On Wednesday, the 2010 MLB playoff began with the Texas Rangers taking on the Tampa Bay Rays. Also there’s a team from Ohio would be a participant in this year’s Fall Classic, but count the Cleveland Indians out of this one. With the American League Central once again crowning the Minnesota Twins, you realize the Indians spent another year in rebuilding mode. The result is not so much of a progress, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Nagged by injuries throughout the season, the Indians underperformed in every aspect of the game. Ranked near at the bottom of almost all offensive (28th in team batting average, 23rd in homeruns, 26th in runs batted in, and 25th in team hits) and the pitching categories (25th in ERA, 30th in strikeouts, 26th in saves, and 25th WHIP), the Indians struggled mightily to compete against its AL Central rivals. Despite all these weak performances, there were still some bright spots to the season.
One of those spots was the new closer, Chris Perez, who became the youngest Indian to record 20 saves in a season. After the Indians traded closer Kerry Wood away to the Yankees, Perez was thrust into the role and the young prospect had responded nicely. He converted on seven-of-his nine save opportunities in September.
The Indians ended the 2010 campaign with a record of 69-93, a mere four-game improvement from last year. With various questions concerning next year on hand – How did the new manager, Manny Acta, perform this year? Who’s going to lead the pitching staff in 2011? Will Grady Sizemore be ready to go on Opening Day? Will the Indians keep its most successful player, Shin-Soo Choo, long term? – these are the questions that both general manager, Chris Antonetti, and team president, Mark Shapiro need to address in the offseason. Most importantly to the fans is – Will the Indians be able to compete against the talented American League Central come April?
In order to usher in a new era and clear up salary space, the Indians made some major roster moves this season. First, they sent first baseman Russell Branyan ($1.5 million) to Seattle, and then sent aging shortstop, Johnny Peralta ($5 million), to the Detroit Tigers. Next, outfielder Austin Kearns ($750,000) was sent packing to the Yankees, but he won’t be there alone – a day later, Wood ($10 million) would join him in the Bronx. The last of these transactions was long time starting pitcher Jake Westbrook ($11 million), who was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Indians cleared up to $30 million in payroll leaving only 1B Travis Hafner ($11 million) and pitcher Fausto Carmona ($5 million) for the majority team’s salary. Not only did these trades clear up salary spaces, they opened up the Indians’ coffers for free agents and upcoming prospects.
While center fielder Grady Sizemore was sidelined by injuries for most of the season and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo was carrying the team on his back, the Indians have begun the transformation into a new team. Prospects included shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (age: 24), center fielder Michael Brantley (age 23), first baseman Matt LaPorta (25), left fielder Trevor Crowe (26), and catcher Carlos Santana ( 24). These names may not be in the same caliber as Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves or Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants, but they hold the keys to the Indians success for the coming years. The progress has been slowed due to injuries, but the offensive side looks somewhat prominent for the Indians…at least on paper.
On the mound, Fausto Carmona and Justin Masterson have combined for 21 wins this season, especially for Carmona who is only a few years removed from his amazing 2007 season in which he had 19 wins and 8 losses. There’s one star that emerged this season, 25-year-old rookie Josh Tomlin from Texas Tech, piled up five wins to go with four losses but was able to keep opponents to a WHIP of 1.19 in his first year in the Majors. The combinations of these three starting pitchers and a young bullpen has the Indians looking for a few final pieces for the winning formula. Ranking 24th in team payroll, the Indians will look for ways to bring in free agents and hope to get back on track in 2011.
Right now, the team is going through a bumpy phase. It might too early to say that the Indians will dominate the baseball world, but with many free agents available this winter, let’s hope the Tribes actually make some moves this offseason. With a few big names becoming free agents: Carl Crawford (Tampa Bay Rays), Paul Konerko (Chicago White Sox), and maybe, just maybe Albert Pujols (St. Louis Cardinals), if the Tribe is willing to pursue and spend, it’s likely that this winter, one will see a brand new Indians squad.
Don’t forget, the Indians made the playoff and got to the American League Championship Series in 2007, and if you’re an Indians fan, take solace in the fact that this Cleveland team can beat is Pittsburgh counterpart.