the flip side of that argument lately, as many believe Brown isn't getting the opportunities he deserves.

Do you think Brown is being shafted by the organization because he has not been promoted, or do you see the logic in keeping Brown in AAA because he is not on the 40-man roster and because the Tribe has other players they need to look at more than him?

Which other Tribe players, in your opinion, have been given too many chances? Which other players haven't been given enough of a shot?

Samantha Bunten: No matter what the reason, Jordan Brown got a bad deal. It pains me to watch Andy Marte and Trevor Crowe blunder around the ball field as thought they've never seen one before while Brown has never even gotten the opportunity to prove himself at a major league level.

Maybe he won't be any better, but he sure can't be any worse.

We complain about Brandon Phillips still squawking about the Indians years after he left the organization. When Brown takes his leave, he'll be a guy who will have good reason to bash the Indians for years to come.

The list of players given too many chances is far from short: Veras, Crowe, Kobayashi, Marte, the (thankfully) departed David Dellucci, all given too many chances, while Ryan Garko never got his due and was eventually traded and Brown sits in Columbus, held back for reasons the team has never truly bothered to explain satisfactorily.

Nino Colla: I don't think they gave Andy Marte too many chances. I think they misused him gravely and waited too long to give him one this year. But that's another story for another day. They give veterans like David Dellucci and Jason Michaels too many chances.

Jordan Brown is completely getting the shaft here and this is something I haven't quit on in the past few weeks. While I understand the logic they've used here, I don't fully agree with it. I think there are ways around their reasoning, but again, this is a business and they're going to run it how they see fit.

If they feel their best interests and Jordan Brown's best interests for remaining with this club is by not calling him up, I'm not going to argue.

I think we've given too many chances to the likes of Jose Veras and the retreads of the world. I'm sick of it. Call up Frank Herrmann and let's see what he's got. Some don't regard him as much of a major leaguer, but those are the guys that always surprise you. Why not give him a shot and why not do it now?

Jose Veras, Mike Gosling, really? Those are the guys you are going to depend on next year? No you aren't, so if Frank Herrmann is given a shot and it works out, you found yourself a relief pitcher, a younger one at that.

In the past, they've given too many chances to the David Dellucci's of the world, Masa Kobayashi, Jason Johnson, and Ramon Vazquez. While they didn't really give any shots to the likes of Jeremy Guthrie. It's sick, but whatever, it happens. You win some, you lose some.

Jeff Poore: Brown should have been promoted regardless whether there were at bats for him here. It sets a bad precedent in the organization that if you play at that level you do not get rewarded.

Niuman Romero is only here because Jason Donald got injured, but Eric Wedge threw the front office under the bus by playing Romero and Chris Gimenez at first base in consecutive games. All the veteran retread relievers that are here (I'm looking at you Jose Veras) instead of the young arms shouldn't be here.

Scott Miles: Chris Gimenez and Niuman Romero have, between them, 112 big league at bats (through Tuesday evening). If you want to lump Marte in there, that's 244 at-bats that Jordan Brown could have had.

And, at least with Gimenez and Romero, they have nowhere NEAR the accolades that Brown has in the minors. So that is extremely, extremely puzzling to me. Why the Indians want to take more looks at those two, I have no idea.

Other players with too many chances: Jose Veras, Jess Todd, Kobayashi, Trevor Crowe. Not enough: Matt LaPorta, Matt Herges (where have you gone, Matty?), Michael Brantley.


5. Fun Question of the Week: The Browns lost their opening game on Sunday, 34-20, confirming for many of us that the football season in Cleveland is shaping up to possibly be as disastrous as the baseball season.

Make your call: At the end of their respective 2009 seasons, who will look like the bigger mess, the Browns or the Indians? And which team gets back to the playoffs first?

Samantha Bunten: In some ways this question is like asking which of two goldfish is the dumber one. Once your team is a "disaster", it's hard to know, or care, whose mess is the biggest.

It's tempting, if you're of the "beer bottle is half full" persuasion, to say the Browns will be less of a mess, because, well, they still have 15 of 16 games remaining to prove that. The Indians cemented their status as a colossal mess three months ago. Dare to dream, Browns fans.

You also have to assume that the Browns will get back to the playoffs first, if for no other reason than that NFL parity rules make things much more democratic in terms of the chance each and every team in the league has to succeed every year than the system baseball uses.

However, the Indians do play in a far less competitive division than the Browns do, so they will not need to be as comparatively strong to have a shot at claiming their respective division crown.

Nino Colla: This is a loaded question for a Steeler fan. I don't think either team is a "mess", though I know I might sound crazy for saying that.

I think the chances for getting back to the playoffs are higher in the NFL. That doesn't mean I  think the Browns are the better team at this point in time. But it's so easy to go from worst to first in the NFL with the draft and the turnover, that the Browns could be sitting there next year and we wouldn't have known how. They need to pull the right strings.

I think Mangini was a good hire and he'll whip that team up into shape, get his guys in there, and put together some successful seasons soon enough.

I don't think the Indians are that far behind as far as putting together a team that can contend for a playoff spot, especially when you are dealing with the AL Central.

I'd say it's easier for the Browns to get back to the playoffs first just because of their situation, but the Indians have the luxury of playing in a crud division, so the playing field is sort of level, while the Browns have more spots open up for them, the Indians probably have an easier way of getting there.

It's going to take some hard work and good bounces for them both though.

Jeff Poore: The Indians will be a bigger mess just due to the fact that they were expected to be contenders and have taken some self-inflicted steps backwards.

The Browns will start slow but show improvement and leave the fan base with a better taste in their mouths.

With NFL parity the Browns have a better chance to make the playoffs at some point and until the Tribe gets a starting pitching staff they will not contend.

Scott Miles: Right now, the Browns are like a child scribbling in crayon all over the wall, and the Indians are a dog knocking over the garbage can in the kitchen. You're not happy with either one of them, but only one of them stinks.

The Indians are a bigger mess, while at least with the new coaches with the Browns, they have something positive going. Which team gets back to the playoffs first? Likely the Indians, if for the very fact that the AL Central has never been overly strong, whereas the Browns have to contend with the Ravens and the Stillers every year.


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