Orbiting Cleveland: Staying positive with the Cleveland Indians

(Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)
Someone help me. It’s only March 30, but I’m already losing patience with regard to Cleveland Indians fans.

I apologize for my self-righteous attitude. Lord knows that I have been far from a perfect Cleveland sports fan.

Yet here we are. Preseason expectations for the Indians are as high as they have been at any point in this franchise’s history.

Sure could have fooled me though. Given the pulse of this fan base, you might instead believe that this team is coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons.

Instead, it’s the opposite case. You have to go back a long time to find the last time that this team was generating the type of preseason buzz it’s experiencing now.

ESPN’s David Schofield picked the Tribe to finish 90-72, the best mark in the American League.

Grantland’s Jonah Keri followed suit, picking the Tribe to narrowly win the AL Central over Detroit.

Even Sports Illustrated has jumped on the bandwagon. The sports print giant picked the Indians to win the World Series, suggesting they would beat the loaded Washington Nationals in the process. The publication even produced a regional cover complete with last year’s Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and MVP candidate Michael Brantley.

Of course, Sports Illustrated’s pick has been met with a tepid response. The most cynical of fans reference the publication picking the Indians to win the World Series in 1987, complete with a famous cover that included Cory Snyder, Joe Carter and the headline, “Indian Uprising”.

We know that story ended. While both Snyder and Carter produced at an All-Star level, the team’s rotation never came together, and the team lost an MLB-high 101 games.

It’s funny to have a chuckle and be a tad superstitious, but don’t forget the definition of superstition: an excessively credulous belief. In other words, there’s no validity to this type of thing.

Unfortunately, more than a few Tribe fans have responded to the SI cover with a response that is typical of a suffering Cleveland fan: anger and sadness. They’re not joking either. We’re talking about legitimate feelings of despair and disgust.

But let’s be real for a moment. The publication that remains the hallmark of American sports journalism just picked the Indians to win the World Series, and that’s a bad thing?

Would you rather Sports Illustrated pick the Indians to lose 100 games?

I fail to see the negatives here. My eyes only see positives.

It’s a positive for young, up-and-coming players like Brantley and Kluber to gain some national spotlight. It’s a positive that national publications are once again talking about the Indians. For the last few years we have looked for solutions to help improve attendance at Progressive Field, and major publicity like this certainly can’t hurt.

This might be a moot point if the only major piece of negativity being heard by Tribe fans was only in regard to this SI cover, but that’s not the case.

On Friday, the team optioned right-hander Danny Salazar to Triple-A Columbus. Judging by the response on Twitter, you would think the Dominican flamethrower was getting ready for a second Tommy John surgery.

Much of the fans’ backlash relates to the fact that now Zach McAllister is penciled in to be part of the starting rotation.

Arguments center around two points with regard to McAllister. First and foremost, we know that he’s essentially a one-pitch pitcher, who relies entirely too much on his fastball. Also, there’s not much of a ceiling left with McAllister. Basically, we know who he is, and we know what we’re going to get when he takes the mound. The upside and mystery surrounding Salazar is much more tantalizing.

But let’s be clear for a moment. There’s so much haste and anger surrounding  McAllister, but why? Why in the hell should Indians fan be upset with him? Because he went out and pitched his ass off this spring?

As a disclaimer, please know that Danny Salazar is my favorite player in the Indians’ system. Any of my closest friends can confirm that fact.

There is no one-two pitch combo that I enjoy watching more than Salazar’s fastball and changeup. I like what I have seen from the right-hander in parts of two Major League seasons, but I love what I know is yet to come.

That said, I believe Terry Francona made the right decision here.

I am not in the same class with sabermetrics knowledge as many of EHC’s talented writers, especially Michael Hattery, Ed Carroll and Adam Burke, who are all experts in that area. I do, however, have a basic understanding of the numbers. No one has to convince me of how Danny Salazar has a much higher ceiling than Zach McAllister. I understand that. I appreciate it.

But I also understand and appreciate baseball. The same can be said for the spirit of competition.
We can argue all we want about how Salazar deserved a spot in this rotation, but let’s look at it in the simplest of terms. This spring, in 19 innings, McAllister has a 3.32 ERA to go along with four walks and 24 strikeouts. For Salazar, it’s an 8.18 ERA in 11 innings with five walks and 15 strikeouts.

If we’re completely honest with ourselves, how could Salazar have been given this job? For Francona, a pros’ pro, what choice did he really have? He can’t just say there’s going to be an open competition in the rotation and then hand out jobs to players who don’t perform. That’s how you start to lose a locker room.

That’s not a baseball philosophy, either. That’s a philosophy that’s applicable in any profession.
This does not change my outlook on Salazar and his future with this organization. In fact, I think it’s still as bright as ever.

I thought fellow EHC Managing Editor Jim Pete summed up my thoughts perfectly earlier this week:
The reality is that McAllister did make the choice difficult. In fact, he made it borderline impossible for Tito to do anything else but give him a spot.

But that’s how it should be. Are we supposed to root against McAllister, just so we can root for Salazar? Where’s the purpose in that? What type of fans would that make us?

McAllister pitched well this spring and was rewarded for it. It’s time to get behind him, and move on.
Similarly, we all need to stay behind Salazar. He now has more time to get up to speed in Columbus, and my guess is he will back in Cleveland before long. I know that he will have more than a few fans waiting to root him on.

It’s springtime, we’re a week away from Opening Day and the Cleveland Indians are predicted to win the World Series.

There are plenty of reasons to be angry in life, but the demotion of Danny Salazar should not be one of them.

Orbiting Cleveland is the regular Monday column from EHC Managing Editor Steve Orbanek. You can contact Steve via email at Follow him on Twitter at @orbaneks.
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