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The Sunday Drive with Santana, Salazar, Bauer and LeBron James

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With Mother’s Day and Easter behind us, and with the Indians’ locomotive heading towards Father’s Day and the hopeful heat of summer, it’s time for me to dust off the trusty old Smith-Corona PWP 5000 Word Processor (look that one up) and start writing about Cleveland Sports again. With the off-season Cavs and Browns actually becoming more interesting than the in season Indians, there’s plenty to talk about in this week’s Sunday Drive.

I really don’t know where to begin with the Cleveland Indians, so I suppose I’ll start with Carlos Santana.  I was all for the Santana experiment when it started. I was excited even more to see Santana start there when the Tribe announced early in Spring Training that he was going to be the starter.

I’m less excited now.

This is when I wish I utilized my brain for my decision-making skills, and not my heart. Look. We all knew that learning the third base position at the major league level starting in December was a long-shot at best. Hell, I would even go so far as to say that it was an impossible shot, from December through March.

Instead, my trust for Francona-decisions allowed my sense and sensibilities to get thrown out the window. Instead, I kept thinking to myself, “Boy, if he gets out from behind the plate, his offense will improve.”

Think about that. On one hand, Santana won’t be catching all those games, so his legs should be fresh. Of course, he’s learning a new position…and third base to boot. I did talk about one offsetting the other, but my blind belief that he could overcome this without physically seeing him or talking with him was simply idiotic.

I talked with a Dodgers’ scout many moons ago while attending a Double A game, and he said, “It’s really hard to start a kid off at a new position this late (Double A). It usually sets a player back multiple years, and immediately strips them of their prospect status. If they can play sustainable defense in a year, and if they can maintain or improve their offense, they are immediately prospects again. Most can’t.”

He was talking about Double A.

Carlos Santana is in the major leagues.

It’s funny, because I rarely save conversations from past years, but that one stood out to me as being important. I ignored it though.

When you combine that with Lonnie Chisenhall’s performance to start off the season, you have a good reason to call Chis your starter, make Carlos Santana your back-up third baseman and catcher, and just tell Santana he’s the DH.

What’s he going to do…hit worst than his league worst current average? And if he does, who cares, it’s not like he’s doing anything now anyways.

In all honesty though, with all of the random moves the Indians have made this year, it’s quizzical that Santana hasn’t been shuffled. Last season, Francona protected him as much as possible. He moved him to #6 in the order for the early part of the season, then Francona ultimately DH-ed him in September when Yan Gomes earned the right to start.

Things like this often make me wonder if there’s something going on that we can’t see. The Indians unfortunately didn’t really make the moves necessary to win. I’m going to ignore the money issues for now, to just touch upon the fringe of the fine line that the Indians have to tread from season-to-season. The Indians made it to the playoffs and lost. They added David Murphy and lost plenty.

The expectation is that some youth would make their move, and some struggling players would stop struggling.

That’s a lot of assumptions for a team that has seen their winning seasons over the past ten seasons book-ended by money restrictions keeping them from taking the next step. This has, in-turn, helped degrade the attendance. Now, as I’ve said a million times, this isn’t the only reason, nor is it the main reason, but it does break down the barriers of trust between an ownership group and a city that has wholeheartedly lacked champions, and a baseball team that is accustomed to getting close.

I’m not saying it’s right.

I’m not saying it’s easy.

I’m not saying much of anything here.

I’m just curious as to how Francona felt about all of the moves that were made this offseason, and by “made,” I mean “not made.” Now, I’m not saying that Francona is submarining the Indians fortunes by playing personnel in weird and odd places, but I may be saying that Francona is playing certain players, like Santana, in certain positions because he truly is the best guy they have, even if he’s struggling.

Just something to ponder.

I’m a patient guy, but I see a player in Santana that’s struggling mightily in a year in which he should be entering his prime. When you look at the intangibles as to why, especially since he’s healthy, you have to alter the changes that is making his a horrible batter.

Third base.

It’s not an more complicated then that.

It looks like Trevor Bauer is coming up to replace Danny Salazar, which is oddly causing glee amongst those that didn’t make the call that Salazar might be better than Bauerlast season.  Yeah, Salazar hasn’t been great. I get that. Yeah, Bauer has been lights out (minus his last start) in Columbus, I get that too.

So, are we saying that after six weeks of minor league baseball, we are ready to throw Bauer into the rotation again, and that Salazar needs time to “learn more than two pitches?”

I’m not.

Unfortunately for the Indians, there are no real quality options that aren’t Bauer or Salazar for the lower spots in the rotation, so these guys are going to either rubber-band with each other (which is never good), or both end up in the rotation whether they are pitching good or bad (also not good). With McAllister struggling of late, you have to wonder how long the top of the rotation can hold out…especially considering the bullpen issues thusfar.

Best case scenario here is that Bauer’s pedigree is what it is, and he comes up and finally dominates after maturing. A few starts from now, Salazar bounces back up and does the same, and in September, we are looking at Masterson, Kluber, Salazar and Bauer as our top four, with WHOEVER you want in the fifth spot.

The Cleveland Cavaliers fired their head basketball coach Mike Brown…again…as they begin to make a push to “hopefully” sign LeBron James…again. I’m not sure if you all noticed all this, but it’s complicated.

There are a slew of reasons why LeBron left the team after the 2010 season, but perhaps none of those reasons were more important than LeBron’s belief that the Cavaliers didn’t have what it took to win a title. While Danny Ferry made move-after-move during his tenure to try and load the team up around King James, he was never able to land the right player or make the right trade.

There were also issues with the head coach at the time, Mike Brown, and while the previous paragraph and statement are far too simplified, the bottom line was the LeBron questioned the Cavaliers ability to do whatever it took to win a title. Dan Gilbert had a lot of money, but the front office didn’t have the “weight” to win that Pat Riley and the Miami Heat did.

There are certainly more reasons, and those reasons certainly involved location and “friends,” but LeBron wanted titles, and when you mention Pat Riley, titles are usually one of the first two or three things that come to mind.

Whatever you can say about Pat Riley over the years, he’s as respected an NBA basketball mind that there is. It certainly didn’t hurt that he presided over a team located in South Beach, but as the years have progressed since, it’s clear that LeBron’s focus is on his legacy, not his beach front property.

Let’s fast forward to May of 2013.

The Cavs were looking to build upon an era of “acquiring talent.” While how much “talent” they’ve acquired is debatable, Dan Gilbert expected the playoffs this season. Chris Grant, who was hired when Danny Ferry resigned in 2010, fired head coach Byron Scott, and in his stead, hired Mike Brown.

There are many reasons why that move was a head-scratcher, but I suppose the root of the move was to force Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters to play more defense and to mentor this young roster. I’ve never been a Mike Brown detractor per se, but I’ve often wondered how a coach at the highest level can only figure out one side of the ball.


How many years has Brown been scrutinized because he’s an outstanding defensive coach, but has a weak offensive philosophy? As far as job performances go, when you have a weakness, you work hard to correct that.

Has Brown?

Brown didn’t mesh with the team, and while I’m not sure that Kyrie Irving will ever mesh with a coach that pushes him to play defense, it becomes doubly difficult when the team is losing, and when there is discourse among the players. The season started off difficult with players-only meetings and Andrew Bynum-issues. Throw that in with the Bennett selection/injury/fat&lazy, and you have a bad start to your return to Cleveland.

Once that was over, Brown was laden with “Kyrie Irving rumors” and Dion-Kyrie Problems and of course, “Can this team play offense” questions. It was one thing after another, which is generally the case when the team is losing and there’s nothing much else to talk about.

That brings us back to the future. Chris Grant, Brown’s biggest proponent, was fired prior to the trade deadline, and David Griffin took his place. Grant had some several things right in his tenure, but building a winner wasn’t one of them. I do believe he acquired many of the right pieces, and I do believe that he was behind the eight-ball in poor drafts, but for whatever reason you believe, the pieces didn’t mesh. Maybe it was Scott. Maybe it was Brown. Maybe it was Kyrie. Maybe it was Dion. Maybe it was Gilbert. Maybe it was Grant. More likely, it was all of the above.

Griffin, one of the most respected young minds in the NBA, immediately made an impact on the organization when he succeeded Grant, and his trade for Spencer Hawes was a solid, if unspectacular move. Grant’s final major move, the trade to acquire Luol Deng, cost the Cavs pieces, and as it turns out, was a half season rental for a team that wasn’t going to do anything anyways.

Look, I get the move. Teams can’t play to lose all the time. You begin to build a culture that’s hard to climb out of (ask the Indians), but sometimes the writing is on the wall.


Griffin seemed to handle his affairs with the force of a leader, and it happened pretty quickly. Gilbert was impressed, and when he received what was, I’m sure, a flood of calls about Griffin’s future, Gilbert officially hired Griffin as his General Manager, who then officially fired Mike Brown as his head basketball coach.

Let’s come full circle, shall we?

King LeBron wants to win NBA titles. He wants an owner and a front office and a head coach that will allow him to do that by any means necessary. What do you think he thinks about the Cavaliers and their front office at this point?

Griffin is clearly looking at candidates that would be conducive to signing James in the near future. While many coaches have been speculated, the three that stood out to me through the grapevine were the University of Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie, the University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari and the Miami Heat assistant coach David Fizdale.

Ollie was played one season for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it was during LeBron James’s first season in the NBA. While I wouldn’t call them friends, because I have no clue if they are friends, it is clear that James thinks highly of Ollie.

“You could tell he had that coaching gene in him,” James said when asked about Ollie as a coach after UConn won the national title. “Obviously, he helped us out on the floor but I think more than anything in the locker room and off the floor is where I benefited most from being around him. He just had that professionalism that you cannot get from first-, second- or third-year guys. He still looks the same in a suit on the sideline coaching for the Huskies as he did for us wearing No. 12.”

Coach Calipari was courted in 2010 a bit prior to LeBron leaving, since James and the Kentucky head coach have had a really good relationship over the years. It’s obvious that Calipari would love to have a chance to coach a team fronted by LeBron James.

“Have a chance to coach the best player in the world? Yes, I would love to coach (James),” Calipari said in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Wednesday. “But what’s happened is our careers are criss-crossing without crossing. I’m not in a position where I would leave Kentucky right now. I’m not sure whether this is his last contract, or his next-to-last contract. But I would tell you if I had a chance to, I would absolutely.”

David Fizdale, as an assistant to the Eric Spoelstra, is a guy that’s been considered an up-and-comer for awhile now. I personally know nothing about him as a coach, but I do know he  has a phenomenal relationship with LeBron James, and often is the guy that bridges gaps that come up between James and the Heat’s head coach.

“I try to make sure that if there’s anything smoking, that I can put that out before it ever gets to Spo,” Fizdale said when asked about James and his relationship with Spoelstra. “…if there’s anything smoking that Spo needs to know, I try to make sure that it’s communicated from them to him, from him to them, without fire.” That means providing context and clarity. “This is where LeBron’s coming from, Spo,” Fizdale said. “LeBron, this is where Spo was coming from. I translate for them and we keep everybody moving in the same direction. I try to be the glue as much as I can.”

While most of the major media outlets have crossed off Ollie as a potential head coach because he’s “leaning towards staying, ” I have heard that all too often to believe it should the right scenario arise. John Calipari says it with as much regularity as he says “hello,” and we know how that often turns out.

It’s likely that all three would consider coaching LeBron James, regardless of the city, and there’s no doubt why Griffin is likely focusing in on those three coaches.

Of course, the chances of signing LeBron are a longshot at best, so you can do the math.

There are other potential options for LeBron coming to Cleveland other than at the end of this year. LeBron could simply play one more season with Miami, and become a free agent at the end of next year. Should the Cavs be in better shape, he could then take the plunge. Of course, he could just come back for his last contract, whenever that is.

That unknown will likely keep the best candidate to attract him from coming here, and even if they do, that wouldn’t guarantee a LeBron return.

David Griffin knows that.

Don’t be surprised if his list is slightly different than the list I provided. I’m sure Griffin is doing his due diligence with everyone, but my guess is that his vision of a head coach may simply focus on the best guy out there for the roster that he has, and if that guy proves to be someone who can lure LeBron here, more power to him.

Let’s get one thing straight here, the Cavs should throw all their eggs into the LeBron basket. We all know how that turns out.

What I know is that it will be an interesting month leading towards the NBA draft, then to the free agent period. The Cavs will be acquiring a new coach, a new lottery pick, and hopefully, a free agent or two that can turn this franchise around in a big way.



Author: Jim Pete

Jim KNOWS that Albert Belle deserved the MVP, and that the false prophet, Mo Vaughn did not. He thinks that Mike and Greg Pruitt are truly related, because, c'mon, what are the chances? He cries at least once a day, watching videos of LeBron's block, followed by Kyrie's shot. He loves miracles at Richfield, Ron Harper, parking at Gate D, Alex Cole park dimensions, and the glorious Kenny Lofton, who is the REAL Alex Cole. When he isn't writing or talking Cleveland sports for EHC, he moonlights as a husband, father, coach, teacher, Twitter screamer, golfer, runner, and lover of spaghetti carbonara. He also commutes from Raleigh to the North Coast, because it builds character

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