Ever since their heart attack-inducing September rally in 2005, it’s been annually fashionable to anoint the Cleveland Indians as some kind of sleeping giant just waiting to spring to life and maul the competition. Words like “improved,” “optimistic” and “Pythagorean record” get thrown about with little regard to meaning or stakes, and the casual observer might infer something mighty is bubbling just beneath the surface of the Cuyahoga.
In the simplest terms, one could argue Cleveland stands as good a chance as anyone in 2009 given their employment of the American League’s reigning Best Starting Pitcher in Cliff Lee and arguably one of the most complete players in the game in Grady Sizemore. Add to this a mostly-decent roster and a division poised to be more up for grabs than any in recent memory and one could say the Indians sit in a good position right now.
The thing is, people keep forgetting the plight of the Cleveland Indians in that any player who’s going to make a difference will inevitably bolt for brighter lights and bigger dollars. C.C. Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and even Milton Bradley were all in a position to be The Missing Piece, and all found their way out of town once the front office’s bills came due. To look at the team already in place in Cleveland today, one would see that yes, Lee and Sizemore may be capable of greatness, and that Travis Hafner et al might bounce back to the level everyone knows they are capable of playing at – but then what?
So if they’re still One Player Away, same as they always have been, how is it reasonable to once again talk about the great rebound due in Cleveland? Can a healthy Travis Hafner really make up the ground lost between the 97 wins of 2007 and the 81 wins of 2008? Does anyone really think Cliff Lee can go 22-3 again? Will the movement of Kerry Wood and Mark De Rosa from one woeful franchise to another mark a return to the most dominant run of near misses ever seen in the history of sports?
The answer, most likely, is a resounding no. . . but you have to admire their enthusiasm.