The #Indians Clearly Need A Reminder That Inaction Is NOT An Option

I have been throwing out on twitter lately some reminders about what I said in the off-season “to the Dolans” about what would happen if they sat on their hands last off-season and did not fill the number 4 hole in our lineup. I produced a series of articles that explained why I felt that, while the Indians were close to something special, they needed to go after a legitimate middle of the order hitter or fans would shut them out unless the team outperformed their talent. We now know that certainly has not been the case and, if anything, they have underperformed their talent level which is much worse. The Cleveland Indians are simply very tough to watch. And the terrible affliction of 2014, scoring less than 3 runs per game for innumerable games has continued.

So my thoughts were not “hindsight” as some have recently suggested. I clearly saw this possibility and spoke passionately about why I hoped the Dolans would severely deficit spend for two years while they washed out the Swisher and Bourne contracts. They needed to extend to get the one piece everyone could see they were missing … A dangerous hitter to put in the middle of the order. Now that they are past mid-season and the results can be seen with attendance and lower TV ratings, I am not sure that trying to “buy” any players is a wise idea. The mistake was made in the off-season and the trading deadline is not likely to be kind to the Tribe. So here are the last two installments revisited and I will expand on how I recommend they approach this now that the inaction has led to what looks like another lost season in a later post.

“I will take one final stab at my critics who still cling to the view that the Indians attendance problem is caused by the people of Cleveland and not a failed business plan. My latest debate was with a good blogger who felt the attendance shortfalls reflected the population decline in the greater Cleveland area.

While I admit that Detroit and Cleveland have not increased population in their greater metropolitan areas over the past 13 years, it has not been like there is a mass exodus out of either metro area. Based on the US Census Bureau actual count and estimates over the past three years, the Cleveland Metro area started at about 2,148,143 and ended the span from 2000 to 2014 at about 2,064,295. This translates to an 83,848 population loss or 3.9% over 14 years. Detroit has lost 157,574 or 3.54%. It is certainly hard to fathom that a loss of about 84,000 people over 14 years is accounting for a 24% attendance drop over the past 4 years. So yet another belief or “excuse” is debunked by facts.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, baseball and all sports are part of the entertainment industry. The customers will respond to perceptions and reality. The customers definitely respond to talent. Any entertainment company will do whatever it takes to get talent. It is that talent that drives revenue and profit. To blame the customers for not showing up to your entertainment product seems rather counterproductive to me. Plus, it stops you from improving the product in order to turn around your business.

So could we please dispense once and for all with the continual excuses for the Dolans. They knew what they were buying when they put up the money. Now they are in a favorable position to make it work but it will take a considerable additional investment not matched by revenue to make this happen. All owners of entertainment companies need to do this from time to time unless they are extremely fortunate. Almost every MLB team needs to do this and can’t wait for matching fan attendance to do it. The Kansas City Royals have increased their salaries over the past 4 years from about 35 million to about 89 million and had virtually no increase in attendance until this year and it will be about 160,000 greater.

My point is that the Dolans need to look in the mirror and recognize that the current Indians team is pretty darn good but NOT good enough. They tried to really spend when they sold their TV station but swung and missed with Swisher. They need to bury that mistake and do it again. It is almost certain they will not do it, but I am hopeful that they will see the need and jump in again. There is no homegrown substitute for what the Indians need to really compete. That is a power, high average middle of the order stick.

I suggested Victor Martinez because he will be a free agent, plays for our primary competitor, has expressed interest in coming back to Cleveland, and fits our need perfectly. He also is a tremendous competitor and clutch hitter. Finally, he is an ex-Indian who was loved while here. The Indian fans have shown great interest in and have come out to see great ex-Indians return. It would be excellent from a PR standpoint and completely dispel the rumor that the Dolans won’t spend when the time is right.

However, this move would be very risky with high reward. Victor will be 36 years old by the beginning of next season. He has had some injury problems through the years. He would best be used as a DH but still plays first base fairly well. He virtually negates any benefit of Swisher unless Swisher can play right field. Finally, he will cost us a ton over several years and the latter years of the contract might be a poor investment. So, if we were sure Victor would have 4 years like this year, it is really a no brainer despite the cost. But that, of course, is not possible to know.

Knowing the Indians, they would prefer to find a one year player with warts like Nelsen Cruz. Baltimore’s investment in Cruz is definitely paying off. But that is also risky because you can end up with a Mark Reynolds instead. Those players are hard to find. Even with his age, Victor would be a far better risk.

Trades to accomplish the same result are also possible but we would have to give up a ton to get a younger player with Victor’s punch and average. So I am open to any and all possibilities to get the job done but I am not compromising on what I feel the Indians need. It is their only legitimate chance to really contend and get the fans revved up and interested again. The Indians pitching has the potential to be special, but the team must find a way to have fewer games where they score 3 runs or less.

I feel a substantially increased investment is necessary for the next two years to provide a true window to succeed and improve attendance. As Swisher’s and Borne’s contracts expire, they should not be replaced. We should have enough young players to fill those gaps by then. So, in two years, about 25 million will come off the payroll. Dolan should set up a business plan to severely deficit spend for two years and then get the payroll down in 2017.

I hope you have enjoyed this series on the Indians. It was the product of a lot of research and thought. I understand the final recommendation is kind of simple, but I think a major addition is needed. The team is set up overall to win with that addition. Whether this would succeed to peak the interest of the Cleveland fans, only time would tell. But I can assure you that doing nothing or very little will NOT result in a significant increase in attendance. The deficits created in that scenario might be deadly to the Dolan ownership and the Cleveland Indians franchise.

The final Epilogue Post follows:

“Just a brief final note on my series on the Indians and their attendance and how it relates to the near term future of the team. I was honored by WFNY with a reference to my blog series in the While We’re Waiting (WWW) section today. I appreciate Kirk Lammers reference to the series even though he honestly stated that he didn’t agree with all my points. That is the reason I am adding this brief seventh and final installment in the series.

The beauty of that reference in WFNY is that it not only helped expose many people to something I spent considerable time creating. But it also allows me to say this tonight. I am completely cool with people not agreeing with me because I am not 100% convinced I believe myself in all of the points I made in that series. That is what makes blogging one of the most rapidly growing communication tools today. It allows an expression of thought from someone other than a professional to be heard and then be followed by debate and dialogue.

The main reason for the series was to challenge widely held views about the Cleveland Indians failure at the gate (Brown’s town, bad economy, baseball disinterest, etc.) At the same time I wanted to emphasize the business principle that you shouldn’t blame your customers for a failing business. You should look in the mirror and find out what you can do to change your customer’s behavior. ALL good businesses reinvent themselves to adjust to the customer. Bad businesses cry about how the customer just “doesn’t understand their greatness” and are doomed to failure.

I personally don’t want the Dolans or the Indians to fail. So, I simply said that they need to improve the talent on the field (especially the hitting) and the fans will likely follow. Now I may be wrong but what other viable business plan can you think of that will increase attendance? The only other option is essentially giving up and calling the baseball fans of Cleveland a lost cause. For a lifelong fan, that is simply unacceptable.

So I appreciate that many will disagree and I respect that completely. I hope I have made some of you think and question a few of the widely held “theories” about shrinking Indians attendance. GO TRIBE !!!! Thanks for listening.”

Great Game !! Now #Indians Must Follow Through

It was certainly great to see the Indians club the Tigers last night !! It is a game we all have been waiting for. We know the Indians are not a juggernaut offensive team. That is OK. They only have to be a solid and above average offensive team to win games and have at least a fighting chance to draw fans. The potential is there in this team to become better than average with some pop in their lineup. However, I have not seen it yet and never saw it last year. Combine that with a distinctly awful defensive team and you get a boring team that over relies on it’s starting pitching and can’t win consistently without a solid bullpen.

I know this sounds distinctly negative to those who, like myself, want the Tribe to come alive and be a contender this year and beyond. But I think the reality is clear. As of now, none of that seems possible without a true transformation of this team’s emotional and talent make up.

The question that burns underneath all of this is whether or not the Indians have the ability from within to make this happen. I have not given up on that possibility and am hopeful.  But we need to understand that a grim reality might present going forward that forces a break-up and revamping of this team’s talent structure. Since we have invested so much money signing our young talent to longer term contracts, this would be a stark reality indeed and I hope it doesn’t come to that.

That brings us back to the game last night. If that game is a reflection of last year’s team and there is no follow through, we are looking at a pattern of huge numbers of games scoring three runs or less. That is the key to the 2015 Indians!!!! They must reduce dramatically the number or games they score three runs or less. So far, it is half our games over more than one year (or close to that). The Cleveland Indians must break that pattern.

Another pattern they must break is being the sorriest defensive team in the league. It is not just their number of errors. It is the number of balls Chisenhall, Ramirez, Kipnis, Santana, Murphy, Aviles and Moss don’t get to because of inferior quickness/range/speed. The best of that bunch range wise is probably Santana, what does that tell you?

Fangraphs recently had a nice article from Mike Pitriello, who outlined this “Different Kind of Problem” with the Indians defense. It is worth a read. Where we actually disagree quite a bit is on Ramirez’s SS defense. He might be our best defender, but there are many balls this year that he should have knocked down and/or made plays and he couldn’t.

That is why we need to consider a quicker call up for Francisco Lindor! Not because he will hit so much better than Ramirez. Current averages seem to indicate neither player is hitting. But he has superior range and hands. Plus, when he does hit it, he has superior pop in his bat. That will help with the less than stellar range around him. Ramirez is a superior second baseman to Kipnis as well but that is another discussion for another day. I am still rooting for Kipnis. I know all about the service time argument and I say that is irrelevant if we let this year’s team slip away from inaction. Another thing to consider, one great defensive player (and Lindor may or may not be that guy) makes the other players around him better. Just ask anyone who played with Omar.

The reason all of this seemingly negative talk is so critically important is that our starting pitching is developing into a potentially generational group. By that I mean these guys can become 4 ACES in a staff!! How often does that happen?? Almost never in the history of baseball. And, when it happens, it is generationally great. Plus, two are locked up longer term and the others will still be around for many years. Maybe they will lock them up as well going forward.

That is the vision Antonetti and Shapiro had going into all this. That is why they signed Gavin Floyd even though they knew it was a risk. That is why they signed Kluber and Carrasco. They optimistically looked at Floyd as a top notch fifth starter and a glue for these young guys. That gamble failed. But the game is not over. Veteran starters can be acquired at times without mortgaging the farm system. We will see. Clearly though, at least for now, House has been a disappointment.

Our bullpen is shaky right now but I think it can improve as the season progresses. I have finally seen progression for Nick Hagadone. I think Shaw will come around. I am almost certain Allen will be OK. Atchison has been amazing. Others have been inconsistent thus far but I think the group will come together going forward.

So, with the base of starting pitching the Indians have and the potential for another solid bullpen, they MUST find a way to get consistent offense and defense on the field night in and night out. Painful losses from costly errors and repeated failed hitting opportunities drains the starters and the bullpen. These guys are, on balance, very young. To drain them with such shoddy performances around them will eventually allow the crack in the dam to break open and it all falls apart.

Even though I don’t necessarily know how to achieve it, I know what the Indians must do. Dramatically reduce the games where they score three runs or less and pick the darn ball and throw people out!! If this can happen and there is follow through on last night’s game both offensively and defensively, the Indians can go on a monster roll and get right back into this race in a hurry. If they revert to last year, the final result will be worse than 2014. Remember, don’t be fooled by total runs scored!! Look for a reduction of games with 3 runs or less.

GO TRIBE !!!!!

#Indians Are Down But Not Out ….. Yet

Right now the Cleveland Indians do not look like a very good baseball team and are certainly not playing like one. Even though I certainly knew that the Indians roster construction was not ideal, I was hoping it would be better than last year. So far, that is not the case.

l had put together two Indian season previews before the start of the season and decided not to run them because of the plethora of preview articles out in cyberspace. However, now that the season is well on it’s way, I found reading these previews more interesting than they would have been prior to the season. That is because we now can see early returns and compare them to the previews.

I will run the preview from CWinsMichelle first and then contrast it with the start of the season. Tomorrow, I will run my preview (CwinsJim) and contrast it with the current reality. Here is how CWinsMichelle viewed the Indians going into the season:

Starting Pitching:

The Indians are going to be counting on Kluber and Carrasco to anchor their rotation, but to me the keys are the other guys.  I feel Kluber will regress a little, but his stuff and composure will still make him the ace of this staff.  The key is can Bauer finally come around? Can McAllister return to his 2013 form before his finger injury? Can House be a reliable #5 starter? Can the depth in the minors come through if needed?  Salazar has a lot to learn, but I think we might see him play a big role.  Bauer needs to keep his walks down and not lose his composure.  He can learn from Kluber.  Can Carrasco stay consistent all year? That is a big question, but I think he can.  He’s gone through a lot to get to where he was last year. We also have to remember how good Callaway is as a pitching coach.  There is actually 1 ESPN guy that picks Carrasco to win the CY Young. I don’t see that happening, but that’s how good his last couple months were.  He has some of the best stuff in our rotation. Only time will tell.  Tomlin is a big blow to the depth, but I wasn’t counting on him. Hopefully, when he recovers, he can help us if needed down the stretch.

Relief Pitching:

The bullpen is always an up in the air thing. You really never know what might happen year to year.  For once, I feel good about our closer.  We know Allen can be dominant.  Granted he’s never been a closer all year, but he’s been an 8th inning guy and totally dominated that spot for years.  I think he’s mentally tough enough to be fine.  Only time will tell.  I really like Crockett.  Great young kid with great stuff.  He’s very young and going to be a big part of our pen.  Hagadone is a guy I have never really had confidence in, but hopefully he can be another good lefty in the pen.  We pretty much know what we can expect from “Scrabble” and Shaw.  Shaw’s spring wasn’t the greatest, but I think he will be fine.  Again, like I said, the bullpen is something you just aren’t sure about until the year starts, but it’s a HUGE part of your team. Just ask the Tigers. Their bullpen is the very reason they have not gotten that World Series Championship and it’s one of the main reasons the Indians were so successful in the 90s.

Fielding:

The fielding was so awful last year, that I can’t imagine it being any worse.  It can only get better.  I think it will help knowing that Chisenhall is there at 3rd and Santana at 1st.  There’s no question this year.  Jose Ramirez is a solid SS.  I think the fielding will improve.

Hitting:

The big key to the lineup this year is if Moss can come through and provide the power he has shown this spring.  We all know Brantley will be Brantley.  He’s such a solid hitter.  He might not put up the same numbers, but there’s no one I would rather have up there in the clutch.  One of the major factors will be health.  As much as Swisher bothers us at times, he is a big part of our team.  Also can Bourne provide the top of the lineup spark that we have been waiting for?

Biggest Strength:

I feel one of our biggest strengths is our manager.  Granted you have to have the roster as well, but Francona always gets his guys to play hard. I mean last year there were so many guys having off years and he had them in contention for almost the whole year.  It’s a LONG season.  He’s been through it all.  If anyone can win with this team, it’s him.  If you ask me what is the biggest strength baseball wise?  I would say our pitching.  I think we have a nice balance in the starting rotation and bullpen.

Biggest Weakness:

I feel our biggest weakness right now is still fielding.  I saw the other day that Chisenhall had an error that lead to 2 runs.  You have to field the ball.  Last year it was the littlest plays that cost them games.  Until they prove to me otherwise, our defense is still our biggest weakness.

I’m Worried: About the hitting mostly because I don’t know what we are going to get from Moss.  Also I’m still worried about Bourne and Swisher.  Without them, we don’t contend in my opinion.

I’m Not Worried:

About our guys playing hard every day/night.  Francona will get these guys to go out and give their all every game.

Biggest Positive Surprise:

If I had to predict, the biggest surprise this year will be our hitting.  If you look up and down our lineup, I truly believe it’s well balanced even without a big RH bat.

Biggest Negative Surprise:

I hate to look at negatives, but last year it was our defense. I was surprised it was that bad. I mean who throws a ball directly into the ground? (Raburn)  I’m not really sure what to put here.  Maybe Kluber and Brantley not having as big a year, but I don’t think that’s really a surprise.

Prediction:

I predict the Indians will contend for the division this year. Will they win it? Not sure, but I don’t see them being out of contention in September.  I feel better about this year than I did last year.  The Tigers lineup is the only thing that scares me. Their pitching without Sherzer definitely does not.

Michelle hit solid singles with her analysis of the starting pitching, biggest strength, biggest weakness, and the “I’m worried”. She so far has a big “swing and miss” in her fielding and biggest positive surprise sections. I would rate her as “working toward a walk” in the other sections based on what we know so far this season.

From this first preseason analysis it seems clear that some were hopeful the hitting and fielding would improve. I am seeing no substantive improvement in either area thus far. That is, in itself, a huge disappointment. How did your preseason thoughts match up with the Indians early season reality and Michelle’s preseason thoughts? Please let us know with a comment.

Tomorrow, I will put my preseason analysis out there and critique it based on early season returns. My guess is that I didn’t do much better considering how bad the early season has gone.

Things To Be Thankful For About Cleveland Sports Now

While you enjoy your turkey (or whatever tradition you have), here are a few thoughts on what I am thankful for this year as a Cleveland Sports Fanatic.

1.  Lebron Coming Home

Obviously the story of the summer, LeBron coming back to the Cavs makes them relevant again. He also lifts the region in so many ways that are well documented and don’t need to be spoken of here. Watching our team and expecting them to win again is something definitely to be thankful for.

  1. A Browns coach that gets us

Since Mike Pettine took over as the head coach of the Browns he has begun to change the culture of our football team. He has the team at 7-4 and no one will ever know how much difference the press conference after the first Steeler game made. Instead of praising a moral victory he clearly stated that losing was not acceptable. This set the tone for the Brown’s season. The team has had ups and downs but is “in the hunt” for the first time in a long time.

3.  Terry Francona

Terry since he has been the Indians manager has pushed the talent that he has been given and has gotten more out of them than any other manager could. He has done it with class, humility and humor. If the players on our team can step up and perform at their career average levels the team has tremendous potential.

  1. Ping Pong balls

Cleveland fans should petition to make ping pong the state sport after the plastic orbs fell correctly to give the Cavs the #1 pick this summer. Obviously the Cavs parlayed that into Kevin Love, who as he finds his way with his new team, will become a key cog for the Cavaliers championship machine.

  1. The National Media’s Love Affair with Johnny Manziel

Cleveland fans should be thankful for several reasons. It gave the Browns some preseason love in a disappointing Indians summer (except every 5th day when CY Kluber pitched.) He made Brian Hoyer come in more prepared (even though it didn’t look like it in the preseason.) Also, he has made #BrownsTwitter much more interesting during Browns games when Hoyer has struggled. We all wait to see what he will do on the field, but he sure has spiced up all Cleveland Browns discussions.

  1. Corey Kluber

The Cy Young award winner was fun to watch all summer and made every 5th day of the baseball season must see television. We were able to have fun with his lack of outward emotion and his stoic facial expressions. Who would ever forget the sunflower seed shower? If I make this a yearly post I should be able to write this one in until 2018.

7. Kyrie Irving Learning How to Play

It kind of started when he became the MVP of the NBA All Star Game and has become much clearer as this summer evolved. His play on the USA team began to unlock his full potential defensively and allow him to more effectively pick his spots on offense. It seems that has carried over to this season. Good for us!!!!! He is only 22!

8.  Michael Brantley

He was an inspiration this year to all Indian fans as he took on the challenge of simply being the best player on the field for the Tribe. As he drove toward a near AL MVP season, he remained calm and cool under pressure. Very rare for a young player who had just signed a huge contract extension.

9.  Kevin Love

Although not showing how dominant he can be quite yet, it was refreshing to see another NBA star coming to Cleveland. He gave no indication that he intended to leave after this year and he gives the Cavs one third of a nucleus that may be unmatched.

10. David Griffin

No one gives him any credit for putting the Cavaliers together because LeBron came home. And, to a degree, that is true. But in the early hours of free agency, he was able to ink Kyrie to a long term contract that set the tone for the entire off-season.  His ability to persuade Shawn Marion to take far less to play for Cleveland also cannot be minimized. Yes, LeBron had a strong hand in all of this but Griffin and Blatt had plotted the course long before LeBron actually signed.

This is my top 10, but I am sure you have your own. Feel free to leave your comments on what you are thankful for in Cleveland Sports.

[7] Dolans – Look in Mirror: Epilogue

Just a brief final note on my series on the Indians and their attendance and how it relates to the near term future of the team. I was honored by WFNY with a reference to my blog series in the While We’re Waiting (WWW) section today. I appreciate Kirk Lammers reference to the series even though he honestly stated that he didn’t agree with all my points. That is the reason I am adding this brief seventh and final installment in the series.

The beauty of that reference in WFNY is that it not only helped expose many people to something I spent considerable time creating. But it also allows me to say this tonight. I am completely cool with people not agreeing with me because I am not 100% convinced I believe myself in all of the points I made in that series. That is what makes blogging one of the most rapidly growing communication tools today. It allows an expression of thought from someone other than a professional to be heard and then be followed by debate and dialogue.

The main reason for the series was to challenge widely held views about the Cleveland Indians failure at the gate (Brown’s town, bad economy, baseball disinterest, etc.) At the same time I wanted to emphasize the business principle that you shouldn’t blame your customers for a failing business. You should look in the mirror and find out what you can do to change your customer’s behavior. ALL good businesses reinvent themselves to adjust to the customer. Bad businesses cry about how the customer just “doesn’t understand their greatness” and are doomed to failure.

I personally don’t want the Dolans or the Indians to fail. So, I simply said that they need to improve the talent on the field (especially the hitting) and the fans will likely follow. Now I may be wrong but what other viable business plan can you think of that will increase attendance? The only other option is essentially giving up and calling the baseball fans of Cleveland a lost cause. For a lifelong fan, that is simply unacceptable.

So I appreciate that many will disagree and I respect that completely. I hope I have made some of you think and question a few of the widely held “theories” about shrinking Indians attendance.  GO TRIBE !!!! Thanks for listening.