2013 Indians: Major league, if barely

Max Alvis

Max Alvis is one of the top 100 all-time Indians, if not securely. (The top 100 Indians were picked in 2001 on the occasion of the team’s 100th anniversary; if Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore and CC Sabathia didn’t push him to 101, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana soon will.) Alvis was a 1960s third baseman, who arrived as a rookie in 1963 so Texan he had played a year of football for coach Darrell Royal. Alvis’ best year was his first — a .274 average, career-high 22 homers and 32 doubles, 67 RBIs and 17th place in the MVP voting (he got none in the Rookie of the Year voting because that was first-place only; Gary Peters won that, along with 19 games and a 2.33 ERA). Alvis’ 10 votes tied him with Joe Pepitone, 148 behind winner Elston Howard. Meningitis slowed Alvis in his second year, although he still hit 18 home runs in 221 less at-bats. He hit 17 or more homers for five straight years, and was an All-Star in two of those, before he fell to .223 and just 28 extra-base hits in 1968. He played two more years, his last with the Brewers, before retiring after the 1970 season at age 32. Power was Alvis’ main attribute: it certainly wasn’t on-base percentage (career .302, career-high of .324 and 50 walks) or foot speed. Alvis was so slow he should be an honorary Molina — he stole 43 bases but was caught 46 times and in 1967 he was just 3-for-13. Joe Adcock, in case you’re wondering, was the manager who kept sending Alvis despite all evidence to the contrary. Alvis returned to Texas and eventually became president of a bank. Alvis’ son David was a minor-league outfielder in the Indians’ organization, reaching as high as A ball, and grandson Sam Alvis is a junior relief pitcher at Louisiana Tech (0-2, 4.91 ERA, 1 save in 2013 thus far). Alvis’ final totals in his nine-year career: .247 average, 111 home runs, .692 OPS and an 8.3 WAR.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Omar Vizquel has barely retired and the Indians might already be grooming his successor. Francisco Lindor is a 19-year old shortstop with a similar skill set to Vizquel: he walks (61 times last year), runs (27 steals last year, 5-for-5 in 2013 in his first 11 games) and fields. He was the eighth pick of the 2011 draft and though he only hit .257 in 2012, he was an 18-year-old playing in a full-season A League (Vizquel at 18 hit .225 in a short-season A league, then .213 at 19 in A ball). No word yet on what Lindor thinks of Jose Mesa.

What is this man doing here? Where do we begin? The temptation is strong to say, like the character ordering “the whole left side of the roster” in the movie Diner. But let’s focus on Scott Kazmir, who — are you seated? — is injured. No real surprise there since Kazmir has pitched just 1.2 innings since 2010. It’s hard to remember the outcry when the Mets traded Kazmir in 2002, but except for a four-year stint with the Rays, Kazmir for Victor Zambrano wasn’t Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi (Amos Otis for Joe Foy, maybe). Kazmir led the AL in walks as many times as he did strikeouts (just once). Kazmir’s ERA was 5.94 in 2010 and 4.89 in 2009, and his strikeout rate had fallen from 1.1 per inning in 2008 to 0.62 in 2010. Unfortnately for the Indians, he might be better than some of the alternatives.

What he said: Indians manager Terry Francona on pitcher Ubaldo Jiminez’s 0-2, 11.25 ERA start: “If we lost our patience with everybody after a few starts, we wouldn’t have a team.” What he meant: “Wait till Brett Myers (0-2, 8.82) pitches again. Jimenez won’t seem so bad.”

Outlook: First-year Indians manager Terry Francona got lost walking to the home opener last week. Fitting, because the Indians have lost their way ever since they were on the precipice of a return to the World Series — one they might well have won for the first time in, now, 65 years (how many World Series have the Indians lost since their 1948 triumph? Answer below).

The Indians, ahead 3-1 over Boston in the 2007 ALCS, lost the last three games of that series. They’ve been losing ever since — both games and talent — and 2013 won’t be better.

The Indians haven’t had a winning record since their 96-66 2007, and they’re not going in the right direction. Their farm system is ranked 24th, according to minorleagueball.com, and we wouldn’t rank the big-league team much higher.

The Indians were 22nd in runs scored in 2012 and 29th in team ERA, so naturally, they spent most of their offseason spending money on their offense. The pitching, they evidently felt, would fix itself.

There seems only slightly more of a chance that Trevor Bauer, 22, will fix it. Bauer, the third pick of the 2011 draft, was the Indians’ big pitching acquisition in a three-team trade as complicated as the double switch, only costing the Indians Shin-Soo Choo, one of their best players (they also had to take back Drew Stubbs, who’s now one of their worst. Even worse, they’re playing him).

Bauer has potential, but apparently not much control, either the self variety or of his pitches — he’s walked 76 in 162 minor-league innings. Bauer is young enough to master the craft, but so far, it appears there’s two words to call general managers who trade for him: future scout.

The Indians’ other moves made them better in 2013 but perhaps not in 2014 and beyond. They signed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, who will help, but cost more than the $104 million spent — the Indians will forfeit second-round picks in the 2013 draft for each. The good news is, the Indians have such a good pick in the first round, they’re not allowed to surrender it.

(Bourn should be exhibit A for anyone who wants to argue against WAR. Bourn’s 6.0 was eighth in the NL last year, but he led the league in caught stealings (13), had just a .739 OPS and 155 strikeouts. He must be a great centerfielder.)

I’m not sure why Terry Francona wanted in, but no one can accuse him of being baseball’s Phil Jackson and waiting for the best job with the best players.

Maybe there’s some childhood nostalgia at work. Terry was born in dad Tito’s first year as an Indian and Tito played for the Indians (1959-64) for six seasons. After a second-place finish in ’59, Tito’s Indians were strictly mediocre: fourth out of eight in 1960, fifth out of 10 in ’61, the sixth, fifth, sixth.

By July, those might seem like the good old days to Terry.

Answer: The Indians have lost three World Series since beating the Boston Braves in six games in 1948. In order, they were swept by the New York Giants in 1954, lost in six to the twice-moved Braves of Atlanta in 1995 and in seven games to the Florida Marlins in 1997).

Team song: Tom Waits: Drunk on the Moon

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