Saturday, June 12, 2010
Lingering items--Rebuilding Edition
Everything is quiet these days with the Cleveland Indians. The team took 2 of 4 games (it should have been 3 of 4) from the Boston Red Sox but you could quicken the pulse of the average fan far more quickly by flashing a picture of Erin Andrews on the screen for 10 seconds.
It’s understandable. Indians management wrote off the season before it started so it follows that the fans would do likewise. As my oldest daughter said to me while she was attending Wednesday night’s game and glanced around to see all the empty seats, “it’s depressing.” At least she and her friends at E. 4th Street to look forward to after the game.
If general manager Mark Shapiro didn’t see any of this coming then he missed every possible sign along the road. Fans understand when a team is rebuilding. It’s part of the natural cycle of professional sports. What they can’t understand is how exactly the Indians were rebuilding. Only now is it starting to come into focus and you can thank dumb luck and Jamey Wright and Mark Grudzielanek for that.
When Wright and Grudzielanek, two of Shapiro’s spare parts that he signed for no apparent reason in the offseason, were summarily cast adrift in the land of free agency recently, the purpose, intentional or not, was to make further room for younger players with more of a future. If only Shapiro would continue the paring by parting with Russell Branyan.
The strange thing about Branyan still being on the roster while Wright and Grudzielanek are not is that their presence always made more sense than Branyan’s, even if their actual signings did not. Utility infielders will always have a spot in baseball and with the Indians having suspect and mostly young infielders, at least a case could be made.
There is no case for Branyan. He was signed, bizarrely enough, to start which meant he’d be taking time away from one developing player or another. And it’s not as if the Indians didn’t have candidates to fill that slot. Right now and very predictably Matt LaPorta is back in Columbus because he couldn’t get enough at bats to get the kind of consistency necessary to really assess his long-term value.
The Indians could have jettisoned Branyan instead of LaPorta, just as they did with Wright and Grudzielanek, and then all of this maneuvering with one of the game’s most mediocre players ever, might have made some sense.
Instead it looks like we’ll be treated to Branyan at least through the end of the season and LaPorta, he’ll just have to take a back seat. But on the other hand, if he can’t even beat out Branyan, what does that say about LaPorta anyway? Bueller?
On the positive side, at least Branyan’s presence was good for one victory this season. Given his history, he's right on track for maybe being responsible for 3 victories all season.
It’s not clear though whether Mark Shapiro really thought there would be much of a return on his investment in Branyan anyway so maybe it’s unfair to measure Branyan’s contributions by such conventional metrics.
Actually, it’s never been clear exactly why Shapiro signed Branyan in the first place so perhaps Branyan really shouldn’t be the target of any criticism. You can’t blame a guy for taking the easy money.
The real point here is that the Indians have another 100 or so games before this season comes to a merciful close and we’re not closer to figuring out what they’re trying to accomplish now than we were in spring training.
It's kind of like facing a 198 yard shot over water to a green. If you're going to lay up, then make sure you actually lay up. If you're going for it, then give yourself enough club. That's the state of the Indians at the moment, facing that 198 yard shot to the green and completely indecisive about what they should do.
The signing of Branyan is meant to be akin to grabbing enough club to make the shot. In actuality, using him is like hitting a 4-iron and then acting shocked when the shot lands in the water. They'd be no worse off and a better chance of making par if they actually just laid up continued to develop their prospects and explained to the fans why it makes more sense to just lay up.
The ideal, I think, is to have young talent coalesce at roughly the same time, meaning when they are still at least two years away from being free agents. But talent doesn’t develop evenly or as expected and thus the ideal is always a pipe dream. You either accept that fact and be honest about it or you try to fool yourself and your fans. To this point, the Indians have mostly been about trying to fool themselves and their fans.
If you are ever the optimist, though, then at least you can get excited about the Indians promoting Carlos Santana from Triple A Columbus on Friday, though it came at the expense of another propsect, Lou Marson.
The Indians essentially traded one prospect for another at the moment, though it wasn't much of a trade given how Marson has struggled offensively. Still, while most people may be asking why it took so long to get Santana to Cleveland, it also may be that Santana's promotion was a little Strasburg envy.
With the Indians playing the Washington Nationals this weekend and pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg getting all the attention, it seemed a natural for the Indians to bring up Santana. In many ways, he was nearly as dominant in the minor leagues as Strasburg. With the Indians mired in mediocrity like the Nationals,a jolt of young and perhaps special talent isn't just a gimmick but a necessity. It sells tickets.
But even more than that (though selling more tickets for either team is something that shouldn't be minimized) the real thing that the promotion of Santana does at the moment is divert the attention away from the really pedestrian job Shapiro has done in acquiring propsects. Strasburg makes the whole Nationals organization look good. Shapiro is obviously hoping for the same bump with Santana.
I have no idea whether Tom Izzo will take the Cavs head coaching job, but if he does then he is doing so knowing that he's taking on a bit of a rebuilding job himself.
The basketball conspiracy theorists have all said that they don't think that Izzo will sign unless he has the tacit understanding from LeBron James that he'll be back. I don't buy that theory.
If Izzo is that shallow, he has no business taking the job in the first place. If the only thing that would bring him to Cleveland is the chance to coach James, then he's well advised to stay in East Lansing. Coaching James is a perk. It may not seem this way at the moment but the game really is bigger than James and I think Izzo understands that.
If Izzo comes it will be because he's intrigued by whatever challenges the new job presents. He comes because he sees the NBA as the next step in his career. He comes because it will pay him more money than BP has at the moment. But a man at his level of accomplishment doesn't come if it's just about James.
With or without James, the Cavs heading coach job is a good gig and will remain so as long as Dan Gilbert remains owner. It's just that Izzo needs to be convinced of that. In college, he more or less controls his own fate. In the NBA, he'll have to accept a little loss of control and a huge helping of faith that those surrounding him will work just as hard as he's used to working to be as successful as he's used to being. If he gives the Cavs a thumbs up, then he's navigated the breach. If he doesn't, then my guess is that he'll never coach in the NBA.
The Browns have concluded mini camp and laughably head coach Eric Mangini says he doesn't have a starting quarterback. In fact, in more or less a replay of last season, Mangini said that he'll head into training camp with the idea that both Seneca Wallace and Jake Delhomme will work with the first team and that they'll get a similar amount of reps.
Don't believe it. It's not credible for Manigni to suggest to anyone that Wallace is on par with Delhomme at the moment. In fact, if you're Delhomme, it's probably a little offensive, actually. But Delhomme's a veteran and he knows the book on Mangini and likely has concluded, as even the casual fan has by now, that this is simply about Mangini trying to act as the master motivator so that no player feels comfortable with his status.
But consider for a moment if Mangini is telling the truth. That can only mean one of two things: he's trying to curry favor with Mike Holmgren who also seems high on Wallace or it means he's on a collision course with himself by repeating the mistakes of last season's training camp when he completely bungled both Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn. If either is the case, the outcome won't be good for anyone, particularly Mangini. Even he has to know that.
That's why it's best to simply disregard anything Mangini says on the topic at the moment. Come the first game of the season, Delhomme will be the starter and even Mangini knows that, too.
Given Mangini's seemingly high opinion of Wallace at the moment, this week's question to ponder: Absent an injury to the starter, would Wallace every be named the starting quarterback of any NFL team?