2017: This Year is Next Year
Last year, the Cleveland Indians made one of the biggest free agent signings of the winter. The guaranteed $60 million for three years doled out to slugger Edwin Encarnacion was the richest contract handed out in club history.
So, as this winter’s hot stove season starts to heat up, what will the Indians do for an encore performance? Is there another splashy signing in the near future? The reality is there does not need to be and probably will not be.
For the Indians, this winter is and should be more about taking care of their own free agents than going outside the organization to bring in another big-time player.
One of the big questions looming over the Cleveland front office this offseason was answered on Thursday morning as the Indians announced that Carl Willis has been named as the team’s pitching coach for the 2018 season.
The Indians were quick to fill some very big shoes on manager Terry Francona’s coaching staff after losing the successful Mickey Callaway to the New York Mets on Monday, where he will serve as the team’s manager.
This is the type of story that should not have been written, as had all gone according to plan, the Cleveland Indians would be back-to-back winners of the American League pennant and would be facing off with the Los Angeles Dodgers in a rematch of the Tribe’s 1920 World Series win over the Brooklyn Robins.
Instead, the Indians are plugging holes on their coaching staff and taking in the Fall Classic in a much more stress-free, but disappointing, fashion from the comforts of wherever they watch the games…if they can watch them at all.
If you are one of those Tribe fans who can stomach watching the World Series this season, there are a handful of representatives on both the Houston Astros and the Dodgers who have ties to the Indians organization.
When a team finds sustained success on the field, they oftentimes run the risk of losing some of the coaches that helped get them there as opportunity knocks for those working behind the scenes.
On Sunday, the New York Mets hired former Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway after spending five years building a force of a pitching staff in Cleveland.
On Tuesday morning, the Tampa Bay Rays announced the hiring of Matt Quatraro, Indians’ assistant hitting coach, to serve as the third base coach on Kevin Cash’s coaching staff.
Nearly four years ago, I met Mickey Callaway for the first time. He had just completed his first season with the Indians as the pitching coach on manager Terry Francona’s big league staff in Cleveland after spending the previous three seasons as the team’s minor league pitching coordinator (2012) and as a pitching coach (2010 at Class-A Lake County and 2011 at High-A Kinston).
Speaking to him one-on-one for 15 minutes or so, I had a feeling that there was plenty more in store for the former pitcher who was only just beginning his second career in the pro game after spending five seasons in the Majors (with Tampa Bay, Anaheim, and Texas) and parts of 13 years in the minors, in independent ball, and overseas in Seoul within the Korean Baseball Organization.
After four seasons of guiding the Indians pitching staff and helping turn several players’ careers around, Callaway’s name came up as a candidate for several of the managerial openings in the Majors. Despite no professional experience as a manager, he will get his shot on an awfully big stage as he was selected by the New York Mets on Sunday to be the team’s 21st skipper in club history.
Every offseason, every Major League Baseball team has tough decisions to make. Most teams – even the good ones – rarely start a new season with every player that they had the year before. Expiring contracts, contract options, and free agency are facts of life for all MLB clubs.
That is why this past season felt so special for the Cleveland Indians. Very few tough decisions had to be made last winter. The ones that were ended up being greeted with happy returns. Mike Napoli had to go, but the Indians upgraded with Edwin Encarnacion. Rajai Davis was not retained, even after his near-heroics in the 2016 World Series. Cleveland did not miss a beat without him. Those players represented the only difficult decisions that the Tribe’s deep thinkers needed to make last offseason.
It will not be so easy this winter.
Cleveland has more free agents and contract options to consider this time around. At the core of every decision the team makes this winter, may be the greatest debate of all – the question of Jay Bruce or Carlos Santana?
On Thursday morning, the Cleveland Indians announced that left fielder Michael Brantley had undergone surgery the day before to help stabilize the ligaments in his injured right ankle, an ailment that deprived him of much of the final two months of the regular season and left him as a bit contributor to the team during its brief postseason run.
In the minutes and hours after news of the procedure hit the press, Cleveland social media burned to the ground.
The Cleveland Indians’ postseason dreams may have come to a crashing halt with the nightmare scenario of losing slugger Edwin Encarnacion in the first inning of Game 2 in the American League Division Series, one lost in five games to the New York Yankees.
They may have also started much sooner than that, despite the club winning the first two games of the ALDS.
The abrupt end to a season – especially one with expectations as high as the Indians had – is always met with a certain amount of navel contemplation.
What did the players do wrong? What did we as fans do wrong? What can we do better? Who stays? Who goes?
Unfortunately, it’s also met with a certain amount of irrationality (standard disclaimer: “Fan” is short for “fanatic”), and this year promises to be no better.
There are many reasons why the Cleveland Indians’ season is over right now instead of the team playing in the ALCS (which was instead contested between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees). As we all know by now, the former knocked out the Tribe in a gut-wrenching five-game ALDS last week.
A major reason that Cleveland’s season fell short of great expectations was an offense that simply fell flat once the playoffs arrived. The Indians struggled to get much of anything going at the plate, especially in games 3-5. In those final three contests, all losses, the Indians score 0, 3, and 2 runs respectively. It’s hard to win when that happens.
The poster boys for the Tribe’s offensive woes seem to be Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Both struggled at the dish during the five-game series with the Bronx Bombers. Ramirez had but two hits in 20 at-bats for an anemic .100 batting average. Lindor, who did provide a big-time grand slam in Cleveland’s Game 2 come-from-behind win, also had just a pair of hits in 18 at bats, hitting a mere .111.
There are days that are very difficult for sports fans, and while I’m a Cleveland fan by birth (and therefore should be pretty well acclimated to disappointment), little prepared me for Wednesday night.
The heartbreak hangover from the season-ending Game 5 loss by the Indians to the damned New York Yankees in the American League Division Series left me emotionally drained in the hours following the game and in a haze for much of the day Thursday. I fell just short of hanging some sort of a sign on myself during the work day Thursday indicating my complete and utter lack of interest in discussing anything baseball related.
This story serves more as a placeholder than anything, as 166 game stories have filled the space before it to recap the events that transpired. Since visitors to Did the Tribe Win Last Night want to read it just about as badly as I want to write it, it will be a condensed recap at best.
The Indians were eliminated in Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday night in a disappointing 5-2 loss to the New York Yankees. The Evil Empire advances to the American League Championship Series, where it will play the host Houston Astros for a shot at the American League pennant and a chance to appear in the World Series.