Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Lazy Sunday Looking For Relief

The snow is falling outside my house on this lovely November morning as Free Agency is underway in MLB and…absolutely nothing has happened.

Isn’t it odd how in the NBA players sign at the absolute first minute that they can (and yes, I get the whole “max deal” thing and how they’re salaries are structured), but MLB’s FA signing period really doesn’t start until that first shoe drops and everyone else scrambles to fall in line after that first or second signing.

While we wait with bated breath (and I ready myself to attempt to put together a futon with a little Allen wrench and elbow grease this afternoon), let’s get going on a Lazy Sunday:

Since AC is apparently out of the country (good timing to avoid the dog-eat-dog times in reporting on the eternally gray area that is the Hot Stove), we’ll rely on somebody named Jason Beck for an update on the Trevor Hoffman situation at the “official site”. One of the interesting developments to watch on Hoffman (and the other closer options) will be to see where Detroit falls into the mix of adding an arm to the back end of their bullpen. I wouldn’t say that the two teams “competing” for the same players is going to fall under the category of Yawkey Way vs. The Bronx, but certainly each team would have to be as interested in improving their team as much as they do keeping a noteworthy addition away from a divisional rival.

Terry Pluto, back from a week away of “Terry’s Talkin’”, addresses the bullpen options in their entirety, making a case for Hoffman over 2-years and about $10M for the Tribe. Pluto comes to many of the same conclusions that I did earlier in the week, but has some interesting dissections of The Hoff’s HR total in 2008 and how Hoffman allowed only 47 runners in the 45 1/3 innings he pitched…so we’re not talking a redux of Wicky or JoeBo here in that Hoffman avoids the tightrope walk en route to a save.

Pluto has thoughts also on Atom Miller perhaps playing a role in the Tribe bullpen in 2009, saying that, “if he stays healthy, the Indians may have their own Kerry Wood in for the bullpen” as well as touching on the idea of adding one of the lesser lights in the FA reliever market – mentioning Juan Cruz and Jeremy Affeldt as options.

Pluto’s mention of adding the likes of Cruz and Affeldt to the mix may have come from Ken Rosenthal, who reports that the Indians may eschew the available “closers” and simply look to add depth to the bullpen:
The free-agent market includes four top closers — Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Fuentes, Trevor Hoffman and Kerry Wood — but few quality setup men. Which is why three highly regarded relievers — righty Juan Cruz and lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Joe Beimel — could be among the first free agents to sign new contracts. The Indians are mulling whether to enter the closer market or perhaps try to lock up both Cruz and Affeldt.

There is undoubtedly logic to that strategy – that is throwing a number of arms up against the wall to see what sticks to maximize the chance that the Indians can find one or more of these players to emerge in the progression of relievers that they rode so successfully in 2007. The issue that I have with that strategy for this team is that the Indians DO have talented young arms in their organization who perhaps need to be given a chance in 2009 to establish themselves as legitimate options at the back end of the bullpen (The Atomic One hitting 97 MPH in the Dominican comes to mind, as does “Mayday” Meloan) rather than become mired become unmovable and ineffective relievers.

To wit, here’ what the Indians bullpen looks like if the Indians add two relievers (say Cruz and Affeldt):
By adding that SECOND reliever, the likes of Meloan, Miller, and Stevens have no shot of breaking camp with the club and signing multiple younger players like Cruz and Affeldt (while they may improve the bullpen) would tie up the Indians’ payroll and roster space going forward in an area (the bullpen) that generally doesn’t merit long-term commitments.

That is, if one of the young guns is ready to move up, where does he go then…do the Indians cut ties with Uncle Leo Kobayashi (sorry, I saw another picture of Masa, which reminded me again of the “Seinfeld” episode when Elaine drew Uncle Leo’s eyebrows on) or do the likes of Mujica and Mastny simply fall by the wayside? I know that you can never have too many relievers, but at what point can you let these youngsters emerge as both Meloan and Stevens have seen success as high as AAA and Miller is the wild card in the deck.

Of course, if the Indians think that a guy like Cruz OR Affeldt is the answer to solidify the bullpen, but with the power arms that look to be in the pipeline, it would strike me as a poor allocation of resources, given the Indians’ multiple needs this off-season.

Staying in the closer discussion, news out of Queens (from more than one source surveying the closer market) makes it looks like the Mets are content to sit and wait to see how the closer market develops with the sudden glut of closers on the market. Perhaps these purported high price tags and demands for multiple years that we’ve been hearing about (5 years, $75M for K-Rod) are going to fall on deaf ears, making the number of players who might be available for the Indians grow.

Out of the Big Apple and back to Pluto’s piece from this morning’s coupon bundle with some articles thrown in (sorry, that’s what newspapers are becoming more and more), he touches on the whole Casey Blake return and Garrett Atkins talk, correctly surmising that neither IMPROVES the Indians’ infield defense and neither represents a significant enough upgrade to either merit a multi-year deal to Blake or give up the prospects that Colorado will demand for Atkins.

In the infield, I still stand firm on the belief that the dearth of upper-level options in the Indians’ organization (Wes Hodges’ 2008 in Akron fully considered) forces the Indians to go outside of the organization for a LONG-TERM solution, not just a placeholder for a player in the pipeline – because the pipeline doesn’t look to be flowing to 2B or 3B to Cleveland with much more than marginal prospects.

Moving on, The Boston Globe has an interesting look at what they call the second-tier Free Agents, or what could be identified as players that would fall into the category of what the Indians would/could add. It’s an interesting list of the type of players that the Indians are likely considering. In addition to me pointing out (again) that some guy named Orlando Hudson is on the list, some names to consider (but only at the right price and surely for fewer years than what they’ll end up with) would be Kerry Wood, Brad Penny, Jon Garland, and Ryan Dempster.
Lots of good stuff from The Globe here, including a look at 10 MLB teams whose situations this off-season should make you happy to be an Indians’ fan.

Staying with The Globe, here’s an interesting piece by Tony Massarotti from earlier in the week that lays out the pitfalls of adding pitchers through Free Agency and a terrific breakdown of how difficult it is to build a bullpen in particular. Obviously, the piece comes with heavy Red Sox analysis, but the lessons that Massarotti lays out hold true for any team, regardless of market size or payroll.

Obviously most Indians’ fans have turned their attention to what pieces and parts the Indians may add this off-season or (for the people who are obsessed with the Minors) what may happen, if anything, with Tribe youngsters for the Rule 5 draft. But, with all of that in mind, at this time when players are just names on a page or screen with their statistics and scouting reports ruling the day, Tony Lastoria has an excellent piece on the human side of these players as he had a chance to sit down with Indians’ minor-league LHP Chuck Lofgren. Lofgren is a name that you may remember sitting atop many of the “Top Prospect” lists after a superb 2006 season as a 20-year-old in Kinston. After that season (if you’re just looking at pitching results), Lofgren seemed to have “lost” whatever momentum he had – a development explained in Lastoria’s article as Lofgren’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, turning his whole world upside-down.

It’s a terrific piece that reminds us that these players, who sometimes seem like commodities in some meat market, go through the same real-life issues and emotions that everyone does. As the husband of a cancer survivor myself, my thoughts and prayers will remain with Chuck and his family as I know that any situation that ever involves that dreaded “C” word is never far from your mind, regardless of the passage of time or positive prognoses.

Thanks again to Tony for making this story known and for allowing Chuck to tell it on his own terms. Chuck will join Tony and I on “Smoke Signals” this Thursday at 9:30 PM, during which I’m sure we’ll hit on the recent developments in Lofgren’s life. As usual, I’ll throw up the link to the podcast as soon as it is available.

With Herb Score laid to rest yesterday, I’m going to link the Joe Posnsanski piece about him again in case you missed it. The piece so perfectly articulates what Herb Score meant to the Indians and to scores of their fans stretching over generations. I’ve already read it 5 times, so it’s worth another read…or a first, if you haven’t read it.

Finally, for a little frivolity after those heavy topics to help pass a miserable day on the North Coast here’s a test that t-bone found to grade your knowledge of Starting Lineup figures (I went 8 of 10).
Yes…those little guys that used to sit on your bookshelf.

In fact, maybe today’s a good time for me to dust some of those off and bring them down from the attic for The DiaperTribe who is now asking to watch “Baseball” on the DVR instead of “Elmo”. Thank goodness for STO replay and DVR.
I think there’s a Joe Carter up there in a box somewhere…

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