92 IS A LOT LIKE 07
[March 26th] -- One of the benefits of being old(er) is all those years of watching, and loving, the game of baseball. The back of my closest is filled with one pile after another of baseball magazines and almanacs dating back to the mid 1950's (pre 1964 were gifts -- I'm not that old).
I was heading to the bathroom a couple of days ago, and so I grabbed the magazine on the top of the pile to keep me company. Age, and speedy bathroom visits, don't go hand-in-hand, don't you know.
I opened the 1992 Sporting News Baseball Yearbook randomly and came upon the preview of the Cleveland Indians, written by Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon Journal.
Tell me if this sounds vaguely familiar:
"By making the bottom line a top priority, the Cleveland Indians almost dropped out of sight in the American League last year (1992 for the Indians, 2007 for the Nationals).
But even though Cleveland lost a franchise-record 105 games en route to finishing in last place in 1991, owners Dick and Dave Jacobs are determined to stay the course (how many times have we heard that phrase, 'stay the course?').
Stifling large salaries remains the goal for the Tribe as they try to build a competitive club by collecting young, promising players, but will it work?
The Indians began last season with a payroll of less than $19 million, among the lowest in the big leagues. But that figure wasn't low enough to suit Tribe officials.
Consequently, when all contract are settled, the total compensation for Cleveland's 25 players in 1992 will likely be around $7 million; the last time the Indians' payroll was that small was 1987 (The Nationals' payroll will drop from about $65 million to $40 million, perhaps even less).
'I'm not going to Band-Aid this team,' General Manager John Hart said. "We don't want journeymen free agents who are going to get in the way of the development of younger players we already have in place" (I've heard Stan Kasten say this, almost word for word).
Hart spent the winter trying to fill holes in the rotation, the bullpen and centerfield. To a fault, he followed a policy of obtaining inexpensive players with most of their careers in front of them.
So, just how young and economical will the Indians be in '92? Well, Cleveland will start the season with no regular position player and no starting pitcher older than 29 (as would the Nationals had Nick Johnson not been injured & with Jason Simontacchi's injury).
ROTATION: "If Cleveland is to improve in the standings, a woefully inexperienced group of starting pitchers will have to develop quickly" (Their starting five, Nagy, Armstrong, Scudder, Otton and Cook, were just as young, and inexperienced, as the Nationals' projected starting five).
BULLPEN: No matter what uncertainties the Indians faced last year, they figured they could count on their bullpen including Doug Jones, who amassed 112 saves over the three previous years (can you say Chad Cordero?)
OUTFIELD: After watching last year's misadventures in centerfield, Hart reacted with great excitement when he acquired Kenny Loften from Houston. Lofton has impeccable credentials and is a terrific athlete (though Nook Logan isn't as good a player as Loften was, he nonetheless brings with him the same type of tools)."
I was stunned at the similarities between the 1991 Indians and the 2007 Washington Nationals. Forget the journeyman free agents, stick with the kids and take your lumps for a couple of years.
How'd Cleveland do?
After losing 105 games in '92 (the Nationals' 2007), the went 76-86 in 1992 and 1993. They had a record of 66-47 in 1994's strike shortened season (they were in second place at the time, just a game behind the White Sox). The Indians' blossomed in 1995, going 100-44 and making it to the World Series, losing to the Atlanta Braves in six games. They won their division six out of the next seven years, returning to the Word Series in 1997 (losing to the Florida Marlins). After a sub-par 2002, the team rebuilt yet again and limped home in '03 with a 68-94 record. Once again, the young kids matured, and once again, the team got better, winning 80 games in 2004 and 93 in 2005.
As I said, the similarities are remarkable. There is no guarantee that by following the Indians' lead, the Washington Nationals will be a dominant force in the coming years. However, neither is loading a team up with high-priced, high-talented free agents; Just ask the New York Mets how they did with Mo Vaughn's recruiting class a few year's back.
That said, once again I say to Stan and Jim and Manny: Stay the course. John Hart proved it could be done, and done quickly.
I'd be happy if Kory Casto became a healthy Paul Sorrento - unspectacular but solid. .270 25 HRS. A good corner OF for 6-8 years.
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