The Indians’ rotation and Gordon Hayward on West 3rd to Ontario

Ontario (1)To write, or not to write…that is the question.

For the past three years, I’ve sat at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario and written from the heart about my favorite sports team, the Cleveland Indians. It hasn’t always been the best, and it hasn’t always been the worst, but it was always exactly how I was feeling.

Do I have a unique perspective on baseball, and sports in general?

I suppose I do, just like anyone does who has watches sports from their very own unique positions in life. I rant…I rave…and watch everything with a strangely odd passion that bleeds out of me on a daily basis.

That’s how I try to write. I love sitting in front of my laptop and just let my fingers walk me through whatever it is I’m talking about. I ramble and I bluster and I often set forth a diatribe of massive proportions to try and express the complexities of sports in my brain.

When all else fails, I yell…at the screen…loudly.

I love sports. I love them all, and while the Cleveland Indians are the team that makes me bleed every year, they aren’t the only team that I want to focus on these days.

I quit writing a few months back, for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into here, but over the past couple of months, the passion has slowly but surely returned, thanks to several good friends who kept talking sports whether I wanted to or not, and several readers that sent me emails wondering where in the hell I was.

To write, or not to write…that is the question.

Well, it’s time to write, and while I’ll still be sitting at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario on occasion (today…in fact), I’m broadening my horizons here at Everybody Hates Cleveland. With our new site, I’ll be talking Indians of course, but peppering it often with the Browns and the Cavaliers…hence, the new column name: West 3rd to Ontario. Whenever I’m back home in Cleveland, I often meander from one stadium to another…and thought…why not. It connects to my former column in many ways, and it’s really my favorite stretch in all the world.

So…here we go. Who knows where this journey will take us, but I will do whatever I can to make it somewhat entertaining.

Enough of my self-indulgence…let’s get this column rolling…

Where has the baseball season gone?

Here it is…July 2…and your Cleveland Indians have already played more than half their games, and are wading in the kiddie pool with a 40-43 record.

I’d like to say I’m surprised, but I’m not.

While the optimistic side of me wanted to close my eyes really tight, tap my ruby baseball cleats together and say, “There’s no place like the World Series” three times, the realities of the situation is that last year’s club lost more than they added.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: “Jim, the Indians signed Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis to long term deals, and they DID sign David Murphy. THEY DID WHAT THEY COULD. Don’t forget, they signed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn prior to the 2013 season. THEY. SPENT. MONEY.

This is all true.

We all know what the Indians were banking on heading into the 2014 season.

The hope was that the club would improve dramatically thanks to several internal options, especially with the pitching staff. Justin Masterson was in a big contract year, in his prime, and was expected to be at least as good as last year. Carlos Carrasco was getting his big shot in the rotation, and was hoping to reclaim the fleeting potential that we saw alto briefly in 2011. Corey Kluber’s expectations were high, with last year being a springboard year to top-of-the-rotation stuff. Danny Salazar was going to get a full season of electricity, if he could stay healthy. Zach McAllister’s role as an innings-eating mainstay would form into shape. Trevor Bauer was an unknown, but in Columbus, could be a guy that finds it all and eventually rolls into Cleveland with gaudy expectations reformed. Adding support was Josh Tomlin, who was back throwing his fluttery wonder, and while he wasn’t a star, was a guy the Indians felt could spot start.

Well…

Masterson has been anything but special, and leg issues could find him on the DL for the second time in six months, which clearly is a concern. Danny Salazar is in Columbus working on his secondary pitches, and while there is hope he can rejoin the Indians staff soon and dominate, there are clearly several questions that need answered prior. Carlos Carrasco is in the bullpen. Zach McAllister is busy dominating in Columbus, after a lower-back strain, but injuries are a concern. Josh Tomlin just threw a one-hitter, and has become a staple of the rotation. As wonderful as that sounds, he is a long way away from proving that he’s more than a guy that can hold a spot for a good bit of time. I know, I know…he just threw a one-hit, 11 K shutout, give him his due. He’s far from a lock though going forward, although you never know when a guy with pinpoint location can “find-it.” Think Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, who made a living hitting corners throughout their careers. I’m not saying Tomlin is either, but he shares a similar mentality, so you never know.

Corey Kluber has been special, silencing many critics (myself included) that worried that he was a one-hit wonder last season, after his year was tempered by injury. He’s back, and better, and the one constant in the rotation. He’s become the stopper that the Indians lack, and this team would likely be lost without him.

Trevor Bauer has also been serviceable this year, which is a pleasant surprise. The fact that I’m ecstatic that he’s 2-4 with a 4.39 ERA says it all about Bauer. This isn’t to put down his performance up to this point, but does show how much luster rubbed off last year, when he couldn’t find his mechanics, the strike zone or the big leagues as the year progressed. He’s on his way, but far from there.

Then there is Lefty T.J. House, who has found his way to Cleveland, and also been better-than-likely expected. He’s one of the best stories in the system this year, but certainly not a guy that the Indians will want to count on in September or beyond. He’s a guy you like to have, but he’s not a guy you can depend on…yet.

What’s my point here?

The Indians didn’t do much of anything to improve their pitching staff last year when they watched Scott Kazmir sign with the Oakland A’s, and then watched Ubaldo do the same to Baltimore late in the 2014 offseason.

It’s really pretty simple math: when you lose two big-time arms, you have to add something so that you can stabilize a rotation. You can HOPE that Masterson figures out how to have back-to-back solid seasons. You can HOPE that Danny Salazar is the ace that he looked like in the last half of 2013. You can HOPE that Josh Tomlin is consistent, with spots of excellence . You can HOPE that McAllister stays healthy and, like Tomlin, consistent, with spots of excellence. You can HOPE that Trevor Bauer is more first round than wasted talent.

The problem with hope, as we know all too well in Cleveland, is that it often isn’t matched with performance, and you know the old saying, “Crap in one hand and wish hope in the other, and see which one fills up first.”

This isn’t to say that Scott Kazmir or Ubaldo Jimenez were necessarily the end-all and be-all of starting pitchers, in particular for the money that they required to come back into town. Still, THE Indians should have executed a better plan so that manager Terry Francona, who has been far from perfect in 2014, could expect rather than hope, with his starting rotation.

“The Indians have a pay-threshold, they are already over it, and they aren’t going to spend any more.”

I get it. You get it. We all get it. That is the economics of baseball. The problem with that is that if the Tribe doesn’t go above that threshold when they have these chances, they’ll likely finish behind the eight ball.

We’ve seen it in the past…in 2006, and 2008, and now in 2014.

Unfortunately, that’s not often a mix for success, especially when you are talking about a starting rotation, and most definitely when you are talking about winning baseball.

I’m not going to sit here, in my first West Third and Ontario column and tell you that the Indians should spend $140 million on a baseball team. I’m also not going to sit here and berate the team for signing Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher to sizable deals, only to watch them be mostly middling or worse.

But…

If the team is ever to win consistently, it will have to make a splash. Would signing a starting pitcher, as I, and several of my cohorts here at EHC suggested have put them “over their threshold?”

Yes.

Would it have balanced their rotation?

Yes.

How many wins would that have turned into?

Perhaps nothing sizable. Perhaps John Grimm will follow up with some analysis that having a Scott Kazmir may have added a couple more wins, in a tangible fashion.

But…how would that have altered the rest of the rotation?

Since I’ve played sports and followed them my whole life, one of the most intriguing things to me has been momentum, and how winning can often turn the tide of mediocrity.

Think about Tim Tebow in Denver a few years ago.

Think about the Indians last year.

Think about a rotation that could and should have been decimated by injury, but still came out and performed month-after-month.

It’s not a tangible statistic, but it’s something that this rotation has struggled to find. Kluber has been excellent, but past that, performances have been mixed. As good as Tomlin’s last start was, it makes his two starts prior, in which he gave up 10 earned runs combined, easy to forget.

Again, this isn’t a knock on Tomlin, who has had a very good year. It’s just a statement about how little this current rotation has any type of chance to compete with major league playoff teams.

While last year’s rotation had several questions as well, I think it’s fair to say that the starters fed off of each other as the season progresses. The Bob Fellers and Jim Palmers and John Smoltzs have all talked about the special rotations they’ve been on, and how each starter would try and outdo the last, from start-to-start.

Big Mo.

This year, it’s been hit-and-miss…which certainly describes this season.

Are the Indians really going to depend on a ten game streak to end the year?

Do they really have the rotation talent to do that?

If you close your eyes and hope, and if everything clicks, you may…but as Cleveland Indians fans, we all know how that turns out.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are one of the most inactive/active teams in the NBA. While they drafted Andrew Wiggins last Thursday, they sure haven’t yet been as active as many thought, both on draft night, and with regards to NBA free agency.

Granted, NBA free agents can’t sign until July 10th, the Cavaliers haven’t done anything behind the scenes that’s been leaked, with the possible exception of getting together a potential deal for the services of restricted free agent forward Gordon Hayward, a 6’8″ small forward for the Utah Jazz. Hayward was a college star at Butler.

If you aren’t blown away by the prospects of bringing in Hayward, I’m not sure I am either. Hayward averaged 16.2 points per game, as well as 5.1 boards and 5.2 assists, but I certainly don’t think that he’s a max player, is he? Can we be honest here? I watch a lot of basketball, and I have watched plenty of Utah Jazz games, and while he impresses me for several reasons, I can’t think of one time I’ve thought more than two seconds about him outside of when he’s actually playing.

I do understand that the ‘Jim Pete-notice-factor’ isn’t a legit metric, but it’s where I suppose I start when I analyze a guy. It’s far from perfect, but it is what it is.

What about Hayward?

He was one of only five basketball players that scored 15-plus points, with at least five boards and five assists. The other four players that did that this season are LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Michael Carter-Williams. He’s a versatile defender that is on the all-cliche team, as he has that all-important “motor” that we all hear so much about.

Defensively, he’s pretty good, and can guard big guards and swing forwards fairly adeptly, and can even pinch in on a point guard if needed. He’s the guy you see cutting across the screen often and tipping a ball out of bounds…or to another player. He never gives up on a play, and he positions himself extremely well.

Offensively, he’s an above average passer, and is good when taking the ball to the basket. He also can hit the jumper, and while he struggled this season shooting, some of that could be attributed to the simple fact that the Utah Jazz didn’t seem to get off ANY easy shots.

The Cavaliers would essentially be using Hayward as the third piece to their three-piece unit of Kyrie Irving at point, Andrew Wiggins at the #2 guard slot, with Hayward at #3. When you add Tristan Thompson and a hopefully revitalized Anthony Bennett at #4, then the only visible hole would be at center. The Cavs could utilize Dion Waiters in finding that big man in a future deal, and could likely package together something either now, or as the season progresses.

But, do the Cavs really think this guy is worth it?

I can’t decide if I think he’s worth it.

Then I think about a coach like David Blatt, who likely zeroed in on Hayward from afar. It’s enticing.

I firmly believe that the Cavaliers will make their offer, and at the end of all this, Utah could always match the deal, and likely will…unless the Cavs get creative.

Does anyone doubt that David Griffin is anything but creative?

If you’d have told me that the Cavs were going to come out of free agency with Gord0n Hayward and Andrew Wiggins, I honestly think that I’d have been happy…unless you old me what the Cavs were thinking of paying:

Is Hayward honestly worth four years and $62 million?

Seriously?

If you are spending $15 million per for Hayward, then you better be betting that he can be more than the third best player on your team. Of course, in Irving and Wiggins, he WILL be the third best player at the very least, and I struggle with that.

Perhaps the Cavs are better off waiting and biding their time, and hoping that Irving, Waiters, Wiggins, Bennett and Thompson can develop the type of repertoire to become special.

It’s good to be back…

 

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