Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Will Hell’s Bells Ring in Cleveland?

With the Free Agent period beginning in mere days, a development in sunny San Diego (which is attempting to “Stay Classy” despite a severe payroll deduction) could have repercussions in decidedly less-sunny Cleveland, where the feeling of living inside a dirty milk carton has descended upon us.

But before getting to new business, let’s first bring back the pertinent “old business” to set this up. If you remember, the Indians were looking to add a closer to replace Sticky Wickman after the 2005 season, only to come up short on Trevor Hoffman and BJ Ryan, turning finally to Wickman (who was, apparently, sitting in Wisconsin sipping his High Life next to the phone just waiting for the Tribe to call him) to resume his closing duties for the 2006 Tribe. Despite what the brilliant folks at The Onion would have you believe, Hoffman and the Indians departed on “friendly” terms after negotiations, with only the lure of staying in San Diego for his family and hopefully retiring a Padre preventing The Hoff’s arrival on the North Coast:
“I'm just really happy that I'm not having to traipse my family across the country, although it was a tremendous opportunity with the Cleveland Indians," Hoffman said. "In particular, the class that they showed throughout the process and the respect that they showed went above and beyond and I truly appreciate it. But it came down to me making a decision for my family and not disrupting what we have going on.”

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, right?
Now, news that the Padres and Hoffman have broken off negotiations has hit, meaning that Hoffman won’t have the option of keeping his family in San Diego, won’t retire as a Padre and, most importantly to the Indians, Hoffman will hit the open market with his assumed bridge back to San Diego engulfed in flames.

With the relationship forged in 2005, Hoffman looks ripe for the picking for the Indians, who have a stated need of “back-end experience” in a reliever to augment their current bullpen, with the “premier” closers like K-Rod and Fuentes adding zeroes and guaranteed years to their asking price daily. Hoffman certainly has closing experience and would not cost the Indians the type of dollars (and, more importantly, the committed years) that the other closers on the market are commanding.

There’s no question that the Indians would be well-suited to approach Hoffman about a deal, in the sense that he’s exactly what they’d be looking for in terms of experience and (relative) affordability. The question, really, is whether Hoffman’s age and recent performance merit the Indians committing ANY guaranteed years or dollars to him as the practice of rewarding past performance instead of paying for future performance is a quick way to be stuck with an underperforming, overpaid player.
With the idea that Hoffman’s performance over the past two years is probably a pretty good indication of how he would perform in 2009, here’s what he put up in 2007 and 2008:
2007 – 2.89 WXRL (36th in MLB)
2.98 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 44 K, 15 BB with 42 saves in 49 opportunities over 57 1/3 IP

2008 – 1.82 WXRL (58th in MLB)
3.77 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 46 K, 9 BB with 30 saves in 34 opportunities over 45 1/3 IP

Not exactly the dominant stuff that would accompany Hoffman to the mound back in the day with “Hell’s Bells” blaring, but “dominant stuff” is going to cost you about 5 years and $75M (if some team is willing to meet K-Rod’s demands) on this FA market, so adding a pitcher like Hoffman could fit more into the category of adding a ready-made closer. Unlike additions of the past (Wick and JoeBo) though, Hoffman’s WHIP and K ratios are still the type of numbers that a team would look for in a back-end of the bullpen reliever, with the fact that Hoffman is…you know…the all-time saves leader with a level of success in the past few years thrown in there to boot.

Another factor that could come into play in whether he would fit the Indians’ needs is the fact that Hoffman has succeeded in his career because of the effectiveness of his change-up and has remained effective pitching primarily in the NL (of his 988 career innings, 64 1/3 have come against AL teams in the regular season) throughout his career.
So how would his changeup translate to the AL?
That is, would going to (what is generally assumed to be) the better-hitting AL have an adverse effect on his performance or would the fact that he’d be facing AL hitters for the first time (for the most part) allow his changeup to “sneak up” on hitters as it has been doing in the NL for years now, even if it is not the weapon that it used to be or has the MPH on his fastball and changeup come closer to each other?

Sure, Hoffman’s older now and surely on the other side of the mountain that is his tremendous career, but adding him to the bullpen suddenly makes Lewis and Perez lock down the 7th and 8th (with the idea that Lewis can take some save opportunities if the team chooses to limit Hoffman’s workload), allowing Betancourt to slot in lower in the ladder to work the kinks of 2008 out of his system, and letting the rest of the young arms battle it out for a spot or begin the season in Columbus to hone their craft and be ready for the inevitable call-up when (not if) reinforcements are needed for the pen.

Additionally, the impact that a player like Hoffman could have on some of the young arms that the Indians possess who MAY factor in as closer options (Lewis and Perez with Miller, Meloan, and Stevens farther down the line) may be the immeasurable factor that could lead the Indians to going beyond their oft-stated “comfort zone” as the wisdom that Hoffman could impart, both by words and action, would go a long way to the Indians seeing their closer emerge from current in-house options soon, instead of constantly remaining on the watch for another 9th inning pitcher.

How much out of that “comfort zone” could the Indians go to add Hoffman?
Probably guaranteeing a second year or going as far as adding a club option for a third year (even if they have no interest in exercising it) or making the deal as rich as $6M annually would be more risk than they would generally assume on a 40-year-old reliever, but it may be necessary to get Hoffman to Cleveland, if only so I can wear a shirt that says “Don’t Hassle The Hoff”.

Remember, the Indians do have approximately $18M to spend in the 2008 budget (assuming the 25-man budget is around $80M or so, as it was last year), so giving a player like Hoffman a 1 or 2-year deal at around $5M to $6M per season isn’t going to eat up all of the assumed dollars that the Indians figure to have available to add pieces and parts this off-season. That is, a contract like the one outlined above wouldn’t have too great of an effect on their ability to add an infielder via FA.

All told, the relationship should still be there from 2005, so the groundwork already may be laid for a sales pitch to Hoffman. The interest should certainly be there from both sides as the Indians are looking to add a reliever and Hoffman is likely looking to be the de facto “closer” on a team. All signs would point to this being a feasible marriage between the two…with the Indians finding themselves this time on the Free Agent altar and not wearing another dreadful bridesmaid’s dress.

12 comments:

karloso said...

Nice post. The National league weaker offense is not pertinent for a closer. A closer will almost always be pitching in the 8th or 9th inning with a few run lead and the opposing club will never send up a pitcher or weak hitter if it can help it. The American league's offense advantage does not hold up for closers.

A.G.B said...

I agree with Karloso's point; I don't think the transition from the NL to the AL is all that traumatic for a closer. I am more worried about Hoffman's "Closer mentality." This is a guy whom has spent almost his whole career as "the guy" and has the Saves record to consider. He is going to want to be the closer and he is going to want to be the closer for the whole season. And I am just not sure if he can be "the guy" at his age and with his performance last season.

I think the Indians should be looking for a versatile bullpen guy who can either close OR come in in the 7th and 8th innings.

Paul Cousineau said...

No disagreement on the nominal difference for one inning in the AL vs. the NL, but I was bringing up the change in leagues more for the fact that he'd be facing players that have not seen his change-up on the regular basis that the folks in the NL have.

His performance last year was only bested by one Indians reliever (Perez) and what he did last year was on par with what Huston Street did...so it's not JoeBo redux.

And I have NO problem with him saying that he wants the ball in the 9th, particularly as it would allow Lewis and Perez to be used in the high-leverage situations that may arise in the 7th or 8th or have them go against particular parts of the lineup (RH vs. LH) to maximize their effectiveness.

I'd prefer a guy who HAS closed, as it seems like we have a TON of versatile guys who could be 7th, 8th, or 9th inning options.

Adam said...

I'm on board with an attempt to sign Hoffman. He could most likely be had on a one-year deal, which to me is perfect and makes the $$s much less of an issue. We'd have to be careful with his usage, which would allow us to prepare a closer in training without actually having to call Lewis (or one of our other young guys) the closer. It would then allow us to use our other resources ($$ and players) on finding an infielder or starting pitcher.

Sign me up.

Brad said...

"...and letting the rest of the young arms battle it out for a spot or begin the season in Buffalo..."

Suggesting we dump some arms off on the Mets? Looks like some habits will be hard to break! BTW - just saw the new stadium in Columbus yesterday - definitely looks worthy of a road trip next summer.

Paul Cousineau said...

Fixed...old habits ARE hard to break.

Can't wait to see the new stadium in Columbus AND see AAA games on STO!

Halifax said...

I agree. Why do you get the feeling this blog was done by everyone posting with Nextel push-to-talk radio phones?

KonstrucktaTribe said...

WHAT ABOUT HUSTON STREET
COLORADO DOESN'T NEED HIM. I THOUGHT THEY HAD ANOTHER CLOSER IN THE WINGS.

A.G.B said...

!!!! STO is showing AAA games? This is literally the best news I have ever received in my 18 years on this planet.

And as far as Hoffman goes....
Again I am just worried that Hoffman's ego as a closer is going to prompt Wedge to keep him as the closer far longer than he needs to be if he starts to falter and his age becomes apparent.

I am just nervous when it comes to older players with diminishing skills who expect to fullfill a certain role that their bodies can't anymore.

G'son said...

The first question that needs to be asked:

Is Hoffman the guy the Indians want to go into the 2009 season with as their designated Closer? In the recent past, we've seen the results of a "bullpen by committee". It was a disaster. It's not by accident that closers are paid more than any other reliever on a team.. They are usually your go to guy..your most reliable strike thrower, your best chance to finish the game.. so by having Hoffman proclaim, I want the ball in the 9th inning, it shows he gets it.. Jensen Lewis was happy to be with the club and contribute to one of the best records in MLB in the second half. His mentality is exactly what you look for in a reliever, but as a closer?, the jury may still be out.

Second Question: Does Hoffman want to uproot his family and career from sunny San Diego and move across country to Cleveland?

In 2005, the answer was emphatically no. It wasn't the dollars offered by the Indians. They actually offered more money than Hoffman ended up getting from the Dads.. but Hoffman declined to accept then.. not much has changed since then.. other than having his 40th, 41st and 42nd birthdays. All celebrated in SD.. For this reason, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see Hoffman hang em up.

Will Hoffman fit and is Hoffman the best option for the profile / need of filling the Indians closer requirements?

The answer to this question begins with another question:

Who else is there?

K-Rod. fits the need.. not the profile as he will be too expensive.

Brian Fuentes lost his closing job to Manny Corpas due to his ineffectiveness. He's a FA looking for Mariano Rivera money while delivering Joe Borowski type numbers. So probably not

Kerry Wood is a chicago guy all the way. He's shown his loyalty to the Cubs organization and the city of Chicago during his entire career. He would be a perfect fit for the Indians, both in terms of dollars, age, ability (ie. overall profile)

Juan Cruz: A hard throwing reliever with experience and grit. He's got a power arm and should be considered for this role. He'd be choice B.

In summary, Hoffman, while having name recognition and a long history of accomplishment as a closer, may NOT be the guy. The Indians may do well to hold off until other options are explored before focussing on Hoffman.

What say you?

Halifax said...

I think Hoffman IS the answer because he comes with no strings attached and he liked the organization. Street will rip us off of players we need to deal for position guys, Fuentes is not near worth the money he's after.

Hoffman can still throw strikes, and as we saw with Jenny Lewis, you can get three outs in the ninth if you aggressively go at hitters even if all you have is a 91 MPH fastball, a jerky motion and a little slider. Hoffman can get it done.

What the Indians DON'T need is to overpay in dollars or talent when they have some guys in Lewis, Miller, Meloan, Stevens and Perez who all could step up and grow into that closer role. What they need is time and a mentor.

Trevor Hoffman provides that with a one year guaranteed deal plus a club option. And I don't think he'll hang it up because he's not happy with the Padres at all, and to quit now would be admitting they were right.

KonstrucktaTribe said...

your 2008 CY Young Winner
Cliffton Pfifer Lee!
A foregone conclusion me thought