The Indians Have Totally Mismanaged Matt LaPorta
The way they have handled Matt LaPorta is actually beyond belief. Why in the world did they sign Russell Branyan over the winter to play first base? Especially since Branyan had a history of back problems. Especially when they had played LaPorta at first base in the minor leagues in 2009 with the intention and publicly stated plan of turning first base over to LaPorta in the 2010 season. Especially when they could have had LaPorta at first learning to hit big league pitching while the team was headed to oblivion.
Back to Branyan. He didn't play in spring training because he was still rehabbing from the back problems that kept him out of the Seattle Mariners lineup the second half of '09. When asked during spring training when Branyan would get into a game, the Indians front office kept saying they wanted him totally healthy when he did play. Spring training lasted from February until April. In essence, the Indians signed an injured player to take over a position earmarked for the prize of their trade for Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia. LaPorta was pushed aside in favor of a player who couldn't play. A player known for hitting long home runs with a propensity for striking out. A lot. LaPorta's development was delayed another half season so Branyan could play first base.
LaPorta did not have tremendous success during limited opportunities with the major league club. However, when called up in 2009, LaPorta got to watch baseball from his semi- permanent seat on the bench. That's when he should have been in AAA. Not this year. If they were going to bring him up in '09, let him play. When he played with the Tribe in '10, he struggled. Again, he wasn't playing on a regular basis. So they sent him out for even more seasoning. Now he's hitting .353 with 5 homers and 16 RBI. In short, there were two crucial mistakes in his development. First, bringing him to the big leagues in '09 and letting him sit on the bench when he could have been playing in AAA. Second, not bringing him up in '10 and allowing him to see major league pitching on a team solidly entrenched in the basement of its division.
So now Branyan has been traded back to Seattle and they can deal with his troublesome back. Again. What a waste of a half season. Why the lowly Mariners need him at this point is beyond me. But off Branyan goes to the northwest to help the Mariners. Seattle was kind enough to allow the Indians to pay for his rehab so he could return to the Mariners a little bit healthier.
Brantley is another story. The Indians blocked his emergence on the big league scene for the presence of Austin Kearns.
Kearns is having a nice year and I'm not as critical of his acquisition. I have always felt that Kearns had potential when healthy. He has some power and he and Shin-Soo Choo represent the only proven pop the Indians have on an everyday basis. I do think that Brantley needed more minor league seasoning.
The Indians have been a doormat since their fantastic teams of the 90's. They tore the heart and soul from their club with the trading of Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez. Those were their core players. Those were true stars.
One would think that trading major pieces of an organization would yield outstanding prospects, if not major league ready players. That has not been the case with Cleveland. No superstars appear on the horizon from the multiple deals that shed the team of payroll. Not one. LaPorta could be an average player at first base. Brantley could become an average player in the outfield. All the pitching the club received in return for the countless players traded are still learning and treading water. Justin Masterson is improving. The rest are having difficulty or are terribly inconsistent in the minor leagues.
It's very difficult to watch an organization self- destruct. However, Indians fans have watched a once proud franchise crumble due to poor first year player drafts, poor payroll management and a constant desire to pay for fading players hoping the team has uncovered a hidden gem that every other team has passed over. Then the Indians can trade those fading gems to another club and reap mediocre fringe players to fill out minor league rosters in return.
And so here comes Matt LaPorta once again. After his club has mismanaged his development, he has the opportunity to play first base on an everyday basis in Cleveland. Perhaps. I hope he does well. He deserves success.
I don't know if the players received for Branyan from Seattle will help in the future. My focus when I heard about the trade was to think of the wasted time for both Russell Branyan and Matt LaPorta. Perhaps the Tribe has picked up two useful players. They still owe Seattle another player of some money. So the deal isn't complete as of this writing.
Here is what I do know. The Indians brass somehow feels they can take washed up players and turn their careers around They feel they have the elixir to turn a sow's ear to a silk purse. But in the past 10 years, all that's left from the reclamation projects has been the stench of the barnyard. It's time to clean out the barn.