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What went wrong: Cleveland Indians

The following is the first in a series profiling of some of 2009’s biggest disappointments.

Cleveland Indians

Record: 59-76 (4th in AL Central)

How It Happened:

With the one of the top all-around talents in the game in Grady Sizemore, the defending American League Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee, a fully-healthy Victor Martinez, and the additions of a valuable utilityman in Mark DeRosa and a capable closer in Kerry Wood, it appeared as though the stars were aligned for the Indians to compete in 2009, but they have suffered through a perfect storm of misfortune.

Despite a return to form by Martinez, the offense simply failed to take off. Sizemore, who has played in at least 157 games every year since 2005, was limited to 106 games due to inflammation in his left elbow. Helped by a strong August, Sizemore managed a .248/.343/.445 line to go along with 18 homers, 64 RBI and 13 stolen bases. The Indians finally shut him down on Friday, with a pair of surgeries on the docket in the coming days. He should be ready for the start of the 2010 season.

After consecutive 20-homer seasons, Jhonny Peralta is batting .275/.335/.412 with just 11 homers and 72 RBI. An April injury to his left elbow effectively zapped his power output in what should have been his age-27 breakout year. It doesn’t help that manager Eric Wedge has been unable to lean on Travis Hafner’s sore shoulders, either. Despite a .272/.358/.487 line to go along with 14 homers and 40 RBI and a .844 OPS (highest since 2006), Pronk can’t play more than back-to-back games, thus he only has 265 at-bats this season. And while Franklin Gutierrez is blossoming into a star in Seattle, Luis Valbuena has been underwhelming at second base.

While the offense has been inconsistent, the pitching has been even worse, putting up a 4.97 staff ERA (third worst in the majors), including a 5.09 ERA for their starters (fourth worst) and a 4.78 ERA in their revolving-door bullpen (again, third worst). Wood imploded in the first-half, compiling a 5.28 ERA and four blown saves while serving up six bombs in just 30 2/3 innings. Fausto Carmona was demoted on June 5 after pitching to a miserable 7.42 ERA and 36/41 K/BB ratio in 60 2/3 innings. Anthony Reyes was expected to be the No. 4 starter behind Carl Pavano, but he underwent elbow surgery in May and will likely never see a mound with the Tribe again. And after missing the second half of the 2008 season with Tommy John surgery, Jake Westbrook hasn’t thrown a pitch in the big leagues this season. He was shut down after complaining of elbow soreness during a rehab stint in August.

Add it all up and the Indians were 14 games out of first place at the All-Star break.

Silver Linings:

- Shin-Soo Choo continues to be one of the game’s most underrated players, batting .302/.396/.476 with 14 home runs, 74 RBI, 33 doubles and 18 stolen bases. The 27-year-old South Korean is about league average against lefties (.426 career slugging percentage), but he is a steady weapon against right-handers (.505 slugging percentage). Throw in his cannon from right field you have a very capable partner alongside Sizemore for years to come.

- Asdrubal Cabrera missed nearly a month with a sprained left shoulder, but it hasn’t derailed his breakthrough season. The 23-year-old shortstop is batting .310/.362/.438 with five home runs, 56 RBI, 16 stolen bases and 71 runs scored in 110 games. With more speed than expected (he had just 53 stolen bases over 430 games in the minors) and an adequate glove, Cabrera is a fine building block for the future.

- While the Indians traded away Lee, Martinez, Mark DeRosa, Ben Francisco and Ryan Garko, they have managed to acquire an impressive haul of prospects including RHP Carlos Carrasco, RHP Chris Perez, RHP Jess Todd, LHP Nick Hagadone, RHP Jason Knapp, SS Jason Donald, C Lou Marson and LHP Scott Barnes, all ranked in their team’s top ten prospects, according to Baseball America.

Sometimes it’s tough to bite the bullet and rebuild, but general manager Mark Shapiro has done it in a very creative and savvy way, namely taking advantage of a situation in which Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi was asking the moon for Roy Halladay. The trades weren’t popular, especially with rumors of Knapp being damaged goods, but in truth, Shapiro has laid a groundwork for contention in the long run.

Looking ahead:

- The Indians are expected to evaluate Wedge and his staff in the weeks to come. Many believe a managerial change is inevitable given the high expectations of the past two seasons. Wedge has guided the Indians to a 555-551 record over six seasons.

- The trades of Martinez and Garko will finally allow young stud Matt LaPorta (51 homers and .944 OPS over 224 games in the minors) to get a full season under his belt in 2010.

- The Indians already have roughly $50 million in contact commitments for 2010 including $11.5 million for Hafner, $11 million for Westbrook and $10.5 million for Wood, contracts that will be very tough, if not impossible to move. In turn, they won’t have much payroll flexibility headed into 2010. They’ll sink or swim with an infusion of youth.