December 2005

The Only Thing Constant is Change

   Its funny how fickle we can sometimes be as sports fans.  Consider that every year at the trading deadline we sit and hope for a big blockbuster trade that will put our team over the top.  Of course we only want to trade away bench players and marginal minor leaguers in exchange for low-priced superstars.  Ultimately it comes down to changing the roster.  Giving something up in order to gain something else.  We never seem to have a problem with this type of change,(unless of course its Brian Giles for Ricardo Rincon but, I’m not here to dredge up the past) its the changing of the roster in the offseason that seems to cause us so much more distress.

   Players come and go.  That’s the way baseball has always been.  Even before free agency players were dealt like we used to trade bubblegum cards with our friends.  Anyone remember Boston trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees?  The great Cy Young pitched for 5 different teams before World War I and my broadcast partner Mike Hegan was traded 4 times during his playing career in exchange for cash!

   That doesn’t make change any easier for some of us.  Watching players like Scott Elarton, Bobby Howry and Kevin Millwood leave is a bitter pill to swallow.  Its like feeling betrayed, either by the team or the player, and we are always in the middle of the feud.  In Millwood’s case I knew there was very little chance of him returning.  GM Mark Shapiro knew when he signed him last January that if Kevin was healthy and had a good year the Indians probably wouldn’t be able to afford him but, it was well worth the risk at the time.  I wish Kevin all the best and I am truly happy for him and his family.  That still wont make it any easier when he’s not there in Winter Haven, Florida in February.

   Of course when one player exits another enters.  Paul Byrd will be a welcome addition to the pitching staff in ’06 and Jason Johnson also gives the rotation a solid veteran presence.  The Indians did not replace Millwood through free agency but, I believe there is a very good chance someone from within will step forward to fill the void.  Perhaps C.C. Sabathia will now truly become the ace of the Tribe’s pitching staff.  Maybe 18-game winner Cliff Lee or Jake Westbrook with 29 wins the past two seasons, will become the leader of the staff.  Kevin Millwood’s influence on the Tribe’s pitching staff will be felt in the years to come.  Sabathia, Lee, Westbrook and the rest watched very closely how Millwood handled every obstacle with professionalism and they marveled at how he was able to persevere through low-run support to win the ERA title.

   Sometimes changes come full circle like in the cases of Danny Graves, Steve Karsay, Einar Diaz and Tim Laker.  All four former Indians players are back after pursuing opportunities elsewhere the past few years.  Graves believes he can bounce back from a disastrous ’05 season that saw him dumped by Cincinnati after the Indians scored 6 times in the 9th inning against him on May 22.  Karsay just wants a chance to show people that he can still pitch after coming back from another arm injury.  When I spoke to him near the end of last season he said all he needed was an opportunity and now the Indians have given him one.

   Einar Diaz and Tim Laker will come to camp and try to compete with Josh Bard for the back-up job.  Diaz was the part-time catcher for St. Louis last year and Laker spent the season in the minors with Tampa Bay.  Diaz probably has the best overall ability of the trio but, his bat is nowhere near what it was when he first joined the team in the late 90’s.  The good news is that all Eric Wedge is looking for is someone who can give Victor Martinez a few days off here and there.

   Speaking of change, a number of you have been asking about the Tribe’s new TV deal.  It was officially announced after Christmas and appears to a brave new venture for the Cleveland Indians.  The good news for fans is that Tribe baseball will be even more available than ever before.  More details will be forthcoming about this new partnership between the Indians, WKYC TV3 and Time Warner Cable.

When the Fur Starts to Fly

   Baseball’s winter meetings are under way in Dallas, Texas and general managers are wheeling and dealing at every turn.  The Indians have already signed one starting pitcher and appear to be on the verge of adding a closer to the bullpen.  The dollars that are being thrown around are a bit surprising considering how teams have been more cautious the past few years.  Toronto has already guaranteed two separate 5-year contracts for pitching worth more than $100 million.  Anyone mention to the Blue Jays that they were 9th in offense last year?  Eleventh in home runs, belting 71 fewer than the Indians?  If we learned anything in Cleveland over the past decade its this.  You win with pitching BUT, you can’t win without a good offense…

   

   Changing themes for a minute – thanks for all your comments on the first blog.  I appreciate all the feedback and hope you continue.  If I’ve learned anything over the years its that Indians fans are passionate and not afraid to express their opinion.  Most of what I read was very supportive of Mark Shapiro’s plan and execution so far.  A few of you are nervous about the Tribe not keeping up with the Jones’s, so to speak.  One fan in particular, nsv714@yahoo.com is afraid the Tribe won’t re-sign Kevin Millwood.  Let me just start by saying that I am too.  The problem however isn’t money but, the length of the contract.  Anything beyond 3-years is high-risk because it can’t be insured.  If a team is willing to guarantee Millwood 4-years with an option for a fifth, it probably won’t be the Tribe.  Agent Scott Boras believes that Millwood should get as much or more than AJ Burnett who just snared a 5-year $55 million deal from Toronto.  I think you see where I’m going with this…

   Congratulations to Grady Little who was hired as the new manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Grady was a solid bench coach for Charlie Manuel during his time here in Cleveland.  I never saw anyone hit a fungoe as high in the air as Grady Little.  One day we were in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida when he tried to hit the highest catwalk attached to the roof.  Ultimately he came up short but, in the process he blew out a rib cage muscle effectively ending his fungoe ability for the remainder of the season.  I always felt he got a raw deal in Boston and it’s good to see him back in uniform.  Unfortunately Indians third base coach Joel Skinner lost out in that situation.  Skinner interviewed for the job and one day will make a good manager but, selfishly I’m glad he’ll be back with the Tribe…

   Congratulations also to Indians GM Mark Shapiro for being named Executive of the Year by both The Sporting News (November) and Baseball America (today).  I know alot of people were scratching their heads when he began the dismantling and rebuilding process 4 years ago but, his diligence has paid off for the Tribe.  Right now Mark is probably wishing he could find a deal at the winter meetings like the one the Team Shops are offering.  Indians hooded sweatshirts are two for the price of one!  If only starting pitching or bullpen help came packaged the same way.

   Happy Holidays and keep the comments coming.