Only a month into the season, the Cleveland Indians have already been forced to dramatically reconfigure themselves because of a noxious mixture of injury and incompetence. The moves have all been well documented here: the major league debuts of Matt LaPorta and Tony Sipp, Luis Valbuena's first time in Cleveland, the return of Josh Barfield to Cleveland, and tonight, the move of Aaron Laffey and Matt Herges to the bullpen, Jeremy Sowers to the rotation, Rafael Perez to Columbus and Vinne Chulk into the ether. From a pure analysis standpoint, these events either have been or will be covered in greater detail than I can muster.
There is, as always, a larger context here. With their (extremely) slow start, the Indians are in danger of murdering a third promising season in the last four years; in both 2006 and 2008 the Indians squandered rosters that appeared to be poised for playoff runs. Neither year is a great analytical comp for this 2009 team but I think there's something to acknowledging that both seasons are very good emotional comps for 2009. Disappointment can only be parsed so many different ways; this sort of sadness only has a limited flavor palette.
The reshuffling of the roster over the last week represents a more radical· · · — — — · · · (SAVE OUR SEASON) than happened in either 2006 or 2008, at least from my recollection. This is a function of many things: the season going south even earlier than normal and the state of the farm system, to name just two. But, if we can leave left brain behind for a second, these aggressive moves are also scar tissue-lingering signs of past traumas. The organization feels what we all feel in spades: the insiders are also anxious about yet another season going by the boards. The difference between them and us, of course, is that they are in a position to do something. And they have decided to do something.
Shapiro has acknowledged this change in approach, this adoption of proactivity. From, mlb.com tonight:
"We've always had a set way of doing things here and tried to respect. But now I think we've got to have a little greater sense of urgency where those things are not going to be as important."
The sense of urgency is greater than it was in the past even though two of the last three seasons featured implosions similar to this one. Many variables are in the equation but one of the large ones is the past itself; Shapiro is acting with a greater sense of urgency than in the past because of the past.
To me, this is a highly humanizing period for the front office. For years, I have understood this front office as, above all, consummate planners. They created something that is literally and unironically called The Plan and they have become a flagship of modern front office thought through their meticulous management of every detail in The Plan. They made their decisions coolly and analytically; making a decision meant putting it through the pre-defined decision making process. It almost became fun as a fan-you could guess most of the front office's moves if you understood the decision making process: their views on service time, on the roles of certain player types, etc. Shapiro and Co, to those of us who were lazy in our thinking, became wonderful, talented automatons behind the scenes. We trusted them for the same reason we trust our computers-because we believe the programming is sound. Even their emphasis on character, on respecting players, seemed somehow a part of a larger program; it existed not because of some moral imperative but because it represented a potential competitive advantage.
This season, and especially this past week, has been a stark and sobering reminder that our brain trust, no matter how brainful, still runs on blood, not lithium ion batteries. And, in a way, it's reassuring. As I watch Shapiro panic, I realize that he and I are in this together-he wants desperately for this team to win, just like I do. He knows much more about how to make them win but he doesn't know the outcomes for all the levers he pulls; he doesn't even know a majority of the outcomes. He sensed the acrid, coppery essence of failure trying to claim another one of his clubs and he chose to fight back, to change course. I am glad he chose to fight back, to do something that might actually work, even if decisions had to be made on the fly, even if the moves don't obviously fit into the larger model, even if what's being done wasn't part of The Plan.