The DEFEND Cleveland Show

What if…you believe in miracles? (aka – the August 25th, 2011 DC Show Report)

Well, are you ready for some football?

We’re not quite yet to that point when this show will finally join all others “all ready in progress” in the parade of ad nauseam coverage for the NFL. But on a day when you were asked “where were you during earthquake?” and “did you feel it?” at least a dozen times too many, and heard even more people quip that the Indians season was over, especially by the afternoon when they wrapped up 4 games against the lowly Mariners losing 3 of them, know that we’re also not far from those days of the  NFL logo blotting out the sun.

Granted, what you’re probably hearing most in reference to the Indians is something akin to, “damn, Tribe!”. That’s the same thing though, it’s just hard to be even somewhat eloquent when frustration is the overall mood.

From 1.5 games out to 6 (which is the most out of 1st they’ve been all year), in almost as many games. Throw in starting pitching that’s given up in that span an average of over 9 runs a game. A record under .500 for the first time since April 3rd (a point when there had only been 3 games played). And casting a shadow over it all, an injured list that is more than half their lineup at the most untimely of untimely points, a pennant race. Yeah, and what’s not to be frustrated about?

As people continue to scream that Manny Acta doesn’t know what he’s doing, Antonetti and Shapiro make only wrong moves if they make any moves at all, and the Dolan’s are cheaper than it is easy to find a negative attitude in Cleveland (hey I warned you about listening to any other shows around here but this one), let’s just look at that injured list the team has right now, shall we:

Travis Hafner (right foot needs surgery and it’s been hurt since April 27th. already missed a month for something else, now likely out for the year), Grady Sizemore (what isn’t hurt on this guy? has pretty much been out for the year as it is, but could be back in a couple of weeks when it might not even matter), Jason Kipnis (was one of the main sparks that got them back to 1.5 games out in the first place, then went down with an oblique issue, and on the day he was due back in the lineup, pulls a hamstring warming up before the game. might be back with Sizemore, might not), Michael Brantley (a wrist that’s been bothering him for over a month, out and day-to-day), and now you can add Shin-Soo Choo to the list, again (out for 2 months, then back and hitting like old. then a hero just the other day, then out because of soreness in his left side. also listed day-to-day).

If you haven’t noticed, it’s kind of hard to win when you’re missing more than half your starting lineup to injuries. In fact, not just looking at yesterday, for the year only the Twins, Red Sox and Yankees have suffered as many or more players to the disabled list in the American League than the Indians. And if you haven’t noticed beyond that, when considering these four teams, in order, the Twins had more than twice Cleveland’s payroll of 49.2 million to start the year (112.7 million), the Red Sox had more than three times the payroll (161.7 million) and the Yanks had more than four times the payroll (202.7 million).

Simply, what more money actually means in today’s game, beyond just the big name attractions, is more depth.

Figure this, each team plays with an active roster of 25 players (until the roster expands September 1st and everyone on the entire 40 man roster is considered active and can play in any game). The Twins have had 23 players listed on the DL this season (forget active list here, that is more than half their entire roster and has rendered their season already over for them, so we’ll stop including them in this discussion), the Red Sox have had 19 players listed, and the Yankees and Tribe both have had 18. When you have only 25 players on the active roster and have had upwards of 18 and 19 players on the disabled list, sometimes you wonder how these teams have fielded enough players to even play a game at times.

Point is, major league players get paid major league money. When it comes to the Twins and the Indians this season, they simply haven’t fielded a full major league roster the majority of the time because of their injuries to stay truly competitive. They don’t have the depth to.

Now figure this, the Yankees average salary on its 40 man roster to start the season was 6.75 million and the Red Sox were 2nd at 5.99 million. Of the players who have been on the Indians roster all year, they have only 4 guys with a payroll at least over half that average of the big two (Choo at 3.98 million, Fausto at 6.29, Sizemore at 7.67 and Hafner 13.0). And as you know, three of those four big(ish) payroll guys for us, the ones who carry the boomsticks in the lineup, have each spent a month or more injured. Knowing that, it’s a wonder how 1st place and Tribe were even synonymous for the 86 days that they were.

So more depth means more room to maneuver when the rigors of a 162 game season plays out, and win doing so. Which should make this rather obvious that it’s kind of hard to do that when nearly your entire roster here in town is laid up in their own wing at the Cleveland Clinic.

And here you thought Cleveland Clinic was such a big sponsor of Cleveland teams only because it’s in the same city.

Yes, small market teams such as the Indians and Rays with payrolls 2-4 times less than the big dogs can still compete occasionally. But the fact is (and yes this is a fact and it’s due solely to this payroll disparity, so don’t listen to Bud Selig tell you that there’s parody in this game when there simply is not), since the strike ended year of 1994, with 16 seasons in the books, only 1 team has won the World Series while not having a top 10 overall payroll in baseball that given year. That 1 team, the Florida Marlins (who somehow did it twice, and you might recall one of those occasions). More importantly, not one team has done it since 2003. And the odds of anyone doing it again soon, are ever increasingly worse each year.

*Since 1995, each year on average 3 teams get into the postseason with a payroll not in the top 10 of baseball, and roughly a little less than every other year, 1 of those teams do make it to the World Series. But as stated, they don’t win. By the way, if the season were to end today only 3 of the 8 teams that would make the playoffs would have a payroll not in the top 10 (the Brewers, Diamondbacks and Rangers). So, of the 8 that do make the postseason this year, want to bet who’s not going to win the World Series?

Yesterday I fell into this particular despair of disparity with money in the MLB, when the score of the afternoon game reached 6-2 in the 5th inning and Josh Tomlin was pulled only one out away from at least continuing, even in a loss, his record setting stretch of 37 games of 5 innings or more pitched to start a career. I loved that record for Josh. I had had enough, so I walked away from following the game any further to go off and eat my lunch with the NY Times in hand. At this point though, I wasn’t yet certain just where my own frustration beyond the Tribe losing again was headed.

And technically, I only had the ‘Sports’ section  in my hand (go figure). The Times is one of the few papers in our country that tucks its ‘Sports’ into, and in, some other section. They particularly like to sneak it into the back of the ‘Business’ section which always gets me thinking they’re either giving sports the business, or reducing it to what it is most. It also meant I should have seen my despair foreshadowed within my choice of reading material.

This thorough frustration I have with the business of baseball that allows only the haves to have, usually happens this time of year for me, regardless of what’s going on with the season. And it happens every year. What reignited the fire this time though was reading this really good article about the new movie version of the book, “Moneyball”, which stars Brad Pitt as the real life main character, Billy Beane.

If you’re not familiar with its story or its protagonist, Billy Beane has held the position of general manager of the Oakland A’s since 1998 (by the way, they’ll be in town to play the Indians on Monday). Using advanced stats and operating much like the Indians have since cutting their own massive payroll they carried in the 90’s, Beane in his 13 years as GM built an A’s team that 6 times won more than 90 games (twice they even won more than 100), and 5 times made the playoffs (from 2000-2003 they made the trip each year). “Moneyball”, the book, chronicles this success and is a must read for anyone who is a fan of the game, or someone who just wants to have a better understanding of the economics of baseball.

*I would recommend that you read it after you see the movie though, it seems like the movie might be spoiled by having read the book like so often can be the case. Damn Hollywood and how it makes everything so damn…well, Hollywood.

Problem is, over the last five years the A’s have gone back to sucking like they did before Beane took over. And it’s not that Billy Beane’s method no longer works, it does, it’s just that everyone else is now using it too. More importantly so too are those big market teams who are allowed to have all the money. In that article I’ve linked Beane talks about these truths that have become just so of late, as he awaits his likeness being portrayed by Brad Pitt to hit the screens (not coincidentally, right as the Oscars start up their own season). In doing so, he makes these pretty harrowing comments, which are only made even more harrowing for fans who have hopes their small market team might one day rise as his once did:

“There are a lot of smart guys running teams now, and a lot of the guys who are smart also have a lot of money. That’s a pretty tough combination to go against. We’ve all started valuing the same things.”

“Clubs like (Oakland) and Minnesota used to place really high value on young, inexperienced players. Now teams at the top of the food chain are doing the same thing, and it’s really hard to find trade partners. So it usually comes down to money. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is actually greater today. The window for small-market clubs is shorter and shorter.”

Keep in mind, Beane, in all his relative success, never even got Oakland into the World Series. Not even to lose it.

Not having a champion crowned not in the top 10 of payroll for 7 years and counting coincides directly with this statement that Beane is making here that everyone started valuing the same things. Looking at the history since 2002 (also the year depicted in the movie, a season where the A’s won 103 games), you literally can see that “gap between the haves and the have-nots”, growing and growing. And you can’t mistake it, really, as anything else.

Billy Beane in the article wasn’t done talking though, he also had this to say in reference to how things are now, where you have to take much more of a gamble on players because the less-risk ones have been gobbled up already before teams like ours, and his, are even allowed to go to the table:

“Sometimes, you’re relegated to buying that lottery ticket,” Beane said. “Anybody will tell you that the lottery is not a great way to invest your money. But sometimes, you don’t have a lot of options.”

Sound like any moves the Tribe have made of late? One Ubaldo lotto ticket please.

I don’t like to believe in luck, or at least I too would not ever recommend that you invest in it. And the same goes for miracles, which is exactly what Manny Acta sounds like as he’s looking for a “hero” to step up while he’s carrying a deck missing all its face cards.

No, the season is not over, but it also is no longer “far from over” like it was in June and July when this toll on the roster first started to show its strain. And yes the current 1st place Tigers do have a track record of fading in September under their manager Jim Leyland. A 5 year combined September record of 25-36 with no winning record for the month demonstrates this pretty clearly (and you can also add in that twice on the last day of the year they fell from 1st to 2nd, even as one of those instances it took to the 163rd game to get there). But I don’t serve up snake oil, magical elixirs, potions, or bee pollen with this show, and even though Detroit tends to slip on the road ahead, it’s just not looking good for the Tribe either way.

However, I’m reserving the bulk of such fatalistic talk until Labor Day when the Tigers come back to town for three games. At that point though, if the separation is not at 4 to 5 games, or less, it will mean that the now famous phrase adopted by the club of “What if?”, will only mean “what if” a miracle were to happen? Because, that’s what it will take. If it didn’t already require it for a team like Cleveland in the first place, simply given in to how the MLB is.

That said, Browns play tonight, right?

 

-Mike James

 

 

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Posted by on Aug 25 2011. Filed under Indians, Show Reports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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