Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tomahawks with Roster Coming Into Focus

Opening Day is a week away and Tribe talk is kicking into high gear as the Indians’ roster begins to take shape…for better or worse. If you’d like, you can have at discussing the Dolan interview that felt like most Dolan interviews that we’ve read in the past, with the only “revelation” being that “during the labor negotiations between the owners and players, the Indians were brought in to discuss how to run a franchise and fairly use the money from revenue sharing”, meaning that the Tribe was used as an example for how revenue sharing dollars should be spent by BOTH the owners and the players’ union. Personally, the piece provided the glimpse that we’ve seen before, with a couple of new topics broached and offering the naysayers that don’t like the Dolans to say “nay” and “harrumph” a couple of times.

Since that’s about as far as I’m going to go on that and didn’t spend too much time wondering how Vlad Guerrero fits on this team (he doesn’t because he can’t play the field and the Indians already have a limited DH and a plan to play Santana vs. LHP to protect said “limited DH”) before the team reveals that Guerrero REQUESTED the work-out in the Dominican Republic, let’s hit on some relevant and compelling topics having to do with roster make-up and the AL Central as a whole.

Because while the Guerrero “work-out” didn’t do much more than generate some chatter, it does bring up some interesting thoughts and those thoughts come to you shaped as Tomahawks…
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Rather than actual interest in the player or a sign of an imminent addition of Vlad, the Guerrero “work-out” is a further indication that the Indians are looking ANYWHERE for an OF, or even a player that used to resemble a viable OF…and that’s not a bad thing. If you remember (or even if you don’t), before I went on my Lonnie/Jack rant this past weekend, I wrote that “given what they’re saying and what they’re not saying, it’s not hard to envision the Tribe’s Opening Day LF not being on this roster right now”, which (despite the TRIPLE negative) goes along with everything that’s been written in this space since Grady went down, despite the efforts of others to pencil Shelley Duncan into the LF spot in that they still know what they have as LF options and them not being all that impressed by them…still.

Well…it was not long after that was written/posted that Danny Knobler of CBS Sports dropped this on the Twitterverse on Sunday afternoon:


While I know that this is probably the 8th time that Knobler has intimated that the Indians are looking for an OF, FOX’s Jon-Paul Morosi fleshed it out a bit the next day:

None of this is really “news” as we’ve known (or at least have hoped) that the Indians have been looking for a LF since Sizemore went down. The fact that they’d prefer a RH one, given the rest of the lineup, may qualify as something less than “news” and, though I feel like I’ve been writing about this need for too long, this is the time of the year when players start to become available as teams recognize their needs and attempt to deal from a position of “strength” to fill those needs. Actually, one of my “targets” from last November, Marlon Byrd, is now reportedly the subject of trade rumors due to the Cubs’ OF depth. Of course, the Indians would likely be looking for some salary relief if they were to acquire a player like Byrd (scheduled to make $6.5M), but it would certainly seem that a player like Byrd would represent a more compelling option than the 4th OF options (at the very least) and is probably more attractive than Duncan as an everyday player.

Maybe the Indians can get something done with their middle infield depth (and Travis Snider, who was mentioned a couple of weeks ago here, just “lost” the OF competition in Toronto…though I’m not sure that Snider is an appreciable upgrade) to find a player that prevents us from “Shelley Duncan, everyday LF”, but I still get the feeling that the Indians are going to add something before this team breaks camp to augment an OF very much in need of augmentation.

Again…this “OF Watch” is nothing new, although something may finally be coming of it. However, the interesting of the original Knobler tweet is the inclusion of looking for a starting pitcher for “depth”. By now, we’ve all seen that the guaranteed money for Carmona/Hernandez has been reduced to a $2.5M base salary in 2012 with incentives and THAT number is going to be prorated by how much he actually plays once he comes off of the restricted list once he’s cleared to play. But if the Indians are now searching around for starting pitching, couldn’t that mean that they aren’t expecting #55 to be coming back any time soon?

We’re a little more than a week away from Opening Day and, despite #55’s agent feeding Hoynes the idea that Fausto/Roberto would be back for the start of the season, all has been quiet on the Dominican front in terms of Carmona/Hernandez moving any closer to Cleveland. And now they’re looking for starting pitching depth since the “depth” arm that they moved quickly to add – Kevin Slowey – when the #55 news broke underwhelmed in Spring Training. Who knows which of these pitchers is going to be the 5th or 6th starter to start the season, but Knobler’s reveal that the Indians are looking for some depth for their starting rotation provides a glimpse into how much (or how little) confidence they have in the arms lined up in the back of the rotation in Cleveland and at the top of the rotation in Columbus.

By that I mean, that the quick acquisition of Slowey always felt to me to be more of an indictment of Gomez/Huff/etc. than it was a proclamation that Slowey was “the answer” to the problem that #55’s identity “issues” presented. Now, if Slowey doesn’t look to be much more than the 5th starter/swing man fodder that Gomez and Huff (and others) seem to be, it would certainly make sense for the Indians to look for depth, particularly because there should be concerns about Tomlin’s ability to stick as the 4th starter and because – as quickly as everyone wants to anoint Jeanmar as a suitable 5th starter – Gomez’s ceiling is pretty low. That’s not to say that Gomez or Slowey or even Tomlin are being overlooked because the Indians are looking to “add some starting pitching depth”, but if the Indians are out looking for starting pitchers, it means that they have concerns about the ones currently lined up, probably from #4 (Tomlin) to #7 or so (McCallister or Kluber), and some of those concerns are probably valid.

Whether anything comes to pass either in the OF or with starting pitching depth, actions speak louder than words and, as much as the Indians (or writers) may be praising Duncan or Gomez or the Indians for “taking a chance” on either or both, there’s a reason that “taking a chance” is included in the idea that either (or both) is ready for regular action and finding an alternative – even now – shouldn’t be dismissed.
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This LF spot is an interesting one to watch unfold because the majority of the fanbase seem to be inexplicably fine with Duncan in LF. Maybe some of that is prompted by the writers’ continued over-justification of Duncan as an everyday LF because of…well, whatever over-justification they’re using to assert that a 32-year-old poor defensive OF that was an NRI last Spring Training and spent a good amount of time in AAA last year is the “best option” out in Goodyear as an everyday LF, but it raises an interesting point as to how these “predictions” of what a 25-man roster coming true for people seem to be taking precedence over what is more prudent in terms of roster construction.

Obviously, you know that this is a response to the announcement that Lonnie Chisenhall will be heading to AAA despite the fact that it seems that there was an easy way to keep both Chiz AND Hannahan on the roster, maximizing Hannahan’s defensive prowess while allowing Lonnie to make adjustments to MLB pitching in MLB on an everyday basis, but it bears mentioning that most rationalizations from writers/analysts that I’ve seen for Lonnie being sent down essentially sound like the “reasons” that the club has been putting forth for a couple of weeks now.

Lonnie needs to work on his approach…
We know what we have in Hannahan’s glove…
Chisenhall is still viewed as a long-term answer and is only 23…

All of those arguments make sense to me to some degree and in a way this argument over the Opening Day 3B feels like “rosterbation” at its very worst. But what I find troubling about these “reasons” that keep getting trotted out there to send Lonnie down is that they’re basically the Indians’ reasons or that they seem like a justification to those that like to “predict” the 25-man roster just try to be right on their 25-man “predictions” instead of actually taking an analytical eye to the situation.

The question all Spring seems to be “What ARE the Indians going to do at 3B?” instead of the real question, which is “What SHOULD the Indians do at 3B?”

Just because the predicted outcome is what comes to pass doesn’t make it the “right” thing to do. Some critical thinking is needed here and the issue seems to be inexplicably clouded by this “feel-good” story that’s emerged about Hannahan all Spring – overcoming odds last year to become the Opening Day 3B for the Indians. To that end, “feel-good” stories are great and Hannahan seems to be a great guy, an easy player to root for, a recovering alcoholic and a family man who overcame a tough personal time in his life last year to merit a $1.13M paycheck for 2012 this off-season via arbitration.

Don’t get me wrong…it’s a fantastic story and there may not be a more likable player on the Indians right now, but let’s not confuse the narrative that’s making the rounds with the idea that Hannahan is suddenly a new baseball player at the age of 32 or that his presence should make it acceptable to send down a player that’s been among the Indians’ top prospects for a few years now, who spent ½ of the 2011 season in AAA and ½ of the 2011 season in MLB with the idea that he’s slowly climbing the ladder to be the Tribe 3B.

By that I mean that the new narrative (other than the “heavier bat” explanation) is that Hannahan was distracted in the 1st half of the year because of his pregnant wife. As a father of three who knows what it is like to have a pregnant wife, I can appreciate this and I’m not even going to attempt to put myself in his shoes with a premature baby, but the main problem with this idea that Hannahan started to thrive at the plate after his son was born is really just timing. That is, Hannahan didn’t hit in MLB for 6 years, sitting on a .600 OPS in 1,200+ MLB PA in June. That’s not debatable…then (in the minds of some, or so the narrative goes), with a “heavier bat” and a clear mind, he hit (IN PART-TIME DUTY) for the final three months of the season, apparently to the point that most everyone is ready and willing to give him two months (at least) of everyday AB at 3B to start the season.

The story is great, other than the fact that it glosses over the fact that Hannahan hit well while starting 27 of the final 83 games and that, while as the everyday 3B to start the season, he revealed himself to be the player that he’s always been. With that in mind, let’s remember why Chisenhall was called up to the Bigs last year – because the offense was struggling and the Indians were looking for a spark. In fact, they called up Chisenhall BEFORE Kipnis, perhaps because he represented a more obvious offensive upgrade at 3B.

Why are we to think that anything different is going to happen this year and why is waiting until Memorial Day (and the Indians play their 48th game of the season on Memorial Day) for what most of us expect to happen (Hannahan’s struggling at the plate) to justify waiting to make that move, with nearly 1/3 of the season played?

If you’ll remember, when Donald went down with an injury last Spring, there were calls for Chisenhall to start the season in MLB, to begin his adjustment to his eventual spot as the Tribe’s 3B. The rationale was that he had not played any games in AAA to that point and (while the club wouldn’t say this) keeping him off the 40-man roster until the end of June delayed his service time clock to the point that Chiz would remain an Indian through the 2017 season. Now that service time issues aren’t in play (he would have to stay in AAA until August or so to “earn” another year before he hits FA) and with almost 300 AAA PA under his belt, that rationale (that made perfect sense at the time) no longer applies.

Maybe the idea is that Lonnie needs to get himself “right” in AAA holds water, but (as Lonnie himself stated in a Fangraphs interview) he’s at a point in his development where he needs to adjust to MLB pitching in MLB. He has over 900 PA above AA and will now get to add to that total because the Indians feel that he needs to work on his approach (which is valid, though I’d rather see him do that in Cleveland, where he’s going to have to adjust eventually) and because the Indians are content with Hannahan as a 3B.

While that idea certainly has value in a vacuum, it goes back to something that I wrote last week that was expounded upon by Anthony Castrovince, as Castro writes that “the Indians, at this moment, project to have three guys in their everyday lineup who were non-roster invitees in their camps just one year ago — Hannahan at third, Shelley Duncan in left and Casey Kotchman at first. Hey, at least corner spots aren’t considered pivotal power-producing positions or anything…” with Castro’s piece (which is worth a whole read) drawing some frightening comparsions between Lonnie and MaTola (who was sent down on the same day as Chiz) being blocked by “one-tool” players at points that they should have been handed everyday MLB PA without hesitation and with Castro summarizing that “the Indians better hope Chisenhall tears it up in Triple-A, because a lineup with Jack Hannahan, Shelley Duncan and Casey Kotchman in three of the four corner positions is in dire need of some offensive upside.” That’s where I eventually come down on this – that ON THIS TEAM on Opening Day as it’s currently constructed, Chiz’s offensive upside (he was the 25th rated prospect going into last year, per BA, with his “bat” being his best tool) outweighs the stability of Hannahan’s glove, groundballers considered.

For now, with the decisions that have been made, we hope that Chiz (as Castro says) “tears it up in AAA” and that while we wait for him to provide an offensive spark around Memorial Day (and the 2006 Tribe team was 10 ½ games back on Memorial Day, a year after nearly making the playoffs), that the Indians don’t find themselves too far back in the standings because of a spark-less offense up to that point.
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As for what figures to be happening in the AL Central, while everyone is giving the division to the Tigers before a game is played and as the “team on the upswing”, the Royals have suffered more injuries this Spring than one can even keep track of, there are some interesting pieces being written about the Central and about the presumptive favorites in the Motor City. To start off, it is not all that surprising that 26 of the 27 writers at B-Pro picked the Tigers to win the Central (the Royals got the other 1st place vote), with the Indians “predicted” to come in 2nd place by the aggregate votes, but the idea that the Tigers are simply going to slash-and-burn their way to a divisional title is being questioned…at least in the mind of one baseball writer.

That mind belongs to Grantland’s Jonah Keri, who wrote an interesting piece on where he thinks teams will finish the year, in terms of victories, compared to the current over-under number that Vegas is posting. Right now, the over-under win total for the Tigers is 93.5 wins, with Keri taking the “under” on that. Of course, that doesn’t mean that he thinks that the Tigers will fall short of 93.5 wins and still not run away with the Central, but the issues that Keri brings up are interesting to see:
Here’s why you should worry about the Tigers this season: Their infield defense could be absolutely atrocious… Peralta’s track record suggests a likely pullback from last year’s performance, and Ryan Raburn is more of a hitter who can fake it at a few positions than a true everyday second baseman.
--snip--
Make all the arguments you want about bad hops, unlucky breaks, and small sample sizes. Now please provide a list of other third basemen who’ve fielded grounders with their face. The Fielder-Raburn-Peralta-Cabrera alignment could end up ranking among the worst infields baseball has seen in decades. That’s bad news for a Tigers pitching staff that had just about everything go right for them last year. Justin Verlander is a great pitcher — who’s also an extreme long shot to ever match 2011’s numbers. Doug Fister showed real improvement in his command (57/5 K:BB rate with the Tigers) — and also benefited from a cupcake schedule in the final two months of the season. Jose Valverde walked too many batters, as he’s done for most of his career — and somehow managed 49 saves in 49 attempts.
--snip--
As long as the Tigers keep playing the Four Butchers of the D-pocalypse, Detroit’s pitchers could suffer greatly; groundball specialist Rick Porcello in particular could be a replacement-level pitcher. But the Tigers could also be at risk for a kind of multiplier effect: bases loaded, two outs, fifth inning, Tigers starter trying to escape the jam. Groundball left side … through the hole and into left field. Two runs score, and Jim Leyland’s forced to go to his bullpen early. It’s not hard to imagine that scenario playing out multiple times this season, forcing middle relievers to win games and placing extra strain on a bullpen that could hurt their effectiveness, even up their workload enough to raise injury risk.


Keri goes on to write that the “Tigers are going to hit the snot out of the ball” and, given the middle of that lineup, that’s not hard to see. And yes, I get the juxtaposition of calling the Tigers’ infield defense into question while railing against Hannahan as the everyday 3B.

But those concerns are very real and actually make the idea that the Indians should be putting their best foot forward from Opening Day all the more relevant.
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Finally, if you haven’t caught Adam Van Arsdale’s interview series with B-Pro’s Kevin Goldstein, the pieces are here, here, and here with Goldstein providing insight that is invaluable. Take the time to read the piece…even if Goldstein is behind the idea that Chisenhall needed to head to AAA to start the season.

10 comments:

MTF said...

If wordcount is symptomatic of anxiety, I'm with you.

Our rotation depth is very suspect, and Huff is about at the same point as Matola in my mind (ie, it wouldn't shock me to see him released for roster space reasons at some point this year) and Slowey, it turns out, was cheap for a reason.

My bigger concern, and (while I try hard not to do this) I can hardly stop myself from pointing squarely at the front office, is the unaddressed issues over the winter on offense. Scott Boras suggested the Indians aren't the sort of team for Choo for good reason, it turns out, as we are increasingly the Island of Misfit Toys on the left side of the field. I can live with Hannahan, because I love his defensive contibutions even if I get frustrated when he doesn't hit, but I can't see how the Tribe will tolerate a season of Shelley Duncan (unless he surprises me greatly and hits from day-one). Brantley has been a slower, poorer hitting version of Coco Crisp and belongs as a fourth outfielder on a good team or in the National League. Asdrubal is fat and can't be counted on to hit like he did last year, I fear.

But, amoung all that noise, all we really need is one lousy outfielder with reliable power. Improvements on the rest would be silly luxury, and since I'm feeling very Calvinist about the team I would be happy going into the season with just one upgrade in left or center. Is that too much to ask for?

Spills said...

It may be that I've been out of fantasy for too long, but OF in general is not a great place to go looking for production. We're looking at Cuddyer and Willingham as our top two options on the free market this year, and... meh?

I'll agree with you, MTF, on the blame falling at management's feet, but I believe that it has little to do with being unable to procure a OF from FA or another team's scrap heap. They failed in developing Matola, and/or drafting/devloping any type of OF talent.

I can't get past the feeling that our ineffective drafting and trading of all-stars is coming back to bite us in the ass. We are not going to be in the bidding for any of the top 10 FAs any year, so we need to excel in different areas. For 2007, we did that in identifying talent in other team's organizations, and it came together for a season. We have not performed as well in that facet since that run. (Looking at Ubaldo, matola, brantley, knapp, marson, etc... I get angry)

MTF said...

Yeah, well, we are where we are on inneffective drafting/developing. And, unreasonably, I am talking myself into an overblown fear that we have major league roster problems that are going to make us irrelevent before playing day one.

So I have to stop whining: if I think it's time for another "Fire Everyone" series, it should be September, not late March. I'm done. Looking forward to opening day now, and kids all over town cutting school to go sit in the bleachers.

Adam said...

On the Matola/Lonnie comparison, I think the difference is in their swings. Matola has always had a long, slow swing with holes. Lonnie's swing is compact, quick and scouts love it. He definitely needs to make adjustments, but it is a lot easier to make those adjustments when your fundamentals are solid.

Elia said...

He doesn't solve the problem but he seems to be as good an option as every other entertained name this winner. Why is there no discussion of Jason Donald in left field? I'd rather see what Donald could do every day then the rest of crap the Indians are throwing against the wall.

I can't remember the last time I was this disinterested in the Indians. I've been really busy with work but still. There is no narrative that is really exciting me and making me pay attention right now.

MTF said...

In a bit of good news, or at least possibly good news, Fauxto Hernandez' agents hired a lobbyist and he says that Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman are jointly asking the DHS to move along with the visa process, if possible. He says it could come soon, for whatever his opinion might be worth. sounds good to me.

Jeff said...

Paul,

Here is a challenge we need your help with.

Put aside the Domonic Brown/ Philly Cheesesteak dream.

Name another major league ready and available LF/OF that could be obtained straight up for Jason Donald plus a less than top 10 prospect.

Thanks for your help.

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