The Sunday Drive with the Browns journey, Brandon Moss tidings, an Ohio State(ment) and the Cavs sleeping giant

1The Cleveland Browns have to win out.

There, I said it.

I was all set to analyze the schedules of the Browns, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals, but it really does come down to this: The Browns really need to win their last four games. No, it certainly won’t be easy, starting with this afternoon’s game against the Indianapolis Colts in Cleveland. The AFC North is an insane mesh of the Bengals in first, at 8-3-1, with the rest of the division tied at 7-5. The Bengals have a game-and-a-half lead, with that tie looking really, really good right now.

The Browns finish the season with a game at home against Cincinnati, at Carolina, then finish up the season at Baltimore.

Of course, the Bengals do have an interesting stretch of games ahead of them. They play at home against the Steelers today, then the Browns next week, then play a home game against the Broncos, before closing out the season against Pittsburgh. The Steelers are at Cincinnati and Atlanta, before closing the season at home against Kansas City and Cincinnati The Ravens actually have the easiest road to travel. They are at Miami today, but then play Jacksonville at home, head to Houston, before closing up shop with the Browns.

It’s an intricate web.

The Browns need to win out, or they are likely out. If they win 11 games, they are in. If they don’t, there is certainly going to be trouble, both in the division, and out. They could still get in of course, but there will be a lot of other mitigating factors.

Look, this is a young team, with a young coaching staff. Yes, the playoffs should be the focus. Yes, we fans should want the playoffs.

But this is just the first year for a team just starting to figure things out. Josh Gordon missed ten games. Jordan Cameron has been out battling a concussion issue. The coach is new. The entire receiving corp and running back crew were brand new.

I haven’t even discussed the defense.

Building a winning team should take longer than a year.

Consider this:

  • The Browns will likely answer their “quarterback controversy” next year, or at least take the next step.
  • Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron will be around for the whole season, and Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel will have another season with Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
  • Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West will enter the season sharing the running back duties.
  • Alex Mack will be back
  • Pettine will have more time to tinker with a defense that will be a lot healthier.
  • The defensive backfield has so much potential, and perhaps we’ll see the real Justin Gilbert next year.
  • The linebackers are really good.
  • They should improve the line.

Sure, that’s a pretty general take on things, but you can see where I’m going with this.

The Browns will only get better.

I’m not bullish on the Browns today, but think the game will be close. The Colts stumbled a month ago, losing two-of-three to the Steelers and the Patriots, but have righted the ship the past two weeks with pretty resounding wins against some pretty bad teams in Jacksonville and Washington.

This could be a calling card game for the Browns if they win, similar to their week six win against Pittsburgh, and their week 10 win against Cincinnati, and they could.

I just don’t think they will.

Indianapolis 27, Cleveland 24

Let’s get driving…

The Cleveland Indians have been making some noise on the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, rumors of a pending trade with the Oakland A’s for Brandon Moss have been circulating for the past few days. While Moss has clearly been the target for Chris Antonetti and the Indians, who Billy Bean and the A’s want has been a matter of debate. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Who is Brandon Moss?

Last year, he was an All-Star after a scorching first half of the season. His journey to the All-Star game, and what happened after is certainly as non-traditional a path as one could take.

The Red Sox drafted Moss in 2002, and after a slow two-year start in the minors, broke out in 2004 when he hit 15 homers and drove in 111 runs in both Low A Augusta and High A Sarasota. He showcased a pretty good eye, striking out 90 times in 516 at bats, and walking 53 times. He entered the 2006 season as a top 100 prospect (according to Baseball America), and ultimately made it to the Big Leagues for the first time with Terry Francona for 15 games in 2007, mostly as a September call-up.

Moss found his footing with the Red Sox in 2008, and after a solid 34-game stretch, then became a trade piece in the three-team deal between Boston, the Dodgers and the Pirates that involving Manny Ramirez, Jason Bay and Andy LaRoche. Moss was sent to the Pirates in that deal, and was tasked to replace the ever-popular Jason Bay.

Moss was a dead-pull hitter back then, and the Pirates decided that he should hit the ball to the opposite side of the field.

It was an epic failure.

Moss struggled with the Pirates over parts of three seasons, and slowly began to regain his swing during his time in the minors with the Pirates and Phillies (where he signed as a free agent) in 2010 and 2011, before signing a minor league contract with the A’s in 2012.

Moss had spent his entire career up to his time with the A’s in the outfield, but asked to play some first base, realizing that it may be his best route to the big leagues.

He wasn’t wrong.

He debuted for the A’s in June of 2012, hit his first home run in his second game that season, had his first multi-homer game in his sixth game, and then ran off a string of three more games with a homer after that. In that 84-game sample size, Moss hit 21 homers and drove in 52, and had an impressive .291/.596/.954 slash. He was the A’s primary first baseman, but also played parts of 23 games in the outfield in both left and right. It’s a pattern he would continue with the A’s in both 2013 and 2014, actually playing more games in the outfield than first in 2014.

In his three-year stretch with the A’s, Moss has a .340 OBP and an .844 OPS. The OPS would surely be higher, if not for the hip injury that slowed him down after his run to the All Star game last year. Moss had 21 homers and 66 RBI in the first half, before falling off a proverbial cliff the second half, with only four homers and 15 RBI.

As noted by Fangraphs Nicholas Minnix, he just wasn’t the same player by the end of July:

The slugger went yard for the 23rd time this season on July 24, yet he finished with a total that tied him for 21st in the majors in that category. He much more resembled the hitter he was in 2013 (.267 ISO) prior to the All-Star break this year (.268/.349/.530, 21 jacks, and a .262 ISO in 364 PAs) than he did after it (.173/.310/.274, 4 HR, and a .101 ISO in 216 PAs). Moss wasn’t the same by the end of July.

We learned by the end of September of a valid explanation for the much of Moss’ fall-off, of course. He had a previously unreported hip injury that turned out to be worse than expected. It affected him for much of the season but, obviously, more so in the second half, and surgery would be necessary after the campaign concluded. He’d received a cortisone shot on Sept. 24, the same day he revealed the news.

Moss should be a better player in 2015. Moss had hip surgery on October 21, and according to the Athletics, a torn labrum was repaired, and there was some clean-up done as well that will allow him a better range-of-motion going forward. While no surgery is a good thing, the fact that he didn’t need the dreaded microfracture surgery is a great thing going forward.

Still, Moss is 31-years old, and while that certainly isn’t a death-knell as far as playing baseball goes, having injury issues crop up after turning 30 is absolutely a worry. I know what many people will say. “This is a one-off injury, and nothing to be concerned with.” It’s a perfectly okay argument. It’s an argument I want to believe, but you still have to wonder if this isn’t the beginning of that downward plane that a player starts to take at the end of his prime years.

Sure, Moss hasn’t had a lot of major league time, but that doesn’t take away the fact that he’s 31, saw a dramatic drop in performance, and it was based on a hip injury.

Regardless, Moss brings numbers to the plate that the Indians need. Yes, it would be better if he were right handed and yes, it would be better if he were 24. Of course, if he were both, the A’s wouldn’t be so willing to deal him, and certainly, they wouldn’t be willing to deal him for the players that Billy Beane is rumored to be asking for.

Again, I’ll get to that in a second.

Moss has two more arbitration seasons remaining, and can’t become a free agent until 2017. He made $4.1 million last season, and he’ll likely see a pay bump to the $7 million-realm this year.

In other words, he’ll be making David Murphy-money.

I don’t see the Indians holding onto both.

So, who are the Indians going to trade for Brandon Moss?

The path that this has meandered through over the past several days has been an amusing one.

Initial reports were that Beane was asking for Jose Ramirez.

There isn’t a bigger Jose Ramirez-homer on that planet than I am. I’ve been screaming from the top of Progressive Field for the better part of four years about this kid. Ramirez is an intriguing blend of speed, bat control and defense, and my ceiling for him supersedes many. I see a kid that can play second or short at a high level, can steal upwards of 50 bases, and can ultimately find that .350 OBP at the top or bottom of any line-up.

I also think Ramirez could blend in at any position the Indians would want to give him a shot at. He’s just a plus defender, period. If Bourn were moved, I’d really be intrigued with a Ramirez-to-center opportunity. Fantastic fielders have made that type of middle-infield-to-center shift (Robin Yount, for one) successfully, and his skills would best be utilized there.

If Bourn were moved or injured, I’d love to see it.

What’s my point to all of this?

It would hurt like hell if Jose Ramirez were dealt. EHC’s John Grimm has pointed out on twitter that JRam’s floor over the rest of his career of control-ability here in Cleveland would make him far more valuable than Brandon Moss over the next two years. An argument could be made that he could be more valuable over the next two years.

It’s the great unknown.

If the Indians make a JRam for Moss trade, I would totally get it, and I wouldn’t be angry.

Oh, I’d be upset.

Oh, I’d likely cry a little.

Oh, I’d likely wear a fur coat for a day (ask IBI’s Jim Piascik about that one).

But I would understand it.

On top of JRam, it was believed that the Indians would have to include another player along with him, and that’s when Joey Wendle’s name came up. Susan Slusser reported that Beane was targeting Wendle. If you peruse the A’s line-up, second base and shortstop are glaring needs, and if Beane were to acquire Wendle and Ramirez, he could fill in those holes fairly securely with one deal.

I’ve been comparing Wendle to a poor-man’s Jason Kipnis for the past two years, and this isn’t hyperbole, even if there are those out there that disagree with me.

This, combined with the Indians’ system depth in the middle infield, make a deal like this possible.

Still, I truly find it hard to believe that the Indians would include both.

That’s when Paul Hoynes left us with this gem:

Take that for what it’s worth.

With A’s beat writer Susan Slusser quoting big league sources as saying Wendle, and with Indians’ beat writer Paul Hoynes saying it’s a one-for-one deal, well, you can put two-and-two together.

It seems to be a Wendle-for-Moss trade.

I love Wendle.

I’d be Joey Wendle’s agent.

I’d watch Joey Wendle’s kids so he could go on a date night.

I’d still trade Joey Wendle.

Regardless of Wendle’s future value, he’ll never achieve it with the Indians because of guys like Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez and one Francisco Lindor. If Beane is really targeting Wendle, than that deal has to be made.

Of course, we really have no clue who Billy Beane wants, and who Chris Antonetti is willing to give up.

We just know that no trade has been made yet.

So, why hasn’t there been a trade yet? Take your pick:

  1. Brandon Moss has to clear some sort of physical with Cleveland’s medical staff.
  2. Billy Beane is asking for too many players.
  3. Chris Antonetti isn’t willing to give up Jose Ramirez or Joey Wendle or whomever else Beane is asking for.
  4. Perhaps Chris Antonetti wants a little bit more for Moss, in a bigger deal (yeah, I’ll get to that in a second too).
  5. There is a third team at play involving multiple players in a much bigger deal.
  6. The Indians are looking to move David Murphy before taking on Brandon Moss.
  7. The Indians are trying to wrap up a one-,two- or three-year deal for Moss before announcing the trade, thus avoiding arbitration.

Look, there could be a myriad of reasons for what is holding this deal up. What I do know is that Chris Antonetti and Billy Beane are headed for the Winter Meeting today, and talks will no doubt continue. If you go back two years, the Indians were rumored to be talking to the Arizona Diamondbacks about a deal for Asdrubal Cabrera prior to the Winter Meetings, and it never materialized.

Enter the Winter Meetings, and Shin Soo Choo was dealt in that infamous Trevor Bauer, three-way deal. As an aside, Didi Gregorius, the shortstop sent to Arizona from the Cincinnati Reds in that deal was just traded to the New York Yankees in a three-way deal with the Tigers to replace the now-retired Derek Jeter. That Diamondbacks received Robbie Ray from the Tigers. Hmmm…would you deal Robbie Ray for Trevor Bauer?

Me too.

My guess is that come Monday or Tuesday, we’ll find out that the deal has been consummated. We’ll see how painful it was for us JRam and Joey Wendle fans.

The good news?

The Indians aren’t sitting on their hands.

In my fantasy-booking portion of this weekend’s Sunday Drive, what if the Indians are also targeting Scott Kazmir? I know that it doesn’t make much sense on the Indians’ end. The 30-year old lefty will make $13 million next season, and he saw a massive drop-off in performance after the all-star break last year.

Still, he was dominant in the first half, and with the Indians’ he certainly wouldn’t be asked to be a front end starter.

But he’s making $13 million.

Perhaps there would be some sort of money-dumping scenario in which Kazmir could find his way back to the Indians for a bigger package than Joey Wendle, and one that’s not painful, considering Kazmir is only under control for one more season.

I’m not crazy about $13 million, but if the Indians truly are shuffling some more players (Swisher, Bourn, Murphy), taking on $20 million might not be a big deal.

Consider this: If the Indians are able to deal, say, Murphy and Swisher (Big Ifs), that opens up $20-plus million, allows the Indians to bring in $20 million, opens up first, right field and the DH for Moss, Santana and anyone else, and fills their major needs all at once.

On top of that, the Indians would then have tons more roster flexibility next year with one of Swisher or Bourn’s contract off the books, Kazmir’s deal would be over, and Moss is still arbitration eligible.

Pretty damn brilliant if you ask me.

There’s no way I make it through this week’s Sunday Drive without mentioning THE Ohio State Buckeyes quest for a slot in the first annual College Football Playoff. No offense to TCU or Baylor, but are you kidding me?

Ohio State did exactly what had to happen last night to put themselves into the dance. They dismantled Wisconsin.

Look, I don’t care what the 59-0 victory means regarding the Big 10. What I do know is this.

  1. Ohio State shut out the number 13 team (based on their own playoff rankings) 59-0.
  2. Ohio State put up 558 yards against the second ranked defense in the country.
  3. Ohio State held Melvin Gordon, that nation rushing leader with 2,336 yards, to 76 yards on 26 carries. In the meantime, Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliot had 220 yards on 20 carries.
  4. They did it with Cardale Jones at quarterback. Yeah, he’s their third stringer.

Now, there are 100 more reasons to give Ohio State the edge, but it begins and ends with 59-0. I’m not promoting running up the score, but this is the idiotic system in which the NCAA has put in place. If you are going to do this, and if you are going to make it subjective based on the non-conformity of all the Division I conferences, then you get what you get.

Ohio State got.

59-0.

Sorry TCU.

Sorry Baylor.

Sorry Mark May.

Game, Set, Match.

Rumors surfaced that Braxton Miller was considering heading to Oregon after he graduates from THE Ohio State University this year. As a graduate, he could head to any college for his final year of eligibility without repercussions from the NCAA.

Boy would this make sense for Miller, and I have no clear answers for whether or not this could happen.

J.T. Barrett was a better quarterback this year than I think Braxton Miller ever was prior, and Barrett was a redshirt freshman. Then there’s Cardale Jones, who was sublime in the Buckeyes Big 10 blowout of Wisconsin.

Did I mention the quarterbacks that Urban Meyer is bringing in over the next two years?

Could the writing be on the wall?

Worse yet, do you want to see Braxton Miller in the Oregon offense?

We’ll have to monitor this situation as it progresses. Just imagine an Ohio State/Oregon match-up in some sorta playoff function next year.

Yeah…yeah…yeah…

I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are likely starting to scare some people.

Here’s a few reasons why.

LeBron James is coasting right now, and I no longer think it’s because he’s “passive.” I think he’s starting to see a bigger picture. While he played in over 40 minutes the other night against Toronto, these weren’t minutes in which he was getting beat around. LeBron was running the show from the point, and he was absolutely brilliant.

I love Magic Johnson. He was amazing.

If LeBron decides to be that kind of player full-time, he’s going to make Magic’s numbers look like an afterthought.

Kyrie Irving looks like a top-five player right now. There was a moment against Toronto where he came from behind on defense, stole the ball, lost control, dived out of bounds to make the save, which led to the Cavs getting the ball.

I’ve honestly never seen him do that before.

He’s playing defense.

He’s moving off-the-ball.

He’s still a killer off-the-dribble, but he’s starting to develop a catch-and-shoot arsenal as well.

When this kid goes to the hoop, bad things happen.

He’s a special player to watch, and I don’t think has touched the surface yet.

Kevin Love is really starting to find his flow in between LeBron and Kyrie. He’s very simply starting to figure them both out. He’s underneath mostly when he needs to be. He’s above the arc mostly when he needs to be.

And he’s getting comfortable.

Hmmmm…you mean it takes longer than an 18 game sample-size to figure things out?

David Blatt is still getting a feel for this team, but you can start to see his impact, as noted by Ryan Jones from Waiting for Next Year. Irving had the ball with time running out, and Blatt called a timeout, pissing Irving off.

What happened next was brilliant.

Instead of standing around watching Irving, the Cavs overloaded the right side and sent a pick in the form of Kevin Love Irving’s way. If Irving takes the pick, he has two options: take the shot or give it to Love.

If he doesn’t take the pick, the rest of the Knicks are stretched out beyond the three-point arc, not really being able to hedge because of the weapon that Kevin Love is.

Kyrie ignored the pick and drove, and the rest was just beautiful. Check out WFNY for the .gif.

Kyrie gave credit to the coach he wanted to throttle:

“He called timeout, drew up a heck of a play, trusted me with the ball at the end of the game.”

David Blatt can coach folks, just give him some time.

Rewards are given to those who wait.

Let’s try that, shall we?

Jim Pete is a founder and Managing Editor at Everybody Hates Cleveland, a former Senior Editor and Columnist at Indians Baseball Insider, and reveled in Everybody Hating Ohio State beating the hell out of Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship last night. Follow Jim on twitter @JimPeteEHC for scary pictures of Mark May, and also follow our website twitter@evrybdyhatescle, won’t you? If you do, Rich Primo will call your kids and pretend to be Santa. On second thought…

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2 thoughts on “The Sunday Drive with the Browns journey, Brandon Moss tidings, an Ohio State(ment) and the Cavs sleeping giant

  1. Great column. Some thoughts:
    (1) I won’t just cry if Ramirez is included in a deal for Moss, I’ll throw an embarrassing tantrum. You don’t hang an elementary school watercolor next to a Renoir, and you shouldn’t waste Lindor up the middle next to Kipnis. An eventual infield of Lindor and Ramirez at the keystone makes our promising staff formidable. Kipnis has to be the one moved, not Ramirez, and it’s time we face up to that. Anyone who thinks we’d be dealing “low” on Kipnis needs to remember Asdrubal. Deal Kipnis now, before he confirms who he is and while people still think he’s on a “team friendly” contract (in other words, Wendle won’t want to be called a poor man’s Kipnis anymore; he’s Joey Wendle, and that’s perfectly fine).
    (2) It’s not Robbie Ray for Trevor Bauer, it’s Robbie Ray for Bauer and Bryan Shaw. That clearly takes it out of coin flip territory for anyone the least bit conflicted.
    (3) Even with Moss, right field is still an issue. A repaired hip makes Brandon mostly a DH candidate. Another late bloomer (like Moss, like Kluber) that’s just biding his time in the majors is Scott Van Slyke. We need to get that guy and just stick him in RF and play him every day. He’s terribly miscast as a platoon player–just look at that monster season in the tough Southern League–and has scads of contractual control.

  2. Pingback: A different take on the Indians acquiring Brandon Moss | Everybody Hates Cleveland

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