Sunday, December 21, 2008

Twas the Lazy Sunday Before Christmas

With preparations for a 2-year-old’s birthday party on the agenda (and little else…what “Battle of Ohio”), let’s get right to the Lazy Sunday before The DiaperTribe realizes that his parents have no idea which of his presents were supposed to be birthday gifts and which were supposed to be held for Christmas. While it doesn’t look like a Lazy Sunday in any sense for me, it doesn’t preclude “all the news that’s fit to link”:

Starting where we usually do, Terry Pluto expresses his thoughts on the 1B situation next year, surmising that “Wedge is pulling hard for Hafner, but if the DH still struggles, Garko could see time at that spot. The manager knows that Martinez missed three months because of elbow surgery and also had a hamstring problem. Guys get hurt, Wedge wants the depth. He likes the idea of having four players (Hafner, Garko, Martinez and Shoppach) to cover three spots (DH, 1B and C).” It should be noted that Pluto’s always been a big Garko fan, which accounts for his idea of slotting Garko into the DH spot if Hafner struggles and allows Victor to move to 1B and keeping Shoppach at C.

But I’m not quite sure I understand the obsession with moving Vic to 1B as his bat is infinitely more valuable behind the plate. He’s all of 30 (on Tuesday, by the way) and is only 16 months older than Shoppach, being only a year removed from his phenomenal 2007 – both at the plate and behind it. I understand the whole notion that his 30 is “older” than Shoppach’s 29 in that his body has been exposed to more wear and tear over the last few years, but I don’t buy the move to 1B to save Victor’s failing body…at least not this year.

The notion of keeping those 4 guys for 3 positions makes sense to me, but to me it’s not just to protect against Pronk never returning again. More than that, if the idea to keep Shoppach prevails, it would be because the production from Garko (or lack thereof) would force the Indians to move Victor up the line because Garko’s heading down I-71 to Columbus (he has an option remaining) and the Indians don’t feel comfortable enough with Michael Aubrey, Jordan Brown, or Matt LaPorta to man 1B in Cleveland. And that’s where part of the confusion comes for me as it would seem that the Indians DO have depth at C and 1B beyond Martinez, Garko, and Shoppach with the 3 aforementioned players who figure to be in play at Columbus at 1B/DH, but also with Wyatt Torregas and Chris Gimenez at C in Columbus.

Are those guys steps down from Shoppach being the “depth” option?
Absolutely…who isn’t, but if the Indians keep Shoppach as “depth” or “insurance” that someone gets hurt or Garko struggles, they’ll be starting the season with Shoppach ostensibly on the bench to wait for a chance when he’s proved beyond all reasonable doubt that he has not only earned that chance, but that he deserves it. And that’s not the only factor to consider with Shoppach, who is eligible for arbitration this year and under club control for three more years in that he’s about to get more expensive – true, still at a wildly reasonable number…but more so if he’s starting and not sitting, waiting, wishing. The other factor at play is the Indians’ acquisition of Carlos Santana in the Blake deal, who figures to start the season in AA and could be in the parent club’s plans in 2010 or 2011. Isn’t that just about the time that a move to 1B for Victor makes more sense than simply doing it now? And where, exactly does that leave Shoppach, who would still be under club control?

I know that this sounds like I’m banging away at the “Trade Kelly” drum, but understand that the only way that trading Shoppach makes sense is if the return is a player (preferably a starter) that plays 2009 at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario and does not become a FA after one year of playing there. If the Indians cannot get that value for him, they should absolutely keep him to serve as that insurance against Garko struggling again. If the prevailing logic behind keeping him is because the Indians don’t think that Garko is going to improve off his 2008 and the Indians would rather put the bats of both Kelly and Victor in the lineup, that’s the best reason I can think of.

My only concern with that scenario playing out would be that the Indians would be letting the opportunity to “sell high” on Shoppach (given that a team acquiring him is getting 3 years of a player coming relatively cheap) could pass and could find the logjam that their 1B/C position looks like right now turning into an area that not enough AB are there to go around as the youngsters start knocking harder at the door. There’s something to be said for depth, but there’s also something to be said about missing the opportunity to move a valuable player at a position of depth for an equally valuable player at a position of need and Mr. Show Pack is going to net more in a trade than any of the other players that constitute that depth.

Moving on, in case you missed it, Kerry Wood was officially introduced as the new Indians’ closer, saying all the right things, to have the bases loaded and none out is not the greatest situation to be in," Wood said. "I look at it as, hey, I'm out here. There were times when I wasn't sure I'd pitch again. Now that's pressure.” and attempting to allay those fears concerning his health by describing his extensive physical in Cleveland, somebody asked me about it and I told them, 'If every player had to go through a physical like that, there would only be seven or eight teams in the big leagues.’”

Obviously press conferences announcing a signing are all backslaps and giggles, but Wood certainly carried himself well and had all the right answers to the questions asked. At this point, there’s not much more that he can do, other than donning the ol’ #34 and turn the bullpen into his own personal “Wood Shed”.

Pat McManamon has an interesting medical explanation for the idea that Wood’s arm may be healthier with more consistent and less strenuous use as a reliever while taking a shot at Dusty Baker’s use of Wood (whether he knows it or not) that would make my Cub fan brother-in-law seethe.

Speaking of relievers, Branson Wright (yes, that Branson Wright…as if there would be another one) reports that the Indians may have an interest in bringing RH reliever Joe Nelson to Cleveland, presumably on a one-year deal. It’s an interesting report, if there’s anything to it, as all it says is that 18 are interested in Nelson and the Tribe are among his top 4…which is a lot of numbers to digest and looks more like an agent calling a writer than anything else. Nevertheless, it’s interesting in that the Indians bullpen (while circled as an area that needed an upgrade when the off-season started) is where 2 of the 3 acquisitions the team has made to date have come with Wood and Joe Smith.

Nelson wouldn’t be a bad addition as his 2008 season showed that he can be an effective reliever, after an uneven career to date, as he pitched mainly in the latter innings for the Fish last year, mostly on short rest. Adding him would make the bullpen awfully heavy in RHP, but more than simply looking at Nelson specifically, the rumor causes a deeper look at what exactly adding another bullpen arm does and the related questions that arise.

As much as I understand the notion that the Indians have subscribed to the theory of “throw it all against the wall and see what sticks” before, but if a reliever like Nelson was added, the assumed bullpen gets a little deeper…but also a lot more muddled once you get past the first seven names:
That’s your seven, assuming Betancourt and Kobayashi stick around – and Eddie Moo is gonzo.

On the surface if that’s the bullpen, the rest of the young relievers (Meloan, Miller, Stevens, Rundles, Sipp, etc.) all then start the season in Columbus to sort themselves out and, presumably, wait for a chance to join the parent club. That’s 5 names right there that would figure to start the season in Columbus that would be thought by some to have a legitimate shot to make the team out of Spring Training…unless, of course, another arm was added.

Of course, I get the whole depth idea as the list of relievers that pass through a MLB team on any given season is long and varied (who remembers the 5 games that Mike Koplove pitched in 2007…or the 4 games that Rick Bauer pitched last year), so the idea of adding more quality arms to the bullpen is sound.

But this move obviously means that another move is coming, in that one of the aforementioned names that figure to start the season in Columbus could be thrown in on that bigger trade to net a starter, right? I mean, it’s all too perfect – Nelson (or a reliever like him) joins the parent club, allowing the Indians to sweeten the pot for a team in a deal for a starter from a position of relative depth…didn’t we just talk about that, I mean…isn’t that how it goes?

In the words of an analyst on one of the only watchable shows on ESPN these days, “not so fast, my friend”…

It could, in fact mean the exact opposite as it could be a sign that the Indians have come to the realization that they will NOT be able to add that starter and have decided to improve their bullpen in preparation for NOT adding said starter by improving the quality and depth of the bullpen as 60% of their rotation will be filled by the likes of Laffey/Reyes/Sowers/Huff/Jackson, all of whom are far from sure bets and could be leaving games awfully early...increasing the need for a deep and talented bullpen.

It’s logically circular, I know, but a move like this (if it were to come to pass) could be taken either of those ways – that they’re improving their depth TO make a trade or that they’re improving their depth because they realize they WON’T make a trade and are preparing their bullpen for a heavy workload behind a rotation that would seem relatively suspect from #3 through #5.

Essentially, what would another reliever being added tell us?
Umm…not much.

Staying on the topic of bullpens, Tony Lastoria reports that the aforementioned Tony Sipp was shut down because of shoulder discomfort and never even was sent to pitch in the Dominican Winter League, which is a development worth monitoring.

Also, Tony and I had our weekly show this week hitting on the bullpen and talking to Rob Bryson, who was the youngest player acquired in the CC deal from the Brewers, who had some interesting thoughts on the difference between the Brewers organization and the Tribe.

Speaking of Sabathia, Nick Cafardo at the Boston Globe has an interesting interview with Indians’ Special Assistant Ellis Burks and Burks’ conversations with CC about where he wanted to play and if he was prepared to handle the bright lights of the big city. Burks’ advice about the difference between the East Coast and everywhere else:
“I just told him that there's a big difference between the two coasts when it comes to things like the intensity of the fans, the intensity of the media, and that you're much more accountable for everything. I told him when you go to New York you've got to know you can handle it. He turned to me and said, 'I think I can handle it.' And I said, 'No, that's not good enough, you've got to know you can handle it before you make a commitment like that.' That's when he turned to me and said, 'I know I can handle it.' And I believe him. He's got thick skin and he's done everything he's ever put his mind to do. He'll be very good there.”

In the same vein, reader Carolyn Bushey has been keeping me abreast of some of the better CC pieces to emerge from the NY rags, and let’s just say that I hope (for CC’s sake) that his skin is getting thicker by the day.
Here’s one from the Post, where it appears that they’re documenting his comments for the day that they can throw them back in his face:
"Look at the guys on my team," said the 6-foot-7, 290-pounder, whose No. 52 jersey is a size 56 that requires lengthening on the sleeves. "It's going to be easy to do my job."
Burnett played second fiddle to Roy Halladay in Toronto and appears comfortable working the day after Sabathia.
"Him signing, pitching behind him, that makes it easier on me," said Burnett, who pointed to being more mature about how he throws as the reason he stayed healthy last year, when he went 18-10 and led the AL in strikeouts with 231.
Sabathia and Burnett said "easy" and "easier." But nothing is ever easy in this town. Especially when the expectations are as high as they are today.

Then, of course, there was the other piece in the Post that…um…lets CC know how many different levels they’re willing to go after him on:
Of course, there is something Sabathia should know about what's in store for him across the next seven years - or, at the least, the next three, before the possibility of an opt-out and a national economic surge can vault him on his merry way west, to the land of sun, low-expectation fans and In & Out Burger joints, where the only back page of note is the Chevy ad on the last page of Variety.

It is a simple bargain, really, and it goes something like this:
It would be wise to start making a habit of seasons such as 2007 - 19 wins, 7 losses, 3.21 ERA, 1.141 WHIP - and to shy away from seasons such as, say, 2004 (11-10, 4.36, 1.319). It would be wise, starting next April, to more closely emulate the version of himself that last season wore a Brewers uniform (11-2. 1.65, 1.003) whose 3-X dimensions made him look merely husky, as opposed to the one who wore an Indians uniform (6-8, 3.83, 1.234) and had people wondering if he was eating all the cheesecake.

Enjoy New York, CC…let us know how it all shakes out for you!
Pay no attention to the sound of sharpening claws that hear coming from the Big Apple.

Though it is pretty safe to assume that the Tribe has spent the majority of the money they want to on the FA market, here’s a piece from Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus with a little caveat emptor on a couple of remaining FA, notably Orlando Hudson, who Sheehan thinks will decline (particularly defensively, where much of his value is found) as he goes down the other side of the 30 mountain.

For another excellent writer that SI has added to their stable, the Joe Posnanski portion of today’s Lazy will feature Joe’s article from the print edition of this week’s SI on the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas to remind us all what good sportswriting and storytelling looks like. Just a fantastic piece and one that gives pause to anyone who has ever considered the Winter Meetings some sort of Xanadu.

Off to the Big Bird (that’s Giant Eagle to the rest of the world) to stock up on everything a 2-year-old’s birthday party needs…and everything his father needs to cope with said party.


Andy said...

It should also be pointed out that Nelson's stats last year aginst LH batters are superior to most literal loogies.

I agree with you about Shoppach and, again, Wedge is giving me headaches in a business that's supposed to entertain.

Adam said...

I'm beginning to think the Indians won't seriously entertain the notion of trading Shoppach till mid-season. The return on mid-season trades the last few years seems to be extraordinarily high and trading a starting catcher to a playoff-contention team would presumably yield a nice July package. It gives the Indians time to figure out what's going on with Hafner as well.

Baltimoran said...

waiting to see if hafner is productive is a pretty good idea...we should still get a great return since he's not close to being a free agent...that puts a lot of pressure for a couple of the young guys to show up but if they can give us 5 or 6 i'd be pretty comfortable with the raffys and lewis to get us to wood

Paul Cousineau said...

The only thing that concerns me about a mid-season trade is that you're then looking at Shoppach not getting steady AB for half a season when you're either trying to raise his value or find a permanent spot for him...or maybe Garko's the odd man out - who knows?

If they do break camp with Vic, Hafner, Shoppach, and Garko, I'm going to be very interested how those AB are going to be divided up coming out of the gates.

t-bone said...

Teixeira to the Yankees. Urgh.