Monday, July 06, 2009

From Bad To Worse: 20 Questions Concerning The Cleveland Indians

A few weeks ago, Sarah and I took in our first ball game of the year, a victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. At the time, I wrote the following:
With this victory, Cleveland took the series and hopefully boosted themselves another step closer to possible contention in the American League Central.

Ha ha ha. Oh, I kill me sometimes.

Immediately following that night's win, the Cleveland Indians stopped screwing around with .500-level ball and went back to outright tanking the year: the team went a miserable 2-14 for the rest of June, returning to levels of horrifying all-around suck not last seen since, er, April. By the time Sarah and I made it to another game on July 4, the 2009 season was for all intents and purposes a lost cause. Sigh.

A bigger development this past weekend: the news came down that Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro had just guaranteed the employment of hugely unpopular head coach Eric Wedge and his staff through the end of the current season. I suppose it is currently feasible that another one of this club's patented second-half breakthroughs is only a matter of time away as this seems to be the way Wedge clubs operate. However, it is also conceivable when looking at past evidence that if the Indians perform well enough from now until the end of September, Wedge will wind up keeping his job into the 2010 season.

Quite frankly, it is exactly this possibility that upsets die-hard fans the most: we've already accepted the early end of this campaign, and we're willing to see the rest of this mess through in order to (once again) evaluate some major league-talent lurking about in AAA ball and try and rebuild for next year. That said, the mere idea of possibly having to go through all of this frustration once again next year with this same coaching staff is intolerable. Enough is enough, Shapiro: I have nothing personal against Eric Wedge, but it's time to move on. Hell, after this year, even he might agree.

Even with the speculation as to status of Wedge's job now laid to rest (for now), dozens of other questions surround this team as we head towards the All-Star Break and, eventually, the season trading deadline at the end of the month. I've listed 20 of the more pressing queries below:

With Shapiro and Wedge and the players all accepting the blame for the woes of this team, is the entire organization flawed from top to bottom?

If that is the case, should Shapiro be fired as well as Wedge at the end of this year?

If that is to be, then how long before this entire organization can be righted and set back on a winning course?

What in the hell is going on during Spring Training and why does it look like this team has drilled relentlessly on everything but actually playing baseball?

What is wrong with our much-vaunted scouting staff, particularly in regards to evaluating pitchers?

Why does this team only seem to "put it all together and hit the afterburners" during the stretch run in August when it's usually too little, too late?

With the season already in the toilet and showing very little hope of a turnaround, why is Grady Sizemore playing at all and not undergoing needed elbow surgery instead?

Will the dominating 2007 iteration of Fausto Carmona ever re-appear, or is the tentative, apparently fragile pitcher that we see on the mound in his stead all we have to look forward to until his contract is up?

While we're on the subject of Carmona, what exactly was/is being done to correct his mental and mechanical issues in Arizona and the minor leagues? Is this a Roy Halladay-style complete rebuild or a kind of double-secret rehab assignment without end?

Just how ungodly awesome is Shin-Soo Choo?

Is the return of Travis Hafner a recurrent mirage?

Who is the real Kerry Wood?

Just how bad is the news with Jake Westbrook's delayed return to regular pitching? Is this going to be one of those rare Tommy John Surgery stories where it doesn't work out in the end?

How long before Carl Pavano is dealt? Kelly Shoppach? Ryan Garko? Jamey Carroll? Ben Francisco?

How far up Eric Wedge's shit list is Jhonny Peralta and will this affect his standing (or employment) in the ballclub?

With the recent additions of Jose Veras, Winston Abreu, Mike Gosling and Chris Perez, I believe we are now on version 3.0 of the 2009 Indians bullpen. When Rafael Betancourt returns at last from the Disabled List, will he pitch again for Cleveland, or is a deal in the works?

Speaking of the bullpen and people named "Perez," is Rafael Perez in need of more time in Columbus before he can be trusted again in a tight game?

With over seventy different lineups used thus far, when will we finally see a stable, standard batting lineup from Wedge?

What will be the respective futures of superstar catcher Victor Martinez and staff ace Cliff Lee after 2010, when both become eligible for free agency (and with the likelihood of the Indians to afford what these two will be worth on the open market, will they even be on the team by the end of this year, for that matter)?

If we are to trade Lee and Martinez now or in the offseason, in what state does that leave this team in for 2010 and beyond (especially if our farm system/scouting operations are as compromised as they appear to be by a systemic tendency to focus on players of a certain personality in lieu of a certain level of ability)?

The next 4 weeks may be very interesting indeed as far as answering the trading/dealing questions is concerned. Beyond that timeframe, there will be a lot of waiting and seeing going on both in the stands and behind the scenes. How this team handles the second half of this season, whether Wedge is able to create another late surge to semi-respectability, what kind of deals Shapiro can engineer in a league currently awash in tight divisional races, all of these factors will play into the decisions that may have to be made by Indians owner Larry Dolan in the offseason. For now, Dolan is staying mum and letting things play out. Who knows, when all of this is over (one way or the other), he might not be so willing to stand pat once again.

P.S. About the only good news to be had in all of this: my new adjusted attendance record is now 16-10 (.615). Ph33r!

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