I must give credit where credit is due – the Cleveland Indians’ 2011 season is officially a success.
The Indians battled through inexperience, off-the-field distractions and a massive slew of injuries to attain what few people thought they could: a .500 record.
Yes, the Indians have given friends of the feather a season few expected they had in them.
For the record, I said a .500 record was a realistic goal at the beginning of the season, although I didn’t entirely believe it. However, after the Tribe turned in a Major League-best 30-15 record at the end of May, the team’s promotional slogan, “What If?” appeared nearly prophetic.
But, in typical snakebitten-Cleveland fashion, the injury bug coupled with a brutal midseason slump at the plate left the Indians in second place in the American League Central division at the All-Star break, where they would stay for the rest of the season.
No, the Tribe will not play be playing in October, but the 2011 Indians were successful by accomplishing sports’ most fundamental objective: making progress.
Even though an even record isn’t something most baseball fans set as a goal at the beginning of April, on the heels of 93 losses in 2010, it is definitely something to build on for the Indians.
And the season was not devoid of reminders of the ‘mid-90s glory days. Cleveland was consistently among the best in staging come-from-behind wins, and we got to see hero Jim Thome once again put on his pine-tar-ridden batting helmet.
However, if the Indians aren’t able take advantage of their newly found momentum by carrying it into the offseason, and eventually 2012, this year will have proved to be yet another flash in the Progressive Field pan.
In order for the Indians to take the next step into the elite of Major League Baseball, young players must continue to progress, and the front office must be the aggressor in the free agency.
And it won’t be easy for a brass that has historically thrown around nickels like manhole covers.
No matter what side you stand on in the “small-market” debate – I happen to be in the middle – it is undeniable that now is the time for Cleveland to finally ink a proven, bona fide veteran.
And a 150-pound utility infielder is not going to cut it. The Indians need another 32-year-old Triple-A player with “potential” as much as television needs another drama romanticizing an overly-chauvinistic 1960s.
First and foremost on their list should be a power-hitting right-handed bat that can play the outfield and provide a middle-of-the-order presence in the Tribe lineup. Of the available free agents, players like Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham provide a lot of intrigue.
But the Indians can’t stop there.
The Tribe must address question marks in its rotation by acquiring a proven power pitcher. Edwin Jackson would look mighty fine with Chief Wahoo atop his head.
So yes the Indians had a very successful season in 2011. The question is: What do they do for an encore in 2012?
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