It’s time for the Cleveland Indians to start the rebuild
Don’t ever wish for your favorite team to go into a rebuild.
That’s one of my few golden rules about being a fan of professional teams, especially ones in a city that has won one championship in 57 years. The Cleveland Indians have gone through their own rebuilds in recent years. I lived through 97 losses in 2009. I watched that 2012 season that ended with Manny Acta’s firing and 94 losses. Those teams were terrible, a grab-bag of Triple-A players and journeymen veterans clinging on to their last strings of a major league career.
For lord’s sake Roberto Hernandez (then known as a much younger Fausto Carmona) was the ace. Calling for your favorite team to intentionally lose copious amounts of games for at least two years is painful. Fans should root, unabashedly, for their teams to win. The point of professional sports, experts say, is to win championships. Putting off that prospect for a prayer a few years later runs contrary to all of that.
But in recent years, it’s been a difficult obstacle for fans, including myself, to navigate. An ALDS sweep in 2018, missing the playoffs with 93 wins, then dropping two straight in an expanded playoff format. Since Game 7 of the World Series, since 22 straight wins, the performance has gone downhill.
Aided in large part by the aggressive slashing of payroll, the trading of All Star-caliber talent each offseason, Cleveland has slid into an odd position. I think this year, all the trades, all the payroll cutting, everything came to a head. Key injuries can really derail a season, more so in the NBA, but if enough players on an MLB team go down, it’ll show. The lack of depth and pitching help, coincided with the gun-shy approach the front office has taken toward new prospects has me calling for a full-on rebuild.
As we sit, with the trade deadline hours away, Cleveland is 8.5 games out of the AL Central, and a Cesar Hernandez trade to the division leader signals the Indians aren’t planning on digging themselves out of that hole. The second Wild Card is only five games away, but the teams ahead of Cleveland are much more put together.
But here’s why I’m somewhat fine calling for a rebuild. This half-hearted approach to an impending rebuild that the front office has taken is no longer working. I’ve enjoyed and appreciated the effort to extend a championship window as long as possible. But the company line that each year is a “retooling” season doesn’t work anymore. The 2016 World Series run was five years ago. Three players are still on the Cleveland Indians from that season.
Because Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff have an incredible track record acquiring solid talent and high-caliber prospects, so much so that it’s won over a certain group of the fan base. “Fine, they can trade that guy as long as these prospects work out.” Franmil Reyes, Emmanuel Clase? Holy cow. The No. 14 farm system in baseball? Well, okay.
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Cleveland’s top stars are under control for the next few years. They’re getting rid of the “stopgap” players — like Cesar Hernandez — and opening up spots for the next round of Cleveland players. Don’t go to a full fire sale. Jose Ramirez, Shane Bieber and Zack Plesac shouldn’t be traded. But it’s time to take a step back from the situation and recognize the Cleveland Indians won’t be in serious contention for a World Series in at least two years (if all goes impeccably well).
So, to the fans, the ones who maybe believe they can’t hang on to a team that loses upwards of 90 games while the young guys figure it out. To the fans who stay up late watching games, the ones overseas, the ones dedicating ample amounts of their free time to a team they can only cheer on, I recognize it’s a hard request to make.
But I really don’t think this “rebuild” will be that terrible, and — baseball Gods willing — won’t be as bad as Baltimore’s or last as long as Miami’s. The reason I’m willing to break from my golden rule is because this rebuild could be quick, and somewhat enjoyable. Sure I’ll be less inclined to attend games and spend weekends glued to a television. However, think of a full season of Nolan Jones, Gabriel Arias, Owen Miller, Andres Gimenez, etc. Think of the back end of that wild bullpen coming together, the 3-5 starters figuring out their place in the big leagues.
What difference does another season slightly above .500 make if the team ends up watching the playoffs at home? Cool, we can say Terry Francona maintained his streak of above .500 teams. Neat. But that’s all it is, a cool little bar fact.
I’ll hold my breath and gladly eat every word of this if a rebuild lasts far longer than it should. But if you disagree now, don’t apologize when you’re watching the 2024 Cleveland Guardians make a run at the World Series.