As the regular season winds down, many teams are already facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategy.
But we're not going to let them get off that easy. No sir. No way. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're giving a blogger from each team the opportunity to give a concession speech for this year's squad. Up next is Jon Steiner, a valued and esteemed member of the Cleveland-centric blog Waiting For Next Year.
My Fellow Tribesmen,
Welcome. I want to thank you all for the support you've given the Cleveland Indians throughout the 2012 death march season. I want you to know that without your encouraging words, your unwavering commitment to our vision, and your constant presence anywhere but the ballpark, we would never have been able to set an attendance record bested only once in the history of our proud stadium.
In short: thank you. Both of you. You've meant the world to this team.
And so it is with a heavy heart that I come before you today to concede the 2012 season. To whom, you might be asking, are you conceding? Let me be clear: We are conceding not to the Tigers from Detroit nor the Pale Hose from Chicago. Despite the standings, we are conceding neither to the Kansas City Royals nor even the miserable Minnesota Twins.
No. We are conceding to the simple failure to execute our plan—a plan we've been slowly unfurling for the last half decade—initiated by the trade of a portly southpaw named Carsten Charles to Milwaukee, and set ablaze a year later with the back-to-back moves of Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez for prospects most of you had not heard of.
Beginning with that trade in 2008 — just one year after winning more games than any team in baseball and coming within one win of the World Series — we asked you to trust us. We told you we would shepherd you through the nadir of a painful rebuild, to the promised land of contending for division titles, and perhaps even bring to Cleveland the championship for which this starved city so longingly pines.
Now, not to pat ourselves on the back here too much, but the plan did get off to quite a promising start. We were the darlings of the blogging cognoscenti when we traded two months of Casey Blake for a stud catching prospect named Carlos Santana. We managed to nab a young arm we thought could be a front-end starter from Boston for Victor Martinez. Sabathia netted us a top-20 power prospect named Matt LaPorta, along with three others who might someday contribute, including a 19-year-old outfielder named Michael Brantley. And Cliff Lee got us … well, they can't all be winners, can they?
Throw in some of the internal pieces we'd built with some shrewd trading in Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera (you're the best, Seattle — hope you're enjoying Ben Broussard's music career!), it wasn't hard to squint and see a young nucleus that could grow together into the sort of team you could embrace. A team not unlike the one that took you so close to the Promised Land in 2007.
But let me be clear: our plan has failed us in 2012, and today I'm here to own up to that failure.
Let's start with, as one creative email from a passionate fan called it, "the stinking diaper full of digested Mexican food that takes up the roster place normally reserved for a starting rotation." Last season we traded away two young, highly-regarded pitching prospects to the Colorado Rockies for Ubaldo Jimenez, whose pedigree, age and contract status made him particularly attractive to a team like us — especially when we thought we were on the verge of contending for the division title. In fact, a terribly handsome and eloquent writer may have even written a piece talking himself into the trade.
Since then, Ubaldo has been nothing short of a catastrophe, and a contagious one at that. Jimenez has now started 42 games for your Indians since the trade, sporting a nifty 5.43 ERA over that period. For great swaths of the 2012 season, he'd actually walked more batters than he struck out, which we always thought was impossible for a pitcher with a non-detached arm.
Except, of course, our rotation boasted TWO such starters with K/BB ratios BELOW 1.00 this year: Derek Lowe and Roberto Hernandez (née "Fausto Carmona"— don't ask). Throw in regression years from Justin Masterson (11-15, 4.97 ERA) and Josh Tomlin (5-8, 5.72) and you start to see why your Cleveland Indians sport a rotation ERA of 5.28 as of this speechifying, good for second to last in the American League.
I understand that you might want to blame someone for this "colostomy-bag-of-a-pitching-staff" (Thanks Twitter!!). I understand how that might "feel good" or "be warranted" or "make perfect sense". But rather than casting sto..HEY LOOK EVERYBODY WE FIRED THE MANAGER, THAT SHOULD TAKE CARE OF EVERYTHING!!!!
Just kidding. But not about the scapegoating-the-manager thing. We totally just did that.
Nevertheless, today we're not here to dwell only on the failures of the past. Today is also for looking to the future. Our club is poised to enter the 2012 season with a position player core of Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley, and — barring an off-season trade — Shin-Soo Choo. Throw in a return to form from Masterson, a return from Tommy John from Carlos Carrasco, a slight improvement from Ubaldo, continued solid work from young righty Zach McAllister and a young bullpen that performed well this year* and you can begin to see a team with the pieces to make one more push before blowing it all up.
*Sure, we'll probably trade Chris Perez this off-season. He's practically begging for it. But let's be completely clear: he's already overpaid and is likely to be more so after having a monster save season. Couple that with his, er, indiscretions, and I'm pretty sure we'll be more than happy to get what we can for him. By the way, this is a speech, but it has a footnote? How does that work?
Also remember: We won't be paying Derek Lowe or Travis Hafner or Grady Sizemore next season, which will amount to well over $20 million in salary relief. And while a good deal of that freed up money will likely go to requisite arbitration raises and a new manager (yes, while we fired Manny Acta, we still have to pay him — though we're looking into loopholes as we speak), there should be enough left for us to build a nice complement around the players mentioned above — I understand there's been some talk of the "black hole of a dumpster fire" at first base. We'll have to look into that.
I guess what I'd like to suggest is that we still think we've got a good shot to compete in what is increasingly recognized as the weakest division in baseball next season, largely with the core of players that is already on the roster.
You might want to argue that the core outlined above is largely the same one that managed to lose almost 100 games this year. To that, I say….well…..PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN!!!! WE FIRED THE MANAGER!! ALL IS WELL!!!
The reality, my co-sufferers, is that the team you saw in 2012 is the team we've chosen to build over the last five years, and if it continues to fail, you'll know exactly whom to blame. I can't imagine I'll be allowed to give another one of these speeches if this club falters next year the way it did this.
But we believe this club is better than it showed in 2012. We believe that Carlos Santana will not continue to underperform his xBABiP by 60 points. We believe that Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall have an upside they've barely begun to approach. We believe that Michael Brantley is an everyday centerfielder, and that Vinnie Pestano is as dominant a right-handed bullpen arm that you'll find this side of Craig Kimbrel. We believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that we can put Ubaldo back together again and iron out Justin Masterson's delivery and develop Zach McAllister on and on and on.
In short, we believe that this team can win the division next year. And not too long ago, you did too.
So while today's concession of failure is a necessarily sad moment for all of us, it need not be emblematic of a permanent failure. Just because the 2012 Indians disappointed us all doesn't mean that the 2013 group must as well.
There is always next year, and with it, the chance to prove that what you've done is not what you will always do. That this too shall pass, and that championships don't have to remain imaginary objects in our fair city.
But yeah, on that Ubaldo trade … We're sorry 'bout that.