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Dawning of a New Dolan? Indians Fans Hope So.

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The biggest pitching name on the trade market this season was undoubtedly Ubaldo Jimenez. Many assumed he would end up with the Yankees, some predicted the Red Sox or Rangers… next to nobody thought he would end up with Cleveland, but that’s exactly where he will be showcasing his wares for the next 3 seasons.

The move itself was interesting on a number of levels. First, this is not normally how the Indians have done business. Over the years, they have been primarily sellers, choosing to build from within and stock the farm.  Even when they were “buyers” they have never really been true buyers; historically acquiring aging veterans like Kenny Lofton, Dave Winfield, and Kevin Seitzer instead of high-risk, high-reward players such as Jimenez.

It was also a very surprising move considering the overwhelming fiscal responsibility shown by team owner Larry Dolan. The Indians under Dolan have been consistently near the bottom when it comes to team payroll. Granted Jimenez has a very favorable contract (a major key to the deal), and factor in the freed-up cash from the fact that oft-injured Grady Sizemore has a 9 million dollar option for next year that was probably a no-brainer at the time of signing, but the Sizemore of today is a shell of his former self and 9 million might as well be 90 million. The team would be insane to pick it up; at least unless Sizemore drastically changes his approach at the plate to hit inside the baseball… and proves he can stay in the lineup for more than 2 weeks at a time.

Still, with all that in mind, my God’s honest first reaction to the deal was to wonder aloud if Larry Dolan was in poor health. Dolan is Cleveland born and bred and grossly overpaid for the Indians to fulfill a lifelong dream. Much to the chagrin of a lot of fans, he has never had plans to sell, instead just basking in the glory of Major League ownership. Dolan is 80, and has had a few health scares in the past, but I thought, that his health has to be failing and he wants to win now. At least on the surface that’s what it appears to be.

The Indians now have a fairly clear and delineated window of opportunity that as of now looks to end in 2013 when Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner (club option for 2013), and Ubaldo Jimenez all become free agents. That said, there is still talent in the pipeline and the Indians would do well for themselves to buy up the arbitration years of the players mentioned and extend them into their free agent years, but by trading their two top pitching prospects, Alex White (coming off a finger injury… not good for a guy reliant on the splitter) and Drew Pomeranz, they stated loud and clear that they are going for it.

Did the Tribe give up too much? That’s the million dollar question and the answer is quite a bit more complicated than a simple yes or no. Let’s say the Indians stock up in the offseason and win the World Series next year, while White and Pomeranz go on to fulfill their projections as #2 or #3 Major League starters for 8-10 years. There is no way that they gave up too much. Clevelanders would give up the entire farm system for a championship, just one year long celebration of Cleveland Sports. 1964 was the last time the shores of Lake Erie have played host to a champion professional sports team, and don’t think the fanbase isn’t reminded of that every time they turn on a nationally televised game.

On the flipside, let’s say Jimenez regresses and turns into Fausto Carmona 2.0, a pitcher with great stuff who just can’t seem to replicate his early-career success. If that happens, and either Pomeranz or White becomes even above-average starters, then yes, the Tribe may have given up too much, but you never know until you try. Add to that, free agents in any sports aren’t exactly beating down the door to come live in the underrated metropolis that is Cleveland, and this really was the only way to bring in an ace without paying twice the market value.

Whether or not Cleveland fans are happy with the deal (I’d say it’s about 50/50) they should be happy with the fact that this almost guarantees the Indians will be more active in the offseason with trades and through free agency; not something that they have been able to say for quite a few years. The only thing that the Indians really need is a corner outfielder with some pop. They have long-term solutions at every other position. Would they be willing to overpay for Carlos Beltran? Doubtful since Scott Boras already said Beltran had no interest in coming to Cleveland. Nick Swisher would be perfect, but I’d imagine the Yankees will pick up his team option. Who knows, maybe the Indians will get creative and go hard after Prince Fielder. That would certainly make the splash needed to energize a proud, but oft-apprehensive fanbase.

It takes a few years to truly evaluate a trade. Sometimes taking risks pays off, sometimes it doesn’t, but even though they gave up their two top pitching prospects, if Jimenez stays healthy and pitches like he can it’s a slam dunk move for Chris Antonetti and the Indians.

This was a deal where both fanbases were at least moderately upset. Usually when that happens, it’s a fair deal. More to the point, it’s a deal that had better signify a serious effort to chase a title and it’s a deal that the Indians can’t afford to get wrong, otherwise that means trading away 12 years of club controlled promising pitchers, for 2+ years of mediocrity. I think Cleveland is due for some sunshine, and maybe, just maybe, this trade could be the jumpstart to something great.

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