Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lazy Sunday Around the Horn

With a pretty marvelous sports day yesterday (OSU win, St. Ignatius win) while bopping around the East, then West side of town to catch up with some old friends, it’s time to launch right into a Lazy Sunday as the DiaBride has the Aurora Outlets on her mind, which means the DiaperTribe and I have some serious football and baseball (thanks, DVR!) to watch this afternoon.

And with that, we’re off:
Terry Pluto hits some high points, going into the Coco Crsip deal to the Royals and why the Indians shouldn’t have had any interest in returning Coco to Cleveland – beyond the fact that he’s owed $5.75M in 2009 with a club option in 2010 for $8M a year after having only broken the .750 OPS threshold once in his time in Boston…with a whopping .751 in part-time duty in 2008.

Pluto also reports that Tom Hamilton tells him that Travis Hafner’s shoulder is pain-free and gaining strength, which could actually turn into the biggest impact story for 2009 that you’re going to hear. The impact that a healthy Hafner has on the Indians’ lineup (and the assumption that he would be healthy perhaps giving the Indians confidence to deal the pieces that serve right now as insurance in case Pronk never returns) is immeasurable in terms of anything else the Indians would do this off-season.

Speaking of things the Indians would do this off-season, Pluto brings up that the Indians “are planning on making a ‘serious offer’ to Orlando Hudson”, then laying out why Hudson would fit. It was an item first reported by Jon Heyman of SI, who confirmed that the Indians are interested in Orlando Hudson, before Heyman gets into his obligatory mention of the Yankees and Mets, etc. Heyman reports that Hudson is looking for 5-years and $50M, so it will be interesting to see if the Indians (who do have about $18M-$20M available in their budget) will look to add Hudson at that price or if they’ll look to limit the years for perhaps a higher annual salary.

Ken Rosenthal, by the way, dismisses the Mets as a player for Hudson, saying that the presence of Luis Castillo’s contract on their books will preclude them from adding another big salary at the same position that Castillo plays. From NY, Mets’ GM Omar Minaya is on the record (as if that means anything) regarding Castillo that, “We expect him to come in healthy and to be the productive player he's been for a long time.”

It’s been said here before, but here it is again – Orlando Hudson could be that one player that the Indians give multiple years to at a large annual salary this off-season as he fills an organizational hole at 2B while providing a top-of-the-order bat and excellent infield defense behind the Indians’ groundball pitchers. While the Indians are designed to fill holes from within (something the Red Sox have gotten very good at accomplishing), there is no internal option for 2B (or for 3B) that represents much more than a marginal everyday player on the immediate horizon. With no internal option available and the FA market full of players that would represent marginal upgrades at price tags that are too high, the Indians could very easily justify going outside of the organization to fill holes in their infield and their lineup by making the SIGNIFICANT upgrade, and pay the premium rate to do so by inking a player like Hudson.

Would they go for his alleged $50M over 5 demand?
Not likely, though there is money in the budget to spend that would allow them to do it.
More likely, they could either sweeten the annual salary for fewer years or offer Hudson the 5 years he desires at a lower rate with a club option attached to let him pick up some money, whether the Indians pick up an option or decline it. He is not yet 31 (he’ll turn 31 on December 12th of this year), so giving him a long-term deal doesn’t fall into the category of overpaying for a player on the wrong side of 35.

All told, Hudson looks like exactly the player that would fit into the Indians’ needs at a position that would merit some FA money being thrown it’s way and as much as the Indians’ brass abhors building through FA, there may be no other choice for them this off-season to significantly upgrade their infield without parting with more than just auxiliary players in a trade.

Also on the FA front, Jayson Stark has an interesting piece on how the closer market may actually be saturated with options for teams looking to add a 9th inning reliever and that the lack of a competitive demand for them may result in closers like K-Rod, Fuentes, and others getting much less than they thought they would when they envisioned lots of zeroes in FA.

Stark mentions a lot of names that intrigue, notably Hoffman on the FA market as a closer, with Juan Cruz in the “potential closer” column, and numerous potential trade targets like Matt Capps (“hey, Neal…how about this PNC-Nat City thing?”) and Jose Valverde (though he’ll probably get about $9M in arbitration and is a FA at the end of 2009) standing out. This bullpen addition (which, to me, shouldn’t just be adding an arm similar to what we already have for the sake of adding an arm) could be a situation where the Indians allow the market to come to them as the number of options seems to be growing with the number of destinations for those options getting smaller.

Elsewhere, the ubiquitous Joe Posnanski gets his obligatory weekly link with a FANTASTIC piece on how the importance of different baseball statistics evolved through the years, from the days of looking for RBI on the back of a baseball card to the present of knowing the importance of getting on base. For those who still make the argument for or against a certain player based on RBI or batting average, it’s an excellently written article that makes sense to even those who can’t stand the new “alphabet soup” of new-age statistics.

In case you missed it, Baseball America published their annual Top 10 Prospect List for the Indians:
1. Carlos Santana, c
2. Matt LaPorta, of
3. Nick Weglarz, of
4. Adam Miller, rhp
5. Beau Mills, 1b
6. Lonnie Chisenhall, ss
7. Kelvin de la Cruz, lhp
8. David Huff, lhp
9. Michael Brantley, of/1b
10. Carlos Rivero, ss
These lists always come off as a little arbitrary to me, as what exactly puts a guy like Lonnie Chisenhall, who was JUST drafted and has yet to even hit Kinston, ahead of a player like Dave Huff, who likely will be in the Cleveland rotation at some point in 2009? And is BA with me in the minority on Wes Hodges not factoring into the Indians’ upper echelon of prospects?

Who even knows, because the criteria remain a mystery:
Does it favor players with the higher “ceilings”?
Is it which players have achieved the highest level of success at a young age?
Is it weighted towards players that were 1st round picks?

I’m sure there’s some rationale for ranking the players the way that they do, but it just comes off as a little too “listy” (if that’s a word), in this world where everything needs to be qualified and quantified in a nice, tidy package. I suppose that if BA just published their Top 10 without differentiation as to who fits where, people would be up in arms, not to mention that they wouldn’t have the devout following they do…but it really doesn’t matter that much to me as to which player gets ranked where.

Truthfully, I prefer the prospect rankings that EXPLAIN why certain players rank higher than others, like Jay Levin’s Prospects that Matter, or those that get truly in-depth on each prospect, like Tony Lastoria’s List does, or even placing them into particular categories that make sense, like APV of LGT recently did and like Baseball Prospectus generally does. To me, those are much more helpful than these lists that serve merely as a reference point (and, yes, I know that BA has a much more comprehensive look at prospects) to use at certain times throughout the year.

More interesting to me is the fact that the players that make up 30% of this list were not in the Indians’ organization at the beginning of the 2008 season. Obviously, trading your aCCe and a valuable part in Lacey Cake in mid-season deals when the team is thought to contend for a World Series trophy is not the way that a farm system is designed to be augmented, but those moves have been dissected too deeply already.

What the infusion of talent means, though, is that the Indians have depth at the upper levels of the minors BOTH in terms of pitchers and hitters with some potential impact players on that list and not the likes of marginal prospects that has populated this list in years past. The mere fact that the Indians’ new #1 Prospect (according to BA, at least) came in exchange for 3 months of a utility IF with a fantastic beard is one of the greater coups in recent memory. Throw in the fact that one of the young relievers that I’m highest on to make an impact in 2009 (“Mayday” Meloan…that’s a “Cheers” reference, kids) was the other piece acquired and the Blake deal has the potential to be a windfall for the Tribe as early as this year.

Speaking of Blake, the Indians have apparently asked to be “kept in the loop” with Casey and his search for a multi-year deal. Before anyone gets all worked up that the Indians are going to give Casey Blake the 3-year deal that he’s likely going to command on the FA market, this “article” reeks of a writer placing a call to Blake’s agent and running with a quote that the Indians likely told Blake’s agent to keep in touch regarding what happens just to see where the market falls for Blake.

If Blake finds himself looking only at 1 to 2 year offers (unlikely), it would make the Indians think about floating a comparable offer to a player they are familiar with that would fill a hole at 3B for another year. If he’s looking at a couple of multi-year offers, the Indians wish him the best and all parties move on. Remember, the Indians had their chance to offer Blake an option for the 2009 season, or even a 2-year deal last off-season and chose not to, nor did they ever attempt to sit down with him at any point during the season, so I find it unlikely that Blake’s performance in Los Angeles is going to convince the Indians that Blake is the one piece to add back into the infield for 2009 and beyond.

Pertaining to players still in the organization, the Indians made their decisions on adding 5 players to their 40-man roster to bring the 40-man to 39 players, leaving one spot open in the chance they wanted to add a player that would immediately need to be added to the 40-man. When it’s all said and done, the Indians went with protecting a few potential impact players (Stevens and Santana, with Rondon down the line a bit) and players that figure to hopefully just fill a role on a MLB team (Crowe and Gimenez, both 25 years old).

At first glance, the protection of Chris Gimenez over Jordan Brown (who is now exposed) brings up two immediate thoughts. First, with Gimenez and Santana being added to the 40-man, it brings the total of catchers on the 40-man roster to 5 (Vic, ShopVac, Wyatt Torregas, Santana, and Gimenez) and even if Gimenez is seen as more of a utility player whose primary position is catcher, that seems like an AWFUL lot of catchers to protect. Think about it, that means that the Tribe has the starter and backups in Cleveland (obviously) and Columbus and the starter in Akron ALL on the 40-man roster – which looks like too many catchers if you figure that the 40-man roster generally is well balanced among all positions….unless, of course a catcher is going to get traded.

The other thought that comes to mind is the decision to expose Jordan Brown to the Rule 5 draft strikes me as curious as Brown won two consecutive MVP awards in Kinston and Akron and was hampered by injuries in 2008 in Buffalo. His exclusion from the 40-man seems to convey that either the Indians think that his injuries will ultimately prevent other teams from choosing him or that (if he is chosen) his injuries would result in him being returned to the Tribe at some point in 2009. Additionally, the Indians’ decision to exclude Brown from the 40-man was likely impacted by Michael Aubrey receiving an extra option year, meaning that the Indians can keep Aubrey in the organization for another year without being forced to keep him on the parent club. Adding Brown to a 40-man that already included Aubrey would have resulted in a redundancy on the 40-man and the decision likely came down to the idea that Aubrey was a little further along in his development than Brown and could have more of an impact than Brown in the short-term.

Regardless of the rationale, Tony Lastoria and I will welcome Jordan Brown on next week’s “Smoke Signals”, which will be next Tuesday (because of the holiday) from 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM, so we’ll be able to ask him if he has any insight pertaining to the decision to exclude him from the 40-man.
As usual, I’ll post the podcast link when it is available.

Speaking of podcast links, here’s the interview that Tony and I did with Chuck Lofgren last Thursday, literally minutes after he received the “official” news that he had not been placed on the 40-man. Lofgren addressed his mother’s battle with cancer and how he hopes to revive his once-promising career as an LHP. The interview puts a human side into the wildness of player development and provides insight as to how a once-ballyhooed prospect deals with failure and attempts to keep his head about him in the midst of a downward slide.

Throughout the interview, Lofgren was candid and forthright and I can only wish him the best both professionally and personally as he is a name that you may be hearing as someone who may generate interest in the upcoming Rule 5 draft as he is a power LHP who may find his footing in another organization or in the bullpen.

Finally, apropos of nothing, since I know many of the readers that share my passion for the Indians also have a passion for Cleveland, regardless of where life has taken them, I thought I would share a tremendous read buried in today’s PD. It’s a piece written by a Clevelander who is a third-year law student at Harvard named Christopher Thomas and it articulates many of the feelings that I (and others my age) have towards Cleveland, its past and its future. Amidst all of the depressing news that seems to come at Clevelanders like never-ending body blows, Thomas portrays a bright future for Cleveland, resurrected by those that love it the most – its own.
Well, I’m off to fire up the DVR to watch some Cliff Lee with a soon-to-be 2 year old until the Browns game starts, to see if the Brownies can pull off the football trifecta for me of a Stignatius win, a Buckeye win, and a CB win all in one weekend.


Michael T said...

Tell me you turned Cliff Lee back on during that disaster at the stadium today :)

And thanks for that link to Christopher Thomas' article. Great read!

A.G.B said...

I hate to simplify an entire season of complexity and 162 important games down to just one issue but here goes.....

If Travis Hafner is Travis Hafner, the Indians will be contenders in 2009.

If Travis Hafner isn't Travis Hafner, the Indians should kiss 2009 goodbye.

By the way, I don't quite understand the allure of Aurora Farms. There are apporximately two and a half stores there of any consequence, there is no food or entertainment to be had, and it looks like a ghost town half the time. At least malls have climate control...and sporting good stores.

Paul Cousineau said...

My Sundays have opened up completely after yesterday.
Apathy has set in.

Can't disagree with you on Hafner as Pronk in the lineup does more than anything the Indians could accomplish.
As for Aurora Farms, I can't speak on it too wife loves going there, despite the distance from the West Side. Although, you're right, most times she comes back saying that she remembers more stores being there.