Continuing this five part series with the second worst team in our little division, the Tribe.
What went right? Shin-Soo Choo. He had a great year in ’09, and he topped it in 2010. His 7.3 WAR this year was better than Albert Pujols. He’s well above average on both sides of the ball, at the peak of his career, and he’s being paid pennies. How did the 3-run-per-game Mariners ever let this guy go?
Cleveland also saw minor, but significant, rebounds from Travis Hafner (who put up his best numbers since ’06) and Fausto Carmona. These two didn’t play like all-stars, but they earned the playing time they were given. With the Indians payroll limitations, big-money players like Hafner and Carmona have to contribute. Carlos Carrasco pitched well in Columbus for most of the year, and continued once he was called up to the show. His 0.6 WAR was better than the rest of the non-Carmona Cleveland starters combined. Chris Perez was every bit the closer the Indians had hoped for – and badly needed. His predecessor Kerry Wood got a ticket out of Cleveland – so at least he could blow saves somewhere else – but it remains to be seen if the Indians got anything for him at all. Rookie catcher Carlos Santana looked great in limited playing time – and actually wound up third among Indians position players in total WAR. The offense, in general, wasn’t as bad as it looked. Measured by WAR, as opposed to actual runs scored, the Indians were third in the Central offensively – better than the Sox, though they scored over 100 runs less.
What went wrong? Rookie catcher Carlos Santana finished the year on the DL after a gruesome injury in August. Grady Sizemore, the third of the Indians remaining big three (salary-wise) continued his downward spiral. Once considered among the best outfielders in the game, Sizemore gave the Indians -0.9 WAR in an injury-shortened season. Aside from Carmona and a sprinkling of Carrasco, the Indians rotation – young and old – was replacement level at best. Of course, as awful as the pitchers were for the Tribe this year, they were more than a little better than last years sub-replacement-level squad. If you don’t count the 3 months of Cliff Lee, Indians pitchers were 6.2 runs worse than replacement level in 2009. For every young player that showed promise, others disappointed. The list is long, but has to include Asdrubal Cabrera, Andy Marte, Luis Valbuena, Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley and Lou Marson at the least. Perhaps most importantly – fans continued to abandon the Indians in droves. Indians attendance has dropped every year since 2007.
Looking Forward: As with Kansas City, wins and losses don’t tell you much about the Indians season. The Indians are in a deep rebuilding mode, and their measuring stick is ‘progress’. Any rebuilding process needs a critical mass of serviceable major leaguers to appear at the same time, not just a handful of genuine successes. This is particularly true when there doesn’t seem to be a shred of hope that the team will be able to fill holes in free agent markets. It’s already clear that a handful of the Indians prospects are paying off or are going to pay off big, it’s less clear that they have the roster depth to challenge for third in the division next year, much less contend. Since the Indians top players don’t have much service time accumulated, time is still on their side. Which begs the question: if the Indians can contend in 2012, will anybody in Cleveland bother to see it?