With another Sunday disappointment from the Browns and the groundbreaking decision that I refuse to subject my son to being a Browns fan (I made the concession to the Packers to the DiaBride in order to get a full commitment to the Tribe), let’s move on to happier thoughts of the Boys of Summer with the final Lazy Sunday of 2006:
First, a very Jason Davis-centric mailbag from Paul Hoynes, which focuses on where The Taxidermist (still one of my favorite pictures) fits into the Indians’ plans for 2007 and beyond.
Terry Pluto also addresses Jason Davis, among others, as he analyzes the bullpen for 2007. Pluto states that the Indians think that Jason Dangerously is poised for a breakout, which few Indians fans are banking on. If it happens, it will be gravy on top of the meat of the off-season additions.
Davis had much better results starting an inning (.688 OPS against in 2006) vs. coming in with runners with scoring position (1.034 OPS against in 2006) last year, so expect Davis to be used as the long man or start some 6th innings (perhaps after Cliff Lee’s patented “five-and-flies”) until he can get some footing in the bullpen.
Davis will be an interesting player to watch in the next few months as he could certainly be part of a package in (what some feel) a big trade that Shapiro is working on to add a RF or a 1B.
The hype that Pluto is attributing to the Indians’ Front Office could be an attempt to build up the value of Davis, whose stuff has never been in question. His temperament and the role that suits his talent best…those are what have always been the questions.
Or, the idea that Davis has FINALLY “got it” and understands how to harness a high-90 MPH fastball could be an honest line of thinking from the Front Office and Davis could fulfill those expectations to emerge as the power arm out of the bullpen that everyone’s been waiting for since early in 2005.
Frankly, I’ll believe in a consistently effective Jason Dangerously at the Major League level only when I see him with my own eyes.
Pluto also states that the Indians have told him that Garko-my-God-did-you-see-how-far-he-hit-that? will start the 2007 season on the bench, getting the first shot if Choo or Marte struggle (as Blake would fill in full-time at RF or 3B).
The reasoning that Garko will not be handed the 1B job is his defense and, as long as the combination of Blake, Marte, and Choo system produces runs, he would stay there. Keeping Garko on the bench limits the bench’s versatility as he really only plays 1B (apparently still poorly) or DH, but Blake’s ability to play all 4 corner spots (RF, LF, 1B, 3B) allows the Indians to do so.
Garko rightfully earned quite a few fans with his productivity last year, thanks to his approach at the plate; but if the Indians are truly committed to improving their infield defense (which was always mentioned, with the bullpen, as a big concern) – Garko’s glove at 1B (if the scouting reports that his defense is well below average are true) every day is too much of a liability.
As a fan of Garko (small sample size be damned) and his plate approach and discipline, but a believer in Shapiro’s evaluation of putting the best team on the field daily, I’ll have to put faith in the Indians that the Indians are better served keeping Blake and Choo in the lineup as opposed to Garko. Garko is obviously best served to DH in the Majors, but that position has been filled in Cleveland.
Finally, an excellent resource has been added to the sidebar with Swerbs’ Tribe Payroll Data, a link that offers a quick reference guide to answer payroll and arbitration questions.
Have fun tonight wherever you ring in 2007 and “See You Next Year”!
I hate when people say that.
Sunday, December 31, 2006
With another Sunday disappointment from the Browns and the groundbreaking decision that I refuse to subject my son to being a Browns fan (I made the concession to the Packers to the DiaBride in order to get a full commitment to the Tribe), let’s move on to happier thoughts of the Boys of Summer with the final Lazy Sunday of 2006:
Friday, December 29, 2006
Before we get too ahead of ourselves and throw the Cleveland jinx on this whole Foulke thing, a thought occurred to me as I searched for the first instance that Keith Foulke entered the public eye:
Back in April of 2000, the White Sox and Tigers were engaged in one of the more brutal instances of basebrawl, and Foulke played the Dennis Cook role - charging in from the bullpen to crack some sculls - only to be sucker punched by Karim Garcia in the face. Foulke got 5 facial stitches and was shown, in an interview the next day, with a big shiner telling reporters how little he thought of the Tigers.
After he returned from the suspension, Foulke assumed the closer role from "Mr. Roboto" Bob Howry, and many pundits pointed to the respect that Foulke earned in the brawl for the confidence that his teammates had in him and he in himself, which has snowballed into a nice career as a closer.
Anyways, as I was looking for footage of the brawl or the interview that I remember pretty well in which it looked like somebody had glued an eggplant to the side of Foulke's face, there was no footage online.
Chicago & Detroit websites...nothing.
How could this be? How could one of the better basebrawls (that occurred fairly recently) not make it's way onto the Internet?
Then, a thought occurred:
Why doesn't ESPN, with all of it's archival footage of games and SportsCenter highlights, create a YouTube style website that anyone can view anything that has ever been shown over the ESPN airwaves?
Want to see the coverage of the first 3 picks of the 1999 NFL Draft (Couch, McNabb, Smith) and what the pundits were saying about them? Mel Kiper's hair appears instantly...
Want to see all of those great games that are on ESPN Classic, but you NEVER know when? Just type in which game you want to see and watch it in its entirety or just the 9th inning...
Want to see the Tigers-White Sox brawl on April 22, 2000 covered on that night's SportsCenter? At your fingertips...
Call it ESPoNdemand.
Make it free, like YouTube or charge a flat rate to search and view as much footage as you want.
Get the NFL, MLB, NBA, and other sports to get in on it. There's enough money out there to keep everyone fat and happy as people would pay to watch Albert Belle hitting the centerfield shot off of Lee Smith to win a game in 1995, or to watch the Browns-Jets playoff game that was ended by Mark Mosely. And that's just the tip of the iceberg!
You're telling me that ESPN, with its seemingly unlimited resources, couldn't tackle this type of project? 13-year-olds are putting the Knicks-Nuggets fight coverage from ESPN on YouTube, why couldn't ESPN do it all from Bristol?
Maybe they're more interested in developing "Quite Frankly" or making another movie like the one with Brian Dennehy as Bobby Knight. If they are, they've lost the idea behind their whole creation. Sports - what you want to watch, when you want to watch it.
Maybe it's from watching the drivel that's on TV during the day (or at 3:30AM) that's hatched the idea, but with the information age maturing before our very eyes, isn't it time that sports fans got what they wanted, when the wanted it?
Something to ponder until any news comes out of E. 9th and Ontario.
Until then, and with all of the Foulke excitement, Don't forget about Mahk Moda!
Monday, December 25, 2006
Merry Christmas to everyone out on the Reservation!
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Matt Underwood reported on Tribe Report that the Indians offered Eric Gagne the exact same contract that the Rangers did. According to Underwood, Gagne made his decision based on geography. He wanted to train in Arizona and wanted to pitch in warmer weather.
If that’s the case, this Canadian certainly fell in love with the sun while in L.A. Gagne has passed his physical in Texas and been named their closer, moving Akinori Otsuka back to the set-up role.
The Indians pursuit of Gagne could be looked at, in hindsight, either as another B.J. Ryan (too bad he’s elsewhere) or another Armando Benitez (thank God he’s not here).
Also, the Indians moved closer to heading to the desert in Spring of 2009 and Mark Mulder’s agent was in town today to talk to the Tribe.
But which current Cleveland arm would be moved to fill a hole? Obviously Westbrook (if he isn’t signed to an extension) is a FA after 2007, as is Byrd; but Lee could be the most likely casualty. Considering that he is a LHP, if the Indians did sign him it would put the possibility of 4 LHP in the rotation with C.C., Sowers, and Lee already there. With C.C. and Sowers unlikely to go anywhere, if the Tribe signed Mulder, it could signal the end of Cliff Lee as a Cleveland Indian.
Of course, Mulder could sign elsewhere, Lee could retire a Cleveland Indian, and all of this becomes forgotten.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Thanks to the dearth of decent things on TV (as we simply wait to make a hospital trip - 3 days from the DiaBride's due date), I happened to catch the 1982 Cleveland Indians Year in Review on STO. Accompanied by the mellifluous tones of Nev Chandler (how he is missed), it reviews the Tribe’s 1982 season and looks forward to a promising 1983.
With a strong rotation (Len Barker, Rick Sutcliffe, Bert Blyleven, and Larry Sorenson) a decent bullpen (anchored by Dan Spillner) and an offense led by a powerful DH (Thunder Thornton) and some nice pieces (Toby Harrah, Mike Hargrove, and Rick Manning), the 1982 season ended with a 78-84 record with high hopes for 1983.
In the off-season, they traded Von Hayes for Manny Trillo, Julio Franco, and George Vuckovich and acquired Juan Eichelberger to augment the pitching staff. They were rewarded with a record of…70-92.
Realizing that these “Years in Review” or “Previews” are blatantly optimistic (anyone who has seen a Cleveland Browns’ NFL Films Year in Review since 1999 can attest to that), it got me thinking.
What if the Indians in 2007 are headed for a big letdown?
What if the Indians aren’t primed for a playoff run?
What if the 78-84 records of 1982 and 2006 are more similar than dissimilar?
Is the 2007 squad set for a disappointment, something that (after last year) isn’t going to go well in Cleveland?
So, without the presence of noted thespian Keanu Reeves, I decided to play a little Devil’s Advocate.
Following are the questions or uncertainties facing the Tribe in 2007, accompanied by arguments as to why those questions could blow up into full-blown problems. Those arguments are then followed by rebuttals that give hope that the Indians’ remain on the right track for 2007 and beyond.
The 2007 Bullpen Is No Better
Argument – Borowski for Wickman. Hernandez for Mota. Fultz for Sauerbeck. Everything else (Cabrera, Betancourt, Miller, Davis) remains the same for a bullpen breaking Spring Training, so where’s the improvement? Given the volatility of relievers, there’s no guarantee that the new pitchers don’t turn into Mota and Sauerbeck – or worse – Jimenez and Stewart. If the FA signings blow up in the Indians’ faces, we’re back to where we started. The youngsters in AAA will be called upon to rescue the season and will try to learn on the fly, ready or not. If the Indians are not able to add another reliable arm, they’re playing with fire – risking them the possibility of getting burned 2 years in a row.
Rebuttal – The bullpen is always a crapshoot. The 2006 bullpen looked better coming out of Winter Haven than the one that was sent north in 2005, but the results could not have been more different. The volatility of relievers is always going to be a constant, so the luck comes in acquiring relievers on the verge of effectiveness, not on the downswing. The Indians’ approach of quantity in lieu of absolutely certain quality is a sound approach that allows them to have enough arms available in the case that Aaron Fultz is Scott Stewart in disguise. Let’s not forget, too, that at this point last year, most thought that Fernando Cabrera was the closer-in-waiting. After a dreadful start (thanks, maybe, to the WBC), Cabrera was the biggest disappointment of 2007 this side of Jhonny Peralta. If Cabrera is able to recapture the effectiveness of the 2005 season that portended so much success, the new arms will be allowed to slot further down the ladder. Additionally, the depth of the organization at AAA, reliever-wise, allows the Tribe to have multiple options (Mastny, Mujica, Sipp, Lara, etc.) in case one of the FA signings flops. Don’t expect the Tribe to hold on to a floundering reliever while Rome burns, regardless of the financial commitment.
The Rotation is not a Strength
Argument – C.C. is injury-prone, Westbrook gives up too many hits, Sowers has 14 career starts, Lee is trending down with an inability to get through the 6th inning, and Byrd has become nothing more than a 5th starter. For what is supposed to be the strength of the team, that’s a lot of question marks. If one of the veterans goes down, the replacement comes in the form of Fausto Carmona (he of the 7 career starts) giving the Indians two starters with 21 career starts for a team intent on contention this year.
Rebuttal – Obviously, this is a pretty weak argument as it’s become clear that the Indians’ starters have missed 7 starts in the past 2 years, and C.C.’s numbers over the past 1 ½ years scream “aCCe”. Westbrook should benefit from the improved infield defense that a full year of Marte, Barfield, and someone not named Broussard at 1B to limit the amount of groundballs that find the outfield grass. Sowers showed that he has the guile and intelligence to have a preternatural ability to pitch in the MLB, inexperience aside. Lee was a disappointment last year, as his inability to get through the 6th in most of his starts exposed a flawed bullpen. One hopes that Lee will benefit from pitching further down in the rotation, against lesser starters, to keep him in most games until he can figure out what went wrong in 2006. Byrd, as a 5th starter, is probably one of the top three 5th starters in the league. Byrd isn’t being counted to be the ace of this staff, so let’s not overestimate his importance to the staff. The depth of the organization (with Carmona, Slocum, and Miller as the 6th, 7th, and 8th starters) is something that most teams would take as a “problem” 8 days a week.
There are too many Platoons
Argument – Instead of a set lineup with 9 players locked into a spot in the lineup, the Indians are counting on a Dellucci/Michaels platoon in LF, a Choo/Blake platoon in RF, and a Garko/Blake/Martinez platoon at 1B. The Indians should have spent the money being used on Michaels and Dellucci (about $5.5M) to get an everyday LF. Furthermore, they should sign a veteran hitter, either a RF or 1B to play everyday, hand a starting job to Choo or Garko, and let Blake become the super-utility player. A team so full of platoons means simply that the players participating in those platoons are not good enough ML players to earn full-time playing status and the higher the number of platoon players on a roster limits the flexibility of the roster
Rebuttal – The Benuardo platoon of 2006 proved to be the most productive 1B this side of Albert Pujos before Broussard and Perez were sent to Seattle for Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera. The Dellucci/Michaels platoon in LF should prove to have similar results (Dellucci’s career OPS vs. RHP - .827, with Michaels’ career OPS vs. LHP - .851) and the price ($5.5M) isn’t too excessive if it’s figured the Indians offered a 2-year, $16M contract to Moises Alou to fill an outfield spot. Both Dellucci and Michaels have proven that they can hit either LHP or RHP, so the platoon should prove effective. As for the convoluted 1B/RF platoon, it’s likely that the Indians will watch the development of both Choo and Garko through the first few months of the 2007 season. If one struggles, it’s very possible that the Indians use some of the unused funds from the off-season to add a veteran hitter at one of those two positions, essentially replacing whichever player is less productive. The more productive player becomes a full-time fixture, allowing Blake to slot into that super-utility role. Of course, the current arrangement could work very well, Garko and Choo could both thrive to the point that they are given regular AB against both LHP and RHP and the point again becomes moot.
Jhonny Peralta v.2006 Shows Up Again
Argument – Peralta’s deficiencies in the field weren’t offset by offensive productivity as he saw the bottom drop out of his OPS (.886 to .708) and HR (24 to 13), while his K’s (128 to 152) and GIDP (12 to 19) rose to the point of concern. His “breakthrough” year of 2005 has become a distant memory and it would take quite a bit for him to return to the 3 hole in the lineup, at which he thrived in the 2nd half of 2005. His lack of range in the field has become a major liability and the Indians are going to have to find a suitable backup at SS (neither Luna nor Inglett has shown the ability to play an adequate defensive SS) as a contingency plan in case Peralta’s 2005 season proves to be the aberration, rather than the 2006 season.
Rebuttal – For a player who doesn’t turn 25 until late May and showed enough in the 2005 season for the Tribe to give him a long-term contract, there’s a good deal of consternation about a sophomore slump. Perhaps the fact that the other player also receiving an extension last off-season (Grady) took the next step, while Peralta regressed at the plate played a part in the concern. At the bottom of the lineup, where he’ll be asked to improve his plate discipline (the guy in the bleachers knows he’s seeing a breaking ball low and away with 2 strikes) and revert back to his 2005 form, there will be a lot less pressure for him to recover. Defensively, Peralta will have the luxury of a superior 3B in Marte and a better defender at 2B in Barfield than he endured in 2006. It’s true that he needs to improve his range and approach to ensure that he’s properly positioned on EVERY pitch, but let’s remember that Peralta is still a young player learning the game, subject to the maturation process that every player goes through. Unfortunately for Peralta, he became the cover boy for everything that went wrong with the Indians in 2006, putting the microscope firmly on him. Shapiro has called Peralta “the most important player to the team in 2007”, so don’t think the glare of the microscope is off of him. How he responds and adjusts to his 3rd full year in MLB will determine if Peralta becomes a SS the caliber of Tejada (remember how we all thought he was Miggy’s second coming after 2005) or Dale Sveum (a one-year-wonder who never recaptures the success of his first full season).
Are Pronk, Grady, and the Stick Enough?
Argument – The Indians failed to add a leadoff hitter that would have allowed SuperSizemore to move to the 3 hole, and failed to add a big RH bat to protect Hafner in the 5 hole. By failing to add these pieces, the Indians are relying too heavily on either young, unproven players (Garko, Barfield, Marte, Choo) or players with mixed career results (Peralta, Blake, Dellucci, Michaels) to carry the offense. Grady, Pronk, and Victor can only do so much to shoulder the load and the unproven nature of the bottom of the order forces them to produce the bulk of the offense.
Rebuttal – This is the same team that was second in MLB in runs scored (behind only the NYY) and fourth in OPS and total bases in 2006, with the likes of Boone getting consistent AB, Joe Inglett getting over 200 AB, a dreadful year from Peralta, and Michaels batting against RHP. While the likes of Garko, Barfield, Marte, and Choo don’t have a lot of experience, they showed enough talent and promise that they should be an improvement over the players they’re replacing. Rather than throwing money at the likes of a 1B/RF like Aubrey Huff, a leadoff hitter like Juan Pierre, or a RH bopper like (gasp) Carlos Lee, the Indians are going to give their youngsters a chance to succeed. Allowing the Minor Leagues to bear their fruit is the proper (and prudent) way to build a team, filling holes from within and spending money or making trades only when holes are unable to be filled from the farm.
Going into 2007, there’s no question that question marks exist, but on December 17th, those question marks aren’t nearly as glaring as most teams face. While the naysayers will always see that half-empty glass, it’s much easier to see the glass half-full and remain optimistic about this team going forward. Of course, the 2007 season could turn into another 1983, but for now, it looks unlikely.
With that out of the way, here’s a brief Lazy Sunday (not much happening on the Reservation as of late) to put off the names on that Christmas list:
Terry Pluto brings us up to speed on the off-season moves.
Paul Hoynes addresses Pronk’s contract situation.
For now, enjoy the remainder of the Drive for Joe Thomas this Sunday.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Eric Gagne has signed with the Rangers, presumably to fill out the Rangers’ bullpen or to make Akinori Otsuka available to fill the teams’ other needs.
We’ll never know how close the Indians came to signing Gagne and how the incentives contained in the Rangers’ contract compared to those contained the final offer from the Tribe, but at some point the risk associated with signing a player like Gagne have to come into play.
From one viewpoint, what’s the difference of giving up that extra $1 million to ensure a Gagne signing? On the other hand, there has to be a line in the sand that the Indians simply refuse to cross.
Maybe the Rangers had a line a little further away than the Indians…again, we’ll never know.
While it would have been fantastic to add a Gagne to the Tribe bullpen, it comes with the big IF regarding his health. It could be that, come August, the Indians are thanking their lucky stars that they didn’t spend the money on damaged goods. It could, however, just as easily play out that the Indians end up kicking themselves for not assuming more risk to sign the “Comeback Player of the Year” if Gagne recaptures the effectiveness of a few years ago.
It all will come out in the wash, but Gagne isn’t coming to Cleveland; so, we’ll pass judgment on the Gagne thing in about 8 or 9 months.
For now, the question becomes whether the Indians’ bullpen is complete, as is, or if the Indians will explore adding another arm via trade (since a Foulke signing seems unlikely). The rest of the FA reliever market lacks that player with closing experience, injury history or not.
The Indians still have some available parts that may have value in the trade market because of their youth and affordability. Are the likes of Jeremy Guthrie, Franklin Gutierrez, and others enough to pry a player like Otsuka from Texas or Chad Cordero from Washington? Those players aren’t be enough to acquire Mike Gonzalez or Scot Shields, so it’s a matter of who the Indians are willing to trade and how much they really think they need to add another arm.
As it stands now, the bullpen looks like this:
LHP (Perez, Lara, Sipp)
Since Miller, Mujica, Mastny, and all of the LHP not making the team still have options, that’s how the bullpen would probably leave Winter Haven. If another arm is signed, Davis becomes either expendable to trade or battles to keep his spot (presumably as the long man).
With all of the spare parts that Shapiro has floating around and with the depth in the minors (particularly with pitchers and outfielders), expect some moves to the roster to strengthen the team. Who those players are and what will be moved to acquire them is what will keep us busy in an off-season that is becoming less and less of an “off”-season.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
If Gagne can harness ANY of that old magic, it’s worth a $6M, 1-year deal with incentives. Let’s hope, first, that Shapiro can convince Gagne to come to the North Coast and, second, that Gagne is somewhere close to the pitcher that ruled the roost at Chavez Ravine a few years back.
On another note, there was great coverage of the Winter Meetings on STO, though the DiaBride can’t figure out why we’re watching 3 guys sitting around a hotel in Florida at the beginning of December four nights in a row.
Hopefully, Anderson’s gig with STO develops into a job in the booth someday, where his personality and ridiculous stories and anecdotes would add quite a bit to the game. The fact that he still, at heart, is a kid from Geneva who loves the Tribe doesn’t hurt his likeability. STO should tell Anderson that when his playing career is over, there would be a chair ready for him.
Back to the Winter Meetings, some of the tidbits from people not named Shapiro, or from guys more likely to “slip up” and let some bit of information or conjecture leak out.
According to Assistant GM Chris Antonetti, the Tribe lineup vs. RHP will look like this:
LF – Dellucci
CF – Sizemore
RF – Choo
1B – Blake/Garko
2B – Barfield
SS – Peralta
Against LHP, the lineup will look like this:
LF – Michaels
CF – Sizemore
RF – Blake
1B – Garko/Vic
2B – Barfield
SS – Peralta
3B – Marte
C – Martinez and occasionally Shoppach
Antonetti said that Blake’s versatility is the attribute that allows the Indians to move their lineup around against different pitchers. While these lineups are the “ideal”, it’s very possible that, as the season goes forward, the players separate themselves to earn more AB, while others will appear less frequently. The idea that the depth will be improved is contingent, however, on Wedge using his bench much more liberally than he has in past years.
Speaking of the Atomic Wedgie, while he normally won’t give up any quotes that don’t include the phrases “respect the game”, “consistent approach”, or “grind it out”, he was unusually glib.
He said that Casey Blake will be in the lineup every day, whether it be RF or 1B, or even 3B. When asked about Garko-my-God-did-you-see-how-far-he-hit-that?, he said that Garko really impressed the coaching staff last year with his “approach” (Wedgieism), but he still needs to work on his defense. He has certainly improved and is playing Winter Ball to get better. Wedge said that Garko is absolutely in the mix at 1B, as is Victor, and Casey…so that’s what they’ll have to work out - to find AB for all of them.
Looking at the approach to the Winter Meetings (and the off-season as a whole) it seem that the Front Office is acquiring players to create competition in Spring Training, making players like Jason Davis and Ryan Garko earn a spot on this team in Winter Haven.
If one of the youngsters plays his way onto the team, great…but none of them is being counted upon to take a giant step entering 2007.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
JoeBo is on board and in the mix in the bullpen. The Indians filled another need in getting a guy with closing experience on a 1-year, $4M deal with those magic words, “club option for 2008”, allowing a successful year for Borowski to translate into bullpen stability for the Tribe for another year.
On an interview on WTAM this afternoon, Shapiro stated that Borowski was not guaranteed the job of closer, but that he provided the team a “closing option”. To me, that sounds like Shapiro is not done adding experienced arms to the bullpen, either via FA (Dotel, Foulke, Gagne) or via trade (Gonzalez, Shields).
Borowski is certainly not a perfect answer (remember, he had to have an MRI exam looked at before the Tribe would sign on the dotted line and the Phillies pulled a 2-year deal off of the table after seeing an MRI), but to the Indians credit, they’re not touting him as such. By Shapiro’s own admission, Borowski doesn’t have filthy stuff; he has the mindset and “courage” (Shapiro’s word) to close out games. As we learned last year, your stuff could be electric (Carmona), but unless you have developed the mentality of a closer, those last 3 outs become the toughest of the game.
Shapiro said that, because of the risk that exists with all of the available relievers, the team would attempt to defray the risks with numbers. That is, they’ll keep adding arms to bring to Spring Training so a successful mix of relievers is brought up to the North Coast.
If, in fact, they do add another arm, they’re looking at 4 new relievers in a 7-man bullpen. That would constitute the overhaul that we were all looking for, and they’ve already added 409 career saves to a bullpen badly in need of some experience in closing ballgames. The question is which of the existing Indians fill those 3 (or 4) spots, but there’s plenty of time for that once the dust has settled.
Back to JoeBo, who successfully closed out 36 games last year, more than the entire Indians’ 2006 team, for a Florida team that won the identical amount of games as the Indians (78). The only players with more saves than Borowski last year were K-Rod, Hoffman, Jenks, Wagner, Ryan, Jones, and Street. He was tied with Joe Nathan and J.J. Putz, ahead of Gordon, Rivera, and Lidge, among others. That’s some nice company for a guy the Indians seem to be settling for and not guaranteeing the closer role to.
The last closer to move from Florida to the AL Central worked out pretty well and, admittedly, Todd Jones had some pretty lean years between his years of effectiveness. Borowski lost 2004 and 2005 to injuries, but he seems to have regained his 2003 form, when he saved 33 games for the Cubs.
This move, even if it is the last addition the Indians make to fortify the bullpen, stands up pretty well on its own. The fact that the Indians don’t sound like they’re done gives more validity to the idea that once they completed their “To-Do List”(and it essentially is, once an adequate backup middle infielder is found), they’ll roll up their sleeves and see if there are any other ways to improve this team.
For now, let the Polish community of Cleveland welcome Joe Borowski. I haven’t figured out if he should enter the field to Polka music or a montage of RoboCop with the graphic “JoeBoCloser” on the JumboTron. I’m leaning towards the Polka music, but it’s early.
The Winter Meetings are still happening and things are starting to happen, so let’s see what other cards Shapiro and the boys are willing to play.
Monday, December 04, 2006
The official site is reporting that Joe Borowski is coming to Cleveland for a physical tomorrow, so there may be an offer on the table to JoeBo. Borowski saved 36 of 43 saves last year, enough to tie him for the 8th most saves last year. While he is certainly not a slam-dunk, he does have recent experience.
We’ll cross that bridge if the Borowski thing goes any further.
If JoeBo does become a potential closer, or even the set-up guy, there are still some possibilities for improvement this week. With the Winter Meetings underway, what Indians are possible trade bait to improve the team?
A quick list:
In the current FA market, Byrd’s contract is very palatable and manageable. If the Indians are able to upgrade the rotation via FA or another trade, it’s possible that Byrd can be moved to fill another need. It’s true that he could also be moved if Fausto Carmona is thought to be ready to contribute, but that scenario is unlikely. Most reports have Shapiro rebuffing all trade offers for starters, but Byrd would be the one that would be least missed, even if he wouldn’t bring the biggest return.
In the last year of his very affordable contract, Westbrook would bring quite a bit in a trade. The question is whether a team that is built to contend this year even thinks about trading a pitcher the caliber of Jake, a perennial 200+ inning, 15-win pitcher. If I were to venture a guess, I would say no, particularly with an improved infield defense behind him with Marte and Barfield replacing Boone and Belliard. Unless the Indians get an absolute stud with about 2 years of service time, Jake should start 2007 in a Tribe uniform (hopefully with a contract extension in his back pocket).
Again, looking at the contracts being given to lesser pitchers than Lee (Adam Eaton got a 3-year, $24.5M deal), it’s unlikely that the Tribe would move Lee, regardless of whether he seems to be on a downward trend in the past few years. Lee’s under the team’s control for 4 years at $15M, with a 2010 option, so even if he ends up a #4 or #5 starter, that’s an extremely reasonable contract. While that contract does make him more attractive to potential suitors, the same question posed with Westbrook (do you move a young solid pitcher when the team has been rebuilt) is the bigger factor.
The addition of David Dellucci means that either Michaels will be part of a platoon in LF or will be counted on as a 4th OF. With him eligible for arbitration and likely to earn about $3M in that process, would the Indians rather move him as a throw-in for a team looking for a platoon in the OF or a 4th OF, possibly in a return to the NL? It’s unlikely that Michaels would bring much on his own and a potential platoon with Dellucci could be very productive. However, if Michaels is only thought to be the 4th OF, can the Indians get away with moving him and allowing Big League Choo, Ben Francisco, or Franklin Gutierrez to be the 4th OF?
Ryan Garko - Big League Choo
Shapiro has intimated that Dellucci’s inclusion on the 2007 team means that only one of these two players will be on the squad next year. You have to think that the Front Office has a pretty good idea of whom they would prefer to keep and have known since they showed interest in Dellucci. Garko would likely bring the bigger bounty as he excelled as a run-producer next year and is extremely attractive to teams in need of a 1B/DH, particularly because of his affordability (dollars-wise). Choo started off very quickly, and then tailed off as he struggled down the stretch. Considering that the Indians acquired him for Broussard straight up, it’s unlikely that Choo would bring much back in return. These would be 2 names, particularly Garko, to watch in the coming week.
Jason Davis - Jeremy Guthrie
With both of these talented, but highly unproven, arms out of options, they may be part of a package to bring in a player who plays a different position, but is in a similar situation (out of options with no guaranteed roster spot). If the Tribe could use them to upgrade the backup middle infielder, it would give the players a needed change of scenario and improve team depth. Guthrie is more likely to be moved as he has more value as a potential #5 starter, and it’s possible that the Indians didn’t give Guthrie starts down the stretch so his solid AAA 2006 season remains the most current chapter in his body of work. If the Front Office thinks that Jason Dangerously can compete for a spot in the 2007 bullpen, they’ll keep him to give him the opportunity (Lord knows the talent is there, he just needs to find consistent success); if not, Davis could be an Andrew Brown-type addition to a trade.
Unless the team is convinced a slimmed-down Luna will be a huge improvement than that guy who took the field with a frying pan last year, Luna could be a throw in for an NL team looking for some versatility in the MI. Inglett seems preferable to Luna, unless can improve his defense dramatically (and Inglett doesn’t exactly remind anyone of Ozzie Smith); the addition of Barfield removes Luna from even spot time. The report that the Indians went after Craig Counsell (only to be turned down so he could stay in his hometown of Milwaukee) to fill the spot currently held by Luna/Inglett doesn’t bode well for the long-term future of either.
With CF in short supply around the league (see how much Juan Pierre and Gary Matthews, Jr. got on the open market), is Gutierrez more valuable to another team than the Indians? Though he has a strong arm that allows him to play RF, Frank the Tank’s speed and hitting project him more as a CF. The dilemma of Coco Crisp could be a harbinger of Frankie’s fate. With CF pretty much sewn up in Cleveland, David Dellucci sitting on a new 3-year deal, and Trevor Crowe knocking at the door, where does Gutierrez fit in? Is he more valuable to a team in need of a speedy CF, willing to part with a young 1B or a ML-ready pitcher? If he is, I’d make that trade yesterday – memories of Giles-for-Rincon be damned.
It should be an exciting week as all of the major players are in the same confined place for a week…with a hotel bar. I’m sure it’s not how it happens, but I like to think that deals are done on cocktail napkins.
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Winter Meetings!
Sunday, December 03, 2006
With the mercury falling, let’s take a quick look at a Lazy Sunday before the Christmas lights have to go up in sub-freezing temperatures:
Paul Hoynes has a nice synopsis of what the Tribe’s plans are for the Winter Meetings regarding a closer as well as reporting (as we said last week) that the Red Sox’s demands for Manny Ramirez are so steep that even the old clubhouse attendant that found $20,000 in Manny’s glove compartment would have to take pause.
Terry Pluto reports much the same on the Manny demands and implies that Carmona and Miller may be ready to help this season, allowing the Tribe to possibly move a Starting Pitcher.
Ken Rosenthal reports that Shapiro has fielded multiple calls asking about moving one of the starters and projects that Shapiro will only listen to offers for Westbrook that would fill multiple holes on the team. Rosenthal gives Seattle closer J.J. Putz as an example, but I would think more would come in return for a starter like Westbrook. I also don’t expect the Tribe to move a starter unless another starter is added to take their place. Allowing Carmona to start the season in the rotation would give the Indians two VERY young starters going into the season (with Sowers), something that is rare for a team with all intentions of contending from Day 1.
Lastly, on the Dellucci signing (which still isn't official), there was some disappointment that the Indians didn’t add a RH bat to protect Pronk in the lineup. But, prior to the Dellucci signing, the only LH assured of being in the lineup were Grady and Pronk.
Outside of Victor switch-hitting, everybody else is RH, so as nice as a big RH bat would be – the Dellucci signing gives some variance to the lineup, particularly if he fits in around the 6 spot in the lineup.
Winter Meetings start tomorrow, so look for that Hot Stove to really start blazing.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
The Tribe’s bullpen got a much needed injection of experience and arms today with the signings of RHP Roberto Hernandez and LHP Aaron Fultz.
Both deals are for one year with an option for 2008, so this certainly doesn’t fall under the Baltimoresque 3-year deals that they were giving out to players who are, essentially, on par with Hernandez and Fultz. Realistically, any deal for a reliever (whose effectiveness fluctuates so drastically from year to year) for more than 2 years, unless his name is Mo Rivera or Trevor Hoffman, is irresponsible.
Hernandez and Fultz bolster the pen without marrying the Indians to either for a long period of time, potentially saddling the club with a poor contract or blocking the development of one of the young arms on the farm.
Before the signings are derided as not solving the closer problem, realize that neither is being depended upon to be the closer. Both add depth to a bullpen sorely in need of some.
The signings allow the bullpen to set up like this:
If another reliever is signed as a potential set-up guy, it knocks everyone on the list down a notch, as well as allowing the Indians to start with more veteran relievers in the bullpen. As we saw last year, it’s more prudent to enter the season with too many proven arms in the bullpen as opposed to too few.
It won’t end here, either. The names that have been floated around that are still available are Joe Borowski and Keith Foulke, both of whom have closing experience and could be viewed as one-year trials with a possibility to blossom into something more. Borowski recently had a multi-year contract pulled off of the table by the Phillies, so there are certainly some red flags on doling out a multi-year deal to sign him. However, both can be had with flexible deals that allow the Indians to add more depth to the pen.
Still possible (even if Borowski or Foulke are signed) is that deal to add a younger closer (Pittsburgh’s Mike Gonzalez) or closer-in-training (LAA’s Scot Shields) at the Winter Meetings, but they won’t come cheap. With the relief market so shallow and with the Orioles setting the market far too high (the Indians’ recent signings being much more feasible), the demand for young, affordable closers will be high.
In an interview on WTAM, Shapiro was asked if he would be able to fill all of the team’s needs through Free Agency. Shapiro said that the lack of depth in the FA market would not allow him to do so and that the Indians would have to make a trade to fill their needs. He mentioned that the Kouzmanoff deal could be indicative of the type of deal that they’re going to have to execute. That is, they’ll give up a prospect (whom they generally tend to hold onto because of depth and affordability issues) to bolster the big league team.
Interestingly, he implied that the addition of Dellucci means that either Ryan Garko OR Big League Choo would be with the team next year, but not both. If Garko is moved, Blake moves to 1B and Choo to RF. If Choo is moved, Garko stays at 1B and Blake in RF.
There’s a lot of conjecture that can be made before the Winter Meetings, but by knocking the LOOGY role and a possible set-up reliever off of his list, Shapiro can go to the Winter Meetings ready to wheel and deal.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
A few weeks ago, I took a look at a possible change in philosophy to approaching the FA market – one that involved upgrading the team with players, regardless of position, who may not make the big splash but would allow the team to improve, both in terms of quality and depth.
From that depth, then, the Indians can obtain the arms for the bullpen that are proving so exorbitantly priced on the FA market. Truthfully, anytime that Chad Bradford can get a 3-year guaranteed deal – that’s a pretty sure sign that relievers most would rate as mediocre to good (certainly not great) are getting too many years and too much money.
So, the Indians have decided to take the road less traveled (but perhaps wiser), one in which they go to the Winter Meetings with a lot of flexibility and a lot of players that can be moved.
The Dellucci signing gives Shapiro the flexibility to move any number of players to improve the team. Whether you believe Dellucci’s agent that he was promised the LF job is irrelevant because it probably was offered to him, “If he could consistently hit LHP”. If he can’t, the flexibility is there with the other RH in the lineup to make up for his deficiency.
Does anyone think that rumored “advisor” Buck Showalter, who had Dellucci in both Arizona and Texas, was consulted before this deal was done?
Before anyone goes nuts that the money given to Dellucci is excessive, consider the other contracts being given out (6 years, $100M for Carlos Lee from a team incapable of DHing him in 3 years) and remember that a 3-year deal for a position player over 30 is much more stable than giving a 3-year deal to a reliever over 30.
With the market spinning out of control, is it easy to say the money would be better spent on Bobby Howry last off-season?
Sure, but hindsight’s always 20/20 and let’s reserve judgment until Howry pitches off the last 2/3 of the contract without a significant injury.
Back to what the Dellucci deal means to the Front Office’s approach to the trade market in the coming weeks. The possibilities and the movable parts are seemingly endless, but here are a few scenarios:
LF – Dellucci
RF – Blake
4th OF – Michaels
1B – Garko
C – Martinez
Trade Bait – Choo, Gutierrez
LF – Dellucci/Michaels
RF – Choo
4th OF – Gutierrez
1B – Blake
C – Martinez
Trade Bait – Garko
LF – Delucci
RF – Blake
4th OF – Choo
1B – Martinez
C – Shoppach
Trade Bait – Garko, Gutierrez, Michaels
You get the idea.
With Dellucci, Michaels, Blake, Gutierrez, Choo, and Garko all being a part of the equation, Shapiro can go to the Winter Meetings and move one or two of them to upgrade the bullpen. By packaging a couple of the expendable (or most desirous pieces to other teams) players with a young arm that is out of options (Guthrie, Davis, etc.), expect some activity to re-shape the bullpen while not drastically affecting the offense.
The argument, besides flexibility, for the signing of Dellucci is that the Indians are putting some faith in the likes of Marte, Choo, and Garko. After seeing the regression of Peralta last year, the inclusion of a veteran bat provides some comfort in experience and stability.
Plus, he can be referred to as The Looch in honor of Arnold’s old nemesis on “Diff’rent Strokes” – The Gooch.
The counterargument to adding a player like Dellucci and the ensuing depth on the roster is that none of these players (Michaels, Blake, Gutz, Choo, Garko) are valuable enough to merit that their definite inclusion on the 2007 team, which holds water until you remember that all these players need to do is complement the likes of Grady, Pronk, and Victor.
Nobody needs David Dellucci to be anything more than a complementary player and veteran presence. As a sign of the times for baseball economics, that’s what $11.5M will now get you.
While, at this point, this deal is only subject to evaluation on it’s own; it’s conceivable that this signing becomes the impetus to allow the Indians to give the bullpen a makeover without committing over $40M to adding Jamie Walker, Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, and Scott Williamson to doing so (which the Orioles have).
Allow Shapiro to be creative and improve the Indians early next week at the Winter Meetings.
The Dellucci signing is only the first move in what promises to be a few weeks full of them.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Ken Rosenthal reports that David Dellucci has signed a 3-year deal to join the Tribe.
Dellucci is essentially a platoon OF who crushes RHP. With Michaels crushing LHP, it looks like LF is set with some amalgam of the two.
Rosenthal projects that the Indians will platoon Dellucci and Michaels in LF, play Choo in RF, and move Blake to 1B.
The odd men out, obviously, would be Garko and Gutierrez.
One or both could be used as trade bait to upgrade the bullpen.
Both still have options remaining, so they can always return to Buffalo, but don't be surprised if Garko finds his way to the Angels (to pry Scot Shields loose) or to Pittsburgh (in exchange for Mike Gonzalez).
Gutierrez could find his way elsewhere to fill the need for middle relief as he is now being pushed organizationally by the OF's behind him and the Front Office may see this as the perfect time to get some return for Frank the Tank.
On it's own, this signing doesn't excite too much. If it's a move that allows the Tribe to acquire the bullpen help that's not available on the FA market, we'll see what the second move brings before passing judgement.
Much more to come on the Dellucci signing, as we gear up for next week's Winter Meetings.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
After another dreadful showing on the lakefront, let’s turn our attention to the Indians (please, anything to forget about the Browns) with a Throwback Sunday:
Paul Hoynes reports that the Indians knew, going into the FA season that the market would be flush with money and guaranteed years. He mentions that Scot Shields is still on the radar to take over as closer, but that the Angels are looking for a substantial package of big-league players and minor leaguers.
Speaking of prospects-for-players deals, WTAM’s Mark Schwab reported yesterday that the Indians were actively pursuing acquiring Manny Ramirez from Boston. What the Red Sox asked for the Baby Bull was merely a package of Adam Miller, Fausto Carmona, and Trevor Crowe – with the Red Sox not picking up ANY of the remaining money on ManRam’s contract.
The response that Theo heard from the Tribe was the dial tone.
The illustrious Roger Brown said goodbye with his last column for the PD in typically dreadful fashion. In particular, he quotes an e-mail from Shapiro that is so full of vagaries and generalities, that you can almost picture Shapiro composing such an e-mail with a smirk on his face.
What’s shocking is that Brown had personal correspondence with Shapiro and failed to ask any relevant questions, asking questions that would obviously result in an easy sound bite.
Nice investigative reporting as usual, gumshoe, you will be missed.
There is a concern that I have with Brown moving on:
How am I going to find out when Mason Unck buys a house in the area?
With throwbacks being the recent vogue for Cleveland teams – some teams (the Cavs) faring better than the original players that filled out the uniforms than others (our beloved Brownies) – the question becomes when the Indians will break out the mid-1980’s uniforms.
Perhaps they’re avoiding them due to the old Indians’ Uprising SI Cover, but it’s time.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
As the masses are getting antsy that Free Agents are coming off of the board and the Indians have yet to make a signing, let’s explore the other route to spending money – extending current Indians.
Even if extending some of the players approaching the end of their contracts doesn’t affect the 2007 payroll, wouldn’t the Indians’ money be better spent to lock up the players that they know the best and have determined to be a part of that beloved “core”?
We’ll ignore the fact that the players, with all of the money being thrown around at marginal players, may not be interested in signing a deal today and would rather hit the Free Agent market when their contracts expire. That’s an argument for another day; for now, we’ll look at whether locking up these players in long-term deals is financially feasible for the Indians.
The players that would be most likely to be approached by the Front Office would be C.C. (FA after the 2008 season), Pronk (FA after his 2008 option of $4.75M is certain to be picked up), and Westbrook (FA at the end of this season).
Looking at some of the deals that have already gone down, would these players leave potential money on the table in the FA market for the safety and guaranteed money of extending their time with the Indians? Again, that’s another argument for another day, but what would it take for the negotiations to become serious?
For Westbrook, seeing as how Ted Lilly is reportedly looking for a 4-year, $36M deal, Jake would probably require a 4-year deal for about $44M-$48M to avoid the FA waters and stay in Cleveland. Whether that would be enough for him to stay is debatable, but that’s the ballpark. It’s a lot of guaranteed years for any starting pitcher, but Jake has rarely been hurt and his consistency and workload make him attractive to a lot of teams. The fact that multiple teams (like the Reds, Cubs, and Phillies) who play in bandboxes with excellent infield defense would LOVE to have a sinkerball pitcher the caliber of Westbrook is going to make him a valuable commodity on the open market.
Pronk would use Big Papi’s contract (signed prior to the 2006 season) of 4 years for $52M with a 2011 option of $12.5M as the basis for his deal. A similar deal will probably keep Hafner in Cleveland, possibly less. Hafner is only available to AL teams because his 1B defense is akin to a , but every AL team (minus the Red Sox) would salivate over the possibility of adding a LH bat like Pronk’s in the middle of the lineup. While it’s the same thing that we said about Thome, it’s possible that Hafner would offer the Tribe a hometown discount – but why risk it? Give Pronk his due and ensure that one of the premier hitters in baseball is anchoring the lineup for another 6 years.
The really big numbers are going to come out with the Crooked Cap. If Boston paid over $50M just to negotiate with a POTENTIAL ace, what would a 28-year-old (when his current deal expires) LH ace bring on the open market? It could be a 5-year deal (generally rare of for SP) worth $16M-$18M annually. That’s a deal worth between $80M and $90M. For players like C.C., whose career stats and drive to win (and for some national attention) could drive him to NYY or BOS or closer to home in SF – those numbers certainly aren’t out of the question.
Those are the hard facts for what those players would be looking for to stay in Cleveland and eschew the POTENTIAL riches on the FA market for the SECURITY and GUARANTEED money of signing contracts this off-season.
The question then becomes whether the Indians would be willing to pay those dollars to three players. The potential contracts for those 3 (at the high end of those projections) annually would be:
Westbrook - $12M
Hafner - $13M
Sabathia - $18M
Or, $43M tied up in 3 players every year.
Lots of money in not a lot of bodies, but why couldn’t it happen?
Is it that outside of the realm of possibililty for the Tribe to lock these players up?
At the risk of sounding like Costanza breaking into The Big Stein’s office, claiming that, “I think I may have found a way for us to get Bonds and Griffey, and we wouldn't have to give up that much.” - here’s the argument as to how they could, and why they should:
Because the Indians have locked up so many of their other young players to affordable, long-term deals, the payroll for the next few seasons is exceptionally flexible.
The other players under contract until, say 2010, are Victor (whose highest contract number is a $7M option in 2010), Peralta (whose highest contract number is a $7M option in 2011), Grady (whose highest contract number is a $8.5M option in 2012), and Lee (whose highest contract number is a $8M option in 2010).
If we make a quick amendment to the old Conan O’Brien sketch “In the Year 2000”, let’s fast-forward to the year 2010.
Pick up all of those options and the 2010 payroll spoken for is:
Victor - $7M
Peralta - $4.6M
Grady - $5.6M
Lee - $8M
That’s an additional $26.2M in those 4 players in 2010 (which is still 4 seasons away) to give a total of $69.2 in the “core” of 7 players.
Assuming that the farm system can produce players to play under contracts typical of younger players (like Barfield, Sowers, Marte, Crowe, and Adam Miller), the payroll won’t spin drastically out of control.
Following ShapiroSpeak for a while, that seems to be the plan – to augment a core of players with youngsters that fill holes on the team effectively and without breaking the bank.
With the way that payrolls (and revenue streams in a $3B TV deal, revenue sharing, Internet dollars, and international income –not to mention STO and the promise of years of labor peace) have leapt forward, a $95M payroll in 4 seasons, in 2010, is not out of the question.
That allows the Indians to have $25M on the remaining 18 roster spots, most of which should (if the farm system stays stocked) be playing for or around the league minimum.
If the $95M payroll looks out of this stratosphere, consider this – the Indians’ 2007 payroll is projected to be between $70M-$75M (and, admittedly, that number is a long way away). Consider that the payroll will rise about 10% a year with the sport flush with money.
The projected payrolls could roll on like this:
2007 - $75M
2008 - $82M
2009 - $90M
2010 - $99M
Granted, 10% is a healthy annual bump, but you get the idea.
Good teams win with superstar players complemented by a handful of good players with a sprinkling of role players and youngsters. By locking up the players already playing in Cleveland, the Indians have the opportunity to do just that. The superstars (C.C., Hafner, Grady) are complemented by a handful of good players (Westbrook, Lee, Peralta, Victor, Barfield, Sowers) with a sprinkling of youngsters (who knows who that will be 4 seasons from now – Marte, Crowe, Miller, etc. would be the examples).
The skeleton of this body of work is in place; it’s time to lock down the main components for the plan for the foreseeable future.
Let the rest of the league burden themselves with the contracts being signed this off-season, on lesser players than those on the current Indians’ roster. By signing these 3 players to substantial extensions, the continuity and potency of this young team stays intact without overpaying for that “one missing piece”.
These pieces are already here – keeping them here should be the focus, not overpaying for lesser Free Agents.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
As the Free Agent signings spin out of control (how about Soriano’s contract running until he’s 38), and the names that the Indians had targeted are coming off of the board (Walker, Speier, Stanton, Garciaparra, Alou, Catalanotto etc.) – what are we to think?
First off, if the Indians had signed any of these players to these contracts, I think we would all be up in arms...4 years for Speier...a third year option to Stanton…who’s 39?!?
While it’s true that these players will (ideally) help their new clubs in the near future, these are the type of contracts that smart GM’s avoid. They are avoided because it handcuffs future spending, tying up dollars in bad contracts. If, when it comes time to extending C.C. or Hafner, would you rather have some extra jack to throw at them, or have Mike Stanton taking up a spot (and $3M) in the 2008 bullpen?
Secondly, as these contracts are inked, the players on the current roster’s value have to be escalating. If Juan Pierre is worth a 5-year, $45M deal, don’t Jason Michaels and (more obviously) Franklin Gutierrez have some value?
Here are their comparative stats for 2006 (OPS/HR/RBI):
Pierre - .717 / 3 / 40 in 699 AB
Michaels - .717 / 5 / 55 in 494 AB
Gutz - .648 / 1 / 8 in 136 AB
While it’s true that Pierre had 58 SB compared to Michaels’ 9 and The Tank’s big 0, either the Dodgers REALLY value the SB or we’re underestimating the attractiveness of our own outfielders.
After watching Michaels and Gutierrez last year, I don’t think that we’re vastly underestimating Michaels and/or Gutierrez. But, if these players are attractive to other teams and we can obtain a replacement corner OF (or, even if we don’t, give Choo the AB) – let’s allow this crazy market to drive up the values of these players and get some relievers for them.
Right now, it’s time to be patient. Free Agency, particularly with relievers, is a crapshoot and generally the teams that make the BIG splash (the Blue Jays last year, the Cubs this year) are no better off than they were in the previous year (unless Soriano is going to pitch in Wrigley).
Shapiro and Co. have seen the market set with these ridiculous contracts and will target guys that they can sign, without tying up future dollars that can be better spent to lock up homegrown talent.
Whether players like Roberto Hernandez or Joe Borowski excite you is not the concern (unless the Front Office sees either of them as potential closers), because they’re the type of players with experience, a track record, and without outrageous contract demands that will be targeted. Is it akin to having Mo Rivera set up for John Wetteland circa 1996? No, but it’s an improvement. And that’s what we’re looking for right now.
Nothing huge, just some tweaking to get this team closer to where we think it can end 2007.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
With the Buckeyes heading to Glendale, let’s head into a Lazy Sloopy:
Paul Hoynes speculates that the Indians may be interested in Japanese LHP Kei Igawa as a bullpen option for this year. Igawa has been a starter throughout his Japanese League career, so it’s possible that the Indians use him in a middle relief role with the possibility of moving into the starting rotation if he finds success in the States.
Has Terry Pluto been reading the DiaTribe? He suggests that the Indians will be making their acquisitions via trade as the FA market has spun out of control. He sees guys like Frank the Tank, Guthrie and others as trade bait, though it’s debatable what these players will bring in deals.
He also reports that lots of teams are asking about Westbrook and Lee, which seems to be gaining momentum in some circles. The argument with Westbrook is that 2007 is his contract year and that the Indians should get something for him before he leaves via Free Agency.
This thinking drives me crazy as it reeks of a team in perpetual rebuilding mode. This team has rebuilt and is now ready to take the next step towards perpetual CONTENDING.
When is the moment that the Indians stop saying, "We are going to explore trading our own players, who we would like to sign, but are going to prove to be too expensive on the FA market, while we can still get them for something"?
Or, when does the discussion focus on locking up a guy like Westbrook or C.C. (players already here, under our control) for more years as opposed to what can we get for Westbrook now before we lose him to FA?
As long as it's a player we want to keep at a contract that isn't completely outrageous, I'd like to see this be the off-season.
They did it with C.C. once and have locked up the arbitration years of many of their young players, but I think that this NEEDS to be the off-season that the bona-fide core of the team is locked up through their late 20's and early 30's.
Enough of the trade talks involving guys like Westbrook and Lee (unless the return knocks us off of our barstools) because teams that contend have teams like Westbrook and Lee on their roster, not a few prospects acquired from trading them on their roster.
Off of the soapbox, Moises Alou is reportedly close to signing a 2-year deal with the Mets for less money than the Indians and Rangers were offering. While Alou would be a nice RH addition to the lineup, he’s a 40-year old on the downside of his career. Not the kind of guy you want to see a 2-year deal given to, regardless of past production.
Finally, Top Prospect Alert has emerged with the first 2007 list of the top 10 Tribe Prospects.
The list contains a number of lower minor league prospects (only 3 have played at or above AA) and it’s not hard to figure why – guys like Gutierrez, Sowers, and Cabrera can no longer be considered prospects. It’s now to the point that these players need to prove whether the hype bestowed upon them was deserved or just hot air.
Top prospect lists are always interesting to revisit, as the 2005 Baseball America list is (courtesy the Akron Aeros site) to see how the players have panned out.
From the 2005 list - guys like Gutierrez, Aubrey, Snyder, Pesco, and Brown have seen the luster come off of their stars. However, the others – Miller, Sowers, Carmona, Cabrera, and Garko are still seen as legitimate parts of this team going forward.
What’s interesting is that the list is only 2 years old and so much has changed. If the Indians are going to deal some prospects this off-season, it’s up to the Front Office and the Scouting Department to move the Snyders and Pescos while their value is at it’s peak rather than the Sowers and Garkos, whose development factors into the 2007 season and beyond.
One big game down this weekend (with the desired results), one to go.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Just a thought as the Rumor Mill and Free Agent Signings start to go into overdrive:
What if, finding that the FA Reliever market is as bad as previously thought (with bigger contracts), the Indians’ Front Office decides to divert their attention to the Free Agents on the market that can help the team, regardless of position?
That is, the Front Office realizes that the biggest hole on the team (the bullpen) cannot be fixed via FA alone and the lesser holes on the team can be filled more easily via Free Agency. The new Free Agent signees then make players currently on the roster expendable, which means that they can be traded for bullpen help.
For example, if the Indians sign Nomar Garciaparra to play 1B (which is, admittedly, unlikely because of the Dodgers wanting to sign him after losing J.D. Drew), it makes Ryan Garko available as trade bait. While Garko alone may not bring an answer for the bullpen, he can be used as part of a package to bring an arm to Cleveland.
Or, if the Tribe signs Luis Gonzalez to play the OF, it immediately makes Michaels and Gutierrez expendable (which, it can be argued, they already may be) to acquire an arm to the pen. Again, neither of these players is going to bring an answer on their own, but a package deal is not out of the question.
Knowing that every team is flush with money because of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and that contracts are going to get more outrageous going forward, expect the Indians to sign players to contracts that won’t become albatrosses around the organization’s neck in a year and a half.
Looking at the FA market (which we all knew was weak) for relievers, you have to wonder if Shapiro and Co. are going to find players that can help, regardless of position. When the dust settles after the signings, the Indians can re-evaluate where they have depth to trade from to fill the biggest hole that remains, the bullpen.
I read recently that a good GM does not sign relievers that have just had great years; they sign relievers about to have good years. Otherwise, you end up with overpaid underachievers instead of a bullpen (like Minnesota’s, as an example) in recent years, one that achieves great results without too much fanfare.
Not as easy as it sounds. And it doesn’t sound easy.
Monday, November 13, 2006
If the Indians’ plans to add 3 arms to the bullpen, it’s likely that at least 2 will be acquired from Free Agency. With the November 11th filing deadline behind us, here’s the final list.
A few names stand out, but expect the Indians to add a veteran RHP and LHP to fill the set-up roles for 2007.
The name that stands out among LHP is Jaime Walker, who we learned first-hand, was an extremely solid arm in the Detroit bullpen. He had a great 2006 and will likely command a multi-year deal. He's 35 and there's no guarantee of multiple years of success, but if the money is there to be spent, let’s get the top players available.
Walker’s success in 2006 proved that he could be successful in the AL, and particularly the AL Central. In addition to giving the Tribe that veteran LOOGY for next year (remember how many times he got Hafner out in tight jams), it would also weaken the Tigers’ bullpen, allowing the Indians to close ground on the defending Central Champs in more ways than one.
Walker, by the way, is reportedly looking for a 3-year deal. A bold demand for a 35-year old.
If Walker’s not the answer, it’s likely that the arm will come from this list:
As for the RHP to fill the 8th inning role, the name that looks most attractive is Justin Speier, and not because when you say his name it sounds like you’re saying, “Just Inspire”. Inspire’s numbers have continually improved and he served as an excellent set-up man for B.J. Ryan in Toronto last year.
If Inspire becomes the hot name on the market, these would be the other players under consideration:
Terry Pluto hits on the RHP in yesterday’s column and the name that still stands out is Just Inspire.
As an aside, back in college, we used to watch ECW wrestling where one of the guys was named Justin Credible. I always thought the name must’ve been thought of for him because of how clever it was.
Anyways, back to Just Inspire, he would fit perfectly into that 8th inning role, which allows Betancourt and Cabrera to move down a few notches in the pen.
Obviously, by adding more arms to the back of the pen, the domino effect takes hold.
The interesting thing to watch this off-season will be to see how many years and how much money theIndians will be willing to commit to pitchers who will not be closing games for them.
Has The Lesson of Bobby Howry been learned, that a good pitcher is a good pitcher and sometimes a team has to overpay, in terms of years and dollars, to ensure that the strongest bullpen can be created?
Howry received a 3-year deal for $12M, which isn’t out of the question for a pitcher like Speier in this market. Walker may not get that money, but he’ll be looking for the years.
After last year, I’m inclined to believe that the Indians will overpay for the players they want to fill the bullpen this off-season.
As for finding a closer, that will take a little more creativity and chutzpah, but after Josh Barfield fell into their laps, it’s starting to feel like Shapiro is going to pull another rabbit out of his hat.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Since we haven’t talked about the Barfield deal yet, here’s Ken Rosenthal’s fascinating inside look at the anatomy of the deal. Rosenthal is that rare baseball insider who doesn’t try to make himself look more important then he is, or exhibit a hug East Coast bias (Gammons recently wrote that Jon Lester is a probable Hall of Famer).
The scouts’ insights into K2’s defensive deficiencies are pretty astounding and you have to wonder if the Indians DH’d him in Cleveland and played him at 1B in Arizona for a reason. If it’s true, then the Padres are getting fat on poor-fielding 3B developed by the Indians. Corey Smith, anyone? Russell Branyan?
I certainly wouldn’t put K2 in a category with those two (Corey Smith, the former Tribe #1 pick traded to the Padres for Jake Gatreau, is out of baseball), and I wish him the best in San Diego, where he should continue to stay classy.
From the Tribe perspective though, they had 3 players very similar in defensive availability, that is their scouts felt that Hafner, Garko, and Kouz could only DH or play 1B. One player had to go, and my guess is that Hafner wasn’t really considered. With the Padres infatuated with Kouzmanoff, the decision was made easier. Factor in Garko’s success at the BIG LEAGUE level, and you have the inner workings of a GM’s mind.
Did anyone else catch in the article that the Padres’ acquisition of Kouzmanoff may take them out of the Iwamura sweepstakes? If the Indians are hot on Iwamura, who may play LF in Cleveland, the trade reduced the number of potential suitors for him by one.
Actually, one of the most interesting parts of the article is the discussion having to do with Gary Sheffield being moved to the Tribe. It’s interesting because the Padres were willing to give up Scott Linebrink in this proposed deal. Forget Sheffield - Linebrink would look fantastic at the back end of the Indians’ bullpen. Ultimately, though, Shapiro filled a major hole with the player that was made available.
On the topic of Sheffeld to the Tigers - before anyone starts the, “this is the type of trade the Indians should be making”, stop – it’s not.
Does anyone else remember an AL Central team that, after a season of unexpected success, decided that it needed to add that one big bat? Instead of remembering that strong starting pitching, a lock-down bullpen, and a solid offense won them the World Series, the ChiSox HAD to have Jim Thome because that’s what they were lacking right?
How does Gary Sheffield make the Tigers lineup that much better than the Indians? Sure, he’ll add some better production from a corner OF spot – if he can stay healthy. He’s 38 right now, and the Tigers just handed him a 3-year deal. He’s coming off a season of injuries consistent with having a 38-year-old’s body (without the benefit of “flaxseed oil”) and he’s a noted malcontent.
On paper, I understand the move; but digging deeper into the make-up and identity of a baseball team – this is the kind of move that blows things up pretty quickly.
Then again, maybe Dombrowski and Leyland are trying to re-create 1997. If Alou, Counsell, Conine, Kevin Brown, and Livan Hernandez show up in Detroit this winter, you heard it here first.
If I have to hear the likes of Kenny Roda praise the Tigers while bemoaning the Dolans’ cheapness (Roda actually said on the Barfield trade when it broke, “I don’t know who this guy is, but I’m sure the Dolan’s didn’t have to open their wallet to get him”), I’ll go crazy.
How is it that nobody understands that strong pitching wins championships and that addition of a big bat may pacify a fan base and sell tickets, but it’s not the way that successful teams are built.
You would think in Cleveland, where the Sluggin’ Tribe of the ‘90s always fell JUST short because of pitching, that people would get that.
But they don’t.
Luckily, the guy who does is the one calling the shots.
The other news in the wigwam is that Buck Showalter is negotiating with the Indians to become a senior advisor, or as Paul Hoynes writes, to help them develop their new Spring Training Site in Arizona. Is this the veteran baseball guy that was missing in the organization in 2006?
With no Buddy Bell or Mike Hargrove, it was all on Wedge and his band of yes men, none of whom have the experience of a Showalter. Showalter could be that sounding board or second pair of eyes that could really help Wedge’s management.
That sounding board, or second opinion, is something that has been lacking since Robby Thompson left. Robby Thompson, you say? Yes, Robby Thompson.
They were 25-28 when Robby Thompson became the bench coach on June 4th of 2005 and finished 93-69. That means that the Tribe went 68-41 when Thompson was the bench coach, not to mention the fact that Thompson was the 2005 Infield Coach and coaxed a solid year of fielding out of Broussard, Belliard, Peralta, and Boone. The only difference in 2006 with that infield (which we all know was dreadful) is that Thompson had decided that he wanted to spend more time with his high school age sons and Luis Rivera became the Infield Coach.
Coaches only make so much of a difference, but those facts are hard to ignore.
I don’t buy that Showalter is the manager-in-waiting any more than Francona or Hargrove were managers-in-waiting when they filled similar roles. Shapiro and Wedge like to be surrounded by experienced baseball people and seem confident enough in their own job security that they don’t see these baseball people as threats to their jobs.
It’s early November and the Hot Stove League is putting off some heat.
Sit back and enjoy the glow.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Looking deeper into the Barfield deal, a few things came to light:
When putting together the middle infield wish list a few weeks ago, Barfield wasn’t mentioned because…well…there’s no way that Barfield was thought to be available. Why the Padres would trade a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate with no feasible alternative available is beyond me. Credit Shapiro, once again, for recognizing a team infatuated with one of his players (Coco to Beantown) and filling an organizational need with a highly thought of player under the age of 24 with ML experience.
As someone mentioned on the LGT, the trade illustrates what separates us “armchair GM’s” from the Real McCoy. Probably at some point in the Boone discussion this past season, the Padres asked about K2; Shapiro filed it away under “someday”, asked for the player that he wanted – and got him! As creative as we all think we are, there’s a reason that Shapiro does what he does.
Barfield hits lefties very well (.965 OPS), but struggles against righties (.675 OPS) and batted last year in the 8 hole in San Diego, not seeing a lot of good pitches as he was protected by the pitcher. Now figure in that Sizemore struggles against lefties (.718 OPS) and crushes righties (1.003 OPS). With Hafner being an equal-opportunity masher (1.100 vs. LH, 1.095 vs. RH, which is ridiculous, by the way), Barfield really fits in perfectly in that 2 hole. Teams wouldn’t be able to throw a LHP or a RHP against the top of the order because the LHP to get Sizemore out would be right in Barfield’s wheelhouse. Any time that you can make the other team burn arms in their bullpen, it works to your advantage. The fact that he would hit in front of Pronk and see fastball after fastball would represent quite a change from Barfield's experiences in San Diego. Barfield’s move to the 2 hole may not be immediate as the Indians could want to ease him into the AL, but the change will eventually be made.
The athleticism and speed of this team (two glaring weakness at the beginning of 2006) have been improved vastly with the additions of Barfield and Choo (albeit with an undefined role). The speed of Sizemore, Barfield, Choo, and smart baserunning of Blake give this team a much better presence on the basepaths than the likes of Boone, Belliard, and Luna.
The fact that Barfield, at this point in his career, projects to be mainly a doubles hitter means that the Indians have players with the ability to hit the gaps and leg out extra-base hits. Everyone who thought that Coco Crisp was an exciting player to fit in with this group, in terms of hustle and effort, are going to love Barfield’s approach at the plate, on the basepaths, and in the field.
This move immediately helps not only the offense, but also the defense and, in turn, the pitching staff. With pitchers like Westbrook, Sowers, and Byrd who pitch to contact (mainly with groundball outs), the improved infield defense is a huge plus.
Off the Barfield topic, but still on the Tribe - the lineup in its current incarnation looks like this:
Not too bad, eh?
If Shapiro really wants to add a corner OF bat, it will improve the lineup; but the money and attention should first be spent on LOADING up the bullpen and possibly adding a starter with the idea that Paul Byrd can be moved to fill another need.
Keep in mind, also, that a big bat is easier to add at the trade deadline than a decent arm. Even if the Indians don’t spend all of their allotted money this off-season, remember that players like Bobby Abreu and Shawn Green were acquired (for not a lot) mid-season.
I’d be comfortable with the Indians spending money on pitching and setting some aside for when that bat becomes available.
Finally, while it’s relatively old news, Francisco Liriano is out for the 2007 season. Throw in the fact that Brad Radke is expected to retire and the strong pitching rotation in Minnesota has been reduced to Santana, Silva, Boof Bonser, and prospects.
Though the announcement is tough news for the Twins, it’s great news for the Tribe’s chances in the Central in 2007.
Although it’s only November, things are looking good right now.
What we need, obviously, is for things to look VERY good 11 months from now.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Superlatives fail to explain how unbelievably great today was for your Cleveland Indians!
In a flash, the Hot League season is upon us as the Indians acquired 2B Josh Barfield from the San Diego Padres for IF Kevin Kouzmanoff and P Andrew Brown.
After examining this trade for a little bit here, I’m still looking for a significant downside from the Indians perspective.
Barfield is a 23-year-old 2B who is an above average fielder, who hit .280 in his 2006 (his rookie season) with 13 HR, 32 Doubles, 21 SB, and is under the Indians control for the next 5 years, the next few at the league minimum.
He fills two holes, one at 2B, the other in the 2-hole in the lineup. As a RH hitter, he slots perfectly between Sizemore and Hafner and his numbers should actually improve as he moves from spacious Petco Park in SD to the friendly confines (and smaller dimensions) of the Jake, not to mention the natural progression of any hitter.
Barfield’s inclusion in the lineup brings more speed to the team, and his glove means that Peralta will be surrounded by above-average defenders every day, and not the likes of Aaron Boone and Joe Inglett/Hector Luna, whose range was downright laughable.
While it’s frustrating to see a player like Kouzmanoff, who really burst onto the scene with a fantastic 2006, go – this move represents a departure from former moves by this Front Office. They sold HIGH on a prospect, not waiting for him to be exposed or to see his value plummet (think Jason Davis). It also means that the Indians chose Garko, and his MLB success, over the promise of Kouzmanoff’s MiLB success.
The concerns about Kouzmanoff’s back and hamstring issues, limiting him to play 3B, 1B, or DH probably played a major role in his availability. It will be interesting to see where the Padres plan on playing K2, as he has yet to make it through a complete season healthy. Even more so because he’ll be playing without the benefit of DH’ing every so often, causing more stress on his troubled back.
Kouzmanoff’s performance in the Arizona Fall League (where he was certainly being showcased for scouts) didn’t hurt his marketability.
Brown, to me, is a throw-in – unless the Padres see something that the Indians were unable to coax out of Brown last year. He may end up in the Padres’ pen, but he was likely not to be in Cleveland and (being out of options) is a perfect piece to add to the deal.
When all is said and done, Shapiro filled the #1 hole on the team without trading ANYONE who was being counted on to contribute significantly in 2007. That, by definition, is a coup.
But, even more exciting, is that the Indians have solved their problems at 2B and between Grady and Pronk in the lineup without touching any FA money or dealing a significant arm.
The bullpen and rotation can still be fortified (along with the possibility of adding another bat) with the same dollar amount that the Indians stood at before this deal.
I’m not sure how the Padres benefit from this deal, but that’s not a major concern…actually, it’s not a concern at all.
This pre-emptive strike was the kind of move that we had been hoping for, an aggressive, creative move that dealt from areas of strength to remedy weaknesses. If this is an indication of what we can expect this off-season, I’m already salivating.
Much more on the deal tomorrow as we’re off to child-birthing class.
The DiaBride and DiaperTribe (a nod to my buddy Joyce on that one over some Christmas Ales) take precedent over this exciting news.
And this is EXCITING news!