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Cheap Indians break off talks with Justin Masterson

Good grief. There’s every reason to e excited about the Cleveland Indians this year, as the young pitching staff has huge potential and they have a solid lineup. With Terry Francona at the helm and a higher budget for free agents, the Dolans finally decided to join the major leagues again and actually compete, as opposed to just acting as a minor league team for franchises who were serious about winning.

But these negotiations with Justin Masterson are a real buzz kill. Masterson offered the Indians a proposal for only 2-3 years with a reasonable salary given today’s market. Sure, the Indians have plenty of young pitching and can probably survive losing Masterson. But Masterson isn’t insisting on a ridiculous long-term deal. He gave the Indians a real option, and the should have come to terms with him.

Now they’ve given Tribe fans another reason to be skeptical, and we’ll have to hear more stories about payroll and attendence in a year when everyone should be excited about the team’s chances.

The Dolans came a long way last year in rebuilding some trust with the fans. I gave up my season tickets when they unloaded Cliff Lee for a song one year too early, and many other fans were finished with them after that abomination. Now they’re taking another step back when they should be celebrating a real contender.

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Carlos Carrasco still maturing

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco pitches against the Los Angeles Angels in the first inning of their MLB American League baseball game in Anaheim, California September 6, 2010. REUTERS/Alex Gallardo (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Carlos Carrasco has been one of the nice surprises of this 2011 season for the Indians as they appear to be building an excellent, young pitching staff. I was pissed about the Cliff Lee trade several years ago as the Indians gave up on Lee a year early in a pathetic salary dump. I usually applaud the Tribe brass for their trades, as they know how to find young talent, but they gave up Lee too early and they should have insisted on more in return.

That said, they certainly got talent back with Carrasco. He’s been dominant at times this year, though he also goes through growing pains at times. This account from the KC papers from last night’s game is interesting.

The Royals clubbed four homers Friday night, including three in the first four innings, in a 12-0 bludgeoning of Cleveland, but it was the response to those homers by Indians starter Carlos Carrasco that lit the fuse.

Carrasco followed a grand slam by Melky Cabrera, which pushed the Royals’ lead to 7-0 in the fourth, by throwing a pitch at Billy Butler’s head. That prompted an immediate ejection for Carrasco that likely prevented an on-field brawl.

“I barely got out of the way,” Butler said. “It was right at my head, and there was no way around it. I usually don’t react that way. If I get hit, I get hit. I don’t have anything to say. But in that situation, I’m going to open my mouth.”

The Royals were already coming out of the dugout and the bullpen when home-plate umpire Scott Barry threw Carrasco out of the game.

Carrasco insisted he didn’t go head-hunting.

“I didn’t throw at anybody,” he said. “The baseball just ran away. I know it looked bad after a home run, but there is nothing I can do right there. I was upset at myself, and Melky, too.”

It was hard to find anybody in either clubhouse who bought Carrasco’s version.

“He’s a young guy,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “He’s immature at times and shows his frustration the wrong way. He was talked to.”

The near bean ball came in apparent retaliation for Cabrera’s elongated admiration of his slam before circling the bases. Even the Royals acknowledged that hitting the next hitter, Butler, was within the game’s unwritten rules.

Just not in the head.

“Be a man,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “Throw at his back. Not his head.”

Cleveland reliever Chad Durbin, who replaced Carrasco, buzzed Cabrera in his next at-bat with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth. That brought no reaction from the Royals or the umpires.

Hopefully this will be a good lesson for him.

Tribe was built through trades

Cleveland Indians Grady Sizemore fails to make a diving catch on a hit by Alex Rodriguez during the ninth inning of the Indians MLB American League baseball game in Cleveland, Ohio July 6, 2011. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Grantland, the new website from ESPN and Bill Simmons, has an article from Rany Jazayerli about how the current Tribe team was built with great trades. This isn’t news to any of us in Cleveland, but it’s still an interesting read.

In June 2006, the Seattle Mariners were looking for some veteran talent and Indians GM Mark Shapiro was happy to provide it. Shapiro shipped Eduardo Perez to the Emerald City, and the platoon first basemen wound up hitting .195 with one homer for the Mariners before retiring. In exchange, the Indians received a minor league shortstop who was hitting .236/.323/.360. That shortstop was just 20 years old and already in Triple-A. Asdrubal Cabrera debuted with Cleveland the following year, and this season he emerged as perhaps the best-hitting shortstop in the American League and made his first All-Star team.

Shapiro wasn’t done toying with the Mariners and their general manager, Bill Bavasi. Seattle’s thirst for platoon first basemen was apparently unquenchable; a month after acquiring Perez they would ask for Ben Broussard, who hit .238 with 8 homers for the Mariners. At least Broussard managed to hang around another season before hanging up his spikes. In return, Cleveland obtained Shin-Soo Choo, a former top prospect who couldn’t crack the Mariners’ lineup despite hitting .323/.394/.499 in Triple-A. Choo became the Indians’ starting right fielder in 2008 and has been one of the best all-around players in baseball ever since.

Seattle finished 78-84 that year, good for last place in the AL West. Bavasi no longer works for the Mariners, and he never did find the droids he was looking for.

Two years later, the Los Angeles Dodgers needed a third baseman at the trade deadline, and once again Shapiro was ready to deal. The Dodgers received Casey Blake, a competent everyday player in the last year of his contract. Competent players with expiring contracts rarely fetch premium talent, but the Indians offered to pick up the remaining salary on Blake’s contract3, which helped them land Carlos Santana. At the time, Santana was already considered one of the game’s best catching prospects; now, he is considered one of the best young catchers, period. While Santana’s career batting average is just .236, this season he has already drawn 102 walks and hit 21 homers, and most scouts think the best is yet to come.

Cabrera, Choo, and Santana — a third of the Indians’ lineup — were all acquired for pocket lint, in deals so lopsided they would have been vetoed by your fantasy league commissioner. Yet all three trades pale in comparison to the great heist of 2002, when the Montreal Expos found themselves five games back in the wild card race at the end of June. Montreal GM Omar Minaya quite sensibly reasoned that since the Expos might not exist for much longer, he might as well sell his farm before the franchise bought the farm. The Indians sent Bartolo Colon to Montreal for Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, and a toolsy teenage outfielder named Grady Sizemore.

The last one was brilliant, but it also hurts, as Shapiro was dumb enough to listen to Eric Wedge and let Brandon Phillips go for nothing. That move alone may have cost them a championship.

Cliff Lee vs. C.C. Sabathia in the World Series

It’s hard to imagine a bigger nightmare scenario for Mark Shapiro and the Cleveland Indians. The collapse of the Indians as a contender led Shapiro to trade back-to-back Cy Young Award winners, and now they will be facing each other in game one of the World Series.

Mark Shapiro has done some very good things as the GM of the Indians. He got Cliff Lee in an incredible trade years ago when he traded Bartolo Colon in a salary dump and got back Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips (Shapiro and Eric Wedge managed to let Phillips go for nothing).

However, seeing these two pitchers facing each other in the World Series represents an epic fail for Shapiro and the Indians organization. Having Charlie Manuel managing the Phillies for a chance at his second-straight World Series makes it even worse.

The Tribe’s salary dump

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Cliff Lee pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning of their MLB American League baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts July 17, 2010. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

The trading of Cliff Lee is an embarrassment for the Dolan family and the Cleveland Indians, because they are giving up on 2010 along with this season for purely financial reasons. That’s the only explanation for this trade, and it feeds the long-standing criticisms of the Dolan family – that they don’t have the financial means to be playing in the big leagues.

The Dolans will counter that they have stepped up in the past and that the current payroll was substantial. In that respect they have a point, and Mark Shapiro and Eric Wedge need to answer for the team’s performance. But that criticism will be left for another day. The point here is that they are not willing to spend money when the inevitable adversity faces a franchise. Even good front office people make mistakes, and teams need to adjust a retool. In that respect the Sabathia trade last season was much more defensible. The season was lost, and there wwas no way they were going to be able to sign C.C., who despite his bullshit expressions of love for Cleveland and Milwaukee ended up taking the highest offer on the market from the Yankees.

That deal makes sense, but this deal makes no sense. The Indians do have a solid core group of players, and they could contend if they had Cliff Lee at the front of their rotation if they made some key moves on the pitching staff and got rid of Wedge. But now we’ll never know because the Dolans cried “uncle.”

Trading Cliff Lee, a Cy Young Award winner, for a bunch of prospects when you have another FULL SEASON left on his contract is a disgrace. No amount of spinning from Shapiro can save this one. Sure, Shapiro might strike gold again with this deal, he does fairly well evaluating other teams’ prospects, but that doesn’t really matter. The Indians are giving up for now.

I’ve shared a season-ticket package with friends for 15 years. I will not be joining the group next season.

UPDATED with more recent photo of Cliff Lee.

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