The Cleveland Indians are probably going to open the 2017 season without Michael Brantley or Jason Kipnis in the lineup. The former for a significant amount of time, and the latter for a few days, best case scenario. And between speeding baseballs, ligaments stretched to their limits and just the cruel nature of life itself, you can bet more injuries will occur throughout the season.
The worst thing the Indians can do is panic.
Last year I wrote a post titled “Cleveland Indians do not need to win the World Series in 2016.” It was the first post of 2016, and even though it was before all the hoopla of a the World Series run over the next 10 months, a lot of readers took offense to the idea that a baseball team should have a goal of anything but a World Series in that season. There are problems with always looking ahead and never going for it all when things happen to line up, of course. However, that headline was true then, and it’s true now.
Then, the Indians were a team coming of a disappointing 2015 campaign, but they were loaded with talent and had a deep future. Now, 14 months later, they are that same loaded team, coming off November baseball with a farm system only slightly dented by a trade that brought over the best reliever in baseball. There are a couple similarities in there, and I don’t think you need a diagram to figure it out.
Where these two incarnations of the Indians differ is in what they did in the offseason. The 2016 Indians were using small moves to squeeze value out of aging players — never a bad strategy if it works. But the 2017 Indians went all-in this offseason, signing Edwin Encarnacion to a blockbuster deal and adding Boone Logan, one of the best lefty relievers on the market. Big moves, but outside of maybe making it harder justify bringing back Carlos Santana after this season,
The Indians also have the target on their back now, like every team coming off a World Series run in the middle of their window to win. While they also have the full support of Cleveland behind them, one deep playoff run will not be enough to permanently put those “same old Indians” remarks to rest. Throw in the all-in moves of the past few months and, no doubt, the temptation to panic — the temptation to do something bigger and better than what they did last year — is there.
I am not just talking about the woes of spring training, either. No doubt the Indians are smart enough to know that nothing short of a broken bone is worth worrying about in March. But there will be plenty of spots in the regular season where the temptation to sell the farm and go for broke again will be tempting. The Indians also have the benefit of being able to fill from within, thanks to a farm system that is both deep and filled with MLB-ready depth.
Erik Gonzalez is still raw, and with just 17 MLB plate appearances under his belt, he is not the ideal candidate to take over at second base for a team with World Series aspirations. But if Jason Kipnis is not going to be good to go in a couple weeks, he should be able to get the job done. Alternatively, Yandy Diaz could slot into third base and allow Jose Ramirez to take over at his natural position at second. If Yandy’s own groin injury is not too bad, that is. Again, not an ideal option for the Tribe, but the Indians have internal options without freaking out and grasping at their last straws of a window to win.
The rest of the American League Central will be taking a very different approach to the idea of panicking; another advantage for Cleveland. Unlike the Indians, the Kansas City Royals are likely done after this season, and they do not have a deep farm to fall back on. If they are on the border of competing at the trade deadline they will either panic and go after one more big piece or sell everything off. The Chicago White Sox are now the opposite — a stacked farm, but no major league roster to speak of, while the Detroit Tigers are stuck with an aging, expensive roster.
Will anything but a World Series win feel like a major disappointment right after the final game of the season? Absolutely. But that same feeling, plus a decimated farm and a team that no longer looks like it was assembled with a plan in mind would feel much, much worse. And definitely don’t trade Francisco Lindor for a reliever or whatever.
The Indians should not — and probably will not — panic. Neither should you.