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Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: "Summertime Blues..."

Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: "Summertime Blues..."
September 1, 2012
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September 1st.

I’m no fan of saying goodbye to the summer months. I generally spend the entire winter pining for Indians news and looking forward to Spring Training. This year has been a bit different. The past offseason was ripe with the Indians front office signing and trading away for every below-middling minor league free agent on the planet. The season, while starting off promising, never had the feel of a good year. While I was more optimistic than most, it always felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It did.

So, it’s September 1st, and while summer doesn’t officially end until September 22nd, and while the baseball season still has a full month left, the first week of September always has the unofficial, labor-day-ish, end of summer feel.

I couldn’t be happier.

Perhaps this all stems from a month of August that was one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Now, keep in mind that I’ve been around on this earth since 1971, so I’ve seen some torrentially bad Cleveland Indians’ teams over the years. The first 20-some years of my life was filled with one giant cluster of garbage with regards to Cleveland Indians baseball. To say that the month of August, and really, the post all-star break run of Tribe baseball is equal to much of the pre-90’s baseball fodder at Municipal Stadium is really saying something.

Consider this. The 2012 Cleveland Indians went 5-24 during the month of August, scoring 96 runs, while giving up 179 runs during the same stretch. Seriously…the Indians had a winning percentage of .172, and a run differential of 83 runs. Here’s a look at some bad months of Cleveland Indians/Naps/Blues baseball to put it into perspective. Seriously, as far as historically bad months, this one is near the to:

Year

Month

Record

Overall Record

2012

August

5-24

55-77

2009

September

7-21

65-97

2003

September

7-18

68-94

1991

June

7-21

57-105

1987

May

8-20

61-101

1985

June

7-19

60-102

1983

July

8-19

70-92

1978

August

8-21

69-90

1977

July

8-21

71-90

1973

June

7-21

71-91

1971

September

6-21

60-102

1969

September

8-19

62-99

1928

September

4-20

62-92

1925

June

8-21

70-84

1924

September

7-17

67-86

1915

June

5-20

57-95

1914 (Naps)

July

6-24

51-102

1901 (Blues)

May

6-18

54-82

 

Now mind you, some of these historically bad Cleveland teams had multiple months of single-digit wins, so I’m not trying to sell this off as the worst season in Cleveland Indians history. It’s definitively not. With that said, you can make a case that it WAS the worst month of Cleveland baseball of all-time, and not get ushered out of the conversation because of hyperbole.

The timing of the cliff jump couldn’t have come at a worst time. While the Indians certainly weren’t playing their best baseball, the summer had promise. Crowds were starting to show up at game in mid-July, and it looked like winning baseball would bring in some fans. The Indians were scuffling a bit, but playing well enough to stay in the hunt. Their July 26th game against Verlander brought in 34,500 fans, their third 33,000+ game out of their past seven, and their sixth 23,000+ game over the same stretch. No, not perfect, but heading in the right direction.

Then the bottom fell out…just like almost everyone expected. It happened on the road, but by the time the Indians came back home, they had lost nine in a row. Their attendance over the next stretch of four games was under 20,000. Boston gave them a jump on a nice summer weekend, and so did the Yankees after another unsuccessful road trip, but Oakland and Texas have now brought sub-15,000 crowds. It’s getting ugly in Cleveland.

Seriously…the worst month of Indians baseball…potentially ever? It’s hard to believe, and not so hard to believe at the same time. What if indeed…

You can certainly lay the blame on a number of folks involved with this team, and I’ve done it right here in this column. You can start with the pensive ownership group, whether they have enough money, or aren’t decisive or are passive aggressive. You can point to the front office for not taking risks, making the wrong deals, creating the worst make-up of any team in recent memory, screwing up the farm system and a multitude of other things. You can point to the on-field management for their handling of staff or the bouncing around of the line-up. You can point to the players themselves, for flat out quitting. I’m sure you can even point the finger at fans, for not showing up when this team actually does win.

Today’s corner really isn’t about blame. There’s enough to go around, and I think the simple fact that you can honestly say “all of the above” to all of the aforementioned reasoning says all you need to say about this team. It’s a team without leadership at every level.

The Dolans pay the bills, but they don’t exactly scream out to anyone as being the type of owners that are going to grab a team by the scruff of their neck and smack them around until they wake up.

Chris Antonetti carries the same sort of passive approach as a reactionary general manager. Truth be told, his one foray as an offensive GM turned into Ubaldo Jimenez, so perhaps he’s best suited to being reactionary. He’ll bluster about potential trades on occasion, but most of his comments tend to be after the fact, and in a ‘we screwed up’ sorta way.

Manny Acta seems more of a pal with the players, which isn’t a bad thing when you have take-charge players, but are there any of those? Acta is the polar opposite of Eric Wedge, and that’s likely what they were looking for, but doesn’t fit the make-up of the current organization. In my opinion, in a system with leaders in the front office, or ownership, or even on the field, he’s perfect. In a team without a leader, not so much.

Perhaps Jason Kipnis is best suited to the role of a vocal, take-charge leaders, but he’s a rookie. Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo are leaders on the field, but do they strike you as leaders in the clubhouse? Chris Perez has a big mouth, but would you classify him as a leader? Even if he was, he’s a guy that’s on the mound 50 times a year, and for one inning, and in all likelihood is gone come November or December.

For years, first Shaprio, and then Antonetti talked about “windows being open.” They were right. The window is open, but little did we know that it would be because someone broke it. The problem is that the team is unwilling, and really, without the tangible money to spend and fix it. The team is broken at every level right now, and in my opinion, needs a major renovation. At this point, it’s not about blame…it’s about fixing something that’s got some major cracks in the foundation.

It’s a rudderless ship, floating on a road to nowhere. Hopefully that changes this offseason.

Thomas Neal, Russ (thanks Rob) Canzler and Scott Barnes are getting called up to the big league club in the first round of September call-ups. Ryan Canzler is a guy that many have been watching all season long, as he was the International League’s 2011 MVP. Of course, when you are the IL MVP, and you are released by a team like the Tampa Bay Rays, who seem to have a good bead on prospects…well…that more or less says it all about your potential in the majors. He’s only played three games so far in the bigs in his career, but will get a month to prove himself. If he does well, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back with the Tribe in 2013. If he doesn’t…sayonara.

Barnes will likely get a chance to prove himself as a reliever. The experiment hasn’t been all that successful, as he got absolutely shelled in the big leagues, and has been middling, at best in the minors. Barnes is still a prospect at 24, but I really think this foray into the bullpen, followed by the lost 2011 season due to injury, has derailed any chance he had at being a quality starter. Now, you could make a case that he wasn’t going to be a quality starter anyways, but regardless, I don’t think this was the way to go over the long haul. With that said, he’ll get a month to find a groove as a reliever. I believe he’ll get moved to the rotation next year in Columbus, but if he succeeds with major league repetition, he could battle a guy like Tomlin for spot starts and the first slot in the bullpen.

The big move, in my opinion, is Thomas Neal. He’s spent the entire season at Double A Akron, and other than a bit of a slow start, has just torn up the league for the remainder of the season. He’s currently hitting .314 for Akron, which is third in the Eastern League. According to scouts around the Carolina League, Neal’s bat speed appears to be better than ever, and he’s always had a good eye at every level. The big question this season was if he could rebound from that injury-riddled season in 2011. Things really took off for Neal after June 12th. On June 13th, he hit his first home run. Over his next 74 games, he hit 16 doubles, 12 homers and drove in 38. He scored 53 runs, and hit .331, which was third in the league. During that stretch, he was fourth in runs, sixth in hits and sixth in homers. In other words, he’s had a break-out season…or at least…a “re-break-out season.”  His slash line during that stretch is .331/.425/.533. Not a bad few months, to say the least.

Neal was a high-end prospect before heading to the Indians for the San Francisco before injuries derailed him last year. The Tribe got an injury discount in a deal for Orlando Cabrera, and he never rebounded in 2011. It got him bounced from the 40-man, which means Neal gets one chance to earn his keep with this team. I’ve been frustrated, as have been many fans that follow the organization, that Neal hasn’t been called up to Columbus because of other players blocking him…you know…the LaPortas and the Rottinos and the Canzlers…oh-my. He’s one of the top two or three topics of conversation in the e-mails that I get asking about the system. It’s possible that Neal, as a right-handed hitter with some decent power and a decent glove in the outfield, could make some noise. Well, now he’ll get the chance. The Indians clearly won’t have a problem dropping him from the 40-man if they don’t see him pushing for the big league club. But the Indians clearly have taken notice, as they’ve pulled him from the Aeros during a playoff push, which lends credence to the belief that they really looked at Triple A Columbus and Double A Akron as a similar holding ground for potential call-ups.

Keep your fingers crossed that this kid has something to give, or at least gets a chance to show it. I could see a scenario where he gets stuck behind a guy like Matt LaPorta…which would be beyond frustrating. At this point, any good news would be something. I don’t expect Neal to be a superstar, but he could provide an interesting candidate to fill in, or potentially be a fourth outfielder type going forward. If Choo gets dealt, he could provide some cushion during a rebuild. Like I said, he’s not a guy I think you want in the starting conversation, but he certainly would be a better choice, then say, Aaron freakin’ Cunningham.

The big question going forward is less about Neal, then about some other guys at Triple A that have to be shaking their head. Tim Fedroff and Jared Goedert have to be wondering what in the hell they have to do to get a shot. I would have to believe that they both will get a look, but seriously, what are the Indians going to do...have 15 outfielders in the dugout? Right now they have Zeke Carrera, Lillibridge, Neal, Canzler, Brantley and Choo, along with LaPorta, who can all play in the outfield. Goedert can certainly play third, but then what do you do when Chisenhall comes back. What about Hannahan and freakin' Kotchman. What are they doing on this roster right now as well?

Neal deserves this shot, don't get me wrong. I think there's some folks that think a guy like Goedert or Fedroff rate ahead of him. Truth be told, Neal had one bad season, and it was an injury-riddled season at best. All three are in the same boat. Who should have gotten the first call? I'm not sure, but to be honest, in a season like this, it should have happened long before this. The Tribe front office continues to make confounding moves, log-jamming prospects behind these fogies that can't figure in long term. Again, I'm not saying Neal or Fedroff or Goedert or Canzler are guys that are going to be all-stars, but shouldn't they have figured in a long time ago, ahead of guys like Duncan and Hannahan and Kotchman and Aaron Freakin' Cunningham? Now they have a month to figure things out. Of course, if there's any sense in the ownership, and there's no reason to think there is, all these front office folk are likely lame-ducks. Ooops, that sounded like blame...my bad...

Seriously…Aaron “Freakin’” Cunningham.

Have a fantastic Labor Day weekend…everybody…

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Tony
September 2, 2012 - 7:12 PM EDT
Columbus still has to play out its season, so hard to pull a good chunk of players away yet. Once their season ends, I foresee several guys like Phelps, Goedert, Fedroff, etc all getting strong consideration for a callup.

Barnes is still considered a starting pitcher. So, as of now, the plan is to get him back into the rotation next year. I would expect him to pitch some winter ball to build up his innings.

Also, note that the Indians went 7-21 in September of 2009....which was a big reason Wedge was fired. The team had quit on him. I'd have to think that the awful August and Wedge's firing after his awful September is precursor to an Acta firing.
Mattunderwood
September 2, 2012 - 2:39 AM EDT
No one was fired after 9/11 either... Can't see Dolan doing anything. More of the same. God I hate this team
Rob
September 2, 2012 - 1:19 AM EDT
Hate to be that guy, but its Russ Canzler, not Ryan. I wouldn't trustShapiro or Antonetti to be in charge of microwaving popcorn. Inept and clueless is all I can think of to describe these assclowns. Could put a blind man in front of a dartboard and he'd be more successful then them in terms of talent evaluation.
art
September 2, 2012 - 12:41 AM EDT
Neal, Fedroff, Canzler and Cord Phelps should all get to play in at least 20 games for the Indians the remainder of the season.

Also, Barnes should be treated as a starting pitcher, not a relief pitcher. The team has a need for a solid starter, and they should give Barnes a shot at the rotation. I don't think he really has the mindset to be a successful reliever, but has sufficient stuff and durability to be a decent starter.

However, like you state in the article, the Tribe front office makes a lot of confounding moves, so who knows?

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