Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tomahawks at the Trading Post

As the hot air descends upon the North Coast for the week, the blusters of these Interwebs blow about regarding the trade activity in MLB in anticipation of the MLB Trading Deadline on July 31st.  While the Indians remain firmly entrenched in both the AL Central race AND the Wild Card race (how strange is that if the season were to end today, the Wild Cards would be awarded to an AL West team and an AL Central team, with the Indians, Orioles, and Athletics coming up just short), there are certainly some factors in play that might affect how the Indians approach the upcoming Trade Deadline. 

Some of those factors are out of their control and some of them have to do with performances of players on their current roster – both in past seasons and in the past month – so let’s try to sort through some of those factors as we watch the Tomahawks fly…

It is exactly two weeks away from the Trading Deadline and do you know how many teams in the AL are more than 2 games out of the race for the newly created second Wild Card?

Three teams out of fourteen are more than 2 games out of the 2nd Wild Card position in the American League less than two weeks away from the July 31st Trade Deadline. Though many saw this coming when the 2nd Wild Card was created, in terms of lessening the amount of “sellers” at the end of July, to see this in terms of looking at standings is nothing short of astonishing.  Now, talk away about “parity” if you’d like (although that is a misinterpretation of the standings as the disparity between small-and-large market teams has more to do with “margin of error” for particular teams, not “parity”), but as things stand right now the Royals, Mariners, and Twins are the only three teams in the AL who can really be considered “sellers”, with what those teams even willing to part with (and see this for Exhibit A) lessening the amount of “available” players.  

While the number of teams that look to be “out of it” gets larger in the NL, it still doesn’t mushroom.  In the NL, a little more than ½ of the teams in the league (8 of the 14 teams) are at least 7 games out of the 2nd Wild Card position, their divisional lead, or both.  However, when you consider that the 2011 Cardinals – you know, the team that won the World Series last year – were 10 ½ games out of their division in late August and early September and you start to see that not many teams are going to be willing to completely throw in the towel this early.  Suddenly, you start to realize that there are only 7 teams (SEA, MIN, PHI, CHC, SD, COL, and HOU) that are 10 games or more out of both their division and for the 2nd Wild Card and you start to get the sense that there may be more “buyers” than ever this year…all looking to augment their team from an increasingly shrunken group of “sellers”.

That said, while there may be more teams that figure to be in contention, remember that the rules of the new CBA dictate that teams no longer get draft pick compensation if they let these FA walk at the end of the year, which has always been an incentive for teams to hold onto their players if they thought they still had a chance, piling up compensatory draft picks for “lost” FA.  What that means is that there are going to be some awfully tough decisions around the league made in the next couple of weeks as teams like the Brewers, the Marlins, the Diamondbacks, and others will have to decide which side of the cash register they’re going to be sitting on.

In a place like Milwaukee, it becomes even more difficult given the new rules of the CBA as the Brewers’ GM had this to say about Zack Grienke, a player that is rumored to be on the block, given his impending FA:
When players get this close (to free agency), there’s not many that will sign, at that (talent) level,” said Melvin. “He’s a difference-maker to a team that’s got a chance to go to the post-season. Unless you’re raising the bar (to a higher salary), you usually go on the market.”

Shades of CC, circa 2008 there, eh?
Regardless, in addition to the Indians perhaps lacking the prospects to make a move, the assumption that a team like the A’s (who are ½ game back of the 2nd Wild Card…just like the Trbe) is going to be selling off pieces and parts when they’re very clearly in the mix is myopic.  Now, there may be teams that surprise in their moves, surveying their roster and seeing a team that isn’t likely to make a playoff push, regardless of where they sit at the end of July and initiating a sort of “White Flag” deal…and the A’s may be one of those teams. 

But when you see that TEN teams are scouting Ryan Dempster (including the Tribe…allegedly), you start to get a sense of how there are A LOT of teams combing through only a few rosters to find something that could make a difference in the final months of the season.  From the Indians’ perspective, where they may not have the prospects to sit at the same table to ante up for these “impact” players that may or may not be available, it hampers their ability to simply pick and choose who they want because the market is so saturated with teams looking to add a piece or multiple pieces with the price to add those pieces (in terms of prospects) perhaps leaving the Indians on the outside looking on as some of these deals start to happen.

Additionally, what always happens around this team is the inflation of certain players’ values as players get hot or a certain player becomes a hot name on the strength of VERY recent performance.  We’ve seen this to some degree with Al Soriano, who has posted a .924 OPS since the beginning of June with 12 HR in his last 40 games.  But while everyone focuses in on how much the Cubs would be willing to “eat” his salary and begins to salivate about what an Alfonso Soriano could mean to the Indians, check out what Soriano (and another desired “upgrade”) have fared in the last month, compared to that black hole that commands so much ire, the Indians’ LF:
Alfonso Soriano – Since June 17th
.274 BA / .344 OBP / .500 SLG / .844 OPS with 4 2B and 5 HR over 93 PA

Carlos Quentin – Since June 17th
.171 BA / .289 OBP / .276 SLG / .565 OPS with 2 2B and 2 HR over 90 PA

Indians LF – Since June 16th
.306 BA / .356 OBP / .603 SLG / .959 OPS with 10 2B and 8 HR over 133 PA

Now you may be saying that this doesn’t really make sense since the Indians’ LF have 133 PA, while Soriano and Quentin have 2/3 of that amount, but remember that Soriano (though he gets the lion’s share of the time) shares LF in Chicago with others, as does Quentin in San Diego.  The Cleveland total includes contributions from that trio that has caused more hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing than any in recent memory, with LF actually being the least of the Indians’ problems…at least over the last month.

Now don’t take that to mean that I’m just fine and dandy with what’s been happening in LF this year, but if you’re looking to upgrade that spot based on production over the last month, guys like Soriano and Quentin have actually fared worse than the Duncan/Damon/Cunningham troika.  Of course, I see the value in adding a cleaner “everyday” LF and lengthening and strengthening the bench, particularly for the stretch run, but it’s possible that the Indians see these numbers – as well as the numbers for their starting rotation – and say “our lineup is more than good enough” and go in another direction for an addition, particularly considering their lack of prospects to add to the current group in place.

Oh yeah, the Indians’ former GM (and current team president) has already said as much

Now, if you’re back to this idea that the value of certain players gets amped up around this time and that the Tribe is looking to add an arm to their rotation with the prospects that they have in place, I’ll go back to banging the drum for a guy like Seattle LHP Jason Vargas, in an attempt to make a “Fister-ian” addition.

Naturally, it doesn’t look like I’m the only one that has noticed that Vargas is on a bit of a hot streak right now as he has a 2.12 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in his last 4 starts as Nick Cafardo’s always terrific “Sunday Notes” from the Boston Globe had a bit on players that might be moved at the Trading Deadline, including this snippet on Jason Vargas:
Jason Vargas, LHP, Mariners — Could he be this year’s Doug Fister? While all of the Seattle talk surrounds Felix Hernandez, who is likely going nowhere, Vargas has emerged as a hot name for contending teams. “It’s too bad his name got out there because I think there were teams out there trying to slip in and take him for less than full value,’’ said one American League GM. “But now he seems to be in demand and the Mariners aren’t going to give him away. He’s a solid middle of the rotation guy who makes a lot of sense for a lot of teams.” Baltimore, Toronto, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit, and others may have some interest. The Mariners decided not to pitch him this weekend at Safeco (they said, to give him more rest) where he has a 2.84 ERA, and start him in Kansas City. Vargas has a 5.09 ERA in 11 road starts.

Though I can’t really believe that Cafardo used the same idea that Vargas could “be this year’s Doug Fister”, it’s interesting to continue to note that Vargas’ season totals (4.09 ERA, league-leading 25 HR allowed) are still largely colored by one horrific outing in Arizona.  In fact, Vargas’ totals (if you take out that night in Phoenix) come up to a 3.52 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP, and a 84 K/33 BB in the 127 2/3 innings he’s thrown this season, excluding his disastrous outing against the Diamondbacks.

Of course, as Cafardo passes along, plenty of teams are looking at him, even if he’s seen as a “solid middle of the rotation guy” and his price is going to continue to go up with each outing that he is able to show durability (he has gotten through the 6th inning in 17 of his 20 starts) and effectiveness as nearly every team that is in the playoff hunt could use a rotational upgrade.  And I don’t think that there’s much question that a “rotational upgrade” is desirable, with the biggest reason not really being what’s happened with certain pitchers in 2012 to date (though that’s a reason) but more with what might be coming.

By that I mean that the Indians currently have Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin, and Zach McAllister holding down 60% of their rotation and while McAllister has been terrific, let’s remember that he is still 24 and that he only threw a combined 172 1/3 innings last year between Columbus and Cleveland.  After Monday’s game, his 2012 tally is now at 111 2/3 IP and if his inning total is being watched (as most young pitchers do), it could come into play at some point.

But (oddly), McAllister is the least of my worries as the other two pitchers – Lowe and Tomlin – faded down the stretch in a BIG way last year and if either (or…gulp, both) bottom out in similar ways this year, it’s going to be a huge blow to the idea that the Indians can continue to stick around in any kind of race, be it the AL Central or the Wild Card.  If you think I’m worrying a little too much, look at the 1st and 2nd Half numbers (and it is here that I acknowledge that 1st and 2nd Half numbers are divided by a completely arbitrary date) for last year for each, starting with Lowe:
Lowe – 1st Half 2011
4.30 ERA, 1.38 WHIP with .686 OPS against

Lowe – 2nd Half 2011
6.20 ERA, 1.70 WHIP with .850 OPS against

Remember how the Braves were so willing to part with Lowe in the off-season?
Well, those numbers start to explain why and while I’m not going to sit here and pretend to look into a crystal ball and say that Lowe will absolutely come off the rails as the season wears on as he’s been a solid, steady contributor all season and the alleged tweaks that the Indians made to his delivery have made him effective, if inconsistently effective.  But Lowe’s 1st Half numbers this year (4.43 ERA, 1.58 WHIP with a .789 OPS against) are worse than what he did in the 1st Half last year and when you consider that his ERA is 7.16 with an .842 OPS against in his last 9 starts, you can see how worry creeps in.

With Tomlin, worry has been creeping in since about June of last year and when you look at Tomlin’s 1st Half and 2nd Half numbers from last year, it only tells part of the story:
Tomlin – 1st Half 2011
3.81 ERA, 1.02 WHIP with .685 OPS against

Tomlin – 2nd Half 2011
5.26 ERA, 1.21 WHIP with .774 OPS against
As I said, that only tells part of the story as since June 1st of last year, he has a 5.32 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP as his 1st Half numbers for this year (5.45 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) are worse than his 2nd Half numbers for 2011 and, at a certain point, the reality sets in that this may be who Josh Tomlin is.  While it may be fun to root for The Little Cowboy and while people will continue to point to how far he went into games last year, the fact of the matter is that he’s posted a 5.45 ERA in his last 179 IP and that’s not good enough for a playoff team, even as a 5th starter.

So if the Indians CAN add an arm, they can option Tomlin to Columbus (he has 3 options still remaining) and let him enter the Gomez/Kluber mix to be depth in case McAllister hits an inning ceiling or if Derek Lowe runs into trouble as the season wears on, as he did last year.  If they can’t add an arm, the “depth” starters that they have in Columbus may be leaned upon more heavily than anyone’s comfortable with, particularly for a team that’s trying to stay in contention.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment at all on the revelation that the Indians were one of four teams on Justin Upton’s “no-trade list”, as revealed by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.  In case you missed it, here was the write-up, along with Rosenthal’s explanation:
Justin Upton can block trades to four teams, major league sources told FOXSports.com: the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs.
It’s not known whether Upton would use the no-trade clause to block deals to those clubs. Often, players include high-revenue teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs in no-trade protection, thinking that those organizations are better positioned to offer financial inducements in an effort to convince the player to waive the clause.

So…um, that bolded part is pretty disturbing because Rosenthal lists 3 of the 4 of the teams on his no-trade clause, saying that players look for some leverage if those teams were looking to acquire them.  The one that doesn’t fall into that category is YOUR Cleveland Indian team.  Remember that whole thing that Chris Perez posited about Carlos Beltran not wanting to come to Cleveland.  If you don’t, here it is again:
“Guys don’t want to come over here and people wonder why…Why doesn’t Carlos Beltran want to come over here? Well, because of that. That’s part of it. It doesn’t go unnoticed — trust us. That’s definitely a huge reason. Nobody wants to play in front of 5,000 fans. We know the weather (stinks), but people see that. Other players know that.

“You had a choice of playing in St. Louis where you get 40,000 (fans) like Beltran chose to do, or you can come to Cleveland. It’s going to take more money to get him to come to Cleveland. That’s just how it is. That’s another thing that you have to go against. It’s not only the payrolls of the (American League) East teams, but that kind of stuff.”

Now, as much as Perez was vilified for those particular comments (and others, as his comments at the time went off the rails a bit), to see that quartet of teams listed by Upton with Rosenthal explaining the inclusion of three of those teams – and not Cleveland – is impossible to ignore.

Maybe Upton hasn’t seen the new casino and how it’s “saved” downtown (tongue firmly in cheek) or seen how there are actually cranes in the sky in Cleveland (this is actually true) and isn’t privy to the (next) rebirth of Cleveland – and I actually like what’s happening downtown, even if I can’t figure out why they can’t make Burke Lakefront Airport a permanent festival grounds tied into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and host festivals like they do in Milwaukee at SummerFest grounds, right on the water – but I’m getting off-track.

For as much as fans say the team “should” do this and “needs to” do that, they’re up against perceptions like the one that forces Upton to put the Tribe on his no-trade list and it isn’t anything new.  Remember how Carlos Beltran said he’d block a trade to Cleveland around this time last year

Yeah, other than not having a lot of prospects to deal, looking “only” for pitching and offense, the Indians have to pursue only players that aren’t able to block being sent to the North Coast.  Fun times indeed as the trade winds swirl…


MTF said...

More evidence to your point that pitching is our first priority: The Tribe is fourth in the majors for team OPS+, behind only the Angels, Yankees and Cards, while second to last in MLB team ERA+.

Maybe these are crude measures, but the numbers do tell a tale: we need starting pitching first. If Antonetti is permitted to add a bloated contract that might be of significant help in overcoming our poor farm situation. As to Pure Rage's point about attendence I can only hope a race for a post-season slot makes a difference.

Adam said...

I think worry over the pitching is a legit fear. Its not just Tomlin and Lowe either. Right now our only reliable pitcher that we can depend on is McAllister (who appears to be a total diamond in the rough). Jimenez was looking good until he got blown up by Toronto. Masty has looked better and better but is still erratic. I think the depth in the minors will play a role in some way or another, regardless of whether we land a pitcher via trade.

Anyone got any information on the pitchers at Columbus right now? Just taking a cursory glance the realistic options appear to be Gomez, Kluber, and Seddon. The only one I'm familiar with is Gomez. And I can't say he represents a huge upgrade over Tomlin and Lowe. He seems to suffer from the same problem that they do, in a way, in that he can't put anyone away and doesn't have an out pitch. Of the three, Kluber appears to be the best strikeout guy, but I don't know what that means. Seddon appears to be a career minor leaguer who happens to be having a decent year.

Spills said...

I have to say, unless Santanna and Asdrubal get their acts together, I do not think any addition at the deadline is going to matter much to the playoffs this year.

I was about to say that I have some faith in Droobs making a comeback, but then I vaguely remember a rough finish to his 2011. (I've tried to put the painfully melancholy march to suckitude that was the end of last year out of my memory as much as possible)

We may be in trouble here, unless Masterson and Ubaldo turn into the starting version of VP and CP at the end of the game.

This may be one of the most frustrating contending teams to ever follow. The only reason they are in contention at the moment is because of the Herculean efforts of those two guys at the back end of the pen. Everyone else has underwhelmed for much of the season. Listening to Tommy last night, he sounded in pain after watching the team's performances with men on base.

Just some ramblings from a fan far away from home.

DonCleaveland said...

Perez was vilified b/c he blamed the fans for the poor attendance. It's fair enough to say that players don't want to play in front of 15K fans, but the front office is to blame for the crap product they have put on the field the past decade. 2 winning seasons in 10 years is not going to fill a stadium in ANY city.

IMO the issue is not about Cleveland as a place to live or work for these players (it's a great place, even if not NY, LA, etc.) it's about an ownership group that for right or wrong has completely turned off an entire fanbase. We sold out 6 straight years b/c the product was competitive year in and year out.

Paul Cousineau said...

When Acta said that internal help was going to have to come from "inside this clubhouse" a couple of weeks ago, that kind of put to rest any idea that I had that Kluber, Gomez, or anyone else was going to be counted on as much more than depth.

The players that are here now (Santana, Asdrubal, Masterson, and Ubaldo most notably) that are supposed to be carrying this team are going to have to step up in a BIG way to get some momentum going here.

What worries me is that ONLY Cleveland was on that list - not KC, PIT, BAL, or some other team that hasn't won in a long time, yet still routinely outdraws the Tribe.

Maybe you're right that it is all perception about the ownership, but the 6 years of sell-outs was a perfect storm (no Browns, Cavs awful, new stadium, good local economy) that isn't really applicable in present Cleveland.

And don't take my snarky comment on the Casino confuse you...I LOVE living in Cleveland and am as excited as I've been for a long time about the long-term prospects of the city.

Spills said...

Axe man cometh?

MTF said...

Jason Vargas would be perfect for the Indians. And, after these last two outings (today and last night), it's clear we are getting desperate for a reliable starter.

Adam Van Arsdale said...

Who is the 2012 equivalent of 1995 Ken Hill. Whoever that is, that is who we need. So I guess we should prepare ourselves to trade the 2012 versions of David Bell, Rick Heiserman and Pepe McNeal.