Getting to the Bottom of Why the Indians Imploded

In the past I have written about how the Indians 2006 collapse is amazing to me. Considering that I chose them to have the best record in baseball, their poor play has made me even more negative about their status as biggest flop in the MLB. While I have a few theories on why this happened, I thought I would contact my favorite blogger on the Indians to answer my questions.

Paul Cousineau is a lifelong Tribe fan who goes by the moniker Pat Tabler at his blog, The DiaTribe. Paul chose this pseudonym mainly due to a fielding clinic with Tabler as an 8-year old member of the Little Indians’ Fan Club. He works in sales for his family business. Paul started blogging because he “figured that the Tribe is what I generally think about, and thought I would put pen to paper (so to speak) to find other Indians’ fans around the world who share my unhealthy obsession.”

Here is a discussion among 2 AL Central fans on the 2006 Indians.

Scott: OK, well the first question that has to be asked is “what the hell happened to the Indians this year?”

Paul: A combination of factors that started with the team signing the wrong FA’s in the off-season, continued with the team staying with the veterans for about 6 weeks too long rather than giving the more talented youngsters a shot (like the Twins did en route to saving their season), and coincided with the fact the Tigers, White Sox, and then the Twins ripped their way through the AL.

Scott: In full second guessing mode, tell me what mistakes were made in the off-season and what you would have done differently, if you were in charge?

Paul: First and foremost, by allowing Bob Howry to sign elsewhere, the Indians put the onus of their set-up roles to 2 players (Fernando Cabrera and Rafael Betancourt) who had never filled that role and a question mark in Guillermo Mota. The bullpen (which was also initially also populated by the likes of Danny Graves and Scott Sauerbeck) completely blew up in front of Bob Wickman; and by the time that it was shaken up, they were already 10 games out in the Central. An effective set-up man would have allowed the bullpen to keep their 2005 roles, when the bullpen was one of the league’s strongest.

The bullpen wasn’t alone in its disappointment, though, as Paul Byrd started slowly and Jason Johnson proved…well, to be Jason Johnson and the rotation (the strength of the 2005 club) started slow. One can’t argue that they should have re-signed Millwood (unreal contract) or Elarton (no reason to give him a 2 year deal), but the pitchers they signed never thrived.

Rather than allowing their young talented players (SP Jeremy Sowers, 3B Andy Marte, and 1B Ryan Garko) to make the team out of Spring Training, allowing the team to spend money in other places, the team signed average or below-average players and hoped that they would either re-capture their former success or that their injuries were over with.

By allowing those young players the opportunity to make the team (they were given lip service, but never a real shot to make the team), the money that was given to Eduardo Perez, Jason Johnson, Aaron Boone, and Ben Broussard could have been used to fill the holes in team. Unfortunately for the Indians, those average veterans proved to be just that, and by the time the changes were finally made, the season was effectively over.

Scott: Considering the talent level and the amount of close games lost over the past 3 seasons, do you think heads should role in regards to the Manager and GM?

Paul: The 2005 season, in which Shapiro was named Executive of the Year and Wedge saw his team show its 3rd straight year of improvement, record-wise, earned the GM and the Manager the benefit of the doubt…for now.

This off-season ranks as the most important in Shapiro’s career in Cleveland to find the talent to complement the talented core of SuperSizemore, Pronk, C.C., Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, and (a disappointing 2006 notwithstanding) Jhonny Peralta. He needs to effectively identify the needs of the team and fill them with players who can help this team take the next step that most thought would be taken this year.

As for the Atomic Wedgie, the leash will be a little tighter, despite Shapiro’s claims that they work, and will always work, as a team. Wedge’s record in one-run games, his (mis)handling of the bullpen, and his infatuation with players like Aaron Boone and Jason Michaels has started to wear thin. Replacement names (Piniella, Bowa, Pena) have been thrown around locally, and a slow start in 2007 certainly wouldn’t help.

Scott: How have the Indians fans reacted to the team being the biggest disappointment of 2006?

Paul: Remembering that we live in Cleveland (home of The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, Jose Mesa’s meltdown, and where the All-Pro C blows his knee out on the FIRST PLAY of the FIRST PRACTICE this year) does quite a bit to help the patience with the team. The fans are obviously disappointed in the team, but most of the venom is reserved (justified or not) for the Dolan ownership of the team.

When the Dolans purchased the team, they stated that, when the team was ready to compete, they would open their pocketbooks. The FA class of Byrd, Johnson, and Perez didn’t exactly fit that description.

Cleveland is, and always will be a Browns’ Town, so the Indians 2005 season started the interest in this version of the Indians. It’s up to the 2007 Tribe to let the fans know that this isn’t going to be a repeat of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s when the Indians were in a constant rebuilding mode.

Scott: Tell me why the Indians will be a factor next year, despite being in the best division in baseball?

Paul: A 15-10 record thus far in August (with 5 Blown Saves) against the likes of DET, MIN, LAA, and BOS give the Indians reason for optimism. The Indians have a settled rotation for next year in C.C., Lee, Westbrook, Sowers, and Byrd, which means that the portion of the team that typically needs the most work is in good shape. The Indians possess 2 of the best players in the AL in Sizemore and Hafner, solid players in Martinez, Peralta, and Blake and nice young talents in Marte, Garko, and Shin-Soo (Big League) Choo.

If the Tribe can fortify their bullpen (the open auditions for the 2007 bullpen are on display every night in Cleveland) and possibly find a run-producing corner OF, they should go into 2007 with reason for hope.
It remains to be seen if the Tigers are the 2005 White Sox or the 2003 Royals, and while their rotation is one to be reckoned with, their warts are beginning to show. The White Sox face some key FA decisions and always seem to be one Ozzie blow-up away from complete mutiny. The Twins are the team most built to last and should stay at the top of the division (with the Indians) for years to come.
Then again, that’s what we said in March of this year in Cleveland – the land of Wait Until Next Year.

Scott: I want to thank Paul for his great insight on the 2006 Indians. While I think they will be better next year and the Tigers will be fall back some, I think the White Sox pitching depth and experience, despite a couple free agent losses, will keep them the favorites with the Twins through 2007. I also think Eric Wedge is not in the class of Leyland, Gardenhire, and Guillen, which is something the Tribe needs to rectify. Thanks again, Paul.

3 thoughts on “Getting to the Bottom of Why the Indians Imploded

  1. 1.  Interesting read.

    For the record, I picked Cleveland to win the World Series when the season started. I’m thinking that wasn’t a good idea in retrospect.

  2. 2.  Hey Scott, any thoughts on whether Torey Lovullo might be in that upper class of 2007 managerial talent?

  3. 3.  I should know more about this, perhaps, but what key free agent decisions do the White Sox have to make this off-season?

    Here’s my understanding….

    The starting infielders, including the catcher, are all under contract or club options through at least 2007. Same with Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye. As for the other outfielders, Brian Anderson is under contract and Scott Podsednik is arbitration eligible, with Pods likely to be let go in favor of some combination of Josh Fields and Ryan Sweeney.

    As for the rotation, the club has a $9 million option on Mark Buehrle. The other four starting pitchers, as well as Brandon McCarthy, are also signed through ’07 at a minimum. Bobby Jenks isn’t yet arbitration eligible; Mike MacDougal and Matt Thornton might be.

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