Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: Considering the Tiger plan...
By Jim Pete
October 21, 2012
I know what you’re thinking: “What is Corner of Carnegie and Ontario doing on a Sunday, and where is the promised Tribe Happenings.”
Well, don’t worry, Tribe Happenings is on its way shortly. To bridge the gap, I’m rolling out a special edition of Carnegie and Ontario so you can peruse something while partaking in your Sunday morning coffee and Danish, and waiting for Tony to get up our Sunday morning staple.
As we get ready to dive into the World Series, it’s hard not to compare your Erie Warriors to our much more talented brethren from Detroit. Of course, that discussion usually stops at the top, when you compare Pizza magnate Mike Illitch to former lawyer Larry Dolan.
While that’s ultimately an important difference, I don’t know that it’s necessarily the MOST important difference. It does buy the Tigers a bit of leeway (okay, a whole bunch more than “a bit”), but where the strength of their team is their starting rotation.
Their major offensive players get all the press, but the heart and soul of that team is the Verlander-led rotation…with a mix of free-agents, trades and draft picks.
Heart and soul?!? Imagine describing our rotation with those two adjectives…and actually mean it.
What did your gut tell you when the Cleveland Indians traded away CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee? I know that it doesn’t make much sense to connect two trades in 2008 and 2009 to the dismal performance of the Indians 2012 pitching staff. But c’mon, it’s not hard to believe that the dominoes didn’t start falling way back when.
I know that I keep harping on having to throw strikes as a general manager in Cleveland, but the simple fact of the matter is that this front office has forced that issue.
Look no further than the Detroit Tigers to figure out why.
Sure, a lot is made of Mike Illitch and his three billion, but that’s only a part of the story. The real part of the Tigers’ story is that the Detroit Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski threw strikes on many different levels.
You can start with the trades that tend to stand out when you consider who they received in those deals. In 2007, they traded Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Mike Rabelo, Eulogio De La Cruz, Burke Badenhop and Dallas Trahern for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. I don’t think I have to tell you the lopsidedness of that deal, and while it was a tremendous risk, the reward has been great.
That was a decent trade, but the deal that Dombrowski made in 2009 was even more ridiculous, but also ripe with risk and reward. They dealt Curtis Granderson to the Yankees in a three team deal and Edwin Jackson to the Arizona Dimanondbacks, while they received reliever Phil Coke and star centerfielder Austin Jackson from the Yankees, and starter Max Scherzer and reliever Daniel Schlereth to the Tigers. All have played a relatively big role in theTigers success over the past two seasons.
They acquired starter Doug Fister at the deadline in 2011.
Their drafts have been solid, hitting a home runs with Rick Porcello (27th pick in 2007) and what appears to be a home run, with lefty Drew Smyly (2nd rounder in 2010). Then, of course, there’s Justin Verlander…and that’s beyond successful, with the second pick in the 2004 draft.
They have had success with regards to free agents as well, and here’s where the money starts showing up. I don’t need to mention the Prince Fielder signing, but there are others like Jose’ Valverde.
Sure, there were marginal deals in there, and others I haven’t mentioned (Jhonny Peralta, anyone?), but point being is that when you take a billionaire owner, and combine him with a GM who performs as though he’s in a small market (IE, hitting on most of your major deals), it gets really hard to compete.
To bring this full circle though, you have to appreciate the Tigers rotation, anchored by Verlander, and supported by Fister, Porcello, Scherzer and Smyly. The Tigers followed that up by trading for Anibal Sanchez. That’s where it’s at. Pitching.
Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson are the best two starters in the rotation, or at least are supposed to be. Masterson remains a potential reliever, and on better teams, would likely BE in the bullpen. Ubaldo Jimenez is really just a 45-year-old starter in a 28-year-old body. Everyone else is just a bunch of fodder. This isn’t any offense to the rest of the starting rotation…it…just…is.
The hiring of Terry Francona and a solid coaching staff can’t mask that, and while the front office hit a home run with Francona, if they keep throwing balls with regards to pitching (and really, nearly everything else), this team will continue to flounder.
Of course, you have to question a professional structure that doesn’t allow a team to make ANY mistakes, and of course, you can imagine what happens to any structure when you make nearly ALL mistakes.
Things should get really interesting in the hunt for Cleveland Indians coaches, as the Boston Red Sox agreed to hire Toronto Blue Jays manager, John Farrell, to be their next manager in 2013. Of course, as I mentioned in Corner of Carnegie and Ontario on Wednesday, John Farrell and Terry Francona are very much intertwined. Francona hired Farrell as his pitching coach in 2006, which he served quite successfully until 2010, when he took the Blue Jays job.
What it means is that it’s likely that both Farrell and Francona will be fighting for the same coaches going forward. While Francona will surely carry more weight with regards to hires, what Farrell has going for him is the fact that he’s going to be managing the Red Sox. As crazy as Fenway has been since September of 2011, they still have the money to turn things around quickly. It should be interesting to see how things go.
The one thing that is for sure is that former Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan is out of the equation for both teams. He was hired on Saturday as the next hitting instructor for the Texas Rangers. He was the one guy that I figured would be at the top of the list for Francona here in Cleveland, but it was believed Texas had called Magadan quickly, and probably beat Francona to the punch.
Things could get even more complicated for the Indians’ coaching situation, as it appears as though Sandy Alomar Jr. is the prohibitive favorite to be the next manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. Alomar was interviewed for the Blue Jays job two years ago, and was considered a finalist with Farrell for the job. Now that Farrell is gone, there’s no reason that the now-seasoned bench coach shouldn’t be a shoo-in for the job.
This is major league baseball though, so that’s nowhere near being a done deal. There are other qualified candidates that could crop up, including former Tribe Triple-A manager Torey Lovullo, who was Farrell’s first base coach in Toronto. Lovullo had interviewed for the Red Sox job in 2011, as did Alomar, before Bobby Valentine was hired.
If this is all starting to sound like some sort of strange, intertwining follow up to the movie, Inception, I have a feeling it’s only getting started.
This could really be the first sign we get to see of Francona’s leadership. If we’ve been expecting this type of mass confusion for two weeks now, it’s clear that a guy with Francona’s MLB IQ should have been all over it. How far ahead of the game will Francona be in the next week? We shall see.
We know that Brad Mills is likely waiting in the wings, and I really believe that the Indians and Francona hired him with the intention of making him the bench coach. There was a lot of bluster about the Blue Jays asking for Clay Buchholz and/or Daniel Bard, but that was clearly garbage. It’s likely the Indians knew that. It’s likely there was some foresight involved here.
If Alomar takes the job with the Blue Jays, and I suspect he will, Brad Mills will take over the role of Bench coach. The only other interview that’s being reported is that Paul Hoynes reported that Mike Sarbaugh has interviewed for the infield coaches job, and I would then assume he’d be coaching first or third base as well. With Alomar on the team, I’m betting that Sarbaugh getting the job was a 50-50 proposition, with Mills likely taking one of those jobs. Now that it appears as though Alomar is gone, I definitively see Sarbaugh joining the Indians next season.
That leaves the pitching and hitting coach positions available, as well as one of the base coaches and the bullpen coach, assuming that Francona and Antonetti clean house.
I can only speculate on who the Indians were going to hire, and I already did last Wednesday, so I won’t expound on that, but I will say I think Francona would do himself a service to give Brad Ausmus a call. By all estimations, the Red Sox were extremely high on him, and his one strike may have been a lack of coaching experience. As a former catcher, he may excel in any role they would put him in. He could slide into the role that Sandy Alomar was in two seasons ago as a former catcher-turned-coach, or I could even see him take over either the hitting or pitching coach.
Ausmus was a catcher for 18 years in the league, and while he was only an all-star once, he played in over 100 games in a season 14 of those seasons. He won three gold gloves (didn’t win his first until his seventh season), and was generally considered one of the best handlers of pitchers in the league. There was talk of him being a manager someday throughout his career.
In a way, he reminds me of John Farrell when Francona hired him. Past that, the Indians really need to focus on that pitching coach, as the Tribe pitching in 2012, and really, since Cliff Lee left, has been atrocious. Can a pitching coach fix it? Maybe not with this talent, but they can set the tone with a philosophy.
It should be interesting to see how this chess board finally takes shape.
Tony’s piece should be up by noon…1:00 at the latest.
Jim is currently the co-site editor, the ATF/Carolina Mudcats/Indians/General Site Columnist, and the co-host of IPI's weekly online radio show, Smoke Signals. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IPI, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I concur with the A's comment...and if you look back on my last several pieces, I've commented on that. They are proactive...and don't wait. If one high-quality pitcher can bring back two or more...they move, and that's a similar trigger that the Indians should take...but, my point with the Tigers is that they did it in a multi-faceted way, and "hit home runs," ie...made deals that paid off...then added salary which put them over the top...
We can't do that...so all things being equal, if the Tribe blows 50% or better of their trades, can't sign anyone, and has had bad drafts...well...it's just painful...
Thanks for reading Bob...
Nice article about how well managed Dombrowski has handled the personnel of the Tigers. My only hesitation is to label Smyly and Porcello as "home runs." While I think Porcello continues to show growth and maturation, especially benefiting from the presence of Verlander, I feel it's still to early to label him a solid starter. I happen to like Smyly a lot especially given his velocity but again I feel it's just to early. I remember the Tribe had several lefty types show flashes of brilliance and then they quickly disappeared.
While following a Detroit-type model would be great, I would argue the A's model of acquiring pitching and finding value early in player's careers is more likely given the financial constraints facing this team seemingly every season.