Too good to win 


Pittsburg is draining Indians’ roster

The Indians are just too good to win. After coasting through 69 days at the top of the International League South Division, they are seeing their players move up to the greener pastures of Pittsburg on an almost daily basis. And as the Pirates roster saturates with former Indianapolis Indians, the Tribe’s box scores have become super-saturated with opposing runs.

Individual success of Indians’ marquee players like Rajai Davis and John Van Benschoten has led to constant roster shuffles and a game of hot-potato with the pitching rotation; both of which are byproducts of the Pirates budget strategy. They have the fourth lowest payroll in baseball, according to a USA Today poll, so to fill the uniforms they are much more likely to promote from within, saving the owners millions of dollars in exchange for a winning record.

But don’t get it crossed: The hometown team still swings with the best of them. If you spend an evening with the Tribe at Victory Field, you and thousands of others will see major league talent rip the ball all over the park. The two offensive studs headed to Albuquerque for Tuesday’s All-Star game regularly send the outfield fans tripping over their coolers for souvenirs; and even after a late-June losing skid in which they dropped nine of 10 games, the Indians still lead the wild card race and have the best team batting average in the IL.

However, the dominant pitching that gave Indy the best minor league team in the country has been commandeered by the (bloody) Pirates, and the opposition has torn the replacements asunder. Meanwhile, the intra-division rival Toledo Mud Hens prospects twiddle their thumbs by the phone, hopelessly waiting for a call from the reigning AL Champion Detroit Tigers — and enjoy a surging divisional lead on the Tribe. The Tigers spend $55 million more than the Pirates on talent, and consequently the Mud Hens dropped the Indians in four straight contests in June.

Each of the six starting pitchers on the Pirates depth chart is a former Indianapolis Indian, whereas the Tigers leave their budding talents stifled in Toledo, and start as many rookies as the Devil Rays do Hall of Famers. In contrast, former Indian Ryan Doumit was named Best Defensive Catcher by Baseball America in 2004 and now frequents the right field warning track as a right fielder at PNC Park after being called up to Pittsburgh mid-season. On paper it seems ideal: Doumit is hitting over .300 since the move and certainly deserves major league innings. The problem with the Pittsburgh system is that the promising players of tomorrow become the cannon fodder of today; a makeshift lineup of talent that is too good for the minors, and too inexpensive not to get pawned off to a winning team before the trade deadline.

The Pirates’ thrifty Human Resources Department won’t obliterate the Indians’ race for a pennant, but when the B-squad middle-relievers start serving up beach balls to the Mud Hens in September, it just might cost Indianapolis a second pro sports championship in 2007.

For ticket and season information: The Indians play at home July 16-23.



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Andrew Roberts

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