The Cleveland Indians’ 2011 campaign will not conclude the way the Tribe might have predicted back in late June. The Tribe was the best team in baseball at one point this season, but Cleveland struggled mightily down the stretch and will finish a distant second place to the surging Detroit Tigers in the American League Central Division.
A lot can be said about what happened to the team that caused them to fall so far in the standings. Injuries, a puzzling trade-deadline move and lack of productivity are all reasons for this decline, but there is nothing that can be done about that now. The only thing the Tribe can do at this point is look forward to the upcoming offseason to fix the holes that derailed the 2011 season.
To begin, we must analyze what led to the demise of this season. Injuries were a major factor. With the injuries, the young Tribe was forced to play younger players in roles they had never experienced. Because of this, the Indians should consider using veteran players to fill positions of need. Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner are the veteran leaders of this ball club. They also happen to spend the most time on the disabled list. This proved to be insurmountable.
Leadership needs to come from players who are on the field and know the ins and outs of the game and how to relate to the other players. Asdrubal Cabrera is getting there, but at 25 and in only his fourth full season in the majors, those expectations could be considered as a heavy weight to carry for the young shortstop. A veteran leader the Tribe could bring in does not need to be vocal or energetic, but a player who has been around the league for a number of years, knows what a winning team feels like and will be on the field day in and day out. The trade of Orlando Cabrera before the trade deadline was puzzling at best, as once again in free agency, the Indians will need to find a player to fill the void of a polished veteran. I understand Jason Kipnis is the real deal and will be a starter in the majors, but for a young team competing against teams such as mighty Detroit, Orlando Cabrera brought a hardworking, veteran, winning attitude to the team, which was noticeably missed in his absence.
The Cleveland Indians’ front office has a lot work ahead of it. It has been successful in building young talent to fill positions of need, but now this front office must prove it can put together the final pieces of the puzzle for Manny Acta to get his team a division title and a postseason visit. The five priorities of the front office will be, in no particular order, the expiring contracts of existing players, the many key arbitration cases, evaluating the minor-league talent to determine who is major league ready for a competing team, free agency and managing payroll.
Throughout this series of articles, we will examine the current roster salaries and expected salaries in 2012, examine the positional needs for the 2012 campaign, forecast the 2012 free agency period and finally look at possible opening-day rosters for the Cleveland Indians in 2012. There is a lot to get through, and it should be an exciting offseason as we end the current 2011 season on a sad note. We can now plan for the future, and continue to build the Cleveland Indians into a baseball powerhouse.