Posts By Craig Gifford
Today continues our countdown to the start of Indians pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona on February 20. We’ll count down the days, profiling a former Indian who wore the corresponding number. Some players will be memorable, others just our favorites and some, the only one we could find who wore that number. Today, we chronicle the career of pitcher, Jason Stanford.
What was one of the biggest reasons the wheels fell off for the Cleveland Indians in 2011 after a torrid start? The quick answer is depth.
The Indians were hit hard by the injury bug and really didn’t have the backup pieces in place to absorb the losses. A team that began the season 30-15 spiraled down to a final record of 80-82 and 15 games off the pace in the AL Central Division.
With Major League Baseball’s recent addition of a second Wild Card playoff team, to begin in 2012, the thought was it would help the small-market, money-tight teams earn more entry into the postseason.
After Thursday’s free agent splash by the Los Angeles Angels, that may not be the case for the Cleveland Indians and the rest of the American League. The Angels threw $331 million at this offseason’s two top prizes – first baseman Albert Pujols and ace starter C.J. Wilson. You can put them up there now with the usual AL East free-spenders, the Red Sox and Yankees. Add the fact that, despite losing Wilson, defending World Series Texas should still be a contender in 2012, it seems the market on the Wild Card (now cards) is again cornered by the big boys.
The Cleveland Indians, who went from being a bad team in 2010 to an average team 2011, are hoping to make the leap to the next level in 2012. With the major midseason trade for Ubaldo Jimenez and resent acquisition of veteran starting pitcher Derek Lowe, Tribe management is showing the desire to win now. The team is even likely to make more of a splash in free agency than in most offseasons.
While trades and free agents have and will add veteran leadership to the club, the Indians are still expected to be young. The Tribe will remain bolstered and built on fresh faces like Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Josh Tomlin and Vinnie Pestano, who were all in the minor leagues within the last two years.
The Cleveland Indians gave their fans plenty of reasons to be excited this past summer. They improved their win total from a scant 69 wins in 2010 to an adequate 80 in 2011. That’s reason enough for excitement in looking forward. The Columbus Clippers, Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate, have given Tribe brass plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future, as well.
Cleveland’s 2011 campaign was marked with a number of players who made their Major League debuts after promotions from Columbus. From expected superstars in Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis, to surprises like Ezequiel Carrera, the pipeline between the Clippers and Indians was quite active. From those players, and several others, Cleveland fans got to see the future appears to be paved with positive things. Even the players who Indians fans did not have the pleasure to see this season are soon to come in the next year and give promise as the back-to-back Triple-A champion Clippers. They have a talented bunch of players waiting and chomping at the bit to contribute to what the Indians hope will be a playoff contender next year and the following several, as well.
When baseball fans think about Sandy Alomar, Jr. the first thing that a person will usually associate with the former catcher, now coach, is the Cleveland Indians. Soon, Alomar may get an association with a new team. After 11 playing seasons with the Tribe and another two coaching, Alomar seems certain to get a call from several teams to handle the managerial duties.
On Thursday, the Cleveland bench coach was given permission to speak with the Boston Red Sox about their opening at manager. Last year, he was a finalist for the available Toronto Blue Jays job. It’s probably only a matter of time before Alomar becomes the head guy on a baseball bench and could very well become the face of another franchise.
It has been well documented that the last major sports championship of any kind for the city of Cleveland came all the way back with the 1964 Cleveland Browns. For Indians fans, the wait has been even longer, having to go back to 1948 since the Tribe stood atop the baseball world. Fourteen years ago today that waiting nearly came to an end.
Over the last several years, the Cleveland Indians management has been ridiculed for trading away All-Stars for unproven talent. From 2008 – 2010, the Tribe traded away top tier players for minor league prospects because those big names were on the verge of making even bigger money. Ownership has been criticized for being “cheap.”
This year’s World Series is one Cleveland Indians fans should have no problem getting into.
Tribe faithful should be be able to empathize with Rangers and Cardinals fans and see fellow fan bases, as well as players and coaches who have come up just short so many times over the years.
Unlike seasons where teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies or another major market has been in the Fall Classic, Indians fans should be able to see some similarities in their team’s history and that of the 2011 participants.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have been a mess of a team since going to the NLCS in 1992. The Cleveland Indians have been up and down since the 2000s began. The Tampa Bay Rays have been serious title contenders for about half a decade. Three teams, three similarly small markets, three vastly different levels of success.
How is it that one team that spends $50 million dollars a year can be so much better off than another? Why can the Rays maintain a high level of success while losing big-name free agents to larger markets and the Indians have to keep reloading and the Pirates have not figured it out in 20 years?
Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta. One is loathed by Cleveland Indians fans, one is still held in high regard. That is about where the differences end for the two former Indians now enjoying postseason life with the Detroit Tigers. Each of the two one-time Tribe cornerstones is in the ALCS for the first time since helping to get the Indians their in surprising 2007 campaign.
Both players made their debuts with the Indians, Martinez in 2002, Peralta a year later, and have put up very similar numbers ever since. Their career paths have been very similar, as well, from switching positions with the Tribe, to making a strong postseason run in 2007, to being sent packing before it was time for a free agent raise.
When you go 80-82 for a baseball season, you can say you are in the middle of the road. You are not a very good team, but you are not all that bad, either. You are a mere 10 more wins away from being a true contender.
This is where the Indians lied in 2011. In the end, they had a lot of flaws, but were not all that bad of team. Hard to believe that a team coming into the season with so many questions marks goes into an offseason really only needing to add a couple of pieces to be a viable contender to the Detroit Tigers’ AL Central Division throne.