Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jon & Paul Plus Baseball: To 3B or Not to 3B

Since the off-season thus far has been filled with visions of Manny Acta in a winter hat and an innertube, memories of Andy Marte toeing the rubber, and watching former Indians receive generational wealth from various MLB teams that don’t call the corner of Carnegie and Ontario home, perhaps now represents a tremendous new wrinkle to what we do here. While most of the pieces that you will read on the Indians represent one viewpoint or a specific expert answering questions presented to them, one exploration of the Indians that has always been lacking on front pages and in main articles is discourse and disagreement between two people who think far too much about the Indians.

With that in mind, I’m pleased to announce a new feature here with a back-and-forth conversation between myself and Jon Steiner of WFNY. While I’ll stop short of saying that we’re attempting to replicate the old “Rob and Rany” days when Neyer and Jazayerli would wax poetic on their Royals, the concept is the same as we may agree on a given topic or may take wildly divergent approaches to a particular aspect of the Indians. After this initial run-through, I’m hoping that you find it as thought-provoking and enjoyable as we did as it attempts to crystallize specific viewpoints and serves as the back-and-forth banter that many enjoy…just at a little higher level of obsession and expertise.

That all being said, the first topic that Jon and I decided to delve into is the oft-discussed 3B “issue” for the Indians (which has been covered nearly ad nauseum and nowhere more in depth than by TCF’s own Steve Buffum, who is now up to 8 pieces JUST ON THIS TOPIC, all of which you access on his writer page on TCF) , with Jon taking the stance that the Indians don’t necessarily need to add anything significant to their 3B mix and me standing at the other podium.


JON: I just don’t see the point in adding a third baseman. It’s not that we don’t need one--we certainly do. Rather, I’m not sure what appreciable good a “stopgap” does us during the nadir of a rebuild. So sure, K-squared might be able to shore up the defense at third (though I’m not totally sold on even that), but to what end? This seems to be one of those “marginal improvement” type moves that doesn’t really get us any closer to where we need to be, but rather throws the masses a bone so that they stop griping about Nix et al. If we both feel--and correct me if I’m wrong--that the future third baseman is already in the system somewhere--then why add Kouz? I would argue that Kouzmanoff might add a win or two. If we were a fringe-playoff team, by all means, go for it.

But we’re not. So I say keep the spot semi-open so that if--and it’s a big if--Phelps or Chiz or even Goedert take off this spring, we have major league at bats for them to continue developing. Perhaps I’m snake-bitten, but these non-impact signings scare me. There are images of Trots and Jasons and Davids dancing through my head.

PAUL: I suppose that the impact over “marginal improvement” to me would come solely in the form of defense and would have more of an effect on the pitching staff, as opposed to strictly whose in the lineup as the 3B. With the glut of groundball pitchers (and young ones at that), I’d prefer to see the Indians load up their infield defense with great gloves (and maybe get Asdrubal on a running track to see if he can find his “great glove” among the cinders on the track) and I see the leader in the clubhose - Nix - as being more of a detriment to the development of the young pitchers. Admittedly, some of that is based on an unfairly small sample last year, when Nix was essentially playing out of position, but I’m going to have to be shown that a Winter Ball excursion at 3B is enough to make us think of him as a “2B playing 3B” on most plays to the Hot Corner to think that Nix is even a suitable “stop-gap”.

The only real cause for the K2 Train (with me throwing coal into the engine, apparently) is that he has somehow evolved into a competent defensive 3B (according to metrics I don’t trust and the Fielding Bible panel, which I do trust) and I think that if he’s non-tendered, he fits the profile of a guy that they can get on the cheap to stick in there until The Chiz is ready. If Kouzmanoff is going to cost $3M to $4M a year, then you move onto the “Blake/LaRocca/Selby” derby redux in Spring Training with Nix and Phelps and whatever other AAAA guy that they can find that has a slick glove to throw into the mix so the Tribe can bide time until The Chiz is ready. If there’s a guy who is Brooks Robinson with the glove, but can’t hit a lick, somewhere in the Minors, I’d bring him in and give him a legit shot to improve the infield defense, which is at the crux of the crusade to upgrade 3B. Trust me, I would never want “images of Trots and Jasons and Davids” to enter anyone’s head unnecessarily and I see a Kouzmanoff non-tender (assuming he’s non-tendered) more in line with the Kearns deal last year that essentially bought Mike Brantley (and the team) time to allow things to flesh out.

Another factor in this 3B situation is that most people just assume that Lonnie Chisenhall will follow the Carlos Santana path to be in Cleveland in 2011. But what if he isn’t?

The fallback options are Nix (whose better suited to be a super-utility RH bat with some pop) and Phelps (who last played 3B at Stanford...and we all saw how Nix adjusted there), so are you really all that confident in Nix and Phelps to hold down the fort if - knocking firmly on wood - Chisenhall doesn’t dominate AAA to force himself up the I-71 corridor to Cleveland next year?

JON: I actually agree with you on most counts here. Let me plagiarize them one at a time:

Infield defense benefits our pitchers, and K2 should be an upgrade.

Yes to the first. Probably yes to the second. Though if we’re talking about helping our pitchers, are we talking about making them “more confident” or “demonstrably better”? I’m dubious about these sorts of claims, though I suppose anything’s possible.

K2 (or whoever) could come in at about $3 to $4 million if he’s non-tendered. Probably, yes. And it should be said, $4 million dollars is about the going rate in free agency for a win. I tend to think this is an inefficient use of resources, especially for a team that’s not likely to contend.

If we had an internal, defensively strong 3B, this is a different story.
Sure thing. I agree that we do not.

Chiz might not be ready: don’t let Carlos Santana warp your perception of an MLB learning curve.
Indeed. I think we all were spoiled by that debut. But I would also say that I don’t like the FO telling me that Santana’s “defense wasn’t ready” when they really meant that they wanted an extra year of control. Perhaps they’ll want to manage some service clocks (something that can be done with Nix), but I don’t like the run-around. And anyway, if we’re going all-in on Chiz at some point, how much does it matter when we do it? We’ve given LaPorta a long leash because we believe he (has to be?) is the answer. At some point, you’ll have to do the same with someone at third.

But regardless, I’m talking about building a contender. And, at least to me, it’s clear that any short-term addition won’t be part of that contender. Rather, he’d be a band-aid. Now, you might say that we have to stop the bleeding. I guess that’s true, but I’m not sure why it would be. To me, the upside of a defensive stopgap at 3B is a couple wins in 2011; the downside is the hindered development of players that, rightly or wrongly, we’re going to have to sink or swim with for the next decade. I’d rather throw my chips in on the latter bet, no matter how unlikely it might be that an addition would hurt them. It’s just not a risk I want to take.

Does the advantage of an addition boil down to this: our pitchers will develop some confidence and we might win a game or two more next season? If that’s the case, I don’t want him. If there’s more, my ears are open.

PAUL: Let’s be clear as K2 at $4M is definitely not something that I’m interested in (and I’m not convinced he gets that on the open market if he’s non-tendered) as it is certainly represents the “inefficient use of resources” that you assert. My argument hinges on the development of those pitchers that “rightly or wrongly, we’re going to have to sink or swim with for the next decade” in that I’m more concerned about those guys finding MLB success as soon as possible and putting a credible infield defense behind them goes a long way to achieving that goal.

Could we have The Chiz up here on Opening Day to play 3B? Sure, but if he struggles out of the gate, we’re back to the Nix and Phelps show, with Chisenhall going to AAA to build up some career momentum again. Sure, LaPorta has struggled (and they haven’t really given him much of a long leash), but he’s a solid 5 years older than Lonnie, with a prospect pedigree that Chisenhall will probably never touch.

I think that we’re both talking about building a sustainable contender, and I guess that gets to the final question of adding a player allowing “our pitchers (to) develop some confidence” resulting in a extra “win or two more next season” as I see the long-term effect of upgrading that infield defense, even for half a year, could have a greater impact than simply a win or two next season because of that confidence gained. Again, if the price tag for that is going to be $3M or $4M, I pass...but I think that the Indians can find a player that would upgrade the left side of their infield defense for less than that and provide the insurance (and another external option) to allow Chisenhall to at least taste AAA.

JON: And yeah, I should be clear too: avoiding an acquisition is not my way of suggesting that Chisenhall--or any other minor leaguer--should start the season in Cleveland. In my plan, Nix is the primary option (what a terrible way to start a sentence!), with full knowledge that at least three guys might be able to give him some competition by June.

If, on the other hand, we sign an external guy for anything more than $2 million, the front office will likely feel the need to play that guy, regardless of whether the smarter thing to do might be give some of the younger guys some exposure/time to adjust to big league pitching.

PAUL: Let’s say that Nix is the primary option then if you’re not bringing in anyone significant. Do you basically given Phelps and Nix a shot at a two-man race in Goodyear with the idea that it’s Nix’s job to lose? Or do you bring in the Bill Selbys and...gulp, Casey Blakes (v. 2003) of the world to press these guys?

If it’s the former, I sure hope his 3B glove hasn’t left his hand this Winter...


scotto313 said...

" I would also say that I don’t like the FO telling me that Santana’s “defense wasn’t ready” when they really meant that they wanted an extra year of control. Perhaps they’ll want to manage some service clocks (something that can be done with Nix), but I don’t like the run-around."

I hear what you are saying but most people in this town cannot handle the truth and therefore, need to be given the run-around. Look at Paul's reaction to Dolan's Plain Dealer interview. Often times, the truth will only get you in trouble. When you wife askes if that oufit makes her look fat, give her the run-around. The same applies to player salary issues with the Indians.

Jon said...

I agree on the need for good PR--I really do. My concern is that people like Trot Nixon and David Dellucci were signed to appease the masses in the short term, and they cost us in the longer-term. There's a tradeoff to be made, I'm sure. But I'm questioning how far we go to assuage the pitchforks?

Halifax said...

As much fun as it is to speculate (and I am king at that), what we really need to do is see how this plays out. The Indians will end up with someone other than Nix at third, and the young guys may or may not work out.

Paul Cousineau said...

Come on, own up to the Alex Gordon love, Mr. "we need to see how this plays out".

Jose Lopez anyone?

Halifax said...

Hey, Paul, I noted, "As much fun as it is to speculate (and I am king at that)" so give me a break.

The off-season wouldn't be fun if we didn't discuss such things, there also would be little use for such places as this. I said, "what we really need to do," I didn't say, "what we WILL do." :)

Anyway, the Indians SHOULD go after Alex Gordon. He'd be a nice fit for them because he could be the bridge, could slide out to the outfield when/if Chiz comes up, and could still develop into a decent player. Think Josh Hamilton, Carlos Quentin, etc. Not to put him in the same talent category with Hamilton, but in the "late developer because of whatever reason" category.

As long as you don't give up too much, he could even fall into the Ricky Ledee category. I don't know what it would take to get him...Trevor Crowe and Josh Tomlin? Overpaying, Royals see it as not enough...who knows? It's all speculation, that's why I can write whatever I want, I don't get paid to live with such decisions.

Halifax said...

No news on Kouz?

Actually, I'd sign Lopez yesterday if I were the Indians. He went .272/25/96 in 2009. Who on the Indians roster can do that out of the third base spot? He's only 26 and probably a better bet than Kouzmanoff if he's not a lead glove at third, which I highly doubt since he's also spent some time at short.

Paul Cousineau said...

You know I'm just busting your chops as conjecture and projection is all we really have and we all enjoy it.

I'm on board with the Gordon idea, I just have no idea what the Royals would be looking for and how his history with Kansas City would factor into their asking price.

The reasons you lay out are certainly sound to me to go get him, but the Royals have their own Crowe and Tomlin and I can't imagine they'd part with the players touted as "the next George Brett" for organizational fodder. Whether that's prudent on their part or not, I think that he would be worth a kick of the tires, just to see what they'd want.

Lopez's OBP sucks, but so does Kouzmanoff's and Nix's.

Adam said...

I think Kouz was tendered a contract. Put me on the Jose Lopez (sigh) bandwagon.

Jon said...

Edwin Encarnacion non-tendered. Let the fluttering of hearts begin!

Adam said...

Oops...I see Lopez got moved to Colorado. Encarnacion it is (or Josh Fields?)!

Adam said...

How about Marquez Smith, rule-5 eligible, veteran prospect in the Cubs system? Rated as a good defender at 3B, with some pop in his bat.

Paul Cousineau said...

No thanks on E5 (Eddy Encarnacion) and this is looking more and more like the Blake/Selby/LaRocca situation from many moons ago.

Halifax said...

I see Hoynes tweets the Indians and Nick Punto have mutual interest...for why? Second base? Utility? Surely, not for third.

Also, Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox.

Plus, the stinkin' White Sox land Adam Dunn and retain (probable) Konerko...might as well pencil them in (c'mon Twinkies!) as the ALC champs.

Doesn't bode well for the Tribe until 2012-13 in that harsh reality of an improving (and spending) division.

With their pitching I have to give the edge to the White Sox now with Dunn. The Indians better get off their hands and make some adjustments or it won't matter what "window" they are dealing with.

Halifax said...

AL EAST - Tampa Bay
AL CENTRAL - Cleveland

Behind the big spenders, talent becomes somewhat secondary.