There comes a time, in the summer following your senior year of high school, when you have to say goodbye. Goodbye to your friends, goodbye to your family, and goodbye to your home.
It’s a time to move on, move away, and enter the second phase of your life. You’ll never forget about your experiences or your memories, but it’s exciting, it’s fresh, and it’s new.
C.C. Sabathia is that person going away. Tribe fans are happy for him for all that he has done, and some, like proud mothers, have tears in their eyes as he packs up his bags and walks out the door that final time.
Unfortunately, the analogy ends there.
In baseball, there are no Thanksgiving trips home, no care packages from the parents, nothing. C.C.’s likely only lasting a semester in his new school (Milwaukee) before transferring elsewhere for a bigger scholarship (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.).
He won the Cy Young award in 2007, putting together one of the better seasons you will find in the modern game of baseball—a 19-7 record, a 3.21 ERA, an incredible 241.0 innings pitched, and 209 strikeouts to just 37 walks.
Only a four-start stretch of games in August, when the offense sputtered and he received just 10 total runs of support, kept him from winning more than 20 games.
In short, it was the finest single season of pitching that I had personally witnessed from a Tribe pitcher. And what made it all the more special? He was OURS.
There are very few players on the current Indians' roster who have come all the way through the farm system, and obviously fewer still who have had the impact that C.C. has had on the organization.
C.C. came in at the tail end of arguably the greatest stretch of baseball in franchise history, making his debut in the 2001 season. Just 20-years old when the season started, he won 17 ballgames, and hasn’t slowed down since.
He’s gone on to post double-figure win tallies in each of his first seven seasons. After a horrid start to the 2008 season, he posted a 2.44 ERA in May and a 1.89 ERA in June.
It was six, long years for him, and the organization, between postseason appearances—he was the bridge between what was and what Mark Shapiro and Eric Wedge tried to build to.
In the lean years of 2002, 2003, 2004, the only thing to look forward to was C.C.’s duels with the other aces of the game. I went to a game where he went toe-to-toe with Pedro Martinez, and while C.C. came up on the short end, I’ll always remember it as one of the defining moments of his career.
One of the greatest treats has been watching him grow up and mature over the years. He went from being a thrower, who just dialed up the fastballs harder when he ran into problems, into a pitcher who learned to mix speeds and locations and not just overthrow.
He’s quieted talks of his weight over the years by continuing to pile up win after win and strikeout after strikeout. With a big smile, and his hat cocked to the side of his head, it was hard to question his work ethic.
Though he pitched horribly in last year’s playoffs, that Tribe team wouldn’t have even sniffed the division title without him. When I went through my recent boycott of the team, the only times I would watch or listen were games that C.C. pitched.
I knew I only had so few opportunities left to watch him, the most dominant Tribe pitcher in my lifetime, pitch in an Indians uniform.
So where does the organization go from here?
The pitching staff, so strong last year, is in shambles. Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook are injured, as is the tantalizing Adam Miller at AAA. Jeremy Sowers is pitching like he has no clue, and Paul Byrd, the Eddie Harris of this staff, has forgotten to bring the Vagisil to the mound with him this summer.
(Yes, I played the Vagisil card. I will leave you, the reader, to make the inference.)
The times are so desperate we’ve signed Jeff Weaver to help bolster the staff. Yes, that would be the Jeff Weaver who used to be fairly good with the Tigers for a couple years, lost his career with the Yankees, regained it with a good postseason for the World-Series winning Cardinals a few years back, and now is coming off a 6.20 ERA last year with Seattle and a 6.22 ERA in AAA this summer.
Pardon me for not being excited. And I haven’t even touched the second-worst bullpen in baseball, nor do I have any desire to because, well, I don’t feel like vomiting.
So, for the 2009 season—because let’s face it, this team is deader than __ right now—we’re looking at a rotation with Carmona, Cliff Lee, and Aaron Laffey at the top, and two giant question marks after that.
David Huff has rocketed up the system and is pitching well in Buffalo (3.38 ERA in six starts) and should have a shot to make it, leaving Sowers/Miller/other miscellaneous washed-up stiff to compete for the fifth spot.
The offense will likely see little change as well. The organization is relying heavily on Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner to return healthy and produce like they’re capable of. For Victor, I fully expect him to hit again. For Travis, well, not so much, but I can’t completely give up hope on a guy who averaged 32 HR, 109 RBI, and a .298 batting average from 2004-2007.
I can’t wait to watch this Matt LaPorta kid hit, because he will be the first power-hitting corner outfielder for the Indians since, uhh, Manny Ramirez. Yes, that’s how high I am on this kid, and he hasn’t played a game past AA.
(Actually, besides Hafner, he might be our only power-hitter in the past seven years. Not counting Grady Sizemore’s recent Brady Anderson-esque surge, that is.)
I don’t know how much he has left to prove in the minors—he’s hit .294 with 32 homers and 32 doubles in just 112 minor-league games—and he could be that spark that this team has been lacking. Yes, I like Shin-Soo Choo and Franklin Gutierrez, but they aren’t impact players in the outfield. LaPorta can be that player.
Next, there’s been a lot of debate on the AMP—the Andy Marte Problem. My problem is that he’s still on the team. You know how he went two for four the other day in Minnesota? That was his first multi-hit game since Apr. 10. Apr. 10, 2007, that is.
At least with Brandon Phillips you could see flashes of his talent. He was always there defensively, and within his .206 batting average with the Tribe, you could see the makings of a good hitter who had a good swing.
I don’t see those flashes with Marte. And the organization, paralyzed by the Phillips blunder, will do nothing with him.
All right, that’s enough focus on the Tribe for right now. I’ll finish emptying my head later this week when the dust continues to settle on the trade and the spectacular failure of this season.
And C.C, best of luck to you in Milwaukee. Every Tribe fan wishes you nothing but the best.