By Josh Flagner
When the Cleveland Indians opened the 2012 season in lackluster fashion, there was no shortage of heavy criticism of the front office going around among fans.
The cries for General Manager Chris Antonetti and President Mark Shapiro’s head were being broadcast from the mountaintops of Twitter and Facebook for all to hear. The Indians had needed a right-handed bat all spring, yet none were brought into the fold. The Indians struck out on free agent acquisitions. The Indians were about to lose big time on the Ubaldo Jimenez for Alex White and Drew Pomeranz trade.
Not only were fans calling for the heads of the front office, but there was talk of gathering outside of the Player’s Lot at Progressive Field with torches and pitchforks to hunt for Manager Manny Acta.
To some fans, it was Acta’s handling of starter Justin Masterson that led to the home opening loss. That too much Chris Perez and too much shuffling of the lineup is what caused the team to lose four of its first five games.
The criticism came fast and it came harsh. And largely it was deserved. What’s not fair about the outcry levied against the team for its on field foibles is the fact that those missteps have discredited the things that the Indians do well for so many fans.
Even after this three game winning streak, any mention of social media or wind turbines are met by many with derisive comments about spending too much time giving away suites and not enough time signing Vladimir Guerrero. (OK, maybe not a guy with Greg Oden legs, but you get my point.)
I always struggle with this argument between doling out criticism for one thing and giving praise for another. I often agree with the skeptics the baseball decisions this front office makes are always the best decisions. Or, at least, they’re not the best decisions based on my knowledge of the situations and the team’s needs. (Of course I’m an expert in Indians roster moves and dealing with agents. I’m piling up front office experience. I’m up to almost zero years.)
But not making a big offer to Prince Fielder doesn’t mean that the Indians don’t deserve credit for trying their hardest to make the fan experience at Progressive Field as exciting as it can be. The easy way to pick at that sentiment is to mention that having a consistent contender will make the ballpark experience more exciting than a twitter account or fried cookie dough ever could.
I agree, but I can’t see that having a consistent contender is going to happen anytime soon. This ownership group is too concerned with juggling numbers than it is with returning this team to its mid-90s form. Some would argue that the numbers getting juggled are the Cleveland version of Moneyball, but I don’t think that’s the case.
I think the numbers that keep this front office from being able to make moves are the income and attendance numbers that ownership keeps using against the fans. The Dolans have convinced themselves that low attendance and lackluster STO ratings will keep them from ever contending for championships on a regular basis. I’m trying to absolve the front office staff from some of their perceived failings when it comes to signing players, but it seems to me that it’s fair to wonder if the biggest difference between the current Indians the Indians we all wish they were isn’t between Shapiro and former General Manager John Hart but between Larry Dolan and Dick Jacobs.
I contend that the Tribe front office deserves credit for making something out of nothing. I have to imagine that the front office is working under a constricted player budget that restricts their ability to sign expensive players for long term contracts. Of course Indians executives wanted to keep Cliff Lee, sign Prince Fielder, and extend Asdrubal Cabrerra to a longer term contract. But doing those things, or any of the other things that the Rangers, Angels, or Tigers do aren’t possibilities under this ownership group.
Could Mark Shapiro the General Manager have gotten a contract done for CC Sabathia? Maybe, but we’ll never know because he wasn’t given a chance to try. What Shapiro the President and the rest of the front office staff can do is try to keep the fans as happy as they can without having the means to do it on the field.
The Indians have broken ground in social media and fan interaction, and if it weren’t for those efforts I’d probably be writing columns about the next city that my beloved Indians would be building a ballpark. In a sports landscape that’s recently seen the Seattle Supersonics become the Oklahoma City Thunder, keeping a team is right up there with winning where you are.
Ultimately, the fans have the right to be critical of some of the Indians front office moves. All fans have that right. But those issues shouldn’t take away from the praise the Indians deserve for the positive marketing and unique fan interactions that keep the Indians on the forefront of our minds regardless of the team’s record.
The truth of Cleveland summers presided over by this incarnation of the Tribe is that for every win on the field there’s a loss off of it, and vice versa.