Ah, it's almost that time of year again. The Browns are done torturing us for the season, the Cavs are putting together a stellar run, and the start of Spring Training is less than a month away.
While it's tough for Indians fans to get excited about the upcoming season, especially after the team was relatively conservative with their moves this off-season, when you really look closely, Mark Shapiro and company didn't really do so badly in their choices this winter.
Of course in an ideal world, we all could entertain visions of signing high-priced free agents and staff and fast-tracking the team back to success. But we have to remain realistic.
Whether you agree with the Dolans' spending habits or not, the budget for the team is what it is. Thus it is important to assess the quality of the moves made by the organization based on what their finances realistically allowed them to do, not what we would do if the team had a bottomless bank account.
No one has been more skeptical than I have about the moves made by this team in recent years. Some were good, some were awful, and most were mediocre. However, this winter, the Tribe made a series of small but productive moves that will allow this team to be the best team it can be.
Below, a short breakdown of the Tribe's moves this off-season:
The hiring of Manny Acta was, to say the least, a risky move. If we want to, we can all keep beating the proverbial dead horse: Acta failed in Washington, why would he succeed here?
Or we could look past his losing record in Washington and examine the other factors that may have led the Indians to believe that Acta could help our team succeed.
There is no doubt that Acta's ability to win is questionable. But he has a lot more talent to work with in the Indians organization than he had in Washington. I'm still not completely sold on the tremendous value the team placed on Acta's "ability to communicate with Latin players", but I do think his reputation for understanding, developing, and motivating young players is both accurate and exactly what the tribe needs.
Regarding the rest of the coaching staff: I also like the addition of Tim Belcher as pitching coach, and the much-needed good PR alone made bringing Sandy Alomar on board an excellent move; on top of the fact that his reputation coming out of the Mets' organization indicates he will be a great mentor to our young catchers, particularly super-prospect Carlos Santana.
Of course, it is impossible to truly rate Acta as a manager for the Indians until we've actually seen him, well, manage. But I think he has great potential to take this team in the direction we are all hoping for.
The Indians were pretty quiet in terms of their activity on the free agent market and in trades this winter. This was (unfortunately) as promised, but despite a lack of any big, splashy moves designed to dramatically improve the team, most of the Tribe's actions were smart, if conservative.
Brian Buscher, Luis Gonzalez, and Mark Grudzielanek are all solid candidates to replace Jamey Carroll in the utility infield spot. Will any of them be an improvement over Carroll? Probably not, but with limited funds and a goal of building for the long term, this was not a position for which it would have been smart to commit a lot of money.
Austin Kearns and Shelley Duncan were signed to minor league contracts with a chance to make the major league squad and round out the outfield. While the Tribe doesn't need starting outfielders with an ever-improving Shin-Soo Choo, a healthy Grady Sizemore, and the up-and-coming Michael Brantley, a veteran outfielder could still help the team.
Duncan had a very strong showing in AAA last season, and Kearns, if he's finally healthy, could still show flashes of the outfielder with huge potential he once was back in his days with the Reds.
A sense of uncertainty plagues the pitching staff, and the Tribe did a good job this off-season on making some budget-friendly moves which might help the situation. Jason Grilli and Mike Gosling are iffy prospects for success, but they came cheap and aren't guaranteed big league roster spots, so if one or both delivers, this has the potential to pay off as low risk-high reward investments for the team.
Perhaps the best move of the off-season: signing veteran catcher Mike Redmond to a one-year contract. Redmond is a strong veteran presence, a great club house guy, and excellent at guiding young catchers and handling an inexperienced pitching staff. And for a 38 year old who was never a star, he's not too bad on the field either.
Redmond is just what the Tribe needs to help its young pitching staff weather growing pains, and to help mold monster catching prospect Carlos Santana into the star he has the potential to be behind the plate.
Yes, overall the Indians were quiet this winter. In a perfect world, much quieter than most of us would have preferred. Still, we have to acknowledge that, considering the available budget and the goal of building for long-term success, the Indians seem to have done a pretty good job of building the best team they can for 2010.