Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Lazy Sunday Riding the Coaster


Remember Thursday night?
When the Indians – in what was being called their biggest game of the year – stared down baseball’s best pitcher and their divisional rival and exploded in the 7th inning as the momentum of a season seemed to shift at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario?

Since then, the Indians have been outscored by a 23-5 margin by a team that had been outscored by 106 runs in their previous 98 games in the Twins…and they looked bad doing it.  Up and down…up and down, and as this team continues to astound (Thursday’s game against Verlander) and confound (Friday’s game with Tomlin likely punching his ticket to the bullpen or Columbus and Saturday’s debacle), the Indians find themselves trying to figure out what they’re going to do, with the full knowledge that making any significant upgrades isn’t going to magically turn this team into a cresting juggernaut, but with the pang of a feeling that this AL Central is still inherently flawed as the White Sox (with the tenuousness in their staff) and the Tigers (who always fail to impress when they play the Indians) still look “catchable” for the Tribe…as hard as it is to see this Indians team going on an extended run to catch/pass either or both.

With that said, let’s get loose on a Lazy One attempting to rationalize what’s going on here and what might be coming…

On the Indians: “Chris Antonetti has a tough decision to make in the next few days. Is he is a buyer or a seller? I know they are still close enough to be considered a contender, but I don’t see them as a playoff team, and I think it would be foolish for them to make another Ubaldo Jimenez-type trade this year.”

And while that looks elementary in these parts or to anyone who’s been paying attention, those three sentences really encapsulate what the Tribe is facing.  I certainly don’t think that they have the prospects to make “another Ubaldo Jimenez-type trade”, but I also don’t think that it should preclude them from looking to upgrade the team for 2012 and for beyond.  Apparently, that’s what they’ve been doing while they’ve been looking as everyone from Buster Olney on down has intimated that the Indians are looking for players that they would control past this season.

This represents a good bit of news, as it’s something that I intimated earlier in the week, when making a case for adding a Jason Vargas (good write-up at LGT on Vargas here) or a Paul Maholm in that they would immediately upgrade the Tribe’s rotation and either (or someone like them that is similarly controlled) would help past this year.  While I know that I’ve made my feelings well-known on adding a starting pitcher (and one that can hang around longer than the next couple of months), the recent performances of Tomlin and Lowe have put a greater sense of urgency on that…and I’m not just talking about for 2012.

Reason being is that if you look at the current group of players going forward (or who is assumed to be on the cusp of contributing…which is basically nobody save Lonnie coming back and some bullpen arms), the hole is in the rotation.  It was something that was fleshed out very clearly by Adam Van Arsdale of LGT, when he took a look at what the 2013 team could/should look like.  To see the likes of Kipnis, Choo, Cabrera, Santana, and Brantley leading the offense with Lonnie coming back makes me (somewhat) confident in the offense going forward, even if there are no obvious internal answers to the ongoing issue in LF (though I’m intrigued by this Fedroff “kid” – who is a not-all-that-young 25 – to see if they can catch him on a hot streak) or 1B.  But the rotation next year is Masterson, Ubaldo, and McAllister (he of the 14 games started…in his career) and a number of question marks…as if Ubaldo and McAllister aren’t still question marks.  Sure, you can say that Fauxberto has a $7M option for next year that’s still out there and Carlos Carrasco is supposed to be ready for the start of 2013, but if we’ve learned anything about counting on starting pitching depth…it’s to not count on any starting pitching depth.

While the offense garners the attention of the teeth-gnashers and the wailers, the rotation still sits 4th from the bottom of the AL in ERA (4.77) and the bullpen is still second from the bottom (4.09 ERA) and while the reason for those poor overall numbers are easily traceable to the back-end-of-the-rotation (particularly recently) and the front-end-of-the-bullpen, this team isn’t going to stick around – or run off a sustained winning streak – with the current pitching situation, particularly at the back-end-of-the-rotation.  Maybe that means that a guy like Corey Kluber comes up to replace Tomlin for his next start (if a trade isn’t consummated before Tuesday) with Fauxberto assuming Lowe’s spot in mid-August, but does that back-end-of-the-rotation garner much more optimism?

Realizing that I’ve been banging this drum (sometimes feeling lonely while doing it) for a while now, the struggles of the 2012 team were put into some terrific context against the 2011 version through 98 games earlier in the week by Jordan Bastian.  Though I’ll ask you to excuse the MASSIVE cut-and-paste, when legwork and research like this is done, it should be seen (nearly) in its entirety:
Cleveland’s offense has been nearly identical to the one pieced together at this point last season. The on-base is up and the slugging is up (the Tribe is drawing more walks and striking out less), but the team has scored the same amount of runs (425) and belted the same amount of home runs (90) through 98 games as it did in 2011.

That’s a problem. The offense was supposed to be improved — not the same. That said, the glaring difference between the Indians through 98 games this year and the Indians through 98 games last year rests within the team’s pitching staff.
Rotation (through 98 games)
2012: 36-42, 4.70 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 580.1 IP, 617 H, 368 K, 229 BB
2011: 36-36, 4.32 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 591.2 IP, 612 H, 379 K, 163 BB

Bullpen (through 98 games)
2012: 13-7, 4.09 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 294.2 IP, 250 H, 282 K, 114 BB
2011: 15-11, 3.39 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 281.1 IP, 252 H, 230 K, 103 BB
The rotation is averaging fewer innings per start, putting more pressure on the Tribe’s middle relievers. That’s why you see the spike in bullpen ERA. The rotation has also experienced a big jump in walks issued, creating more traffic and, naturally, more damage caused by the hits allowed.

Offense (through 98 games)
2012: .256/.332/.401, 90 HR, 178 2B, 406 RBI, 425 R, 628 K, 353 BB
2011: .249/.319/.393, 90 HR, 171 2B, 403 RBI, 425 R, 733 K, 311 BB

Record (through 98 games)
2012: 49-49 (-4.0 in ALC)
2011: 51-47 (-1.5 in ALC)
There are clear needs in the offense, but the Indians could also benefit from improved middle relief and starting pitching. Those are a lot of holes to fill before the Trade Deadline, and it’s unlikely that the team is able to address all three areas.
As for the pitching…

“Of course we need pitching help. Everybody knows that,” Acta said. “That’s a priority.”

Now, what’s most interesting to think about is that the 2012 offense is on par with the 2011 offense and the 2012 pitching has been worse than the 2011 offense through 98 games…or right around this time last year.

Anyone remember what the Indians added at this time last year?
They added pitching in Ubaldo and while the presence of Ubaldo has not had the type of impact that the Indians had hoped, to look at the recent past – in terms of the team identifying needs and moving pieces to upgrade the parent club – likely provides a clue as to what could be in store, if the Indians do still decide to make an addition.  Now, with some starting pitchers having already been dealt, it’s possible that the Indians still find that piece that slots into the rotation now and beyond.  While I don’t think that they have the prospects to net a James Shields from Tampa – or someone of his ilk – upgrading that back-end-of-the-rotation makes a run for the next couple of months more feasible and certainly sets the team up better going past this year.

Because going back to the idea that Acta calls the pitching a “priority” and remembering that earlier linked piece from LGT, projecting the 2013 team that Van Arsdale put together, that “priority” seems so much more pronounced to me, particularly when you consider that the quintet of Choo, Kipnis, Cabrera, Santana, and Brantley are all performing at a pretty high level.  If you think that’s hyperbole, consider that each of those five players are ranked in the top 49 in the AL in terms of OPS.  Only five teams (including the Tribe) have five or more players ranked in the top 50 in OPS with Texas, Chicago, and New York leading that list with 6 players in the top 50 in OPS in the AL and the Tribe and the Twins (!) topping the Tigers, the Angels, the Blue Jays, the Red Sox, among others that don’t boast that relative “depth” in their lineup.

That’s not to say that the Indians couldn’t use an upgrade in the lineup, as they certainly could, but for as much talk as there has been about the inability of the offense to produce consistently, the glaring hole in the back of the rotation – for today AND tomorrow – burns brighter than any for me.  And if the Indians are looking to make a move for a player that is not a rental player, adding a pitcher that could fit into the rotation to stabilize that rotation because this team simply won’t be able to even think about sniffing contention into August with Lowe and Tomlin going the way that they are right now.  Because “right now”, that duo has the 2nd and 4th worst ERA among starters in the AL in the past 30 days (and Ubaldo has the 6th worst) and for the Indians to go on the run that they’re going to have to, any effort to sustain a winning streak is going to be stopped by one of those two (or three) or both (or all three).

Reading that last bit about how dreadful the rotation has been and seeing these last couple of games in Minnesota, you might think that the case is slowly being laid out here to “sell” to attempt to re-load for another day.  But the two most desirable pieces to move would be Shin-Soo Choo and Chris Perez and while I think a case could be made to trade one (depending upon return), unless they Indians are netting a player that immediately steps into their lineup or rotation when they arrive, I can’t see how that could be taken as anything but a step-back for this team that still looks set up to compete in the coming years because (particularly in the case of Choo) as Castrovince noted, “the Indians would be extremely hard-pressed to replace the production provided by Choo, especially given their organizational outfield abyss. I’d imagine it would take a huge haul to prompt them to move him.”

And even if you’re talking about a “huge haul”, it starts to cloud this issue of “windows” and expectations of when (or even if) the Indians are setting themselves up to win.  Maybe that issue of “windows” has been clouded by the first couple of games in Minnesota and the Indians start to look to make a move, and try to move a player like Perez to see if the Giants (or someone else) would overpay for him. 

And, as a quick aside, if the Giants are foolhardy enough to give up Brandon Belt (a 24-year-old 1B who was recently mentioned as a “change-of-scenery” guy who doesn’t seem to be on Bruce Bochy’s Christmas Card list) or Gary Brown (an OF ranked one spot behind Lindor in Kevin Goldstein’s pre-2012 rankings and in AA) for Chris Perez, I’m all for it as the reasons to move Chris Perez aren’t hard to list – about to get more expensive via the continuation of arbitration, the volatility of reliever, the overvaluation of “closers”, etc. – without even getting into the whole idea to “sell high”.

But let’s be honest about the fact that the Indians are in the position that they are largely because of the work of Chris Perez (and, even more notably, Vinnie Pestano) in the back-end of their bullpen and I’d be more inclined to move a guy like Perez in the off-season, hopefully finding a situation similar to the one that allowed the Athletics to pry an everyday OF in Josh Reddick out of Boston for their closer.  Because if the Indians can continue to graduate these young arms into their bullpen, I don’t think there’s much question that Pestano could slide up that bullpen ladder with a scout telling B-Pro’s Perrotto that “I don’t know if people around baseball realize what a weapon he (Pestano)  is. He’s a lockdown eighth-inning guy, and I'm sure he could be a good closer if he got the chance.”

Whether that “chance” comes in the next week or in the next year remains to be seen and really, that’s a conversation for another day as the Indians are living day to day right now with the rumor mill spinning at full tilt and with the Tribe’s playoff outlook looking bleaker with each crushing loss.









Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tomahawks Holding On


As another AL Central domino fell with the Tigers adding Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Motor City for top prospect Jacob Turner (a player whose value is not sniffed by anyone in the organization’s…probably including Lindor, and the Tigers still have top prospect Nick Castellanos if they want to call him up later) and with the series against the Orioles fresh in everyone’s minds, this past weekend had an old, familiar feeling to them…and it wasn’t a good one.  As the Tigers started to build momentum (and the White Sox arguably had a worse week than the Tribe recently) AND making the moves that look to cement their status as the AL Central favorites (perhaps finally), there was a growing sense that the 2012 season has disappeared…or is at least circling the drain.

But baseball is a funny game and is unquestionably a marathon, where 3-game series in late July do not dictate an entire season – although this series is important – and before any obituaries are written and before the name of any team is etched into the record books (or Claret Jugs), let’s remember that it is still not quite the end of July and while the Indians, as of late, have looked nothing like a playoff contender, let’s not simply assume that the Tribe is ready to slink quietly into the night. 
At least not yet… 

While it is true that the Indians’ perpetually glaring holes have been exposed in a BIG way in the past week or so and the fact that the Tribe sits 7th in the AL in playoff expectancy (there are 5 spots open), the Indians have 11 games remaining against the Tigers after Tuesday night, 6 more (late in the season) against the White Sox, and a whopping 25 games left against the Twins, the Royals and the Mariners.  So, they have 65 games left in the season, with 17 of them coming against the two teams presently in front of them and 25 of them (that’s 38% of their remaining games, everyone) against the unquestioned dregs of the AL.

So, before we start to wonder who the Giants would part with for Chris Perez (and I’m not opposed to this idea, but maybe not until the off-season) or wonder what Shin-Soo Choo would net in a seller’s market, let’s see what the Indians do with an opportunity right in front of them and more around every corner for the rest of season.
And so, let’s get some Tomahawks in the air…
__________

By now, you’ve seen that Fauxberto Hernandez is back in Cleveland and will finish serving his suspension on August 11th and will at some point to his return as the reinforcement that the Tribe rotation has been badly in need of.  And I’d agree with that…at least part of it, because the way that I see the Indians’ rotation going forward, they’re still a piece short, #55’s return considered.  If the assumption is that Carmona will ostensibly replace Lowe in the rotation (and I can’t imagine that Lowe makes it that long, given the way he’s going), my fear that the Indians would STILL need another arm to remove Josh Tomlin from the rotation stands…and not just for 2012.

Thus, even with Carmona/Hernandez back in the States, I’d still look for an arm right now – and an arm that is under club control through the end of 2012 and through 2013.  Though I know you’re tired of seeing me throw Jason Vargas’ name out there (now a 1.77 ERA in his last 5 starts, where he’s averaging more than 7 IP per start), another suggestion of Paul Maholm was made recently by TCF’s Nino Colla, with Maholm (0.89 ERA in his last 5 appearances) making sense for the same reason that Vargas would in that they’d both be under club control through 2013, both are LH and both would probably be available, given that the Cubs and the Mariners are in full-blown sell mode.

Perhaps the Indians wouldn’t have the ammo (in terms of prospects) to even net a player like Vargas or Maholm – and yes, I’m serious about that, particularly seeing the prospects that are changing hands – but the Indians should still be pro-active as we approach the Trading Deadline, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the Detroit series may be.  Maybe they shouldn’t be looking for that “one piece” or a “rental” to provide a push (and the Yankees and Pirates have both been scared away by the Phillies’ asking price for Shane Victorino…the player I still like the most as a “RH” bat, given that he’s hit LHP the best among players that figure to be available), the way that it was assumed a couple of weeks ago, but if they’re still looking at 2012/2013 as a “window”, they should do their due diligence to see if they can find a player that upgrades the rotation…and for longer than just a couple of months.

With nothing in the high-Minors that figures to arrive any time soon (outside of Lonnie’s return next year) and realizing how the FA market for Starting Pitchers is usually…um, out of the Indians’ price range, finding an arm that can sit in the middle-of-the-rotation should remain a priority.  Maybe the Indians can find that “Fister-ian” addition (and remember, Ubaldo was the BIG get last year in the division, at least perception-wise, with Fister making the impact), although I’m not sure that the impact of a Maholm or a Vargas would be enough to make up enough ground in the AL Central or even the 2nd Wild Card.  Remember, Fister was acquired by the Tigers last year not only because he upgraded the 2011 team, but also because he was still under club control through the end of the 2015 season, so the Tigers made that move for now and later.

Because sometimes being a “buyer” means buying something that you need for more than just a couple of months…
__________

Speaking of starting pitching and being a “buyer”, there are many unfortunate details pertaining to the Indians and Kevin Youkilis being traded to the White Sox on June 24.  First and foremost goes to the news passed along by Terry Pluto a couple of weeks ago that went a little something like this:
I was told Boston wanted Josh Tomlin in any deal for Kevin Youkilis. The Indians may have considered that if they had more depth of starting pitching in the minors. But the problem is Jeanmar Gomez struggled and was sent to Class AAA Columbus. The Tribe wants to keep him there for a while. 

To be clear, this is the same Josh Tomlin that currently has a 5.34 ERA on the year and that hasn’t been an effective pitcher since the beginning of last June.  Sure he’s under club control for…well, who even cares really as Tomlin’s 5.34 ERA puts him 99th in MLB among pitchers with more than 90 IP on the year.  And, given that he had a 5.26 ERA after the All-Star Break last year, they may have passed on acquiring Kevin Youkilis for a pitcher that may not finish the season in the rotation and may not figure very clearly into plans past this year.

Now, it should be noted that nobody (other than Kenny Williams) expected Youkilis to energize the White Sox in the way that he did as I wrote that he was not much more than an “incremental upgrade” and we have no way of knowing what Youkilis would have done if he would have arrived on the North Coast, but the fact that the Indians passed on him because of injuries sustained to Carlos Carrasco last year and Austin Adams this year (most notably) makes the timing of needing to make a move but being hesitant because of lack of depth pretty painful to look back on, even if was just a month ago.

What makes it all the more painful is that the Indians likely didn’t make a bigger push for Youkilis because Lonnie Chisenhall was starting to really hit, as in the 8 games prior to his injury, The Chiz posted an OPS of 1.048 with as many walks (1…but still) as strikeouts and the “need” for a 3B was lessened, with the Indians likely thinking that Lopez and Hannahan could strengthen the bench and Chisenhall would represent one “bat” that they so badly needed.  Now, remember how Youkilis was traded on June 24th?
Chisenhall was injured 5 days later, gone for the season…

And while you could certainly argue that the Indians could have utilized Youkilis in a 1B/DH/RH bat role very easily, the thinness of the young arms in the minors and Chisenhall’s presumed emergence probably made them think twice about adding him.  A week later, Chisenhall was gone for the season and about a month later, Tomlin doesn’t look long for the rotation.

Hindsight is always 20/20 on this stuff, but the timing of not knowing about the timeframe of the return of #55 AND Chisenhall’s injury less than a week later meant that the Indians passed on acting more aggressively on Youkilis because of events that led up to that point, with Lonnie’s injury less than a week later likely leaving the Tribe more than a little regretful that they didn’t make a harder push for Youkilis.
__________

But even with Youkilis on the South Side and with the Tigers adding Sanchez, it’s possible that the Indians have added a pretty big piece in the last couple of weeks…and no, I’m not talking about Brent Lillibridge, who immediately became fodder for the 140-character artists who put forth that “THIS is our BIG addition” and spent too much time worrying about the 25th spot on the roster as usual.

No, the big “addition” that may have happened is the return of one Carlos Santana and if you’re wondering where this optimism that the severely-flawed Indians could stay in this thing, it comes from the idea that Santana may (once again) be rounding into form.  In the 15 games since Independence Day, Santana has put forth this line:
.304 BA / .484 OBP / .543 SLG / 1.027 OPS with 5 2B and 2 HR in 62 PA

Not too shabby and when you figure that those 7 XBH (which doesn’t include Santana’s 2B on Tuesday night) were as many as he had from May 12 to July 4 and while I’m not going to pretend to know what’s different about Santana recently, there is a very odd “coincidence” about when Santana started to turn his season around, because his improved performance at the plate last year actually coincided with an identical event.  This year and last year, Carlos Santana struggled mightily when Hafner was on the DL and made a dramatic and pronounced improvement when Hafner returned.   Realizing that I’ve pointed this out before, it’s worth pointing out again and updating:
Carlos Santana – 2012
Opening day to May 23
.257 BA / .374 OBP / .405 SLG / .779 OPS with 7 2B & 5 HR in 182 PA
Not bad numbers, but nothing too special and Hafner hit the DL with his knee injury on May 24, with Santana’s production dropping off a cliff…

From May 24 to July 3
.148 BA / .271 OBP / .198 SLG / .468 OPS with 4 2B & 0 HR in 96 PA
After the July 3 game, Hafner came off of the DL and (for the purposes of seeing these all together) Santana came alive…

From July 4 to now
.304 BA / .484 OBP / .543 SLG / 1.027 OPS with 5 2B and 2 HR in 62 PA
Look, I’m not going to pretend like I know why this is…maybe Santana sees more fastballs with Hafner hitting behind or maybe he hits with more confidence with Hafner in the lineup with him, but compare those three sets of numbers to what happened in 2011, when Hafner was on the DL from May 18 to June 16 of last year

Carlos Santana – 2011
Opening Day to May 17, 2011
.233 BA / .367 OBP / .419 SLG / .786 OPS with 6 2B & 6 HR in 158 PA

From May 18 to June 16
.191 BA / .312 OBP / .292 SLG / .604 OPS with 6 2B & 1 HR in 109 PA

From June 17 to End of Season
.254 BA / .355 OBP / .515 SLG / .870 OPS with 23 2B & 20 HR in 391 PA

Again, look at the power surge that happened last year after Hafner returned, with Santana hitting FOURTY-THREE XBH and TWENTY HR in his final 391 PA after hitting only 2 HR from May 1 of last year to June 16, 2011.  Draw your own conclusions on this – and don’t take it to mean that I’m anywhere CLOSE to thinking that the Tribe should pick up Hafner’s option for next year or that I think that Hafner should be on the roster next year – but this has now happened two years in a row now and there might actually be something at play with Hafner’s presence and Santana’s effectiveness.

Most encouraging about Santana’s recent play is the return of that power (something we were all hungry for about a month ago) and if he can be as successful against LHP as he was last year (because he was pretty good last year), the Indians might have that “big bat” upon which everyone has remained laser-focused, despite a league-average offense and a back-end-of-the-rotation that isn’t close to league-average.
__________

Regardless, for as much focus as has been put on THIS series, let’s see how this series goes and see what the Tribe can do to brighten their outlook for the rest of the 2012 season…and maybe beyond.  







Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lazy Sunday Ranking the Prospects


It’s hard to believe, but there’s only one more Sunday between now and the MLB trade deadline. Indians fans, who by their very nature never agree on anything, unanimously agree that the team has to make a move in order to remain a serious contender for either the Central Division or one of the (new and improved) two AL wildcard spots. If you haven’t read Paulie’s midweek Tomahawks piece, stop what you’re doing right now, click here, read it and come back. Really, we’ll wait. Ready? Ok, now that you’ve indulged yourself with that outstanding trade deadline primer, let’s take a midseason look at the bullets that Chris Antonetti is going to have in his gun when trying to execute a deadline deal in the next 11 days or so. This won’t be a strict prospect ranking per se, as no 2012 draftees will be here, but more of a rough “pref list” as I would construct it if I were a rival GM dealing with the Indians in trade talks. Basically, I will be slightly more upset if the Indians trade the #24 player on this list that the #25 player, and so on. Whether or not the Indians end up making a deal is still up for debate, but if they do it will likely involve one or more players from this list.

25. Jared Goedert, 3B-Columbus Clippers
Goedert has never quite had a chance to hit major league pitching. He broke out with a huge power year in 2010, hitting 20 HR in 81 games for AAA Columbus. Going into the 2011 season, the Indians had holes at both 3B and 1B, Goedert’s primary defensive positions. He suffered an untimely oblique injury in spring training though, and only ended up playing in 87 minor league games in 2011. He hit 18 HR and posted an .858 OPS between Akron and Columbus, but he was doing it as a 26-year old against mostly younger competition. He began 2012 the same place he began 2010, right back in AA Akron. He’s worked his way up to AAA Columbus, and is hitting .340/.403/.543 with 14 HR and 54 RBI in 86 games between the two levels. He’s not going to headline any deals, but the 27-year old could be an intriguing throw-in for a team with an opening in 1B/3B/LF/DH. He’s a below-average defender, but if a team wants to give him a shot there’s a chance he can at least be a versatile power bat off the bench.

24. Tyler Sturdevant, RP-Columbus Clippers
A 27th round draft pick in 2009, Sturdevant has struck out an impressive 10.7 batters per 9 IP in his career. He threw 74 2/3 innings in 2011, mostly between Kinston and Akron, posting a 2.65 ERA and recording 82 K. He was slated to start 2012 in the Columbus bullpen, but the 26-year old suffered an arm injury in spring training and didn’t make his 2012 debut until June with high-A Carolina. He’s moved quickly to Columbus, but hasn’t had the same success in 2012 as he has in the past. He’s thrown 18 2/3 innings overall, striking out 15 and posting a 3.86 ERA. Sturdevant’s best pitch is his cutter, and he’s especially tough on righthanded hitters. He could be a useful part of a major league bullpen, but his trade value is diminished by his injury issues this year.

23. Juan Diaz, SS-Akron Aeros
Diaz spent some time in the majors with the Indians this year, going 4-15 with a walk and 5 K in 5 games with the Indians. He’s a just 23, a solid but unspectacular defender at short, but will probably never hit enough to be an everyday shortstop in the major leagues. He came over to the Indians in the Russell Branyan trade in 2010, and has a career OPS of .673 in 686 minor league games. He’s a big guy at 6’4”, 200lbs, and his size, youth and defensive ability make him an intriguing prospect.

22. Nick Weglarz, LF-Akron Aeros
Weglarz has long been one of my favorite players in the organization, but he just can’t seem to stay healthy. He played in just 128 games in the 2010 and 2011 seasons combined, having torn the meniscus in his knee in spring training prior to 2011. He’s healthy this year, but back in AA Akron again for the 4th season in a row. It seems like he’s been around forever, but he’s still just 24 years old. When he’s healthy, Weglarz can hit for power and get on base. He posted a .889 OPS in 50 games for AAA Columbus as a 22-year old back in 2010, and at that time it looked as though he was the Indians LF of the future. His inability to stay in the lineup has cost him though, and his .245/.350/.435 with 12 HR in Akron isn’t exactly setting the world on fire. He’s a classic change of scenery guy who could thrive in a new organization, as he’s clearly fallen out of favor with the current Indians regime.

21. Dorssys Paulino, SS-Arizona Indians
Paulino likely isn’t going anywhere, as the Indians made a $1.1 million investment in the 17-year old shortstop just last year. He projects to have a plus bat, although some scouts are projecting a move to 3B as he gets bigger and older. Even if he does move to 3B, the bat should play there, and that’s his main calling card. In his first professional experience, he’s hitting .337/.406/.596 with 3 HR, 6 doubles, 4 triples and 15 RBI in 21 games with the Arizona League Indians. I really like what I’ve seen with this kid, and I’m excited to see what he can do outside of the complex leagues.

20. Jeanmar Gomez, SP-Columbus Clippers
Gomez is more or less a known commodity at this point, which works both for and against the Indians in the trade market. Scouts have seen him get major league hitters out. Scouts have also seen him struggle to get major league hitters out. He went 4-7 with a 5.18 ERA in 13 starts for the Indians this year before being sent back down to AAA Columbus. He’s made 4 starts for the Clippers, striking out 22 and walking just 5 in 29 IP while putting up a 1.86 ERA. Do I think he’s figured things out with this trip to Columbus? No, no I do not. But he’s 24 and will be under club control for a long time, so he might be able to be used as a sweetner in a deal. Maybe a move to the NL would help.

19. Eric Berger, RP-Columbus Clippers
After playing around with a return to the rotation earlier in the year, the Indians moved Berger back to the bullpen where he has thrived. In 21 1/3 IP out of the pen, the lefthanded Berger has struck out 22, walked 7 and allowed just 4 ER. At the very least, he can be a LOOGY out of the bullpen with a glorious mustache. Best case, he’s a reliever effective against both lefties and righties with a glorious mustache. His platoon splits make him slightly more effective against same-siders, but so dramatically that he’ll be banished to the LOOGY role without a shot against righthanders. He’s pretty much limited to the bullpen role, as his ERA as a starter was 5.28 this year with the Clippers.

18. Bryce Stowell, RP-Akron Aeros
Bryce Stowell was Cody Allen before Cody Allen was Cody Allen. Stowell exploded onto the scene in 2010, striking out 102(!) in 67 1/3 innings between Kinston, Akron and Columbus. He dominated minor league hitters with a triple-digit fastball and a wipeout slider, posting a 2.14 ERA and becoming one of the top relief prospects not just in the Indians organization, but in all of baseball. He had some arm trouble in 2011, throwing just 38 2/3 IP but still striking out 57. He’s back in Akron here in 2012, but again suffering from some minor ailments that have restricted him to just 19 2/3 IP this year (32 K). If Stowell could stay on the mound, he’d be in Cleveland already. His stuff is tantalizing, although he no longer throws 100 MPH, but all the stuff in the world doesn’t do you any good if you’re sitting in street clothes in the stands because of arm trouble. He’s a tough guy to assign value to, because when he’s on the field, he’s lights-out. But he’s just not on the mound enough to be able to count on him as a reliable member of the organization long-term.

17. Thomas Neal, RF-Akron Aeros
Neal came over in the Orlando Cabrera trade from the San Francisco Giants organization last year. He’s got some pop, but isn’t a power hitter. He’s got some speed, but isn’t a burner. He has a good but not great arm, and an above-average hit tool. He’s 24 years old, and currently has a .299/.388/.453 line with 7 HR and 37 RBI in 79 AA games. That’s pretty much right in line with his career numbers of .296/.373/.462. We’ve already seen more or less what he’s worth straight up in the trade market; an old, defensively deficient infielder with poor plate discipline.

16. T.J. House, SP-Akron Aeros
House had a poor season in 2011, going 6-12 with a 5.19 ERA for high-A Kinston. He really worked hard in the offseason, and reported to Goodyear this spring 25 pounds lighter, and with a lower, more ¾ arm slot rather than the more over the top arm slot he featured in 2011. The adjustments have paid off in a big way, as House is 8-2 with a 3.39 ERA with 83 K in 111 2/3 IP between Carolina and Akron this year. The lefthander out of Picayune, Mississippi is just 22-years old and has #3 or #4 starter upside. He doesn’t miss a ton of bats, but does a nice job keeping the ball on the ground and in the ballpark.

15. Chun Chen, 1B-Akron Aeros
Chen was a full-time catcher until this year, when the Indians decided that his glove was lagging so far behind his bat that it was time for a position change to first base. As a catcher, Chen’s bat was elite. As a first baseman, it’s more in the slightly above-average range. For some reason, the move to 1B sapped Chen of his power. After hitting .262/.330/.451 with 16 HR in 113 games last season, he’s hitting .321/.409/.448 with 4 HR in 85 games this year. Some of his HR’s appear to have turned into doubles, as he is 2nd in the Eastern League with 26 two-baggers. It’s great to see the improvement in batting average and OBP, but the drop in power is concerning. If the doubles turn back into homers, he’s a legit prospect at first base. If not, he’s Casey Kotchman (.323 hitter in the minors) without the defense.

14. Tony Wolters, 2B-Carolina Mudcats
Wolters was the Indians 3rd round pick in 2010, and played all of the 2011 season in the short-season New York-Penn League after breaking a bone in his wrist during spring training. He had a solid season with the Scrappers, hitting .292/.385/.363 with a HR, 20 RBI, 19 SB and 50 runs scored in 69 games. The Indians decided to skip him over low-A Lake County and start him off in Carolina this year, and it took some time for Wolters to adjust to the advanced pitching. He hit just .130/.231/.159 in the month of April, and the assignment was looking like a mistake. But he bounced back to hit .291/.360/.408 in May, and his season line is all the way up to a respectable .266/.325/.379 with 3 HR and 41 RBI. Wolters doesn’t have a ton of power, but has a solid hit tool and is an above-average defender at 2B. He is a relentless worker on and off the field, with 80 grade #want so the overall package is better than the sum of his tools.

13. Compensation pick from MLB Competitive Balance Lottery

More on this at the end. Stay tuned.

12. Luigi Rodriguez, CF-Lake County Captains
Rodriguez is one of the fastest players in the Indians organization, and was moved from 2B to CF in 2010. He has top of the lineup skills, including a solid hit tool, plus speed and a good approach. He’s hitting .276/.344/.413 with 8 HR, 15 doubles and 18 stolen bases this season for the Captains. He has the ability to become an above-average defender in CF, but isn’t there yet. He still needs more experience in CF, more time reading line drives off the bat etc. He’s got more pop that you’d expect out of a guy his size, and is a switch hitter as well. Rodriguez is just 19 years old, and has significant upside, but he’s an awful long ways from the major leagues and a lot can happen between Lake County and Cleveland.

11. Jason Donald, 2B/3B-Columbus Clippers
Donald of course came over in the Cliff Lee trade from the Phillies, and hasn’t really lived up to his billing. He’s 27 years old, and in 145 career games in the major leagues, he’s hitting .265/.317/.368 with 11 HR and 36 RBI. That’s not great, but it’s not completely horrible either. I’m not sure what was wrong with Donald in his Cleveland stint this season, when he posted just a .435 OPS in 18 games. Sent down to Columbus, he’s playing fairly well with a .255/.351/.406 line, 4 HR and 23 RBI in 50 games with the Clippers. No one sees him as a future all-star, or even a first division starter in the majors. But he can still be a useful utility player for someone, and that still has some value.

10. Scott Barnes, RP-Columbus Clippers
Barnes was a starter throughout his career until this season, when the Indians decided to see how his stuff transitioned to the bullpen. He came over in 2009 from the Giants in exchange for Ryan Garko, and made his major league debut this season. He got knocked around with the big league club, giving up 9 ER on 12 hits and 7 BB in 10 IP out of the Indians bullpen. He did strike out 10 hitters, but that’s not enough when you’re giving up almost two baserunners per inning. He’s still just 24 years old, and as a reliever in Columbus he posted a 2.08 ERA in 17 1/3 IP with 21 K and 8 BB. He’s a tall, lanky guy with a deceptive motion, and he still could be a very productive member of a major league bullpen.

9. Cord Phelps, 2B-Columbus Clippers
Like Donald and Barnes, we’ve seen Phelps in the major leagues already, and the results have been less than pretty. That doesn’t mean he’ll never have a shot to play in the majors again though. He made his major league debut last season, and looked overwhelmed in limited, inconsistent playing time. He hit .155/.241/.254 with one HR in 71 at bats, and was sent back down to AAA Columbus in favor of Jason Kipnis pretty quickly. Phelps is pretty well blocked at both 2B and 3B in this organization with Kipnis and Chisenhall in front of him, so his future is either as a utility infielder or with another organization. He’s hitting .267/.357/.435 this year with the Clippers, which is actually below his .294/.376/.492 line from 2011. Just because he didn’t immediately come up and set the league on fire doesn’t mean he’ll never be at least an offense-oriented utility infielder for a major league team down the road.

8. Cody Allen, RP-Cleveland Indians
We’ve all seen what Allen can do now that he’s been called up to the Indians. He’s a power reliever who was drafted in the 23rd round just last year and is already in the majors. He flew through the system this year, starting off in high-A Carolina and stopping off in Akron and Columbus on his way to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. His fastball sits in the high-90’s, and he used it to strike out an impressive 53 hitters in 43 1/3 minor league innings this year. He’s 23 years old, and if he can pitch in Cleveland anything like he pitched in the minor leagues, he’ll be in the major leagues to stay.

7. T.J. McFarland, SP-Columbus Clippers
McFarland is a 23-year old lefty drafted out of an Illinois high school in the 4th round of the 2007 draft. He’s worked his way all the way up to AAA Columbus, and has a career minor league ERA of 3.75. He’s much more of a command and control guy than a thrower, sitting between 88-92 with his fastball. He has the best sinker in the Indians minor league system, and uses it to keep the ball on the ground and in the ballpark. He’s 12-5 overall this year between Akron and Columbus with a 3.72 ERA, 67 K and 31 BB in 113 2/3 IP. He’s given up just 4 HR this year, and has a 1.89 GO/AO ratio. He’s similar to a lefthanded Jake Westbrook, a guy who’s not going to strike out too many hitters but will induce a lot of doubleplay grounders to help make up for it. He’s a big, strong kid with no history of injuries and there’s little doubt he can stick in the starting rotation. He’s not going to be a #1 starter, but there’s a good chance that he’ll have a long and productive major league career.

6. Cory Kluber, SP-Columbus Clippers
Kluber came over from the Cardinals in exchange for Jake Westbrook back in 2010. He’s a 26-year old righty who’s basically done all he can do in the minors and is just waiting for an opportunity to see if he can get major league hitters out. Kluber struggled at AAA in 2011, going 7-11 with a 5.56 ERA in 27 starts. He’s been a much better pitcher in 2012, raising his K/9 rate (9.5), lowering his BB/9 rate (3.6) and by extension dropping his ERA to 3.69. The walk rate is still a little high, but it’s balanced by the high strikeout numbers. He’s a major league ready starter that can step right in to a big league rotation as soon as there’s an opening, whether it’s with the Indians or another organization after he’s dealt.

5. Zach McAllister, SP-Cleveland Indians
McAllister is another guy who’s made a big leap this season. He began 2012 in AAA Columbus, where he was the Clippers’ opening day starter. He went 5-2 with a 2.98 ERA, 52 K and 19 BB in 63 1/3 IP, and was called up to the big-league roster after Jenmar Gomez struggled in the Indians rotation. Since being called up to the show, McAllister has made 8 starts, and has been very effective. He’s 4-1 with a 3.17 ERA in 48 1/3 IP, and has struck out 46 while walking 14. I was never too high on McAllister coming up through the system because I thought he didn’t miss enough bats to be more than a back-end starter in the majors. He’s striking out more hitters this year than ever before though, and if he can maintain the higher K rate he can be a #3 or #4 starter in a big-league rotation.

4. Jesus Aguilar, 1B-Carolina Mudcats
Aguilar broke out with a big power season in 2011, hitting 23 homers and 30 doubles between Lake County and Kinston. He’s following that up with an even better year here in 2012, hitting .292/.384/.490 with 11 HR and 47 RBI, and starting at first base for the World Team in the 2012 Futures Game during all-star weekend. Aguilar’s raw power is undeniable, as the 6’3”, 260lb 1B puts on a show in batting practice. But there were questions about Aguilar’s defense and pure hitting ability coming into this season. Aguilar worked very hard on his defense during the offseason and spring training, and he’s worked his way from a future DH to a legitimate first baseman. He’s also hit at or around .300 all season, showing that he’s more than just a one-dimensional slugger. Aguilar has improved his prospect stock as much or more than any player in the Indians organization this season.

3. Ronny Rodriguez, SS-Carolina Mudcats
Rodriguez is a 20-year old shortstop out of the Dominican Republic that made his stateside debut last year with the Lake County Captains. He’s a toolsy, athletic guy who has the defensive chops to stick at SS long-term. He has above-average range at short, and a plus arm. He’s hitting .268/.303/.442 with 12 HR and 48 RBI for the Mudcats this season. He creates a nice problem to have, as he’s more or less “blocked” by the prospect behind him in the organization, Lake County’s Francisco Lindor. As things currently stand, Lindor is projected to be the better player down the road. That makes Rodriguez a trade chip, and his power/defense combination is going to be tempting for teams dealing with the Indians in trade talks.

2. Dillon Howard, RHP-Arizona Indians
Almost by default, Howard is the 2nd best prospect in the system right now. He dealt with some nagging injuries coming out of spring training, and didn’t make his professional debut until the complex leagues started up a few weeks ago. He’s made 5 appearances (4 starts) in the complex leagues, throwing 17 1/3 innings. He has a 6.75 ERA, 14 K and has walked 10 hitters. He’s a long ways from the major leagues, but has the frame and stuff that general managers like to dream on.

1.Francisco Lindor, SS-Lake County
Lindor is the only true blue-chip asset the Indians have outside of the major league roster. He was ranked #1 in my pre-season prospect rankings, and if he’s still healthy and in the organization next year, he’ll be #1 again. He’s the closest thing the Indians have to an “untouchable” asset, and the ONLY way he’d be involved in a deal would be if the Indians were getting a young, major league ready player back who would be under club control at a reasonable cost for a long time. If the Indians trade Lindor, there’s a distinct possibility that I will quit my job, go on a hunger strike and chainmyself to the Bob Feller statue outside of Progressive Field. There is a big, big gap between Lindor and Howard, as Lindor is a top-20 prospect in all of baseball right now and Howard is no where near the top-100.

So that’s my rough top-25 right now. Who’s not on that list that was in my pre-season top-25? Mostly guys who have suffered significant injury setbacks. Austin Adams had surgery to repair a partially torn labrum, which is pretty much the worst kind of surgery a pitcher can have. LeVon Washington started the season hot in Lake County, but suffered a torn tendon in his hip and hasn’t played since April. C.C. Lee went down with Tommy John surgery. Lee and Washington should be back next year easily enough, but team’s aren’t likely to want to deal for them with their current medical issues. Adams is a littler more concerning, but he’s scheduled to start throwing again in about 7 weeks so we’ll see if he can get back to his old 100 MPH self.

There is that matter of the Competitive Balance Lottery pick that we mentioned earlier in the article. In case you aren’t familiar with exactly what that is and where it came from, the lottery is part of the new CBA, and by rule the 10 teams with the lowest revenue and the 10 teams in the smallest MLB markets are entered for a chance to win one of 12 picks in next year's Rule 4 draft. The Indians, Royals, A's, Pirates, Padres, Rays, Reds, Rockies, Marlins, Brewers, Orioles, Diamondbacks and Cardinals were entered into the lottery, which MLB tells us is weighted towards teams' records in the previous season. I say "MLB tells us" because I've yet to see a really detailed description of how this lottery actually works.

So the first part of the lottery is held to divvy out six picks at the conclusion of the first round of the draft. Basically, the new "sandwich picks." After the first part of the lottery is conducted, any remaning teams who are given revenue sharing $$$ are added into the pool, and there's another lottery to determine who gets six picks after the end of the 2nd round of the draft. This year, only the Detroit Tigers were added into that pool. Wait...the Tigers are in this? The team with the $133 million opening day payroll in 2012? They get revenue sharing monies? I'm brimming with questions right now, but I digress.

After all was said and done, here's how it shook out; KC ($64 million payroll), Pittsburgh ($52 million), Arizona ($75 million), Baltimore ($84 million), Cincy ($88 million) and Miami ($102 million) were awarded the six picks after the first round. San Diego ($56 million), Cleveland ($65 million), Colorado ($81 million), Oakland ($53 million), Milwaukee ($98 million) and Detroit got the 2nd round picks.  Tampa Bay ($63 million) and the Cardinals ($112 million) were the two organizations in the lottery who failed to recieve a pick.

The interesting thing about these picks is, for the first time in MLB history, they are eligible to be traded. That's right, MLB is slowly catching up to the fact that teams should be able to trade their own draft picks in return for other assets. The picks are only allowed to be dealt between now and July 31, or between opening day next year and the June Rule 4 draft. None of the picks will be involved in winter meetings deals. Still, this is a step in the right direction. These are pretty valuable assets, worth at least a 2nd-tier prospect, and they will give teams an opportunity to come together on a deal that might not have otherwise taken place. The pick and its accompanying slot $$ in the draft could really help sweeten a deal, especially for a team like the Indians with their farm system in the state that it is currently in.

It remains to be seen just how much the CBA really distributes talent to lower-revenue and small-market teams. We could look back on 2012 as a turning point in the little guys vs big guys world of professional baseball, the only major sport without a salary cap. Something tells me that while this will help a little, it's really just a drop in the bucket when it comes to leveling the playing field between the Boston/NY types and the Clevelands of the baseball world. The fact that Detroit got a pick in the lottery and small budget/small market Tampa Bay did not makes me think that we’re not quite there just yet.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the fact that Roberto Hernandez finally received his U.S. visa yesterday and returned to Cleveland. Hernandez is now facing a 3-week suspension by major league baseball, during which he’s eligible to pitch in the minor leagues. Hernandez was supposedly working out at the Indians facilities in the Dominican Republic, so he shouldn’t be too far away from being back in game shape. If this were a Disney movie, Hernandez would come back to the States free and clear of the mental stress associated with playing under another man’s identity, become the arm that the Indians so sorely need to stabilize their rotation, and pitch the team to the playoffs. This isn’t Hollywood though, so it remains to be seen just what, if anything, Hernandez is going to offer to the Indians this season. Hopefully we see shades of 2007 Fausto! once again, but I’m not foolish enough to expect that. It’s certainly not going to hurt, but it remains to be seen just how much it’s going to help. I’m glad that Hernandez, the U.S. government and major league baseball were finally able to come together to get him back to Cleveland, and hopefully he will make the most of this chance at redemption.

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. 

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

Really…
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…











Sunday, July 15, 2012

Rumor Has It on A Lazy Sunday


About a month ago, my 5-year-old son was walking around the house singing a fairly recognizable tune to himself, one of those refrains of a popular song that sticks in a head, regardless of one’s age.  As I recognized it myself, I asked him what he was singing, to which he responded, “That song that Mom likes…you know ‘Boomer Has It’ by that lady that Mom’s always listening to”.  Well, if you’ve turned on a radio (or seen a montage on TV with music in the background) in the past year, you know that he’s referring to Adele’s ubiquitous “Rumor Has It” and I asked him again what the name of the song was.  He said again, “Boomer Has It”, explaining that it was a song about the dog at his babysitter’s house (named “Boomer” obviously) and how the dog “has it”.  Though he wasn’t quite sure what the “dog” had in the song, he was adamant that the song was about that dog and wouldn’t listen to anything that went against his now-firm belief in the song.

That may seem like an odd introduction to anything related to the Indians, but my wife and I were laughing about it the other day (as he still walks around the song singing “Boomer Has It…oooo…Boomer Has It”) and it got me thinking about how in these last few weeks and upcoming weeks where rumors (not Boomers) fly about this player and that player and this team and that team, most fans get locked into rumors involving Player A or Player B or Team A or Team B and follow the Rosenthals, the Olneys, the Heymanns, the Knoblers, and any other rumor source and fit the influx of chatter neatly into their own set of beliefs of what is about to happen…if anything is to happen at all.  Ultimately people hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe on this stuff.  The Ubaldo trade flew in the face of everything that we thought we knew about how this organization operates (with Andrew Clayman making a brilliantly unorthodox suggestion for the Indians to signal this as one sign of a reason that things are not “business as usual” for the Tribe) and STILL those that looked for the Indians to make a splash, to show that they’re going to make a run began…yep, the inevitable tracking of the careers of Drew Pomeranz and Al White because the Indians had to have just made a mistake.  

You might think that the Indians will make a move or that they won’t or that the move will put them into the driver’s seat or it won’t be enough.  But I think that those preconceived notions (like my son’s absolute belief that Adele is singing about his babysitter’s dog about having “it”) are hard to shake for most fans as everyone’s opinion on the team (and Front Office) varies wildly and this time when the grist is running through the Rumor Mill always makes that distinction even more pointed.

That said, it’s an interesting time for sure every year, that’s been made crazier (and harder to sort through) in this Twitter Age, where rumors fly and names are attached to teams, with much of it full of sound and fury, but often ultimately signifying nothing.  So, we enter into these next 2+ weeks with a pretty good idea of what a team like the Indians are looking for (pitching and offense…that’s all) and trying to parse through all of the noise that’s out there to figure out if they’re going to add a player (or players), how they’re going to add that player (or players), and if they even have the pieces and parts (in terms of prospects) to add that player (or players).
So with that (usual) long introduction out of the way, let’s get loose on a Lazy Sunday…

At this point, we have seen all of the names that are purported to be available, both in terms of hitters and pitchers, and while it remains to be seen whether they can add one or both, Terry Pluto had an interesting piece earlier in the week about the sense of urgency that the Indians created for themselves at this time last year with the addition of Ubaldo.  Pluto posits something that’s been written here (and other places) since the Jimenez trade went down, in that the Indians very clearly marked off the next 1+ years, through the end of the 2013 as a very obvious “window” of potential contention, with the players that can possibly leave after 2013 (most notably Choo and maybe Ubaldo, since he does have that 2014 option) meaning that the Indians will have this current group together through that time.

That’s not to say that this thing goes over a cliff sometime in September of 2013, but this particular assembled “group” has put them in a position to contend as we enter the 2nd half of the season.  Concurrently, there is an overwhelming sense that the “group” as currently constructed is going to need some reinforcement(s) to make a serious push for the playoffs this year, even in the weak AL Central.  So to that end, Pluto (in the aforementioned piece) mentions that “the Indians are trying to deal for Carlos Quentin, but I’ve been told that they don’t have much common ground with the Padres right now. They have talked about adding a starting pitcher. They intend to keep talking.”

Now “that they don’t have much common ground” shouldn’t be all that surprising as we all know that the Indians’ farm system has been stripped pretty clean in the past year or so with Kipnis and The Chiz graduating to the parent club and Pomz and White making their way to Colorado, leaving very little of interest in the upper levels and some interesting pieces at the low levels…but pieces that are far away from legitimately even being considered close to MLB-ready with Adam Van Arsdale of LGT providing a terrific look at those “tradable assets”, or lack thereof.  And that’s where this “add a piece” or “necessary reinforcement” thing gets interesting as the Indians don’t have a ready-made reinforcement sitting in AAA this year the way that they had in Kipnis and, to a lesser degree, Lonnie last year and the dearth of impact players at the upper levels is doubly disappointing as they may not have the ammunition in terms of near-MLB-ready prospects to make a move for an impact player like Quentin or even an arm like Garza.

Now, you could say that they shouldn’t have to make a give up TOO much for Quentin (just to use him as the desirable example), given that he would be a 3-month rental (though I hold up this odd hope that they can add him, then extend him with a contract similar to the one that Edwin Encarnacion just got in Toronto once in the fold), but there will be no shortage of suitors for Quentin and the Indians may be coming to a gunfight without more than one bullet that they’re probably (and rightfully) unwilling to fire.  By that I mean that the Indians have one legitimate blue-chip prospect in Francisco Lindor, but that they likely won’t (and absolutely shouldn’t) part with him for anything that resembles a rental for the remainder of the 2012 season.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic about the thinness of the system, realize that John Sickels did his mid-season Top Prospect update and the Indians had ONE player on the list of the Top 120 with Lindor coming in at #25.  Now, you may be saying that Top 120 is still pretty limited for 30 teams, but Sickels also listed 46 more players that were “under consideration” for the list, with no Indians’ farmhand being listed in that grouping, meaning that the Indians have one…yes, one player in the Top 166 players ranked by Sickels at this point in the season.  Hell, even the notoriously farm-poor White Sox had two players that merited “consideration” for the list.  Now, it is important to point out that “one” Indians’ name is a pretty exciting one as Jason Parks of B-Pro said of Lindor at the Futures Game, “You know where I stand. He’s going to play 15 years at the major league level; high quality. Book it.”

As I wipe the drool off of my chin thinking about Lindor, his excellence isn’t enough to conceal the fact that the Indians’ system isn’t exactly teeming with the multiple pieces that may be necessary to make an impact addition.  Obviously, I know that it doesn’t take multiple players in the Top 100 or Top 120 or Top 166 to make a deal at the Trading Deadline (one needs to only look at what the Indians received for Peralta, Garko, etc. or what they gave up for Fukudome, Thome, etc. to see that the players that change hands are not always blue-chip, bona-fide prospects), but to think that the Indians are going to get an impact player at the Trading Deadline just…well, just because we all (well, not Shelley Duncan) think they should and want them to is to ignore the matter at hand in terms of the Indians lacking the prospects that may be necessary to get it done.

So while some part of my brain deludes me to thinking that some combination of Ronny Rodriguez (#3 Prospect entering the season), Cord Phelps (still 25-year-old switch-hitting middle infielder with a career .843 OPS in AAA) and Cody Allen (has struck out 51 of the 155 BATTERS HE’S FACED this year) could fetch a Carlos Quentin, the reality of the situation is that the Indians may not have enough prospect “ammunition” to land one big gun on the Trade Market, much less two.  Blame the injuries to Nuke Hagadone (not a typo, simply his new name in these parts), Austin Adams, CC Lee, Hector Rondon (remember him?), and others for the thinness of the system as well as what Van Arsdale calls in the aforementioned LGT piece (which you should read…so here’s the link again), the “lack of development in the pre-Brad Grant positional prospects” that put them in this spot, but there is little question that the Indians simply may lack the resources (prospects, not cash) to acquire one of the true impact players, be it hitter or pitcher.

Maybe you’re saying that Jesus Aguilar, who was Lindor’s teammate in the Futures Game represents an interesting trade piece, and I wouldn’t disagree with that, but here’s what B-Pro’s Jason Parks (who said “15-year high-quality MLB career” for Lindor with a “book it” to boot) had to say on Aguilar:
1B Jesus Aguilar: Big kid; tons of raw power; the numbers suggest I’m supposed to like this player; not a fan of the swing; it’s very strength driven; lots of room for exploitation in bat plane; upper-body strength is massive; doesn’t read balls well out of the hand; contact will be an issue against higher level pitching; body could get destructive; power of this level is rare in the minors, but I see a Four-A type rather than a middle-of-the-order masher at major league level.

And this is where you get to the point that the Indians have to know MORE about their own players/prospects than other teams to make the determination now if Aguilar is a “Four-A type rather than a middle-of-the-order masher at the major league level” because if Jason Parks at Baseball Prospectus thinks that, you can be sure that others do as well.  But do the Indians…and if so, are there teams out there that would be higher on Aguilar than that so the Tribe could ostensibly “sell high” on a Single-A player like they did with Max Ramirez?

That’s ultimately the game at this point as, at this time last year, Pomz and White were deemed to be expendable (somewhat) or at least more valuable as trade bait than as future Indians.  Whether that has to do with acronyms (TINSTAPP) or concerns about White’s finger issues at the time or aspects of either player’s personality that led the Indians to believe that they were essentially “selling high” on them to net Ubaldo, the Indians need to ask the same hard questions of themselves this year BUT without the benefit of anybody (save Lindor) who’s anywhere close to regarded as a top prospect the way that Pomz and White were at this time last year.

Ultimately, Lindor is the only real untouchable in the organization below the parent club and if they can find some combination of players to net something of worth that can improve the Indians for this year, I’m sure that it will be on the table.  But there is a growing sense that “some combination of players” may not be enough to net much of anything and, if they can be cobbled together in some fashion for a trade, the returning player is likely to be more of the “second-tier” variety.

Maybe that’s depressing and underwhelming heading into the end of July, but as much as it’s on the Indians to find some combination of MiLB assets to utilize, they need to find that player or players that fit this team’s needs almost perfectly WHILE looking for (what I called last week) that “Fister-ian” addition that will allow some aspect of the team – be it pitching or hitting – to settle in, gain some consistency, and rattle off some wins.

Whether that addition is a pitcher or a hitter is certainly up for debate (and I feel like I waver from day to day and game to game), but there could be some interesting pieces out there that could be underwhelming on the surface, but could make an impact on this team.  Though I know I’ve mentioned him before, here’s what a scout had to say to B-Pro’s John Perrotto on Phillies’ OF Shane Victorino, who continues to grease his way out of Philly:
“He’s having a bad year, but I still think there is something there. He still has the bat speed and the wheels. That whole Phillies team is in a malaise, and a change of scenery would probably help a lot of their guys.”

With Buster Olney reporting that the Indians aren’t (sigh) counting on anything from Grady this season and now past the All-Star Break with no new “news” of the “imminent” return of Fausto/Roberto, there is a growing sense that the Indians are planning for the rest of the season without either of them…so there isn’t any kind of cavalry on any horizon internally.  Maybe you see the value in adding a player like Victorino or an arm better than Jason Vargas and both of those arguments are compelling on each side, but the Indians simply may not have the pieces to make the upgrades everywhere that everyone (save Shelley Duncan) seems to want.

Maybe you see the improved numbers for Damon and Duncan and come to the conclusion that Acta is managing these guys masterfully (in terms of usage and situation) and see how Marson and Kotchman are actually both swinging well recently and believe that the offense can be made more consistent for the rest of the season because those 4 players can combine to make up two spots in the lineup and (when utilized properly) can consistently produce.  There are numbers to back up this line of thinking as here are the compiled stats for those 4 guys since June 16, admittedly an arbitrary date on the calendar, if about a month ago:
Duncan
.278 BA / .372 OBP / .722 SLG / 1.094 OPS in 43 PA

Marson
.368 BA / .457 OBP / .500 SLG / .957 OPS in 46 PA

Damon
.309 BA / .345 OBP / .509 SLG / .854 OPS in 58 PA

Kotchman
.297 BA / .333 OBP / .500 SLG / .833 OPS in 78 PA

On the other hand, maybe you see those numbers and believe that are paces are simply unsustainable (and that argument isn’t hard to make either) for those players…and I tend to fall in this category.  But the Indians have some very hard decisions to make when it comes to deciding where they’re going to add a piece and how much of an “impact” that piece can offer, given their limited resources to make an addition, much less a couple of them.

If you’re parsing the words of the FORMER GM (in a piece about the Indians offering discounts and incentives to get people to the ballpark, with Cleveland “fans” coming off as pathetic – “food and beer costs too much”, despite the fact that you can bring your own food into the park and this is the same city that I see people at Browns’ games argue over how many overpriced beers they can buy at one time), he’s still talking about adding a starter over a bat.  Shapiro had this to say to the assemblage at GLBC when discussing the attempts to get the pathetic Tribe fans to the park:
“I think our chances will be as well as our starting pitching takes us…Can Zach McAllister be the guy he's been initially? Can Justin Masterson and Ubaldo (Jimenez) continue to pitch well, and can we get better performance out of the other two spots?”

That should be nothing new if you’ve been around these parts since Shapiro gave his interview to Lubinger a couple of weeks back and I’m not sure if anyone’s paying attention enough to this to consider this “misdirection” or a “smoke screen”, but it certainly looks like the Indians might have enough to make one semi-significant addition, surrounded by some ancillary additions.  

What, if anything, the Indians can add to the current group of players for the stretch run could make a HUGE difference for this team’s ability to make the playoffs.  Because while the people who cover the Tigers seem just as confused as us as to whether Detroit can stick around in the AL Central race, the Indians have a chance to fortify their team – and their playoff chances – by adding something to the current mix.  Whether they have enough, in terms of prospects, to make those additions, may be the unspoken factor in these “negotiations”…and I don’t mean the ones that take place in 140 characters or less…