Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What To Watch For

At the risk of bowing to the ESPNification of sports news with that title (of which I recently heard Fox Sports’ Andrew Siciliano refer to as “Bristol Red”, which has a nice Kremlinesque feel to it in terms of dictating what’s relevant to the average consumer by packaging sports information in neat little packages because the average sports fan can’t handle much more), with the 2009 season over before July 4th, it struck me how the next month may reveal quite a bit in terms of how this organization views the near future and who is involved in that future.

While it’s technically true that more than half the season still awaits us (HOORAY!), the real truth lies in the fact that prior to the Trading Deadline at the end of July, the seeds for 2010 and beyond may be sown in terms of management, players, and organizational approach. The tone of the moves (or non-moves) that occur over the next month then, will go a long way in determining whether contending in 2010 is remotely feasible and what players will be involved in next season, as well as who will be filling the names of said players into the lineup card.

The biggest question that will be answered in the next month is whether Wedge makes it past the All-Star Break as there is a point after which the firing of Wedge doesn’t really differ that much from waiting until the off-season to do so. Whether he stays or whether he goes, however, is suddenly intrinsically connected to Shapiro and the power that he wields in the organization as Shapiro has repeatedly (and surprisingly, publicly) come out in defense of Wedge and calling a firing of the manager a “cop out” as blame falls on more shoulders than just Wedge’s.

While that is certainly true, what Shapiro has done is painted himself into a corner in terms of his relationship with Wedge and put his own standing in the organization out there as a result. By not just publicly backing Wedge (which would have been the trite “vote of confidence” that so often precedes a firing) with the “we think he’s doing a good job” nonsense, Shapiro stated that “winning is an organizational result”, meaning that he’s putting himself into the same boat as Wedge, sink or swim…almost to the point that it could be viewed as a package deal, the two of them.

The wisdom of this strategy can certainly be debated as a very real scenario emerges in which Shapiro pleads his case to the Dolans to keep Wedge and they overrule him, believing that a change in field management is one way to stop the bleeding. If that happens, Shapiro’s power in the organization immediately (and very publicly) diminishes considerably as his hand-picked manager that he backed through some very troubling times has been fired, despite his public protests, and the freedom which the Dolans reportedly allow him in terms of decisions would almost certainly be cut considerably as a by-product, even if it is just seen that way in the public arena.

Of course, there is another scenario that could play out that would end just as badly if Shapiro pleads his case to the Dolans to keep Wedge and they do, with more of the same putrid results continuing as the season goes on and even into next. Suddenly, Shapiro has lumped himself into the “organizational result” of failure, right alongside the manager whose job he pleaded to save. Maybe Shapiro’s head doesn’t hit the chopping block immediately, but again his power diminishes considerably, perhaps even more than the first scenario as Shapiro’s pleas to keep Wedge result in more losses (whether they’re Wedge’s fault or not), fan apathy, and the sense that the Dolans waited too long to make a change.

Of course, the only other possible scenario that emerges is that the Indians (suddenly and miraculously) start their annual second-half push with Wedge at the controls. Whether this is simply another case of too-little, too-late or not, it gives the Shapiro-Wedge dynamic the ammunition to live another day, pointing to the “fact” that the team, once healthy and whole, met or exceeded expectations placed upon it as the season started.

This final scenario feeds into another point of interest over the next month or so as the Indians are beginning to get healthy and the lineup is close to looking as it did on Opening Day (with options still being available from AAA) while the likes of Westbrook and Laffey may emerge from rehab starts to re-join the rotation. What I’m getting at here is that there may be a point sometime in July when the Indians team looks like it was designed to look when Spring Training broke (minus DeRosa), with the talent from the minors arriving as players like Westbrook return to put the roster pretty much in line with where it was designed to be when all of the best-laid plans were still in play.

So the question becomes – how does THAT team play?
With a rotation of Lee, Westbrook, Laffey, Huff, and maybe Carmona…with a bullpen with Wood and a healthy Betancourt at the back end, and with every significant member of the lineup (allegedly) healthy and ready to play every day, what will that team do?

If the hope was that the 2009 team could stay close enough (they couldn’t) until Westbrook was healthy and LaPorta, Huff, and the like were ready to help, now that those things are happening, what does this team look like and what does it portend for 2010…is it really the possibility of contending next year?

This leads us to the next pertinent question that will find an answer in the next month, which is whether the Indians are legitimately considering trading Cliff Lee and what it would tell us about how the organization feels about their chances to contend in 2010. According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (via a video), the Indians are INDEED listening to offers for CP Lee, who Rosenthal’s sources tell him is as good as gone from the North Coast after the 2010 season, intent on testing the FA waters.

This certainly represents a sharp departure from what we’ve previously read in terms of the Indians having to be “overwhelmed” to consider trading a season and a half of Lee at a wildly affordable price…or does it?

Isn’t this just a toe in the water to see if a team would be willing to part with some valuable pieces for Lee? Rosenthal states that the Rangers are a team that could match the Indians’ demands with Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland being the type of high-end pitching prospects either in AAA or MLB that the Indians are reportedly asking for. But if this is the case and this is allegedly what the Indians are looking for in return (and I can’t imagine that Rosenthal came up with the Rangers or these names out of thin air, or with the names of Tommy Hanson and Clay Buchholz in his previous piece), what does the inclusion of players who would still be cutting their teeth in MLB in 2010 tell us about the Front Office’s expectations for 2010?

It would be folly to assume that if the Indians traded Clifton Phifer for pitching prospects (whether they were purported to be of the “can’t miss” variety or not) and not players that immediately slot into the front of the rotation, that 2010 would be nothing more than another “year to build upon”. That is, let’s just say for a moment that the Indians traded Lee for Neftali Perez and Derek Holland, two starters under the age of 22 who are either in AAA or are in MLB. While that certainly adds impact arms to the system at the upper levels, look at what it does to the 2010 rotational mix without Lee:
Does that look like a rotation designed to compete in 2010…or more like a group of young pitchers (save Westbrook) that will need to mature as a rotation to contend in 2011 and beyond?

The question that’s going to be answered if the Indians move Lee, and for what, is whether the Front Office is pointing at 2010 as a legitimate year to contend or if they’re dealing or are they looking at the team as it’s presently constructed and imagining a longer timeframe?

While you’re thinking about that, take a look at this quote from Shapiro in an excellent piece by Jerry Crasnick of ESPN in which he dissects what has gone wrong for this organization since the 2007 ALCS:
"I truly believe in my heart that we're going to be back in the playoffs again in the next three years…As much as I feel [the fans'] pain, I can't get caught up in the emotion of the history here. I don't believe we're going to be a bad team. I don't believe this is the beginning of another 40 years of losing. I believe this is a bad season. That's what it is."

Look past the histrionics of “feeling pain” and “a bad season” for a moment and look at the most important aspect of this piece. Now, realizing that Shapiro has already learned his lesson on putting specific dates on a return to anything after fans held the “we’ll contend in…” over his head after the Colon deal, what can be gleaned (if anything) from this “we’re going to be back in the playoffs again in the next three years”?

Obviously, for him to say “we’re going to make the playoffs next year” is a foolish statement to make, but is this a glimpse into the mindset of the Front Office as it stands today?

That is, there seems to be two camps of thought that are developing in their perception of the Indians – one camp perceives the Indians to be miles away from competing and advocates re-tooling for the 2011 season, when the likes of LaPorta, Huff, Rondon, Santana, Brantley, and Weglarz are all ready to contribute and feel that augmenting the team, with that date in mind, is the direction to go while the other camp sees a team that isn’t too far away from contention in 2010 with a healthy and deeper rotation, a lineup that would boast impact players at multiple positions, and a bullpen that…well, could the bullpen really be any worse.

Which camp is the Front Office in?
Whether or not CP Lee is an Indian on August 1st is going to go a long way in revealing their feeling as there’s no question that Lee is a vitally important piece to the team in terms of competitiveness for 2010 and (unless the Indians are netting a front-of-the-rotation starter that can be considered their ace from the moment he dons a Tribe uni…which is the ideal) him not being at the top of the Tribe rotation in 2010 means that the idea of Indians’ contention in 2010 is pretty far-fetched…to the tune of the Indians’ starters not named Cliff Lee compiling a 6.27 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP this year over 62 starts and 326 IP.

Here’s the rub in this whole Clifton Phifer situation though – we all know he’s leaving after 2010 and while the reaction to losing an elite starter via trade a full year and a half prior to him being a FA is going to be severe, it’s not as it Lee is a fan favorite like, say Victor (also a FA after 2010 after his club option is picked up) is and while his worth to the competitiveness to the team is unquestioned, the overall sentiment that Lee can’t wait to get out of Cleveland and that he’s not exactly a warm and fuzzy guy is pretty all-encompassing just from watching his demeanor. So…do the Indians strike when the iron is hot and there is a year and a half of Lee to offer at a wildly affordable rate, do they wait to see how the 1st half of 2010 progresses before making a decision, or do they simply risk watching Lee walk away after 2010 with nothing coming back to the organization in return more than a compensatory draft pick?

Back to 2010 though – if these two schools of thought exist (one that thinks the team is years away from contending and should cash in ALL their chips now to get ready for 2011 and one that thinks that this team is a couple of tweaks away from contending in what likely figures to be another weak AL Central next year, where do the people whose opinion matter (the ones making the decision) reside?

Whether or not Cliff Lee is traded in the next month will probably be the best indication of such as, sure, the Tribe could trade Lee in the off-season – but if you’re talking about maximizing return to ready the team for a run AFTER 2010, now would be the time to strike. If they do strike though, and don’t get a legitimate replacement for Lee in the rotation for next year, 2010 immediately becomes a non-factor.

Beyond what happens to Wedge and Lee and (gasp) Victor before the end of the month, the most telling action taken by the organization will be how they handle what could be called their “middle tier” of MLB talent and the players below them. Players like Garko, Frisco, Sowers, and Shoppach have now all had significant amounts of time to establish themselves in MLB and each has done so with varying degrees of success. How the Indians handle playing time for these players (when players like LaPorta, Brantley, Huff, Torregas, and Santana are getting closer to being ready to legitimately contribute consistently on the MLB level…or at least get the chance to do so if they haven’t already) as the season winds down will be telling as it will again foretell how quickly the Indians want to ingratiate their young talent into the mix at the expense of players that may have value to a MLB club, just not as much more than a minor complementary part.

Certainly, the possibility exists that the Indians get aggressive with their youngsters and look to move a player like Garko, Shoppach, or The Frisco Kid in an attempt to add more pitching regardless of level, but that brings up the final question that will be answered this month – how deep will this swath go in terms of players being traded? Pavano seems like a certainty to be moved and maybe a player like Betancourt (who the team holds a $5.4M option on for next year) could be shopped once he’s healthy (or at least approached about adding another guaranteed year to spread out that money), but how aggressive will the Indians be in adding the arms that are so desperately needed? Will they simultaneously play the role of buyer and seller to take advantage of the market and add arms for what could be termed “expendable” talent?

It’s one of many questions that figures to be answered in the next month, which could see a new manager, a GM with reduced power, a glimpse into whether contention in 2010 is seen as a possibility by the Front Office, and an idea of what players the organization should be on the field on August 1st.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Lazy Sunday with Some Action Taken

Remember the whole “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” from Thursday’s piece?

That took about a day and a half as news that Mark DeRosa has, in fact, been traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Perez and a PTBNL (which will handled in a manner similar to way that Mike Brantley was selected by the Indians off of a list of possibilities at the conclusion of the MiLB seasons) as the Indians decided that the time was now to cash in their biggest trading chip and add the young, MLB-ready arm that they are so badly in need of.

DeRosa’s departure brings a quick end to his tenure as an Indian, one in which he found himself traded for bullpen prospects and netted the team (at least) one bullpen prospect with the time in between spent patrolling 3B, 1B, LF, and RF all while providing the steady contributions that the Indians thought they were acquiring last New Year’s Eve.

His departure, however, also trumpets the arrival of Chris Perez, a RHP power reliever who has worked his fastball and slider mix into a quick trip to MLB after being a 1st round pick in 2006. After signing with the Cards, he spent the remainder of the 2006 season in A ball, striking out 32 batters in 29 1/3 IP (while also walking 19), then spent 2007 in AA and AAA, compiling an ERA of 2.96, a WHIP of 1.17 and striking out 77 batters in 54 1/3 IP.

Last year, Perez started the season with the Cards’ AAA affiliate and earned a shot to contribute to the parent club at the age of 22 by dominating in Memphis, with a WHIP of 1.18 and striking out 38 batters in just 25 1/3 IP. He arrived in St. Louis in mid-May and worked his way up the Cardinals’ bullpen ladder, finishing 23 of the 41 games that he pitched in and notching 7 saves in the season as his gaudy K numbers continued (42 K in 41 2/3 IP), but the control issues that hampered him somewhat in his MiLB career raised a bit of a red flag, with 22 BB in those 41 2/3 IP. This year, after a brief stint in AAA Memphis to start the season, he re-emerged in St. Louis as a back-end option with the same devastating K numbers (30 K in 23 2/3 IP), but the same inconsistency in terms of allowing walks (15 BB in those 23 2/3 IP).

Perez’s ability to miss bats is his strength, as his high K numbers suggest as does the fact that MLB hitters have posted a .195 BA against him this season; but his inability to throw strikes at times presents the downside with a young arm like Perez. That, however, should not be taken to be a downer in the acquisition, though, as Perez brings a repertoire of a fastball and a slider that the Indians simply do not possess among their home-grown relievers and the fact that he is so young certainly portends good things.

How young is he?
He’ll turn 24 on July 1st and has already logged 65 1/3 IP over the last two seasons in MLB.
How does that age rank in terms of Indians’ pitchers?
He’s immediately the youngest pitcher for the Indians and is older than only Chuck Lofgren (by 7 months) among pitchers in Columbus.
If you were looking for a young, MLB-ready, impact arm for the Indians bullpen as a return for DeRosa, Perez is about as good a fit as you’re going to find.

But, the Indians got “only” a reliever for DeRosa when the market was reported to be so hot for him?
I suppose if you want to look at it that way, you certainly can – but the Indians are desperately in need of young, talented arms that can contribute from Day 1 in the rotation or in the bullpen and will remain under club control for the foreseeable future. With a not-yet-24-year-old RH reliever who can touch 99 MPH on the gun (and usually sits in the mid-90s with the fastball) with a complementary wicked slider who has 7 career saves with over 65 IP to date on his resume, Perez fits that bill. Throw in the fact that the earliest he MAY be eligible for arbitration is after next year and you begin to see that Perez is about as close as the Indians were going to come in terms of maximizing their return for a couple of months for DeRosa, particularly when you look at how Perez fills their needs.

Obviously, acquiring Perez is not a panacea for the bullpen and obtaining a high-ceiling reliever is certainly not without risks (as his high BB rate can attest), but the Indians find themselves in a position where they need impact arms now and they need those impact arms in the bullpen most of all. If what Baseball Prospectus’ 2009 Annual said about Perez before the season that “the Cardinals’ closer of the future has a classic plus-fastball/plus-slider combination; he’s only a modicum of improved control away from being elite” is even close to true (they had Perez as their 66th best prospect in all of MLB coming into the season), then any risk associated with Perez is easy to accept, particularly when the player that the Indians give up to net him is essentially a rent-a-player for the Cards.

The other factor that will be interesting to watch in the DeRosa deal is how this PTBNL shakes out because you almost have to assume that it’s going to be another arm, given what the Tribe is targeting. According to Castro, “GM Mark Shapiro said the PTBN component is an important one, akin to the Coco Crisp and Michael Brantley acquisitions in the past” which means that DeRosa-for-Perez straight up is not the whole deal and, according to Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (or at least his Twitter account), “the quality of the player to be named later is tied into whether the Cardinals sign DeRosa to stay beyond this season.”
So throw that log on the fire.

All told, obviously passing judgment on a deal less than 12 hours after said deal is consummated is obviously wildly premature. But if the thought was out there that DeRosa was the best chip to upgrade the talent in the organization in terms of bringing an impact arm, and one that was either MLB-tested or MLB-ready, Perez is a pretty good net result in what the boys at Viva El Birdos feel will be “four years from now this will be remembered as the Chris Perez trade.”

Moving on from DeRosa (though certainly not done with it), let’s roll right into a Lazy Sunday because…well, it’s Sunday:
On the topic of what’s gone wrong with the Indians, Jay Levin of the LGT espouses some theories in a piece called “However Beautiful the Strategy” that really gets to the crux of where the Indians find themselves and how they got there. Unsurprisingly from Levin, it’s a well-thought out, insightful piece that breaks down all of the potential “this went wrong” ideas clearly and lays out very specifically what aspects of the organization may have failed and how each may have done so.
Set aside some time to read this and don’t simply click the link, see that it’s a long piece, scan it quickly, and move on…no, read it even if it takes a while because it’s absolutely worth your time.

As for the “Wedge Watch”, for an interesting look at whether changing a manager mid-season has, historically, resulted in a “bump” in terms of performance on the field, The Hardball Times has a comprehensive analysis of that very question. At this point, I think a “bump” that could put the Indians back into contention for 2009 isn’t happening here, regardless of who comes in, if only because it would take everything that has gone so horribly wrong for the team to simply turn on a dime and go so unbelievably right…and that just isn’t going to happen.

As for whether that move for a new manager will happen this year, it certainly sounds as if Shapiro is stepping in front of his manager, ready to take a bullet even if, as Jon Heymann reports:
One person with ties to the Indians claims things have gotten “stale,” and perhaps a change wouldn't be such a bad thing. At 30-43, they are surely one of baseball's most underachieving teams. “Maybe they need a new voice,” that person said.
Shapiro disagrees: "I don't think a new voice is going to change the bullpen's performance."
Maybe so, and Wedge should be safe as long as Shapiro continues to believe Wedge isn't the problem. And even if Shapiro's bosses don't share that sentiment, the club-owning Dolans do believe in their GM, who is expected to eventually be promoted to club president. So it would be something of a surprise if they overruled Shapiro now.

Anyone else following this thing, while the voice in your head says, “like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of Our Lives…”

Switching gears to the obligatory “Will the Indians trade Cliff Lee” stack, Ken Rosenthal reports that the Dodgers have inquired about Clifton Phifer (no surprise there) and that the Indians have said that they will entertain moving him “if they are offered a potential top-of-the-rotation starter at the level of the Braves' Tommy Hanson or Red Sox's Clay Buchholz.”

Truthfully, I’m not sure that a return like a Tommy Hanson or a Clay Buchholz justifies trading a year and a half of wildly affordable innings from a LH Cy Young Award winner. Hanson and Buchholz, between them, have 22 MLB starts with simply not enough time to draw legitimate opinions about either. The 22-year-old Hanson just emerged from AAA and while early reports are positive, they are just that – early reports. Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Buchholz is constantly put forth as this wildly hyped prospect, but in 18 games in MLB, he’s posted a 5.56 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP with a 1.84 K/BB ratio.

What would it really take?
Well, if the Dodgers are interested, guys who are young and have proven themselves in MLB like Clayton Kershaw (a 21-year-old with a career 4.05 ERA and a career 1.43 WHIP over 35 starts) or Chad Billingsley (a 24-year-old with a career 3.24 ERA and a career 1.38 WHIP over 83 career starts) are exactly who would fit the bill.

But (back to Rosenthal), “the Dodgers' best young starting pitchers, right-hander Chad Billingsley and lefty Clayton Kershaw, are part of the major-league rotation and all but untouchable” so there’s that answer or if Jayson Stark is to be believed on the topic, “What the Indians have told those teams is that they'd “have to be overwhelmed” to deal Lee. But given the lack of top-of-the-rotation alternatives, is it possible that somebody could succeed in overwhelming them? Sure, theoretically -- especially if the overwhelming offer included a future No. 1-type starter. But the Brewers aren't trading Yovani Gallardo. The Dodgers aren't trading Clayton Kershaw. The Phillies aren't trading Cole Hamels, or even Kyle Drabek. So it's doubtful any of those deals can happen.”

While that may be true, that kind of return is what the Indians should be targeting, if they do move a season and a half of Lee if you take a look at what the team trading for Lee would be netting. That return would be a LH pitcher scheduled to make a little less than $12M over the next SEASON AND A HALF (less than $3M still owed to him in 2009 and $9M owed to him in 2010) who is currently sitting on the 3rd highest VORP in MLB a year after posting the highest VORP.

Seeing what other pitchers are providing this year for a little more money this year over ONE year, it’s not a stretch to hear the Indians ask for more than just a AAA “can‘t miss” prospect at this point due to the amount of time that Lee would be pitching and the affordability of his deal. Oh, and another reason that the Indians should ask for the“moon and the stars” if they did to decide to move Lee can again be best seen here in Joel Sherman’s piece from last week that the Indians are nothing without Lee in 2010 and the events of the past week haven’t changed that, making Sherman’s argument as relevant as ever.

Changes are afoot and the first domino has fallen in the DeRosa deal…what next?

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:

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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Blame Game

As Eric Wedge apparently lives to manage another day and voices on each side of the debate as to whether he is to blame (or how much blame can be placed on him) for the mess of the 2009 season on top of the 2008 season, the question comes rattling from the rooftops – who is to blame for the mess that the Indians find themselves in?

While the fickle finger of fate has blame resting on shoulders as varied as Wedge, Shapiro, Wedge AND Shapiro, the Dolans, and Luis Isaac (OK, I made that last one up), why does this suddenly feel like the climax of “Reservoir Dogs” where everyone is staring down the barrel of a gun, voices in the room rising, and the knowledge overwhelming all of us that this isn’t going to end well?

Starting with the man who must be feeling cold steel on his forehead with the events of the past week, how culpable is Eric Wedge for the hole that the Indians find themselves in?

At the top, let’s forgo the notion that the Indians have “quit” on Wedge as their current 6-game losing streak at the hands of the Brewers and Cubs included two 2-run losses and three 1-run losses, so it’s not as if the players are simply going through the motions and getting blown out on a nightly basis. Rather, look at the manner in which they lost those games in that they were outscored by a slim margin and if you believe (as I do) that a manager earns his stripes by winning these close games as opposed to losing them as strategy often plays a factor in close games or extra-inning games, you start to see where the frustration with The Atomic Wedgie is starting to boil over.

All season long, the Indians have found themselves in winnable games only to see the bats go silent or the bullpen explode at the worst possible times, resulting in the demoralizing come-from-ahead loss that has colored the Tribe’s 2009 season. Put away for a moment that this is on the players and their lack of execution (which is certainly part of the equation) and realize that a manager’s main functions in MLB are to fill out a lineup card which divvies up AB, to set a rotation, and to decide which relievers come into the game at which time.

Sure, there’s are daily questions that come up in terms of managerial decisions (a favorite quote of mine is that every man thinks he can do two things better than anyone else on the planet – grill a steak and manage a baseball team), but a manager’s job in MLB is essentially to put his best players on the field and to give those players the best opportunity to succeed in a given situation.

For a moment, let’s remove ourselves from the emotional train wreck of the past week and take a longer overview of the Indians performance under Wedge as a manager by analyzing how he’s stacked against a formula that actually exists to predict how many games a team should win and should lose (please not the “should” and realize that this is not a hard-and-fast formula) by taking the number of runs scored by a team and the number of runs allowed by a team. Created by Bill James (and tweaked a few times), it’s called the Pythagorean Winning Percentage and it’s used to take “luck” out of the equation.

Now, if we’re taking luck out of the equation, I’d like a quick answer on why exactly a formula that generally is off by only a couple of wins and losses from year to year (with one or two outliers) has these results for the Indians for the past 5 years, which would be the years in which the Indians did contend in the AL Central or were thought to be among the contenders when the season started:
2009 Actual Record (rank among 30 MLB teams)
29-42 (29th of 30)
2009 Pythagorean Expected Winning Percentage (rank among 30 MLB teams)
34-37 (19th of 30)

2008 Actual Record (rank among 30 MLB teams)

81-81 (17th of 30)
2008 Pythagorean Expected Winning Percentage (rank among 30 MLB teams)
86-76 (14th of 30)

2007 Actual Record (rank among 30 MLB teams)

97-66 (1st of 30)
2007 Pythagorean Expected Winning Percentage (rank among 30 MLB teams)
94-69 (3rd of 30)

2006 Actual Record (rank among 30 MLB teams)
78-84 (18th of 30)
2006 Pythagorean Expected Winning Percentage (rank among 30 MLB teams)
90-72 (5th of 30)

2005 Actual Record (rank among 30 MLB teams)
93-69 (5th of 30)
2005 Pythagorean Expected Winning Percentage (rank among 30 MLB teams)
97-65 (2nd of 30)

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 4 out of the last 5 years (I’m not anticipating a HUGE turnaround this year) that the Indians have underperformed their Pythagorean Expected Winning Percentage, some of which happen to represent a pretty big disparity:
2009 – 5 more losses thus far
2008 – 5 more losses
2007 – 3 more wins
2006 – 12 more losses
2005 – 4 more losses

Obviously, the quick answer to why this is happening (without laying blame at any one person) is that a lousy bullpen can go a long way in losing a number of games that would otherwise be winnable, skewing the numbers to the negative.

But why is it, then, that Wedge keeps presiding over these horrific bullpens?

Is it really that the arms aren’t there to populate the bullpen to become effective as a unit or does usage of the available arms in the bullpen play a factor?

Want to know who the 4 best relievers are in the second best bullpen (ERA-wise) in MLB?
Mark Lowe – Age 26 – ERA+ 120
Miguel Batista – Age 38 – ERA+ 131
Sean White – Age 28 – ERA+ 234
David Aardsma – Age 27 – ERA+ 264

There’s the back end of the Seattle bullpen…are you telling me that those guys are that much more talented than the arms that have played a role in the Indians’ bullpen this year? Is it really just a case of getting guys who are cresting or is something more at play here?

I’m not going to pretend to know how to handle a pitching staff, but if the same guy is pulling the levers in the bullpen over a prolonged stretch and the pulling of those levers continually results in an explosion, isn’t there something to be questioned about the lever-puller, particularly when other teams are able to cobble together effective bullpens with cast-offs and young arms? I know that it’s probably unfair to simply say that Wedge is consistently pulling the wrong lever when it’s up to the players to execute, but unfortunately Wedge’s track record of handling usage for players (both pitchers and non-pitchers) has come under fire with the flame getting ever hotter this year.

Perhaps it’s the most recent issue, the handling of a particular OF being promoted earlier than expected this year only to sit on the bench while players whose track records where known and did not justify his prolonged absence from the lineup that has cast more doubt than ever before in terms of Wedge maximizing the talent available to him or, at the very least, putting his best talent on the field and putting them in the best possible situations for success. However, if we can throw doubt on the handling of LaPorta – which may be the tipping point in terms of the “attached-at-the-hip” relationship in terms of Shapiro making an option available to Wedge to improve the team and Wedge simply ignoring him for lesser players – doesn’t it suddenly (or maybe not so suddenly) become a questioning of every personnel move that he makes, where the focus of the magnifying glass grows hotter by the day?

And that’s where we stand now, unfortunately, as the news that a Wedge move may not come until after the season only allows this lost season to become an episode of “Cold Case” where we may not ever find out what happened and the longer the time gets between our last observance of any semblance of a season makes a recovery less likely. At a certain point, we just wish we could have it back.

Obviously, however, Wedge is not alone in his responsibility for the 2009 season and to simply lay the blame on his shoulders is folly. No, the issues go much deeper than that as Mark Shapiro is the man who oversaw the mishandling of personnel over the last few years, as Brendan Donnelly and Juan Rincon continued to see innings down the stretch last year and as Dave Dellucci arrived to the team this season to essentially take AB away from players that figured into the Indians future because Wedge apparently had more trust in a known quantity (even if not known for doing much good) than the development of players.

With the Indians, the buck ultimately stops at Shapiro’s desk as the Dolans have given him control of the baseball side of the team and, while maybe not always providing him with a payroll found in other larger markets, asked him to keep the product on the field competitive to a point that the playoffs was always a rational thought as each season began and to keep the flow of players coming to infuse the team with young talent.

To that end, Shapiro has not held up his end of the bargain, particularly this year where it was almost expected that the rotation would be a mishmash of players who would hopefully evolve into something effective by the time that Jake Westbrook returned. Or where it was expected that some of the players that were fighting to earn everyday AB to fall into the complementary roles that they should be finding themselves in.
Who among us counted Francisco and Garko as linchpins to the season?
How about Dellucci…Sowers?

Wasn’t the thought that if (that should be a big IF) the likes of Sowers, Francisco, Garko, and Pavano could hold on until the cavalry arrived from that the Indians could still compete in a very winnable division?

Regardless, the team wasn’t able to even hold ground in the Central and the player acquisition through the draft ultimately comes down as another culprit. Just as Shapiro is culpable for allowing Wedge to misuse and waste the players given to him, he bears just as much responsibility for “overseeing” John Mirabelli as he ran the draft from 2000 to 2007. As we sit here today, the pitcher drafted in those 8 years with the most wins (Sowers) for the Indians with 13 career wins also possesses a career ERA+ of 86 and the player drafted in those 8 years with the most HR (Garko) as an Indian with 48 now owns a .796 career OPS as a 28-year-old 1B.

There’s no question that mistakes have been made and as much as most of this was foreseen coming into the season (and exposed to the bone by injuries), the cupboard to me still doesn’t look as bare as most make it out to be. Pardon me while I put on these rose-colored glasses, but I don’t see the Indians suddenly entering a period of massive losing if only based on what the Indians lineup should look like at the end of July, with the current ages listed in parentheses below:
C – Martinez (30)
1B – LaPorta (24)
2B – Valbuena (23)
SS – Cabrera (23)
3B – Peralta (27)
LF – Brantley (22)
CF – Sizemore (26)
RF – Choo (26)
DH – Hafner (32)

Yes, the offense hasn’t been the problem this year and if you’ll remember, I was the one decrying the shortage in the bullpen and rotation as this season ground to a halt, but look again at that list above and see how the Indians have put themselves in this position, offensively at least.

The players acquired via trade include everyone listed above but Martinez and Peralta…every other piece of talent that the Indians should expect to be in their lineup some time after the All-Star Break came from elsewhere, and for whom?
Yes, CC and Colon…but also Broussard, Perez, Gutierrez, and Einar Diaz.
And, yes, the reason for that needed infusion of talent that was needed is directly related to a failure to acquire and develop young talent from within (which is precisely what we’re seeing bear out in the pitching staff), but if you’re talking about who’s acquiring that talent, you’re back to the GM whose moves to counteract problems (that truthfully shouldn’t have been problems in the first place) earn him some credit for the young talent on the offensive side of things. How he manages to do the same for the pitching side of things will likely determine his ultimate fate but the track record of overcoming obstacles (albeit self-inflicted obstacles) is there in terms of augmentation of the roster.

Ultimately, however, the culpability falls to Shapiro whose attitude of “trust us, we know what we’re doing” has come crashing around him as staying the course and sticking with people around him who seemingly do not know what they’re doing (or are some of the most historically unlucky people in history) have laid waste to the best laid plans.

If we’ve been told to trust, the statute of limitations on that has run out and the state of love and trust is moving to revolution as moves need to be made in this organization as the stability and the status quo that have run amok (and run in the wrong direction for too long) have taken us to the path that we now find ourselves upon.

Is it hopeless and are we readying ourselves for another 40 years in the desert?
I don’t think so, but a change in culture is needed and while that change may not go all the way to the top of the organization (yet), a message that the results of this season and last are unacceptable needs to be sent. If that means that Wedge is jettisoned, so be it with the idea that finding a suitable long-term replacement is not going to be as easy as simply picking up a phone in late June and seeing if Option #1 has some free time.

Change is needed and not just for change’s sake and every day that passes until a change (any change) is made makes the idea that 2010 becomes another rebuilding or re-loading year all the more obvious, where hopes and prayers take the place of known quantities and realities…because hopes and prayers are all we have now in the face of a very cold reality.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lazy Sunday - The Aftermath

Walking out of Wrigley Field, head hanging for the second straight day as Cubs’ fans alternately told me to “go back to Cleveland” and commiserated with my experiences of the last two days in a feeling that they know all too well, the words were inescapable in my head…it’s over.

Whatever hope that may have taken up the smallest recess of my body that the 2009 season was salvageable disappeared as Kerry Wood’s offering hit the backstop as the stark realization that the Indians, outmanned as a team and outmaneuvered on every occasion by the opposing manager in this series, had dropped their 5th straight to once again fall 12 games under .500 and erase any thought that a “run” or a gallant sprint to the finish would represent anything more than too little too late at this point.

Trace it to Prince Fielder’s GS off of Rafael Perez if you like as Monday’s eminently winnable game against the Brewers served as the dropping point as the bullpen, mismanaged and ineffective regardless of whom was thrown out there, was where it had been for the better part of the early season – as the reason for the lost season.

Words are difficult to find to express my frustration as Cubs’ fans (and non-Cubs’ fans) asked me around the trough (yes, they still have troughs for urinals) if the Indians’ manager had any concept of how to match-up pitchers or how to use strategy in a baseball game. At one point, a White Sox fan pulled me aside and told me that he wanted to cheer for the Tribe against his hated Cubs, but could simply no longer bring himself to do it as he knew what the outcome was going to be…and this was after the 8th inning of Friday’s game.

What that White Sox fan was trying to avoid – inevitable heartbreak – is something that we, as Indians’ fans, cannot escape this season and as we wait for the inevitable firing of The Atomic Wedgie and the moves to come, we’re only left with what-ifs and what-could-have-beens in what is now unquestionably a lost summer.

Nevertheless, because it is Sunday and because The DiaBride has given me the hall pass to sit in her parents’ house and hammer out a Lazy Sunday (it is Fathers’ Day, after all), let’s roll right into it, if only to divert my attention from the disappointment that the games cast upon the last two days sitting under the Chicago sun, that even prodigious amounts of Old Style were unable to brighten:

It seems like the hot topic on everyone’s mind as we pass through mid-June is which teams are going to be looking to add pieces and which teams will be looking to move pieces prior to the July 31st trade deadline, and Kenny Rosenthal (not surprisingly) has the Indians as a seller. Reading the piece more closely however, reveals that he has them as a seller in terms of DeRosa and Pavano (assuming he’s healthy) as neither really factors into the long-terms plans for the team and has them moving players that DO factor into the 2010 plans (Vic and CP Lee) only if an overwhelming offer comes around.

Will that overwhelming offer come around for Lee though, as Jon Heyman states that the SP market is going to be thin and Bedard and Halladay just hit the DL? A bounty could likely be had for him, but to me there’s no reason to trade Lee unless you can legitimately get an arm that can slot into his spot at the top of the Indians’ rotation from Day 1 and would remain under club control for the next 4 or 5 years…and players like that simply don’t exist on the open market and the teams that have them certainly aren’t anxious to move them.

In fact, the best piece that I’ve read on the “Should They or Shouldn’t They” debate for CP Lee comes via Joel Sherman, who nails the argument that, realistically, Cliff Lee shouldn’t be moved under any circumstances:
So if the Indians trade Lee between now and July 31, they are not only damning any long-shot chance they have to get back into the AL Central race this year. They also are pretty much erasing contention next season. That might be more tolerable if they were playing in the AL East, where they would have to be thinking of ways to contend for the long term against the Red Sox and Yankees. But they play in the tepid AL Central.

"There is no reason in the world they can't compete in their division next year," an AL executive said. "At some point it has to be about winning and not selling off parts for a sunny day in the future."… With the chance to get healthier both physically and against a weaker set of opponents, the Indians want more time to try and contend in 2009. They can't do that without Lee, and they almost certainly couldn't contend without him in 2010 either.

While I know that Sherman is a NY Post writer who has generally made a name for himself in the Midwest as a little too NY-centric, anybody who feels that Lee should be moved this year or this off-season should simply have this piece placed in front of their nose to see the reasoning for keeping CP Lee laid out in a clear and complete manner.

Not to be outdone by Sherman, Jayson Stark lays the wood to the idea that Clifton’s headed anywhere and (rightfully) throws El Capitan into the same boat before effectively putting the argument that DeRosa is the biggest piece of bait in the Indians tackle box:
Can we pull the plug on the Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez rumors now? They're irreplaceable players, with affordable options for next year. So the Indians have no incentive to trade them, unless the payback is insane. That makes DeRosa far and away the best chip in town if they decide to sell. He's already up to 13 homers, 48 RBIs and 46 runs scored. And only six other players in the whole sport can match him in all three categories, none of them third basemen or second basemen. So Mark DeRosa gets more marketable by the minute.

This is about as good of a quick synopsis as I’ve seen in terms of identifying how important Vic and CP Lee are to the team next year and how DeRosa remains the biggest chip for the team, for whom changes are most certainly coming.

What type of changes?
According to what Terry Pluto is hearing from the Tribe, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Mike Brantley up topside soon with Trevor Crowe (of whom I was asked by a Cubs’ fan to describe when he pinch-hit for Garko yesterday, to which I responded, “a pinch runner who can’t hit”…when the guy said, “I thought that was Josh Barfield”, I sunk a little lower in my seat) being sent down and Ben Francisco being relegated to 4th OF status.

Pluto also reports that Wyatt Toregas is getting rave reviews in AAA and one has to think that with LaPorta playing 1B in Columbus and Gimenez’s ability to catch as well as Torregas being an option that something may be afoot with Kelly Shoppach in terms of him being an auxiliary part.

As for what the Indians should be doing, I’ll try to throw something together in terms of what the Indians might be able to salvage in this lost season, some of which is brought up by Tyler Chirdon at the LGT, who has a couple of little snippets about a few relievers who were thought to potentially be heavy contributors in the Indians’ 2009 bullpen (Mayday Meloan and Stomp Lewis) and what, exactly, seems to have gone wrong with each. Not to throw a total damper on the day with the piece, though, his bit about Mike Brantley…um, yeah, it has me excited.

On the topic of prospects, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus fame (he’s their Minor League guru) was kind enough to join Tony Lastoria and I on this week’s edition of Smoke Signals, and if you’re blown away by the depth that Tony goes into in his analysis of Indians’ prospects (and put me in the “blown away” category every time I read his stuff or talk to him), to hear Goldstein go on about Weglarz, Chisenhall, Carlos Santana, and others is simply unbelievable as Goldstein knows this stuff about EVERY prospect in MLB and speaks, at length, about all of these Indians’ guys with the knowledge and passion that we’ve grown to love with Tony.
Quite simply, it’s a must listen…if only to brighten up your day.

As for me, thank goodness that I decided against going to the Sunday game prior to the trip as I don’t think the dread that filled me the last two days, knowing that the other shoe was on its way to the floor, is something that I want to continue to feel.

Finally, thanks to everyone who came out to Sheffield’s after the game yesterday as the Tribe was well-represented and while rumors that the owners of Great Lakes Brewing Company were in the bar were never confirmed, to meet serial posters like milwaukeeTribe and s_bricker, as well as hang with site stalwarts Cy Slapnicka and t-bone, was unbelievably cool for me, if only to talk some Tribe after a tough weekend with some guys who were feeling it just as much as me.

See you on the other side as I’m heading back to Cleveland tomorrow…not sure if I can say the plans are as concrete for The Atomic Wedgie to accompany the team to Pittsburgh for Tuesday’s tilt.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tommies from 'Sconnie

Coming to you LIVE from the satellite office in Shorewood (always up to no good), Wisconsin in anticipation of a weekend spent watching the Erie Warriors compete in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, let’s get off some Tomahawks before getting off down I-94 towards Illinois:

After struggling through a couple of ESPN broadcasts of games on Sunday and Monday, in which the production value was unbelievable (OPS listed for each player, relevant stats by count for each hitter listed as pitching count evolves, etc.) but is ultimately undermined by the wet blanket of idiocy provided by Steve Phillips, I’ve now been in the ‘Waukee for the final two Tribe games here and caught them both on FS Wisconsin. Out-of-towners are very aware of the difference in watching an Indians broadcast emanating from the North Coast versus one coming from the Tribe’s opposing team, but if you’re not used to it (and I am not), it’s fascinating to listen to opposing broadcasters talk about the team.

Some of their insight is nonsensical (at one point Ben Francisco was referred to as “Cleveland’s speedy CF”) while other tidbits are downright depressing, if only because of the truth involved (at one point, the Brewers’ broadcast team stated that “with this Indians’ bullpen, you never really feel out of the game”), and even others make you question what in the world the Indians are doing (they couldn’t stop talking about how Brewers’ hitters couldn’t wait to face Huff because they had JUST seen Sowers the night before with a similar repertoire).

All told, it certainly provides a different perspective in terms of how the Indians are viewed from afar and what the perception about the team is outside of Northeast Ohio, even if it means that everyone else in the room is cheering while you’re dying a little on the inside.

Staying in the realm of the Milwaukee media, there was a blurb in the Journal-Sentinel on Wednesday that caught my attention. It went like this:
For the first time since left-handed-hitting Mat Gamel was called up from Class AAA Nashville in mid-May, manager Ken Macha started him against a left-handed pitcher (Jeremy Sowers). “Doug told me he hit left-handed hitters very well in Triple-A,” Macha explained, referring to general manager Doug Melvin. Yes, he did. Gamel hit .425 against lefties at Nashville (17 for 40) with a 1.465 OPS. He batted .291 against right-handers.

You may remember Gamel’s name as his was a name that was bandied about when the Brewers began their interest in CC Sabathia, not to mention him being one of the best hitting prospects in baseball, whose deficiency to this point has been his defense and where he will eventually end up in the field. But all of that aside, look again at the amount of time that Gamel has been up in MLB before getting a start against a LHP, and read again how it took some urging from the GM for Gamel to get a start against a LHP.

Is this even possible?
Could a big-league manager really not be privy to this information as to how a particular player performed in AAA?
A quick search online yielded these numbers for Gamel in AAA this year:
Gamel vs. LHP
.425 BA / .490 OBP / .975 SLG / 1.465 OPS

Gamel vs. RHP
.291 BA / .404 OBP / .494 SLG / .898 OPS

Obviously, sample size plays a role here (the numbers against LHP are in 40 AB), but Gamel’s had 68 AB since his call-up in mid-May and 12 (!) of them have come against LHP…why, because he’s a LH hitter and Macha is too “old-school” to think that a young LH hitter could hit LHP at the MLB level?

Why is this relevant to the Indians?
Remember when Matt LaPorta was called up and the Indians stated that he would face LHP in some sort of platoon, with the only plausible reason for this arrangement being LaPorta being RH? While the platoon didn’t exactly happen (LaPorta was ignored against both LHP and RHP and left to rot on the bench for games at a time for probably the first time in his baseball career while Dellucci and Garko continued to see AB at his expense), this idea seems to be prevalent for young players, logic be damned.

However, assuming that the RH hitting LaPorta makes his way topside soon enough (the Super-2 thing, which was mishandled by the Front Office and the field manager, should be cleared soon), if the inclination that he’ll only face LHP again arises, let me take the opportunity to preemptively illustrate how absurd that notion is for LaPorta, based on what he’s doing in Columbus:
LaPorta vs. LHP
.269 BA / .387 OBP / .538 SLG / .925 OPS

LaPorta vs. RHP
.325 BA / .383 OBP / .550 SLG / .933 OPS

With numbers that are nearly identical across the board facing both LHP and RHP, if LaPorta (again, assuming he’s back topside soon) is “protected” against playing against any type of pitcher while a player like a Garko continues to face the RHP that his “track record” (upon which the justification of him playing at all is based upon) is horrific against…well, I just don’t know what I’ll do.

The logic of not exposing players like Gamel and LaPorta to a particular kind of pitcher to “protect” them more than likely, in fact, stunts their development as it prevents them from being exposed to all types of MLB pitchers and, in the process, runs the chance of throwing them off of the fast-track that they’ve rightfully found themselves on.

In terms of who will be filling out the lineup card once LaPorta makes his return (and he has played 7 of his last 10 games in Columbus at 1B…so, um…it’s time to make sure your affairs are in order Kelly, or at least stop thinking you’re going to catch anyone but Clifton Phifer), the answer is getting a little murkier with each passing day as now always even-handed Terry Pluto has cast his lot with the growing “time for a new voice” crowd.

What’s different about Pluto’s indictment of Wedge is that it doesn’t come with the baggage of anti-Wedgisms that are prevalent in many of the other things that you read about why Wedge may no longer be the man for the job. There is no mention of “The Franchise” Brandon Phillips or Dellichaels or even a man-crush on Lacey Cake; rather what makes Pluto’s piece compelling is that it deals only in the here and now and points out the major changes that Wedge has made recently in terms of how he deals with his players in the media and his sudden propensity to throw one player after another under the bus when in the past a harsh word was rarely uttered with the caveat that “this stuff doesn’t need to be aired in the public”.

Now, it’s being aired very publicly as The Atomic Wedgie has now called out Peralta, Shoppach, and Carmona (not mentioned in the Pluto piece, but condemned by Wedge for reporting to camp out of shape the last two years) with his comments cutting a lot deeper than the normal “these guys are pros, they know what they need to do” Wedge-speak that have laced his comments to the media for years now.

That change, and not anything that’s happening on the field (as ugly as it may be) to me is the reason that a change may be coming. Wedge’s comments about his players are suddenly sounding like a guy who feels like he’s backed into a corner and is deflecting blame away from himself on onto the players that he’s charged to manage. Obviously, there’s plenty of blame to go around, and certainly the players bear some responsibility for the mess of the season, as do injuries and questionable player management (both during games and in lineup cards) throughout the season.

Generally, a managerial change in MLB will occur on an off day, today of which is the 3rd for the Indians since April 20th. There’s an off day scheduled once a week for the next three weeks, so if the struggles continue, those storm clouds that seem to be gathering may be finding their mark soon enough.

Back to more concrete (and frankly more pressing) matters, a while back I mentioned that there will be a group of us getting together at a bar called Sheffield’s (which is a few short blocks away from Wrigley) after Saturday afternoon’s game to hang out and hopefully celebrate a Tribe victory triggered by a DeRosa HR and sealed by a Kerry Wood save.

I know that a number of Chicagoans or people visiting the Windy One for the series have e-mailed me or contacted me to let me know that they’ll be there, so it should be a great time to just meet up and talk some Tribe over some tasty adult beverages.

I’ll be there in my vintage Sizemore jersey (with The DiaBride, who will be observing from a safe distance), so be sure to say hello to me and dissect the vagaries of our beloved Indians over a drink or two at Sheffield’s (named by Esquire Magazine as one of the best bars in America) or just come to hang out with other Tribe fans and enjoy what should be a beautiful afternoon in Wrigleyville.

Time to get down there and let your Indians’ flag fly over Chicago.

Hope to see some DiaTribers there…

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Head v. Heart

As the Indians season rolls on and the calendar keeps flipping, a dichotomy has emerged within me in terms of how I am viewing this evolving 2009 season. On one hand (call it my head), I see an eminently flawed team, now trying to overcome injury and stick around long enough to make their suddenly-patented 2nd half run. However, in my heart, I want to believe that this flawed team, seemingly going uphill, attempting to get back in the race against all odds can pull this off by getting healthy and by taking advantage of their second half schedule and the soft underbelly of MLB that is the AL Central.

Both parts of me (head and heart) have the ability to present compelling arguments and, at the risk of sounding schizophrenic, here’s a little glimpse into the battle within:

Heart: How about them Indians, baby! We’re on a roll, making up some ground in the Central, winning with smoke and mirrors and Matt Herges. Look out AL Central, here we come!

Head: “Making up ground” where, exactly – this Indians team is still in last place in the AL Central and is now closing in on the 70-game mark with the 3rd worst record in the AL and the 2nd worst team ERA in the AL. I keep hearing this argument to “just wait” until the Indians make their run, but how many times does it need to be pointed out that they’re at the bottom of the worst division in baseball for anyone to realize that they’re…well, that they’re in last place in the worst division in baseball.

Heart: But that’s just it, this division is so bad, that even mediocrity may be able to get it done for the Indians because the AL Central is weak and none of these teams is going to run away with the division. Look around the division – the Tigers are winning because Edwin Jackson has an ERA more than 2 runs lower than what he put up in Tampa last year and because Rick Porcello is a wunderkind who at some point is likely to hit an innings threshold, the Twins are winning with an otherworldly combination of Mauer and Morneau and Kevin Slowey’s pitching and not much else, the White Sox are a team that whose principal hitters are receiving AARP advertisements in the mail and whose pitching isn’t strong enough to overcome their shortcomings offensively, while the Royals have the arms to make a run at this thing, but can’t put together any semblance of a potent offense to even keep things close. If the Indians are flawed, so is every other team in the division and no team looks to have that stretch in them where they’re just going to run away with the division.

Head: You know, I keep hearing this argument, but if the AL Central is so weak and the Indians are poised to stay in this and “make this run”…well, why are they still in last place with three teams to still leapfrog ahead of to get to 2nd place even? It’s one thing to be chasing down one team or two teams and winning while hoping that other team or other teams are losing, but it’s quite another thing to see that the Indians have to be winning consistently AND four teams ahead of them have to be losing at a pace that allows them to get back into it.

Heart: Point taken, but take a look at how many games each team in the AL Central has played against the AL East and the AL West and their respective records in those games:
Against AL East
Tigers – 14 games (4-10)
Twins – 22 games (6-16)
White Sox – 14 games (5-9)
Royals – 17 games (7-10)
Indians – 26 games (12-14)

Against AL West
Tigers – 18 games (14-4)
Twins – 17 games (10-7)
White Sox – 16 games (7-9)
Royals – 10 games (4-6)
Indians – 3 games (0-3)
If we can agree that the AL East is the class of the AL with 4 of the 5 teams sporting records of .500 or greater, the Indians have played 12 more games against the East than the Tigers and the White Sox, both of whom have already struggled in their brief times against the East and have only played 3 games against the West, against whom both the Tigers and Twins boosted their overall records.

Since these things all come out in the wash in terms of divisions playing each other an equal amount of times (and realizing that winning games against AL Central teams is more important than anything), once this Interleague madness is over the Indians should be looking at a 2nd half schedule that they can take advantage of while their divisional rivals will be staring down the barrel of the schedule that the Indians limped through over the first 40% of the season.

Head: OK, so they’re poised to make this BIG run…with Jamey Carroll leading off and Luis Valbuena and the everyday SS. Yep, sounds like everything is turning the Indians’ way.

Heart: Hey, don’t knock Carroll, who happens to be nestled between El Capitan and The BLC on the team in OBP, just because he doesn’t look the role of an everyday player. In fact, he’s done more than his part to keep the Indians close in this thing, just like DeRosa, and Cabrera (before the injury) as players who have stepped up into the void created by Sizemore’s ineffectiveness and injury, Jhonny’s inconsistency, and The Atomic Wedgie’s predilection for playing mediocre players when better alternatives exist. Beyond the performance of those guys that have stepped up, it looks like this team finally getting healthy with Hafner back and Sizemore perhaps returning soon to everyday action.

Head: Stop, stop, stop…I’ve heard this one before – once the team gets healthy, they’re just going to bulldoze their way through the second half. But who’s saying that Hafner can play everyday or that Sizemore is legitimately healthy? Aren’t these the same guys, who didn’t have surgery this year to correct any problems, that were on the roster when Spring Training broke and “contributed” to the Tribe’s awful April?

Heart: Fine, I’ll give you that…nobody knows what Hafner’s shoulder can take or what Grady’s going to look like; but with Laffey coming back soon and Westbrook (bump in the road in his rehab considered) maybe coming back to contribute, the rotation could get right again soon which would certainly help things out.

Head: Wait, let me get this straight – now you’re counting on the season being saved two pitchers coming off of injury, one of them having a Tommy John surgery done only a year ago and with news that his rehab hit a “bump in the road”? These are the saviors for the season…a guy who hasn’t pitched in a year and a young LHP coming off of the dreaded oblique strain injury? What’s next, the assertion that a healthy Scotty Lewis will go all Francisco Liriano, circa 2006, to lead the Indians to the playoffs? A little optimistic about these guys aren’t we?

Heart: Maybe, but with the continued maturation of Dave Huff and Jeremy Sowers looking like he’s finally putting together some quality starts, as long as Pavano goes back to forgetting that he’s Carl Pavano and CP Lee keeps throwing like he is, all the Indians need to do is get some reinforcement to stabilize the rotation. Whether that come from Laffey or Lewis or Westbrook, as long as one of them can step up and stabilize the middle-to-back-end of the rotation, the Indians will finally boast a respectable staff.

Head: Fine, I’m not going to continue to argue with you on the hopes and dreams that you have for the rotation and just give it to you. But, haven’t we seen this before though this season – suddenly the rotation will get right and something else will break down, like the clock striking midnight on Herges, Vizcaino, and Aquino, who all suddenly turn back into pumpkins, which is exactly what we may have seen on Monday night?

Heart: If you’re willing to concede my optimism on the rotation, I’ll give you your pessimism on the bullpen. I have no idea how this batch of relievers finally became effective and, with Betancourt out with what looks to be a major groin injury, Perez an absolute mess, and Jenny Lewis only showing up on the side of a milk carton, those bullpen problems could become just that again very quickly.

Head: I suppose this is the part when you tell me that the Indians can always trade DeRosa for a bullpen arm to stabilize the bullpen a little bit as he’s a man without a position and that he has more value to a team not named the Indians because of his versatility.

Heart: Sure, we can do that now. The fact is, as well as DeRosa is playing, once Sizemore and Cabrera return to play CF and SS, the Indians will move Francisco back to LF, keep Choo in RF on an everyday basis, and since they’ve shown no interest in DeRosa playing 2B and seem to have committed to Jhonny playing 3B, where is DeRosa going to play everyday…and don’t say 1B.

Head: So, let’s take the player with the most HR on the team, the 2nd most RBI on the team, and 3rd highest OPS on the team for players with 200 AB or more and flip him because he “has more value to a team not named the Indians”…sign me up for that one!

Heart: No, you’re oversimplifying it. The fact is that if Cabrera and Sizemore come back, DeRosa’s a man without an everyday position (though the argument that he should be the everyday LF can be made) and if a starter comes back to stabilize the rotation, the only real ongoing concern may be the bullpen. Even there, if the relievers that have thrived there for a month now can somehow keep this up, the Indians could move DeRosa to net an arm and still not affect their team that greatly.

Head: Go back and look at that above - “IF Cabrera and Sizemore…”, “IF a starter comes back to stabilize the rotation…”, “IF the relievers that have thrived…” and so on. I hate to do this to you, but “If ifs and buts where candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.” You’re living in this world of hopes and dreams that are all predicated on these things MAYBE happening or everything breaking just right for the Indians in a season that everything has broken horribly for them. Am I to believe that suddenly everything is going to turn around and this team is just magically turn into a contender after looking like a pretender all year?

Heart: No, that’s too much of a stretch, but you’re looking for the 1995 Indians team to rise from the ashes here when that’s not what is needed to win this AL Central this year. The Indians only need to stick around in the division and make up some games every week on the teams ahead of them by taking advantage of a favorable 2nd-half schedule and what should be improved health. I’m not looking for a miracle or a “Merry Christmas” here, just a steady climb up the AL Central to make August and September a little more interesting in terms of enjoying a pennant race or at least a run at this thing.

Head: Fine, you just go on living that pipe dream as you watch this flawed team tread water for the next two months, I’m going to miss you in reality.

Heart: Just know that I’m still saving your seat in the bandwagon that you’re going to be asking me about in a month or so when the Indians have pushed their way back into your mind and into the divisional race.
Hey, hey, hey…Let’s Go Tribe!