CLEVELAND, Ohio — The talent drain on the Indians has been immense this offseason. The same goes for leadership.
It’s funny how many of the departed Indians possessed both qualities, but that’s how it usually works. A team’s best players are usually its best leaders because this is a game measured by daily production. A leader on a baseball team doesn’t need to pound his chest and scream and shout. That can be exhausting not only to the player, but those around him.
All he needs to do is show up every day and do his job.
It’s hard to say how much the Indians are going to miss Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, Andrew Miller, Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis, Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso. Hard to say because they can’t be replaced.
The latest loss came Friday when Cody Allen agreed to a one-year deal with the Angels. Allen, the franchise leader in saves, was the definition of a late-inning reliever. He was durable, never turned down the ball and always put the team first.
From a reporter’s standpoint he never ducked a tough question and was always at his locker after he pitched. It didn’t matter if he saved a game or lost a lead, he was always there.
If the Indians couldn’t afford to match the Angels’ one-year offer to keep Allen, it’s hard to believe they’re going to be able to fill the rest of the holes on this roster without a making a big trade. If you can’t keep your franchise leader in saves on a one-year deal, ownership has definitely changed the combination on the vault set aside for baseball operations.
Then again it was clear from the start of the offseason that the Indians were not going to keep keep any of their high-profile free agents. Brantley, Allen, Miller, Chisenhall and Josh Donaldson have all signed elsewhere. Outfielder Brandon Barnes is the only free agent to re-sign and he did so on a minor-league deal.
Talent is easy to spot. Right now the Indians are loaded at one position — starting pitching. The rest of the roster looks like a rusted out Chevy in front of a crumbling farm house. There are a few pieces of chrome that reflect a ray of sunshine, but the rest consists of chipped paint and mud.
Leadership is harder to spot. Recently Mike Clevinger, who reached 200 innings and 200 strikeouts for the first time last year, was asked who would be the new leaders on the Indians. He pointed to Francisco Lindor, the All-Star shortstop.
Clevinger said he talked to Lindor after the Indians lost Game 1 of the ALDS to Houston in October. He didn’t like the vibe in the clubhouse and suggested Lindor say something. Lindor did before Game 2.
It didn’t matter. Churchill could have talked to the Indians and they still would have been rolled by the Astros in three games. It’s not a surprise that Lindor would emerge as a leader in the wake of so much loss. Talent drips off him.
The guy who made the suggestion is another story. Rarely does leadership come barging through the door. It comes through the team itself, and the players with enough feel to absorb what has been left behind by those who have come and gone before them. In a winter where so much has been lost, and so little gained, that is a bright spot.