Thursday, February 28, 2008

Glossary of Gloss

In the process of my analysis of all things Tribe, I often refer to players by nicknames that have evolved over the few years that I have spent putting my thoughts about the Indians on paper, so to speak. One of the results of this is that readers are sometimes confused as I don’t specifically refer to players by the name on their birth certificate (not meant as a dig on Mr. Peralta) unless they realize that The BLC is actually Shin-Soo Choo…that the Fist of Steel is Rafael Betancourt…and so on. Of course, other readers (allegedly) only read FOR the nicknames, so it is a practice not likely to expire any time soon.

So with that in mind, I figure that it would be a nice public service to provide some sort of glossary of names for the Tribe players that I often use and, if it is not blatantly obvious, the rationale or the evolution of the nickname:
Grady Sizemore

Still the gold standard of nicknames that I have bestowed here as the Indians actually ran a promotion last year, complete with Grady in a cape catching a ball, called the “SuperSizemore” bobblehead. Originally meant as a twist on Morgan Spurlock’s “SuperSize Me”, Grady’s emergence as a star brought new meaning to the name.

Asdrubal Cabrera

Pretty self-explanatory of this one, even if people aren’t thrilled with it’s A-Rod-esque unoriginality. Also in the hopper - Drooby Droob Droob (think Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”), Droobs, and AssDribble (which is what my grandmother truly thought his name was during the playoffs last year, abhorrent to the idea that they could say that on TV).

Victor Martinez
Vic the Stick

Stan the Man, Wilt the Stilt…you get the idea

Travis Hafner

Bill Selby will forever live in Indians’ lore for bestowing this nickname on The Sykestown Slammer (an homage to Hafner’s hometown in North Dakota), even if some people feel that there is a deeper meaning, further than simply half-project half-donkey. Maybe THIS is the one my grandma should be concerned about being uttered so frequently on TV.

Ryan Garko

Still takes too long to type, but serial poster Cy Slapnicka has been championing this one since Gonnie Garko hit Canal Park. The other ones that will occasionally make the rounds are Gark the Shark, Ryan Garkovich (think Julia Roberts and hexavalent chromium), and Garkomel (The DiaBride’s favorite, as she feels that the right side of the infield should be known as Gargamel and Asrael).

Jhonny Peralta

For as much as you would think a player who has spent three full years as the everyday shortstop with a misspelled first name, Peralta doesn’t have that one definitive nickname and is usually just referred to by his given name (perhaps it is that misspelling). Honey remains the best nickname I’ve got as I truly thought that the “J” could be the silent letter as Peralta climbed the minor-league ladder.

Casey Blake
The Jaw/The Beard

Depending upon his grooming patterns, Blake remains defined by the squareness of his jaw and what foliage takes up space on it. While some have suggested Lacey Cake (which has a “Caddyshack” feel to it) or even a return to Kasey Blake (he worked hard to get that K out of there), I’m sticking with a reference to the Wichita State alum’s mandible.

Andy Marte
The Dominican Dandy or AAAAndy MAAAArte

2008 will go a long way to determining if Marte is able to shed the AAAA player tag (get it, 4 A’s in Andy and Marte) that some seem determined to attach to him or if he’s finally able to realize the potential that we all thought was possible just a few Januarys ago.

Jason Michaels/David Dellucci

One of the more popular platoon amalgamations (particularly after Benuardo headed to the Pacific Northwest), the 2 players combine to form one outfielder. If referenced individually, the likely names would include Jason the Wet (how is his hair ALWAYS wet?) or The Looch (not Arnold Jackson’s nemesis in “Diff’rent Strokes – that was The Gooch).

Franklin Gutierrez
Frank the Tank

Will Ferrell’s beer-bonging, Kansas-singing, tranquilizer-dart-to-the-neck character from “Old School” finds a place in RF at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. For purposes of brevity, it could be Gutz. For purposes of levity, it could be Franklin Delano Gutierrez or Franklin Comes Alive (which makes no sense, unless you’re down with “Arrested Developmen”…and if you’re not, you should be).

Kelly Shoppach

C’mon, the guy’s a catcher, is short and squatty, and pretty functional.

Shin-Soo Choo
Big League Choo

A creation of serial poster rodells, this is the nickname most universally accepted around the web, along with its abbreviated cousin, The BLC. Truthfully, I haven’t seen anyone refer to the South Korean OF as anything BUT Big League Choo in about a year.

Ben Francisco
The Frisco Kid

Along with The Ben Francisco Treat, it’s pretty rare to see Francisco referred to as anything BUT these two nicknames. Minor League guru John Sickels bestowed the name Generalissimo, in reference to the former Spanish dictator of the mid-20th century, but I’m sticking with the lighthearted turns for the player who sticks his tongue out like a little kid while hitting.

C.C. Sabathia
The Crooked Cap

So many to choose from, so little time to administer them. The Hefty Lefty, aCCE, Captain Curveball, The Big Fella…we could go on all day. Let’s just sit back and enjoy the day that we can complain about the hat that C.C. is wearing cockeyed being our own.

Fausto Carmona
The Faustastic One

While El Diablo made a strong run (remember, a Faustian dilemma is a Deal with the Devil) when Fausto burst onto the scene, his sterling performance at the top of the Tribe rotation merited the creation of a new adjective.

Jake Westbrook
Jake the Snake

Admittedly not too original for the always steady, somewhat vanilla, sinkerballing RHP and in no way a reference to the WWF wrestler who carried Damien around in a sack. Of course, “The Two Jakes”, “Jake and the Fatman”, “Jake in Progress”, “Jake Braking”, and other references pepper titles to articles about Westbrook; but nothing that’s ever stuck by way of a regular moniker.

Paul Byrd

Like Westbrook, Byrd has never really had a gloss that stuck to him…at least that can be printed in a family-friendly environment. Since I’m no ornithologist, I’m not sure what Byrd is efficient and functional, but ultimately not very pretty while performing its job. If you are a license ornithologist, I’d be much obliged for a suggestion.

Cliff Lee
Mr. Five and (f)Lee

A variation on the old “Five and Fly” reference to a starting pitcher that logs five innings and exits the game with a lead, leaving the rest of the game to the bullpen. A rather derogatory notion as the pitcher gets credit for the win despite pitching just over ½ of the game…but a 6.29 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP will bring some venom out.

Jeremy Sowers
Whiskey Sowers

Still looking like he should be an intern at some accounting firm, not able to buy a drink at a bar without heavy questioning, the nickname is obviously meant to be tongue in cheek. That is, unless Sowers developed a taste for The Old No. 7 while in Nashville as a Commodore at Vanderbilt. The Jack Daniels’ plant in Lynchburg is only about an hour and a half away…

Aaron Laffey
Laffey Taffy

Holding off getting too overly optimistic about the young LHP yet, I’ll keep “The Babyfaced Bulldog” in my pocket until he’s pitched more than 50 innings at the ML level. However, the 4 2/3 IP in Game 6 of the ALCS, when he held the Red Sox lineup scoreless (which nobody else could do at that point) lends credence to that baby face belying a bulldog mentality.

Adam Miller
Atom Miller

Um…this one’s pretty obvious, though it does always make me think of the Rainier Wolfcastle portrayal of “Radioactive Man” on “The Simpsons”, who can’t say the hero’s tagline, “Up and Atom” because he keeps saying “Up and At Them”. High comedy.

Brian Slocum
Smoke ‘em Brian Slocum

Listed if for no other reason than to declare that the “Smoke ‘em Brian Slocum Watch” is over.

Joe Borowski
The Big Borowski

Thanks to the genius of the Coen Brothers’ bowling story being in heavy rotation onFLIX, I’m not going “out of my element”, as Donnie might be prone to, with this one. Obviously, JoeBo has evolved as the quick and easy way to refer to the Tribe closer (with its close cousin JoeBlo), but anything that reminds me to have a White Russian is going to get a lot of love.

Rafael Betancourt
Fist of Steel

One of my favorite all-time nicknames, Fist of Steel, it goes in concert with Rafael Perez’s Fist of Iron as the brilliant take on the song “16 Tons”, which exclaims, “If you see me coming, better step aside. A lot of men didn’t and a lot of men died. One Fist of Iron, the other of Steel; if the left one doesn’t get you, then the right one will”. Serial poster Tyler gets full credit for that one, making my Senor Slo-Mo (sadly) pale in comparison.

Rafael Perez
Fist of Iron

See Betancourt, Rafael.
Substitute Senor Slo-Mo with The Scarecrow and…we’re done.

Jensen Lewis

This has been a recent bestowal as I can’t figure out how to capitalize on the fact that there is a furniture store in NYC named Jensen-Lewis. No, seriously.

Tom Mastny
Nasty Boy

Born in Indonesia and sometimes going by the name of The Mastnicator, Nasty Boy Tom Mastny has a certain ring to it, particularly because he looks like a 12-year-old with a hat that’s three sizes too big for his head when he’s innocently looking in a sign.

Hopefully this little exercise was helpful in identifying some of the shorthand that I use in different pieces. I know that some of the players weren’t included, but some of the guys I know too little about to assign them a nickname (Kobayashi, Carroll); while others just don’t interest me at all (Fultz).

Always a pleasure to hear Hammy and Hegan on the radio, as they were today, announcing Grapefruit League action. It provides yet another sign of Spring, regardless of how my back feels after shoveling far too many times over the last few days.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Atomic Instability

With so very little happening in Winter Haven, it seems that a blister in the Florida sun has caused much consternation in some circles as Atom Miller’s difficulties with a blister on his middle finger continue. The blister, which was first reported to be a hindrance to Miller in the Arizona Fall League (ironically just after these warm-up pitches, available via YouTube in the AFL game) sets Miller back again in his attempts to fulfill the promise that has been predicted for him after being a high draft pick and his break-out 2004 season in Lake County and Kinston.

Now, as a 23-year-old dealing with the annoyance of a recurrent blister (remember how Josh Beckett used to battle these in Florida) with an unfortunate history arm injuries (he has twice sustained elbow injuries in his young career) and finger tendon problems (ask Joel Zumaya if these can derail a season) in the past, it looks like Miller’s injury bug has crept up for another bite.

Before we go any further on this, let’s all agree that Miller is an extraordinary talent, a hard-throwing RHP with excellent K/BB and the “high ceiling” that scouts fantasize about. However, Miller has been truly healthy for only 2 of his 4 minor-league seasons (I’m not counting his ½ season as an 18-year-old in Burlington in 2003) since being signed by the Tribe.
When he was healthy – well, huzzah:
2004 (Age 19)
Lake County – 7-4, 3.36 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 10.48 K/9, 2.77 BB/9, 3.79 K/BB
Kinston – 3-2, 2.09 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 9.55 K/9, 2.49 BB/9, 3.83 K/BB
Combined – 10-6, 2.96 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 10.21 K/9, 2.69 BB/9, 3.80 K/BB

2006 (Age 21)
Akron – 15-6, 2.75 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.20 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, 3.65 K/BB
Buffalo – 0-0, 5.79 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 7.71 K/9, 5.79 BB/9, 1.33 K/BB
Combined – 15-6, 2.83 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.11 K/9, 2.60 BB/9, 3.50 K/BB

The statistics posted by a 19-year-old pitching into Kinston remain Miller’s announcement to the baseball world that he was a force to be reckoned with. However, his 2005 was derailed by an elbow injury that limited him to 15 ineffective starts in Kinston and Mahoning Valley. He rebounded from the injury with a vengeance in 2006 (the Buffalo numbers for that year are, obviously, only one start) as Miller completely dominated the Eastern League as a 21-year-old Aero. At that point, it seemed that Miller would make his cursory starts in Buffalo in 2007 as a quick stop on the fast track to Cleveland.

Thought to be squarely in the mix as the 1st replacement starter from the minors in Winter Haven last year (Fausto who?), he strained a tendon on his troublesome right middle finger and got behind the proverbial 8-ball as The Faustastic One sparkled and later Aaron Laffey logged some substantial innings after receiving the phone call from the parent club to bolster the rotation while Miller stayed in Buffalo to find his groove.

But find his groove he never did, posting a 5-4 record in 2007 with Buffalo, accompanied by a 4.82 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP with K and BB rates consistent with his previous performance. Decent numbers, to be sure…especially for a 22-year-old in Buffalo; however, Miller only started 11 games while logging only 65 innings for the Herd. A troubling trend, however small the sample size, is that a healthy (and dominant) year for Miller is followed by one fraught with injury and recovery time.
Great 2004.
Non-existent 2005.
Phenomenal 2006.
Uneven 2007.

Now, what can we really learn from all of this?
Obviously, Atom Miller (when healthy) is a tremendous pitching prospect capable of dominating every time he takes the ball. But consistent health has eluded him and, short of calling this just dumb luck, there must be something to this. We are all aware that pitching is an extremely unnatural motion, but does Miller’s delivery have adverse effects on his arm and hand, more so than other pitchers?

Let me preface this by saying that I have absolutely no background in the medical field, have no insight into the physics of motion and their effect on the human body, and am not even going to pretend to know what ligaments and tendons do what in a person’s arm or hand. By way of an authoritative figure on things related to anatomy, my expertise probably falls in line with Austin Milbarge and Emmitt Fitzhume, attempting to perform an appendectomy. And…Doctor.

All of that being said, watch the video of Miller throwing again while I put on my stethoscope and don a white coat.
Even with my amateur eye it’s easy to see that the windup looks smooth, the arm goes back, and suddenly Miller’s right arm uncoils violently as he releases the ball with most of the torque seemingly coming from his elbow. The delivery is deceptive as Miller’s arm doesn’t rear back very quickly, but seems to snap as it comes forward as the ball explodes out of his hand. The by-product is that the pitch is likely very difficult to pick up or (as is the case with Rafael Betancourt), the hitters’ timing is thrown off by the velocity of the ball, particularly after what seems to be a very easy and deliberate motion.

The other by-product of the delivery is that the strain on his elbow is very apparent, even to the casual observer and, after seeing the speed that his arm is moving forward to release the ball, one can plainly see how this quick motion could have an effect on his throwing hand, and particularly his fingers, as he releases the ball with his arm moving so quickly. The whipping action of his arm at his elbow creates a great deal of velocity with deception, but ultimately it doesn’t have the smooth delivery that would place less strain on the arm or hand.

For comparison’s sake, watch the delivery of another young fireballing RHP, the Yankees’ Phil Hughes. The fluidity of his motion, as he goes into his windup and progresses from the ball starting behind his head to it’s release point, don’t show any of the herky-jerky movement that Miller’s arm undergoes as he delivers the ball. Hughes’ right arm never bends at the unusual angle that Miller’s seems to at the elbow. Of course, Hughes missed a significant amount of time in 2007 with a hamstring injury, so no pitcher, regardless of the fluidity of his motion, is above injury. But the Indians would certainly rather have Miller be fighting off minor leg injuries, or even the ever-popular oblique strain, than multiple and recurring injuries to his pitching arm and hand.

Obviously, fluidity of motion and simple mechanics don’t guarantee that a pitcher will avoid injuries (ask Mark Prior – purported upon his arrival to MLB to have “perfect mechanics”) nor does an unorthodox delivery mean that a pitcher is destined for perpetual injuries, but it would seem that Miller’s arm motion would lead to an inordinate amount of arm trouble, and it really already has.

Interestingly, the hitch in Miller’s delivery is not all that dissimilar to that of Jensen Lewis who, after a move to the bullpen from his role as a starter (38 minor league starts over 2 seasons) at the beginning of 2007, thrived in his role as a reliever down the stretch for the Tribe. Whether the move was made to protect Jensen’s arm, if he lacked the number of pitches necessary to be a viable MLB starter, or it was simply a matter of someone making the suggestion that his stuff would translate well out of the bullpen will likely never be known. But it sets a precedent, as Lewis (like Rafael Perez before him) was a highly-thought-of pitcher whose transition to the bullpen helps the team in the present, not perhaps at some point in the future.

Of course, it remains entirely conceivable that Miller will overcome his blister problems and remain healthy right into the 2008 rotation, but the red flags are popping up. But maybe that will be where Miller ends up as a result of these lingering arm issues – in the bullpen. He is naturally more valuable to the team pitching six to seven innings every 5 games than he is pitching one or two innings every 3 or so games, but if the long-term effects of his motion are going to keep him battling injuries for the foreseeable future, you would think that the lighter, and perhaps steadier, workload of a relief pitcher suits Miller better than throwing 80 to 100 pitches at a time.

Ultimately, it becomes a question of how to best keep Miller healthy over where he is most valuable to the team. Sure, it would be great to pencil him into the rotation, but if he figures to constantly battling injuries or is risking a major arm injury, wouldn’t it be more prudent to have him contribute in some manner as opposed to constantly hoping that something doesn’t go “boink” in The Atomic One’s arm? His talent is certainly more useful on the mound than on the DL; so at a point in the very near future, if these injuries (and most importantly, remember that ALL have been related to his right arm and hand) continue to hinder his progress, the Indians will have to decide (probably at some point this year) whether to move Miller to the bullpen to allow him to contribute consistently.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Old Faithful: Another Lazy Sunday

After overwhelming support to continue Lazy Sunday in its current form (with a few additions by way of the augmenting the normal roll call with more web writers), we’re ready to tackle another trip around the horn as we all wait for this new incarnation of the Cavaliers to take the floor (is it 6:00 yet?), so let’s get warmed up with a Lazy Sunday:

First off is a Bloggers’ Roundtable that I was asked to participate in, along with Jay Levin of Lets’ Go Tribe (someone whose opinion and expertise I hold in high regard) and Jon Steiner of Bugs and Cranks. As I said earlier in the Michaels piece, most of the questions have been addressed in detail here but there are a few interesting takes.

Also from Let’s Go Tribe is a piece from one of their resident minor league experts, who goes by the name of APV, with an in-depth analysis of Jordan Brown in terms of possibly comparable players that we are all familiar with and a nice ensuing discussion.

Terry Pluto has some good news on his favorite forgotten Indian, Jeremy Sowers, and some startlingly bad numbers for Cliff Lee against lefties. Because of Sowers trainwreck in 2007, it’s easy to forget that he was able to beguile AL hitters over 14 starts in 2006 to the tune of a 1.19 WHIP. Though we were never quite sure how, unless the Jamie Moyer comparison that we all hope to be true is accurate, Sowers zoomed through the minors and found easy success in his first foray in MLB. If Sowers has fixed a hitch in his delivery (as Pluto asserts), the depth that the Indians so desire in the rotation could be falling in line.

Jim Ingraham comes through with a nice, succinct preview of the AL teams with accurate assessments of all the teams competing with the Tribe for the right to represent the AL in the Fall Classic.

Paul Hoynes reports that some in the organization are cautiously optimistic about re-signing C.C. after 2008 as, “the Indians would then be in position to offer him a five-year deal of all new money. Their five-year offer includes a four-year extension along with 2008, the final year of Sabathia's old deal.” Unless the “five-year deal” mentioned becomes a seven-year deal of new money, I’ll believe it when I see it. Not that I wouldn’t love it, it just seems that C.C. and his agents are hell-bent on using Barry Zito as the measuring stick for his next deal.

Ken Rosenthal identifies Brewers OF Gabe Gross as a player who could be caught in a roster crunch and someone whom the Indians have shown interest in. Not sure that Gross would count as an upgrade over the current in-house options and looks to be a LH platoon OF (career .784 OPS vs. RHP, career .436 OPS vs. LHP). With the BLC scheduled to come off the DL in May, the only reason I could see this would be if Dellucci is not ready to break camp with the team – which would be very surprising given all that has been written about how Dellucci is ready to put 2007 behind him.

From the genius of Deadspin, comes their Tribe 2008 Preview from Dan Friedell, who understands that season previews are nothing more than educated guesses as the fickle winds that blow during the course of a baseball season lay waste to most predictions (ahem…Hoynes picking the Tribe to finish 4th in the Central last Spring).

Also on the 2008 Preview swing is the wildly disappointing Baseball Prospectus Preview from
Why is it disappointing?
Absurd comments like “After losing most his playing time down the stretch, Josh Barfield was not expected to be brought back” (who thought a player with options remaining and playing for the league minimum wasn’t coming back?...Bueller…Bueller), “The Indians, however, have enough question marks on the outfield corners -- populated largely by veteran fourth outfielders -- that a big spring could get the switch-hitting Crowe into the discussion.” (no argument on the corners, but Ben Francisco, The Big League Choo, and Jordan Brown would enter the discussion before a guy who posted a .694 OPS in Akron last year.), “Cabrera is a plus defensive shortstop who may have to beat out Barfield again just to play second base.” (again, that’s just silly talk to say that there’s a competition for 2B in Winter Haven when it’s been known since the end of last year that 2B belonged to AstroCab).
Why is it wildly disappointing?
Because it seems to be a mail-it in piece as the author (Joe Sheehan) put forth no effort to address the issues facing the Indians, instead writing that the main questions for the 2008 Tribe were things that were actually decided before the Pitchers and Catchers even got to Florida. What’s so disappointing about that is that Baseball Prospectus has become an excellent resource for intelligent baseball fans and the fact that this is passed off as an authoritative season preview is too bad.

Apparently, Andy Marte isn’t making a great first impression down in Winter Haven as Wedge said about his weight upon reporting to camp, “It’s not great,” the manager said. “It’s not bad, either. He still needs to do some work this spring.”
Translation: We’re…um, we’re not happy about it.

Also, the 1986 Tribe has finally eked over the .500 mark as their pitching staff has been completely overhauled. Out of the starting rotation are Candiotti, Niekro, Schrom; into the starting rotation are Bryan Oelkers and Scott Bailes. Ernie Camacho, and his 7 blown saves, has been demoted out of the closer’s role and the bullpen has been completely revamped.
The net result? Schilling’s Red Sox are in the rearview and the Yankees are in the crosshairs.

Outside of things related to the Tribe, Bill Simmons provided his thoughts on the NBA Trade Deadline, which mirror my reaction, particularly the Cavs’ move. Say what you will about Simmons and his Boston-centric view of the world, but the guy does know basketball.

Speaking of which is it 6:00 PM yet?

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Roadblock with Gold Locks

Recently, I was invited to participate in a sort of “Bloggers Roundtable” at Baseball Digest Daily and was presented with 5 questions that the editors of BDD found most relevant for the Tribe for this year. Most of the questions were things that have already been addressed at length (where Barfield fits in 2008, feelings about the re-naming of Jacobs Field, etc.), but one question piqued my interest as an extremely open-ended question wrought with possibilities. The question was “If you could make one roster move today as the Indians GM, what would it be and why?”

Since Danny Ferry essentially stole my answer yesterday around 2:59 PM (to jettison all of the dead wood on the roster for a defensive enforcer, a sharpshooter, more depth in the frontcourt, and a point guard…wait…oh, the Indians’ GM), the question struck me as interesting mainly because of the timing of it as Spring Training is underway and the answer isn’t as easy as simply perusing a Free Agent list, something that would have been an option in November, and because the Indians essentially head to Winter Haven with their roster more or less set to head North. So, if one move could be made today (today being the key word here, I think), what would it be?
Would it be anything?

Outside of addressing anything related to the C.C. contract non-negotiations and making the absurd blanket statement to “get a deal done with C.C. whatever the cost or length of the deal” (by the by, have you heard the report that C.C.’s agents broke off negotiations prior to Spring Training because they are acutely aware of the Hefty Lefty’s close relationship with Shapiro and felt that the Tribe GM could have swayed Sabathia to see “the big picture” by reminding him of “The Plan” that Shapiro would preach to him during the time in Florida, resulting in C.C. ultimately ordering his agents to get a deal done to keep him on this emerging power…how’s that for confidence in one’s client), it becomes even more interesting with the pieces seemingly already in place.

Of course, bound by the restrictions of reality, I’m unable to give the simple answer of “I think we should trade Josh Barfield, Cliff Lee, and David Dellucci for Matt Holliday”, which is (unfortunately) still the way that some fans would approach this, blinded by their “Fantasy Baseball” mentality and the surely-twisted rationale on how this could work (“Lee was an 18-game winner a few years ago which would be an upgrade over Colorado’s youngsters, the Rox need a 2B to replace Matsui, plus Dellucci would replace Holliday in the outfield…think about it – it makes sense for both teams”), regardless of how little sense it would make for the other side of the ledger.

So, with the knowledge that we are bound by reality and that C.C.’s agents have no interest in continuing discussions, the one move I would like to see the Tribe make would be to trade Jason Michaels. The move is not due to the fact that Michaels is worthless to the Indians, but 2007 reinforced the idea that he is simply not an everyday player, by posting extreme platoon splits yet again and lending more credence to the idea that Michaels projects merely as a platoon OF/4th outfielder and little else. Keeping him doesn’t seem to be (on the surface) too much of an issue, especially since the Indians employ a platoon in LF. That is, until you consider the players (with perhaps a higher ceiling) that Michaels is essentially blocking from getting regular plate appearances – namely OF Ben Francisco and 3B Andy Marte.

The Ben Francisco Treat, with his success in AAA last year as he won the International League batting title, deserves the chance to fill the role of at least the 4th OF coming out of the Spring and not be subjected to another year of “The Buffalo Shuffle”, but is blocked by the fact that he and Michaels are simply redundancies on the roster and don’t figure to co-exist on the 25-man roster.

Now that, you say, would mean that Francisco would take up the RH portion of the LF platoon? Not so fast, my friend. As faithful readers know I think that the arrangement in LF (if we’re assuming that Michaels is gone) is to create batting opportunities for Andy Marte, who is out of options this year, before he walks out of the organization if only for a slowness to adapt quickly to MLB. Forgive me if you’ve seen this before, but it is simply reiterated to prove the logic behind parting with Michaels:
Against LHP, Blake in LF and Marte at 3B.
Against RHP, Dellucci in LF and Blake at 3B.

Consider Marte’s splits for the past few years, and it is apparent that he has experienced more success against LHP, just like Michaels:
2007 – Buffalo (AAA)
.827 OPS vs. LH
.748 OPS vs. RH

2006 – Buffalo (AAA)
.894 OPS vs. LH
.730 OPS vs. RH

2005 – Richmond (AAA)
.936 OPS vs. LH
.848 OPS vs. RH

It’s important to remember that Marte is still only 24 and the numbers he put up in Richmond (splits above while compiling an overall .275 BA / .372 OBP / .506 SLG / .878 OPS) as a 21-year-old in AAA, so the talent is there. If the young Dominican is not going to get everyday AB due to Casey Blake’s stranglehold on 3B, why not let him ease into facing MLB pitching against LHP, whom he has the greatest success against to allow him to become comfortable in Cleveland and (hopefully) allow him to blossom as the everyday 3B for 2009?

Interestingly, the Indians recently signed veteran Jason Tyner to a minor-league deal, which should quicken nobody’s pulse as Tyner is simply not a viable MLB player. But, delving further into it, assuming that he’s not just in camp as an audition to catch on with another team (as Scott Elarton is), he would be joining a pretty crowded Buffalo outfield with Trevor Crowe, Brad Snyder, Jason Cooper, and…Ben Francisco. That is, of course, unless the Tyner deal represents a depth signing that would allow the Tribe to move Michaels, give Francisco a spot on the 25-man, and replace him in Buffalo with Tyner.
That could be looking WAY too deeply into a minor move, but the logic is there.

The corollary to making a move with Michaels’ would be that the Indians’ bullpen, regardless of the success of 2007, still worries me in that much of the success came from pitchers that could certainly be on their last legs (JoeBo and Fultz), could have had career years (Senor Slo-Mo), are entirely unproven state-side (Kobayashi), or need 2008 to show that their success was not a fluke (The Scarecrow, Ginseng Lewis, Nasty Boy Tom Mastny). With bullpen construction, it truly is a crapshoot from year to year as past success certainly does not guarantee future results and the depth that the Indians are depending on from the minors (Mujica, Stevens, Santos, etc.) and the players looking to rehab from injuries (Sipp and, with less of a chance of contributing this year, Donnelly) are largely unproven quantities, even more so than the likes of Lewis and Mastny. The more arms that are options, the greater the chance that an effective mix of relievers can be slotted into a progression of roles.

To me, you can never have too many relievers to throw up against the wall to see what sticks. Despite the fact that we are assuming that most of the stalwarts of the 2007 bullpen will continue their successes, we all know what is said about making assumptions. That being said, with Michaels’ likely going rate being a fair-to-middling reliever (see Rhodes, Art), I would have no problem if another arm for the bullpen mix was added in exchange for Michaels.

As has been stated, Michaels is not without worth on the current roster, but the bottom line is that I feel that both Francisco and Marte are ready to contribute for the Indians in 2008. The person on the roster, blocking both and taking plate appearances away from their development, is Jason Michaels. His removal from the roster (and if moving him allows the team to augment the bullpen, even better) opens the door for Marte to ease into 3B (which is very important with Blake becoming a FA at the end of 2008) and allows Francisco to see some substantial time at the MLB level for the club to determine if he has the possibility of playing every day.
Keeping him on the team, however, blocks both from happening and impedes the growth and development of Francisco and Marte in 2008.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Music Fills the Air

As has become the custom around these parts, to celebrate the first full practice in Spring Training, it’s time for a bit of an exercise in frivolity with the 3rd Annual Soundtrack of Life suggestions for the 2008 Cleveland Indians. For those who missed the concept and the past years, they can be found here and here. Again, for those who are new, the song title will link to the song.

Essentially, it boils down to recommendations for each player (or at least the ones that figure to play a major role in 2008) for accompaniment music.
Walking music, we used to call it.

So, without further ado, I present The Soundtrack of Life, 2008 edition:
Grady Sizemore
The frenetic opening riff from Nancy Wilson accurately sets the tone for the style of play that we all know that our SuperSizemore brings to the plate, the basepaths, and (quite obviously) center field. The fact that Sizemore, like the Wilson Sisters of Heart, is from the Seattle area and St. Grady is an avowed classic rock enthusiast put this one on the hook for Sizemore.

Asdrubal Cabrera
Youth Gone Wild
While certainly none of us hope that AstroCab hits “Skid Row” this year, the precocious youngster gets the ‘80s rock anthem in lieu of the DiaBride’s suggestion of the theme song to “The Young and the Restless”, which I know only from Jack Butler’s obsession with the show in “Mr. Mom”.
“No, it couldn’t be Victor’s – he had a vasectomy…it didn’t take?!?”

Travis Hafner
Man in the Mirror
Due to shock that you’re feeling after expecting some sort of heavy metal/German rock music, allow me to explain - after last season, it’s time for some introspection for the man trying to find his inner Pronk, something that was missing all of 2007. Travis, it’s time to take a look at that man in the mirror and…make that change.

Victor Martinez
The Warrior
The most oft-overlooked part of the Tribe as he tends to be taken for granted for his consistently excellent play, it’s time to recognize Vic the Stick for what he is. He dons the tools of ignorance about five times a week, anchors the middle of the lineup, handles the pitching staff, and leads the Indians by his actions and by his toughness. While some could say this is simply an opportunity to watch the Charles Barkley “Superstars” video that shares Vic’s anthem…you’re only partly right. By the way, Chuck makes one shot that ISN’T a dunk in the complilation…and that’s the one when he goes by 5 Portland Trail Blazers! Lest anyone ever think the Clown Prince of TNT has no room to talk, just watch this over and over.
But I digress…

Ryan Garko
Welcome to the Jungle
After hearing Garko on the “Jim Rome Show” last season, when Garko-my-God-did-you-see-how-far-he-hit-that professed his love for all things “Jungle”-related (to the uninformed, Rome refers to his show as “The Jungle”), this is just too easy. Sure, it was funny when he came out to “This is Why I’m Hot” last year, but it’s time to excite the masses Gonnie Garko. Axl and Slash in all of their destructive glory is a good way to start.

Together Forever
With LF committed to the platoon of David Dellucci and Jason Michaels (Dellichaels, because the entity needs no first name), these two are inexorably linked…for better or worse. Like the Rick Astley song, not many people like the arrangement and feel that a more credible alternative should be explored. Plus, I hope that Dellichaels is remembered with harmless curiosity in a few years the way that Rick Astley is, as opposed to the vitriol that he normally brings about.

Casey Blake
The Beard has come out to a Metallica song every year that he’s been with the Tribe (even when he was just The Jaw), he wears #1, and he probably is on the last legs of his time here due to his escalating salary. So let’s avoid the potshots or any thoughts about RISP and enjoy the drum solo.

Franklin Gutierrez
Smooth Operator
There’s just something so fluid about the way that Frank the Tank carries himself to the plate, around the basepaths, and patrolling the outfield that it’s impossible not to think of the cat as a pretty slick character. I know that everyone was hoping for the old Will Ferrell impersonation of a Panzer, but YouTube is populated with nothing but imitators of the classic scene, so Sade gets the nod.

Jhonny Peralta
I Can See Clearly Now
As Jhonny tells me on Cleveland radio all the time, he sees “better than 20/20” these days thanks to his Lasik surgery. How could I not go here with the man’s improved vision? Next year, I’m hoping for something like “I Get to Every Groundball Hit to Me”…is that even a song?

Andy Marte
One More Try
That’s right, the Timmy T version. Out of options and staring at a roster with no certain spot for him, it’s time for “The Dominican Dandy” to live up to the nickname that was bestowed what feels like many, many moons ago. Watching that video, are we sure that’s not Andy Samberg?

C.C. Sabathia
Last Dance
Sorry if you don’t want to see this one and would prefer that “Mo Money, Mo Problems” remained as C.C.’s theme, but it’s time to enjoy one final twirl with the Big Fella before he heads off our dance floor.

Fausto Carmona
Runnin’ with the Devil
For those not well versed in what a “Faustian Dilemma” is, it represents a deal with devil, explaining why the crazy licks of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar should augment the Tribe’s burgeoning ace to the mound. I really wanted to use “The Wickedest Man Alive” by Naughty by Nature due to the fact that Fausto’s stuff is just filthy, but it seems that outside of a few suburban kids on the East Side of Cleveland in the late 1980’s, the song never really found too much of an audience. Regardless, here’s a snippet.

Jake Westbrook
Rock Steady
Outside of the first half of 2007, when Jake was undone by that weasel of an oblique strain, he has been nothing short of the model of consistency in the middle of the Tribe’s rotation. And that…ladies and gentlemen, earns him these two guys singing some Bad Company at a bar I wish to visit.

Paul Byrd
I Want a New Drug
While “Free Bird” is the obvious choice (Byrd has a book coming out with a similar title this year), I was unable to secure the rights to the southern rock anthem from Lynard Skynard, who suggested that I use “Free Chicken” instead. Afraid that it may be misinterpreted as complimentary poultry for the masses, I’ll take the opportunity to address the fact that Paul Byrd claims to have used HGH to treat a pituitary gland problem, but stopped using the drug years ago. The question becomes, then, what exactly is he taking to remedy the pituitary issue?

Cliff Lee
Hair of the Dog
Not sure if the refrain was uttered by the native Arkansan to Victor in the tunnel in their infamous “dust-up” last season, but various reports and stories have certainly painted Mr. Five and (f)Lee as a bit of a, well…

Joe Borowski
Livin’ on the Edge
Pretty self-explanatory here, for anyone who went through multiple bottles of Pepto and ate Tums like they were Spree during JoeBo’s tightrope saves last year. I do appreciate the fact that The Big Borowski comes out to a “Rocky” montage as he hails from the same hometown (Bayonne, NJ) as boxer Chuck Wepner (known as the “Bayonne Bleeder”) the alleged inspiration for Sly Stallone to pen “Rocky”, but there’s something about acknowledging that Borowski lives on the edge that appeals to me.

Rafael Betancourt
People’s Court Theme Song
If the Indians are intent on fostering this “Betancourt is in Session” theme (and they certainly seem to be) when Senor Slo-Mo enters the game, at least add some levity to it by adding the music that we all grew so familiar with thanks to Wapner, Rusty, and Llewelyn. The song is pretty great too.

Rafael Perez
Rain on the Scarecrow
For the reliever who looks like he’s about 130 lbs. soaking wet (take it from one who knows), Perez has the look, in his seemingly two sizes too big Tribe uniform, of a Scarecrow – all skinny arms and skinny legs. The fabric of his uniform just flaps in the breeze for lack of anything to cover, but protecting (in this case a Tribe lead)…just like any good Scarecrow does.

Masa Kobayashi
Usual Suspects Theme
“My Name Is Kobayashi”…then, the strings.
That’s all that should accompany the Japanese import to the mound.

Jensen Lewis
Rise Up with Fists
A bit of an obscure title from the indie rock artist Jenny Lewis, performing with the Watson Twins…which is inconsequential, outside of the similar name for the artist and the young hurler. Of course, the most important thing you need to know about the singer Jenny Lewis…the one that sings this song…is that she appeared as a child actor in the movie “The Wizard”. Yes, the one you’re thinking of – the Fred Savage movie about video games where his younger brother is some sort of video game prodigy. You remember her, the little redhead in the flick who volleyed back and forth the way that Winnie Cooper did with Kevin Arnold. I know that’s probably the last thing she wants to be known for (everyone knows Fergie was in “Kids Incorporated”, right?), but it served as the clincher for this song to be Jensen’s music.

Strike up the band, boys…Spring has officially sprung.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lazy Sunday With a Question

After a brief sojourn to Dayton to watch the Flyers beat Temple in an attempt to stop their once-promising season from circling the drain, it’s time for a Lazy Sunday:
Really, the only thing of note from the local fishwraps is that Terry Pluto reports that the Indians’ offer to C.C. Sabathia was 4-year, $79M extension (which would really be worth $90M over the course of the 5-year contract) that Sabathia’s agents feels is “worlds apart” from what they’re anticipating C.C. receiving on the open market, causing them to break off negotiations.
$90M guaranteed over 5 years is the basis for the negotiations breaking off for “lack of common ground”?
Essentially, what that means is that Sabathia’s people are probably sticking to their demand of 7 years of guaranteed money and won’t come off of that, while the Indians are likely doing the same at a limit of 5 years of guaranteed money. A “lack of common ground” means that neither is willing to even entertain a 6-year deal because…um…that would be a common ground between 5 and 7.

Elsewhere, it must have been “Write a Story About Masa Kobayashi Day” as Paul Hoynes and Sheldon Ocker both put forth their “best” effort.
Seriously, do these guys plan this out over a few cocktails?
“What are you going to write about?”
“I don’t know - what about you?”
“I think Kobayashi.”
“Yeah, I think I’ll do that too.”

I know that there’s not much happening this early in Spring Training and Kobayashi is an interesting participant in camp, but some originality and maybe some analysis would be appreciated (unless, of course you counted Hoynes’ predictions for the AL Central on...wait for it...February 16th). It makes me wonder what the point of these Lazy Sundays are as they simply illustrate the point that the “Sunday Notes” columns that I used to eagerly anticipate as a youngster have become nothing but rehashed stories and pointless quotes.

Week after week, I link these Sunday articles thinking that they’ll provide the best of what the Tribe beat writers and paid journalists have to offer. And week after week, I’m disappointed that so little of value is able to be gleaned from these sources.
Don’t get me started on their “mailbags”.

Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way. I know that intelligent, original thought exists about the Indians in a well-written format somewhere…it just doesn’t seem to be in the antiquated newspaper. While this site has never been too interactive by way of boards or a forum, I would like your opinion as to whether the current version of Lazy Sunday is enjoyable to you or if another theme could be devised for Sunday reading – like a “Letters to the DiaTriber” post that I’ll include the best comments from the week or ones sent to me on my e-mail, or…who knows, I’m open to suggestions. Of course, it could be that the links and my comments on what is printed every Sunday in this format is most enjoyable for you and maybe it’s just me that gets fed up when I read the same things that I had previously written about (at much greater length) from the same sources every Sunday.

As your humble liege, I’ll do whatever the consensus dictates.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Suddenly It's Spring, Part II

In the memorable words of Clark W. Griswold, as he surveyed the empty parking lot at Wally World…“we made it, dammit, we made it”.

Of course, no sooner had the Countdown to Spring Training clock hit zero than the day was ruined as C.C. Sabathia, through his website (who knew that C.C. had a website?), declared that he and his agents are cutting off negotiations with the Indians now that the team is in Spring Training. C.C.’s statement claims that he and his agents will re-visit an extension with the Indians after the season, but let’s call this what it is – a statement that C.C. will not be a member of the Indians past this year.

The declaration that he hopes to reach something with the Indians after the season rings hollow as Sabathia will be a Free Agent at that point, capable of fielding offers from any team. One wouldn’t think that the Indians (after the season) are going to suddenly and remarkably determine that they should offer any more than they have on the table at this point in the negotiating process that has been halted by C.C.’s representation. As has been stated here before, C.C. on the open market will fetch a pretty penny and will sign a contract longer in guaranteed years than the Indians (as any other team SHOULD) be comfortable in signing a starting pitcher to. The Indians’ advantage was that they held, essentially, exclusive negotiating rights with Sabathia in the hope that a bird in the hand (a contract on the table) would be seen as more desirable than one in the bush (what C.C.’s agents are envisioning hitting their fax machine next off-season).

Alas, it seems as if C.C. and his agents have decided that the Indians’ offer (allegedly in line with recent contracts meted out to Roy Oswalt, Carlos Zambrano, and Jake Peavy) was either too light in terms of years or dollars and he will begin his swan song with the club. Make no mistake, no amount of cheering for him or begging him to stay will have any more effect than it did on Jim Thome or Manny Ramirez as C.C. has unquestionably made his statement that 2008 will be his final year with the Indians.

The Indians will have one more year to make a run with C.C. anchoring their rotation until he leaves for greener (literally…or is it figuratively) pastures in 2009.

Much more on that situation surely en route, but with that ugliness (that was actually painful to write) out of the way, let’s turn our attention to Part II of the Spring Training preview – non-pitching related portion:

Will the Corner OF Turn the Corner?
Before getting into the entity of mediocrity known as Dellichaels that figures (at this moment) to fill LF, let’s take a quick look at the assumed tenant of RF – Frank the Tank. Gutierrez, for all intents and purposes, laid claim to the 2008 RF position with his performance once he was placed in the everyday lineup. His June (.296 BA / .345 OBP / .537 SLG / .882 OPS, 4 HR, 8 RBI in 58 plate appearances) and his July (.306 BA / .340 OBP / .551 SLG / .891 OPS, 3 HR, 7 RBI in 52 plate appearances) brought the idea that Gutz was finally living up to the potential that accompanied him when he arrived from LA. His defense alone made him a worthwhile addition to the lineup, but the OBP and the power that he exhibited through the first two months of being in the lineup for about every game cemented his right to be handed the RF job for 2008.

Flying high and contributing regularly, something bad happened for Frank…namely August, September, and the Playoffs. His August (.244 BA / .306 OBP / .449 SLG / .755 OPS, 2 HR, 9 RBI in 85 plate appearances) and September (.247 BA / .305 OBP / .424 SLG / .729 OPS, 4 HR, 11 RBI in 93 plate appearances) numbers dipped dramatically compared to his June and July, particularly in terms of OBP and power numbers (same HR and RBI production for September in about twice as many plate appearances as he had in June and July). After looking so comfortable at the plate with a short, compact swing, Gutierrez started fishing for breaking balls as his K totals started to set off alarms, striking out more than once every four times to the plate after the All-Star Break (59 K in 221 plate appearances). His playoff performance (.207 BA / .324 OBP / .310 SLG / .634 OPS, 1 HR, 4 RBI in 34 plate appearances) didn’t help assuage the feeling that opposing teams had “the book” on Gutierrez, as he whiffed 11 times in his 34 postseason trips to the plate.

Whether or not Gutierrez simply struggled as opposing scouts got an extended look at him, arming opposing pitchers with effective scouting reports, or a young player was simply overwhelmed by the bright lights of a pennant race or the playoffs figures to be determined early in 2008. His spectacular defensive ability alone will keep him in the lineup until the organization can determine which Franklin Gutierrez from last year is closer to the player that he will eventually become. That is, Gutierrez’s June and July elicited a great deal of excitement that a solid corner OF option had been developed by the team, while the way he finished the year tempered that enthusiasm dramatically. Even if the true Tank lies somewhere in the middle and assuming he doesn’t fall prey to the dreaded “platoon” label (.919 OPS vs. LHP in 2007, .721 OPS vs. RHP in 2007), Gutierrez will be on a long leash to keep the RF job in Cleveland for 2008 and beyond.

Back to LF, the Indians enter 2008 with a plan identical to that laid out at the beginning of 2007 – which is to platoon LH David Dellucci and RH Jason Michaels with the idea that the production from both players (who have historically hit better against LHP or RHP) will equal that of a solid LF. Back then, and even now, it reminds me of the “Seinfled” episode “The Summer of George” when George decides to be Jerry’s intern in relationships (this episode Jerry courting the impossibly hot and ridiculously energetic Amanda Peet) as neither of them had proved to be enough of a man to sustain a healthy relationship.

I often imagine Dellucci and Michaels coming up with this arrangement last year (and I know, this is nothing that is decided by players or that they have much of a say in it at all…but, for a moment, suspend your disbelief):
Michaels: You know, neither one of us can't handle an everyday position all by ourselves.
Dellucci: I'm trying.
Michaels: I've tried. We don't have it. But maybe the two of us, working together at full capacity, could do the job of one normal outfielder.
Dellucci: Then each of us would only have be like a half-outfielder…that sounds about right!

Regardless if any egg-white omelets or tuna on toast was involved in the discussion is either here nor there. Far more relevant is that the arrangement for each to be a “half-outfielder” couldn’t have gone worse for either and their 2007 performance couldn’t cast more doubt on the possibility that the platoon will suddenly perform as it was supposed to a year later.

When Dellucci went down on June 19th, he was hitting .234 with an OBP under .300 and an OPS under .680 – this all while facing primarily the RHP that he was supposed to “crush”. All told, he proved to be utterly ineffective against LHP (.167 BA / .231 OBP / .250 SLG / .481 OPS) – which was expected – and worse than merely mediocre against RHP (.240 BA / .306 OBP / .403 SLG / .709 OPS). While Dellucci was struggling to do much of anything, Michaels reinforced the idea that he is simply not an everyday player, by posting extreme platoon splits despite comparable plate appearances against both LHP and RHP. As has become customary for Michaels, he performed adequately against LHP
(.287 BA / .359 OBP / .441 SLG / .800 OPS in 153 plate appearances) and struggled mightily against RHP (.252 BA / .285 OBP / .351 SLG / .636 OPS in 137 plate appearances), lending more credence to the idea that Michaels exists as a “half-outfielder”.

Whether this duo that combines to form Dellichaels can do what they were unable to do in 2007 (that is, be effective), remains to be seen. Their 38 combined RBI through 70 games prior to Dellucci’s injury don’t exactly generate much optimism that these players (now a year older and Dellucci coming off of a major injury) can form an effective team…regardless of whether they only really have to be “half-outfielders”.

Where do Choo and Francisco Fit In?
The obvious corollary to the fact that Dellichaels and The Tank figure to make up the Indians corner OF positions is that it essentially leaves Shin-Soo Choo and Ben Francisco on the outside looking in. Ostensibly blocked by Dellucci and Michaels (and, to a lesser extent, Gutierrez), Big League Choo and The Frisco Kid find themselves without an obvious spot on the roster after some success over the last two years at the MLB level.

The easier situation to figure is that of The Ben Francisco Treat, as he retains options and is likely to simply start the season in Buffalo, where he won the International League batting title last year. Having obviously thrived in AAA last year, Francisco will be an interesting player to watch as the Bison start their season to see if he struggles at all with what he feels is an unnecessary repeat of a level (as Garko did in 2006) or if he can replicate the success that he experienced a year ago in Buffalo.

For whatever reason, the organization seems reticent to give Francisco a legitimate shot at a spot on the 25-man roster pigeonholing him (perhaps unfairly) as a 4th OF who ideally projects as a platoon OF with a ceiling of MAYBE being an everyday player. Ironically, doesn’t that description basically sum up what we know Jason Michaels to be? Unfortunately for Francisco, it does – meaning that Michaels is essentially already filling the role that the Indians feel Francisco is likely best suited for. The wisdom of this arrangement can certainly be questioned (that is, paying Michaels $2.2M when a cheaper alternative exists in-house), but the fact remains that as long as Jason Michaels remains on the Indians’ roster (and Franklin Gutierrez remains in the everyday lineup), Ben Francisco will toil in Buffalo and wait for his chance.

Much more pressing than the Francisco situation is the question of where the BLC fits on the 2008 roster as he is out of options and looks to be poised to return from the arm injury that sidelined him in 2007 by May of this year. At that point, the Indians will have to make a decision with what to do with Choo, who cannot simply be sent to Buffalo. Like Francisco, Choo finds himself blocked by a similar player to him in the LH hitting Dellucci who, like Choo, struggles to hit LH pitching. Again, Dellucci is essentially taking up the roster spot on the 25-man that Choo seems best suited to – the LH portion of an OF platoon.

The organization has a sort of credo when it comes to “problems” like the Choo situation, in that “these things have a way of working themselves out” – for better or worse. How could it work itself out? Well, Dellucci could struggle out of the gate, perhaps still bothered by his hamstring injury, leading Choo to take his place in the LF platoon. Gutierrez’s struggles against RHP could continue, leading the Indians to the decision to add Choo to the roster to augment Gutz in RF and go all Ollie Stone on the OF (get it…Platoon?). Or, the Indians could try to sneak Choo through waivers, a decision that would likely not work itself to the conclusion of Choo remaining in Cleveland.

Whatever happens with these two, the $4.7M owed Dellichaels in 2008 and a possible hesitancy to go with another relatively unproven youngster at a position (with 2B and RF, with 1B to a lesser extent already falling under that category) means that the BLC and The Frisco Kid will have to remain at the kids’ table and wait their turn for a seat to open at the grown-ups’ table.

Is Asdrubal the Real Deal?
After numerous reports that the Indians’ reluctance to part with AstroCab was the stumbling block for the Tribe to acquire Dan Haren…they sure hope so, particularly with the C.C. statement that makes Haren pitching in Cleveland past this year even more desirable. Of course, the Indians’ hopes for Cabrera are not without merit as Asdrbal’s emergence as the #2 hitter in the lineup served as the impetus for the pennant chase and the playoff run as the team went 24-6 when Cabrera batted 2nd in the lineup. An .800 winning percentage in the 30 games he batted 2nd! This all after it was generally assumed throughout his minor league career that Cabrera’s glove was his meal ticket and any offense that he would contribute would simply be icing on the cake.

While the Indians’ high opinion of his is based on an alarmingly small amount of MLB plate appearances, the switch-hitting 2B (for now) didn’t just impress in his limited stat line. His apparent comfort at the plate and air that he was in complete control lent more credence to the idea that he was a preternatural talent, arriving in Cleveland at the tender age of 21, something that is extremely rare in MLB (he was the 6th youngest player in MLB in 2007, with names like Maybin, Hughes, and Felix Hernandez being younger).

Cabrera may not be at the top of the lineup throughout the year as the league figures to make adjustments to the approach that their pitchers take to Droob, but after his performance down the stretch in 2007, the Indians figure to have Cabrera on a pretty long leash, if only for his defensive prowess that somewhat offsets the lack of range currently at 1B and SS. The corollary to Cabrera being on a long leash means that Josh Barfield (who, at this time last year was simply assumed to be the “2B of the Future”) will likely mire in Buffalo for an extended period of time in 2008 to figure out what went wrong in 2007 and hopefully improve his pitch selection and OBP. 2008 may not definitively answer the question of how the Indians’ middle infield will look for years to come, but it should assist in the determination of whether Cabrera figures to follow the career path of MI who have succeeded at an early age in MLB (Robby Alomar, Alan Trammell, etc.) to become perennial All-Stars or if he simply tops out as an excellent defender whose offense is simply a bonus.

Will Marte McFly?
Much like the BLC, the Indians find themselves in a quandary about what to do with Andy Marte, who is also out of options. Where with the BLC, the Indians have a few months to figure out their course of action because of his injury, Marte is fully healthy and can’t go anywhere but up north with the parent club after Spring Training and still remain in the organization. Last year, Marte had the 3B job out of Winter Haven, but underperformed and was injured, the latter episode (combined with Casey Blake’s initial success in his stead at 3B) sealing his fate as a Bison for the year.

Now, with Blake slated to make $6.1M due to the way that MLB contracts, service time, and arbitration are designed, Marte finds himself to be a man without a cemented spot on the team. The team has said that Marte will have to play some 1B to give them some versatility on the roster, but wouldn’t he be behind Garko and Victor (at least) in that department? How in the world are the Indians going to find any kind of regular AB for Marte and not just let him rot on the bench, where the talent that was so evident prior to his acquisition will go to waste, or (worse) watch him develop into a solid MLB player on another team?

Since it seems that the Indians are committed to Casey Blake being in the everyday lineup and Marte doesn’t figure to be “handed” the 3B job, why not use Blake’s versatility to allow Marte to play 3B against LHP? Seeing that a platoon exists in LF where the RH portion (Michaels) could potentially be moved for another part, what’s wrong with Marte, Blake, and Dellucci platooning LF and 3B?
Against LHP, Blake in LF and Marte at 3B.
Against RHP, Dellucci in LF and Blake at 3B.

That being said, as unlikely as it is to happen, I’m actually of the belief that Marte SHOULD be “handed” the 3B job out of Winter Haven to truly see what he can do in an extended period of time (40 to 60 games) before making a decision to possibly pull the plug on him. Consider that Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia had a .544 OPS in April of 2007 through 55 AB in his first extended look at MLB while Marte had a .553 OPS in April of 2007 in 39 AB before his injury sent him to Buffalo for good. Since the Tribe is essentially set everywhere else in the lineup, with suitable back-ups in Shoppach and The Frisco Kid and the versatility of Blake to serve as insurance, let’s see what Marte can do with some regular time (or, at the very least, platooning with Blake and Dellucci) before giving up on a 24-year-old (2 years younger than Francisco, by the way) whose only downfall has been high expectations and a slow adjustment to MLB.

Of course, more questions exist for the Indians’ lineup in 2008, like whether Pronk or that guy named Travis who showed up last season will be donning the #48 jersey in 2008, how the likes of Martinez, Sizemore, and Peralta continue to progress as hitters, how Peralta and Garko field behind a rotation with two sinkerballers, and if Kelly Shoppach figures to remain Paul Byrd’s personal catcher.

But those questions will be answered in a place not called Winter Haven.
For now, break out the sunscreen and think of warmer days…anything to get your mind off of the reality that 2008 will be C.C.’s last donning a Tribe uniform.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Suddenly It's Spring, Part I

Spring Training is Coming!
Spring Training is Coming!
That’s right boys and girls, Spring is around the corner (no matter what the Dual Doppler Radar tells you) and Pitchers and Catchers are scheduled to report to Winter Haven on Thursday. With this exciting news FINALLY actually happening, it’s time to take a quick look at some of the questions that the Indians are looking to resolve or that may linger throughout the Spring.

While the roster is essentially set and few MAJOR questions need to be answered (remember the “3B Derby” that was eventually “won” by Casey Blake in 2003…ugh), questions still abound for the Indians, regarding contracts, how the back end of their rotation and bullpen figure to play out, and what the projected roles of certain players are for 2008 in the lineup and on the field.
With so much to delve into (and finally something concrete to talk about not related to projections), I’ll divide the preview into two parts, starting with the pitchers:

Will C.C.’s Negotiations be a Distraction?
Keeping in mind that baseball players are human beings and not cyborgs simply programmed to throw, hit, and catch a ball, it would be folly to assume that the negotiations between C.C. and the Indians aren’t hovering above the team. As much as the players will spout sound bytes that “we just take care of what we can control” and that they “don’t really think about that kind of stuff”, it’s impossible to think that the team isn’t anxiously waiting to see if their best players, and an unquestioned leader, on the team signs a long-term deal with the club. Do you think that the rumors, innuendo, and gossip that take place at EVERY other workplace somehow don’t pass through clubhouse doors? The players are fully aware of how the roster (sans C.C.) is essentially locked in through 2010 and that an extension for C.C. would cement the players in place for an extended look at the trophy for longer than just 2008.

While some have compared the C.C. situation to that of Albert Belle, in that his departure would not exactly start a mass exodus by the core players in ensuing years (those crazy things called contracts prevent this) and that the player would potentially be leaving behind a very good team, the fundamental difference is that C.C. is well-respected and liked (unlike Joey) in the clubhouse. It is true that C.C. would not (like AB before him) be leaving a “sinking ship” if he were to leave, but the players are very aware that the team is better with C.C. taking the pill every 5th game. They’re certainly not thinking (as some may have with Belle) that seeing him walk away could actually positively affect the team.

If C.C. were to sign an extension, it would undoubtedly provide a shot of enthusiasm and energy for the team as the Spring wore on, with the message that the current incarnation of the team would stay intact for the foreseeable future, that all distractions were out of the way for the chase of the AL Central flag (and more), and that the Indians were (likely) willing to step outside of their “comfort zone” to lock up their aCCe. Of course, conversely, if the negotiations drag on and on, it could certainly distract a team that would have to ponder their future (whether they would ever admit it in public or not) without the Big Fella toeing the rubber past this year.

Even if no agreement is reached, it will provide a distraction if only for the horde of reporters that will be asking the SAME question over and over again between rounds of golf and dinners at the Outback in Winter Haven.

Who Will Break Camp as the 5th Starter?
The prohibitive favorite for the 5th starter is, of course, the Indians’ welterweight contender, Clifton Phifer Lee. With a tip of the cap and a quick discussion in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse, Lee’s contract and the fact that the Indians used his last option last year would put Lee firmly in the drivers’ seat for the spot, for better or worse. Whereas Five and (f)Lee is out of options and is guaranteed to “earn” $3.75M in 2008, the pitchers thought to be his main competitors, Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey both have options remaining and can be sent to the Buffalo rotation to provide the depth that proved so valuable in 2007.

Of course, the school of thought exists that the Indians should break camp with their best team right out of Winter Haven…guaranteed money, roster issues, and remaining options be damned. If that were the philosophy of the team, the 5th starter spot would become an open audition with all of the actors given equal shots at earning the part. This philosophy, which sounds great in theory, has its flaws though. Namely, if Laffey or Sowers beat Lee out for the 5th spot, the Indians would essentially be forced to transition Lee to the bullpen (something his agent has publicly stated is against Lee’s wishes…like that should matter), cut Lee and eat his salary, or trade him at the absolute lowest value possible.

Now, since Lee has essentially voiced his aversion to becoming a reliever, that the Indians (like pretty much any other team in MLB) would be adverse to eating the $10.5M left on his contract ($3.75M this year, $5.75M next year, and a $1M buyout to decline his 2010 option), and the fact that the Tribe was (allegedly) dangling Lee all winter with no takers, the best option would be to simply allow him to start the season as the 5th starter and hope that the effects of the oblique strain that Lee was never able to overcome in 2007 can finally be overcome and he can, at the very least, contribute what a 5th starter is expected to do for 2008.

That all being said, the trade option could actually be intriguing, especially if Lee proves himself to be healthy in Winter Haven; but the more relevant factor in moving Lee before the start of the season could be something completely unrelated to Lee. The Indians have developed a preference for being “7 deep” in their rotation, a strategy that bore fruit last year with Carmona, and later Laffey. If either Laffey or Sowers is thought to be more deserving of the 5th spot than Lee, the decision to move him may come down to the performances of the players that would then be the 7th, or even 8th, starters in the Tribe depth chart – namely players like Atom Miller, Brian Slocum, Sean Smith, and even Chuck Lofgren would have to give the Tribe brass enough confidence that they are ready to contribute in 2008 before even entertaining the thought of moving Lee. Simply leapfrogging Laffey or Sowers past Lee, without a viable replacement for them in that “depth” would be a calculated risk, particularly with the amount of innings that Tribe starters pitched last year, subjecting them to possible injuries or regressions. I’m not sure what Lee would fetch in a trade, but I would think that a number of pieces would need to fall into place for Lee not to start the season as the 5th starter for the Tribe.

Who Will Capture the Last Bullpen Spot?
One of the pleasant surprises of 2007 was the emergence of relievers early enough in the season to carve out roles in the bullpen. Despite some early hiccups and stomach-acid-inducing outings, Joe Borowski held onto the closer role from the word “go”. That spot being spoken for allowed the Senor Slo-Mo (Betancourt) to take control of the set-up role (admittedly after more than a few relievers imploded), which allowed the Indians to essentially experiment with a number of different relievers pitching the middle innings (when needed) to allow a progression of arms to emerge. Eventually, Rafael Perez emerged out of the mix to combine with Betancourt to form the Fist of Iron (Raffy Left) and Fist of Steel (Raffy Right) that locked down the back end of the bullpen, theatrics of The Big Borowski excluded.

Once the Indians had their final three innings under control, they allowed their young arms to flourish in place of the older arms that had been jettisoned. Nasty Boy Tom Mastny and Jensen Lewis took the place of Aaron Fultz and the flotsam and jetsam that had already been thrown overboard in meaningful games, extending into the playoffs.

The luxury that these emergences has afforded the Indians is that, for once, the Tribe has not been forced to go out on the volatile Free Agent market of relievers and try to catch lightning in a bottle. They youngsters stepping up to take meaningful roles in the bullpen allowed the Indians to add only one bullpen arm (Masa Kobayashi) and take some fliers on other relievers available, like inviting Jorge Julio to camp or signing an injured Brendan Donnelly in the hopes that he can rehabilitate himself into the mix at some point in 2008.

All of that being said, the Indians’ bullpen looks pretty settled heading into the Spring, with the only competition assumed to be for the last spot:
7th reliever

Prior to the invite to Julio, I would have essentially figured that Mastny staked a claim to that final spot; particularly with his playoff performance (if anything can truly be gleaned from 4 2/3 IP of scoreless baseball…on a pretty big stage). However, Julio’s invite and the fact that Mastny is still sitting on three options makes things a little more interesting. Not even taking into account the younger players that could help the parent club at some point this year (Jeff Stevens, Reid Santos, Randy Newsom, etc.); the Indians have an interesting decision to make if Julio comes to camp with any semblance of a repertoire.

That is, with Mastny and the other young players holding options, the Indians could give Julio a roster spot and give him an opportunity to grow into a role for the Tribe while relievers like Mastny, Edward Mujica, and the like can get steady work at the back end of the Buffalo bullpen. On the other hand, the Indians could continue to promote their own and keep Mastny as the 7th reliever with the hope that his maturation as a pitcher continues by facing MLB hitters in MLB games. The frequency of work may be more erratic than what he would see in Buffalo, but the difference of facing Timo Perez or Miguel Cabrera cannot be underestimated.

Up next, the questions facing the Indians not related to their pitching staff.
Spring Training is close…so close you can almost taste it.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Last Lazy Sunday of the Winter

Despite a harsh wind blowing outside and the temperature in a free fall, Spring Training is now less than a week away as Pitchers and Cathcers are likely double-checking their travel plans to make it to Winter Haven on Thursday….finally.
And with that good news settling in, we’re off on a Lazy Lazy:

Terry Pluto comes correct and in full effect with an analysis of how the Indians’ starting pitchers and how their 2007 workload may affect their 2008 performance. It’s a legitimate concern as a troubling trend is apparent by simply examining the results of some AL Central foes who recently rode strong pitching into the playoffs (and more) and how they regressed in the following year:
Team ERA (AL Rank)
Chicago 2005 – 3.61 (T-1st)
Chicago 2006 – 4.61 (10th)

Detroit 2006 – 3.84 (1st)
Detroit 2007 – 4.57 (9th)

Cleveland 2007 – 4.05 (3rd)
Cleveland 2008 - ?
In the same vein, SI’s Tom Verducci identifies The Faustastic One as a young pitcher who could be an injury risk in 2008 due to an unusually heavy workload.

If what Pluto tells us is true - namely that pitching is the key for the 2008 Tribe (and it is) - count The Sporting News as among those bullish on the Tribe’s 2008 outlook, rating their rotation and bullpen as best in the AL. Obviously, having the best rated rotation and bullpen in February pales in comparison to having the best in October…but it certainly is encouraging that an unbiased TSN puts the Tribe’s rotation above that of the Red Sox and believes that their bullpen is sound from top to bottom for 2008. By the way, TSN rates the Tribe OF as 6th in the AL, which looks like a bit of a stretch to given the question marks flanking SuperSizemore with the measured mediocrity of Dellichaels and Frank the Tank’s predilection to look like Pedro Cerrano when a curveball leaves a pitcher’s hand.

On a brand new topic, Pluto identifies the Indians’ offer to Sabathia “in the $90 million range and it could go higher depending upon performance.” He also thinks that “Sabathia's agents are determined to sign for more than Johan Santana ($137 million) or any other pitcher.” As I’ve said before, I’m firmly of the belief that the Indians should entice Sabathia with a higher annual salary in lieu of the extra year that would expose them to more risk as the contract lengthens. The 5-year, $90M (bumping his 2008 salary and a 4-year extension) nearly mirrors the Zambrano deal that serves as a point of reference in terms of numbers and years. It almost certainly will take more but, if Sabathia’s agents are dead-set on surpassing what Santana signed for (when Santana held all of the chips with the Mets and has proven to be a better pitcher than C.C.); the Hefty Lefty is not long for Cleveland.

Hoynesie gets on board with reporting Santana’s deal correctly and what the real sticking point with the Sabathia negotiations are…in case you haven’t been paying attention – its years, not money. Dipping into his mailbag, then, Hoynes uses an effective common sense approach to answering some questions regarding Casey Blake and the infield.

Outside of the PD stuff, the rest of the local writers seem unaware that Spring Training is knocking on the door as nobody (ABJ, Canton Rep, etc.) had anything beyond the press releases announcing the signing of RP Brendan Donnelly (strictly a depth signing, hopefully in the Bob Howry Rehab vein) and SP Scott Elarton (simply an olive branch to allow Elarton to be in camp with someone to eat some innings in Winter Haven and to display his wares for a team NOT named the Indians…nothing more).

With Spring Training sooooo close (did I mention that yet?), I’ll take a look at some questions for the Tribe as they head to the sun of central Florida to…well…stretch and play catch for a few weeks.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

For Your CConsideration

While everyone has likely been oversaturated with information on the C.C. Sabathia contract talk and how various recent contracts for similar pitchers (notably the Santana deal to the Mets) are relevant to the talks, a few more voices have entered the burgeoning discussion as national writers continue to weigh in on the affect of the Santana deal on the C.C. negotiations.

First off, let me start with TSN’s Sean Deveney, and not just to point out the annoying discrepancy that has been appearing in most of the reports of the Santana deal, as Deveney incorrectly calls it a “deal worth a little more than $150 million over seven years”. But, regardless of Deveney’s misinformation (it is a 5-year extension that Santana signed worth $124.5M…but more on that later from Ken Rosenthal), he correctly points out that, “No one was surprised by the size of the contract that Santana received. To suggest that the Santana deal will sink the Indians' hopes of re-signing Sabathia is to suggest that both Sabathia's agent and Indians GM Mark Shapiro live and work in barren bunkers with no access to telephones, newspapers, web sites or carrier pigeons. Everyone knew what the market on Santana would be, and the market on Sabathia is pretty clear, too.” Deveney is right that we all knew where the numbers were likely to come down (which, again, are not the ones reported by Deveney) and that Santana’s deal was not the shocking news that some took it to be when it initially flashed on the ESPN ticker last week.

Interestingly, Deveney also quotes an NL executive as to how much C.C. could get on the open market. “I don't think anyone would go beyond five years. Maybe he could get to six with incentives.
Five guaranteed years, eh?
That is, five guaranteed years after 2008…or what we’ve known is the sticking point in the negotiations for quite some time. The question, of course, remains if more money from the Tribe on a 4-year extension (which boils down to a 5-year deal as 2008 is included) would entice the Big Fella to the table.

Next up is John Donovan from SI, who rightly thinks that C.C. is headed for a big payday from someone soon…and he doesn’t think it will be the Tribe comparing the likelihood of the Hefty Lefty staying in Cleveland on par with “Roger Clemens planting a nice, sloppy kiss on Brian McNamee's forehead next week on Capitol Hill.” OK, we get it…add Donovan to the names of Peter Gammons and Buster Olney on the list of writers who feel that C.C. is not long for the North Coast.

All of that being said, however, a part Donovan’s article struck me, namely that “One front-office executive told me recently that the Santana situation is so different than most -- Santana is widely considered the best pitcher in baseball these days -- that any "trickle down" effect on other contracts might not be as bad as people envision. After 2001, remember, Mike Hampton's $121 million deal with the Rockies wasn't bettered until last year, when Barry Zito extracted $126 million from the Giants. There's an argument there that these mega-contracts for starters are a kind of cyclical thing.”

It struck me because, so often in Cleveland, we tend to trumpet the arrival of C.C. as the “homegrown ace” that we’ve all been waiting for and that he has immediately jumped to the head of the class in terms of starting pitchers; perhaps, in the minds of some, even leapfrogging Johan. But, according to Donovan’s source, Santana is “widely considered the best pitcher in baseball these days” and really, as much as we tend to put them on equal footing when it comes to these negotiations, how close are these two statistically?

Going back for the past 5 years, let's look at how both performed with the normal statistics everyone is used to seeing as well as ERA+ (or Adjusted ERA+) which adjusts a pitcher's ERA according to the pitcher's ballpark (whether it favors batters or pitchers) and the ERA of the pitcher's league.

As a quick aside, ERA+ is an accurate way to judge pitchers with factors weighed evenly for all pitchers with the average ERA+ set to be 100, a score above 100 indicating the pitcher performed better than average and below 100 indicating worse than average. As a point of reference Pedro Martinez holds the modern-day record for the best ERA+ in 2000 with an astronomical ERA+ of 285 and the Tribe’s starters of 2007 breaking down like this – C.C.-143, Fausto-151, Westbrook-107, Byrd-100, Lee-73…looks about right and pretty easy to grasp, no?

But I digress.
Back to the comparison between these two pitchers for the last 5 years with their ages during those respective years in parentheses:
C.C. Sabathia (22): 13-9, 197 2/3 IP, 141 K, 3.60 ERA, 122 ERA+
Johan Santana (24): 12-3, 158 1/3 IP, 169 K, 3.07 ERA, 148 ERA+

C.C. Sabathia (23): 11-10, 188 IP, 139 K, 4.12 ERA, 106 ERA+
Johan Santana (25): 20-6, 228 IP, 265 K, 2.61 ERA, 182 ERA+

C.C. Sabathia (24): 15-10, 196 2/3 IP, 161 K, 4.03 ERA, 104 ERA+
Johan Santana (26): 16-7, 231 2/3 IP, 238 K, 2.87 ERA, 155 ERA+

C.C. Sabathia (25): 12-11, 192 2/3 IP, 172 K, 3.22 ERA, 140 ERA+
Johan Santana (27): 19-6, 233 2/3 IP, 245 K, 2.77 ERA, 161 ERA+

C.C. Sabathia (26): 19-7, 241 IP, 209 K, 3.21 ERA, 143 ERA+
Johan Santana (28): 15-13, 219 IP, 235 K, 3.33 ERA, 130 ERA+

So, essentially Santana has outperformed (often vastly) Sabathia every year but last year, which was not as heavily weighted towards the Crooked Cap as we in Cleveland would like to believe.
Yeah…but we beat him 5 times last year…stop.
Regardless of my admiration for C.C., Santana remains the best pitcher in baseball and the numbers above speak to the consistency and dominance that have rightfully put him on that pedestal.

Is C.C. two years younger? Sure, and it remains entirely feasible that Sabathia is poised to rattle off years comparable to Santana’s last five into the early 2010’s. But for now, if past performance is playing a vital part in the comparison, the comparison is brief and one-sided.

Need further proof that Santana has established himself as the superior pitcher? Now, for as arbitrary as Cy Young voters can be and as controversial as that award generally becomes after it is awarded, consider the Cy Young votes that Santana and C.C. received in those 5 years and where they finished in the voting:
C.C. Sabathia – 0
Johan Santana – 1 (7th)

C.C. Sabathia – 0
Johan Santana – 140 (1st unanimous)

C.C. Sabathia – 0
Johan Santana – 51 (3rd)

C.C. Sabathia – 0
Johan Santana – 140 (1st unanimous)

C.C. Sabathia – 119 (1st)
Johan Santana – 1 (T-5th)

How unbelievable is the fact that C.C.’s 1st Cy Young votes EVER came in his 2007 campaign and that Santana earned 332 votes over the 4 years that C.C. was shut out, winning two awards unanimously during that time. Certainly C.C.’s 2007 was superb and deserving of the award, but (again) the comparison between the two, if their past performance is the comparison, is shown to be both brief and one-sided.

Look, lest anyone think that I’m discounting the brilliance of C.C. and his importance to this team by making him look positively ordinary next to Santana, understand that I’m firmly of the belief that Sabathia is the most important player on this team as the ace of the rotation – the best player on the best part of the team. His presence allows the rest of the rotation to slot down the line and sets the tone for the pitching staff every 5th day.
The Indians with C.C. are, quite obviously, a better team than they are without him.

But, to simply say that Santana received X amount of money (by the way, Ken Rosenthal accurately reports his deal with the Mets and brought Santana’s deal even closer to Earth in his most recent piece by getting the numbers and years right AND pointing out that $5M of Santana’s money every year is deferred), so C.C. should also receive X amount of money and years or X+ whatever is not taking into account that C.C. and Santana (despite their comparable 2007 seasons) are not true peers in terms of long-term performance.
Could C.C. eventually rival Santana in terms of performance as the years go by?
No question, but as of today, Santana remains the better pitcher.

Now, the other point of interest in Rosenthal’s article linked above is the revelation that “only five active pitchers threw 630 innings between ages 32 and 34, according to STATS Inc. — Greg Maddux (719 2/3), Tom Glavine (704 1/3), Mike Mussina (659), Curt Schilling (647 1/3) and Derek Lowe (639 1/3).”
Remember how the Indians and Sabathia’s people seem to be locking horns over the 5th year of a contract extension, which would be his 6th guaranteed year?
Guess how old C.C. would be in that debated 6th year (2013)?

Monday, February 04, 2008

How I Spent My Winter Vacation

What seems like many moons ago, after Coco Crisp squeezed the 27th out of Game 7 in the ALCS, I made a vow to myself (after some notable brooding and catharsis) that I would make an effort to take advantage of the time that presented itself to me in lieu of spending night after night engrossed in the Tribe. Excited by the prospect of having time on my hands, it was time to enrich myself in things not related to the Indians.

Obviously, if you’ve checked this site at all in the past 3 months, you are acutely aware that the Indians never stay far from my thought processes as I’ve attempted multiple times to wrap my head around c.c.ontract negotiations and what 2008 holds for our beloved Erie Warriors. But, for now, it’s time for a bit of a digression from the things that are normally discussed in this space to fire up the synapses in ways that don’t involve OPS, Andy Marte’s batting average in the Winter Leagues, or what Jake Peavy’s contract extension means to the Indians.

As another winter settled on the North Coast, delusions of grandeur set in as I compiled a list of things to do in the time that had previously been devoted to the Indians – read a few books on my list of “Great American Novels”, fire through my Netflix queue with movies I’ve always wanted to see, and (most importantly) immerse myself in the development of the DiaperTribe as he navigated his way through the pitfalls of walking, new teeth, and solid foods. The last thing on the list was obviously the easiest thing to accomplish (and I won’t bore you with any “you gotta see the baaaabeee” moments), so with Spring Training inching closer and the sports world in a deep hibernation for a while, I’ll rehash that old favorite essay of mine assigned to me by the nuns of St. Margaret Mary ever September with a bit of a twist, regarding the desire to form myself into some sort of better, more well-rounded person – a Renaissance man…in three short months.

Of course, as the temperature dropped and sleep became less of a known commodity around the house, I started my “Winter Vacation” the way that so many people end up settling into…I watched TV. Sure, I dabbled in my weekly fix of SI (the final bastion of worthwhile sports coverage in the print media) but while being enthralled by the brilliance of the exploits of Michael Scott and Jack Donaghy and modestly amused by the “How I Met Your Mother” episodes, I fell into the familiar trap of watching essentially whatever was on. Regardless of how ridiculously bad network (and now cable) TV has become, I would sit and watch what Giada De Laurentiis was up to, try to decide who the hottest girl on TV is (by the way, it’s Blake Lively of “Gossip Girl”…don’t ask) or try to get into shows that I thought would amuse (or, at the very least, entertain me) like “Chuck” or “Life”.

As I was settling back into that mindless routine that traps the best of us, watching an inordinate amount of TV in my free time…something happened. The writers guild started talking about striking and, suddenly, the talking heads in my TV were discussing what the networks would do when the TV shows that they had in the can had all been broadcast. Actual conversations about what people would watch with nothing new on TV (oh, the humanity) jarred me from my intellectual slumber.

What had happened to the Renaissance man I was striving to be?
Why had the books that had been given as Christmas gifts as my family embraced my “Great American Novels” list remained on the dining room table?
Why was I setting up my Netflix queue to send me “Talladega Nights” and the like?

It was time to get back on track and enrich myself before they started packing the trucks for Winter Haven (which they have) and my free time would be spoken for. I started the odyssey with “Catcher in the Rye”, immediately remembering how much I enjoyed reading excellent prose and how revolutionary the content of this book was at the time that it was published (though it would barely so much as raise an eyebrow if it came out tomorrow). As the pages turned, the juices started flowing again – I was watching PBS documentaries on Andrew Jackson and eschewing the offerings of “normal” TV to enjoy shows (when the TV was even on) that didn’t just allow me to sit there and zone out for 30 to 60 minutes. I was rolling through the offerings of the Coen brothers, some for the first time (“Miller’s Crossing”), some seemingly for the 500th time (“The Big Lebowski”) while busting myths on the Discovery Channel and learning about “Lost Worlds” on the History Channel – all while sipping my gin drinks.
Quickly, “Catcher in the Rye” was done and the next book was waiting…I was on my way.

Ah, the next book. On my dresser sat the next hurdle to clear on the way to keeping my mind sharp in the off-season – the great White Whale…”Moby Dick”.
Forcing myself, day after day, to read pages upon pages about what a quilt looked like or what the air smelled like, describing the minutia of every little detail started to wear me down. While the descriptions were superb and the writing was perfectly crafted as it painted a picture, I felt like the picture was being created by Monet – one, slow, meticulous, painstakingly long page at a time. Sure, the dots would all add up to a beautiful picture; but my patience and interest were waning quickly.

About a 1/3 of the way into the book (which means about 200 pages), I decided that I needed some fresh blood. Scared that if I started the “Grapes of Wrath” only to get bogged down again (essentially sabotaging the plan to finish these books), I thought that some lighter fare might whet my appetite a little more. And by “lighter fare”, let me clarify that I had no intention of immersing myself in the popcorn novels of John Grisham or Clive Cussler that entertained me in younger days.

I needed something that was well-written, but relevant…not just escapist writing to keep me interested and entertained. Remembering how much I enjoyed “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” prior to my son’s birth, I had a discussion with my friend Sara (who often travels for work and is always up on good books) because we essentially share the same taste in books. Understanding my dilemma, she asked me if I had ever read pop culture critic (if that “label” even works) Chuck Klosterman, whom I mainly had read through his association with ESPN and, more notably, his give-and-take with Bill Simmons from a few years ago.

Armed with a new purpose, The DiaBride and I headed to the East Side to Joseph-Beth Booksellers (because…well, honestly because Crate & Barrel is next door and my wife loves her some C&B), debunking the myth that it is impossible to cross the Cuyahoga without a passport and proper documentation. We arrived at JB and set off to find new and exciting literary adventures…OK, that’s a bit of a hard sell – we were trying to find the section that would contain books by the aforementioned Klosterman. After a bit of a search, we found his works in the “Sociology” section because…what category does his writing really fall under?

After perusing the titles, I settled on “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” and headed back to the West Side, ready to snuggle in for a long winter’s nap full of witticisms. Reading Klosterman, it immediately became apparent that these essays I was reading about…whose topic was really nothing at all…echoed my feeling and thoughts on everything addressed. I found myself so in tune and in agreement with nearly all of his observational writings and conclusions that I realized that this book represented more than just witty observations on life and commentary on popular culture, as inane as the subjects (like an exhaustive breakdown of the cultural significance of “The Real World”) seemed to be.

Devouring the book, I realized that I would recommend this book to nearly ALL of my friends, as they would find humor and truth in the book as much as I did. How could a book, with no real plot or trajectory as the book evolves, be so universally true to me and (I assumed) people like me? How did it so eloquently define what I deem to be a generation of guys – my friends and otherwise, in my age bracket – where wit and sarcasm are valued commodities as is ability to put into prose (or scene) the feelings that we all have and the situations that we all live through define what (and who) we read, what we watch, and how we live?

This culture of sarcasm, self-examination, and intelligently dark humor based on the dissection of life events and the people that experience them that Klosterman was capturing was (for most) created to perfection by the genius of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David with the comedic stylings of Dennis Miller (to keep our brains tuned in to what we all learned in all of those AP English classes in High School) continued in the brilliant, sprawling works of Dave Eggers and J.R. Moehringer, leading us to the utter bliss that is “Arrested Development”, “The Office” and “Extras”, combined with the occasional guilty pleasures contained in “The Soup”.

Chapter after chapter, I felt that the voice of the male, aged 25 to 50-something was finally defined. Suddenly, we had no need for the vapid comedies that we were told that we should like or were we forced to endure the monstrosity of a culture gone wild with no discernible outlet or social commentator. It was starting to be broken down, intelligently, openly, and (most importantly) hilariously.

For those of us somewhat obsessed by sports, the good news continues that this current of social commentary extended into a sports world that had become tired, antiquated, and essentially a contest to see who could yell the loudest. For years, the “traditional” media, like the sports department at the Plain Dealer or the likes of Chris Berman and Mike Lupica were our filter for how we should think about sports and what opinions prevailed. And these weren’t even the lowest form of the “traditional” sports media, an honor tightly held by the insanity of sports talk radio. The ill-informed reactionaries that litter the airwaves spout poorly-formed arguments and generally hold their finger over the volume to drown out any logical thought.

In all of the years of following sports, I have never called (or even wanted to call) any sports talk show. Really, why would anyone? The only person that I ever knew who called one of these shows was my buddy C-Badd, who once called Kenny Roda completely fed up with the mindless assertions and unoriginal thoughts that the host was piling onto the listeners. In a 15-second rant, C-Badd completely destroyed and humiliated Roda by lobbing incendiary truths on the bewildered target. How perfect was the rant? A day later, WKNR was actually airing C-Badd’s 15 seconds of inflammatory remarks as an ADVERTISEMENT, followed by the WKNR voice over saying something like, “Wanna tell Kenny what you really think of him?” The episode encapsulated everything that had become wrong with the way that sports forums were presented to their fans, talked down to and summarily dismissed by these “all-knowing” members of the media…and how the fans could truly find their voice above the din of mediocrity.

Of course as we all know, in the past few years, a funny thing has happened in the realm of sports media. A forum had been created on the Internet to become a place for people to share ideas, independent of what they were told to think or instructed what was right or wrong. Columnists like Bill Simmons emerged with his hilariously pointed (though increasingly repetitive) thoughts on the sports world and how out-of-whack it had become. Simmons cut through the white noise of sugarcoating events or creating a story where none existed as he simply wrote as a fan, with little to no access to the teams or the players that he followed. He adroitly pointed out the things that nobody, to that point, would say or write without fear of repercussion from the organization or from an individual. He called it like he saw it, in language that everybody that I knew understood and could easily relate to. Seamlessly bobbing and weaving through “The Karate Kid” or “Teen Wolf” and how it somehow related to the things that were relevant in the sports world. Despite Simmons’ employment by ESPN, it seems to remain something that he is constantly battling…that is, how to be an outsider at the center of the insider’s universe in Bristol. With Simmons, a new voice in the sports world had been created, that of the fan espousing his intelligent thoughts and opinions outside of the establishment.

That movement, then, was furthered by Will Leitch, the editor of Deadspin who, despite what your overall feelings are on Deadspin, has revolutionized this new media in a way that even Simmons could never have dreamed. Leitch was the true outsider, a talented essayist (for anyone who has not yet picked up his new book “God Save the Fan”, go get it now…no, seriously…now) that was played the role of sports sniper, sitting on his computer picking off the absurdity of sports and sports figures. He recognized that sports had been taken away from the fans, that it had been assumed by these giant corporations, who told us (through their substandard mouthpieces like Shannon Sharpe and John Kruk) what we were supposed to think. He pointed out that the disconnect between fans and the players that they rooted for had changed intrinsically to the point that it is unlikely that any average fan will ever be able to fully relate to the modern athlete again as the players that we root for live on a completely different plane, with a completely different set of rules than we could ever comprehend. Conversely, he pointed out that few athletes truly care or care to relate to the fans that, ultimately, afford them their luxurious lifestyles. Sports had reached a crossroads and Leitch was ready to explain it and ultimately mock how this crossroads had emerged, one smart comment at a time.

Where is this all going?
I have no idea. Most people my age (I’m 30, by the by) don’t read (much less even subscribe to) the newspaper, except for out of some perceived civic duty that we should read what’s happening in our region, regardless of how slanted, underwhelming, or heavy-handed the coverage seems to be. Outside of that absurd gnawing that the local paper (or some paper) should be part of our daily routine, we seek out information sources that speak to us or stimulate our minds. Those resources are certainly not being found in what many would describe as the “traditional” media.

Has the first volley been fired in this convoluted revolution? Is the establishment of everything that we have ever assumed to be the best way of obtaining information under attack in some of sort of offensive reminiscent of Fort Sumter? I happen to think so, though perhaps I’m examining this far too closely or giving too much thought and weight to an unrelated group of isolated writers, TV shows, movies, and insights – but it seems to me that the mindset of my generation of guys is finally developing an identity and a voice. “The Greatest Generation”, we are not – but, finally, we are not being asked to absorb the shallowness that we are told that we SHOULD like or being force-fed our opinions or sports by the likes of ESPN and major motion picture studios. Those corporations can’t define what we think and who we are, and finally we are beginning to revolt against it, through the “new” media of the Internet and otherwise.

We are independent thinkers, quick to call out what we feel is an inaccuracy or an injustice…of course, generally relying on lobbing sarcastic insults from afar and forming our witty comebacks based on observations based in reality. While it doesn’t exactly evoke memories of the “Chicago Seven” or civil disobedience, at least it’s a start. Maybe we’re not the idiotic slackers that we are portrayed to be, happy to plunk $10 bucks for a Michael Bay film or just thumb through “Maxim” and play video games with our free time. Perhaps, behind all of those walls of sarcasm and feigned indifference, there is something to us…it may not be deep or earth-shattering, but I suppose it’s still something.

What the hell do I know, though, I’m just a sleep-deprived first time father that’s been living in what seems like the inside of a dirty milk carton for the last few months. I’m just trying to use my “winter vacation”, in the time that I don’t get to see baseball on a regular basis to sort out some thoughts and didn’t mean to devolve into some great sociological essay. If this meandering stream of consciousness babbled a few too many times, let me be the first to ask a very important question:
How long, exactly, does it take the trucks to get to Winter Haven?