Monday’s reveal of the Indians’ new uniform option was, at first glance, quite exciting.
Red is a fun color, and those 1970’s throwbacks they wore the last couple years have been really neat. The block CLEVELAND on the road blues, less interesting, but the red at least is a nice change of pace at least. Again, this is all at first glance. Then I was struck by something, a dreadful feeling in the pit of my stomach that I wasn’t been able to shake. There was just something all too familiar about those uniforms. It took me a couple hours to place it, and it curdled my blood.
Slowly but surely, the Indians are turning into the Minnesota Twins.
This is, on its face, not the worst thing in the world. There’s probably worse-run teams out there, and the Twinkies are likely the least offensive of the Indians’ division rivals, even if they did until recently have perhaps the greatest Indians bugaboo in baseball in Joe Mauer. No, at least it’s not the Royals. But aside from being an inoffensive, hard-to-hate team from way up north, there’s a decided negative connotation to the Twins garnered from their most recent real window of contention back in the late 2000’s. One I fear the Indians are on the cusp of repeating.
Remember how embarrassing by association it was that the Twins seemed to feed themselves like a sacrifice to the Yankees each October? It was terrible, and only furthered the idea that the Central was a breeding ground of mediocrity. This despite producing six league champions, six MVPs and eight Cy Youngs since 2005 — plus Johan Santana in 2004 — and the best team in baseball a few times. Even with that, people look down on the Central. Money is tighter, contention windows shorter, media coverage is lighter — its just hard to get taken seriously. Not that the Twins helped with that at the turn of the decade, just as the Indians didn’t this year. Or in 2017, despite winning 22 straight and having the best record in the league.
As I look — and overthink — the similarities are all too stark.
Sure, Minnesota did debut those red uniforms in 2016, not during their big run around when Target Field opened. But the on-field product is remarkably similar. If you look hard enough. The Indians have a pair of MVP caliber infielders, guys that are the keystones to the whole offense that they developed, just as the Twins did in the late 2000’s with Morneau and Mauer. They have a stacked pitching staff, though perhaps more frightening than Santana, Liriano and a bunch of middle of the road guys. They have a solid closer and a lot of question marks at this point in the bullpen, as with Nathan and a handful of meh.
Offensively, outside of Ramirez and Lindor there’s a lot of league-average players. Their DH posted a 112 OPS+ in 2018, and has seen his best years. In the Twins’ best years, it was Mauer, Morneau and perhaps Michael Cuddyer carrying the offensive load in Minnesota. If anything those Twins were better off if only for the presence of Torii Hunter in the outfield. What do the Indians have? Five or six question marks and a stunning list of various injuries and maladies. It’s not one-to-one, but it’s close enough to make me worry.
This is probably reading too much into something so simple as a red jersey. But between that and dumping (rightly) the Wahoo in favor of the most anodyne logo possible, they’re only forcing the issue into becoming an NPC team like the Twins seemed to be on the national stage. Combine that with how the last two seasons ended and a parallel begins to force itself into being.
The Tribe’s window remains open. But as we saw, they’re talented but hideously flawed and were taken advantage of by stronger, richer, better prepared teams. It was a story that played out in front of us several times when the Twins were at their height. If this past playoff stumble wasn’t a wakeup call, those red jerseys aren’t the only things that will remind people of the Twins. They still need luck on their side, but changes besides a new hue and different lettering are required to keep from falling into a rut, and ultimately wasting the most talent the team has had in 20 years.
That’s what’s on the line.