Tribe Happenings: Acta fired, Antonetti survives
September 30, 2012
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Antonetti to return next season
Indians President Mark Shapiro gave General Manager Chris Antonetti about as glowing an endorsement this week when he and ownership confirmed that his job is safe and that he will be retained as the team’s general manager:
"I feel he's controlled the bulk of what he can control well. [Indians CEO Paul Dolan] and I still endorse strongly his vision for how we can be competitive and, ultimately, a championship team.”
And so ends all the speculation that the Indians are in for major changes this offseason. The way it looks right now, they are going to retain all the decision makers in the organization but clean house with the coaching staff. The same thing they did three years ago when Eric Wedge was fired.
Antonetti really caught a break here. Sure, this is only his second season at the helm as the general manager of the organization. Also, he may need more time for his “vision” to be realized. But he has actually been heavily involved in the decision making process for more than the two last two years as he worked side by side with Shapiro in his final years as general manager. And since taking the wheel and being given full control of the organization his driving record has not been all that great.
That may sound harsh, but his resume to date leaves little to speak highly about. Take a look for yourself.
Last year in Antonetti’s first year as general manager his major signings in the offseason were minor league deals to third baseman Jack Hannahan, infielder Adam Everett, outfielder Austin Kearns, first baseman Nick Johnson, and outfielder Travis Buck. His big free agent splashes were second baseman Orlando Cabrera and right-handed reliever Chad Durbin. He also made minor depth trades to acquire right-handed pitcher Joe Martinez and traded away left-hander Aaron Laffey for a minor league infielder.
In the middle of last season Antonetti traded two low profile minor leaguers for outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, and a few days later traded Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Joe Gardner, and Matt McBride in a career defining deal for right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez.
Then this past offseason Antonetti resigned oft-injured outfielder Grady Sizemore to a guaranteed one year $5 million deal. In addition to resigning Sizemore, his big free agent splashes were first baseman Casey Kotchman and outfielder Johnny Damon. He signed several other players to minor league deals like infielder Jose Lopez, right-handed reliever Jeremy Accardo, outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, right-handed reliever Dan Wheeler, and shortstop Christian Guzman.
On the trade front Antonetti sent away a Single-A pitcher to the Braves for right-handed starter Derek Lowe, traded right-handed reliever Zach Putnam to the Rockies for right-handed starter Kevin Slowey, and traded right-handed reliever Cory Burns to the Padres for outfielder Aaron Cunningham. Over the summer he traded for infielder Brent Lillibridge.
That’s it. Those are all the major moves Antonetti has made in his two years as GM.
There are tons of other small moves where they signed many others to minor league deals or claimed players off waivers like Russ Canzler and Esmil Rogers, but the moves listed above were the most significant moves that the Indians have made while under Antonetti’s reign.
The results speak for themselves as almost every one of those signings and trades has not worked out. Yet, Shapiro actually came out and said he feels that Antonetti has “controlled the bulk of what he can control well”? I just don’t agree with that at all.
I know a lot of fans are not happy Antonetti is coming back. His track record does not inspire a lot of confidence in the fan base that he is creative or aggressive enough to make the moves this team needs to make to get things right. But it doesn’t matter at this point and is nothing but useless banging of heads against the wall because he is coming back next season.
The focus now should not be about whether or not Antonetti should be fired, but how turns this thing around.
So how is Antonetti and his staff going to turn this thing around?
The Indians may be limited by their market with finances, but the options are limitless with whatever strategy or philosophy they take as an organization. Even though the Indians, Rays, Athletics, and Pirates are all in the same market so to speak as far as spending goes, the way each organization operates and the philosophy each organization has could not be any more different than the way the Indians do things. It all starts with the strategy used in the procurement of players, and I really believe the Indians passive bargain bin scraping approach of the past in free agency and trades needs to be dumped for a more aggressive approach where they step out of their comfort zone more often and take some risks in deals.
If Antonetti and the Indians have learned anything this season it is that their plan and way of constructing a roster is not working. They need to go back to the drawing board this offseason. With Antonetti getting a boost of confidence from Shapiro and ownership, he needs to be creative in finding a way to better maximize their limited financial resources and be keener on identifying those diamonds in the rough that teams like the Athletics and Rays do such a good job of finding.
On Thursday the Indians announced that manager Manny Acta had been fired. This was hardly surprising news as it was a forgone conclusion that Acta would probably be the guy to fall on the sword and lose his job over a very disappointing season. When the team cratered in August by biblical proportions going an all-time franchise worst 5-24 for the month, the writing was more than just on the wall. It was already on Acta’s termination papers.
Acta’s three year tenure is one that will be quickly forgotten in Cleveland. He went 215-266 (.447) with the Indians, and in his six year managerial career that includes three seasons with the Nationals he is 373- 518 (.419). That is one of the worst career winning percentages for a manager that has managed as many games as he has.
But it is hard to fault Acta for the results on the field when he was not given much of a chance considering the roster he was given. This is not to say the entire roster was garbage as that is not the case at all. The Indians have several core pieces that they can really build around. But at the same time there was a lot of dead weight on the roster this season and some poor acquisitions over the past two years that limited what Acta could do.
Acta did not make the Jimenez trade. He did not sign Damon and Kotchman to fill the left field and first base holes. He did not resign Sizemore. He did not trade for Lowe and sign what seemed like 500 minor league retreads to minor league deals this past offseason.
But, plain and simple, no matter how talented or untalented a roster a manager is given, he is still graded by wins and losses.
In addition to the poor record in the standings, Acta was not exactly a popular guy in the clubhouse. The players are saying all the right things and being openly apologetic for their poor performances that ultimately led to his firing, but inside that clubhouse I know there are a lot of guys that are glad he is gone. For whatever reason Acta had a disconnect with a lot of his players. There is a lot more to it than this, but I am sure his managing style where he rarely argued close calls on the field and stuck up for his players did not help. Bottom line, the clubhouse is not in much shock over his firing and there are actually several relieved faces that he is gone.
As for the timing of the move, it may seem strange that the Indians announced their decision to end the Acta Era with six games remaining in the season. The reasoning the Indians gave it that the decision was made now because this last week at home they are already preparing for next season and did not want to involve Acta in the process for next season when they had already determined he would no longer be a part of the organization.
Keep in mind they did the exact same thing with former manager Eric Wedge when they fired him in the last week of the 2009 season – though he agreed to finish out the year and remained on as the manager for the final six games of the season. So the timing of the move makes sense for the most part. If the Indians truly have decided to move on, then why not get the process started right away to find a new manager?
They also get the benefit of seeing a very small sample size of how the team responds to interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. and how he does as the field general. They can also get a head start on bringing in guys that are not currently with another organization to interview for the manager’s vacancy. This should allow them to be one of the first to interview a guy like Terry Francona who will probably be sought out by a lot of teams this offseason for vacant manager openings.
Whether or not it was right or wrong, Acta is gone and the Indians now have to go through an extensive process to vet all the candidates down to three or four for final interviews before making a decision sometime shortly after the conclusion of the World Series. While the league discourages teams from major announcements during the playoffs, the Indians can still interview candidates and come to a decision while the playoffs rage on. They just can’t officially announce anything until the World Series is over.
In fact, one can argue that they may already have their guy in Alomar Jr., but will go through the extensive search simply to respect the process and to be sure they do not miss on a potential candidate they may not have considered. All that said, realistically speaking there is no way any veteran manager candidate is going to seriously consider the Indians manager’s opening. It’s a losing proposition that a savvy veteran manager knows to avoid, but that a young first time manager can’t pass up.
That is why Alomar is probably the best and most likely fit, and why a guy like Francona ultimately will probably decline and go to another team. He knows that the support from ownership is limited due to very finite resources because of the “realities of their market.” He knows there is not much help on the immediate horizon in the minor leagues as the minor league talent pool for next season is pretty dry because almost all of the high valued prospects in the system don’t have an ETA until 2014 or later. He also knows that Antonetti’s track record of constructing a Major League roster for the manager is not very good at the moment.
The interesting thing will be if Alomar interviews for other jobs and if he spurns the Indians for another manager’s post elsewhere. If that happens and Francona moves on as expected, it would be interesting to see what Plan C turns out to be. Triple-A Columbus manager Mike Sarbaugh will also probably be in the mix, but there would have to be a few other options so it will be interesting to see what other names the rumor mill churns out these next several weeks while they interview potential candidates.
Where are the Dolan’s?
Every owner is different. Same are in the forefront like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, while others like former Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner keep themselves as far away from the spotlight as they possibly can.
The Dolans have always mostly stayed out of the spotlight, though do from time to time make themselves visible. But during this whole second half collapse not a lot has been heard from them other than a few prepared statements that have been released to the press and an interview conducted at a charity function several weeks ago.
I think it goes without saying that Shapiro is the voice of the franchise, and with matters regarding the team he is the spokesperson for ownership. But a lot of fans have wondered where they have been in this mess of a second half. I know this because I get email after email and tweet after tweet asking about it.
I wrote back in early August and wondered if the Dolan’s would hold anyone accountable for what has transpired in the second half. If the firing of pitching coach Scott Radinsky and Acta is their answer to accountability, I am not sure it is the right message they are sending to the fan base. With it being announced that Antonetti is returning next season, a lot of people are wondering why he is coming back and why he is not being held accountable for his struggles.
I have no problem with Antonetti. I think in a lot of ways he is dealing with the hand he has been dealt with managing a limited amount of dollars available for payroll. But I also feel he has fallen well short in several of his player acquisition decisions. Hopefully he has learned from those mistakes and a new strategy will help him make better decisions going forward. That appears to be what the Dolan’s are banking on.
Also, it is not very often that you see a general manager fired just two seasons into the job. It may have happened before, but it is very rare. It is always easier to replace the manager than it is to fire and replace the GM. With a new GM often comes a lot of new staff in player development, scouting, baseball operations, and so on. It’s a complete reboot, and I don’t think the Dolan’s are quite ready for that and want to give Antonetti at least one more year to see what he can do.
But that is just me rationalizing why Antonetti was brought back.
It would be nice to just hear the Dolan’s themselves explain why they are bringing back Antonetti. It would also be nice to hear them explain that they will demand more accountability from everyone in the organization.
Left-hander Rafael Perez underwent an arthroscopic debridement of his left throwing shoulder on Wednesday. He last pitched in the big leagues on April 25th before going on the disabled list due to left latissimus and shoulder soreness. He attempted two different rehab assignments in over the course of the year but had setbacks each time, which is why surgery was deemed necessary. He is expected to be fully recovered by the start of spring training in February.
Right-handed starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez struggled with an ankle injury in each of his last two starts. He had the ankle examined this week and it was determined that he has a sprained right ankle and has been shut down for the season and will miss his final start. His contract for 2013 is not guaranteed as the Indians will need to decide in the next few weeks whether to pick up his $5.75 million club option for 2013 or decline it and pay a $1 million buyout.
Right-handed starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez threw 60 pitches over 4.0 innings in a simulated game on Wednesday at US Cellular Field in Chicago. He will not start a game the rest of this season, but may find his way into one or two of the final four games in a relief role. He is being built back up as he will likely pitch winter ball in the Dominican Republic when play starts up in mid-October. His return to the organization is in doubt as he has a $6 million club option next year (no buyout) and with all issues stemming from the identity fraud, his health, and performance, he probably won’t be back next season except maybe on a new low cost deal.
Second baseman Jason Kipnis has really struggled in the second half of the season, but he still became just the 4th Indians player in the last 25 years to hit at least 10 home runs with 70 RBI, 80 runs scored and 30 stolen bases in the same season. Roberto Alomar (1999-2001), Kenny Lofton (2000), and Grady Sizemore (2007-2008) are the others. … With just a few games remaining in the season the Indians are still holding steady onto the #5 pick in next June’s draft. They are tied with the Twins for the 4th worst record in baseball, but the Twins hold the tiebreaker because of a worse 2011 record. The Indians at best can end up with the 4th pick and at worst the 6th pick. … While the MLB season is winding down, the offseason leagues are getting ready to kick up as the Arizona Fall League starts play next Tuesday October 9th.
Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2013 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
At least we know the "free agents don't want to play here" lament is a crock. It should be neither talk-show evidence of a doomed franchise nor an excuse for front office inactivity.
It could very well just be me, but signing ANY 32 y.o. to a multiyear deal in this era of increased PED testing is a gamble I'm not sure I'd make. YMMV.
That being said, who among this winter's F.A. OF crop looks interesting?
As for Willingham, it's interesting to me that, after the fact, group opinion has become that he was the obvious solution. IIRC, names like Pena, Sanchez, and Parra were being tossed around the blogosphere on a roughly equivalent basis during the off season. To put it gently, none of those guys would've been a difference-maker this year, yet their names are forgotten due to a retroactively laserlike focus on Willingham. Also, it wasn't too long ago when we were all excoriating the team for giving a three year deal to a 32 year old outfielder coming off one of his best seasons. Now, suddenly, it was obviously the right thing to do?
This doesn't excuse this front office for its many missteps to date. But rather than complaining about a flawed crystal ball not providing tunnel vision towards Willingham (or Chavez, or Hairston, or Ross, or any veteran for whom it was "obvious" they would take off), I'm much more concerned about a "wave of arms" which turns out to be a trickle. Or a scouting process which leads to drafting/signing injury-prone player after injury-prone player. Or the general failure to thrive or outright regression we see on the M.L. roster year after year.
Those are fundamental, basic, organizational flaws which scare me a lot more than the unwillingness to pay a 35 y.o. OF an 8-figure salary on the off chance he bucks the usual aging curve a couple years prior. How will THOSE shortcomings be addressed this off-season?
Seth, I completely agree. I think this is one of the most interesting offseasons for this organization in some time for a variety of reasons. It will be interesting to see if their approach changes at all and if it does what it is....or if it is the same old same old. It will be interesting to see what kind of support the Dolan's provide even though revenues are tanking. They have very little as far as salary commitments go for next season, so should have a good amount of money to pour into trades and FA.
As far as relocation goes....I just don't see it. There is no market out there that is open that would be an improvement over Cleveland. It's not like a few years ago when DC needed a team. Or with the Browns where Baltimore (a better market) needed a team. Where are the Indians going to move? New Orleans? Indianapolis? Raleigh?San Antonio? There just are few if any options available for relocation....and I just don't see it happening.
Truly pathetic but it is what it is. My guess is that Cleveland in the next couple yrs relocates in to another city as the Clowns did in Baltimore.
Guys like Lars are a dime a dozen, and they would of had no problems picking up a guy like him on the FA market this offseason,
This will be an interesting off season, and a good GM could make some moves to put them back into position to contend next year. I can't see Antonetti suddenly making good moves, after demonstrating for 2 years that he's incapable of it, even when something as obvious as Willingham is out there.
This off season should also show the Dolans true colors. To this point, I'd see the bigger failing has to do less with not spending and more with accepting the failures of Antonetti (and to a lesser extent Shapiro). With the increased revenue from the national TV contracts teams should be getting and the expiring Hafner contract, they should reasonably have $30 million/year to spend on long-term on free agents, to go after a 1b and LF and a starting pitcher. If they don't renew Jimenez and Hernandez, $40 million for next year.
It is up to the Dolans to take action to change the direction of the organization. I wonder if they secretly own a futbol team and are distracted by that endeavor.
But I suppose it is a two way street. He and IPI serve to attract fans and keep interest in the organization in spite of the apparent ineptitude of ownership's decision makers.