It’s a quiet offseason for all of baseball. Between a relative freeze in the free agent market and a dearth of trades, we’re running out of things to talk about. But even in this dead winter, the Cleveland Indians have been especially quiet.
Outside of signing Yonder Alonso and a couple retread arms and bats, there’s been more exodus than roster bolstering going on. Which can get frustrating considering how they’re supposed to be contenders. Even in the silence across the game, the Yankees still added an MVP, the Astros are hot in the pursuit of Gerrit Cole, even the Twins keep getting mentioned as free agent suitors. From the Indians, silence. It’s probably not malicious.
That would be a pretty weird way to approach the off-season, huh, with a goal of villainy in your heart, with goals of team and fanbase destruction. Anyway, this isn’t what malice would look like. If the front office actually wanted to actively destroy hope in Cleveland you’d probably see things like Corey Kluber being packaged off with, I don’t know, Yandy Diaz for a bunch of low-level prospects, or outright blasting Francisco Lindor in the media for being too happy and doing karate too much. If they were a bit more careful with their evil it might be a bit harder to detect, maybe making statements about turning Mike Clevinger into a bullpen arm, or trading Andrew Miller now. Moves that have some justification on the surface, but all they do is ruin real chances at contention. So it’s probably not malicious, what the Indians are doing.
And it’s probably not stupidity that’s led to this offseason of standing pat and possibly losing out on a championship window. There have been missteps in the past — the Bourn and Swisher deals ended up being a big old mess, Boone Logan fell apart - but I’m about 99 percent sure the Indians front office is one of the more competent collections of baseball brains in the game. They put this team together, didn’t they? They saw something amazing in Corey Kluber when others didn’t, they put the structures in place to maximize the talent in Jason Kipnis or Michael Brantley or Jose Ramirez. If they were stupid they’d have spent that Alonso money on Pedro Alvarez, or traded Carlos Carrasco for a LOOGY because thought they needed one. No, the Indians aren’t stupid. That’s not why the team is where it is this winter.
No, everything that’s happened, the shape of the team, it’s simply the box they’ve placed themselves in. They’ve decided they’ll continue to compete but within reason. They’ll keep rolling out this same squad, or as much as they can, without really doubling or tripling down on any kind of big piece. Sure, they’re protecting the future by not trading Mejia or McKenzie or Diaz or anyone. And they’re being financially responsible by not dumping a bunch of cash on JD Martinez or Lorenzo Cain, even if both of these players would help them in their goal and probably not be bad investments.
But this stinks of the Twins of the end of last decade. Teams that were content with merely making the playoffs. Teams that settled. The Indians can do that. It's their prerogative to slowly let the team fade away as players age and contracts end. It’s certainly a way of running a team. And they’re probably better than those Twins teams were, so getting the gang back for one more run could work a bit better. But if everyone else around you is getting better and you merely stand pat because you don’t want to spend too much, that is a little stupid. If you want to waste the prime of some of the best baseball players Cleveland has ever seen, that’s a little malicious. Letting a great chance fall by the wayside, that’s just disappointing. That right there, that’s the buzzword of the Cleveland Indians this winter. There’s still plenty of time for something to happen, but every now and again hope could sure use a shot in the arm. Studs Terkel said hope dies last. That doesn’t mean they should let it rot on life support.