Baseball is a funny game.
Unlike all other pro sports, there is no correlation between a successful regular season and victory in the postseason.
In baseball, all you need to do is make it to October. Once you do that, anything can happen—just ask Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.
Last season, the Cleveland Indians got out to a red-hot start and surprised many by sticking it out until the (almost) end of the season.
Tribe GM Chris Antonetti has already said that the payroll will be higher next year, and that's a good thing.
However, spending money for money's sake is no guarantee of success.
And while there is virtually no chance that the Indians will be in the running for guys like Pujols, Fielder and Reyes, there are some smart, below-the-radar moves to be made in order to help them get back to the playoffs in 2012.
Grady, we hardly knew ye.
While it may prove to be a major blow to the "MARRY ME GRADY!" and "FUTURE MRS. SIZEMORE!" painted sign industry in Northeast Ohio, it's time to let Grady Sizemore go.
Winston Churchill once famously responded to an outraged dinner party companion: "Yes madam, I may be drunk...but in the morning, I shall be sober, but you will still be ugly."
For Grady, the correlative would be: "Yes madam, the Indians may be a team on the rise...but Grady Sizemore will still get hurt at some point and break our hearts and make us swear and make us cry and make us bang our heads against various walls throughout Cuyahoga County."
While he may have once been the LeBron of Cleveland baseball, Sizemore is older, more fragile, and incredibly unreliable. He's owed $9 million next year; that money could be put to better use elsewhere.
Jason Kubel: Left-handed pop is a good thing.
What should Antonetti do with Sizemore's $9 million?
Well, it might be a good idea to use that money to make a serious run at free agent, and full-grown professional hitter, Jason Kubel.
There is a lot of old, bad and expensive out there on the free-agent market this year. If that floats your boat, then by all means, spend away.
Kubel is young, relatively inexpensive, and the guy can rake.
Move Michael Brantley to center, and you're in business.
Fausto Carmona: Man or mirage?
If Carlos Carrasco wasn't a Tommy John club member, then this might be a different call, but the Tribe is going to need all the arms they can get in 2012.
Fausto Carmona, whose name translates to "frustrating pitcher who will tease you mercilessly," is a horse who pitches a lot of innings.
He is also capable of posting very decent numbers and can't be worse than he was last year...can he?
It's not a perfect solution, but he's under the Indians' control contract-wise and can eat up innings in the back of the rotation.
Jason Kipnis: Could the sky be the limit?
Another bright spot for the Tribe in 2011 was the emergence of some really intriguing young infielders. Jason Kipnis and, to a lesser extent, Lonnie Chisenhall both showed real flashes of what could become promising careers.
But Chris Antonetti must know that good-looking rookies can turn into out-of-baseball pumpkins in their sophomore seasons.
To that end, Antonetti needs to look seriously at some of the many solid pros out there on this year's waiver wire.
Guys like Mark DeRosa, Omar Infante and (dare I say?) Orlando Cabrera are all available this winter.
Here's where the larger payroll can come in handy. Having the right mix of veteran talent can take a team to the World Series. Sure it comes at a price, but it can make all the difference in the world.
Tribe closer Chris Perez.
"Don't get caught watchin' the paint dry!"—Shooter in Hoosiers.
Oh, Shooter...is there anything you don't know?
Don't scoff—Shooter's drunken ramblings make sense in baseball, too.
One of the main reasons the Indians were able to stay competitive for such a long stretch of the season was because their bullpen over-performed.
But that was last year.
Chris Antonetti must realize that good relief pitching can come and go like the wind. He can't rest on last year's relief successes.
Bring in new arms. There is a boatload of talented relievers available. Don't be afraid to kick some tires this winter, Chris.
Carlos Santana: Behind the plate...where he belongs.
I am sure that Lou Marson is a very nice man. I am sure he is a pillar in the community and a guy you can really count on.
But if I have to watch him play catcher regularly for the Tribe, my head is going to explode.
Carlos Santana needs to be the full-time catcher, and Matt LaPorta needs to play a full season at first base. Antonetti needs to see what he has in LaPorta, and provided he stays healthy, he could end up being a mainstay in the middle of the lineup. Don't forget, he's only 26 years old.
Yes, a lot of this depends on LaPorta staying healthy, but Antonetti needs to let Santana catch. You can spell him from time-to-time and allow him to DH or play first on occasion.
Mr. Incredible displays his awesome rain-fighting powers.
OK, OK, I admit that this is a call made completely from the heart, but Mark Antonetti needs to re-sign Jim Thome.
I understand that this is a pure gut reaction. However, it is defensible from a baseball standpoint.
First of all, he still has the ability to hit 15-to-25 home runs in a season. As my grandfather would say, "that beats a sharp stick in the eye."
He would also provide a solid lefty bat off the bench late in games, and has hit some very important home runs in that capacity over the past few years.
Finally, he would be cheap. The Tribe could sign him to a low-end deal with all sorts of bonuses, and maybe even some sort of professional services contract for when he retires.
So please, Chris. Bring the big lug back to Cleveland.