I still maintain that the Cleveland Indians could very well be one of those upstart, small market competitors. Of course they would need career seasons from two pitchers and three to four position players but isn't that what happened in 2005 and 2007?
I like new Cleveland manager Manny Acta's early approach to the season. What else can he do but try to make these young but hungry guys believe they are first, big leaguers and second, a team. There is much to make up for with Victor Martinez gone. Victor was first a hitter, second a pitcher handler, and third a defensive catcher. Acta has baseball beliefs that he will not waiver from. Initially, he is taking superstar Grady Sizemore from the lead off to the second batting position, a move I have been screaming about for three years. Acta has to believe in himself as well. He is coming off of an unsuccessful stint with the Washington Nationals. He professes to be a John Wooden disciple. Wooden had 14 losing seasons before he became the best college basketball coach in the land. Manny Acta knows he doesn't have that luxury.
There have been some strange twists in player personnel over the last couple of seasons that lead you to think that the front office is flip flopping on rebuilding and contending. Dumping players like Cliff Lee and Martinez prior to their free agency season is purely a money saving move. But then they acquire Russell Branyan to ensure they have a somewhat bona fide power hitting 1st baseman. Did GM Mark Shapiro switch gears recently and decide that the American League Central is weak enough for this team to contend in?
Whatever the reason, this team doesn't know they don't have a prayer and for that reason they are very dangerous.
Manny Acta has a Win-Win philosophy beginning with the first practice pitch in Spring. The previous manager had a wait and see, mind-numbing, patient, grind-it- out approach that rivaled watching grass grow for entertainment.
The next few weeks will give us an indication of what could be possible for the 2010 season. Veterans must lead and prospects must quickly overcome the mystique of the "Bigs" and make an impact quickly and regularly. If this happens, they certainly will not beat the Yankees or the Red Sox to the World Series but they may make it difficult along the way for those teams and find themselves in a run for the playoffs come late August.
As Jim Gammon said as manager Lou Brown in the movie Major League, "This is my kind of team, Charlie, my kind of team!"