Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tomahawks on the Warpath

After the hullaballoo caused by the Indians’ closer, it’s nice to see the focus turn (somewhat) back to baseball as the Tigers’ series that so many have pointed to on a referendum for the team (so far, so good) and the fans (well…) has now arrived.  So before getting to some relevant baseball topics, I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the comments made by Chris Perez last weekend, as much as I think they were overblown in our ESPN-ified, overly polarized world where there is suddenly only black and white in an argument and there are staged shouting matches to “articulate” those two points of view.

Certainly, the Perez comments and the reactions to them (with the local 11 PM news leading with it on Monday night with the requisite comments from some local sports talk radio host, sporting his obligatory slicked-back hair, goatee, and ignorance) fleshed out this idea that in this narcissistic society that we live in, everyone has an opinion and nobody’s wrong with the volume of the argument made meaning more than the strength of said argument. 

In terms of what Perez said, his comments didn’t elicit the guttural response for me that it did for most.  Some of the things that he said were pretty spot on (and read the whole text here, paying particular attention to the “negativity” portion) and they aren’t that different than what’s been written here and in other places attempting to rationalize why this town hasn’t gotten behind this team.  Other things he said were unquestionably tone-deaf and likely were just portions of a rant that may not have been all that thought out or polished, like when he takes his Ivan Drago-esque stance that the team plays only for themselves and not for anyone else or his invocation of Philadelphia as a “fun” place to play, despite Philly fans’ deserved reputation as boorish while ignoring the inherent market differences between Cleveland and Philadelphia, affecting both organizations’ ability to retain players.  Though his comments jumped from one topic to another, I think that what he ultimately did was hold up a mirror in front of the Cleveland sports fan – questioning why (or why not) they feel the things that they do as it pertains to their sports teams – and while many may not have liked what he said, there were elements of truth to it and he unquestionably put himself in the crosshairs.  

Being at the game on Tuesday, it wasn’t too much of a surprise to see the reaction of the assembled crowd (which I was told included about 13,000 people that actually went through the turnstiles, not paid attendance…and it is here that I note that the Clippers drew 10,100 for their Monday night game in Columbus) when he was greeted with a standing ovation during his run out of the bullpen as the folks who were at the game are likely the folks who are usually at the games (other than the 4,000 or so Tigers’ fans on Tuesday) and Perez articulated what many of those diehard fans (who do attend games and have been attending games) have been feeling/saying about this team and this town for a while.

As for where it goes from here for Perez, as long as he continues to perform, it will fade into the background for him and the way that he’s perceived locally.  However, if things go bad for him at some point, this will get thrown back in his face as the “experts” who work in the 140-character medium and who spout their vitriol online and on the airwaves will have one more reason to be bitter or cynical about a game that we’re all supposed enjoy and a team that we all SHOULD be enjoying.

Sitting at the game on Tuesday, it was pointed out to me that the top of the Indians’ order (Choo, Cabrera, Hafner, and Santana) was netted for the Indians for Benuardo, Einar Diaz, Ryan Drese, and Casey Blake.  After a weekend/beginning of the week in which we heard/read endlessly about the way that the Indians traded two consecutive Cy Young Award winners and how the fans are upset that the Indians hold their annual Fire Sale where they get rid of their best players, I thought a little perspective was in order.  This isn’t meant to justify the CC or Lee deals, nor will it EVER mention Matt MaTola as an option for the current team as any kind of upgrade (as that’s idiocy), but let’s remember that the Indians have really had 4 seasons since the Colon deal in which they traded players (of varying degrees of note) in July of 2002 and perhaps it is instructive to look at those years of trading as a whole instead of analyzing individual trades.

Since I’m only talking mainly about 2006, 2008, and 2009 (since 2010 just kind of cleared the decks of the remaining flotsam and jetsam), I’ll briefly remind everyone that the Indians netted Travis Hafner (and Aaron Myette) for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese back in December of 2002 and regardless of what you think of Hafner now (and I happen to be excited to have him back, even at a lesser percentage of his former self while believing that he needs to be rested more), that’s still grand larceny.

Again, though fans have used the “Annual Fire Sale” rhetoric as part of the explanation of why they’re “down” on the Indians, since 2002, the Tribe has really only parted with players of note in four seasons.  Maybe four Julys out of nine is too many (though it has sped up TWO rebuilds in that time) and certainly some of those Julys were impossibly painful, but let’s take a look at the players (of note) traded in those three Julys and the players that arrived on the North Coast in those deals, taking a holistic approach to those four Trading Deadlines.

For the purposes of brevity (not my strong suit), I’m only including the major trades and omitted some of the throw-ins (Shawn Nottingham will not be found here and if you know what trade he was involved in…well, there’s something for you somewhere), including mainly players that you remember playing for the Tribe or as part of trades coming to Cleveland:
Bob Wickman
Ben Broussard
Ronnie Belliard
Eduardo Perez

Shin-Soo Choo
Asdrubal Cabrera
Hector Luna
Max Ramirez
So, that’s trading the team’s closer, 2B, and 1B platoon – players all scheduled to be FA at the end of that 2006 season – for what would become the team’s future SS and RF.  Remember, Ramirez was traded for Kenny Lofton the following year, so…um, yeah, that was a good season at the Trading Post.

CC Sabathia
Casey Blake

Carlos Santana
Mike Brantley
Matt LaPorta
Rob Bryson
Obviously, here’s where the hand-wringing begins and much (if not all) of it is caused by the performance to date by a certain 27-year-old in Columbus (who is likely to stay in Columbus), but if you’re talking about what the team netted that summer in deals, they got an All-Star catcher in Santana (now signed through 2017) and a starting OF in Brantley.  Even if Brantley’s career numbers have underwhelmed (and the fact that everyone loves his “pedigree” and “swing” despite his actual “production” still confuses me), remember that it was reported by the LA Daily news that Frank McCourt nixed a deal that would have sent CC, Blake, and Carroll (the last of those two would end up in Chavez Ravine eventually) for a package that could have included Matt Kemp (seriously, go click on that link…and this one that shows the whole LA Daily News article, no longer in their archives) or perhaps even Kemp and Santana.  But the deal didn’t happen and the CC trade has ended up as a major failure, even if the moves that the team made in 2008 resulted in nearly ¼ of their lineup for the foreseeable future in Santana and Brantley.

Cliff Lee
Victor Martinez
Mark DeRosa
Rafael Betancourt
Ryan Garko
Ben Francisco

Justin Masterson
Chris Perez
Nick Hagadone
Carlos Carrasco
Jason Donald
Lou Marson
Bryan Price
Scott Barnes
Connor Graham
Jason Knapp
Since most people forget that Carlos Carrasco was the best Indians’ pitcher in the months of May and June last year and since there is much consternation still (most deserved) for the Cliff Lee trade not bearing more fruit, look at this list and think about if Carrasco were healthy for this season as that “received” list would include 40% of the rotation and what looks to be the back-end-of-the-bullpen for a couple of years.  Of course, Carrasco is not healthy and yes, the Lee deal has been underwhelming (just as every deal involving Lee has been as the three players the Phillies received for him at the end of 2009 all remain in the Minors and the package the Mariners netted for him have all underwhelmed, particularly the “centerpiece” Justin Smoak), but the Indians spent this July loading up on needed arms and seem to have hit on some (Masterson, Hagadone), missed on others (Knapp), with the jury still out on even more (Carrasco, Barnes, Price).  Certainly, I’m not going to revisit this Cliff Lee deal every couple of months (nor do I know what other deals were on the table for the Tribe and note that Kyle Drabek is still walking nearly 6 hitters per 9 innings this year with Domonic Brown STILL in AAA for the Phillies), but to look at the total return for these players – rather than looking at individual deals – does provide some perspective as to how this current Tribe team has been built…even with the hits and misses at the Trading Post. 

Now if you want to include 2010 that completely cleared the decks, here’s what you had:
Jake Westbrook
Kerry Wood
Jhonny Peralta
Austin Kearns
Russell Branyan

Zach McAllister
Corey Kluber
Giovanni Soto
Zeke Carrera
Juan Diaz
It’s still a little early to pass judgment on a lot of these deals, since they happened less than two years ago, even if McAllister has ascended to the starting rotation for the parent club already and Soto looks to be a keeper in Akron.  Regardless of what happens with that 2010 “crop” of players, the Indians netted a middle of the order (Choo, Cabrera, Santana) as well an everyday OF in Brantley, a young arm that topped last year’s rotation in Masterson, and back-end-of-the-bullpen pieces in Perez and Hagadone with the trades made in 2006, 2008, and 2009.

Of course we well all wish that LaPorta is something that he is not (despite the claims from people who want to see him NOW…the same people that wanted him gone all of last year) and Cookie Carrasco’s injury puts a major damper on the Lee deal as Marson and Donald continue to struggle to hit and Knapp is…well, somewhere I guess.  But complaining about ONE specific trade or railing against THIS specific player misses the forest for the trees as the Indians cleared the decks (a couple of times) and, through some hits and misses, they’ve assembled a team that looks to be poised to take us into a fun summer of contention and complaining about what the Indians are NOT instead of what they may be is (while decidedly a “Cleveland” thing to do) to avoid what’s taking shape this season with this Indians’ team.

As for as their probable competition for a summer of contention, as much as the Tigers were essentially handed the AL Central crown as soon as they added Prince Fielder, seeing the team (as presently constructed), anyone else feeling a lot better about the Indians’ chances to stick around in this race, or even stay in the driver’s seat?

Though it was known going into the season, it is striking how top-heavy the Tigers really are and how they are unable to execute the little things (like applying tags, making simple defensive plays, etc.) that good teams are able to do.  Maybe they still just press down the accelerator at some point, but the way that most of their team is playing right now, that’s hard to see.  Granted, it was hard to see last year at this time as well, but Jonah Keri at Grantland nailed it earlier in the week:
Justin Verlander seems to throw one-hitters every other day, so let’s talk about a factor playing a much bigger role in the Tigers’ year-to-date record: The horrible failure of their supporting cast. It’s been unbelievably awful. Ryan Raburn has been arguably the worst hitter in baseball, at .144/.213/.216. Ramon Santiago’s at .184/.254/.250. Brennan Boesch is hitting .239 with a .271 OBP. Alex Avila hit a 42-hopper through a drawn-in infield Sunday, cashing the eventual winning run and snapping a 4-for-40 slump; he’s hitting .221 with a .299 OBP. 

Certainly, Verlander is scary and Miggy and Prince are formidable in the middle of their lineup, but those guys have to perform at almost an otherworldly level to carry the rest of the team as they’re playing right now.

Seriously, their Opening Day lineup featured Boesch in the 2nd spot, Delmon Young hitting 5th, and Ryan Rayburn hitting 6th.  None of those players have an OPS over .700 and it looks as if Alex Avila may have turned back into a pumpkin after his Cinderella 2011 season while Jhonny Peralta (2 HR) looks much more like the Jhonny Peralta that we all grew to know and…well, just know for the last couple of years.

Austin Jackson, Prince, and Miggy will certainly score runs, but with their defensive deficiencies and with the absolute black holes in their lineup outside of that trio, it’s easy to see why national writers are starting to scale back on this idea that the AL Central is simply the property of the Tigers, as the Indians now have the highest current percent chance of making the playoffs, as calculated by both ESPN and Baseball Prospectus.

It may be…well, May, but the tide may have turned in the AL Central or at least may be turning…

Finally, as “wins” are often cited to measure the worth of a pitcher, I will point out that Tuesday’s victory over the Tigers gave Ubaldo his 5th win of the season in the Indians first 42 games.  Thus, they’ve played about 26% of their season which (and you see where I’m going with this) means that Ubaldo – he of the 5.02 ERA and 1.71 WHIP with more walks that strikeouts – is “on pace” for a 20-win season.
Still think “wins” are an accurate measure of a pitcher’s value?


Bric said...

Jason Knapp is not finished yet.
He was a brilliant talent, and may still put it together.
Trades are always ambles, and you won't win all the time, but the Lee and CC trades were sure things in one way: Cleveland was going to lose both of them, ultimately.
They got the best players they could, and injuries cost us some of them, but overall, the trades look very good in retrospect.
(Manny Acta is another story; he was a great acquisition by the Indians, great with young players, great with fans, writers, etc.)

Spills said...

I'll second the Acta comment. Working lefty/righty matchups in the eighth, and ultimately bringing in Pestano, likely had a lot to do with knowing and trusting in the top of his lineup coming up in the eighth.

I don't know if it is a mirage, but I feel like Manny has a much better feel for the game compared to Wedgie. This could just be sour grapes from seasons off promise wasted '07-'10, but it feels real now.

Now hopefully no one interrupts me today at the office, I'll have the headphones on and Tommy/Rosey/Hegan distracting me from another day of the "grind".

Nick said...

I personally hate when people blame their lack of truly caring for the Tribe on all of the "fire sales". Those people complaining truly don't understand the economics of baseball and teams (such as the Indians) that operate with a low payroll. I love how you break down the trades per year rather than by individual trades! When you look at it that way, I truly think the Indians came out on top on pure talent. Then when you factor in how little contract years were left on those leaving vs. how long we get to enjoy watching these young players, it's a no brainer!

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