Wheeling And Dealing

As Russell, Kish, UJ, and I enjoyed watching the Indians take two games from the Oakland Athletics on Saturday and Sunday — and look pretty darned good in the process — the Tribe’s front office was busy, too.  With the major league trade deadline nearing, management was hoping to make some deals to fill a few holes on the roster.

IMG_2477The Indians pulled off a key trade with the Yankees, sending some of their stable of minor league prospects to New York in exchange for prized reliever Andrew Miller.  Miller, a lefty, is a strikeout specialist who will give Tribe manager Terry Francona better options in the bullpen.  (And, of particular importance in the modern world of baseball economics, Miller has a favorable contract, too.)  The Tribe also tried to acquire catcher Jonathan Lucroy from Milwaukee, in exchange for still more prospects, but Lucroy vetoed the deal, invoking no-trade rights he’s got in his contract.

As we drove back from yesterday’s 8-0 shellacking of the As, UJ and I listened to Cleveland sports talk radio.  Some callers bemoaned the Indians’ decision to deal some of their top prospects, but others recognized reality:  in professional baseball, if the stars align and you find yourself in a position to make a legitimate run for a pennant, you’ve got to make the moves that maximize your chances for success, now.  You can’t make long-term plans because injuries and contracts and free agency just make that impossible.  Instead, it’s all about striking while the iron is hot and hoping that you put the pieces together that allow you to bring home a championship.  (And, while nobody wants to give away prospects, experienced fans know that guys who look like lock-cinch phenoms at the A and AA levels often don’t pan out, anyway.)

This year the Indians have fine starting pitching, their defense is greatly improved, and their offense is far more productive than most people expected.  And while they’ve got some holes, at catcher and third base, they’ve got a legitimate shot at the playoffs — and one you make the playoffs, who knows?  I’m glad to see that the Tribe’s front office is wheeling and dealing to try to maximize the Indian’s chances to make a successful run this year.  The final trade deadline comes today, at 4 p.m.  Don’t be surprised if the Indians make another swap before then.

A Fan Of Francona

On Wednesday, the Cleveland Indians play in the wild card playoff game. Before that happens, I want to throw a few kudos at Tribe manager Terry Francona.

I’ve been tremendously impressed by Francona this year, and not just because he managed the team to the post-season.  When you hear him interviewed he gives thoughtful answers, rather than the mindless twaddle that tends to come from the mouths of every other coach in professional sports.  He’s amazingly humble and quick to give credit to others, both players and team management.  He never seems to rip his players, or get too excited or too depressed about the team’s last game or series.  He’s got just about the perfect temperament for a high-profile job that requires a unique basket of skills.

I can’t speak to Francona’s managing abilities from a technical standpoint.  I don’t know whether he pinch-hits at the optimum times, or calls for the hit-and-run when it’s warranted, or positions his fielders properly — although the Indians’ unexpected success this season suggests to me that Francona has a pretty good head for inside baseball.  What impresses me more is his interpersonal skills.  He seems to be an uncommonly shrewd judge of people, and particularly how to motivate them and raise their spirits.  He has taken a bunch of players that no one else wanted and welded them into a unit that improbably won 92 games, including its last 10 games of the year.  He stuck with players like Jason Giambi when fans were calling for their heads — and they ultimately delivered.  He and his coaching staff have made a pitching staff of cast-offs and retreads into an extremely strong unit that really carried the team to the playoffs.

Too often in professional sports, coaches and managers are judged on their last game, and if their team loses the season is viewed as a failure.  That’s not fair, and I hope that doesn’t happen to Francona.  He has done a fantastic job in the manager’s seat this year, and I hope every Tribe fans recognizes that — no matter what happens in the playoffs — Cleveland is lucky to have him.

Early season Tribe Talk

Don’t look now, but the Cleveland Indians are playing some pretty good baseball . . . and they’re fun to watch, besides.

The expectations were low for the Tribe this year, and the season is still young, but this team seems to be a lot better than anticipated.  Amazingly, right now the Tribe is one of the best slugging teams in the majors.  Their starting pitching and bullpen have been solid, and they have some guys who know how to play in the field, too.  They just swept a four-game series with Oakland, and they’ve got an interesting collection of players — as well as an experienced manager, Terry Francona, who appears to be touching all the right buttons so far.

This weekend will be a bit of test of just how good this Cleveland nine might be.  The Tribe travels to the Motor City to take on the Detroit Tigers, the overwhelming consensus choice to win the AL Central and contend for the American League slot in the World Series.  Beating the Athletics is one thing, but duking it out with the mighty Tigers is another thing entirely.

Keep an eye on this team.  They might crash and burn, as has happened the past few years — or they just might surprise you.