Monday, August 14, 2006

Hey Tribe: Prove it to us

Lost amid all the good feelings surrounding the Tribe's six-game winning streak, 11-run first inning and Travis Hafner's record-tying sixth grand slam of the year was a blurb in Saturday's Plain Dealer.
The Indians, it said, are interested in Yankees pitcher Octavio Dotel, who will be a free-agent this winter.
Dotel is a closer who has saved more than 70 games in his career, but he's been on the shelf all season recovering from Tommy John surgery. It already being mid-August, the likelihood of Dotel pitching this year is slim.
The Indians were interested in Dotel last winter as the kind of player they could sign dirt cheap, rehab, then take advantage of a rebound season. They took the same tack with Bob Howry and Scott Sauerbeck, and to a lesser extent, Aaron Boone.
Then the Yankees swooped in and (surprise!) offered Dotel more money to sit on their disabled list, so off he went to New York for this year.
When news of the Tribe's interest in Dotel hits the newspapers two and a half months before he can become a free agent, it doesn't give me a lot of confidence as to what kind of offseason they are planning.
This offseason, the Indians desperately need to spend some real money to keep pace in a division where three other teams have become major players. GM Mark Shapiro has himself said this offseason will not be a cheap fix.
Then again, last season, he also said the Indians were going to make a competitive offer to Kevin Millwood, an offer that never materialized.
In the end, it's not the words of the general manager that mean anything. It's the actions from the owner's box. How much money is Larry Dolan going to give his baseball people to work with this winter? Will he finally open up his pocketbook and spend some noticeable cash to add the one or two pieces that could really vault this team back into contention? Or is he going to continue to try and fool himself and everybody else into thinking that the clearance rack holds all the answers if you're just willing to look long enough?
The Tribe's interest in Dotel is an early warning sign that Dolan is still going to rely heavily, maybe exclusively, on one-year deals and minor-league contracts to build a team around the Indians' much-celebrated core.
If this coming offseason proves to be no different than the previous offseasons, my frustration might reach a boiling point. I cut the Dolans a lot of slack during the rebuilding process because I believed they were doing the right thing. While thousands of other fans screamed bloody murder over the departures of Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel, I believed that keeping an aging roster of overpaid veterans together was a sure recipe for failure in the long term.
I admired the Bartolo Colon trade even when fans scratched their heads, wondering why an ownership group that was supposed to pride itself on pitching would deal off the staff ace. I knew amassing top prospects was the only way to expedite the rebuilding process. I knew that the Indians had a pool of veteran players they could use as trade currency to amass those prospects.
While most other fans gnashed their teeth over the present, I was looking to the future.
Now, this is the future. Last year's 93 wins changed everything, and it's time for the Indians' brass to catch up.
Money must be spent. Dolan has to be willing to either venture into the upper rungs of the free agent market, or make a major splash in a trade. The sand is going to run out of the hourglass in two or three years, and if we have to watch Hafner, C.C. Sabathia and Victor Martinez depart as free agents at the end of this decade without ever having won with them, that is an unforgivable baseball sin.
With the pride of having put together a solid core of young players also comes the responsibility of doing what it takes to win with those players. It all goes back to the strong leadership this team has been lacking all year. The players play the game, but they play with a lot more confidence if they know they have a management group on the same page, willing to take the steps to back up a winner.
In Sunday's Plain Dealer, Roger Brown does what Roger Brown usually does: rip a local team to provoke hate mail from fans.
But, while I think his verdict that the Indians rebuilding project is a "failure" is overstated, I think the column serves a purpose by calling the Tribe's leaders onto the carpet.
As Brown wrote, the Indians do seem to be in more of a comfort zone when results are not expected right now. Dolan, Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge seem to be better when the pressure is off and they can speak in the abstract concepts of "next year."
But very quickly, next year becomes the year after that and the year after that. How long are we going to admire the future before it's expected to become the here-and-now?
The tone of Brown's column is the tone I am quickly adopting: "Hey Dolan, Shapiro and Wedge. You want us to believe you can win? Prove it. Because right now, you aren't winning."

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