Windians window closing
Updated: Jan 6, 2019
At the corner of Carnegie and Ontario wind whips off of Lake Erie and snow flurries over Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians. The shade of perpetual gray is a telltale sign of an Ohio winter, but may also be emblematic of the future of Indians baseball.
Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic. Yet, the fact remains that the window for the Indians, winners of three straight Central Division crowns and runners up to the Cubs in the 2016 World Series, is closing. And as the MLB off-season heats up with major free agent signings and blockbuster trade rumors, it is evident that said window may be closing faster than many realize.
All in all the first week of November 2016 sucked. It didn’t for a brief second (s/o to you Rajai Davis), then it did (damn the Chicago Cubs), then it REALLY sucked (MAGA...). But before that fateful week there was lots to be happy about for Indians fans. Chalked full of young talent, they had taken the baseball world by storm, rolled through the postseason to claim the American League pennant, and arrived at the doorstep of the Fall Classic perhaps a year or two sooner than many expected. Former top prospects- now All-Stars and MVP contenders- Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez had completed their first full season campaigns. A deadline trade brought Andrew Miller to The Land and gave Indians fans a reason to observe “Miller Time” on a nearly gamely basis. Cody Allen was actually good back then and along with Miller capped a dominant bullpen. And ageless Mike Napoli had us all partying deep into fall baseball.
Now 25 months later, my outlook has dampened. Yes, the Indians are still good. There have been some fantastic moments- a record setting 22 game winning streak and Central Division crowns each of the past two seasons. But after blowing a 2-0 ALDS lead in 2017, and a listless performance getting swept in the 2018 ALDS, the magic seems to be gone. Other juggernauts have emerged in the AL- the Yankees, rejuvenated with tremendous power thanks to that Steinbrenner bank account (and surprisingly having some of their own prospects); the Red Sox building a 21st century dynasty with the help of the Henry family coffers (sensing a theme here?); and the Astros with the second-best infield duo in baseball with Correa and Altuve (Lindor and Ramirez being the best, obviously).
This winter it looks like the Tribe front office sees their window to win the big one closing, and they are preemptively boarding up for seasons to come. They lost 3x All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley in free-agency (to the Astros nonetheless) without putting up much of a fight. They traded both of their past two years biggest free agent signings, Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso. There is an openly poor relationship with All-Star starter Trevor Bauer (to be fair, he is a weird dude and has a history of being a damper in the clubhouse), who seems to know he is essentially a highly valued poker chip. Trade rumors are swirling about ace Cory Kluber who, although his numbers are still strong, hasn’t looked as sharp after battling nagging injuries the last few seasons. The once dominant bullpen duo of Miller and Allen struggled mightily in 2018 and is headed elsewhere in free agency (Miller to St. Louis, and Allen unlikely to be resigned by the Tribe). And perhaps most concerning of all, the Indians are in a tight spot trying to lock-up a franchise player in Francisco Lindor who reportedly turned down a 7-year/$100 million offer last offseason. Lindor is entering his first contract arbitration year in 2019. (Yeah, I had to look up what exactly that meant, too. To save you a trip to Google- http://m.mlb.com/glossary/transactions/salary-arbitration.)
Owner Paul Dolan, GM Michael Chernoff, and Manager Terry Francona likely (hopefully) have a larger plan. Seeing the AL competition growing tougher, perhaps they are dumping some salary in an effort to re-sign Lindor long term and restock the farm system with top, nearly MLB ready talent; that would indicate a moderately competitive, but rebuilding, team for the next two or three seasons before the Tribe makes another run. If that is the case it means a stacked Tribe roster in the next decade built around Lindor and Ramirez in their prime. This gives me hope. But as a lifelong Cleveland sports fan I know better than to hope. Until it pans out I will relive November 2016 wishing we just found a way to grab one more win.