Should the Cleveland Indians Recycle Their Plan?

Nino Colla@TheTribeDailySenior Writer IAugust 20, 2008

You can pretty much roll out the entire list and perform a roll call.

Franklin Gutierrez, Ryan Garko, Asdrubal Cabrera, Rafael Perez, and Jensen Lewis.

All were struggling to prove to the Cleveland faithful why Mark Shapiro stood pat with them as apart of his nucleus of players that would help compete in 2008.

Don't look now; but that same list of players is all getting it done in one way or another.

It was in August last year that the Cleveland Indians turned it on and made their run to October. They won 17 out of 28 games in August and went on to clinch the division in September with 19 wins.

Now, in 2008, August is the lone month, as of right now at least, that the Indians are above a .500 winning percentage.

Look, I can draw a parallel between 2007 and 2008 and how August is a great month for the Indians. Fact of the matter is, none of that really matters.

What matters is the young players listed earlier are all coming around, much like they did last year during this time.

So, it begs the question to Shapiro and his band of excel spreadsheet junkies.

Does he risk making the same move he did last year concerning a lot of these players and stand pat yet again?

The answer, in a short form, is no.

But there is much more to it than meets the eye.

Mark Shapiro has made no bones about it; he isn't going to stay quiet like he did this past offseason. Sure, he signed Masahide Kobayashi out of Japan and acquired utility player Jamey Carroll, but it was hardly a splash.

However, many question why Shapiro would take such a risky move and not bring in any insurance to the likes of Franklin Gutierrez and the other mediocre outfielders. Especially since the Indians never really showed long-term, full-time starter faith in a guy like Gutierrez from the get go.

Ryan Garko was obviously a fixture for the lineup, and there really was no way of seeing the struggles he’s had in 2008.

Many now are clamoring for Shapiro to go out and get a corner-outfield bat. Fans are insisting that Franklin Gutierrez is simply no more than a fourth outfielder and Shin-Soo Choo is a nice little player, but he isn't that consistent, proven, middle-of-the-order bat.

The continued mediocrity of Andy Marte pretty much assures everyone that a move will have to be made to get a third baseman, be it Jhonny Peralta sliding over, Casey Blake making a return, or another outside option.

But what do you do at the corner-outfield spot? What about going out and getting an established closer to shutout games?

Franklin Gutierrez has turned it on in the month of August, and Jensen Lewis has not only taken over the closers job, he's kept it and looked dominant doing so.

In the short month of March and April combined, Gutierrez hit .276 with 12 runs batted in. Every month past that, he failed to hit higher than .200 and knock in more than four runs. He lost the majority of his playing time to Choo and emerging outfielder Ben Francisco.

In August, he's already surpassed his monthly high in home runs with three and he's knocked in 10 runs. He's hitting well over .340 and, as always, playing spectacular defense.

So, if he keeps it up, are you keeping Franklin Gutierrez in the fold?

Francisco has certainly put himself in the discussion for next year. What about Shin-Soo Choo? If you keep all three of these kids, you can't go out and get yet another outfielder, especially with David Dellucci taking up yet another roster spot.

I don't see a logical move for the Indians to make that keeps all of these guys in the fold and bring in a free-agent bat. With that, I see Franklin Gutierrez sticking around and getting a second chance.

I've always had a lot of faith in Gutierrez and his skill set. I don't have a problem with the Indians giving him another shot, especially the way he's hitting and playing in the month of August.

Many don't like the idea of "standing pat" and not doing much at a position that was lacking in the previous season. I don't feel that way.

Ryan Garko is coming on strong, knocking in a run in all but one game since his benching in Tampa Bay a few weeks ago. Rafael Perez has reverted to his dominant self of 2007, proving he just had a few jitters to work out in 2008.

And of course, Asdrubal Cabrera has turned it on, much like he did in August of 2007, to prove he belongs with this team long term. The only question is: Which position will he be playing?

What will be the biggest potential issue is the performance of Jensen Lewis.

I've been on the Lewis bandwagon since last year, and I don't plan on getting off anytime soon. Lewis got a chance to close a game for the Indians in their revolving-door committee, and he hasn't let go since.

His foot is in that door and he isn't moving it until you let him in.

You get dicey when you are dealing with a championship-starved fanbase that demands to see a proven commodity in there, slamming the door shut in the ninth inning.

Mark Shapiro would have to be absolutely nuts to go in it with Jensen Lewis as his closer.

But I ask you this question: Why the hell not?

If he blows one, okay, I think he's earned the chance to have another one to see how he handles it. Say Lewis goes the rest of the season and impresses everyone by finishing the year as the Indians' closer.

Why wouldn't you consider him to be a legitimate option for your closers role?

Are the free-agent options—past Francisco Rodriguez—really that appealing to you? Does either Brian Fuentes or Brandon Lyon get you real excited?

Fuentes would be a nice addition, and he would provide a steady presence, but is he really getting you screaming "championship!"

Right, I know, Jensen Lewis is a complete wild card next year, if you put him in as a closer with enormous pressure upon him.

But once again, I ask you: Why the hell not?

Did guys like Jonathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan sign for big bucks with their current teams to close out games?

No, you very rarely see that in today’s game. Looking at the list of solid closers, just Toronto, Cincinnati, and the New York Mets really have guys that they went out and spent big bucks on. Guys like Bobby Jenks and Joakim Soria were picked up in different ways, and others like Jose Valverde and Brad Lidge were acquired via a trade.

Most of the closers are either homegrown or acquired in a trade before they even become a closer. Nathan and Baltimore's closer George Sherrill are good examples of being acquired before being named closer.

Lewis is perfect in his four chances so far in August, touting a sparkling ERA of 0.00. He's pitched in 8.1 total innings, striking out four and walking one.

Sometimes, you need to find a diamond in the rough and get lucky with one of your guys. Jensen Lewis has the mentality and the skills to be that type of guy.

Now, this has become more than just questioning what the Cleveland Indians do in the 2008-2009 offseason, but I want to pose one question concerning this current roster.

If the Indians made significant additions to their club in the areas of major need, those being third base, starting pitching, and possibly another bullpen arm (potentially a closer), how safe would you feel going into next year with the trio of Franklin Gutierrez, Shin-Soo Choo, and Ben Francisco as your outfield rotation?

Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing it. I'd much prefer David Dellucci not being in that mix, but I wouldn't be heartbroken if the Indians didn't make a significant acquisition in the outfield.


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