Friday, July 31, 2009

Talking Heads about the Tribe

Baseball is bad when it's not about baseball. And for most of the 2009 season, the Indians certainly have not been about baseball. They've been about the talking heads of Mark Shapiro, Eric Wedge and other club higher-ups trying to explain the business of baseball.

Most fans don't want their TV screens fogged up with hot air speeches about market constraints, opportunistic trades and maximizing value. All we care about is the fact that the Indians are not a winning team. We really don't care why. We really don't care how they're going to get back to respectability. We just want Shapiro and Co. to do it, and earn their gosh-darn inflated salaries.

Friday's deadline trade of Victor Martinez was the final insult. Not to speak ill of the trio of pitchers the Indians received -- Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price -- but if Wednesday's trade of Cliff Lee removed the head of the beast, the loss of Martinez ripped out the heart, the closest thing the Indians had to a soul.

The Indians are truly a shell right now. They are a collection of players with no uniform identity, no cause for which to fight, except roster spots for next season. During Friday's game, Shapiro appeared on SportsTime Ohio's telecast, explaining the Martinez trade and reviewing the state of the organization.

Right now, that's all we have if we're on the outside looking in. We have talking heads drawing verbal diagrams and defending moves instead of players playing ball. It's like the offseason, except there is no snow on the ground.

Since talking heads are the only way through which we can really follow the Indians right now, let's do exactly that. Let's talk Talking Heads about the Tribe. David Byrne, the lead singer of the 1970s-'80s art rock band, probably never envisioned himself as a baseball sage. Well, step to the plate, David. You're up.

This is Indians baseball that Shapiro and Wedge can understand -- Talking Heads style.

Once In A Lifetime

A single off Talking Heads' influential 1980 album "Remain in Light." Also Shapiro's justification for dealing Lee when he did.

By stepping through the open door before the Phillies and Blue Jays could come to an agreement over Roy Halladay, Shapiro reasoned that he could get the best deal for the Indians. Shapiro said he was under no pressure from the Dolans to dump salary. He said this was the best move at the best time, and if he had waited, this type of deal might not have come along again.

Of course, Carlos Carrasco is the only widely-recognize marquee prospect the Indians received, and most pundits seem to project him as a middle-rotation big league starter at best. A-ball fireballer Jason Knapp might become a big league stud someday. Or he might become Adam Miller. We have time to find that out. Time is about all the Indians have right now.

Burning Down the House

A single from the Heads' 1983 album "Speaking in Tongues." After sitting through a roster purge that included Mark DeRosa, Rafael Betancourt, Ryan Garko, Ben Francisco, Lee and Martinez, the application to the Tribe's situation is kind of self-explanatory.

The trade purges of 2006 and '08 look like garage sales compared to the flame thrower Shapiro has taken to the roster in the past month. This is most definitely not a retool with an eye toward 2010. This a rebuild for 2011 and after. Grady Sizemore is the only real core player left after this detonation, and even he might be gone before the Indians return to competitive ball.

This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)

Another single from "Speaking in Tongues." But also a suitable commentary for the people who are aghast that, once again, the Indians are dealing off their best players.

You know the script: "Why does this always happen to Cleveland? Why do we always get screwed? We are fate's bastard children."

It is true that if Shapiro had done a better job at piecing together a roster this year, the Indians would have been winning with Lee and Martinez this year instead of trading them. But their departure from the Indians was inevitable.

Ultimately, it's a baseball problem, and it won't be solved until the sport adopts a salary cap, which may never happen, thanks to contentious labor relations between players and owners going back more than a century.

Don't be naive. Don't allow yourselves to be emotionally snookered by a tearful Martinez lamenting his departure on Friday. Certainly, his emotions were raw and real. The Indians represented 13 years of his life. It was the only organization he knew. But as soon as the Red Sox slide a fat contract extension under his nose, those tears will dry right up. It's still a business. As fans, you'd be best-served in not getting emotionally attached to players, especially when you are rooting for a midmarket baseball team with lagging gate receipts.

They'll leave sooner or later. That's the rub. A team like the Indians needs to develop players they someday won't be able to keep. That's the only way they can win.

Life During Wartime

A single from the 1979 album "Fear of Music," and probably a good working title for how Tribe fans feel right now.

If you shouldn't treat the events of the past week like the Apocalypse, no one is asking you to accept it with a smile either.

If there is a winter of discontent fit for midsummer, this is it. A bad season gone worse, as all the supports have been kicked out from under the local baseball team by a GM in full teardown mode.

How do you deal with it? Dig an emotional foxhole. Alcohol is good for relaxing on a given evening, but not so good as a coping mechanism. Tend to the garden, go for a run, clean out the gutters like you've been meaning to do since spring. If baseball doesn't bring you enjoyment, shove it onto the back burner. It will be there later, once they Indians figure out a new direction.

Take Me to the River

A cover of an Al Green song that appeared on the Heads' 1978 album, "More Songs About Buildings and Food." Probably also what most fans would like to do with Larry and Paul Dolan, with Shapiro and Wedge not far behind.

The reasons for why the Indians are in this mess are many. Some of them, such as a lack of a salary cap in baseball, aren't their fault. But some are. The Dolans don't have the up-front cash to invest in the team, meaning that they're heavily reliant on the team's revenue streams to make roster improvements. When that revenue dries up, there is nothing to really jump start the process, short of going into rebuild mode and trying to build a winner with a new group of younger players, which can take years.

As Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is fond of saying, money follows, it doesn't lead. In other words, you have to invest money to make money. The Dolans have invested money into the Indians organization, but they can't make the acquisitions and capital improvements that can really spark fan interest, get the turnstiles clicking and the cash registers ringing, thereby jump starting revenue streams and paving the way for more income that can be pumped back into the team.

Unfortunately for the Dolans, the net result is a fan base that is highly skeptical of their competency as owners. Skeptical fans don't spend money freely.

Girlfriend Is Better

Yet another song from "Speaking in Tongues." Also a caution to Lee and Martinez, now that they're playing in the East Coast media crucible. In a nutshell, don't wake up one morning to find out that you have a girlfriend you didn't know you had.

The unrelenting eye of the camera can turn you into a god. But it can also tear you down and pry deeply into your personal lives. I have no doubt that both you guys are upstanding family guys, but you're still professional athletes entering into contact with larger fan bases than our little Midwestern outpost. Women want you. Men want to be you. Privacy is thin. Rumors can start from a blog post.

You could let your guard down at least a little bit in Cleveland. Not so in Boston or Philadelphia. Watch your back and watch your reputation. That's all I'm going to say.

Psycho Killer

A song from the Heads' 1977 debut, "Talking Heads: 77," and probably how a lot of fans would describe Mark Shapiro at the moment. His work as GM over the past nine years does have a hatchet-job element to it. The Indians have not drafted well on his watch. They haven't had a good track record with free agents.

The only time Shapiro has had any real success is when he needs to flush a season and trade veterans for prospects. That's a definite positive quality to have in a GM, but when season after season needs to be flushed, the body of work doesn't really stand the test of time.

It's really time for Shapiro to learn from his mistakes. He's quickly approaching 10 years on the job, and his regime needs to hit for a higher average with drafts, trades and signings. If his handpicked support staff isn't getting the job done, it's time to make changes. And, Mark, please, look outside the organization. Bring in experienced baseball people and give them real authority to challenge you.

If you do that, you might take an ego hit in the short term, but your reputation will flourish in the long run.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gone with the wins

It's over. The credits are rolling, and it wasn't a happy ending.

Wednesday's trade of Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco to the Phillies essentially finishes what the Bartolo Colon trade of 2002 started.

The rebuild is kaput. Mark Shapiro's original plan is busted after seven years, two winning seasons and one playoff appearance. It's back to the drawing board, and it's going to take at least several years before any new momentum might be able to slingshot the Indians back up the standings. Until then, build up your emotional callouses and prepare for a lot of losing as the Indians try to piece their organization back together.

More and more, I'm hoping that task will fall on new shoulders, but that's a whole other column.

For now, putting Shapiro squarely in the crosshairs of blame for this deal is attempting to simplify a complicated issue by hunting for a scapegoat. There are several reasons why Shapiro traded Lee now, and at least a few of them aren't his crosses to bear. Shapiro is on the hook for who the Indians received in return, but not entirely for the circumstances that led to the trade.

First, Lee's relationship with Indians management was tenuous at best. He still held a grudge for the way he felt he was treated during his worst of times in 2007, when he was demoted and didn't make the postseason roster. Lee was able to harness his resentment and use it to better himself in a big way in '08, and after a slow start, '09 as well.

This spring, the Indians reportedly didn't want to talk contract extension with Lee because they didn't want to sign him at peak value. That probably further agitated the waters between player and organization.

With all that in mind, it's reasonable to wonder if Lee was a voice of dissension in the clubhouse, a guy who spoke negatively of management. We know how the Indians deal with those kinds of players. They get rid of them.

Second, the Phillies seemed to really want to make a move for a frontline starter. Shapiro's haul for Lee and Francisco (pitching prospects Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp, catching prospect Lou Marson and minor league infielder Jason Donald) has been met with a heavy helping of criticism by fans and the local media, but if timing was an issue, perhaps Shapiro wasn't going to find a team more willing to make a blockbuster deal than the Phillies, who are attempting to stock up for defense of their World Series title.

But the third reason for the trade is perhaps the most disheartening, because it involves the financial state of the Indians. If the Indians made this trade primarily for financial reasons, it forecasts rough seas ahead for the franchise, at least until the economy improves noticeably.

No secret, the economic nosedive of the past year has hit Ohio hard. A region already losing jobs to business flight is now losing jobs to downsizing at established companies. Widespread job loss means family budgets around the region get tightened, and discretionary spending -- like Tribe tickets -- is among the first things to go. Couple that with a lousy on-field product and a palpable distrust of Indians management throughout the fan base, and you have a recipe for rusty turnstiles at Progressive Field.

As of last month, the Indians were averaging a little over 22,000 per game. A beyond-capacity crowd for the Cavaliers, a sparse crowd for the Indians.

Less attendance leads to reduced merchandise sales, and likely indicates shrinking ratings for the club's game telecasts as people find other things to do with their summer besides watch a losing baseball team.

All of it nails Larry and Paul Dolan squarely in the wallet. And that's what makes this summer's purge of (so far) Lee, Francisco, Mark DeRosa, Rafael Betancourt and Ryan Garko so troubling. For at least the short term, we might be going retro in Cleveland. The cash-strapped Tribe of the '70s and '80s might be returning, selling off their best players to save money.

Lee was slated to make $9 million next year, should the Indians have picked up his club option. If $9 million for one year is too rich for the Dolans' blood, that's a sign that ownership might fear some very real financial distress over the horizon, if things don't pick up on the revenue front. But that's an "if" that is only truly known by the Tribe's high rollers and accountants. It's up to the rest of us to speculate.

But if we are to play the role of Bill Belichick, who famously only went by what he saw, what we see is a team that just traded their best pitcher at least half a season before it was truly necessary, meaning the fear of losing Lee to free agency was not the only factor at work here.

The Indians have performed what could loosely be described as fire sales in 2006 and '08. But the players traded in those purges amounted to assorted flotsam and jetsam that didn't play into the team's long term plans.

The trades of 2009 cut a lot deeper -- and deeper still, if the Indians trade Victor Martinez before Friday's trade deadline -- and seem to resemble a white flag more than an attempt to retool for next season.

This coming rebuild is a far cry from Shapiro's original plan of 2002 and '03. It won't arrive on the heels of a seven-year run of success and the benefit of the doubt it provides. It will arrive in the midst of an economic hurricane, with a fan base running the emotional gambit from angry to exasperated to jaded, thoroughly unwilling to spend what little mad money they have on the Indians.

The biggest battle the Indians leadership regime will have to fight -- whether it's the present cast of characters or a future regime -- won't occur between the foul lines, or even in the farm system. It will be the battle to reclaim the franchise's reputation, a battle to get the fans to believe again, both with their hearts and their pocketbooks.

Unfortunately, Wednesday's trade just made that battle a lot harder to win.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shake it up

There are countless ways to build and run a successful organization, in sports, business or any other endeavor. The ways are limited only by the variety of talents and personalities that exist in managers and executives across the board.

I write for a business magazine at my day job, and I've talked to hundreds of CEOs about how they run their businesses. Some swear by their metrics. Some manage by feel. Some believe in consensus building. Some believe in majority rule. Some believe the buck stops at their desk.

There is no one right way to do this. But as many ways as there are to build an organization, there are as many ways for it to go wrong.

As an organization, the Indians seem to be at a crossroads. Mark Shapiro and his staff laid out a carefully-orchestrated plan in 2002, one centered on rebuilding what had become an atrophied farm system, signing the best young players to reasonable long-term contracts and augmenting the core the roster with value-based free signings and opportunistic trades. The object was to get the most bang for the Dolans' buck as the Indians transitioned from the big-market fantasy land of the sellout-laden '90s to the budget-conscious, belt-tightened reality of the 2000s.

It worked, but only to a point. And "to a point" just hasn't been good enough to put the Tribe on a consistent winning track.

Midmarket and small market teams simply need to hit on a high percentage of their moves if they are to stay competitive with the big bankroll boys in New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago. Big-market teams can outspend poor drafting and whiffs in the trade and free agent departments. Smaller market teams either hit on the moves they make, or they don't hit at all. There is no safety net, no duct tape to cover the damage at a later date.

And to that end, Shapiro's plan just hasn't worked how it has needed to work. He's hit on some moves, but not enough. The result is basically an unfinished product. The Indians have a small band of promising young players, but little surrounding it. They have a farm system that has some quality talent, but not much apparent star power. They develop some players, but many more seem to languish and not realize their full potential, or have brief stints as productive major leaguers before regressing.

The net result is a lack of organizational momentum, feeding a kind of malaise that seems to have settled over the entire franchise. From top to bottom, the Indians seem to be sleepwalking down a unclear path toward unspecified goals.

Higher-ups in the organization might quickly contend that the organizational goal is very clear: to build a World Series winner. That looks great on a mission statement plaque. But is that what really motivates the front office, coaches and players each day?

I'd guess not. And if you want to kill momentum in the world of business, multiple CEOs have told me that poorly defining your objectives is a great place to start. Want to turn your organization into a collection of automatons going through the motions of work each day? Neglect to focus them on a larger purpose.

That's the danger of the "grinder" mentality that so fascinates Shapiro and Eric Wedge. It's easy to understand the logic of not wanting your players to get too high or too low over the course of a more than seven month journey from the first spring training game to the last game of the season. But in the rush to have players put on their hardhats and focus squarely on the task at hand, it's easy to go too far in the other direction.

You're asking guys to play a sport, not work on an assembly line. A certain level of passion and emotion is a good thing. If you don't have that, you have a group of uninspired, unmotivated employees who are just trying to get to the next game, and eventually to the end of the season so they can punch their time cards and go home.

This is baseball. If you play it for a living, you shouldn't be waiting for the 5 o'clock whistle to blow. But I fear that's the mentality that has grown up around the Indians. Too much Johnny Punchclock, not enough Ernie Banks.

Shapiro's mistakes in personnel management go hand in hand with the mental flatlining that has occurred on Wedge's watch. Wedge could probably do more with the players Shapiro gives him if he could inspire them to achieve more. But Shapiro too frequently hamstrings Wedge with washed-up bullpen arms, overmatched hitters and soft-tossing starting pitchers. Shapiro and Wedge might be eternally loyal to each other, but they're really not doing right by each other in the organizational hierarchy.

Having said all of that, there is still some good left in the Indians' organization. The club is not so off track that it can't be salvaged. But someone has to come in and do a thorough weeding of some of the negative undergrowth that is depriving the team of nutrients. Someone has to break the cycle.

The trouble is, I don't know if Shapiro and Co. can do it. I don't know if they're even willing to admit that there is a problem larger than injuries and a few guys having down years.

The Indians desperately need cross-pollination, whether it be in the front office or in the manager's chair. They need outside perspectives from coaches and executives who are not completely institutionalized by The Indian Way. They need strong-willed baseball minds from other, more successful organizations who are capable of coming in and telling Shapiro "You're wrong about this." And Shapiro needs to give that person real power -- not just the cop-out title of "Special Assistant."

For now, "this," as it pertains to what Shapiro is doing wrong, will remain mostly undefined. The point is, the Indians desperately need a presence within the organization that thinks differently. Right now, I gather there isn't a ton of new thought-DNA being pumped into the front office or coaching staff. And that's what Shapiro needs -- outside influences. Even if it makes him uncomfortable.

I go back to my CEO interviews. Hiring people with different opinions, people who might challenge your methods, is one of the hardest things a leader can do. But if someone in Shapiro's shoes refuses to do that, their loyalty is ultimately to their process and plan, and not to their organization.

As the general manager, Shapiro is obligated to do what is best for the Indians. Not what is best for himself, Eric Wedge, Chris Antonetti, John Mirabelli, or even Larry and Paul Dolan -- though he answers to them. His first priority should be to making the Indians better. Period. Not making the Indians better by doing it his way, with only people loyal to his plan.

We're already seeing the results of that with a downward spiral that is worsening by the year, and a noose that is tightening around Shapiro's reputation as a GM by the week.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Midsummer mish-mash

I know it's probably dawned on you slowly over the past few weeks that your life is a little less full. But you couldn't put your finger on exactly why. Then it hit you: You hadn't read an Erik Cassano column since June.

We'll just continue to assume that because it makes me feel better. I've been on something of a self-imposed summer vacation since the end of June. And by "summer vacation" I mean "Insanely busy with little available time for leisure writing."

But I've gone into my schedule with a pickax and carved out some keyboard time. So let's get back up to speed on some of the things that have been going on in Cleveland sports.

Shaq has been a Cav for almost a month now.

And in that time, the Cavs lost their top offensive coach, John Kuester, who took the head coaching job in Detroit. Immediately, everyone in Cleveland seemed to clench their bowels at the idea of Mike Brown integrating The Big Geritol Tablet into the team's schemes without the help of an accomplished offensive assistant.

But reworking the playbook to accomodate Shaq really isn't an overly complex proposition, for two reasons. First, there aren't many ways to implement Shaq that haven't already been discovered. Second, Shaq is honestly a matchup player at this point in his career.

Shaq is a low-post player, period. Even though he's a good passer, he can't play the high post all that well because he's no threat to drive and no threat to shoot when he's more than seven feet from the hoop. Take him out of the low post and he's Ben Wallace.

Offensively, the only thing he can do is take an entry pass on the block and try to find a path to the basket. If it's there, he shoots -- usually a layup, dunk or that little right-handed hook he's developed over the years. If a double team comes, he passes. That's pretty much Shaq in a nutshell. Nothing too complicated in theory. All a coach really needs are teammates who are willing to let Shaq get his 20 to 30 touches a game.

In addition, Shaq's role with the Cavs is narrowly-defined. He is here to match up with the likes of Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Rasheed Wallace. When the games become slow, plodding halfcourt mud wrestling matches, Shaq is there to try and get the tough points and tough stops inside. The games in which the Cavs will truly, honestly need Shaq's services will occur in May and June -- and maybe a dozen regular season tilts.

Against the vast majority of teams on the regular season slate, the Cavs will likely keep hammering away on what worked last year -- smaller, quicker lineups. The Cavs were at their best last year when they could run with Mo Williams and Delonte West in the backcourt, with Anderson Varejao at center. That was their most athletic, most energetic and most potent lineup.

Against teams that don't have an elite big man, chances are the Cavs will still spend much of the time playing with a smaller, uptempo lineup that will give LeBron a chance to run the floor with quick guards. Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas might find themselves on the bench for long stretches of those games.

The Anthony Parker signing was good for a Plan C.

Obviously, everyone -- Danny Ferry included -- would be ecstatic if we were sitting here right now contemplating how Brown is going to work Ron Artest or Trevor Ariza into the rotation. But that didn't happen. Blame whatever circumstances you want -- the cold Cleveland winters, Ohio's income tax structure or LeBron's impending free agency casting a murky cloud over the Cavs' future -- but they didn't get Artest or Ariza. They got Anthony Parker, and he's still a good catch for $5.5 million over two years.

Parker is the kind of player GMs love. He's a career-long survivor who had to work his way back to the NBA from Europe. He works hard, takes nothing for granted, and brings a specific set of skills to the table -- perimeter defense and outside shooting. The Cavs need both.

Parker is 34, so there is the omnipresent worry that his athleticism, already on a downward trend due to Father Time, will suddenly start skidding over the next couple of years. But when quickness starts to go, it's usually first evident when a player tries to guard someone with explosiveness, someone who can blow past in the bat of an eyelash.

Examining the signing purely through the lens of trying to win a title, none of the teams that currently stand between the Cavs and the crown possess shooting guards with that kind of speed. Kobe Bryant had those kinds of quicks in his athletic prime, as did Vince Carter and Ray Allen. All are outside shooters now. Parker can keep shooters in front of him.

Even if Parker can't play 40 minutes of lockdown defense a night, he can at least play effective defense for 25 to 30 minutes. At 6'-6", his height alone means the Cavs match up better with the other contenders. It wouldn't shock me to see Parker win the starting shooting guard's job in training camp, with West moving to a supersub role.

The Anderson Varejao signing: Good, at least for the short term.

I understand why the Cavs signed Varejao for six years and up to $50 million. He is their best big man under the age of 30. He's been a productive player for his entire career. He could have let hard feelings from the 2007 holdout fiasco fester in his mind, but he put it behind him and played ball. In part, the contract length might have been a gesture of goodwill on the part of Cavs management, an attempt to show Varejao that they're willing to go a little above and beyond the call of duty to secure his future.

Securing Varejao also helps paint LeBron a picture of what kind of team the Cavs might have for the 2010-11 season. As important as it is to maintain salary cap flexibility for next summer, it's important to begin showing LeBron who his running mates will be if he decides to re-sign or exercise his option next summer. LBJ likes Varejao, so in that vein, committing to Varejao is most definitely a positive move.

Is Varejao worth the years and dollars? To an extent. He is what he is. He'll never become even an average offensive player, he's an average rebounder at best, but his defense has improved, he's still a high-energy player and he still has a knack for drawing charges, even as the NBA promises time and time again that refs will crack down on flopping.

Ferry did overpay somewhat for Varejao, but at least he overpaid and made a half-decade commitment to a player who fits the Cavs' system. He might be best-suited to coming off the bench, but he can start at power forward and look competent, at least when he's not asked to guard Dwight Howard. Unfortunately, that's the last image we as fans have of Varejao to date, so it might color our assessment of him for the duration of the summer.

Where else can the Cavs spend money?

The Cavs have signed Heat forward Jamario Moon to an offer sheet. Moon is a 6'-8", 29-year-old small forward known for his hops and man defense. He can probably play some power forward in smaller lineups, adding momentum to the idea that the Cavs will continue to play small and quick whenever the situation allows.

But in order for Moon to become a Cav, the Heat cannot match the offer sheet, which is reportedly in excess of $2 million and, like all offer sheets, must be for a minimum of two years. The Heat are deep at the forward position and might be pursuing bigger game in the form of Lamar Odom, so there appears to be a significant chance that Miami won't match to keep Moon. The Heat have until Friday to make a decision.

If Miami does match, the Cavs will have to once again look at other options.

The Cavs worked out Sean May -- he of the notorious weight and conditioning problems -- in Las Vegas last week, but he might be headed to Sacramento. They reportedly had an interest in Warriors free agent Rob Kurz, an undrafted summer league find from a year ago. He is a 6'-9" outside shooter. The Suns' Matt Barnes has also reportedly been on the Cavs' radar, but for whatever reason, Ferry and Co. only seem to have a lukewarm interest.

An intriguing player who recently landed in the free agent pool is Tim Thomas. Bought out by the Bulls last week, Thomas could fill a need for the Cavs if they could get him to sign for their remaining $3.2 million.

Thomas is a power forward with three-point range on his jumper. If you listen to basketball pundits from around the country, an outside-shooting power forward is part of the Shaq championship equation. Every title Shaq has won has come with some help from a power forward who can pull big men out of the lane and force them to contest perimeter shots -- the so-called "stretch four." Thomas doesn't play a lot of defense, but as Shaq's wingman, he could help pull would-be double teamers away from the big guy. On a one-year or two-year deal, Thomas might be worth a reasonable investment.

The Cavs' draft was all about the money not spent.

Ferry loves doing this to us, right? That pick out of left field. Last year, it was J.J. Hickson. This year, it was Congolese small forward Christian Eyenga, who has been playing pro ball in the European minor leagues.

When the pick was first announced, my initial reaction was that the Cavs had pulled another Ejike Ugboaja out of their hat. Ugboaja was the forward taken by the Cavs with one of their second-round picks in 2006. As time has gone by, I've become convinced that Ferry essentially punted that pick away by drafting a player he never had any intention of signing. I thought he did it again with Eyenga.

Ferry did kind of move the chess pieces around by drafting Eyenga and leaving more immediate help on the board. The idea is likely that a rookie picked at No. 30 probably can't help the Cavs win a title this coming year, so why draft someone you have to sign this year?

Unlike Ugboaja, Eyenga does have a future with the Cavs. He started to turn some heads with a solid showing at the Las Vegas summer league last week, but it's still improbable that he's going to open the season with the Cavs. Especially since the Cavs drafted North Carolina swingman Danny Green in the second round. Green might not possess Eyenga's ceiling, but he's more NBA-ready and figures to open the season with the team -- and for less money than Eyenga would make as a first-round pick.

Who should the Tribe trade?

Mark DeRosa is already gone to St. Louis. There is no question that the Indians are out of contention to stay. With the trade deadline less than two weeks away, now is the time when non-contenders usually start pawning off their expendable veterans for future help.

But unlike in years part, I think Mark Shapiro needs to be a little more selective about who he deals.

There is a school of thought that says now is the time to deal Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez. They have one more year remaining on their contracts, so Shapiro will be able to ask more than the going rate for a half-season rental. But Lee and Martinez are also the club's best pitcher and hitter respectively, and if the Indians want to hold any hope for a return to contention in 2010, they probably need to keep both.

I'm not ready to surrender 2010 just yet. Watching young players like Franklin Gutierrez go to other organizations and find success leads me to believe that the first corrective step is to hire a new manager and coaching staff, preferably with a heavy influence from another, more successful organization. There is a reason why the Cavs have tried to emulate the Spurs and the Browns have tried to emulate the Patriots. It doesn't always work, but if you're going to imitate, imitate a winner.

If a new coaching staff doesn't yield results next season, or if Shapiro's loyalty to his plan is so dense that he can't bring himself to alter his philosophy, then maybe an larger-scale rebuild is in order, in which case it's time for the everything-must-go used car blowout sale. In which case, maybe it's time for the Dolans to find Shapiro's successor.

Until then, keep Lee and Martinez. And please keep Kerry Wood. He hasn't won himself a lot of supporters with his performance thus far as an Indian, but after years of watching Bob Wickman and Joe Borowski save games with smoke, mirrors and mid-80s fastballs, we finally have a closer with closer stuff. I don't want to surrender him so soon. There is always a chance he could rebound next year, and if that isn't the case, then it might be time to part ways.

Am I pumped for Browns season? Yes, to a point.

They went 4-12 last year. As far as sexy drafts go, their '09 draft was somewhere south of Rosie O'Donnell. But maybe that's part of the appeal of Eric Mangini: He's not trying to blow everyone away with his ability to make big splashes like Phil Savage did.

There was a lot of change for the Browns this offseason, as there will always be when a new regime comes to town. But they've been mostly low-key changes. The apple cart hasn't been upset, which I think was a good move.

The Browns have the players to be a decent team. They needed more stability, better leadership and better luck with avoiding injuries to realize that potential. Mangini has, at least thus far, brought the first two elements to the table. As for the third? Buy a rabbit's foot and start rubbing it.

I still wonder what is going to happen to the running game when Jamal Lewis inevitably breaks down. I still think Mangini needs to name Brady Quinn the starting quarterback and be done with it. I still question the wisdom of putting the burden to produce on the shoulders of rookie receivers Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi. But for the first time in a long time, my questions about the Browns aren't the product of across-the-board concerns with the team's overall philosophy.

I am honestly intrigued by what I'm going to see out of the Browns this year. I'm not expecting a lot right away, but I am interested to see Mangini at work.