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Building frustration at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

(photo courtesy of Jason O. Watson/Getty Images North America)
As Cleveland pulls out their collective brooms hoping that the Cavs complete their NBA spring cleaning in sweeping form today, and Browns fans anticipate two draft picks in the upcoming first round of the NFL draft, Indians' fans are getting set to burn down the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario after a 6-10 start.

Perspective?

In Terry Francona's tenure as the Cleveland Indians' manager, the Tribe just hasn't been very good in April. After 16 games in Francona's first year in 2013, the Tribe was an identical 6-10. Last season they improved...all the way to 7-9.

Let's dig a little further back.

Tito was a pretty good manager in Boston before his tenure in Cleveland. In his first six seasons there, from 2004-2009, the Sox were a combined 61-35 after Game 16, and never had a record that was worse than 9-7 at this point in the season, and even that was only once.

Not too bad, but not the entire story.

In 2010 and 2011, his final two seasons as Red Sox manager, the losing trend began. His 16-game record was 6-10 and 5-11 those two years, giving him a combined 24-50 record over his final five seasons as manager.

Talk about a complete change in direction.

To be fair, in each of those first four seasons in which Francona clubs have stumbled out of the gate (the fifth is yet to be determined), the teams have finished 89-73, 90-72, 92-70 and 85-77, and in all but one of those four seasons, his clubs finished better than the Pythagorean projections. No, it's not a perfect record adjuster, but does give us a decent point of reference to figure out if the team was performing up to expectations at the end of they year in connection to their poor start.

Does this make a "poor start" okay?

Of course it doesn't. It's complex, and it often ties into a multitude of things, including player performance, managerial decisions, roster construction and, well, people just paying more attention. A lot of guys are starting the season off slow, and with Brantley on the shelf to start the year and Gomes getting injured shortly after the seasons started, there are manageable reasons to explain some of the struggle.

Without Brantley and in particular Gomes, and thanks to slow starts from guys like Brandon Moss (two-homers and seven RBI not withstanding) and Jason Kipnis and Michael Bourn and Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall...and...well, just about everyone offensively, the team just hasn't looked very good, minus their top four starters.

We all have our takes, and while it is far too early to sweat the record all that much, there are several disconcerting pieces to this team that just have to improve for this team to get better.

Terry Francona's decisions

I want to preface all of this by saying that Francona is likely the best manager that the Indians' have had since I've been a fan, and I'm 43 years old. This is obviously an arguable point, and some could say that it's partially because the Indians haven't had that many really good managers, but Francona would likely stand out regardless.

No, he's not perfect for every situation or every team, but who is.

He and his team just has to win, especially when they are expected to.

If he or that team doesn't, you always have to point to the manager. That's just the way it works. Some of the criticism always merits consideration, and some of it is garbage, but when there's smoke, there's often fire, and Terry Francona has had faults early in this season. I'm fine admitting that (would be fun if others would admit opposite views, but that's for another day, and another time) because there are rarely absolutes in anything, even though we live in an era of absolutes.

The stand out issue with Francona at every stop in his tenure is the loyalty that he has to his players. It's a double-edged sword. There's no doubt that Francona's presence in the Indians organization allows them to attract players as free agents, and more importantly, makes this team more attractive in keeping their potential free agents.

Players trust him, and he spends a multitude of his time in and out of the locker room building that trust. I talked about this in my last Corner, and it certainly is a valuable commodity to any team. No, it's not trendy and can't be measured (so hard to validate), but does play a part in strong finishes.

But, can someone explain to me how Mike Aviles finds himself as a major cog on this team? Don't get me wrong; Aviles offers some value as a 25th guy on the bench, who can kind of play a bunch of positions. You know, he's a plug-in at best, right?

I can see it.

You can see it.

Why can't Francona?

Hell, every roster scenario in my dream booking doesn't have him on this team to start spring training, let alone right now. I'll get to that in a second.

In my estimation, the Indians currently have Michael Brantley, Brandon Moss, David Murphy, Michael Bourn and Ryan Raburn, who all are better outfielders than Aviles. Jerry Sands is too, but who's counting.

That negates his value as a utility outfielder, since he just isn't any good. The fact that he's played centerfield this year (and was a BIG reason in a loss) is ridiculous, and that he finds himself anywhere near the top of the order is equally ridiculous.

When I first saw Aviles and CF next to each other on twitter the first time, I thought it was a joke. It wasn't.

What about Michael Bourn?  He's just not very good. I've been an apologist of his over the past two-plus seasons. Maybe it was the injuries. Maybe it was age. But, if he could just be healthy, he could reach glories of year's past.

Nope.

You can pull out some weeks here and there where he's been good, but it's never been consistent, and mostly horrifically inconsistent. If you are hitting lead-off, you need to get on base...period. His OBP with the Tribe has never been above .316, and is a combined .311 in his 251 games as a lead-off hitter.

Does Francona need more trust with Bourn? These guys have been together now for 2 1/2 years. If he can't handle getting bumped down to the 7-9 spot in the order at this point as a 32-year old veteran to take the pressure off, then what's the point of building up trust to begin with?

I suppose then the argument becomes, "Who should lead off?"

I'll give you two: Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana. Neither are guys that I'd want to lead off permanently, but I would consider both as sparks to a struggling offense. Brantley has a career .345 OBP, and coming off an injury, would be an ideal straw to stir the drink at the top of the order to shake things up.

I first mentioned Santana in both 2012 and then again in 2013 as a lead-off hitter in a couple of podcasts, based simply on his ability to take walks and get on base. I know Scout.com's Jeff Ellis has mentioned this a few times as well.

Again, it's out of the box, and it's nothing that I'd want to do on a permanent basis, but on a team that has so many freakin' solo home runs, it might be nice to get a guy on base first (of course, we'd need Santana to likely drive himself in).

Ideally, the two guys I want to have with the most at bats on this team are Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley, because they'll make things happen. Unfortunately, that's never going to happen with a lineup that's struggling overall, but perhaps you move some guys up on a temporary basis.

You could tinker in other ways. Jason Kipnis has hit lead-off this year, and I don't hate that when he's hitting the ball and getting on base, but he's not. I'd still give it a try to shake things up a bit, and likely move up Jose Ramirez to the two-hole, although he hasn't been getting on base either.

You could get really radical and bring up a guy like Tyler Holt or James Ramsey, but the construction of the roster makes that realistically difficult for anything long-term without doing something with either David Murphy or Ryan Raburn.

I know, you're thinking Jerry Sands, but you have to believe he's a 'placeholder' for Nick Swisher. That opens up another can of worms (the term placeholder, and the name Nick Swisher), but likely only because of the microscope many are taking with the Indians lineup at this point.

The problem with all of these roster ponderings is that none of them take into account which side of the plate these guys hit from, and how Gomes' absence is more than just a defensive issue.

It also doesn't take into account players that Antonetti and the Indians' front office wants to "season" a bit in the minors, either because they don't deem them ready, or are trying to protect them for other reasons.

Fans can be fairly unambiguous with their fantasy roster moves, but the life and times of a baseball team are rarely that. There's nothing more ambiguous than running a baseball team, but let's save that conversation for when and if we really need it.

Player Performance

There are other things I could point to under the microscope of April depending on your agenda, but this team just isn't hitting the baseball, Friday's 13-1 Tigers' drubbing not withstanding.

You don't have to get really fancy with it either. We've already talked about the top of the order, and the gap created by Brantley to start the year, and Gomes going forward, but the bottom of the lineup has looked like something straight outta Manny Acta.

If you squint your eyes, Jerry Sands starts looking like Russ Canzler or Shelley Duncan (he hasn't played that badly, but c'mon, this early in the season?)

Chisenhall and Perez haven't helped out matters, and Jose Ramirez hasn't done anything anyways. With Moss struggling, it's not been pretty.

Top to bottom this line-up just has to hit better. If it does that, a lot of the issues that are being brought up by everyone and their mothers not involving player performance on offense goes away. It's easy to bitch about Aviles when virtually the entire rest of the lineup is playing worse offensively.

The team is slumping, and what makes it a lot harder to deal with is that Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and now Danny Salazar have been so good. It really helps focus the microscope when there are wasted performances.

My god, I'm looking forward to Nick Swisher returning.

I know, I know, I need help.

I'm hesitantly worried about this bullpen. The Indians have to have a great bullpen to be successful. Cody Allen has struggled, and Bryan Shaw has as well. Because of where they pitch, it stands out, and when you take into account how many innings they've pitched over the past couple of years, it's worth concern.

But they'll be okay.

I'm not there yet...not yet.

There is a lot of help to be had in Columbus should the Indians need it, and I do think Allen will be fine.

Not there....yet...

I'm not going to get into the construction of the roster all that much here, since it's fairly muddy with regards to where Francona's decision making ends, and Chris Antonetti's begins. It's just the facts. Francona and Antonetti are as cohesive a unit as you could have in the bigs, and you can throw Shapiro into the pile as well. This isn't to say that there are specific day-to-day things that Francona does, that Antonetti doesn't have a say in and vice versa.

It really is all about the agenda with regards to who you point to here. Of course, that's a reasonable statement to make, and we live in a land of extremes.

I mean, this team has Ryan Raburn (who is playing well), David Murphy and Jerry Sands on the same roster. At best, they need one of those guys. At worst, they could make do without any of them.

I'm a huge Tyler Holt fan, and while I'm not jonesing for Zach Walters the way many of my fellow EHCers are (I'm likely about to get voted off the island), there are players that are, or will be available that can do the same things (or more) at a fraction of the cost.

James Ramsey is another guy with cult status who is available, and I'm counting down the days until I don't have to waste time talking about a guy like Murphy, and have to listen to ten guys tell me ten different ways in which I don't understand Murphy's value when there are better options there.

Hello Danny Salazar, I see you and that curveball...;). I've enjoyed watching him continually prove people wrong over his professional tenure, including his first two starts this year. Like I said from the start: The Indians front office and Terry Francona KNEW they were going to bring up Salazar by the end of April. Perhaps the bottom of the rotation expedited it by a start or two, but this wasn't a snap decision.

It was in the works.

The Indians don't make snap decisions unless they are in trouble, and this team really isn't in trouble.

No, they haven't had plans to move him to the pen, nor will they ever. No, they weren't worried about "Super Two," or at least it wasn't their priority. Maybe they needed to wake him up a bit. Maybe they just needed to give him continuous starts. Either way, the move up was planned from the start.

Will they try and limit Salazar's service time this year, so that he can't lay claim to Super 2 status? In a purely snarky sense, I hope they don't. I'm so sick of hearing about how sensible it is (we know). The bottom line is that most teams play a guy when they need him, if they need him.

Do you really think they'll send him down right now, for any stretch?

Hell no.

So what does that mean for Francisco Lindor? It likely means he has a timetable as well, set up by Chris Antonetti and the front office, with Francona a part of the puzzle as well. Can struggles at the big league level expedite the process?

You bet it can, but if you think 6-10 is in expedition-ville, you are kidding yourself, regardless of everything I posted prior to this.

It's a smart front office. It's too smart a front office to let one guy dictate terms. When it's time for Lindor to come up, he'll come up. Hell, he likely could have made the move at the start of last year to "learn his trade on the fly." He certainly could have come up this year at the start of the year.

I'm as critical as the next guy about where he is right now.

But this isn't new. My guess is we'll see him soon, and I'll just leave it at that.

I love Lindor. I love the idea of Lindor at short, and JRam at second long-term, and if JRam gets rid of Aviles in the short term, I'm fine with that. I'll take what I can get there. I can't wait for Giovanny Ursela.

I don't think they'll bring up Gio and Lindor at the same time, or even close together, unless their an injury, but they could if there's an injury...or a drastic need.

I can't wait.

Let's let Lindor hit the ball a bit in Columbus first. He's struggled a bit down there, and while that's not the end all or be all with regards to movement to the big league club (especially when considering defense), I'm not sure the right move short term to spark a team struggling offensively is to bring up a guy struggling offensively, even though he's so good defensively.

I'm fairly sure that's not their gameplan, although plans can change...for sure.

Now, if you'll excuse me for a few moments, I'm throwing on my Cavs jersey, grabbing my broom, and getting ready to sweep the hell out of the Boston Celtics today.

I wonder if the Garden will drop confetti?
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