Orbiting Cleveland: Putting things into perspective

Sometimes perspective is everything.

Perspective is what many Cleveland Indians fans are now searching for after Wednesday.

Some seem to have the perspective that the Indians’ run to the postseason could be considered a flop. Maybe there is some truth to that.

After all, the Tribe was shutout 4-0 by the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Wild Card Game, and some of the numbers are just staggering:

  • The team left nine men on base.
  • They went just 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
  • Their top three batters in the lineup (Michael BournNick Swisher and Jason Kipnis) combined to go 0-for-12.
  • The Tribe actually outhit the Rays 9-8, but could not muster any runs.

Clearly, by all accounts, this was a bad game for the Indians.

Yet, here I am to offer a different perspective, and from my perspective, it appears as if the best is yet to come.

Of course, statements like that seem somewhat trivial, especially following a playoff loss, but this is also a statement filled with accuracy.

The accomplishments and steps made in the first season with Terry Francona at the helm should not and cannotbe discounted. The team made incredible strides this year, including:

  • The Indians finished 92-70 to claim home-field advantage in the American League Wild Card Playoffs.
  • The 92 wins represent a 24-game improvement from the 2012 season where the Tribe finished 68-94.
  • Five starting pitchers (Justin MastersonUbaldo JimenezCorey KluberScott Kazmir and Zach McAllister) all won at least nine games for the Indians.
  • The Indians finished tied for fifth in the MLB in runs with 745.
  • The team’s ERA of 3.82 was 15th in the MLB, but it was at its best in the second half of the season as it was 3.13, which was the fourth best mark in the MLB and second best in the AL.

The pundits may look at the numbers above and say, “Okay, yes that a looks great, but where did it ultimately get you? All it led to was a loss in the American League Wild Card Game.”

Anyone who makes such a claim would be partially correct. Yes, the immediate result of the season was a loss to the Rays on Wednesday.

However, this past season could also have a huge effect on what the future begins to look like for the Indians.

In many ways, the 2013 season was much like the 2005 season. In 2005, the Indians finished 93-69 and just two games out of the American League Wild Card.

That 2005 team was led by a strong contingent of young players who were beginning to come into their prime. For example, that was the first full season for Grady Sizemore and he flourished as he hit .289/.348/.484 with 22 home runs and 81 RBI. Travis Hafner was also an emerging slugger, and he was dominant at the plate as he hit .305/.408/.595 with 33 home runs and 108 RBI.

The team also had a trio of young controllable starting pitchers in C.C. SabathiaCliff Lee and Jake Westbrook, who all made strides during the year. Not one of the three starters was above 27 years of age, and it appeared as if they would play a huge role in leading the Indians to future division titles in the years to come.

Given the talent on that 2005 squad, it seemed reasonable to conclude that the core was in place for the Indians to enter into a 5-year window or so where they would be competing for the divisional crown year in and year out.

Yet, we unfortunately know that that core of players only made it to the postseason once, which came in 2007 when the Indians finished 96-66 and came within a game of winning the World Series.

Similarly, it now appears as if the Cleveland Indians are about to enter into another window of contention. The pieces are in place for the Tribe to remain competitive through at least the 2016 season.

In fact, the following key players are under team control through at least 2016:

That window of contention could really be extended through 2017 as many players on the above list will also still be under team control through that season, including:

  • Jason Kipnis
  • Carlos Santana
  • Yan Gomes
  • Nick Swisher (Vesting option for ’17)
  • Michael Bourn (Vesting option for ’17)
  • Bryan Shaw
  • Cody Allen
  • Corey Kluber
  • Zach McAllister
  • Danny Salazar
  • Jose Ramriez
  • Lonnie Chisenhall

Knowing this, it’s impossible not to be enthused about the future potential of this team. So many of the players that were to key to this year’s 24-game improvement will continue to be in the fold in the years to come.

Also, there are other reasons for further optimism. Two-time All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera will be entering the last year of his contract heading into the 2014 season. While there are mixed opinions as to whether this is a good thing or bad thing, one thing that is for certain is that shortstop is a key position for the Indians.

Thankfully, Cabrera’s status could eventually become a moot point due to the presence of Indians’ top prospectFrancisco Lindor. By all accounts, Lindor has the potential to be a game-changing Major League shortstop, and he could even find himself in Cleveland at some point next season.

Of course, prospects are just that — prospects — and there’s always a chance that he does not quite pan out. Yet, even if that is the case, does anyone expect him to not at least post a WAR that’s better than the 0.6 and 1.2 that Cabrera posted this year according to FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, respectively?

Yes, things are really starting to look up for this Indians club, which brings us back to Wednesday night. The loss was a tough one to swallow, but its value cannot be denied.

This is a team that has aspirations of consistently playing in the postseason, and Wednesday was the first taste of postseason baseball for many of these players. The stage certainly will not feel nearly as big the next time this team is able to advance that far.

Also, many of the key components of a consistent winning baseball team are already in place. For starters, the team has young, bright offensive baseball players in Santana, Kipnis, Gomes and Brantley. They also have seemingly found their ace to build around for years to come in Danny Salazar.

The key now is making a few moves to ensure that consistent winning does become a reality. One of the first steps that needs to be taken is working out some sort of extension with Brantley, and it does appear as if he should come at a fairly reasonable price.

Additionally, the Tribe will be in much better shape moving forward if they’re somehow able to resign two out of three in Scott Kazmir, Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson. They’re in good shape already because they have Salazar, Kluber and McAllister under team control for years to come, but teams can never have enough pitching. We saw firsthand this season how important it is to have a multitude of arms to turn to.

Indeed, it does appear as if this team and its situation mirrors the 2005 team more and more. The 2005 team had many of the right ingredients in place and seemed poised for years of contention.

Unfortunately, we know how that story ended, and it does prove that things don’t always happen just because theyshould happen.

However, there is one glaring difference between the 2005 squad and this team — Terry Francona.

The teams that followed the 2005 season probably did underachieve quite a bit, but they also had Eric Wedge as their manager. Wedge certainly had his moments, but there’s no way that anyone can make a case that he inspires and motivates like Francona.

The reality is that Wedge is probably not even half the manager that Francona is. Just think about what Francona was able to accomplish with this group of players in less than a year.

Knowing that, what do you think he can accomplish in two years? Three years? Four years?

There are always so many debates about what’s most important for a team to have consistent winning. Some may claim it’s a slugging hitter while others may point to an ace. The truth of it is that it’s neither — it’s the manager.

And that’s the best thing about the Indians right now. This team already has the most important thing that it needs to be a consistent winner in Terry Francona.

He’s been to the top of the mountain before, and he’s determined and energized to have the Indians enjoy the same success he had while managing the Boston Red Sox.

So now think back to Wednesday’s loss. Ignore the bad statistics. Ignore the shutout. Ignore the lack of production from the top of the lineup.

Instead, think of the red sea of screaming fans waving their white towels.

Think of a fanbase that may finally be starting to regain faith in an organization.

Think of 10-straight wins, and a team that needed every single one of them to get in the playoffs.

Think of a core of young players that will remain a part of the Indians for years to come.

But most importantly, think of how you felt exactly one year ago after the Indians had finished 68-94.

Yep, sometimes perspective is everything, and I dunno about you, but from my perspective, things are looking good.

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