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Baseball Told the Right WayIn-depth Baseball analysis on various topics regarding the sport we all love!
The Indians in 2006......next year, who knows.........
The Cleveland Indians re-signed closer Bob Wickman to a one-year $2.75M contract. I've already mentioned here how much I like the Indians. I liked them and the Padres before last season (can we forget about the Mets already?), and I like the Indians even more moving forward.
Realistically, if the Indians' young starters take a step forward, they get one more quality SP, and fill out the bullpen, they have a very good chance at competing for a World Series next year. That is three really big "ifs" but I can see it happening.
With that said, Bob Wickman is not the answer. Wickman has consistently been an above average reliever, and I expect him to be that again in 2005, but the Indians' problems in the pen run much deeper. They need several more quality arms.
And now I'll separate my trust in an organization that makes sound moves (Cleveland) and one that makes me shake my head (see all previous entries below). The difference in my trust is that I think the brass in Cleveland knows Wickman is not the answer.
I also think the Indians' brass is planning on winning the division next year, and won't be making a big push for the World Series until 2006.
Attendance at Jacobs Field has plummeted from the 3.5 million in 2000 (when they set the record for consecutive sellouts) to 1.8 million last year. Fans in Cleveland loved the new ballpark, but they weren't willing to go watch a team in the rebuilding years.
I think it's safe to say casual (and ballpark-going) fans lag behind the hardcore baseball fan (that I assume is reading this now) and weren't aware of just how good the Indians were getting. After 2004, though, the word is out. It's about time for the fans in Cleveland to start getting excited again. Actually, its a little overdue.
Let Cleveland sign another solid bullpen arm, maybe pick up a Clement or a Radke off the free agent market. Make a couple relatively small moves for 2005. The fans will start coming back to the park. Then in 2006, when they start selling out Jacobs Field again, the Indians can take on some salary in trade or in free agency and they can patch any holes revealed during 2005.
The other reason it might not be Cleveland's time yet: Their biggest weakness, the bullpen, is an area of unbearable scarcity in the free agent market. There is no Keith Foulke out there to solidify a bullpen. The best arms available all have question marks next to their names, and after the top names, there is a pretty big drop-off.
Troy Percival already signed, good move by the Tigers jumping on the best arm early. Armando Benitez looks to be the best left. And then you have guys like Rob Nen, Rheal Cormier, Chris Hammond, who are probably the next best, but not really elite relievers. There are also guys like Jeff Nelson, Terry Adams, Chad Fox, Mike DeJean, Antonio Alfonseca, Buddy Groom, Matt Mantei, David Weathers, and Ramiro Mendoza, all guys who have had some success in the past, but are not exactly people to count on to solidify a bullpen.
Out of all those, you can hardly hope to build a bullpen from scratch, which is essentially what the Indians would be doing. So its probablly better for them to wait, or for them to acquire somebody closer to the trading deadline.
For anybody looking to add bullpen help (uh, everybody except the Angels) there isn't much to choose from. This is only good news to the sellers. Bad teams with a piece to trade, and Armando Benitez's agent are pretty much the only ones happy to receive that news.
All this means is that teams with major holes in the pen will be looking for creative ways to fill them. Expect a lot of AAA relievers to be drafted in the Rule V draft. Also expect a lot of interest in someone like an Ugueth Urbina come trading season. If I were a GM, and I needed to get creative, I'd explore the option of turning one of the starters out on the market into a reliever. Some marginal starting pitcher like a Paul Byrd, or a Paul Wilson might be open to the idea of pitching long relief for a contender. Maybe someone gets lucky and hits on a good one, kind of like the Cubs did last year with the thought-to-be-washed-up Glendon Rusch. But when even Rusch is getting two year deals, you know its going to be a tight race to fill out the pen.