The regular season is over and my Indians are not in the playoffs – no shock there, but for a while it looked like things might be different. A few random thoughts:
The ’04 Indians were the most infuriating, perverse, frustrating, Jekyl and Hyde team I have ever liked – note I didn’t say “loved.” On August 15 I was doing some yardwork, listening to the game, all set to sit down at the computer and publicly declare my love for the team after the game. But this team — which surely achieved much more than anyone expected at the beginning of the year — after winning 9 out of 10 and standing poised to tie the plummeting Twinkies for first place in the American League Central, blew a lead late, lost the game, and proceeded to lose 16 out of their next 20 games and disappeared from the radar screen. Good thing I didn’t write that post.
The ridiculously streaky team, beaten down by an unreliable bullpen for much of the season, never gave up, never gave in, but could never decide what the hell they were, and ended up exactly the mathematical average of all that preposterous streakiness – 80-82, but it WAS 12 games better than last year.
Fittingly for such a streaky team (note the proximity of multiple “L’s” and “W’s” to each other throughout the season), the Indians were full of streaky players: hitters Broussard, Belliard, Lawton, and to a lesser extent Victor Martinez were either boiling or frigid all year long. Starting pitcher Cliff Lee went 10-1, then 0-6, then 4-1 – he couldn’t have been much more schizo. We need to work on this nonsense for next year.
Indians beat writer asked manager Eric Wedge about plans for next year:
- Some revelations:
If shortstop Omar Vizquel doesn’t return, Jhonny Peralta isn’t guaranteed the job.
“He’s a candidate,” Wedge said. “I’m not going to lock him into it. Brandon Phillips is another candidate.”
Coco Crisp will be a starting outfielder next year.
“It’s just a matter of where,” Wedge said. “He’s earned that. He met every challenge we put in front of him. He seemed to be at his best when we challenged him, which is rare for a young guy.”
If the spring training opened today, Grady Sizemore would be the starting center fielder.
“I’m holding myself back a little because you don’t know how the winter will play out, but that’s how I see it,” Wedge said. “I think he’s ready to play every day. This is the first time I saw him and he continued to progress and figure things out.”
Next year’s starting rotation could look like this: C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, free-agent acquisition, Cliff Lee and Scott Elarton.
“We need to work toward getting another starting pitcher in here,” Wedge said.
The Indians would have to re-sign Elarton, a free agent this winter.
“Hopefully, Elarton fits as a No. 4 or No. 5 starter,” Wedge said. “He’s the epitome of a guy who gives us a chance to win every start, but you could never see it from his numbers.”
The next biggest need after a starting pitcher is an experienced closer.
“Obviously, you saw the difference Bob Wickman made in the second half,” Wedge said. “If he wants to pitch next year, he could be our guy.”
….Third baseman Casey Blake will be in the starting lineup somewhere.
“I believe he can move over and play second base,” Wedge said. “He’s a good enough athlete. If it played out that we needed him in the outfield, he could do that. He needs to be in there every day.”
Third baseman Aaron Boone’s surgically repaired left knee is going to need special supervision.
“He’ll probably be ready to play games in spring training in early to mid-March,” Wedge said. “We have to make good decisions with him just like we did with Omar [Vizquel] this year.”
And speaking of Omar, the Indians really need him back next year, as PD columnist Bud Shaw states well:
- The greatest compliment to Omar Vizquel at age 37 is that his popularity isn’t the biggest reason why the Indians need him next year.
….Wedge wants Vizquel back, and it’s small wonder why. The front office has circled 2005 as the year the team should seriously contend. Wedge and the coaching staff are expected to make that happen. Give Wedge a veteran shortstop who hit .291 and finished the season with his consecutive errorless streak at 55 games, and Wedge would have to feel better about holding up his difficult end of the plan.
Everything else in the infield except Vizquel is either sketchy or requires a great leap of faith. Aaron Boone hasn’t played since October 2003. Ronnie Belliard’s body and his second-half swoon are caution flags for any multiyear deal.
….One attraction to pitching in Cleveland has always been the comforting thought of ground-ball outs rolling into Vizquel’s glove, or bare hand. In the absence of glove men like Robbie Alomar, Matt Williams and Travis Fryman, that’s more true now than ever.
….The Indians owe Vizquel a $1 million buyout. He insists money isn’t a big issue with him. He has suggested a one-year deal with an option wouldn’t be a stumbling block either.
….The Indians must bring him back for the best reason of all. They don’t owe it to him. They need him.
I want a contender next year and I want Vizquel, who had an amazing year with the bat and the glove, in the middle of the infield for at least one more year. If the young players continue to evolve, and they bring in a quality number 3 starter, next year could be a lot less frustrating.