Peter Gibbons: What would you do if you had a million dollars?
Lawrence: I’ll tell you what I’d do, man, two chicks at the same time, man.
Peter Gibbons: That’s it? If you had a million dollars, you’d do two chicks at the same time?
Lawrence: Damn straight. I always wanted to do that, man. And I think if I had a million dollars I could hook that up, cause chicks dig a dude with money.
Peter Gibbons: Well, not all chicks.
Lawrence: Well the kind of chicks that’d double up on a dude like me do.
Peter Gibbons: Good point.
Lawrence: Well what about you now? what would you do?
Peter Gibbons: Besides two chicks at the same time?
Lawrence: Well yeah.
Peter Gibbons: Nothing.
Lawrence: Nothing, huh?
Peter Gibbons: I’d relax, I would sit on my ass all day, I would do nothing.
-Office Space, 1999
When it comes to pitching, the Cleveland Indians are rich, as rich as anyone in baseball. Combine that with the talent on their infield, and they stand, at least on paper, as one of the most blessed teams in all of baseball. We’ve watched and relished this as talent flourished for fully five seasons now, watched as young pitchers, prospects and nobodies flourished into MVP candidates, Cy Youngs and unabashed superstars.
We’ve also watched as the organization, so graced with a combination of good luck and great minds, has put together this brilliant and yet incredibly flawed team, one that has the bones of a dominant title-condensing behemoth, and just kind of… sat on it. Okay, they spent a big pile of money on Edwin Encarnacion, and they laid out some team-friendly extensions, and it led to a really fun couple of years.
But with their talent, and the division’s lack thereof, all of last year felt a bit like a dull slog. Like we were just waiting for October to get here and finally go after that ring. Which made the hideous drubbing at the hands of the Astros all the more painful. It was like an entire summer was wasted while we waited for the games to actually count. The Indians were good last year, but not great. They’ll be good this year too, but not great. They’re still a step behind the true elite of the game.
But in a weird way, is that alright? Is their doing nothing, like Peter Gibbons with his million dollars, is there something to be appreciated there? Is the a kind of joy to be found in this choice? I like minor league baseball a lot, oftentimes it’s a better experience than going to a major league game. Sure, part of that is the cheap tickets and beer, and sometimes it’s fun to see some uber prospect come through and demonstrate to a bunch of Quad-A guys and players who have hit their ceiling in Bowie or Akron or Albuquerque what a real major leaguer looks like.
But more than anything, there’s a total lack of stakes to the minors. It’s developmental — it’s about the process, about the game itself rather than the wins and losses. The team that has the wins the last game of the season gets something, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you the Eastern League or South Atlantic League or International League champion last year. Because it doesn’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things. All that matters is that development.
That, I think, is the crux. This whole season, it doesn’t really matter. I do want the Indians to win every game, and do it in exciting fashion would be preferable. Each game is an instance where we can extract joy and grief in the moment, outside of context. We’re sure to have a lot of close games if only because the offense is nearly bereft of talent. They’re the most top-heavy team I’ve seen in Cleveland probably since I’ve been alive. With Lindor out to start the season and likely starting off slow, it’ll be Ramirez, maybe Santana and a lot of desperate hope doing the run scoring. The pitching is going to have to be on point like it’s never had to. Depending on how the bullpen turns out, there’s a lot of chance for thrills and crushing depression.
So we find ourselves in a bizarre position. One of the great pleasures of watching (and writing about) a rebuilding team is watching development of young players, of identifying future stars or hidden qualities of greatness in prospects, with no pressure to try to really compete. The Indians are, somehow, in this exact position while still being an assumed playoff team. That’s just the strength of the pitching staff and their pair of superstars, and that’s just the weakness of the division. By sitting there with their riches and doing nothing, the Indians have given the fanbase a weird gift, the opportunity to search for future stars and flourishing prospects without the stress of a tight pennant race, and simultaneously the worry of whether this rebuild will pan out because it already did. There’s still the lurking specter of another October flop, but with all the talk of cutting salary when the offseason began, it was hard to get up hopes of a big deal to fix holes anyway.
It’s a bit fatalistic, a bit nihilistic perhaps, to watch a whole season of Major League baseball and just assume it doesn’t matter. But we did that last year as we waited for vengeance in the playoffs. It made it a bit miserable, made the games themselves a bit more of a struggle. Looking at it this way — without any stakes except development — we can at least trick ourselves into believing doing nothing was the best thing that could be done in the long term, and allow us to relax and just enjoy the moment. It worked for Peter Gibbons.