John Hart never stops thinking about next year, not even a half hour after his team just lost in the World Series.
“We don’t need to make any wholesale changes,” the Indians’ general manager said. “There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. Five or six years ago, who ever dreamed that we’d be standing here today? Am I disappointed about losing the World Series? Of course. But it’s no reason to panic.”
Hart watched the Indians hit only .179 in their six games against Atlanta. They averaged only three runs per game and hit just five homers in those six games.
“What am I supposed to do, go out and find pitchers like Greg Maddux and Tommy Glavine?” he asked. “You don’t trade for those guys. You have to be fortunate to develop pitchers like that. That is what beat us: great pitching. There was no mystery about it. We just didn’t score runs.”
Would he like to add more offense?
“If we can,” Hart said. “But we led the league in home runs, runs scored and batting average. We won 100 games in a shortened season. We won our division by 30 games, and we made it to the World Series for the first time in 41 years.
“The story of the Indians this year is one of a dramatic turnaround. A lot of baseball people were scratching their heads and caught a little by surprise by what we accomplished this year. Let’s not forget that.”
Hart gave strong support to manager Mike Hargrove, who was second-guessed several times during the World Series.
“Given the fact that this was his first postseason and all the pressure he was under, Mike handled himself very well,” Hart said. “He is a great leader. He stayed positive throughout the playoffs. He rallied the team when we were down (two games to one) to Seattle. I think some of the criticism he received was undeserved.”
Hargrove is signed for next season, and Hart has an option on the manager’s contract for 1997. The coaches already have been rehired for next year.
Hart does have some decisions to make. Charles Nagy is eligible for arbitration and wants a long-term contract. Eddie Murray, Ken Hill, Paul Assenmacher, Jim Poole, Tony Pena and Alvaro Espinoza are free agents.
Albert Belle has a year left on his contract, and Hart would like to sign him up for several years, although that won’t be easy. Belle will use his 50 homers and MVP-worthy season as leverage to break owner Dick Jacobs’ budget.
While Hart had those things on his mind even after Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Atlanta, he wanted to talk in more general terms rather than discuss the futures of specific players.
“I thought our bats were ready to break loose,” he said. “We hit the ball decently in Cleveland, and when we beat Maddux (in Game 5), I thought we might come here and score some runs.”
But the Indians were Tony Pena’s single away from being no-hit by Glavine and reliever Mark Wohlers on Saturday.
“You have to give him credit, Glavine threw a jewel, just like Maddux did in Game 1,” Hart said. “Those were two of the best games pitched against us all year.”
Hart was pleased with the Tribe’s pitching in the postseason.
“I don’t think anyone can question the work we got from our starters,” he said. “They all pitched well. For the most part, the bullpen dominated as it did during the regular season. Our problem is that we never ran into this kind of pitching all year. No one has a starting staff like the Braves’.”
For that reason, Hart plans to tinker and fine-tune for next season - maybe adding a right-handed bat to replace Dave Winfield, who was injured most of the season and contributed little.
Billy Ripken may replace Espinoza as the utility infielder. Murray will be invited to return, but probably for fewer dollars. Hart won’t want to spend $3 million (Murray’s 1995 salary) for a 40-year-old designated hitter.