Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Lazy Sunday Remembering an Old Friend

There’s not much happening in terms of Indians’ news these days, so there’s really not too much to link up on this Laziest of Sundays (the one between Christmas and New Year’s) in which I’m really going to be lazy. With that in mind, I thought I’d go in a bit of a different direction to keep the tradition of linking an Indians’ story alive while paying homage to a friend lost this past year – the brilliant website “Fire Joe Morgan”, which took mainstream media members to task for poor writing and misinformed articles, using a tone that spoke to those of us who sat there reading the same articles thinking the same thing – namely, “what is this guy writing about?”.

If you’re not familiar with the layout or concept of “FJM”, here’s the site still up with the archives accessible for hours of fun and frivolity for you to peruse. The format is to show the articles written by the mainstream media member in bold, followed by the thoughts of the commentator not in bold below each section of the article in question.
Confused?
Don’t worry, you’ll get it.

Anywho, last month the creators of “FJM” decided to focus on their “real jobs”, namely as writers for “The Office” (yes, that one) and let “FJM” disappear into Internet lore. I thought that an homage was in order as every newspaper and magazine runs those “Friends We Lost in 2008” pieces, in particular after reading a piece that appeared in the Christmas edition of the ABJ by one Sheldon Ocker, which begs for the “FJM” treatment.

So, allow me to channel my inner Ken Tremendous (the main writer at “FJM”, later identified as Michael Schur) and have at it. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve included everything that Ocker’s piece contains, so I’m not taking anything out of context:

Through little fault of his own, Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro is on the verge of being targeted by second-guessers and frustrated fans for a failure to make good on implied promises in the offseason.

Not a bad start, getting the attention of all those “second-guessers and frustrated fans” who are perpetually ready to throw Shapiro under the bus, regardless of logic or argument. The opener also floats out that perfect segue for Ocker here, though, the “implied promises” made to the fan base…what Shapiro apparently “promised” would be done – market conditions and extenuating circumstances be damned.

As outlined to the Northeast Ohio sporting public many weeks ago, Shapiro listed his offseason wish: a closer plus an additional reliever or two, an infielder — preferably a third baseman — and a starting pitcher.

Not much debate here, although I thought Shapiro’s wishes were more “what we’d like to do” as opposed to “what we need to do”…but that’s just semantics.

Let’s see Wood and Smith (“a closer plus an additional reliever or two” – check), Luis Valbuena (“an infielder” – check)…oh, that’s right, they haven’t added a starting pitcher yet. Let’s forget for a moment that it’s December 28th and that the only SP to sign as FA are CC, Burnett, Dempster, Moyer, The Big Unit, and Mike Hampton.
I just can’t wait until he gets into why they haven’t gotten a starting pitcher yet!

Maybe wish list isn't a strong enough word. After all, Shapiro wasn't going to look out his window every night, waiting for these players to fall from the sky. He expressed a determination to accomplish each of these goals through free-agent purchases or trades. As has happened in previous years, it appears that what Shapiro wants isn't necessarily what he will get. The marketplace, a sparse supply of players at certain positions, more budgetary restraint than usual caused by our sinking economy and the presence of a couple of major-population-centered franchises have conspired to foil Shapiro's grand design.

I’m sorry, I’m confused here…I thought that he HAS filled two of the three identified holes to some degree before the New Year even started. Is Valbuena the answer at 2B out of Spring Training for 2009? Probably not, but his presence at the very least changes the need at 2B from a long-term fix being needed (given the dearth of 2B in the organization) to simply needing someone to hold 2B for a while until Valbuena is deemed to be ready to contribute.

And is Ocker giving some reasons (“sparse supply of players…budgetary restraint…sinking economy”) why he SHOULDN’T be able to fill the holes, two of which he has arguably filled?

But at least he achieved Priority No. 1: obtaining a closer. Barring another arm injury — and Kerry Wood has undergone the knife for both shoulder and elbow ailments — the former Chicago Cubs pitcher should strengthen the back end of the bullpen. Yes, $20.5 million is a lot of cash for a guy who until last year appeared to be yet another promising power starter whose career went in the toilet because of injuries. But being sent to the bullpen to pitch one inning at a time instead of seven or eight seems to have revived Wood's career.

OK, here’s where he starts to get into how some holes have been filled…I thought he was just going to go all doom and gloom on us.

As a quick aside here, is everyone aware that the $20.5M committed to Wood represents the 6th largest amount of money given to any player on the FA market to date? I know…it’s still December 28th, but isn’t this spending despite “more budgetary restraint than usual brought on by our sinking economy”?

There always is a risk with pitchers, of course. More so when that pitcher has been cut open as often as Wood. But maybe Shapiro and the fans should look at it this way: He's like an old Chevy that has had its engine block, transmission and exhaust system replaced. Those new parts should last awhile.

Not sure if a Chevy is the right comparison here given what Wood is capable of when healthy, but fair enough.

Shapiro also traded for a guy named Smith, which probably is the way most fans referred to him when they learned of the deal. If Smith isn't the name of a reliever destined to be ignored, how about Joe Smith? Even worse. Yet, Smith appears to be a talented sidearming right-hander, who can jump into the mix of pitchers who will help hold the line in the seventh inning or later, especially against right-handed batters.

Good, here’s the second part of the bullpen hole filled BEFORE CHRISTMAS…surely, an admission that quite a bit of work has been done or at least that the groundwork has been laid is coming, right?

But as Shapiro said when he announced the signing of Wood, there is more work to do. The question is whether the team has the resources to get it done and whether there are viable candidates for the GM to chase.

Fair enough, there is more work to do…a player that can handle 2B until Valbuena is ready to emerge as the 2B needs to be found and augmenting the rotation remains a priority.

The longer the winter drags on, the more it appears that Shapiro will not be able to reel in an impact third baseman. Once Casey Blake re-signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Shapiro's options became drastically limited. Yes, he might have snatched Blake from the Dodgers by matching their three-year contract. But Shapiro is hoping that Wes Hodges completes his prep work in the minors and can win the everyday third-base job next year, or the year after that at the latest. What then would the GM do with Blake, versatile though he is? In 2010, the Indians probably will have multiple options at first base and in left and right field, Blake's other positions. Shapiro has spoken often about the outfield depth, abetted by talented players in the farm system. The three he mentions most are Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley and Trevor Crowe. Even if only one of them makes the team in 2010, it would be difficult to justify paying Blake $6 million or more.

“The longer the winter drags on”?
Isn’t it still 2008?
Isn’t Spring Training still 6 weeks away…

Isn’t the Casey Blake discussion dead and buried…and shouldn’t it be for the reasons laid out here?
I’m failing to see where Wes Hodges fits into this discussion, given his merely fair year at AA and his defensive deficiencies or why the idea of bringing Blake back on a 3-year deal was anywhere close to a good idea. Casey Blake was a vastly unappreciated and valuable piece of the Indians’ organization while in Cleveland, but at the age of 35 and with the reasons listed above pertaining to the Indians’ depth at 1B and OF, I’m not sure why the name of Casey Blake was invoked in this discussion.

Maybe you want Shapiro to court Joe Crede. I don't. Aside from him, there is hardly anyone available that makes sense for the Tribe.

So nobody makes sense for the Indians to add at 3B…that’s a lot of words to dedicate to simply saying, “If the Indians really wanted to add an impact 3B, the pickings were slim and none”…and this is from me, a guy who uses 1,000 words when 100 will do.

If, then, an impact 3B is simply not out there - didn’t it behoove the Indians to go after a 2B that allows them to move Cabrera to SS and Peralta to 3B.
Luis Valbuena, anyone?

That means Jhonny Peralta probably will move from short to third — a move I don't like — Asdrubal Cabrera will be shifted from second to short, and manager Eric Wedge will re-introduce himself to Josh Barfield, the forgotten man. It's also not out of the question that Shapiro will find a free-agent second baseman.

Hey, Sheldon…I’m not sure if you caught the other part of the Gutierrez deal. The Indians acquired Luis Valbuena, a 22-year-old 2B who played in 18 games for the Mariners last year and is a player that Jim Callis of Baseball America thinks “is ready for an expanded big league role and has a higher offensive ceiling than Cleveland's 2008 starter, Asdrubal Cabrera.”

What's wrong with Peralta playing third? Maybe nothing. Can he be any worse at third than he has been at short, because of his limited range? The answer is yes. Playing third doesn't require much range, but it does demand highly developed reflexes. I've never seen that in Peralta. Moreover, it is a new position for an infielder who has been exclusively a shortstop. And Shapiro let it slip that Peralta is not enamored with switching positions. But given the circumstances and unless you want to see Andy Marte play every day, there isn't much choice at this point.

I’m not going to pretend to know if Peralta’s going to make a smooth transition to 3B (and anyone who has not seen him play there should probably do the same), although reports from the Winter League (admittedly, via the organization) are that he’s handled the transition nicely. Perhaps, though Ocker has never seen those “highly developed reflexes” out of Peralta because he (like most everyone else) has never seen him play 3B.

Do you think that the Indians might have consulted Travis Fryman, who made the transition from SS to 3B during the season as a young player in Detroit, if he thought Peralta could handle it? Or maybe they would ask Fryman, who manages the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the organization, to become Peralta’s best friend this off-season and in Goodyear…don’t you think a little more thought has been put into this other than – “hey, here’s a crazy idea…let’s see how Jhonny does at 3B!”

As for invoking Marte’s name, does anyone REALLY think that Andy Marte is anywhere close to the Indians’ 2009 plans? Didn’t the pinch-hitting and the signs from the dugout for him to constantly bunt give some indication of how much faith The Atomic Wedgie had in Marte’s ability to handle the bat? The only reason he was even in there was because Blake was gone and Barfield was hurt. And even then, he split time with Jamey Carroll!

If this is the end of the “he hasn’t acquired an infielder” discussion (without once invoking the name of Luis Valbuena), I’ll try to put a bow on it too - it’s entirely feasible that he Indians could go with some combination of Jamey Carroll and Josh Barfield until Valbuena is prepared to join the parent club or they can now go out and get a guy like a Mark Grudzielanek, who can serve as merely a place-holder at 2B as that long-term solution (like an Orlando Hudson or a Rafael Furcal) is no longer necessary because of Valbuena’s presence. Is it akin to adding Brian Roberts to the situation? No, but unless you’re willing to give up Carmona and Asdrubal for one year of Roberts, let’s just say that the infield situation isn’t nearly as dire as Ocker paints it to be.

Finding a starting pitcher also looks less than promising. The Tribe was not going to be a player for Derek Lowe or Jake Peavy, Ben Sheets or A.J. Burnett. So who is left? Raise your hand if you want Carl Pavano, Mark Mulder, Odalis Perez, Jon Garland or even Andy Pettitte, who is being pursued by the New York Yankees.

Wait…so the only way to add an arm is through Free Agency?
Man, we are so…what do you mean, you can add players through avenues other than Free Agency…trades? What are those?

Suddenly, the Indians are going to change everything that they’ve ever done and add a top-flight arm from the Free Agent market, when they’ve eschewed the strategy of overpaying for other teams’ starters, in terms of years and guaranteed money, since Shapiro and Antonetti took the wheel?

And how do Carl Pavano and Mark Mulder get lumped into the same sentence with Odalis Perez and Andy Pettitte?

The big question: How certain is it that any of these veterans will be more productive than Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers, Scott Lewis and Anthony Reyes? No, I don't know, either, and I'm not sure I want to invest relatively large dollars to conduct the experiment. Moreover, Jake Westbrook, who joined the large group of Tommy John elbow surgery alumni six months ago, might be back in the rotation a little earlier than anticipated, possibly by early June, though that is hardly assured.

If you’ve even casually followed the manner in which the Indians have added pieces and parts that are more than simple band-aids (the Kerry Wood signing aside), you have to know that they do this via a trade. Guys like Millwood and Byrd came on short deals and were given those deals because the Indians lacked MLB-ready pitchers like Laffey, Sowers, etc.

What Shapiro said is that he wanted to add a pitcher capable of starting a playoff game, which would mean that it would be a middle-of-the-rotation starter, which is going to cost more than the Indians have ever committed to a starting pitcher.

Whether it’s acquiring Andy Marte, Kelly Shoppach, Josh Barfield, Asdrubal Cabrera, The BLC, or even Reyes, the Indians have always favored the route of adding talent that is under club control for multiple years from other teams by dealing from depth in their own organization. Sometimes it works out (Cabrera and Choo, who were acquired mid-season), sometimes it doesn’t (Barfield, who was acquired before the Winter Meetings), sometimes you don’t even know how you feel about it years after the fact (the Coco deal, which happened in JANUARY).

Whatever the result is, the modus operandi of this organization has been to avoid the investment of “relatively large dollars to conduct the experiment” in the starting rotation. So why is the assumption out there that they’re going to start now and add one of these veterans into the rotation when the Indians still have fungible parts that can be moved to fill out the rotation without the commitment of dollars of the risk associated with it?

So that's the deal. Shapiro has made good on his goal to upgrade the bullpen, but there are serious doubts that he will be able to do the same for the infield and the rotation, which might not need help, anyway.

I thought that he DID upgrade the infield, which (combined with the addressed bullpen) makes 2 of the 3 holes filled…and it’s still DECEMBER 28TH! Maybe if this piece is written at the end of January, with Spring Training only weeks away, it makes sense – but there’s been very little movement in Free Agency and the trade market that give the feeling that the Indians are missing the boat somehow.

And where does that rejoinder, “which might not need help, anyway” come from?
Does it or doesn’t it?
I think it does, if only to make the 2009 rotation more of a sure thing past Lee and Carmona, and I think that the trade route is the avenue to take to get there.

Regardless of the built-in handicaps, Shapiro probably will hear it from the fans and some members of the media, even though there was little else he reasonably could have done. On the other hand, if the Indians win early and often, nobody will remember that the GM failed to offer CC Sabathia a $200 million contract to keep him from signing with the Yankees.

This first sentence make no sense as it says that he couldn’t have done anything (while ignoring that he already has) and that people are going to rake him over the coals regardless of it. Is this an admission that most fans or (gasp) media members don’t know what they’re talking about? And what is this “there was little else he reasonably could have done” – when he’s already done quite a bit, has acknowledged that he’s not done, and has until February 12th until Pitchers and Catchers report to make more moves?

And where in the world does the CC jab come into play? Apropos of nothing, the CC topic comes up with a random number (about $39M higher than the number he signed for) attached to it to fan the flames of ignorance and emotion.

All told, I really don’t know where Ocker’s going with this article – it’s at time critical and narrow-minded, at other times sympathetic and rational, and other times completely ignorant of what’s been done and how those moves affect what’s yet to come. Is he simply covering all of his bases by taking a scattershot approach that solves (or effectively addresses) the questions that remain? Or how about some creativity from Ocker, who doesn’t seem to have any answers…but will keep asking the questions.

Regardless, I’ll take off my Ken Tremendous jersey now and hang it on the wall and remember an old friend as the calendar turns this week to 2009, mourning the loss of “Fire Joe Morgan”, but knowing that Kenny T. will be there whenever lazy sports writing needs to be eviscerated.

17 comments:

t-bone said...

BRAVO!

mainstreet said...

Paul:
I too will miss FJM, but writers like Ocker won't.
Off topic, I am thinking of buying season tickets and noticed that the Indians are offering a two-for-one deal on View Boxes. I've sat in this location before and thought the seats were pretty decent. Does the discount reflect the fact that most fans don't like these seats? Any thoughts from other readers about this? Thanks.

Elia said...

You should do this more often. With the quality of Cleveland/Akron sports writing, it should be easy pickings. I read this article, too, and couldn't figure out what Mr. Ocker was talking about. If anything, you weren't harsh enough.

If watching the Browns doesn't teach us anything else, it should at least teach us that the Indians (and Cavs) are pretty well run organizations.

Bresci has a posse said...

well done. not enough f-bombs to truly replace FJM in my heart, but I'm glad to see them honored with a mention here.

Cy Slapnicka said...

those seats are nice for that price. if i lived in cleveland, i'd be tempted. however, for your dollar, the mezzanine, bleachers, and lower reserved are competitively priced as well. i'd say it depends where you can get the view box seats. behind home plate, pull the trigger. 460s, 430s...i'd pass and shoot for mezzanine or if you can swing it, lower reserved.

Joshua Whitman said...

I got four of them in 465 - Row A. Went to the stadium to pick them out.

Cy, I know you say you would pass on the 460's, but sitting there in November, they looked pretty good.

View From My Seats

t-bone said...

row A as in right up front row with nothing in front of you? HAVE to take 'em!

Paul Cousineau said...

ms,
I'm with these guys that you take 'em in the View Box. I prefer the Mezz, but that's where my seats are so I'm biased.

As for the "discount", I get the sense that the Indians are trying to get people to the park with the idea that the money spent AT the park dwarfs the simple price of admission. As a season-ticket holder, if you miss going to a game, you can turn in those unused tix for free for another game (from a pre-determined list of "trade" dates) at no limit.

If you have 12 unused tix at the end of the season, you can trade them in for 12 tix for a "trade" game with no other financial obligation. What all that tells me is that they just want you there spending money, as opposed to worrying about the price on your ticket to get you there.

Elia,
My first draft was full of much more vitriol, but the Christmas spirit got the best of me. Maybe I will get into doing these more often as the opportunities certainly do exist.

davemanddd said...

that is exactly why i have never understood why they leave so many seats unsold game after game after game. the least they could do is to let people walk up and pay half price for certain seats not already pre-sold and even let people in for free, or at worst for a dollar, after the 5th or 6th inning to take up those seats and spend some more money.

last time i checked, an empty seat generates exactly zero revenue. at least even a dollar will get you some money and the amount of money those people would then spend in concessions would almost certainly make up for the loss of the ticket revenue.

i can guarantee you would probably see a sell-out every game if they adopted such a policy. people are always looking for a good deal and many times it might be a spur of the moment thing to even think of going to a game. what better way of promoting that than giving away half-price seats or dollar seats after the 5th inning???

oh but i can hear the naysayers already, saying "if you do that, nobody will ever buy a ticket ahead of time". well then would you care to explain why people still pay ahead of time for all their airplane tickets when they could always fly "standby" for free??? it's because it's very inconvenient, there are no guarantees that you will even get a seat, you have to wait in line until the very end and you run the risk of being bumped off the flight.

buying ahead has it's privileges and people will still continue to buy them ahead of time just like they always do. i'm just saying that they need to do a little more "outside the box" thinking when it comes to ways to get more fannies in the seats and thus, more revenue. after all, more revenue means more payroll which means better players. we can only hope.

RE said...

sorry to point out the obvious and crush your analogy, but you cannot fly standby for free...

Cy Slapnicka said...

comparing air travel to an indians game? sheldon, its so nice for you to be here. i'd like to be the first to welcome you, mister ocker. it must've been the "no water bottles or outside beverages" rule that led to that connection, huh?

seriously though, if i'm flying somewhere i'm either going to work (price doesn't likely matter) or i'm going on vacation or to visit someone (price matters some now, but convenience is critical as well). people still do it, but not very many.

a tribe game? there are 81 games a year that seat 40k for about 3.5m seats.

you're telling me i can wait until the last minute, only go on days with perfect weather and when my schedule allows, and all for half price? um, i'll get there a little early for those seats.

i do agree they need to get a little more creative in how to get people to the park, and part of it has to do with their ticketing policies. sitting around with lots of empty seats is a serious problem for them. in any other business, if you continually sit around with perishable inventory and don't do anything new to try and sell that inventory....you'll likely find yourself looking for a job. yet, its okay for the indians? i know they are building a team, marketing themselves better, etc to try but you'd think they'd come up with other ideas.

problem with the half price walk up idea is you'll piss off everyone else that pays full price, your corporate clients, and season ticket holders...and those people are who help keep the lights on, not the guy that only comes on dollar dog night and gets a SRO ticket.

Fios said...

Hey Paul, congrats on the show:

http://www.mylifetime.com/on-tv/shows/diettribe

Never figured you for a Lifetime guy

Paul Cousineau said...

Fios,
That's beyond phenomenal.
Naturally, I'm formulating my first comment on the "DietTribe" message board.

Should I get into how important the Kerry Wood signing is or why I think the time is right to trade Shoppach?

I just found a new way to pass time while the Hot Stove cools...all are encouraged to do likewise. I'll post a link to the "DietTribe" site in the next main page post.

Cy Slapnicka said...

fios, we'll all just assume you had a really, really good reason for cruising the Lifetime website...

KonstrucktaTribe said...

DEROSA!DEROSA!

Cy Slapnicka said...

care to rewrite your review sheldon's article now? :)

milwaukeeTribe said...

Ok, at the risk of receiving nasty-grams from those associated with the diettribe, or worse, being permanently banned from having an account on the Lifetime web site (and losing all the wonderful privileges available therein), I could not resist the temptation to post a comment.

Assuming there are fans of the diettribe that possess the same devilish sense of humor, and the wherewithall to find the connection here, we should prepare ourselves for reciprocated Lifetime-oriented discussion in these parts!