Friday, July 31, 2009

Cleveland Indians Trade Victor Martinez (or, "Just Because It Makes Sense Doesn't Mean It Doesn't Hurt")

I'm not going to lie - this one hurt. Victor has not only been a vital part of the Indians' offensive lineup for years - he's been the emotional center, one of the most popular players the Tribe has had over the years. This is probably the toughest trade to deal with on an emotional level since the Indians surprised their fanbase and traded Kenny Lofton in the offseason of 1996-1997.

It also hurts because it confirms what I already suspected - the Indians are in full-blown rebuilding mode for the first time since the end of the 2001 season. This isn't just "wait 'til next year" - this is "wait 'til 2011," with next year basically being a season-long spring training. Sure, the AL Central is still kind of weak, even with Jake Peavy, Jarrod Washburn, and Orlando Cabrera, so they could not-surprise me and win the AL Central, but, barring any miracles (and there haven't been any miracles since 1948), they're not winning the World Series next year.

This isn't to say the move doesn't make sense. Just like Lee, it was hard to keep Victor - his club option for next year was $7 million, and this is a team that (sadly) has to cut its (already bare-bones) payroll. With Matt LaPorta coming up soon to play first base, and with Travis Hafner already locked in as our DH through 2011, and with Lou Marson and Carlos Santana (not that one) sitting in the farm system at catcher, as well as Kelly Shoppach, who's very good and who we may now try to sign to a long-term deal, well....there just wasn't a lot of room for Martinez and his expiring contract.

Certainly, part of this feels necessary. As Paul puts it, "it kind of feels like we’re tearing off a band-aid and we might as well get in all the pain all that we can at once to let that next stage begin as soon as possible." And he's right - the efforts of 2002-2008 failed, and so it's time to look ahead, start over, and move on to the next stage. Plus, we already have great players like Sizemore locked in for a few more years, along with good players like Hafner. Combined with the fact that, by trading Lee, Martinez, Mark DeRosa, and Rafael Betancourt, the Indians save $25 million for next year and can maybe re-sign Choo and Cabrera, this all seems like a necessary evil. The Indians simply do not have the payroll to be able to continue to "rebuild" while remaining in contention by hiring experienced, good players to come in and fill the holes while the young guys develop. At the end of the day, this trade makes sense - it frees up payroll, it (together with the Lee trade) gets us a lot of pitching prospects, of which we have very few. And while I don't like to root for the Red Sox, I'll root for Victor always (barring him facing the Tribe in the World Series), and if he helps the Sox take down the Yankees, I'll be more than OK with that.

Still, Victor was a guy who loved Cleveland, who gave his heart and soul to the Cleveland Indians, and who in many ways was the face of the team in the post-Ramirez/Belle/Lofton/Thome years - the fact that he cried when he learned of the trade says all you need to know about his feelings for the Cleveland Indians. And there aren't a lot of guys who love Cleveland like that, in baseball or any other sports. Not only that - he's still very good. So this is necessary. But right now, it sucks, and all we can do is hope that the new efforts work out and keep a special fond place in our hearts for El Capitan.