Tribe Still Has Something to Play For
By Jason Kaminski
As the Indians enter the last few weeks of the season they are most likely left wondering what happened? After coming out of the gates scorching, the team lost momentum steadily from June on. They now sit tied for second place with Chicago at 72-72, a towering 11.5 games behind Detroit. So what is there left to play for? Time to bag it right? Wrong.
This team has quite a bit to look forward to and plenty to be proud of. In a season that most expected to be a typical “out of it by June” year, the team played with wreckless abandon and naive confidence. Those characteristics that got them to the top of the division is probably also what doomed them in the end after injuries ravaged the lineup. That isn’t to say that they need to necessarily tone it down in 2012 but they can certainly use it as a learning experience. The Tribe have a solid core of players returning next season and a handful of potential superstars that can use this long offseason to come back stronger than ever. These next few weeks will be a test for Manny Acta. He needs to seriously (and perhaps flawlessly) evaluate the young talent he has so that the front office can make critical decisions in the offseason, one that is crucial. Trading for Ubaldo Jimenez means the team needs to win now so any wasted moves, evaluations or experiments can not be tolerated. It’s now or never, and it begins now.
In my eyes the Indians have three goals going forward to next March.
1. The team should be shooting for 82 wins. It’s a small, perhaps meaningless goal to some but to these guys it should be huge. It means that all was not wasted. Yes you fell a bit and didn’t complete the big goal of winning the division but look at what you had to go through to even get to this point. A winning season is nothing to be discouraged about, especially if you can close the season out strong.
2. Acta and the front office need to have a clear vision of the 2012 roster. As I said before, the evaluation of the next few weeks is crucial going forward. Decisions need to be made about fringe players and expiring contracts. They need to know exactly which holes need to be filled and which players are worth letting go. Is Sizemore worth his $9 million owed if he can’t stay healthy? Is Hannahan worth bringing back, albeit at a discount, yet only able to play two positions? What about working at the other infield spots? Where will Carlos Santana play the majority of the time? All questions that lead directly to who they target in the offseason free agent market. It’s clear they will need to go after a middle of the order guy. Guys like Pujols and Fielder may be a stretch but what about a guy like Lance Berkman?
3. Last but not least, the offseason programs need to be organized and fruitful. Too many injuries on this team because of inexperienced guys that haven’t gotten used to the rigors of a 162 game season. You want to compete next year? Better stay healthy. Acta needs to make sure he establishes that the Tribe are coming back next year and this time we won’t let it slip away. I’m sure he can not force them to do anything that is voluntary but he needs to implant that mentality early. When the Indians leave the clubhouse after game 162 they need to be thinking about what needs to be done as individuals to be on the field in 2012.
So as the leaves begin to change and interest starts to shift from the diamond to the gridiron, let’s not forget what made this season exciting. Let’s not forget that we can still carry hope into 2012 and hopefully the Tribe will be diverting our attention from fall a little bit longer next year.
Photo: Brian Kersey/Getty Images