Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: A new approach?

The IPI’s Jim Pete is taking a well-deserved break from his regular plunge into all things Tribe, so I’ll be taking the reigns and manning the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario this week.

With that being said, I have to be honest: I’m not sure how positive the view looks from here.

An old cliché goes: You’re only as good as your competition. But how does that apply to the Cleveland Indians? On the surface, it might seem as if that generalization could be applicable for the Indians in a positive way. After all, the top team in the AL Central last year won only 88 games, so the thinking is that the Indians have less work to do in order to compete.

Though that’s where the problem lies. Are the Indians actually doing the work that’s necessary to compete?

Every AL Central manager and general manager understands the value of playing in this division. Because of the competition, almost every team has a chance to at least partially contend each year. For evidence, look no further than Kenny Williams, Robin Ventura and the Chicago White Sox in 2012. Miraculously, the team was able to rebuild andcontend in the same season. That does not happen in any other division last year but the AL Central.

Can you imagine what Blue Jays manager John Gibbons would give to be in the Central over the AL East? He just received a huge shipment of MLB talent courtesy of the Miami Marlins, but the Blue Jays still won’t be considered the favorites in the East. Put that team in the Central though, and Toronto would be the slam-dunk pick.

Because the division is filled with so many mediocre teams, is seems fair to believe that the Indians could compete next season provided that the team makes the right moves. The ownership obviously believes that as well or general manager Chris Antonetti would not have kept his job, and Terry Francona would never have been hired as manager. Similarly, Francona himself must also believe this because, well, why would he have ever accepted the job?

But for the Indians to actually have a chance to win the AL Central next season, the team has to focus closely two things: moves and competition. Can the Tribe make the right moves to get back in contention? And as the Indians take steps to get better, what are the other teams in the division doing to improve?

New approach?

Let’s start by taking a look at the current moves that the Indians have made this offseason. As we all know, the big move was the hiring of Francona as manager. He brings instant credibility to the organization, and his hiring seemed to signal that the Indians might indeed have a new approach.

However, this is where the view from the Corner turns somewhat bleak. So much has been said about the team’s changed approach, but the moves that have been made so far seem eerily familiar.

In fairness, the trade to acquire shortstop Mike Aviles and utility-man Yan Gomes for right-handed reliever Esmil Rogers looks like a good one, but every subsequent move has been somewhat puzzling.

Like everyone else, I enjoy a good bargain. I love to visit Marc’s or Big Lots and partake in some heavy discount shopping. But with that being said, there are a number of things I would not purchase from the bargain bin, and I believe that thinking should also apply to baseball players. A minor league deal here and there is fine, but it’s not even December, and we’ve already seen the Indians sign infielders Nate SpearsLuis Hernandez and outfieldersMatt Carson and Cedric Hunter to minor league deals. Does it seem as if you’ve seen this script before?

Spears is a career .270 hitter in the minors. Hernandez is even worse at .254. Carson and Hunter boast career minor league averages of .264 and .288, respectively. All things considered, none of these players are really that intriguing and after the Aaron Cunningham debacle of 2012, it’s easy for Tribe fans to be cynical. Is this really the new approach that we’ve heard about?

Also, while the move for Aviles and Gomes is a good one, does it really do all that much to improve the team? Aviles’ best season came last year when he posted a .250/.282/.381 line with 13 home runs and 60 RBI in 136 games. The numbers are solid, but that’s also not the kind of production that is going to immediately improve a team like the Indians.

To be honest, the best part about the Aviles deal could be the fact that he now provides security for the Indians if the team decides to part with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Aviles has shown that he can be a more than adequate shortstop, and he could certainly take on that role everyday if the Indians decide to move Cabrera should the right deal present itself.

Though, in reality, Aviles will likely spend the 2012 season as a utility man and top backup to Cabrera. His right-handed bat adds to the team, but it’s still not the kind of move that helps makes much movement in the win-loss column.

To be fair, let’s remember that today is Nov. 28. There is still plenty of time for the Indians to make some moves and improve the team before the start of the 2012 season. The only problem is that other teams are already making major splashes, and teams are also after the many coveted free agents on the market.

There’s time for the Indians to improve the roster, but there’s not that much time. This is especially true when divisional opponents have already made some moves, which brings us to the rest of the AL Central…

Competition is good?

While the Indians seemed to have acknowledged a new approach, one AL Central team has let its actions speak louder than words. Make no mistake about it, the Kansas City Royals want to win. And now.

The Royals have not made overwhelming headlines this season like the Blue Jays, but the team does understand its weakness and has set out to improve it. Royals General Manager Dayton Moore made it clear that he would look to upgrade the team’s pitching, and so far, he’s done just that.

In a calculated risk, he committed $13 million to Ervin Santana after he acquired the right-handed starter from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for a relief prospect. Santana is coming off a horrid season in which he posted a 5.18 ERA in 178 innings of work, but the season also seems to be a true outlier. His swinging strike rate remained consistent at 8.4%, and he also had pitched at least 220 innings with ERAs under 4.00 during the previous two seasons.

Moore also improved the Royals last week when he resigned right-handed starter Jeremy Guthrie to a $25 million, three-year deal. Neither Guthrie nor Santana are front-of-the-rotation starters, but they both have shown the ability to be workhorses, and either player would have immediately upgraded the Tribe’s rotation.

There are also rumors that Moore may still not be done. As recently as today, he has been linked to discussions with the Tampa Bay Rays in regard to starting pitchers Matt MooreJeremy Hellickson and James Shields. The Royals could be willing to part with some of their offensive talent in an effort to acquire one of the Rays’ stud pitchers. Again, it would be a risk, but it would be a risk worth taking, especially considering the excess offensive talent that the Royals currently have.

The Royals are not the only team in the AL Central that has made early offseason noise either. The Detroit Tigers recently signed outfielder Torii Hunter to a $26 million, two-year deal. He provides an immediate upgrade overDelmon Young and when you consider that designated hitter Victor Martinez will again be healthy going into the 2013 season, the Tigers may once again be the favorite to represent the AL in the World Series.

The Chicago White Sox too have already taken steps to improve their club for the foreseeable future. In a key move, the club reinked Jake Peavy to a $29 million, two-year deal last month. Fresh off an 85-win season, the Sox will likely again be contenders in 2013, especially considering the team’s strong starting rotation, which the resigning of Peavy helps solidify.

Outside of the Indians, the only team in the Central that has yet to make any major signing or resigning is the Minnesota Twins (unless of course you consider Jeff Clement to be a major signing). Coincidently, like the Indians, the Twins lost over 90 games last season. So, as it stands now, the top three teams in the division have at least taken steps to get better while the bottom two teams have remained stagnant.

Are you starting to see why my view from the Corner looks so bleak?

With the signing of Francona, fans expected a new approach this offseason, but the Indians have basically stood pat while the rest of the division has made some significant improvements. Like the Royals, the Indians’ biggest area of concern is starting pitching. However, unlike the Royals, the Indians have done nothing yet to remedy the situation. Yes, they did pick up Ubaldo Jimenez’ option for the 2013 season, but that can hardly be considered a move that helps the team’s rotation.

The Tribe’s record of 68-94 was good for fourth in the Central last year, and as of now, where do you think the team would finish in 2013? Fourth again? Perhaps fifth? There is certainly no evidence to suggest that the Indians are on par or close to being on par with the Tigers, White Sox and Royals.

Though as stated earlier, today is still Nov. 28. As sports fans, it’s easy to jump to conclusions, and everyone deserves time (Yes, even this front office).

The winter meetings begin Dec. 3, and there is still plenty of time for the new approach to take shape. But of as of now, it’s hard to be hopeful. Competition supposedly offers incentive to progress, so if that’s the case, the Indians better get on that because this competition looks to be pretty darn good.

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