Saturday, November 21, 2015

Breaking Cleveland: How to Make the 2016 Indians Contenders

Danville, Kentucky -- Sometimes, a man falls short. Sometimes, the entrepreneurial genius behind moonshine bubbles isn’t recognized. Sometimes a worthy companion is left alone at an Olive Garden with a warm bottle of Andre, stirring a cold bowl of Chicken & Gnocchi soup. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our best isn’t good enough. The feeling of failure weighs heavily on the city of Cleveland, and it’s perennially under-performing baseball team, the Indians. Nerds thought 2015 was their year, but 2015 will come and go with Cleveland having won nothing but the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Yet, I look at this Cleveland Indians roster and see the makings of a team that could do more than distract depressed Cleveland Cavaliers and Cleveland Browns fans. If I’m Indians GM Mike Chernoff, here are the moves I’m proposing to the Dolans:

Re-Sign Ryan Raburn

Raburn was used in mainly a platoon role last year, but he was one of the few Indians that wasn’t afraid to hit bombs and score runs. Losing him will blow a hole in the Cleveland outfield more gaping than the holes in the US-Mexican border after 8 years of Obama. Not to mention, he has locked down a role as Cleveland's emergency position-player pitcher during routine Trevor Bauer meltdowns. Give him 5 years and $80 million dollars.

Sign Austin Jackson

With known-liberal and wimp Michael Brantley set to spend Opening Day on his couch with a tub of hummus (or an equivalently nutritious snack as opposed to savory American fare like Applebee’s new Crispy Brewhouse Chicken), the Tribe need offensive and defensive production from the crucial center-field position, unless they want to relive the Aviles nightmare of 2015.

Applebee's Finest.

[video: the Aviles nightmare of 2015]

Austin will also bring a healthy dose of veteran leadership and playoff experience to the green-under-the-gills Cleveland clubhouse. And better yet, the Indians will get a leg-up over their division rivals, the Detroit Tigers, who desperately need a return of Austin Jackson if they wish to restore the glory of their 2011-2014 reign atop the AL Central throne. It’s the type of heartless, “baseball is business” move that Cleveland is usually on the receiving end of. Sign Austin Jackson to a 2 year deal.

Re-sign Scott Atchison.

Scott Atchison is a valuable player, for a lot of reasons. Born in 1976, Scott remembers the days before instant replay and the days before Clinton killed the livelihood of so many Americans with his agenda of hyper-privatization, de-regulation and outsourcing. A 39 year old who looks like he’s 59, Scott has been around the block a few times. He has been there for the Cleveland Indians franchise in times good and times bad. Aside from his on-the-field contributions, every time he takes the mound offers a valuable teachable moment for the younger viewers about why you’re never too old to play a kid’s game. His chiseled jawline and 5-o’clock shadow are a reminder of the sacrifices that working men everywhere make. If the Indians cannot take care of Scott Atchison, how could any player sign with this franchise in good faith? Take care of your own, Cleveland.

Trade Carlos Santana.
Santana, doing what he does best.
This is a no-brainer for me. While the singer-songwriter Carlos Santana is responsible for the greatest song of the 90s, his baseball counterpart is one of the worst in the business. It feels like Carlos hasn’t made contact with a pitch since 2013. Every at-bat is like watching a poor man’s Joey Votto: Santana stares blankly as hittable pitch after hittable pitch finds its way into the catcher’s glove in a vain attempt to draw a walk rather than taking the bat off his shoulder and trying to make something happen. Carlos Santana’s style of hitting has been disproven and discredited. Trying to win the 2016 World Series with players who can only K and BB is like bringing an Elvish knife forged in Gondolin during the first-age to a lightsaber fight. The 2015 Royals didn’t win it all trying to clog the bases with walks and HBPs; they put the ball in play and ran the bases. The OBP-model of roster construction is more outdated than Obama, Neville Chamberlain and Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy mantra of “peace through appeasement.” You could probably get the nerds in Oakland or Tampa to eat the Santana contract, but don’t expect much in return. Santana’s shiny OPS+ isn’t worth much anymore in the aftermath of Kansas City’s triumph over Moneyball and sabermetrics. No GM can afford to ignore the lesson of the World-Champion Royals, who eschewed Billy Beane’s “can he got on base?” dogma in favor of clubhouse chemistry, groundball singles, and clutch sequencing. Trade Santana, take what you need, and be on your way.

Trade Corey Kluber straight up for Matt Kemp.

GM Mike Chernoff needs to get A.J. Preller on the phone right now and make this happen. It might take more than Kluber to get Preller to part with a premier-talent like Kemp; if so, throw in Cody Allen or Danny Salazar as well if necessary. Cleveland needs offense. The 2015 Indians couldn’t drive in runs to save their lives, coming up short like it was their job with runners in scoring position, as if they were trying to confirm the stereotype that Cleveland is a city that always falls just short of achieving glory. Tribesmen were routinely stranded at second and third-base like globalization has left all workers stranded and alienated from the products of their labor.

When folks like Santana weren’t killing rallies by trying to draw walks, the other Indians were pressing things too hard and swinging out of frustration and desperation. The Cleveland Indians don’t need Kluber and his xFIP and K%. They certainly don’t need the Kluber who posted a 9-16 W/L record in 2015. They need runs, and men to drive in those runs. They need a proven RBI guy. They need Matt Kemp, who posted 100 RBI in 2015 and is only 5 years removed from an MVP-quality campaign. Folks, not a single Cleveland Indian drove in 100 RBIs in 2015. Don't let the nerds tell you that RBIs don't matter. How can you expect to succeed with a roster that cares more about fielding-independent metrics than actually trying to score runs? The 2015 Royals showed that being clutch matters. The 2015 Indians would’ve been dead in the water when down by 3+ runs in the late-innings of a playoff game. The Royals knew they were just 7 consecutive singles and an error away from spraying each other with champagne in the clubhouse. The Indians need a clutch RBI man. They need Matt Kemp.


Folks, I don’t expect Chernoff to actually pursue this strategy. He’s long since proven he’s the type of man who’d rather order sweet potato fries than Chili’s Texas Cheese Fries. Old habits die hard. Cleveland sports may very well be doomed to perpetual disappointment; always trying their hardest to kick the football before Lucy callously yanks it just out of reach. Even if Cleveland made these moves, they might not win it all anyway. I think the window shut for Cleveland when Giambi departed after 2013. It might be time to pull the plug on this iteration of the franchise and enter re-build mode. The dominance of the Royals shows no sign of abating, and the palace-storming insurgent Minnesota Twins are younger, better, and more clutch. It’s not always easy to know when it’s time to fold. But in Cleveland, the Andre is looking warm and the Gnocchi is looking cold. It’s time.