Thursday, June 25, 2009

Time for Some Action

Maybe Wedge is staying, maybe Wedge is going – who knows at this point – but if he stays, if he goes, there’s no question that the time “to talk of many things, of shoes and ships…” has long since passed and internal meetings that should have been initiated when this team was 14-26 on May 19th (you may remember that as the FIRST time they went 12 games under .500) should now be over and the suggestion by the estimable Cypress Hill that it is “time for some action” needs to find some footing. That action needs to come, loud and decisive, to right the wrongs of the season and to attempt to cast an eye towards 2010 not turning into another lost season.

Tuesday’s moves obviously represented a good start with Sizemore coming up to replace a not-surprisingly-overwhelmed Trevor Crowe and slotting Tony “Don’t Give Up the” Sipp to replace a Jose Vizcaino who isn’t in the Indians’ long-term plans and, frankly, wasn’t really ever in their short-term plans. The next move to bring Cabrera up to play SS everyday and bat leadoff (presumably until Grady tells someone that he’s ready to ascend back to his perch at the top, with Carroll serving as a RH complement to Valbuena at 2B with Barfield almost assuredly going back to Columbus) is going to be another step in the right direction.

Guess what, though…those guys (Grady and Asdrubal) haven’t been gone all that long and their return isn’t going to be a sudden balm for all that ails the Indians and if each performs as they’re expected to, warm fuzzies aren’t going to suddenly replace this emptiness inside.

What should be done, you ask?
Well, I’m glad that you did because I’ve broken it up into things that should be done today, things that need to happen in the next month and things that need to happen as the season winds down for the Indians…and no, Eric Wedge’s name isn’t mentioned as I’ve already said my peace on him:

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NOW
Fire Chuck Hernandez as bullpen coach, Promote Scott Radinsky
If you want heads to roll (and there is certainly a bloodlust out there), how about starting with the coach that’s presided over this mess of a pen and allow the move that should have happened in the off-season to finally occur? The Indians’ bullpen has been the Achilles’ heel of the team all season (well, one of them) and the notion that relievers emerge from AAA “fixed” or at least more effective when they left lends credence to the notion put forth by Ken Rosenthal some time back that Hernandez’s strength as a coach is not in identifying and fixing mechanical flaws.

Too often, we see players arrive from Columbus with a renewed effectiveness or a new approach and, for the lack of discerning anything else out of that, the bullpen coaches in Cleveland and Columbus would have to have some bearing on that.

Would the move be a minor one?
For sure, as I challenge anyone to tell me exactly what a bullpen coach does; but this goes back to the notion that maintaining the status quo when the status quo is not working suggests that a change is needed and what better place is there to start than the bullpen.

Once Radinsky came topside, I'd ask him who the best 6 relievers are that he’s seen this year in Columbus (everyone but Lewis and Wood have spent time there) and make that your bullpen along with Kerry Wood. If that includes Chulk, call up Chulk…if that doesn’t include Sipp, send Sipp down. Newly acquired Jose Veras and pitchers of his ilk need not apply in this scenario, but if the Indians want to search out that “lightning in a bottle” again, it’s at their own risk.

At this point, the Indians shouldn’t be married to any one of their relievers (save Wood, of course, if only because of the contract) and if a fresh set of eyes is needed to get a better picture of where this bullpen stands and what it should be, Radinsky should be the owner of those new eyes.

Call up LaPorta to play him every day at 1B, send Gimenez to AAA
Is it time to declare the “Ryan Garko Era” over yet or can we concede that the team should have sold high on Kelly Show Pack? If the answer is yes on both counts (and it is), then it’s time to give the keys to 1B to Matt LaPorta. With him at 1B, Martinez goes back to being the full-time C and is DH when Cliff Lee pitches (because you know CP wants ShopVac back there for him) to give Hafner a day off from time to time.

I’m pretty sure that everyone is aware who LaPorta is, what he’s done as a Minor Leaguer, what he’s done this year, and how he was mishandled in his first stint with the team in terms of the organization (regardless of whose intent it was) allowing lesser players with “track records” (and that’s not just The Looch) to play instead of LaPorta.

Right away, somebody needs to sit down with The GateKeeper (that’s LaPorta) to tell him that he’s going to play every day, more often than not at 1B and to just relax and play baseball. Whether that “somebody” has a facial tic while the conversation is occurring really doesn’t matter to me, but if the Indians have potential deficiencies at 1B (with Garko and Shoppach underperforming and Victor essentially slotting back to catch every day), I'd like to hear the argument that LaPorta has not earned the first shot to take the mantle of 1B and run with it or at least play out the season without interruption from “getting AB” for Frisco and Garko.

The only reason that Gimenez gets the demotion instead of Garko (who could be sent to the DL with this wrist thing just as easily) is because I'd rather see Gimenez get everyday AB in AAA and his development means something to the team as a super-utility player, a role that will be vacated by DeRosa in the next month. Thus, tell Gimenez that he’ll be back in less than a month regardless of how he performs and allow Garko to essentially turn into a late-inning pinch hitter against LHP with an occasional DH start to rest Hafner if he so needs it.

Slot Laffey into the ROTATION when healthy, move Sowers to the bullpen
This really shouldn’t even be a question, although it has been argued that Laffey’s success as a reliever after being moved there could mean that his return to the bullpen would provide some needed stability. However, if Laffey’s future is in the rotation and not in the bullpen (and it is), why not get him used to pitching every 5th day in MLB again?

Laffey has proven himself to be, right now, a credible back-end-of-the-rotation starter who could top out as high as a #3 in the rotation when he’s really rolling. For a guy that just turned 24 in April and has a career ERA+ of 106 over 177 1/3 innings pitched, isn’t it time to just put him in the rotation, give him the ball every five games and dispense with the “he warms up fast” nonsense and maximize his ability as a starter?

Speaking on “he warms up fast”, the corresponding move that goes with this should not be to send Tomo Ohka on his way (that will come soon enough), but rather to send Jeremy Sowers to the bullpen to assume the reins as the long man in the bullpen. It’s been said that he takes a long time to warm up, so…how about giving him ample time to do so and seeing if he can eat some innings for the Indians? He has nothing left to prove in the Minors (2.47 ERA, 1.17 WHIP), but also has shown himself to not be an MLB starter.

Not that I’m breaking any new ground here, but Sowers actually does well in his first and (to a lesser extent) second times through the lineup so why not utilize him to pitch innings 3 to 7 when a starter bottoms out? I’m not saying that moving him to the bullpen immediately saves the season, but these opponents’ numbers are hard to ignore:
Facing Sowers 1st time in a game
.209 BA / .250 OBP / .343 SLG / .593 OPS

Facing Sowers 2nd time in a game
.281 BA / .347 OBP / .453 SLG / .800 OPS

Facing Sowers 3rd time in a game

.500 BA / .647 OBP / .818 SLG / 1.465 OPS

What does that mean and why does that happen?
Who knows, but if the Indians are playing the hand that’s dealt to them right now in terms of players, how about maximizing these guys and playing up to their strength? Sowers’ strength may not be going 6 shutout innings and blowing anyone away, but if he can be an effective long man and go 3 to 4 innings to save the bullpen as a whole by pitching for an extended period if a starter goes off the tracks, there’s his spot.

With Sowers out of options after this year and having proven that he’s not a viable MLB starter, how about giving him a look in another role before simply seeing another #1 pick bound away with nothing but bad feelings around? Would he thrive as a long man and potentially contribute in 2010 in that role, one that good bullpens have the luxury of carrying?
There’s one way to find out.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN SOON
Trade Mark DeRosa for arm, or arms (plural), if possible

Let’s get this out of the way at the top – Mark DeRosa shouldn’t be on the Indians this year. If the Indians acquired DeRosa to play 3B (and everything they said gave that impression and his playing patterns certainly confirm that), then the Indians’ organization was drastically misguided to make him their offensive addition of the off-season given that Peralta was playing 3B in winter ball and made the permanent move to 3B before Memorial Day (one he is not happy about apparently, in terms of the timing of it).

DeRosa essentially found himself in the super-utility role that Casey Blake was never really specifically put into and his ability to play multiple positions and play them well is a valuable commodity, just not on a team with more glaring needs in the off-season and not for a team that already had a 3B-in-training in Peralta. He was brought in to replace Casey Blake (which he has done admirably), but with issues facing the rotation and with the knowledge that Cabrera would eventually be the SS and Peralta would eventually be the 3B with no plans to play DeRosa at 2B, he finds himself just as expendable as Casey Blake last year – a tremendous complementary part on a team that is in need of principal parts, not complementary ones.
In terms of his value, the Casey Blake comparison is actually frighteningly relevant if you take a look at what Blake put forth in 2008 and what DeRosa has done to date this year:
Blake 2008 – Age 34
.289 BA / .365 OBP / .465 SLG / .830 OPS with 11 HR in 368 plate appearances

DeRosa 2009 – Age 34
.273 BA / .346 OBP / .464 SLG / .810 OPS with 13 HR in 302 plate appearances

If Blake’s trade made sense last year in terms of a 34-year-old versatile player who would command money on the FA market after the season that would be better used in other areas for the Indians, than DeRosa’s value should make sense as well. Not unlike the Blake situation, the Indians may be able to net a nice haul from an NL team in need of a versatile veteran to fill the gaps for their team as they make a playoff push and the interested teams that have been mentioned have been just about every NL team in contention.

With the Indians in need of young, MLB-ready arms in both the rotation and the bullpen and with so many teams allegedly interested in DeRosa, the Tribe may find itself in a bit of a catbird’s seat in terms of trading DeRosa. They’re in no hurry to trade him and his value only increases with each passing day that sees the Cardinals shut out or the Mets losing a game because of a thin roster. At this point, play the waiting game – if Cards won’t part with Chris Perez and Mets won’t trade Bobby Parnell right now…wait for them to become desperate enough to be willing to part with a young impact arm for a few months of DeRosa. He’s probably not going to get the Indians a legit starter, in terms of front-of-the-rotation stuff, but if trading him could throw a high-ceiling, MLB-ready arm into the bullpen…have at it.

Will the team miss DeRosa?
Almost certainly, but 3B is handled by Peralta and 1B should be LaPorta’s, so where does that leave DeRosa but in the outfield? Assuming Francisco is there as the 4th OF, depending upon how long the Indians wait, wouldn’t it be prudent to promote Mike Brantley to the parent club while he’s riding a hot streak in AAA? If he’s your 2010 LF, why not get some AB under his belt at the bottom of the order and see how he reacts to MLB pitching this year instead of watching the first experiment in 2010? As for who handles those super-utility duties that DeRosa provided, Gimenez comes back up to fill the cracks at 1B, 3B, LF, RF, and C and to give days off to regulars as they may be needed.

In the very worst case scenario, if the trade market for DeRosa doesn’t turn into the sweepstakes you want it to, add a young MiLB bat (one of the many 1B/DH types that clutter the system) to get the arm you want. The Indians need pitching at their upper levels and in Cleveland right now and DeRosa looks to be the best path to fill that vacuum quickly and with quality as they’d be selling high on him right now. If that arm still isn’t coming with just DeRosa as a return, there may be a way to up the ante a little bit and go after a couple of arms if you…

Throw Shoppach to sweeten the purse
I know…you always try to “sell high” on a guy and moving Kelly now would be the antithesis of that strategy. But I fear that the “sell high” period has passed for Show Pack and if the teams looking at DeRosa are mainly NL teams that could use an upgrade at C – MIL (Kendall), NYM (Schneider), CIN (Hannigan) – isn’t it possible that the inclusion of Shoppach in a deal could net more arms when more arms are so obviously needed?

If I may put on my salesman hat here, how about telling an NL team that Shoppach could sit an the #8 hole ahead of a pitcher in the NL and just feast on fastballs to provide some power from behind the dish?

But, he’s a windmill, right?
No question, but I go back to a comment that Terry Pluto made some time back before the season when he joined Tony Lastoria and I on “Smoke Signals” when he was asked if the Indians had missed their chance to get maximum value for ShopVac. Pluto responded that in MLB, if a player had ever experienced prolonged success (and Shoppach certainly did in the 2nd half of last year), another team would point to that success and say that “they could fix him” to get the player back to that success. I’m not sure if that would hold in terms of a team seeing Shoppach as a reclamation project, but as a catcher with power in a league full of catchers providing little or no offense, he would have to retain some value despite his prodigious K totals.

Could the Indians wait on this until the off-season?
Sure, but at this point, Wyatt Torregas is ready to come up to become the back-up catcher and the fact that Gimenez can help with the catching duties means that Shoppach’s value as CP Lee’s personal catcher who “runs into one” every so often decreases daily. Moving him now would serve as the transition to 2010, where Torregas and Gimenez figure in as a backup catchers, and clears the path for Carlos Santana to head up to AAA to play every day in anticipation of him helping the parent club sooner rather than later.

Somebody’s just going to have to break the news to Clifton Phifer…NOT IT.

Trade Pavano for…well, anything
If we’re on the topic of diminishing returns, now might be a good time to cut ties with Pavano to see if he can net anything of value for the Indians as a trading chip. The problem with Pavano at this point (at least the main one in terms of trading him) is that his value (which isn’t that great to begin with) diminishes with each poor start and the likelihood of him netting much more than cash considerations or a PTBNL dips further and further with a bad start or, worse, a skipped start because of an injury.

If his effectiveness has come to an end or his shoulder or neck (or whatever allegedly ails him) is going to continue to affect him as a starting pitcher, the Indians should be looking to move him for a part, any part, sooner rather than later as the time is not far away that Pavano is either going to become a non-chip or he’s going to find himself on the DL, removing any trade value that may exist for him today.

Unlike the potential attractiveness of a guy like a Jamey Carroll (who, as great as he’s played recently, is not unlike 20 other players in MLB, many of them already on playoff contenders), there’s plenty of teams looking for starting pitching in a market bereft of it, so maybe somebody takes a chance on Pavano – maybe someone in the NL – but the time to act is now, particularly taking into account his last few starts.

Would it be ideal to wait for Westbrook to be ready to move Pavano so the likes of Zachson and his ilk don’t get starts? Sure, but holding onto Pavano past his expiration date (which looks to have already happened) is not going to make him any more palatable as the days and weeks pass.

Don’t rush Westbrook or Lewis back, set your rotation for next year
On the topic of starting pitching, when Laffey comes back, you have Lee, Pavano (until he’s moved), Laffey, Huff, and Ohka going and the last time that I checked, that rotation is not going to win the AL Central…but guess what, they’re not going to win the division by simply adding Westbrook to that mix either. In light of setbacks and the danger that exists from a pitcher rushing back too quickly from TJ surgery, it’s time for the Indians to tell Westbrook that the spot is his when he’s ready and that coming back on some imaginary deadline date for him may be all well and good, but that his long-term health is much more important to this team going forward.

By the same token, news that SLewis has hit another bump in a road that has been filled with setbacks for him and, while his value is not as obvious or as pressing as Westbrook, Lewis is probably your first depth starting option for 2010 (Sowers is out of options, Lofgren and Rondon would both benefit from extended time in AAA), so don’t jeopardize his health by pushing him back too soon or seeing a need at the MLB level and forcing him back to action too early.

Once Westbrook is healthy, set the rotation for 2010 with Lee, Westbrook, Huff, Laffey, and a warm body (that hopefully doesn’t remove the stickers from the underside on the bill of his hat) and miss no starts once this pattern starts as the best way to get ready for next year is to get these pitchers into a rhythm in terms of gaining some much-needed steam for 2010.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE AS THE SEASON CONTINUES
Work Carmona in slowly

Fausto may be a mess right now, but if he was the key to the 2009 season, imagine what he’s going to mean in 2010 which is Lee’s contract year. If his struggles continue into 2010 and beyond, the best laid plans of having him anchor the staff past Lee’s departure go completely off the tracks and the Tribe’s rotation actually spirals further downward.

Carmona has already overcome one career-threatening stretch after his meltdown as a closer and the hope is that he can once again find himself as not only a viable MLB starter, but as the dominant one that we saw in 2007. With 2009 essentially now just playing for next year, the Indians should be breaking out the kid gloves with Carmona, if only because of his importance to this team after this year and, more obviously, after next.

Getting Carmona right should really be Priority #1 for this year because another year of him “contributing” like he did this year will only lead to discussions this time next year as to what the Indians can reasonably net for CP Lee and El Capitan.
Not sure about you, but I'd like to avoid this ugliness next year.

Fill out the bullpen with arms that may play a role in the future
Going off tangentially from the idea that Hernandez would be fired and Radinsky would be hired, wouldn’t it benefit the Indians to see what they had in their own prospects in a lost season instead of “getting lucky” with a Greg Aquino, a Jose Vizcaino, and a Jose Veras?

If Tony Sipp was purported to have closer stuff a few years back and has seen some effectiveness in MLB, isn’t it better to allow him to get acclimated to pitching against both LHP and RHP in Cleveland instead of in Columbus?

If Rafael Perez was the most effective reliever on the team over the last three years, doesn’t it make sense to try to fix him against Morneau and Mauer and not the Jeff Mantos of the world to get him right for next year?

Wouldn’t it be better to see in September or so if these guys who have made the transition to full-time relievers in the past month or so (Frank Herrmann, Zach Putnam, Steven Wright, etc.) have the arsenal that translates to MLB?

If we’re playing the “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” game, can we at least play the game with some pitchers that MAY have some upside and MAY have a future with the team instead of trying to resurrect a career, something that hasn’t happened for more than a month or two since Bob Howry?

Would it be painful to watch if these youngsters fail?
Absolutely, but have we not been subjected to some painful late innings at the hands of Vizcaino, Herges, and Aquino? If I see failure, I want to have it done by a young guy who may learn something in the process – something that may help him the next time he’s in that situation – to help him down the road, whether that be this year, next year, or beyond.

When it’s all said and done, you go with a team that looks like this:
C – Martinez
1B – LaPorta
2B – Valbuena
SS – Cabrera
3B – Peralta
LF – Brantley
CF – Sizemore
RF – Choo
DH – Hafner
Bench – Torregas
Bench – Carroll
Bench – Gimenez
Bench – Francisco or Garko (not both)
SP – Lee
SP – Westbrook
SP – Laffey
SP – Huff
SP – Carmona (when ready, before that…whomever)
CL – Wood
RP – Aw, hell…I’m not even going to venture a guess on this…

Doesn’t that look about what the Indians should head into 2010 with?
Shouldn’t they have more answers than questions about those specific players going into the off-season?

We already know how the 2009 chapter of this book is going to end, it’s time to turn that page and start writing the 2010 chapter to see what direction that’s going to take…and the writing should be starting now.

7 comments:

A.G.B said...

I'd like to be critical but there really isn't anything here that I disagree with

Cousineau for G.M!

Jon said...

Paul, great stuff as always. I cannot agree more that Chuck Hernandez has to go. I live in Detroit and got to see first hand the disaster he was as the Tigers' pitching coach. It is not a mystery to me why the bullpen exploded this year; that fuse was lit the second Hernandez signed his contract.

Davis said...

I'd trade Peralta instead of DeRosa. At least DeRosa can play.

Elia said...

One of the unstated things here -- one of the things that I think has been missing from this season -- is consistency. Give people a roll and let them play that roll. I can only imagine that the players must feel that if they don't perform for a game or two that they will be sent to the minors. I can't help but wonder if this extra pressure has pushed the team over the edge every year.

My feeling is that when a team under-performs year after year after year but the players are clearly good players and collectively, looking at their averages, they should be performing at a much higher level, than the team is being put in a position to lose, whether it's pressure or psychology or communication.

I also wonder if there is a central force on this team. I see that on sports teams all the time. There are always a couple of players who step up and lead. With the Cavs, it was James and Williams. (Now add O'Neill to that mix.) With the '95 Indians it was Belle (through example, obviously), Martinez and Hershiser. Who has been that player for the Indians the past few years? Sabathia? But one person can't do it alone. Sizemore, Martinez and Hafner have seemed too reserved for the roll.

One final thought: I love your intuition on Sowers. We've seen this before: a starting pitcher who looks good through three innings but bad through seven. And while I would never think that Sowers would be a closer the caliber of Jose Mesa was for a few years with the Tribe, he could settle down the bullpen by providing relief in the 5-7 innings.

Cade said...

I never thought I'd see Jose Mesa mentioned positively in this blog. Let us never speak of him again. Very solid entry though, Mr. Cousineau.

Rockdawg said...

Time for some action
Just a fraction of friction
PC's got the clearance
to run the interference.

-Great Cypress Hill reference...excellent post here. Hernandez should be canned a month ago. You've got to love it when Tiger fans saw this coming in the offseason...Kind of like The Baltimorian with a certain ex-Oriole reliever.

csusi said...

look at you calling it with the derosa pick.

see ya derosa. it was good while it lasted.