Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Lazy Sunday with Manny’s Wish List

Inching closer and closer to Turkey Day with the tasks of the weekend revolving around getting the house ready for what promises to be a holiday season full of house guests, let’s get going on a Lazy Sunday with Manny Acta’s Christmas List, some roster decisions, and the latest Top Prospect rankings…and with that, we’re off:

Leading off, Manny Acta has been sitting down with anyone and everyone who will listen to him at any time that’s agreeable to them, talking about the team he inherited and what the 2010 team might look like. It seemed as if you can’t turn on the TV or the radio without seeing or hearing Acta this past week and, while he’s hit on a myriad of topics in a number of different mediums, the most informative piece cutting through the white noise that usually comes in these interviews comes (not surprisingly) from Anthony Castrovince, who sat down with the new Tribe skipper and the rest of the beat reporters over some Margherita pizza from Pickwick and Frolic.

Before getting into the meat of the conversation, does anyone else find it funny that Acta intimates that he had the exact same Margherita pizza from Pickwick and Frolic during his interview with the Indians? For some reason, I can’t get the image out of my head of Chris Antonetti walking into the room with a handful of menus, asking everyone what they’re in the mood for and with the decision to go with the Margherita Pizza from Pickwick coming after a long debate.

Maybe that’s just because things happen around here (and I would have gone with Pickwick’s Angus and Chorizo Meatloaf if I’m getting food from there…but I’m a meatloaf kind of guy), but visualizing the debate over what to have for lunch while Acta’s conducting his interview with the Indians strikes me as funny, if only putting it into the context of every other office lunch that happens every day.

Nevertheless, the topics of conversation over some pie (covered in no semblance of anorder, other than the order that I want to address them) start with the idea that the Indians are entertaining the idea of bringing in a veteran catcher, despite the fact that they seem to be overflowing with catchers on the 40-man roster. One of those names could be taken out of that mix (Mr. Show Pack) although AC reports that “Acta said that Shoppach is still in the Indians' plans at this moment.”

The fact that they’re even entertaining this notion should be the final stroke on the writing on the wall that ShopVac is not in this team’s plans, immediate or long-term, and while I’ve seen this talk of adding a veteran catcher to “handle the pitching staff” before, I’ll ask again – aren’t the catchers on the 40-man roster the SAME guys who have caught these young pitchers throughout their Minor-League careers? Between Toregas, Gimenez (although he’s probably no more than an emergency catcher now…although that doesn’t mean that he still doesn’t know these pitchers), Marson, and Santana, wouldn’t there be some credence in allowing these pitchers to mature to MLB throwing to battery mates who know their strengths, weaknesses, game plans, and personalities?

Instead of going out and getting a veteran catcher, how about developing a viable back-up catcher of our own for the league minimum to serve as a sounding board for these young pitchers? With that in mind, take a quick look at an absolutely fascinating Q & A with Dave Huff and Lou Marson from David Laurila at B-Pro that sheds a little light on the pitcher/catcher relationship and how it develops as players get to know each other. If that’s not enough for you and you’re still talking about adding that wisdom that a veteran catcher brings…um, isn’t that what the Indians brought Sandy Alomar here for, to impart some of the knowledge that he’s gleaned over the years as an MLB catcher onto his young charges and onto the pitching staff?

With Sandy and his infinite wisdom that fueled all of that 1990’s glory, what’s the point of going out and getting a veteran backstop on a team that has FOUR catchers (three if you don’t count Shoppach, five if you count both Shoppach and Gimenez) on the 40-man roster, all seemingly “ready” (and I use that term loosely) for MLB?

As a quick aside on Sandy before getting into the rest of the Acta conversation, here’s how the Indians were allowed to get Sandy out of Queens, as Sandy essentially asked the Mets to go to Cleveland and the Mets (with Shapiro’s good buddy Omar Minaya calling the shots) acquiesced. If I may make a suggestion as to what Alomar can do now that he’s had his wish granted to return to the organization, it would be to put Sandy in Santana’s back pocket in Goodyear and leave the two of them alone to discuss the ins and outs of being an MLB catcher.

Speaking of former Indians and transitioning to the oft-stated need for Utility IF that Acta alludes to, I think I have the perfect solution for bringing back a slick-fielding ex-Indian very highly regarded in the organization that is currently available on the Free Agent market.
The answer to the question on everyone’s mind is…John McDonald!

No, I’m not kidding and I ask you to consider the following if we’re talking about improving the 2010 team and not just re-living the glory days of the 1990’s (whether or not the rumors of Alvaro Espinoza’s return have been brilliantly exaggerated), in terms of what type of skill set both McDonald and another certain former Indian would bring to the 2010 club:
Johnny Mac – TOR – 2009 (Age 34)
.258 BA / .271 OBP / .384 SLG / .655 OPS in 156 plate appearances over 73 games

Omar Vizquel – TEX – 2009 (Age 42)
.266 BA / .316 OBP / .345 SLG / .660 OPS in 195 plate appearances over 62 games

Sure, this is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it’s done so more to point out that a certain segment of the fanbase is clamoring for the return of Omar (who looks to be going to the South Side), whose performance last year was on par with that put forth by John McDonald in Toronto. I’m not averse to great memories and embracing the history of the Indians, but if we’re talking about a player that’s going to get one start a week while serving as a defensive replacement, pinch runner, and a bat off the bench, signing McDonald (for what would be significantly less than Vizquel’s looking for) makes more sense than a return to the North Coast for Omarvelous.

If you’re looking for a versatile Futility IF who isn’t going to be expected to be much more than a RH complement to Valbuena until Donald is ready and essentially be a defensive replacement at that time, why not Johnny Mac?

Realistically, they shouldn’t even be spending money on a Utility IF and should be combing over the Minor-League FA list and seeing if a guy like Chris Burke could handle the workload until Donald is ready. We’re not looking for Chone Figgins here to play everyday at four different positions or Jose Oquendo to play every position, just someone who falls somewhere between Mike Rouse and Jamey Carroll (yes, Jamey Carroll is the ideal player that I’m putting out there) in terms of performance.

Taking a deeper look at that MiLB FA list and changing the subject completely, would there be any thought of taking a shot at Chad Cordero on a Minor League deal?

Even though Acta said that he’s “very happy with what we have” in the bullpen, if the Indians (hopefully) have learned anything in the past few years, it’s that there can never be too many bullpen arms to throw up against the wall. There is a connection between Acta and Cordero, as Acta was Cordero’s manager in Washington while Cordero saved 66 games in 2006 and 2007 (while posting an ERA+ of 127 over those two years) and there would be some familiarity there for Acta and Cordero. If Cordero can recover from his injuries that have shelved him for the better part of two years, having him as a potential option in the 2010 bullpen or even a reclamation project for the latter part of 2010 isn’t as bile-inducing as spending significant money on a FA pitcher like…I don’t know a Braden Looper or Todd Wellemeyer or someone other suspect for the rotation.

Really, why spend a couple million dollars on the lesser lights of starting pitchers in the FA class if they’re no more of a sure bet than a guy like Chris Capuano, also a MiLB FA, or look to make a move for that arm because, as Acta says in the AC piece, “We might still [get a pitcher], because you have to cover yourself. You can never go into Spring Training short on pitching.”

If we’re talking about arms, why not take a look at the arbitration-eligibles from the Marlins as they have a history of dealing their arbitration-eligible players? Guys like Matt Lindstrom or Ricky Nolasco (listed as a potential trade candidate in this piece from Matthew Pouliat of NBC Sports in a FANTASTIC series analyzing Free Agency) could possibly be had from Florida for the right package of young (and, more importantly, cheap) players.

Jumping off from the mention of Nolasco and staying with the aforementioned Pouliat piece, he does project an interesting group of pitchers that he identifies as potential “trade candidates”. If we’re going with that idea of a trade to supplement the rotation by UPGRADING it and not simply adding an arm in there to eat innings in front of the youngsters, the ones that could be available (ignoring the Roy Halladay stratosphere and the Kei Igawa depths) that stand out include Chad Billingsley (Dodgers), Edwin Jackson (Tigers), Ricky Nolasco (Marlins), Jonathan Sanchez (Giants), Zach Duke (Pirates), Aaron Harang (Reds), Brandon Morrow (Mariners), Manny Parra (Brewers), John Maine (Mets), Kevin Correia (Padres), Andy Sonnanstine (Rays), Collin Balester (Nationals), Kyle Kendrick (Phillies), Ian Kennedy (Yankees), and Jo-Jo Reyes (Braves).

How many of those guys are legitimately “available” and not just the subject of conjecture by a baseball writer is up for argument, as is whether some of them represent much of an upgrade over what the Indians already have in-house. But there are some names in there that could certainly represent an upgrade AND be names that would still be in the rotation in 2011 and beyond. If you want a list of players that the Indians should be looking at instead of perusing former Indians on the FA list or looking for the next Carl Pavano, there’s what the list should look like…

As for the other “need” addressed by Acta, a RH bat who can play some 1B and (while they’re not saying it out loud) complement Hafner at DH if he still can’t play every game, I hit on this a while back, but those pickings are slim and none and if the idea is to not unnecessarily spend money on a non-vital part of the team, give that RH bat role to Andy Marte and just be done with it.

Moving away from Acta’s Magical Media Tour, the big news of the week came with the roster decisions made and the impact of those decisions on potential Rule 5 draftees. As usual, Tony Lastoria is on the whole matter like white on rice. One of the players not rostered by the Indians will join Tony and I for a special Sunday edition of “Smoke Signals” as we’ll welcome in LHP Chuck Lofgren after hitting on all of the pertinent topics starting at 9:30 tonight.

Speaking of young players, rostered and non-rostered, here is the latest from Kevin Goldstein’s “Future Shock” at Baseball Prospectus, which lists the Top 11 prospects in the Indians’ organization (actually, Goldstein goes as deep as 15) as Goldstein provides a tremendous summary for each.

Portions of the article are pay content, but let me just quickly summarize (though it doesn’t do justice to the depth of the piece) that Goldstein sees an organization deep in talent and thinks that Santana is a likely perennial All-Star, that Chisenhall is a sweet-swinging 3B with 20-25 HR potential who could be the Opening Day 3B in 2011 (when The Chiz would still only be 22 years old), that Jason Knapp will be full healthy when pitchers and catchers report and figures to form 1/3 of the triumvirate of power arm stable (with Alex White and Nick Hagadone) that should be floating around Kinston and Akron this year, and that Asdrubal Cabrera (listed 2nd to Santana under “Top Talents 25 and Under) is a “future star”.

I’ll leave you with that bit of optimism because the holidays are a time for joy…at least as soon as I can finish moving items up and down from the attic in anticipation of another holiday season here at The Reservation.

7 comments:

Paul said...

Paul,

Nice post. Your blog provides some of the most thoughtful analysis of the Indians that I've seen, and I look forward to each Sunday post.

The BP list provides a lot of optimism. The talent is there; I expect that the Indians might be able to contend again in 2011 or so if they can just find a way to sort through all the possibilities on the pitching staff.

As for off-season acquisitions, I just don't know what I'd do in Shapiro's shoes. The pitching staff looks to be a mess going into 2010; at the same time, I'd rather burn rotation spots on arms that might help us in the future rather than the Pavanos of the world. As you bring up, pretty much ditto on the right-handed first base bat.

I like the Johny Mac idea. Second base still scares me, as I'm not entirely sold on Valbuena as a long-term solution, and Donald's future is very much up in the air. Other than that, I see no reason not to just play the kids and hope for the best.

Gregor Gross said...

If you follow the link to the Q&A by Baseball Prospectus' David Laurilla on David Huff and Lou Marson, than you'll also read what they don't do with their pitchers and catchers in Indian Minor League teams:

- Whereas many other teams tell they pitching prospects what a percentage of their throws should be which pitch, the Indians obviously do not tell their pitchers how often to throw certain pitches

- and obviously, Marson and Huff have never heard of Pitch/FX data, which I thought is good information to prepare for games

- you could also note a difference in long tossing philosophy during warm-ups by the Indians and Phillies, though it is not clear which approach is exactly the better one

Overall, I wonder whether the organisation does all it can to make sure prospects become (fantastic) major league players. For a small market team, I would have thought using all the small levers would be clever, don't you guys think?

Halifax said...

Seeing as they continue to rank high in the MiLB farm system rankings, only to have these "solid" prospects turn into solid MLB bench jockeys it really makes one wonder.

Halifax said...

That being said, I look for Chisenhall to be the best draftee they've had this side of CC. He looks like a complete package of size, power and decent fielding ability that could translate to a nice career on the hot corner.

However, their pitching development has been questionable at best, but that may attest to not drafting the guys that really have a future due to excessive monetary demands. Hopefully, that detail can be dealt with by MLB in upcoming talks.

Jeff said...

I remember a game Laffey pitched down in AAA where he got pounded, and later said he was told specifically to work on throwing one pitch over and over again. And, IIRC, I've heard Tony and/or pitchers on Smoke Signals refer to doing the same thing. If that's true, it's something the organization does, but on a case-by-case basis.

As for Pitch/FX, if Marson never heard of it, clearly the Phillies don't avail themselves of those data, either, and they've done OK recently.

Seriously, though, it read like both players misunderstood the question somewhat. Is it possible that the Phillies or the Indians use a proprietary version of the same numbers and call it something different?

Paul, is it possible to touch on some of these subjects on a future Smoke Signals? I'd think Tony has a lot of good information along these lines...

Cy Slapnicka said...

Was the comment from "Paul" your version of Terry Pluto's conversations with himself?

Fake Paul: "Nice post. Your blog provides some of the most thoughtful analysis of the Indians that I've seen, and I look forward to each Sunday post."
Diatriber: "Why thank you, its great to hear that. Glad you enjoy reading it...."
Diabride: "Paul, who are you talking to and why did you take the laptop into the bathroom?"

Paul Cousineau said...

Cy,
Stone cold busted...at least you haven't caught onto my other aliases yet. I guess that one was pretty lazy.

Jeff,
That's a good question and something that I'll talk over with Tony the next time we're on. I seem to remember other players saying that type of data was available, so I'll try to find out.