Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Look Back, A Look Ahead

Just in time for the second half, let’s take a look at the Tribe – position by position – to see what’s happened so far and what we’d like to see for the rest of 2006:

Victor’s offensive production continues, but his defense has regressed (more than just his CS percentage) to the point that he needs to either re-dedicate himself to the tools of ignorance, or grab himself a 1B glove.
Except for the inexplicable presence of Tim Laker for a short time, Kelly Shoppach has served as the backup, playing when Victor mans first. Shoppach hasn’t looked bad (other than that StL pop-up drop) and may see more time.

Second Half: I’d like to see Shoppach catch against LHP, allowing Victor to move to 1B to spell Broussard (or eventually Garko). The only way that the Tribe can find out if Shoppach is a ML Catcher is by playing him this 2nd half. If his bat doesn’t translate, the Front Office needs to make a decision of whether Vic stays behind the dish or they look for another C, while Vic heads up the line.

Benuardo is no more…he is now just a pleasant memory. In a season where not much has gone right, the combination of Broussard and Perez surpassed most people’s expectations of production from 1B. But, Perez is gone for a kid named AstroCab (a trade that Shapiro said would’ve happened regardless of the Tribe’s record) and Broussard has repeatedly drawn the ire of the Atomic Wedgie. Vic has taken his stick to 1B and has performed adequately. The issue is that Victor’s numbers are GREAT for a catcher, but merely average for a 1B; so that will likely factor into what happens at 1B.

Second Half: Broussard could easily be moved, as he’s eligible for arbitration again and may pull a salary in the range of $3M. There’s no way the Indians will pay a platoon player that much (and rightfully so). We’re likely to see a rotation of Broussard (vs. RHP) and Vic (vs. LHP) until Garko takes Benny’s spot in that rotation. Like Shoppach, the Indians need to see if Garko is a viable 1B, particularly defensively, to see where they go for 2007.

Belliard, despite defensive lapses (but he’s an Indian infielder…so what did you expect), has actually been a pretty steady presence on the team. He’s recently been moved to the 3 hole in the lineup, an obvious sign that Wedge has a good deal of confidence in the Jelly.

Second Half: Belliard could be dealt, as he’s a Free Agent at the end of the year, but the lack of 2B options in the organization (John Farrell went on the record to say that Joe Inglett is not a viable option as an everyday 2B now…or ever), don’t be surprised if the Tribe holds onto Belliard and tries to lock him up in the off-season. The ATROCIOUS 2B Free Agent class will play a part.

Jhonny, the feel good story of 2006, is off the tracks – both offensively and defensively. His offensive numbers are way off (he’s been dropped in the lineup) and his defense has regressed (less range, no sense of urgency, lazy throws) to the point that there have been rumblings about whether he can play 2B, or even 1B next year.
I don’t think it will get to that point, as I think Jhonny is going through a pronounced sophomore slump. By year’s end, I think that Jhonny’s numbers will be there, but his defense has to improve significantly as a SS to quiet the critics. It doesn’t have to be spectacular, just steady.

Second Half: Peralta will take the majority of innings at SS, and should prove again that he is a supremely talented player capable of anchoring a lineup. His defense will be the thing to watch, as I get the impression that if his defensive performance continues Wedge’s twitches in the dugout may become reminiscent of Dreyfus, twitching uncontrollably while trying to control Inspector Clousseau in those Pink Panther movies.

There’s not much that hasn’t been said in this forum about the shocking deficiencies of Aaron Boone. Offensively, defensively, whatever…Aaron Boone does not deserve to trot out to the Hot Corner every night. I don’t care if he’s a great guy, a great clubhouse presence, or a veteran that people look up to.
I don’t care if he acts like Phil Connors in Punxsutawney at the end of “Groundhog Day” on his off days – performing random acts of kindness and selflessness.
The Aaron Boone Era in Cleveland could not end soon enough.

Second Half: Unleash the fury, Andy. Unleash the fury. Unleash the fury, Andy. Unleash the fury. Unleash the fury, Andy. UNLEASH THE FURY!

Jason Michaels came to Cleveland as a platoon player/4th OF who hit LHP hard, but struggled against RHP. Guilty as charged. Michaels looks like a nice complementary player who plays hard and gives nice AB’s against LHP, but not much more.

Second Half: If Todd Hollandsworth is dealt and Frank the Tank comes back topside (he was sent to Buffalo today to make room for Casey), I wouldn’t be surprised if Blake takes over in LF, the Panzer division patrols RF, and J-Mike (the worst nickname in Cleveland) becomes the 4th OF, probably for good.

Can anyone believe that SuperSizemore won’t turn 24 until August 2? He’s turned into one of the better players in the AL and should only improve. He’ll also be wearing the Chief until 2011. There are bright spots, people. Lighten up!

Second Half: More Grady being Grady. I’d like to see him moved to the 3 hole, obviously once a suitable replacement is found for the leadoff spot to allow him some more run-producing opportunities. Outside of that, I’ll just take more 24.
Speaking of 24, if they’re not going to show Grady in a cape, could they at least show some scoreboard video playing off of the “24” TV Show with a Grady montage?
Why am I the only person who thinks of these things?

Casey Blake dropped the K from his name early on and didn’t look back, until the strained oblique muscle. Blake has outperformed expectations and has (along with Broussard) left the fraternity of the Filler B’s (hey Aaron – “One is the Loneliest Number”). A brief appearance by Franklin Gutierrez, who came up in Blake’s absence, was spotty at first. But, as he grew more comfortable, one could see why the Tribe is high on the 23 year old. He has nice speed, is a plus defender, and looks to have improved his hitting for contact. Some of that contact improvement may have lessened his power stroke, but I’ll take a leadoff hitter with intermittent pop than the next Alex Escobar.

Second Half: Once the Tribe makes some moves with their veterans (read: Dutch Hollandsworth), Gutierrez will get another chance to show whether he belongs in the Tribe’s immediate plans. The versatile Blake could move to LF or could begin what will likely be his role going forward, that of the super-utility player.

The portion of the team that carried the 2005 Tribe has been maddeningly inconsistent. C.C.’s injury, Lee and Jake’s inconsistency, Byrd’s slow start, and the abomination that was Jason Johnson has put undue pressure on a bullpen that simply hasn’t been able to handle it.
As frustrating as the starters have been in their inconsistency (outside of Johnson’s consistent dreadfulness), there are starts when these guys just cruise. Starts that make you think, “This is it. It’s turning around for him.” Then 2 starts later, they lay an egg.
The promotion of Jeremy Sowers (albeit too late) solidifies the rotation and gives the Tribe a look towards the future. While he’s probably not a Franciso Liriano/Justin Verlander, he’s a LHP who knows how to pitch. Those don’t fall off of trees; so let’s see what the kid can do without calling him the next Tom Glavine just yet.

Second Half: The rotation is set and should stay the same through the end of the season and into 2007. Of course there could be injuries (in which case Jeremy Guthrie would join the parent club) or a veteran (Byrd) could be moved, but I think it’s unlikely. If the Tribe can get the consistent starts that carried them in the 2nd half of 2005, this team could get some serious momentum and confidence entering 2007.

Matt Miller got hurt. Sauerbeck and Graves are gone. Mota, Cabrera, and Betancourt have all underperformed. Does it look like this is a train wreck? With Wickman, that’s the bullpen that broke camp with the Tribe.
Cabrera was, of course, demoted after a matter of days. Mota and Betancourt can’t re-capture their success and the team has suffered as a result. After stints by Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Slocum, and Jason Davis, the Tribe has thrown their youngsters out there to see what sticks.
So far, Fausto Carmona has impressed (with a 1.19 ERA in the bullpen), as have Rafael Perez and Edward Mujica (though both have only pitched 8 innings each).

Second Half: The young arms should continue to move up the ladder in the pen as Carmona will likely be given the 8th inning role, and could be seen as the closer of the future (or the present if Wickman is traded). Perez and Mujica will be given expanded roles if they continue to succeed.
If Carl Willis has fixed Mota, let’s have him take a long look at Cabrera to see why he falls off of the mound after every pitch when he’s struggling. Is he watching Jason Davis video saying, “I like the way he does that…I think I’ll try it and see what happens”?
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tribe explored moves for Betancourt and brought up the likes of Slocum, Davis, Andrew Brown, Tom Mastny, or even Tony Sipp to see if these guys can be part of the 2007 bullpen or if help is needed from elsewhere.
The one constant, unless he approves a trade or has a heart attack on the mound (remember when Chris Farley used to have constant heart attacks on Da’ Bears – “That makes a bakers’ dozen, Bob”), will continue to be the Round Righty at the back end.

Bottom line is that the Indians need to take a long look at their youngsters to find out what they have for 2007 and what they will need for next year, so we’re not in the same situation at the All-Star Break next year. At the same time, I think that the talent that they will bring up (if it comes as advertised) shouldn’t be a huge drop-off from what we see every day, which means that an over .500 season is still plausible.

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