Thursday, September 21, 2006

You Want Controversy?

It's always the bad teams that generate the most controversy. Always. And it's always the bad teams that seem to have everything going wrong at the same time. Always.

The controversy surrounding the Cleveland Browns is not so much newsworthy for its substance as it is for its duration. This is a story that seems to repeat itself year in and year out with this team. The coaches change, the players change but the story line always remains the same: the Browns can't seem to find their way out of the abyss. Ever.

And while the Browns make easy, if not good, copy for the mainstream media these days (and we've contributed our share as well), don't let this little item go unnoticed, Cleveland Fans: The Atlanta Braves have just signed closer Bob Wickman to a one year, $6.5 million extension.

We asked this question a few weeks ago and we'll ask it again today: why did the Cleveland Indians trade Bob Wickman? It's not as if the team is overflowing with candidates to fill the role. In fact, it's not as if the Indians have any candidates to fill this role. This year Wickman has 30 saves in 34 save opportunities. With the Braves, he is 15 of 16 in save opportunities and has a rather fine 1.19 ERA.

Indians GM Mark Shapiro may be part of the new breed of baseball geniuses but the last time we looked, Braves GM John Schuerholz was hardly washed up. While the Braves will miss the playoffs this year for the first time in 15 years, much of that is attributable to the fact that before Wickman, Braves relievers had blown 20 saves. If Wickman had been with the Braves all season and had blown, say, only 10 of those saves, the Braves would be coasting to the playoffs today as the wild card. If he'd have save, say 18 of those games, the Mets would be in the fight of their life for first place instead of sitting back sipping champagne.

So Schuerholz did what a good GM is supposed to do, fill in the hole. Schuerholz sensed an increasingly desperate Shapiro needing money because of cheapskate owners and pounced. And now Schuerholz has already taken one major "to do" off his post-season list. Meanwhile, Shapiro's list just grows longer and longer.

We could argue this matter a hundred ways and none of them will ever look good for the Indians, Shapiro or the Dolans. For example, it's not as if Wickman is overpriced. At $6.5 million, he's salary-friendly to all but the most frugal of teams, like Kansas City or Florida. And it's not as if he's either old (he's 37) or has lost his effectiveness. A pitcher able to secure 30 saves is a valuable commodity. Tell us who, on the Indians current staff, has that kind of ability? If you've watched any games since Wickman was traded, the answer is as obvious as it is frustrating.

So in the end, all that really happened is that the Dolans saved a little money off this season's payroll. Unless they plan to cut further next year (which is always a possibility), they saved nothing off next year's payroll. They have to spend Wickman's money just to stay in the same sad shape they were in going into this season. But look on the bright side, we did get Single A catcher Max Ramirez. And he did hit .292 this season. And he is only making about $50,000.

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