Tribe Talk: The Eric Wedge Death Watch

Samantha Bunten@@samanthabuntenAnalyst IMay 21, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 18:  Manager of the Cleveland Indians, Eric Wedge in the dugout during batting practice prior to the game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 18, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/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 ponder the future of much-maligned Tribe skipper Eric Wedge, the upside of bench-clearing brawls, and the possible downside of plate discipline.

I would like to thank this week's participants Jeff Smirnoff, Scott Miles, and The Coop 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. A little friendly wager: Let's call it the Eric Wedge Death Watch. Do you think the Indians will fire Wedge this season? When? Who do you think will be his replacement?

Samantha Bunten: I think Wedge is coaching on borrowed time, and when Mark Shapiro finally pulls the trigger, I won't be sorry to see Wedge go. However, I'm not sure firing Wedge mid-season will be of any help to this team.

Firing a manager mid-season tends to cause an already struggling team to descend even further into chaos and failure. This is especially true if the team has no true heir apparent to take over as manager.

Joel Skinner's aggressive, gutsy coaching style is appealing, but there is a reason he didn't get the job after his first stint as interim manager.

Torey Lovullo has had great success in the minors, but so did Eric Wedge. Minor league success for a manager doesn't necessarily translate into big league success, and I worry that Lovullo, like Wedge, possesses the qualities which make for a good minor league manager, but lacks those which are vital to leading a major league team.

Jeff Smirnoff: I was "Wedge Neutral" for six years until this year. I think there comes a time when a manager's message runs stale, and I think it has come. Plus, the same tendencies that the Tribe has shown over the last six-plus years continue to be there: slow starts, poor fundamentals, bad bullpen management, and giving playing time to aging veterans while young talent sits.

I do not think Mark Shapiro fires Wedge in season. It is not his M.O. to do something like that in season. Plus, if he does, it signals the season is over and ticket sales will plummet even more than they have due to the economy, and that could spell trouble for the Tribe financially.

I think the move will happen after the season so the front office can evaluate replacements. It needs to be someone with a proven track record of success managing in MLB—no one who needs on-the-job training.

Scott Miles: I'm thinking there's about a 10 percent chance of Eric Wedge "dying" this year.

First of all, the bullpen has just been horrendous, and a manager can't be responsible for not having anyone to depend on to throw in the seventh or eighth innings. Second, you can't anticipate Grady Sizemore or Travis Hafner—two of your three biggest offensive weapons—struggling/being hurt.

Third, the Indians, as cash-strapped as they are, aren't going to pay Wedge to not manage this year.

So while Wedge has been far from perfect (I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out who the hell he's playing in the infield and why), firing him is not going to answer any of our problems.

The Coop: If Indians management was "watching" Wedge's performance and product, he'd already be dead. But no, for some reason their heads are turned, and mediocrity is just fine with everyone.

Seriously, Wedge's career record, as of this week, is literally about 10 games over .500. Hey, maybe Wedge is blackmailing Larry Dolan, or maybe he has a "special" friendship with Mark Shapiro. Maybe it's even all-around apathy.

Whatever it is, Eric Wedge will not be fired this year. The best thing going for Wedge is that the rest of the AL Central is equally mediocre.

As badly as the Indians have played, they are only 7.5 games out of first place. Assuming no team runs away with the division, the Tribe will theoretically always be "in it." And if they're "in it," why fire the manager? Pathetic, isn't it?

2. The Tribe got into a bench-clearing brawl last Sunday with the Rays. While this was no doubt precipitated by the "purpose pitches" thrown by J.P. Howell and Kerry Wood, getting into a scrap might have had greater meaning for the Indians.

Do you view the brawl as a good thing because the team finally showed some spark, or a bad thing demonstrating that the team's frustration is out of control?

Samantha Bunten: While the brawl turned out to be more of a minor scuffle, I absolutely think was a good sign. Fights are one of the best ways a team can re-energize and create a sense of unity, two things the Indians sorely needed.

The Tribe needed to show a little bit of fighting spirit, especially given their tendency to back down and give up. This team leads the AL in HBPs, yet is one of the least likely squads to retaliate.

I'm not advocating the Tribe go head hunting, but it was about time this team learned to pull together and fight back. A big thanks to Kerry Wood for being the player to finally get the ball rolling.

Jeff Smirnoff: Hopefully it is a good thing and this team will wake up and play with a little fire, but with this team you don't know. The Shapiro/Wedge regime preaches "playing the game the right way" and that retaliation is above them. Sticking up for your teammates and playing the game the right way go hand in hand.

B.J. Upton apologized for stealing two bases when down 9-0 after Thursday's game. Now that wasn't as bad as if they were ahead 9-0, but the fact that Upton apologized leads me to believe he knew did something wrong.

You can play the game the right way while sticking up for your teammates and not get anyone hurt. MLB makes it more difficult with its stupid warning, but it still can be done. It isn’t about retaliation or being a hard guy in the end.

It is about standing up for what is right, protecting your teammates, and showing the other team that you are a man and are not going to lie down even when you are losing, which is something this team has lacked for over six years.

Scott Miles: I love baseball brawls. Nothing beats four or five guys screaming obscenities at each other, 30 guys milling around aimlessly, and 10 other guys chatting with buddies on the other team.

Is this a bad thing? No. Will it be a good thing? Who knows with these guys this year, but at least it was more entertaining than watching a pitcher in the three hole hit an RBI double against us.

The Coop: Well, I wouldn’t exactly call what happened on Sunday a brawl, being that no punches were thrown. Nonetheless, I would have been angry if Kerry Wood didn’t try to drill B.J. Upton.

Even though the Indians have serious problems on the field right now, they need to send a message that they will not be taking any crap from anyone. I would expect nothing less from fierce competitors such as Wood and Victor Martinez.

The confrontation was not a result of bubbling frustration and will not provide any spark that will carry forward. They still lost the game, and hopefully they’ve moved on.

3. There has been talk of bringing up hot prospect Hector Rondon to help out the ailing bullpen. Do you think accelerating Rondon's path to the majors to help bolster the pitching staff is a good idea, or do you think it is a mistake to rush him based on desperation?

Samantha Bunten: I am completely against this. Teams too frequently rush players (especially pitchers) to the majors when they are doing poorly and have become desperate, which is actually the situation in which it is the most foolish to do this.

I can see the merit of accelerating a player's promotion to the majors or even moving a starter to the bullpen if it is to help a good big league club in a pennant race or in the playoffs.

I cannot, however, condone doing this to try to plug holes in a team that is a sinking ship. Rushing a player can ruin his development such that it may damage his career permanently, which is unfair to the player and also far worse for the team in the long run.

Jeff Smirnoff: If it can help them salvage the season, which is not quite lost yet, then I do not see much of an issue with it. Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, and now Aaron Laffey have all done time in the pen and don't seem to be any worse for it.

My question is, with the lack of depth on the back end of the starting rotation, is it the right move? Rondon seems to be that power arm they sorely need to develop.

Scott Miles: There is absolutely nothing I hate more than yanking a young pitcher back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation. He has enough to worry about besides wondering if he's going to be starting or coming out of the pen in relief.

Let's just leave him where he is, see how he develops, and not force anything. Plus, we might be seeing him as a No. 4 or 5 starter here soon with the way those clowns (Anthony Reyes, Jeremy Sowers, David Huff) have been going.

The Coop: I’ll admit, I don’t follow the farm system as much as I’d like, but I am all for bringing up anyone who can get people out. Losing games the way they do in the late innings is something that just eats at me constantly.

Clearly, the guys they have now aren’t getting the job done. And they sign a stiff like Luis Vizcaino? I don’t see what the hold-up is. Are we afraid of hurting someone’s feelings by sending them down?

Afraid of ruining the psyche of a young guy? When exactly is “the right time”? Right now, the Indians need guys who will simply get the job done.

4. Like the Red Sox and the Athletics, the Indians are known for stressing plate discipline at every level of their system, from rookie ball to the majors. While no one can deny the value of hitters working the count, have the Indians perhaps pushed this approach too much, such that their hitters aren't aggressive enough at the plate?

Samantha Bunten: It certainly looks that way. The Indians’ dedication to teaching plate discipline seems like a good idea in theory, but they seem to have taken it too far. As a result of this, the Indians are a team of hitters who will wait for “their pitch” forever, all the while watching perfectly hittable pitches go by.

They also don’t know how to take “smart” aggressive at-bats, and thus they only become aggressive once they are in a bad hitter's count and get desperate. This is not the situation in which to be aggressive, and as Tribe hitters have demonstrated, it only results in strikeouts.

Jeff Smirnoff: Yes. There is a fine line between working the count and being disciplined and being too passive. The Indians hitters, for the most part, have been in the majors for a few years and should know pitchers' tendencies and what certain counts dictate in certain situations.

If you know you are going to get a fastball early in a count, there is nothing wrong with attacking the pitch. The Red Sox and A's have great plate discipline, but they still attack opposing pitchers. The Indians do not.

Scott Miles: An interesting point. It is very difficult for me to pinpoint what the heck their problem is, to be honest. One night it looks like they're the 1927 Yankees, the next it looks like we dug up the players from the 1927 Yankees and stuck them in the lineup.

While it can be frustrating to see the hitters not swing at a pitch that seems drivable, I can't fault an approach that a lot of times knocks the other team's starter out in the fifth or sixth inning.

Really, the biggest thing is that any lineup is going to be as good as its star players are, so if Grady and Hafner never step up this season, it doesn't matter how aggressive or passive they are.

The Coop: It’s a great philosophical question. To me, if you have good discipline, you’re not afraid to be aggressive. I know I’m probably in the minority, but follow me for a second: Think about it.

What is repeatedly hammered into pitchers’ heads from the time they pick up a baseball? Get ahead in the count. First pitch strike.

Well, a well-disciplined hitter knows his strike zone. The pitcher is trying to throw a strike. Look for your pitch and crush it.

I do understand the value in working counts, but I think that it is entirely overrated in the Indians organization.

5. Fun Question of the Week: Where is your favorite place in the ballpark to sit when you go to a game at Progressive Field?

Samantha Bunten: Third row back on the third base line behind the dugout and lower reserve in right-center next to the visitor's bullpen are my favorite, and I also have a strange attachment to spending the entire game standing at the rail of the home run porch in left, perhaps out of sentimental value that harks back to the late 1990s, when it was almost impossible to get any seat at all.

Jeff Smirnoff: Behind home plate. Whether it is in the lower box seats or the upper deck, I enjoy watching pitching and tracking the ball off the bat.

Scott Miles: For me, it really doesn't matter. I just want to be inside and hear John Adams bang the drum and listen for the "BEEEEEEEEER GUY" going around and just kick back, relax, and enjoy an afternoon or evening of baseball. There isn't a seat in the house I would turn down.

The Coop: I love sitting in dead center field, lower deck. My family used to have season tickets out there, and if you were lucky enough to have the end seat, you could look over the wall into the bullpen. Sitting straightaway helps me see the strike zone and pitches.

It’s also a popular spot for homers, except in the days of Kenny Lofton...I got to see him take a few away in my day. However, I’ve seen World Series games in the nosebleeds, and I’d be more than happy to sit up there again if it meant the Tribe was in the Fall Classic.


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