In the 90s signing veteran free agents was part of the catalyst that made the Indians a winner. Guys like Dennis Martinez and Orel Hershiser are almost legend and Kevin Millwood wasand made us forget about the disasters that were Wayne Garland and Rick Dempsey (he really did cost us a first round draft pick!).
However, now that we are in another rebuilding mode, I wanted to comment on free agent signings. Watching the playoffs and seeing how dominant Kerry Wood is made me look at the stats. Wood made a miraculous turnaround when he was traded to the Yankees, giving up one earning run in 24 innings after giving up 14 in 20 innings with the Indians. Even though his month-to-month stats before the trade were trending up (11 ERA in May and about 3.5 in June and July) it was nowhere near the bump he had after the trade. While that bump and his continued health saved us a few hundred thousand dollars that the Yankees paid for, it is still bothersome to me that this dramatic change occurred. We were paying this guy $10 million a year and the best one month ERA he could post for us was last August when he went 1.64?!?! He never was under 3 in any other month in his 1 1/2 years here. Sorry, the bump in performance when he went to the Yankees is just a little too coincidental for my liking. Plus, do we all realize that the guy has now moved himself up to a Type B free agent? Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants if we saved a few hundred thousand and, for that money, the Yankees got his performance PLUS a first round draft pick.
This is my point. The guy was not a bad signing IF he performed well, which was questionable from the start as we paid a king's ransom for a guy who had closed for exactly one year of his career and was oft-injured. He would have even been good trade bait if he was pitching well and we were out of the race. Problem is, from looking at the stats, it appeared the guy mailed it in during his time here making him almost untradeable (props to Shapiro for saving ANYTHING in dumping him) and only turned it on when he went to the Yankees, where he really cared about what the team did.
That's the problem with free agency and the Cleveland Indians. It appears almost impossible for Shapiro to repeat his performance taht like to him signing guys who are class acts like Martinez and Hershiser as he seems to now wind up with the guys who are only here for the paycheck like Wood and, for me, the infamous Dellucci and Hernandez duo that cost us two high draft picks and a lot of needlessly wasted money a couple of years ago. The latter group seems to not want to strain themselves too much to help out our team or make our city proud to have them here.
While all free agents are mercenaries who probably could give a crap about the uniform other than they have to play at some level to keep getting paid well, some hide it well or, in fact, appreciate the team and city that are paying them enough to make a real effort both on and off the field.
The pendulum has now swung back to where the Indians are not making good free agent signings. Hopefully the pendulum starts swinging back as we now appear to be primed for another run at the playoffs starting next year or in 2012. With the Indians talking about signing a quality thirdbaseman this winter, I am hoping that we are not getting Delllucci version 2.0 or, even worse, making another Kerry Wood-like signing.
I don't have the answer on how to sign the right free agents but this franchise has to do better at identifying the proper free agents. I think it is more about identifying WHICH of the talented players available have the appropriate personality and drive rather than just throwing money at talent. If you can't find the Martinez/Hershiser types or the bargain basement Millwood types, I would rather just go with some young guys, take my lumps and then reload next off-season. As I will point out in a later piece, you can only diss your own prospects for so long. At some point, you gotta take the leap and play these guys.