Major growing pains for Tribe

CLEVELAND -- When Indians manager Manny Acta posted his Opening Day lineup last week, there were only four players occupying the same position as a year ago: first baseman Matt LaPorta, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, right fielder Shin-Soo Choo and DH Travis Hafner.

Baseball Prospectus 2011 notes that in just more than two calendar years, beginning with the trade of CC Sabathia to Milwaukee (Sabathia then signed as a free agent with the Yankees), the Indians traded 17 major leaguers and received 29 players in return, most of them minor leaguers.

Of the team that took the Red Sox to seven games in the ALCS in 2007, only five players return, one of whom, outfielder Grady Sizemore, is on the disabled list. The others are Cabrera, Hafner, lefty reliever Rafael Perez and right-hander Fausto Carmona, who is scheduled to face the Red Sox on Thursday.

The rebuilding process has been a painful one for the Tribe, at the box office and in the standings. In 2009 and 2010, the Indians lost 97 and 93 games, respectively, after winning 96 in 2007. A team that exceeded 3 million in attendance for six straight years (1996-2001) drew just 1.39 million in 2010, the team’s lowest attendance since 1991, when they drew just 1.05 million while still playing at the old Municipal Stadium.

With temperatures expected to drop into the 30s Tuesday night, and a brisk wind blowing, only the hardiest souls are expected to show up at Progressive Field. Basketball’s Cavaliers are playing next door in Quickens Arena, and Charlie Sheen’s tour also is in town.

The Indians ended last season with the youngest lineup in the majors, an average of 26.06 years of age, and real improvement isn’t expected until next season. In the meantime, expect a lot of rough nights, and empty seats.