Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Aftermath

While in the heart of the Research Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill for the uninformed), the MUCH-TALKED about trade finally happened. Since we've already addressed the perceptions about Coco, the numbers of Jason Michaels, and the addition of Andy Marte - let's look at each of the positions that were affected by the trade, briefly, and see how the deal affects the Tribe in 2006.

Josh Bard's deficiencies with the bat had made him an unsatisfactory backup for Victor (as evidenced by his 83 AB's last year), with Wedge almost afraid to give Vic a day off because of the steep drop-off. Shoppach - who may develop into a legitimate future regular - has power, leadership skills, and defense as his strengths. Shapiro's comments that Shoppach may play C, while The Stick moves to 1B were nothing less than shocking. Can you imagine Shapiro saying similar things about Bard?

While I know very little about Shoppach (outside of his minor league numbers), I do know that Bard was an offensive liability, who seemed to reach his ceiling before the sports hernia. The Indians thought as much, obviously, bringing Einar Diaz and Tim Laker back into the fold to press Bard. Those players, still, will press Shoppach to be backup C, but it seems that Shoppach seems destined to make the team as the backup C.

This represented a very small part of the trade, but we've all seen what Shapiro has heisted before in throw-ins (Coco).

Speaking of Coco, this seems to be the hot-button issue for most fans: the trade of an established portion of a successful team to improve the team for the future. But, examining the comments by Shapiro, the Indians never SOUGHT to deal Coco Crisp. They were approached by a number of teams (Arizona and New York were two others, among many) to deal Crisp to play CF. In Shapiro's estimation, he would only make a move if he were "blown away" by it.

Before we go further, consistent readers of the site know that I entered 2005 with a very low estimation of Coco, essentially that he was a glorified 4th outfielder. Yet Coco grew on me. Perfect, he was not. But his insertion into the 2 spot (with Grady and Jhonny around him) solidified the lineup. I felt that the Indians, in the long term, could handle his low power numbers (at a corner OF position), noodle for an arm (I was once in the left field bleachers when he threw the ball, no lie...10 feet), and his erratic baserunning. Warts and all, I thought that the Indians had enough talent elsewhere that Coco could be a nice complementary player on a good team.

But Coco was miscast as a LF, and had more value to another team at his natural position of CF than to the Indians. I have little doubt that the Indians would have upgraded LF (from the minors or FA) at some point in the next few years, and that is why Coco is gone.

I hope that Coco does well in Boston, with the aggressive media and their lack of patience, but I think that he's going into a situation where a lot is expected of him, as a great CF and a leadoff hitter. We'll see how Coco holds up (and I hope that nobody sees him as Johnny Damon's equal in 2006), but I've been surprised before.

On the Michaels front (who was referred to recently in the media as Shawn Michaels, thus the nickname "The Showstopper"), again I hope that the media doesn't attack him for every inconsistency in his game (though it WILL happen). Michaels is what he is, a player who has been relegated to being a 4th outfielder, either because of the impatience of the Philly front office or because he is a platoon player.

I think that Michaels, with an occasional Hollandsworth sighting, can make up for Coco's bat. All indications are that HBK is an above-average defender with a good arm, so he should fill in well in LF (which, with SuperSizemore to his left, is made easier). The Indians truly don't need that much from Michaels (again, he is a complementary player), but I sincerely hope that the Coco backlash doesn't adversely affect him, if by chance he starts slowly.

Overall, I'm OK with this trade-off and I can't figure out why I'm so blase about it. Coco was never that great of a player to me, and Michaels seems like a stopgap.
Maybe that's all that Coco was.
Maybe I'm giving Shapiro too much credit.

When all is said and done this season, don't be surprised if Grady Sizemore is the only OF who begins and ends the season as a starting OF.

The Tribe gave up two arms (Rhodes and Riske) in the trades, bringing Mota into the fold. By looking at the 2005 numbers (when Rhodes and Riske both did extremely well), this seems to be a crushing blow. However, if memory serves me correctly, neither Rhodes or Riske pitched extensively during the chase of the White Sox. Betancourt, Cabrera, Howry, and Wickman seemed to pitch every single night (with an occasional Sauerbeck sighting).

Shapiro is using that thinking to replace Howry with Mota. Howry got closer money to go Chicago (and his robotic ways will be missed), but in the end he was overpaid by a team desperate for bullpen help. Mota represents the replacement for Howry and allows the 'pen to shake out this way:

Bullpen is a fluid concept (and don't discount B-Phil for another bullpen arm in Spring Training), and the lesson of 2004 still sits in Shapiro's memory. With that being said, there's no way to predict how individual bullpen arms will perform from year to year.

Shapiro has eaten enough Tums and Pepto to make sure the best bullpen of 2005 won't be far off the pace.

This is the key to the whole trade (and more than simply the obvious acquisition of Andy Marte): Depth. Aaron Boone vastly underperformed in 2005 and despite all of the projections and the "don't worry about Boonie" comments that came out of the Front Office, the reality remains that behind Aaron Boone...there is nobody. The Indians farm system is full of players who don't project to the Majors for a while (if at all), and that had to have scared Shapiro.

If Boone started 2006 like he started 2005 (without the excuse of the knee), you're sitting on a HUGE hole in the lineup every day with no alternative. Enter Andy Marte.

People have talked ad nauseum about Marte and his ability and his great numbers at high levels in the minors at a young age, but Marte offers the Indians something they desperately lacked - insurance against another slow start by Boone. If Boone starts slow, and Marte fast, Marte could be called up to patrol the hot corner, with Boone becoming the utility IF (he has played SS as recently as 2003). Boone would still provide that attitude and leadership that Wedge and Shapiro reference so much, while being able to take Marte under his wing.

Of course, Boone could come out play very well and make this all a moot point. But until he does, the Indians needed to cover themselves. And they did so very well, by acquiring Marte.

2006 Effects
I don't think that this trade effects the team as significantly as most do. I think that The Showstopper will fill in adequately for Coco and that Mota and Shoppach will fill their roles admirably. The big effect of this trade to me (which some may disagree with) is that the quality of players one phone call away from the Jake is astounding.

All of last year, people moaned and howled about Boone, Broussard, and Blake. Here's some news: with the acquisition of Marte, the Indians have Marte, Garko, and Gutierrez nearly ready for the Majors. These players are not afterthoughts. They are nearly ready for the Majors and should contribute in 2006.

Sitting at a bar with a Yankee fan around Christmas, he was telling me that the last great Yankee team was the 2001 team. The reason that it was great was that it held to a basic premise - a team wins with strong starting pitching, a solid bullpen, 5 "core" players and the remainder of the lineup and roster that knows their roles.

The Indians are close.
The pitching is in place. The bullpen is in place. The "core" players are close (Grady, Jhonny, Vic, Hafner) with the great possibility that Marte, Garko, or Gutierrez will develop into that 5th, and the complementary players ready to play their role.

I'm excited, but guardedly so. This team needs to continue to develop, but the youth and talent are hard to ignore.

Sorry about the long post, but it's been a while.

Let Shapiro do his job and give him the benefit of the doubt...he's earned it.


Cy Slapnicka said...

Guardedly so, my ass. I am bonging Shapiro Kool-Aid like its from the fountain of youth.

t-bone said...

Only bonging the kool-aid? I'm doing keg stands over here...

Cy Slapnicka said...

cannonball....cannonball coming.