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Organizational movement at the Corner of Carnegie & Ontario

Organizational movement at the Corner of Carnegie & Ontario
January 16, 2013
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It’s story time here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, and the Cleveland Indians new leader, former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, is the one weaving the tale. Francona co-authored a book with Boston Globe writer, Dan Shaughnessy, detailing his years as manager of the Boston Red Sox. The book, aptly titled, “Francona: The Red Sox Years,” is set to be released on January 22nd, and while it certainly isn’t a story detailing the Cleveland Indians, it does give some insight into why Francona chose the Indians as his redemption.

The book details a marketing report conducted by the Sox after the ratings for their regional sports network, NESN, began to fall. According to the book, the report stated that “They (women) are interested in good-looking stars and sex symbols.” Theo Epstein was then quoted in the book as stating that the Sox “…didn’t have any marketable players, that we needed some sizzle. We need some sexy guys.”

Can you imagine what must have gone through Francona’s head when he heard that?

The Boston Red Sox fired Francona on September 30, 2011 after a meeting in which Red Sox owner Tom Werner stated that Francona “had lost control of the clubhouse,” and “that he was not the right person to continue as manager.”

In response, Francona said, “I never said I lost control of the clubhouse. I said I hadn’t been able to reach some of the guys.”

Probably the most telling statement released to the press is when Francona talked about his last days with the Red Sox.

"They come in with all these ideas about baseball, but I don't think they love baseball," he said. "I think they like baseball. It's revenue, and I know that's their right and their interest because they're owners ... and they're good owners. But they don't love the game. It's still more of a toy or a hobby for them. It's not their blood. They're going to come in and out of baseball. It's different for me. Baseball is my life."

When Francona says, “Baseball is my life,” it really sets the tone with why he came to the Indians. In the press conference introducing him as the Indians next manager, he was quick to talk about the Indians chain of command.

"Two main reasons I'm here today -- Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti," said Francona. "I value their guidance and leadership. I know we have challenges, but I looked forward to facing them united ... as a we. When Chris called the first time, I knew it was right for me.”

It’s clear in the end that Francona was left on an island on and off the field at Fenway. Perhaps the one guy that Francona respected in that organization was Theo Epstein. While Epstein didn’t leave the Red Sox until three weeks after Francona, the fact that he was going to leave was the worst-kept secret in all of baseball. The trust was gone.

Enter the Indians after a year away from the game.

No, Antonetti can’t go out and sign three or four top free agents in any one year. No, Antonetti can’t even go out and sign a top free agent year-after-year. What the Indians front office can do is work with their manager in creating a chemistry that the top Red Sox brass stopped paying attention to.

The Dolans can be faulted for many things, but I doubt very much that the Indians are going to be signing and trading for players for their “sexy sizzle.”

Of course, I wonder what my wife really wants to say about signing Nick Swisher. What are they going to do next…sign Johnny Damon?

The Indians have showcased a new approach with regards to the major league portion of their system, so the question that I’ve been wondering is whether or not the Indians are going to change their approach throughout their entire system. The Indians have clearly altered their approach with regards to the draft, and that happened long before Terry Francona became a part of this team.

It’s been well documented over-and-over with regards to the failures of this organizations’ drafts over the years. While I’m not going to rehash the sad-sack draft history during the first eight-to-ten years since 2000, you just need to take a look at the Columbus Clippers to see the tail end of these failures. Really, you can take a look at the Tribe roster as well.

How many current Indians were originally drafted by the club prior to 2009? Lonnie Chisenhall should be the starting third baseman, and he was drafted in 2008. Vinnie Pestano was drafted by the Indians in 2006. Past that, are there any sure things prior to the 2009 draft? David Huff may make this team as a left-handed reliever from that draft class in 2006. Josh Tomlin is also from the 2006 class, but is no sure thing after surgery and struggle.

After that, there really doesn’t appear to be many sure things.

Truth be told, the 2009 draft is equally suspect with the exception of Jason Kipnis, and some fringe prospects such as Matt Packer. Granted, these are only rudimentary details with regards to the potential 25-man active roster come opening day, since the point of this isn’t to talk about how shoddy the drafting was prior to 2010, as opposed to their much more riskier drafts of 2010 and 2011. 2012 was a new-style draft that the Indians appeared to continue to take calculated risks after doing an extreme amount of homework on how to attack it.

Perhaps you can see the direction that I’m going with this. The Indians abandoned their risk-averse draft strategy in 2010, and the lower portions of their system began to improve. The Indians abandoned their risk-averse free-agent and trade strategy during this offseason, and their current team seemed to improve.

So, what will the Indians do with regards to how they handle the prospects in their system?

Overall, the Indians appear to be extremely patient with their top prospects. While there aren’t exactly an abundance of prospects to look at because of their failed drafts, there are a few candidates. Lonnie Chisenhall was drafted in 2008 and played his first games at Mahoning Valley as a 19-year-old. Chiz then took his time through the system, nearly a year at a time. He played 99 games at High A before being bumped in August to Akron. He spent all of his next season in Akron, and was bumped up to Columbus in 2011, and then again in 2012. In both seasons, Chis made brief appearances with the Indians.

Jason Kipnis was drafted as a 22-year-old out of Arizona St., and like Chisenhall, started his first year in Mahoning Valley. Here’s where things are different between Chisenhall and Kipnis, and clearly because of their age. Kipnis spent two months with the Kinston Indians in his second year, and then moved to Akron, and finished his season playing with Columbus in the playoffs. The following season, Kipnis started the year off in Columbus before being called up to the Indians in July. He’s been in the bigs ever since.

Vinnie Pestano was drafted in 2006 and started his career off with the Tribe at Mahoning Valley in 2007 as a 22-year-old. In 2008, he bounced from Lake County to Kinston, before spending his entire 2009 season in Akron. He started the 2010 season in Akron, but was quickly moved up to Columbus, and spent time with the Indians. He’s been in the bigs since then.

There are other cases of quick and slow movers over the years, but I’m here to dispel any discussion about the Indians being either too patient or too quick with regards to their prospects. Sure, every team makes mistakes over the years with regards to prospect movement, and the Indians are no different.

The point I’m trying to make here is that when the Indians have had prospects, there really does seem to be a systematic movement with deserved promotion. Cody Allen swept through the minors like a hurricane. Drew Pomeranz was already in Double A when he was traded in his first year with the team, and while he certainly wouldn’t have been rushed like with the Rockies, he would have definitively started this past season in Columbus.

There was a lot of discussion about movement with regards to Francisco Lindor last season, and a bunch of other young prospects. Most of this was based on the simple fact that Akron and Columbus really didn’t have much with regards to future major league talent. Combine that with a failing major league team, and you begin to start hoping for the Lindors and the Jordan Smiths and the Jesus Aguilars and the Ronny Rodriguezs of the world to start moving up.

This season, a lot of talent moves up to Akron, and they will find themselves one step away from the bigs, and in simple proximity, that much closer as well. Will the Indians be more willing to move up guys like Aguilar, Rodriguez, Urshela and Moncrief, should they start the season off swinging hot bats? Will Danny Salazar, Trey Haley and Giovanni Soto find themselves fast-tracked should positions open up in Columbus? Of course, if there’s movement to Columbus, what then happens to the extremely talented group in Carolina, led by Lindor, but also boasting LeVon Washington, Tyler Naquin, Jordan Smith and Luigi Rodriguez.

The key to remember with all this talent is that there are holes all over the place in nearly all their games, so development is key.

So what will the new approach be with the minor league system?

It’s likely to remain the same as the old approach, but there’s no doubt that 2013 will be a massive year with regards to the future of this club. Not only will players be developed for the Indians future, but also for trades.

There are several Indians’ players who will be representing their countries in the World Baseball Classic, both from the majors and the minors.Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano will be representing the United States, while Yan Gomes will be playing for Brazil. There was mentioned yesterday by an extremely unsubstantiated report that the Indians #1 #2 prospect, Francisco Lindor may be playing for his home country of Puerto Rico.

There’s a lot of discussion about the positives and negatives with regards to playing, starting with the obvious worry of injury. There’s also a lot of discussion about the change in routine that the WBC brings. The WBC starts on March 2nd, and for the teams that make it to the finish, will play until March 19th.

I’ve always been a bit of an old school thinker with regards to playing. I’ve always loved the idea of players playing year-round. Guys used to barnstorm all season, and babying players has never been the answer to health in the long-term.

That said, the WBC does bring change to most of these players, and injury is always an issue. Could it alter the seasons of Perez and Pestano? Absolutely. While I am one of the few that enjoy watching the games, I’d rather watch the Indians in the playoffs, and anything that stops that from happening, or potentially stops that from happening makes me extremely nervous.

IBI posted a power poll this week that addressed the Hall of Fame, and if you haven’t had a chance to vote, here is the link. There’s been a lot of discussion in the baseball world over the past week pondering whether or not the BBWAA got it right when they didn’t vote anyone in this season.

What are the realities here?

Here is a list of the first-ballot hall-of-famers:

Rickey Henderson

2009

94.8

Cal Ripken

2007

98.5

Tony Gwynn

2007

97.6

Wade Boggs

2005

91.9

Paul Molitor

2004

85.2

Dennis Eckersley

2004

83.2

Eddie Murray

2003

85.3

Ozzie Smith

2002

91.7

Dave Winfield

2001

84.5

Kirby Puckett

2001

82.1

Nolan Ryan

1999

98.8

George Brett

1999

98.2

Robin Yount

1999

77.5

Mike Schmidt

1995

96.5

Steve Carlton

1994

95.6

Reggie Jackson

1993

93.6

Tom Seaver

1992

98.8

Rod Carew

1991

90.5

Jim Palmer

1990

92.6

Joe Morgan

1990

81.8

Carl Yastrzemski

1989

94.6

Johnny Bench

1989

96.4

Willie Stargell

1988

82.4

Willie McCovey

1986

81.4

Lou Brock

1985

79.8

Brooks Robinson

1983

92

Hank Aaron

1982

97.8

Frank Robinson

1982

89.2

Bob Gibson

1981

84

Al Kaline

1980

88.3

Willie Mays

1979

94.7

Ernie Banks

1977

83.8

Mickey Mantle

1974

88.2

Warren Spahn

1973

83.2

Sandy Koufax

1972

86.9

Stan Musial

1969

93.2

Ted Williams

1966

93.4

Jackie Robinson

1962

77.5

Bob Feller

1962

93.8

Ty Cobb

1936

98.2

Babe Ruth

1936

95.1

Honus Wagner

1936

95.1

Christy Mathewson

1936

90.7

Walter Johnson

1936

83.6

Are there any first-ballot hall-of-famers on the list? Clearly, if all things were equal, Mike Piazza, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds would be added to this list, with the potential of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Of course, the issue with all of these players is the potential that they did some sort of PED’s.

Piazza may be the exception to the rule, but it’s unknown. He has a book coming out on February 12th co-authored by Lonnie Wheeler in which he discusses PED’s at length. Wheeler believes that “he’s clean.”

But take them off table as first-ballot because of proof or suspicion.

Who does that leave as a first timer? The one guy you can make a case for is Craig Biggio, but at the end of the day, is he really a first-ballot guy? Some will say yes, and some will say no. That alone says it all. Should Biggio be a first-ballot guy simply because he’s the only one left?

This point can be argued, but that’s what makes baseball great…the grey area.

Changes need to be made for sure, but the system isn’t broken. Perhaps this was the statement that needed to be made to showcase the PED era. I don’t agree with it because of the massive amount of players on the list to begin with, but I do wonder if things would necessarily have been different.

As per the PED players, you are never going to get consensus on whether or not they should get in. What do I think? I think that the players should get inducted that deserve it. In my mind, the numbers don’t take away the depth of Hank Aaron and Roger Maris. It’s funny how I have to look up Bonds numbers, and I have to look up McGwire’s numbers…but I don’t have to do the same with Maris or Aaron or Ruth. Their numbers are ingrained in our psyche. The tainted numbers have faded into that grey.

 

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Aussie tribe
January 16, 2013 - 7:01 PM EST
M&M.
I'm not trying to defend the Dolans but its not them who scout & draft players. Signing high school guys is actually more aggressive than taking so called easy picks of college guys. Problem with HS picks are that they are further away frm MLB and have greater risk of being a bust!
Your also lucky you can get to some games! Others have a little further to travel, like 15,000 miles.
M&M
January 16, 2013 - 1:14 PM EST
As i sit here in my Indians t-shirt, thinking about what games to take my son to this year, I realize I'm not the only person who understands the Indians front office treats baseball as a hobby. For years I've said The Dolans are the worse thing to happen to Cleveland and baseball. Their lackluster ability to draft players is evident with their 2nd and 3rd round picks of 17 year olds out of high school. Let alone build a winning team rather than bring
in some talent just to keep fans interested. The Dolans are cheap and the front office doesn't care. They will continue to draft young cheap players making their minor league teams seem amazing because they win. Well they win because all the young talent they draft stay in the minors because they don't have the talent to be in the majors. Don't get me wrong I love watching the Akron Aeros win, but what's the point in having minor league teams if we don't draft anyone that's going to make it to the majors?! But I can't switch to liking another team, I thought about it and it's not possible. So I'll continue to watch the Indians have another losing year. This year I'll watch the front office blame it on Francona. I'll then watch them trade away the only talent we have and buy washed up pitchers and old names in the game because they are cheap. But then again, when the front office is laughing all the way to the bank in the 5th inning of a losing game, they won't even give a thought to the people whose money they stole that are still in the field hoping for a win.
bruce
January 16, 2013 - 12:54 PM EST
Francona may be in for a rude awakening in Cleveland. Does he think the Dolans "love" baseball? I'm not even sure they like baseball...

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