Sunday, January 28, 2007

Youth IS Being Served

In Paul Hoynes’ mailbag, a complaint that’s been making its rounds recently, that the Indians are blocking their young players with marginal veterans, is addressed.

The reasoning behind the argument is that the signings of Nixon and Dellucci are the latest in a long line of veterans signed by Shapiro that blocked homegrown talent. The argument continues that it started with Juan Gonzalez blocking Sizemore (which sorted itself out in Spring Training), then continued with Jason Johnson blocking Carmona and Sowers and Danny Graves taking a bullpen spot away from a young reliever last year.

In actuality, the Indians’ history of putting faith in their farm system and youngsters is pretty admirable. Some have panned out (Peralta…for 2005, at least), some have not (Phillips) and very few could have ever imagined that players like Sizemore and Sowers would experience the phenomenal success that they did right away.

The lesson of Brandon Phillips, in 2003, is probably the reason that the Indians don’t just hand starting jobs to any youngsters, making them earn their way onto the team instead. Phillips was given the 2B job, completely flopped, and started a series of events that led to his trade to Cincinnati (which was not the giant gaffe most believe it to be if you look at the complete body of work that Phillips put together from 2003 on…but that’s another discussion for another day). The lesson of Phillips was not to simply hand a young player a job, without having earned it on a consistent basis in MLB or without any competition from a player who has performed consistently in MLB.

That’s why the Indians brought in Nixon and Dellucci to take the place of Gutz and Choo and the bullpen arms to replace the youngsters we saw at the end of last year. If one of the prospects dazzle in AAA, they’ll force their way into the parent club’s plans; but if they struggle, they’re doing it in Buffalo, not Cleveland.

And really, are Nixon, Dellucci, and the bullpen arms really blocking any of their young talent?

Not unless you want to see Gutierrez and Choo cut their teeth on MLB pitching on an everyday basis when this team is poised to contend, or would like to see the Tribe break camp with a bullpen comprised of Betancourt, Cabrera, Miller, Davis, Mastny, Perez, and Mujica.

Judging by interviews with the position players this off-season, they certainly weren’t in favor of doing so. Put it this way – if you’re Grady, sitting in CF, watching the young bullpen blow save after save or watching Choo wave at pitches from LHP, would you have a lot of confidence that these young players will “turn the corner” before another season is frittered away? Or would you rather see Borowski and Foulke trot in from the bullpen to protect a late-inning lead and see professional hitters like Nixon protecting you in the lineup?

And what of allowing some youngsters some space on the roster?
Ah…no, the roster is tremendously young, even with the new players.
To wit, take a look at the ages of the likely 25-man roster on Opening Day:
Martinez – 28
Shoppach – 26
Garko – 26
Barfield – 24
Peralta – 24
Marte – 23
Luna – 27
Blake – 33
Nixon – 32
Sizemore – 24
Dellucci – 33
Michaels – 30
Hafner – 29
Sabathia – 26
Westbrook – 29
Lee – 28
Sowers – 23
Byrd – 36
Borowski – 35
Foulke – 34
Hernandez – 42
Fultz – 33
Betancourt – 31
Cabrera – 25
Davis – 26

So, before the signings of the platoon OF and the bullpen arms, there were 4 guys over the age of 30. Is that an old roster, devoid of young players given a chance to succeed?

If anything, the veteran signings were made to add some experience to a young roster. Because the Indians’ best players all fall under the age of 30, signings like this become a necessity to add some MLB experience to a core of players with a limited amount of service time, not an indication of an organizational strategy to impede the progress of young talent.

Knowing that the Indians remain one of the youngest teams in the Majors and that none of the “blocked” talent is truly ready to contribute, the argument that the Indians keep “blocking” these young players just doesn’t hold water.


Cy Slapnicka said...

yes, but when you stick with those "vets" a little to long, it handicaps the team just as bad as rooks do. i'd rather have someone cutting their teeth than watch aaron boone or jj. i am not saying it'll happen, but we did in fact deal with some people blocking some youngsters last year and we waited a little too long to make a change.

unless those extra 5 jj starts really gave sowers a chance to get ready for the majors, he was blocking him. and i don't even want to talk about boone.

these concerns do have some merit. we'll see how it plays out.

Paul Cousineau said...

If the argument is that we keep the veterans on the roster too long, while blocking suitable youngsters – I’ll give you Johnson.

But, did anyone think that Sowers should break camp with the team last year with only 27 career minor league starts?

Once it was obvious that JJ was a trainwreck, though, at least Carmona or even Guthrie should have replaced him. The Indians definitely made that mistake last year.

And Marte struggled to start 2006 in Buffalo. Had he gone down there and forced his name onto the Major League roster, Boone would have been relegated to the Head Cheerleader position much sooner than he was.

I think that if Hernandez and/or Fultz struggle and a guy like Mastny, Perez, or Sipp dominate in Buffalo and the Indians stick with the veteran until June (when that obviously is detrimental to the team), then the “holding on for too long” argument has more ammunition.

The “marginal veterans blocking ready-to-contribute youngsters in Spring Training” argument, meanwhile, is still searching for footing.

Cy Slapnicka said...

the argument was simply that these marginal veterans are blocking youngsters. and that did appear to be true last year in both of these cases. johnson was a total failure by may. nobody expected sowers to break camp w/the big league club, but a softball pitching machine would have been more effective than jj.

as for boone....i would have been happier with roger dorn at 3B. Marte was "close" or "ready" depending on who you listened to, and this included indians mgmt. was he just being seasoned? was boone closer and if so, would you even call marte close? give me a break. i'm not sure who is at fault, but these were two examples of sticking with vets too long...and thus blocking a youngster. and i wouldn't even give them honor of being called marginal vets. lets call a spade a spade, they were awful. if johnson and boone were thoroughbreds, i would have shot them.

and while i'm fired up about this, hoynsie's mailed in his mailbag. what kind of answer is "I also think he's learned something from Brandon Phillips and Jhonny Peralta — players who were given starting jobs at an early age."? um, to further prove his hypothesis did he consider other players such as grady, pronk, cc, vic, etc that were given jobs at young ages?

its a valid question and i am taking a we'll see approach to answering it. i'm not saying nixon is necessarily blocking anyone, as we only saw choo for half a season. but if nixon plays like boone (which i don't expect), i want to see garko and the pouch of shredded bubble gum in the lineup.

Paul Cousineau said...

I think we're in agreement then, no?

Signing vets to make youngsters earn a spot is good; but, once that vet becomes detrimental to the team and is obviously blocking a superior player, it's time to cut them loose.

Nixon, Hernandez, and Fultz will be this year's lab mice.

Baltimoran said...

marte and sowers hadn't shown anything yet in the bigs, whereas Garko has...but i still remember going to baseball cards shows in search of Alex Coles after he burst onto the scene and inspired tribe leadership to extend the outfield fences. i was convinced he would hit over .300 and lead the league in SB's for years to come...further evidence that i'm not very smart and Sharpiro was probably smart to hire Trot.

time to go convince a 3 week old that its time to go to sleep...she is very stubborn

t-bone said...

The Cleveland Indians today announced a five-year contract extension with "Voice of the Indians" Tom Hamilton. The Indians also announced that Hamilton's partner on the Indians Radio Network, veteran broadcaster Mike Hegan, has signed a three-year contract extension. Full story »

Cy Slapnicka said...

my response to the Hamilton news falls into the same category as travis hafner's contract:

"wait, what?!?! you mean we don't have them signed to a lifetime contract?"

even if we can't see the games in an acceptable format, at least we can listen to Hammy call them.