After a Major League Baseball weekend in which your Cleveland Indians suffered not one, not two, but three losses against the lowly Kansas City Royals, it seems like the perfect time to ponder the 2019 season here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario. The Indians were outscored 20-9 by the Royals, who came limping into the series having lost 10…of their last 10.
How bad was it? The Indians, who will “ride their starting pitching to the playoffs,” watched Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber, two of the three “aces” on the staff go a grand total of 3 1/3 innings, giving up a combined 12 hits, 12 runs (all earned), while walking six, and striking out five. Kluber walked home two runs, and they gave up three home runs total. There’s nothing like Kluber and Carrasco rolling out a 37.73 ERA in a weekend series in which Jefry Rodriguez was your best starter, and he was sent down to the minors so that a 33-year old outfielder picked up in the bargain basement bin could save the offensive struggles.
On top of that, the Indians DFA’s Brad Miller after Sunday’s game, clearing the way for Jason Kipnis to return. I know what you’re thinking, “who cares, it’s Brad Miller, who the Indians picked up in the bargain basement bin somewhere around St. Louis on the way from Arizona to Cleveland right before the start of the season.” In the grand scheme of things, that assessment is 100% correct. But…
…when Brad Miller is one of only three players with an fWAR above replacement, and when your team is busy getting swept by Kansas City, things start to get ugly.
“Obviously, they don’t want the best guys up here…” Now be honest, how many times over the past three or so months have you thought the same thing?
So who the hell does Brad Miller think he is anyways? Well, over the course of his seven year major league season, Miller has played predominantly two positions: second base and shortstop. And guess what? The position he’s played the most in his career, by over 200 games…is shortstop. And guess who’s still on the injured list? Francisco Lindor, the Indians’ shortstop. Eric Stamets, the Indians’ current shortstop currently has a -0.6 fWAR (last on the team), has struck out 50% of the time, and has a grand total of two hits, in 14 games, in 44 plate appearances.
But guess what? Brad Miller had signed a one-year, $1 million deal to come and play in Cleveland, which was a non-guaranteed contract. Eric Stamets comes at the league minimum of $550,000 this year. Now maybe the Indians were trying to save money, or maybe there was more to it than that, but when your owner says this before the season even started…
“the reality is, we lose money almost every year, and we’ve lost a lot the last few years.”Paul Dolan, in an interview with MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince
…it doesn’t look good, regardless of whether or not the move makes baseball sense in the grand scheme of things. Let’s be honest, Brad Miller shouldn’t make or break a season, and if he does, your season likely has a lot more to worry about than Brad Miller. Eric Stamets isn’t as bad as his current numbers would suggest, but again, a guy temporarily replacing your All-Star shortstop shouldn’t be the end-all, or the be-all piece of your team.
But even after the sweep, and with Kluber and Carrasco getting shellacked, and with Mike Clevinger likely out for the next two months minimum, and with Lindor injured (twice), and Kipnis injured and having not played an out yet this season, and with Jose Ramirez at a -.04 fWAR, the Indians are still 8-7 (thank you A.L. Central), and still are likely going to win the division…right?
And this is where things start to get a little wonky. Yes, the A.L. Central isn’t good, we know that. Sure, there are teams that are on their way to being good, starting with the Minnesota Twins, but they aren’t as good as the Indians, are they?
The Indians are built around five players: Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer. Now you can argue that other players should be on this list. Carlos Santana, Mike Clevinger and Brad Hand are likely fairly high up there on the list as well, and with the way Shane Bieber has been pitching, you could probably throw his name into the hat as well. And yes, with his newly shined and polished contract extension, you could probably throw Terry Francona’s name in there as well.
And when of those nine players, two are hurt, three are underperforming, one is doing sorta of what they’re supposed to do, and three are excelling, two of which are pitchers…well…things are going to get ugly, right? If we’re dealing with a Brad Miller/Eric Stamets issue on April 15, barely two weeks into the 2019 season, you are either loaded and don’t have any other issues, or as thin as a roster could be…
…and the Indians are as thin as a roster can be.
After the dominos have fallen from an offseason in which the “open-windowed” Cleveland Indians shed money while boasting two of the top five players in Major League Baseball, and perhaps the best rotation in Major League Baseball, while complaining of losing money, this is where we’re at in these two weeks.
The rotation is fragile.
The All-Stars aren’t playing well or injured.
The depth of a World Series contender isn’t there.
The team isn’t likely to do much to improve said contender.
And we released Brad Miller.
I realize that the last statement is ridiculous…ludicrous…idiotic. But when your team has felt like a house of cards all season long, sometimes a Brad Miller can seemingly bring everything down.
Instead of just tweaking mechanical issues, which is likely, Kluber and Carrasco are old and done. Instead of looking forward to Lindor’s return, which he will be doing at some point, we’re pissed off because Lindor is leaving in three years, and won’t be right when he comes back. Instead of thinking about JRam’s three-year track record in the bigs of being MVP caliber (he will, promise), he’s broken too.
Spoiler Alert: I have no idea what this season holds. I do believe the Indians are the best team in the A.L. Central when they’re healthy, but as fate dictates, they aren’t very healthy right now. Any fans of baseball know one thing for certain: nothing is ever certain. Whenever someone tells me that a flawed team is a sure thing, my first thought is, “Oh No.” I don’t know if that’s because I’m an Indians’ fan from the 70’s and 80’s, or if I’ve seen enough “sure things” over a lifetime of watching Major League Baseball fall apart. Whichever it is, April needs to at the very least, serve notice to everyone reading this:
- It’s only April 15. YES, these games matter just as much as September 15, but we have no clue what the rest of this season holds. The Indians are still a good team, but perhaps April will serve notice that every season is fragile, especially this one.
- The Indians are not a lock to win the A.L. Central. This isn’t me being pessimistic, it’s just life. It pisses me off to say it. I want to throw my usual statistical analysis at this. But let’s just run with this thought for awhile. The Indians have work to do, and they can’t just coast (from our perspective, not necessarily reality) their way to the playoffs. While 2018 served notice that winning the A.L. Central gets you nowhere in the playoffs, let’s have this early part of 2019 serve notice that there are games that actually have to be played.
- Brad Miller and Eric Stamets are symbols of a larger issue regarding the club. The Indians have been a frustrating offseason club in years’ past. Those saying they haven’t been are simply those that toe the company line with the franchise over the years. Sure, there are blips on that radar, such as the Trevor Bauer deal and the Edwin Encarnacion signing, but the team has lived the small market life over much of the past 20 years. That said, the Dolan’s payrolls have been equitable to the market, and equitable to the current attendance issues. I can’t speak to whether or not the Indians make or lose money, but here’s what I care about as a fan. With the Indians boasting a pretty solid rotation, and JRam and Lindor, I want this team to win a World Series in the worst way. Taking a break for a year, or whatever the hell they’re doing now, isn’t okay. I know. I don’t own the Indians. I don’t know they’re payroll, but if the owner is complaining about losing money, sell the damn team. And I love the Dolans, if we’re to be fair. I just don’t get it.
- It’s only April 15th. Have I mentioned that yet?
No, Brad Miller getting DFA’d and going after the Indians’ ownership and/or front office for cutting corners to save money isn’t a big deal in isolation. Players that get released aren’t in general happy campers, and in the end, Miller isn’t a guy that’s going to make waves. But taking this small move in the grand scheme of a small market team, that struggles to grow attendance, with an owner who has publicly stated they aren’t making money, to go along with a team slumping enough to make Miller’s tepid start to the season seem important really says it all.
It’s funny that the Indians can’t run away from their own small market portrait, regardless of how successful they have been. That profile of a team that ultimately has to sell has stuck with the team throughout the Dolan era, whether it fits the situation or not. And while the Indians spent more money than ever in 2018, the bigger picture of “sensible moves to not only improve the team, but the make payroll more manageable” in 2019 just sounds like fancy talk for “meh, our division sucks, so we’ll just try that hard.”
And while I’m not 100% on board with that thinking, I do know one thing: if the Indians remain a .500ish club in the near future, it’s not going to get any prettier.
But it’ll get better…won’t it?