Can the 2014 Indians Be Built to Lose?

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What Happens When the Front Office Tries Too Hard?

When it comes to Hot Stove time, every fan’s mind  turns toward ways to make their favorite team better, hopefully good enough to win a title or two, or at least play meaningful baseball in September. The Cleveland Indians have already gotten started, dumping Chris Perez, signing Jason Giambi to a minor league deal and acquiring Colt Hynes from the San Diego Padres to bolster the bullpen. All three are positive moves, and financially sound because that’s just how the Tribe has to bust it. Smart money and  careful deals can be the difference between playoffs and pointlessness.

But what if we wanted to do our damnedest to make this team as bad as possible? A squad that won 92 games in 2013, how quickly can they turn it around? This doesn’t just mean trade Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana and have Nick Swisher pitch, because nobody in their right mind would do that. In the spirit of the saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, how could the Indians front office drag this team to the depths, but with heart?

Sep 20, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona (17) in the dugout during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The place to start is plainly the bullpen. After all, what better way to doom a team than to make sure no lead is safe? Plus it practically insures the fans will stop showing up by May. A blown save or five, a couple crooked numbers in the seventh and just like that you’ve got fan revolt and player depression.

The Tribe already has solid arms with Cody Allen, Vinnie Pestano, CC Lee and others in the minors, but work can be done. For instance, keep Pestano as a late innings guy. He’s been good before 2013, but this year saw a velocity drop leading to his DL’ing. Perhaps have Allen close, he’s got the stuff. I’d say sign David Aardsma to bolster the pen. Realistically it’s hard to avoid Allen making it to the back of the pen, so Aardsma has that veteran presence so valued by old school guys that we can’t get away from and he’s still able to get guys out. At worst, he’s better than Chris Perez was this season and he’s available for cheap.

For middle relief, they already acquired Colt Hynes from the Padres so Joe Smith’s old bridge to the closer, change of pace side-armer role might be filled. BUT, he might do it poorly since he’s probably more cast as a LOOGY. The jump in his strikeout rate is intriguing – 11 per nine in the minors this year, compared to a 7 per nine rate for his career. Plus he got blasted in 17 major league innings, many of those in pitcher haven Petco Park. The word “intriguing” is the key to really all these moves.

I’d add LaTroy Hawkins as well, see if you can’t squeeze another year out of the old boy. Koji Uehara was great this past season and he’s 37, why not a 40-year old? Hawkins wasn’t bad in 2013, a 122 ERA+ over 70 innings for the Mets can attest to that, but he’s still going to be 41. Guile and deception can only get you so far, especially in the bullpen. With the way Francona loves his pen it could go south quickly.

If all else fails, get Nick Hagadone from the minors. Is there anything more tantalizing than a pitcher with great stuff and some crazy on the brain? Hagadone is the kind of guy that strikes a guy out, walks the next then gives up two doubles, all on 95+ fastballs. It’s brilliant, it’s obvious, it’s a perfect choice.

They’ll need some starters with Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir leaving and though they might try to get one of them back, that old nemesis Money will rear its’ head. It sounds like Ubaldo is the best shot, but there’s been chatter that Tim Hudson could be on their radar and that’s the exact kind of player I am talking about. Hudson has been a fine pitcher, a career 3.44 ERA is bolstered by a 3.77 career FIP, and even 2013 wasn’t too bad for him, 3.97 and 3.44 in 131 innings. But he broke his ankle brutally to end his season, and he’s 38 years old. As good as Tim has been, he reminds me too much of Derek Lowe.

Some other names springing to mind are Bruce Chen , Bronson  Arroyo and Scott Baker. I almost added Nick Blackburn because he’s one of those carbon copy pitchers the Twins have popped out the last decade or so, but he’s just been bad the last couple years, capped with a 56 ERA+ last season. There’s no way to talk oneself into that. Baker could be good, he’s posted an above average ERA+ most of his career, but he missed most of the season with an elbow issue and even if he were fully healthy, everything the Twins do in building pitchers rubs me wrong. They rely on a strong infield defense and pitching to contact, and the Indians as currently constructed can’t handle that, especially on the right side of the diamond. Baker was rehabbing most of 2013 and he’d be a hope signing more than anything, but outside of a minor league deal there’s nothing I want from Scott Baker I can’t get more guaranteed from another pitcher. As they say, you pay for talent and hope for health, and he never had a host of the first.

Chen and Arroyo are similar, both older guys that never lived off stuff. Of the two I’d rather have Arroyo, but even when you’re a control pitcher your late 30’s are a time for tailing off. Not everyone can be Jamie Moyer, though a part of me does believe Arroyo could be that kind of pitcher. And that’s the part of me that’s going to get me in trouble. Signing him would be looked on as shrewd, but I don’t think it’d end that way.

Chen is dangerous though. Some might want to be fooled by a pretty good 2013 with his 126 ERA+, but he only started 15 games and he’s 36 years old. He’s never been that good, a career 96 ERA+ can attest to that, and he relies once again on deception and weak contact. Pitchers like that aren’t hard to be had and at this point there’s no upside to Chen, except maybe some secret intelligence on the goings on in the Royals organization. It could help the Indians learn what not to do.