Temper Your Tribe Spring Training Tantrums
Bob Toth | On 08, Mar 2016
Are you all in a tizzy because the Tribe has just one win under their spring training belts and it took the club seven games to notch the first one?
Still upset that the team missed out on free agent outfielder Austin Jackson, who then signed with the division rival Chicago White Sox on a $5 million tender after the Indians kicked the tread on his tires throughout the offseason, but were unwilling to offer up the extra money to entice him to the shores of Lake Erie with a glaringly large hole in the Progressive Field outfield? Did the news that a slugger coveted by some to provide power (and lots of other negative intangibles) to a meager lineup in Pedro Alvarez was added Monday night by Baltimore on a reported one-year, $5.75 million deal?
Or are you just one of those fans still screaming “Dolanz Cheap” at your TV, radio, or local internet and social media viewing device?
Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay.
I know, I’m a little worried, too.
Spring Training wins mean next to nothing. Managers aren’t playing the matchups. They are not as engaged in the situational baseball decisions that would come up in an actual competitive contest that mattered.
Sure, a few wins would be nice to quell some of the concerns of the Cleveland faithful, but the spring isn’t for us. It’s to prepare the players and, more importantly, to get them through the six-plus weeks of conditioning, practices, and scrimmages healthy and in one piece. Yes, there is always the argument that a little positive momentum in the win column doesn’t hurt, for those who believe in the notion of “momentum” in sports.
Spring training wins are not a true litmus test for regular season wins.
Look at last year. Oakland led all of baseball with 22 wins and a .667 winning percentage during spring play. Where did they finish in the American League West? Fifth. How’d they stack up in the AL as a whole, you ask? Dead. Last. 68-94.
In fairness, both of last season’s World Series participants (Kansas City, 20-10; New York Mets, 19-12) had strong springs. But that correlation has been an atypical one in recent years.
The Rays (16-7) and Indians (20-9) had the top marks in the AL in 2014. Tampa finished fourth in the East at 77-85 while Cleveland finished third in the Central at 85-77. Fourth place Miami led the NL squads in the spring, while future NL Wild Card teams Pittsburgh and San Francisco fell in order behind the fish.
Three of the five playoff teams in the NL in 2013 finished with the three worst records of the 15 in their league during the spring that season. The Royals destroyed on the AL side with a 25-7 record, but missed the second AL Wild Card spot by five and a half games.
The point? Don’t stress about spring losses in the standings and instead only fret injury losses to members of the roster.
Speaking of that roster, the Indians have questions that they need answered, so your confusion and concern here is noteworthy.
Could Jackson and/or Alvarez have improved the Indians lineup? It’s debatable.
At one point, there was belief that Jackson would see a multi-year deal after coming off of a steady and average 2015 campaign that paid him $7.7 million for his services in Seattle and Chicago. He was a near non-factor for the Cubs through their playoff push, going hitless in nine trips to the plate with five strikeouts over five games in the postseason. He wanted a spot as a starting center fielder somewhere after getting a taste test of the corners for the first time last year. The Indians must not have deemed him a substantial upgrade over Abraham Almonte, until that whole PED business. As his price finally dropped closer to the Indians’ desired price point, Jackson opted to stay put in his September and October Windy City home and packed up for the short trip to the south side instead of heading to a new Great Lakes destination.
He’s 29, coming off of some very average years, has seen a decline in speed-based stats, likes to strike out, and tends to not get on base well when not batting the ball somewhere.
He’s everything that drove you nuts about Michael Bourn, minus the injury dilemmas.
Would he have been better than the group of guys currently fighting for time in the outfield with the club? Probably. Will it be what makes or breaks the Tribe’s season? Probably not.
As for Alvarez, he’s not the right-handed power bat you or your friend or your baseball-loving neighbor has yelled about for the last umpteen years. He’s a failed third baseman turned first baseman, but in reality, he’s been a designated hitter for six MLB seasons masquerading as a corner infielder while trapped on a National League club. He led all NL clubs in errors at first base last season and finished with the third highest total of any player in the Senior Circuit. It actually was a nice improvement from prior efforts after leading the league in total errors in each of the previous three seasons. If you hoped that the club would have grabbed him instead of the right-handed hitting, more sure-handed fielding Mike Napoli, you were making a commitment to a giant sieve on the first base line with a tandem of Alvarez and Carlos Santana there.
Yes, Alvarez can hit the cover off of a baseball and threatened to drown more than his fair share in the Allegheny over the years. He’s knocked in a decent tally of runs, which will happen for a guy who averages 29 bombs over a 162-game season. But he’s also the same guy who has seen a decline in doubles, will walk less than 50 times a season, has struck out more than 180 times in a year twice, will hit in the .230-.240 range, and will supply an OBP in the three-teens.
A fully healthy and recovered Napoli from last offseason’s monstrous sleep apnea-related facial surgery can do better, and he’ll bring a better stick and glove to the yard with him every day for just a couple extra million.
The objectives for the Indians right now this spring are simple.
- Survive the spring healthy. With Michael Brantley already dinged up, this bulletpoint is so, SO important.
- Pamper and nurture Brantley back to health. Don’t rush him back, but do NOT give him any cause for a setback. The team can ill-afford his absence any longer than necessary.
- Find the fifth starter between Cody Anderson or Josh Tomlin. The former lumberjack, “Big Country”, versus the “Little Cowboy”. Nicknames are fun.
- Resolve the bullpen battle. Will it be a seven-man staff, or eight? Do they take one lefty? Two? None? Will the kids be alright, or will the kids be heading off to the college town in middle Ohio?
- Finish the rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock battle for the outfield and its bench roles. Rajai Davis and Lonnie Chisenhall get the nods by default, but the remaining two to three spots need to be determined from the current mix of roster members Collin Cowgill and Joey Butler, fans’ favorite Tyler Naquin, and other minor league contestants Will Venable, Shane Robinson, Robbie Grossman, Michael Choice, Zach Walters, or some other fairly agile fan who brings their glove to Goodyear at some point in the next week or two.
What can be said is this – the Central is going to be one tough division this year, as can be said for the AL as a whole. Every game will matter, but the fun hasn’t even started yet. Indians fans get the treat of watching a rotation with the potential to have three, maybe even four, starting pitchers tangle with the 200-strikeout plateau, and, oh yeah, there’s that kid Francisco Lindor you might have heard something about.
Buckle up and save some of that anger for the season, because there will be plenty of time and opportunities to scratch your head, play arm chair GM, scream about something ‘los did on the field, and be flabbergasted at Terry Francona’s continued use of bunting.
As the old adage goes – baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t wear yourself out before the race begins.
Photo: AP Photo/Mark Duncan