Saturday, December 31, 2005


After this mess, I have only one question: How many days until pitchers and catchers report?

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Filling out the Rotation

The Tribe signed Jason Johnson to be their 5th starter, which completed the 2006 rotations (sans Davis, Carmona, or Sowers, who could all still be just a phone call away). I was not that thrilled with the signing at first glance, mainly because my knowledge of Johnson was limited to his outings against the Tribe (0-2, 5.51 ERA) last year.

When looking deeper into the numbers, though, the Johnson signing simply represents an upgrade over Scott Elarton (while committing to one less guaranteed year) at the 5th spot. If Paul Byrd is a downgrade from Kevin Millwood (who impossibly got 4 years guaranteed with the 5th year easy to attain from the Rangers, who should have learned from the Chan Ho Park debacle), then Johnson balances that exchange by upgrading the 5th starter spot.

What Johnson will do is eat innings, as he’s thrown more than 185 innings every year but one since 2001. That kind of dependability (mostly for bad teams) could translate into wins at the Jake, particularly considering that he’s a groundball pitcher in the Westbrook mold.

Remember that Johnson was seen by some as the Tigers’ ace going into last season, which (though it’s akin to being the prettiest girl in Pittsburgh) counts for something. He may thrive in an environment where he’s pitching against 5th starters (like Cliff Lee does against 3rd starters) and turn into a nice little pick-up.

The signing of Byrd and Johnson do represent an upgrade in signing pitchers with few injury questions and with a track record. Compared to the success stories of Indians pulled off of the scrap heap (Elarton, Sauerbeck, Howry), these free agent pitchers are at least known quantities.

Essentially, we replaced Millwood and Elarton with Byrd and Johnson to fill out a deep rotation. Pitchers’ arms, being the fickle things that they are, aren’t guaranteed to stay healthy or perform identically from year to year. That being said, let’s look at the two numbers most people pointed to when extolling the Tribe rotation last year, IP and ERA:
Millwood – 192 IP, 2.86 ERA
Elarton – 181.2 IP, 4.61 ERA
-Cumulative ERA of 3.70
Paul Byrd – 204.1 IP, 3.74 ERA
Jason Johnson – 210 IP, 4.54 ERA
-Cumulative ERA of 4.14

So, are we going to get the same production from those 2 spots in the rotation? Who knows? What is known is that Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson are signed for a total of 3 guaranteed years at $18.25M, while Millwood and Elarton are locked up for their respective teams for 6 years at $56M.

If the productivity were similar, which package would you rather have, given the unpredictability of pitchers? Also, with the young arms closer and closer, do you want to tie up that kind of money and years in the rotation?

Shapiro’s core belief of financial flexibility is apparent in this signing. And while other teams (notably the Blue Jays) tempt fate in the length of contracts given out to pitchers this off-season, Shapiro quietly (and successfully) built a pitching staff that (on paper) should perform on par with that of 2005.

Where the Indians go from here is anyone’s guess. With rumors of David Riske for Ryan Langerhans and Coco Crisp for Andy Marte floating around, along with the recent Hillenbrand rumor (I hope not), expect something to be done. That something probably just won’t be on the scale that most would like to see (um…how about Broussard, Blake, Riske, Coco, Phillips, and Davis for Manny?)

In reality, Shapiro will likely upgrade one or two positions by dealing from a strength (the bullpen or pitching prospects) or trading a player whose value is high (Coco) with numerous contingency plans that ensure that there will be no glaring holes on the 2006 roster.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Tomahawk Time

Still nothing from Tribe offices, though there has been some movement that could affect the Indians' plans:

  • Reggie Sanders, a target for RF, has reportedly signed a 2 year deal with the Royals worth about $10M. The second year probably scared the Tribe off and rightly so, seeing as how Sanders is 37.
  • Jacque Jones went to the Cubs and, while he wasn't a target of the Tribe, forced the Twins to take a chance on Rondell White as his replacement. Both players probably on the periphery of potential Tribe OFs. Thank goodness the Tribe didn't get in on either one of these guys, particluarly the erratic White. The fact that the Twins added him as their "big bat" makes me feel even better that the Twins' window may be coming closer to closing.
  • Johnny Damon signed a 4 year, $52M deal with the Evil Empire, giving them an All-Star at every position with questionable starting pitching. How many rings did that strategy net for the Tribe in the '90s?
The bigger part of Damon signing is the fact that Red Sox Nation is up in arms, reeling, and searching for a CF/Leadoff Hitter. The options (as proposed by the Boston Media) boil down to Coco, Jeremy Reed, Dave Roberts, and Corey Patterson. Whose name looks the best on that list?

That's why the Indians are in a position commonly referred to (particularly by John Goodman's character in all-time fave Raising Arizona) as "sitting in the fabled catbird's seat".

The Red Sox know that they have to make a move or risk a huge PR disaster (which sometimes seems to be their main concern). The Indians can sit and demand any combination of players that they want. If the Red Sox comply, great. If not, fine; we'll go into next season with Coco.

Shapiro is really in a great spot here, where he's able to call the shots and can make a ridiculous demand and see how its received. He can ask about Andy Marte and Matt Clement and Bronson Arroyo and Guillermo Mota and see what sticks.

What the Red Sox have done is a classic Butch Davis move. They've underestimated their own players, then panicking when they lose them, they're forced to reach or overpay for a replacement. Does anyone remember the drafting of Jeff Faine to replace Dave Wohlabaugh or Ryan Pontbriand (the famous 5th round Long Snapper) to repalce Ryan Kuehl? It just so happens that Cleveland could be on the receiving end of the windfall, rather than in our usual position, holding the short end of the stick.

Whether Coco gets traded or not, I put trust in Shapiro to make (or not make) the move that is going to benefit the team, not only in 2006 but beyond. Remeber that Preston Wilson, Juan Encarnacion, and the possibility of making a trade not involving Coco are still very real possibilities.

Nothing's happened yet, though, and the deadline of Christmas (that Shapiro mentioned numerous times in interviews) is quickly approaching.

Personally, I'll be celebrating Christmas in Milwaukee which (while it is no Christmas in Hollis) always turns into a fantastic time as the in-laws and siblings-in-law always keep the High Life cold.

Merry Christmas to All!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Paging Derek Lilliquist

Some small signings, with the Tribe giving Danny Graves and Steve Karsay minor league deals. Continuing the trend of looking at former Indians, the Tribe gave the two relievers (who were at one time elite bullpen arms) a shot at the big-league roster. Reportedly, Ernie Camacho and Jaime Easterly were next on the list to gauge interest.

Seriously, on Graves and Karsay, it's a small risk move for the Indians, adding neither to the 40-man until they see what kind of shape their arms are in. Like most signings, this could be a windfall (best case scenario: see Howry and Sauerbeck) or inconsequential (worst case scenario: see Bere and Gonzalez).

Both reclamation projects (let's call them what they are) are intriguing, but I think that Graves is moreso. Karsay has only pitched 20 some games in the past 3 years and has always been on the fragile side. Graves, on the other hand, got a raw deal in Cincinnati, who rode him out of town on a rail after he made an obscene gesture to a fan. At the time, Graves was struggling, and admittedly so; but, he said publicly that he had not fully recovered from a 2003 arm surgery. After being cut by the Reds, the Mets picked him up; Graves, however, had little success after the change of address.

On a side note, remember when people wanted to trade some prospects for Graves last season? That would have been a waste.

Graves might be the kind of player who, given a comfortable situation without a lot of pressure, could thrive and force himself into the 2006 bullpen situation. Or, his arm could go John Smiley (OK, that was mean) and never be heard from again.

Regardless, it's not costing the Tribe much to find out.

And, for those of you who will take me to task for saying that a big signing/trade could be coming before Christmas - this DOES NOT qualify as that move.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Nomar decided to stay close to home (he owns 2 houses in SoCal) by agreeing to a one-year deal with the Dodgers. It seems that the other teams were probably in the same ballpark financially, but Nomar decided to stay where he's close to home. Good luck Mr. Hamm.

First Giles, then Hoffman, now Nomar. Have these people never seen the North Coast? Wait, don't answer that question.

With Garciaparra off the table, expect the Tribe to turn their attention to Preston Wilson and Reggie Sanders to fill their hole in RF and for a RH bat in the lineup. Also, with Nomar off the table, you have to think that Shapiro is burning up the phones (or e-mail, or whatever) looking at trade scenarios.

The RF/1B still could come via a trade, with Riske, Phillips, Broussard, and minor league pitchers being offered; but, as I've said before, you have to give up value to get value in return. A team isn't going to part with an established bat, just to get a shot at resurrecting B-Phil's stalled career, or at the prospect of adding Riske to their bullpen at $2M-$3M a year (which he'll probably command in arbitration).

That's why Coco's name keeps coming up in these trade talks. The Red Sox, Yankees, Braves, and Diamonbacks have all reportedly asked about Coco to solve their CF/Leadoff problems. Those teams see Grady entrenched in CF in Cleveland and think that Coco is miscast as a LF and may be available.

While he is miscast as a LF, there is no viable alternative to him there. The prospects (Gutierrez, Snyder, and even Francisco) aren't ready yet and the FA route often results in high risk, low return type players (Hidalgo, Rondell White, etc.).

I think that Shapiro would love to move Coco to fill some holes as his value will probably never be higher (Ed. note - I have always viewed Coco as a glorified 4th outfielder), but his hands are tied because there's nobody ready to step in.

On the rotation front, Scott Elarton signed a 2-year deal with the Royals. I wish Elarton the best as he really was a nice component of the rotation for 2 years and earned that payday. From the Tribe's perspective, though, couldn't you get Elarton's numbers from Carmona or Sowers at a lower price and aid in the development of a top prospect?

Personally, I'm excited at seeing a battle in Spring Training for the 5th spot. If these minor-league arms are as talented as we've heard, why wouldn't you elevate them to the Majors? To get a higher spot in Baseball America's ranking?

Rudy Seanez also signed with the Red Sox, taking a potential set-up guy off the board. Julian Tavarez is still out there, but he's looking for a 3-year deal. I think that the Indians can wait on this one until the price (and years) comes down a little bit.

But what's the deal with all of these old Indians' prospects being talked about as potential solutions? Maybe we should see if Luis Medina could fill the hole at 1B, or if Beau Allred might be able to patrol RF this season.

I think this week leading up to Christmas could be a busy one, so stay tuned.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


With the endless possibilities of the off-season in full swing, there seems to be an underlying theme, both in comments by the Indians and the perception of the (more astute) fans. The theme that seems to guide every decision made by the Indians’ deep thinkers is THE PLAN. Shapiro, Wedgie, and Antonetti always refer to “sticking with the plan”, or “staying within the plan” when decisions are made.

So, what is this PLAN? What are the “core beliefs” of the organization that factor into every decision made? Seeing as how it is unlikely that Shapiro would offer me an invitation to sit in on an organizational meeting or answer questions directly (and not vaguely in business-speak, as is his custom), I’ve come up with my best guess.

The PLAN is a philosophy of making decisions that will not only put the best team on the field today, but also have an eye toward the future, both talent-wise and financially. As far as I can tell, the PLAN has 3 main objectives:
1) Be Right More than Wrong in Talent Evaluation
2) Be Flexible – Financially and in the Field
3) Maintain a Strong Farm System to Keep the Pipeline Filled

Obviously, these objectives are pretty broad and could apply to any ML team, but I’ll take them one at a time to show how these three ideas seem to dictate the personnel decisions that are made on a daily basis.

Be Right More than Wrong in Talent Evaluation
This is obviously something that every ML team strives to do, as no team is going to be right every single time. To my knowledge, no GM has ever had a spotless record when it comes to trades, FA signings, drafts, etc. But by limiting mistakes, or being right more than wrong, you can put a quality product on the field despite the inevitable flops.

Case in point: When the Indians traded Roberto Alomar, they received Alex Escobar (the alleged “jewel” position player of the Mets’ organization), Billy Traber (a former #1 pick LH pitcher), and Matt Lawton. The thought was that Escobar would settle into RF, Traber would become a mainstay in the rotation, and Lawton would serve as a stopgap until more talented players were available.

Ironically, around the time that it became obvious that none of the 3 scenarios were going to work flawlessly, Shapiro had a decision to make on Bartolo Colon. He moved him, as we know, for Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, and Grady Sizemore (Lee Stevens notwithstanding).

Shapiro was taking another shot at prospects, this time a middle infielder that would ideally replace Omar, another hotshot LH starter, and a raw OF. We all know how Shapiro’s two “blockbusters” worked out, with Lee and Grady developing into “core players”, while Phillips, Escobar, and Traber floated off (or will float off) into oblivion. 2 out of 5 actually is not that bad, looking at the history of trading veterans for prospects.

Where Shapiro really made hay at the time, though, were the acquisitions of Coco, Hafner, Broussard, Westbrook, Gerut, and Bard in trades for Finley, Diaz, Branyan, Justice, and Jacob Cruz.

These new Indians were meant to complement the young players already in the system (Victor, Corey Smith, and C.C. among others) to constitute the new era of Indians’ baseball.

Not all of the players worked out, but Shapiro was essentially getting about 2-3 players for every position with the knowledge that not everyone would pan out. Players like Peralta eventually forced their way into those plans.

It’s a simple idea, but when executed well, it puts a lot less pressure on a team financially because it reduces the amount of money that is spent in FA. Which leads us to the next principle…

Be Flexible – Financially and in the Field

The idea to stay flexible, financially and on the field, comes from the hard lesson learned by Shapiro pertaining to the team he inherited from John Hart.
The team that Shapiro took over in 1999 was an aging, one-dimensional team that had a lot of overpaid players in the final years of their contracts.

Shapiro saw how he was handcuffed in the moves that he could make because of contracts that had one or two too many years on them and because of how older players lose versatility as their bodies age.

Consequently, Shapiro has since been reticent to give a player additional years in a contract (Thome, Vizquel) just to get the first few productive seasons. He realized that those contracts become a burden, not easily lifted.

Thome is a perfect example. The Indians wanted very badly to keep Thome, for reasons of productivity and pleasing the fan-base, but their doctors told them that Thome’s body would hold up at 1B for only so long, then even as DH for only so long. The Indians offered that many years and refused to match the Phillies’ offer when it was extended to too many years.

The results have been obvious as Thome was very productive for 2 years at 1B; but, when unable to move to DH, his body caught up with him, rendering him ineffective and on the DL. How he performs this year and beyond in Chicago will be interesting, in that he would still be in his 4th year of the contract (which the Tribe did offer) as mainly a DH.

The signings that the Indians have made have been very short on years, and thus, very short on risk. When they feel comfortable enough to extend contracts and relationships, they do with surprising ease (Belliard, Boone, Wickman).

By staying flexible, financially in particular, guarantees that there is not a $8M mistake languishing on the bench (which has actually become a common sight in baseball), but rather that money is spent on players on the rise or trying to prove themselves.

Maintain a Strong Farm System to Keep the Pipeline Filled
The last aspect may be the most important and the most obvious to the general public. When Shapiro took over the Tribe, mid-season trades and poor drafting had depleted the farm system. Shapiro re-built it by trading his commodities (Colon, Justice, Finley, even Einar Diaz).

The idea is to have a ML-ready replacement ready for the big league team when a hole is identified. If there is not an able replacement, a short-term fix is acquired to plug a hole until the minor league player is ready.

The most obvious example of having a minor league player ready to plug a hole is at SS, with Peralta replacing Omar last year. Omar’s contract was up, and rather than giving him too many years, the Indians had Peralta ready to step in (very ably, I might add).

The short-term fix approach can be seen at 2B and 3B, where Brandon Phillips and Corey Smith (two once highly touted prospects) disappointed in their development. This forced the Indians seek out suitable veterans, while not mortgaging the future. The result of that search was the contracts to Belliard and Boone. The extension of those contracts came as a result of the realization that there was still not an adequate replacement close to Cleveland.

By simply looking around the diamond, one can see the application of this principle:
C- Victor panned out remarkably well, as the Indians used the catching of Einar Diaz until The Stick was ready. V-Mart was always a top prospect and moved seamlessly into the lineup when he arrived. When he did, Shapiro was able to trade Diaz at the height of his value to get Hafner.
1B- Michael Aubrey was seen as the heir apparent to Thome, with Broussard serving as the stopgap. Once thought to be the Opening Day 2006 1B, Aubrey’s development slowed, forcing the situation of today – wondering if Aubrey is the long-term answer, and if not, what direction to go in as Broussard still represents nothing more than a stopgap.
LF- Alex Escobar’s flameout opened the door for Coco to become a part of the lineup. Coco’s long-term stay may be determined more by the development of former 1st Round Pick Brad Snyder than anything else.
CF- Milton Bradley’s meltdown left the Indians gasping for an answer that (luckily) came in the form of Grady Sizemore. Bradley was traded with the idea that CF was the deepest spot in the minors (Escobar, Crisp, Gutierrez, Sizemore), but the emergence of Grady is the real surprise.
RF- Like 1B, the development of a top prospect (Gutierrez) that was thought to have been contributing in 2006 is putting the pressure on the Indians. Matt Lawton and Jody Gerut (the stopgaps) sustained injuries or were generally ineffective, causing further uncertainty. Forced to look outside the organization for this year, the Tribe has to determine if Gutierrez is a long-term answer and, if not, where would one come from? RF has been a sort of “anything that could go wrong, has” causing the current situation, which most Indians’ fans realize without looking at the whole timeline.

The application of this idea for next year will (probably) be at the 5th starter. Shapiro’s comment that they are in a “Vizquel-Peralta” type situation makes me think that the Indians will let one of their young arms (who should be ready) compete for that spot, rather than spending the money of re-signing Elarton.

Obviously, other players are going to emerge and force their way into the discussions (as Ryan Garko has), but those players’ developments are viewed as more of icing on the cake as opposed to something that’s counted on.

This principle is the easiest to monitor and see the Indians’ working on. They draft young pitchers with the idea that not all of their talented arms are going to stay healthy or pan out. They draft Trevor Crowe, who projects as a big-league 2B, in the first round of the draft because the organization lacks a top-flight 2B prospect. And so on, and so on.
All of their moves can be dissected this way, which is what makes it fun.

This idea to have a pipeline to the Majors is not a new concept, it’s just hard to perfect. The Atlanta Braves have always been amazingly efficient at this. When a hole on the team becomes obvious, there just happens to be a stud prospect ready to step in, usually with good results (Furcal, Giles, Francouer, etc.).

Everyone knows that the best way to build a team is to build continually from within; it’s just that the execution of that idea that is not very easy.

So, there you have the PLAN, as best I can figure it from the couch and from the Mezzanine. One thing is for certain (whether or not I have any of the components right), the PLAN is a very highly held principle that should guide this team for years to come.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Waiting Game

The Tribe locked up Wickman for $5M a year, which is about $3M less than the going rate, so there should be some money to move around.

I would expect Shapiro to make a move, either through FA or through a trade (there's a lot of guys on the 40 man roster that are out of options) to get some buzz generated for next year. Though Millwood's signing didn't happen last year until January, I would think that Shapiro will strike when the iron is hot.

Another reason I'm not GM of the Indians: I would make a LOT of trades, just to make trades and mix it up a little bit. The moment that Hoffman signed with San Diego, my head would start spinning with trade scenarios. Actually, it did. Luckily, I was nowhere near Dallas.

To those who think that the Indians are falling short so far this off-season and should be spending more money, let me bring you to the case of the Detroit Tigers:

Last year, Detroit signed Troy Percival, Pudge Rodriguez, and Magglio Ordonez.

  • Percival is such damaged goods that the Tigers spent $11M over 2 years on Todd Jones to close!?! To Todd Jones!?! This guy has been cut like 5 times in the past 3 years.
  • Pudge Rodriguez promptly lost 50 lbs. after the steroid testing started, becoming a shadow of his former self. But that's just a coincidence, right?
  • Magglio Ordonez' injuries (which were common knowledge) kept him out of most of the season.
So now, looking to make a splash the give Todd Jones the aforementioned offer and give Kenny Rogers $8M over 2 years. For a brief reminder, Kenny Rogers is 41 and will be 43 at the end of that contract. If the Indians were pulling off these type of deals, I would be picketing their offices.

Lesson: By simply spending money and "filling holes", a team is not fixing its' problems.
It's just throwing money at them.

There is a plan. It's worked up to this point. Let's give the Indians the benefit of the doubt and wait until we see how this all shakes out.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Back to Wicky

Trevor Hoffman decided to stay with the Padres, basing his decision more on family and locale than the guaranteed 3rd year that the Tribe offered him. I realize that Cleveland is no San Diego, but when will Clevelanders EVER see that home-team loyalty?

Shapiro and the boys went after HOFfman (get it, Hall of Fame?) pretty hard and must be frustrated to have him return to the Left Coast. The guaranteed 3rd year was surprising, but Shapiro has always said that he might go out of his "comfort zone" to make the right signing. I think that the guaranteed 3rd year falls into that category.

The pursuit of Hoffman should also serve notice that the Indians are willing to spend money, it's just that thus far they've been foiled by lunacy (B.J. Ryan's deal) and loyalty (Hoffman).

With all of that being said and the understanding that Hoffman would have been a great signing, the 3rd year worried me. You're paying a 41-year old $8M, and hoping that he stays healthy. What are we, the Knicks?

The contracts that closers have gotten this off-season are ridiculous and the re-entry of the Padres into the Hoffman talks pushed the Hoffman contract to those heights...not B.J. Ryan, Tom Gordon (another 38-year old given a contract with too many years), but a lot of money and a lot of years for a 38-year old.

Now, the Indians go back to that Beer Keg of a man, Sticky Wicky, to close games. The Indians will offer him arbitration before midnight, which will net Wickman a 1-year deal in the $7M range. Looking at the alternatives (Todd Jones), let's just hope that the winter in Wisconsin is REAL cold, so Bobby wants to come to Spring Training next year instead of staying in the Land of Beer and Cheese to shoot pheasant.

Wickman, for all of his warts, was an effective closer last year. He saved 45 games! Yes, he's a year older (and heavier), but now I can still sport my Wickmans' Warriors shirt proudly for another year. Maybe we should just tell Nursing Homes and Cardiac Units to show the first 8 innings of a game next summer.

With Hoffman's spurning of the Tribe, expect Shapiro to be very busy before the close of the Winter Meetings. One would think that the money that was earmarked for Hoffman may be thrown in another direction, whether it be a FA or a salary absorption via trade.

Penciling Wickman into the back end means that there are very few holes remaining on this team, with about $8M-$10M to fill them.

Go get 'em Mark! Show 'em why you're Executive of the Year!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Byrd Droppings

Some thoughts on the Byrd signing and the rotation:
In case you missed it, Paul Byrd signed a 2-year, $14.25M deal, with an option for a third year.

According to Eric Wedge on WTAM, he left more money (and a guaranteed 3rd year) on the table from the Royals and another team to enter the Teepee.

Before Byrd is decried as a “cheap” alternative to re-signing Millwood, consider this: Millwood had 20 Quality Starts last year. Paul Byrd? 22. Not bad, considering that the Indians are only committed for 2 years, as opposed to the 5 years that some team will (apparently) give K-Mill.

I realize that Byrd is 35 and Millwood is 31 and that they've both had serious arm injuries, but Byrd has pitched 1,111 2/3 career innings to Millwood's 1,559 1/3. Ever hear the analogy that there are only so many bullets in a gun? Plus, pitchers who go through Tommy John earl in their career are alleged to have stronger arms after their extended rehab (I'm not a doctor, just something that I've heard). Now I'm not discounting the fact that Millwood is a great pitcher who pitched very well for the Indians last year, I'm only saying that the deal that Byrd got will be very reasonable when compared to the deal that Millwood will get.

But where does Byrd fit into the rotation? #2? #4? The only comments that I’ve heard on this are Wedge’s comments that he likes to give different looks during a series, which is to say he likes to split up his lefties and will not throw sinkerballers (Westbrook & Byrd) on consecutive days. Now, I don’t know if they’ll sign another SP (though it seems unlikely), but I would say it would be C.C./Byrd/Lee/Westbrook/Internal Candidate.

So, who will be this Internal Candidate? The top candidates would be Carmona and Sowers, because I think that JDavis (if he remains on the Tribe and is not included in a deal for a bat) will end up in the bullpen.

Elarton is still a possibility at #5, but a lot will depend on how much the Tribe pays for a closer and if they acquire a bat that costs some bucks. Elarton is apparently still looking for that elusive 2-year deal, while the Tribe is firm on a 1-year. Let's stick to those guns.

Overall, I like the Byrd signing and the rumors that the Indians are pursuing Vazquez (which is all just conjecture at this point) show that the Indians are not content to sit on their hands at the Winter Meetings.

On the Hoffman front, he is reported to be undergoing a physical in the next few days (which is usually an indication that talks are serious) in Cleveland. The Padres could swoop in and match the Tribe offer (which is reportedly getting bigger and bigger), but the fact that he's taking a physical shows that the Indians are a definite player in these talks. Expect this to all shake out by Wednesday or Thursday, for better or worse.

Hot Stove League talk, pull up a chair and warm yourself next to it.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Tomahawk Choppin'

A couple of tomahawks with all of the happenings approaching the Winter Meetings:

  • Ken Rosenthal of FSN is reporting that the Indians are the leader in the clubhouse for Hoffman. It sounds like it might take a guaranteed 3rd year at $8M per to get the deal done, only because the market drops off quickly after Hoffman (Todd Jones), and most teams are trying to get in on the Hoffman talks.
  • Another Wedge comment from tonight is a great line, “You don’t want to be high bidders in a bad market.” The FA market is very thin this year, so you don’t want to overpay for a player who normally would be a January signee in a strong FA market. That being said, I don’t think that Byrd was that much of a reach. Seeing what Loaiza got puts the Byrd deal in perspective. Yes, Byrd got a healthy chunk of change, but his history and postseason experience.

Mark Shapiro had a Q & A on the official site, which was full of Shapiro speak (lots of words, not really much said). A few interesting nuggets though:

  • David Riske’s name did not come up in discussions on the pen (nor did Wedge bring it up in today’s interview). I think that Riske will be packaged for a bat this week. Whether it will be the bat that everyone wants remains to be seen.
  • Ryan Garko-my-god-did-you-see-how-far-he-hit-that (say it out loud and let me know what you think…$1 to Cy Slapnicka on the nickname) is NOT ready defensively to play 1B at the big-league level, which would lead me to believe that the Tribe will try to acquire a RF and let Blake and Broussard platoon at 1B until Garko has proven himself defensively.
  • He listed Carmona, Sowers, Garko, and Gutierrez (in that order) as prospects ready to contribute. No Guthrie, no Andrew Brown. By the way, Gutierrez has (allegedly) fixed the hitch in his swing this off-season and is tearing the cover off the ball. We’ll see if it translates to Buffalo, but he may be 1st option when someone (usually Coco in an incident with a wall) gets hurt.
Additionally, Jason Stark had a preview of the Winter Meetings and got into some trade talk.

  • The Indians were mentioned in Barry Zito and Javier Vazquez rumors (though I don’t know what the Byrd signing does to that) on the rotation front.
  • Available bats who might appeal to the Tribe would be Aubrey Huff (in a too crowded Tampa Bay outfield), Lyle Overbay (though the Brew Crew is looking for a lot), Kevin Mench (where has that name come up before?) and Austin Kearns (see Mench, Kevin).
  • Stark lists Blake, Broussard, and Riske as Indians that could move.
  • Interestingly, some of the big-time FA pitchers who signed last year (who this time last year were seen as players the Tribe should sign) are being shopped after just one season. Carl Pavano, Matt Clement, Jaret Wright, Kris Benson are all available, so do you think that the those teams are happy with their big FA signings from less than a year ago?

The highlight of the Browns’ game yesterday (which was not as cold as the Rams’ MNF game from a few years ago, but cold enough) was highlighted by the arrival of Charlie and the happenstance meeting in section 528 with a friend that now lives in Madison, WI. I’m not talking about anything else that happened during the game, after the game, at the Cleveland Clinic on Sunday night, or any announcement pertaining to the visit to the Clinic on Sunday.

How many days until Pitchers and Catchers report?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Thursday Thoughts

Well, Giles re-signed with the Padres and Konerko re-signed with the White Sox.
Konerko’s signing allows me to rehash the comments of Cy Slapnicka, a serial poster, on a potential conversation between Konerko and Thome in Chicago about contracts and loyalty:

I wonder if during BP Jimmy will pepper him with questions while he smashes HRs and Jimbo ices his back and elbow with frozen stacks of money:
JT: So what’s it like to get a fair contract and not max out the money and years from anyone that will pay it?
PK: Cool, feels good. (smashes one into the bleachers)
JT: I bet its neat to stay where you're comfortable and happy and adored by the fans?
PK: Rocks man, love it. (smashes another one into the bleachers)
JT: Golly Pauley, I bet its even cooler to get all that and play for a team that has a shot at the post-season too?
PK: As long as your country boy ass earns your money we will.
Ah.... that felt good. I've needed to get that off my chest since 2002.

Well played.

Today, I caught a little bit of the doom and gloom that is Cleveland Sports Radio, particularly Greg Brinda on WKNR. As he bemoaned the fact that the Tribe was standing pat as “all” of these FA’s were signing, Alan in Rittman called in.

An obviously knowledgeable sports fan, the caller laid out the economics of the off-season and how the Indians don’t need to fill nearly as many holes as other teams and that Shapiro is doing a fantastic job while Dolan is playing his cards (and his cash) just right.

Brinda actually told him that he was looking at the situation too logically, and that fans don’t want to hear about budgets or other “accounting matters”. The caller then said, “Let me ask you this then - who should the Indians get then? What player have we truly missed out on?”

After some uncomfortable silence and some half-baked comments about small market teams, Brinda asked him, “Let me ask YOU this - what do you think of the Indians right now?”

The answer from Alan in Rittman was a classic: “I think that’s its December 1st, that the Indians haven’t done anything, and maybe that’s a good thing.”

After some blustery talk, Alan from Rittman was ushered off so another ridiculously unrealistic caller could get on the air and say that we should have outbid everyone for Konerko, Giles, Millwood, and Ryan. Ah, back to normal.

So with that in mind, Greg Brinda has joined the list of nonsensical Cleveland Sports “Personalities” that have made the Black List, joining Kenny Roda, Bill Livingston, and Bud Shaw. I honestly haven’t read Livingston or Shaw in 2 months and my days are actually more enjoyable.

Before we all panic that “all the good players are gone, blah, blah, blah”, let’s remember the nugget from Alan in Rittman:
It is December 1st, the Indians haven’t done anything, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Take a step away from the ledge and relax. The Winter Meetings haven’t even started yet. Everything will be fine.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Look At All These Rumors

With all of the crazy things that are flying around in the paper and the Internet in the past few days, it reminds me of the classic Timex Social Club song, Rumors.

With so much happening though, here are some thoughts:
When the PD reported that Paul Byrd was in town to meet with the Tribe brass, it occurred to me that Byrd is the type of pitcher likely to sign with the Tribe: a solid, if unspectacular, starter who will sign for a 2 year - $12M deal and perform solidly for the life of the contract.

The Tribe is looking for a RH to slot between Sabathia and Lee who can give them innings and keep them in games. Loiaza signing with the A’s has set the market (though I think that Oakland overpaid for Loaiza, to go along with every other ridiculous pitching contract handed out so far this offseason), but at least there are some parameters to get a deal done. Pitchers like Byrd and Matt Morris fit into the mold of the Indians’ desire for this year, more so than giving a Millwood or a Burnett a 5-year deal.

Remember that the Indians’ farm system is loaded with young arms, so if you lock up too many pitchers on long-term deals, those young arms never get a chance to prove themselves.
At the beginning of the 2005 season, if someone had told you that B.J. Ryan was going to get $47M on the FA market after the year, you would have thought they were crazy. So, what’s changed? He had one nice year and has great potential as a closer. But a 5-year deal? For that money? No chance.

Reportedly, the Yankees are close to signing Kyle Farnsworth as their set-up guy and the Phillies are making a strong push for Tom Gordon, so those two “targets” may be off the radar very soon. Both players have closed in the past, but have their warts, just like a Wickman, so neither is a sure thing.

On the other hand, a possible HOF closer who was “insulted” by his former team’s initial offer may be just what the doctor ordered. IF Trevor Hoffman is able to baited off of the Left Coast and into Jacobs Field, it would be a major coup for the Indians. Apparently, he’s looking for a 2-year deal worth about $16M with a vesting option for a third year. Considering what the Tribe “allegedly” offered B.J. Ryan, I don’t think that’s an impossible request. Yes, Hoffman is 38 and has had arm trouble, but he does also have a track record and was his usual dominant self last year. Who knows what he might be able to do in the AL. But with the number of closers dwindling, time is of the essence on the Hoffman front.

Wedgie was on the radio over the weekend, singing the praises of Hoffman, using a lot of the same adjectives used about Millwood prior to his signing last year: Veteran, Presence, Clubhouse Leader, Poise. The Hoffman thing could be a replay of the Millwood thing from last offseason, where the Tribe “missed out” on the big names (Pavano, Clement, Wright of last year, Ryan and Wagner of this year) to take a chance on a veteran looking to prove his worth. The fact that Wedge (who normally is so vanilla in interviews) was so over the top in his evaluation of Hoffman makes me think that Hoffman will be the one closing games for the Tribe next year.

Think about this: Would Hoffman have the same effect on the young bullpen (Cabrera, Betancourt, Brown, etc.) that Millwood did last year on the rotation? A future HOF teaching those young arms how to prepare themselves for games, how to get out of jams, how to keep their emotions in check, etc. would be invaluable considering the talent that is out in the pen.
So with one starter taking up about $6M-$7M next year and a closer costing about $8M for next year, you’ve added about $15M to solidify the pitching staff (remember, I’d like to see Cabrera in the Howry role and have the young guns Carmona and Sowers battle for the 5th spot). My thinking is that the Tribe is probably going to add about $20M-$25M in payroll to what is there, so you’ve taken up about 2/3 of it.

The final $5M-$10M goes toward that bat. The two names now being thrown around are Brian Giles (still) and Nomah (new). Despite my feelings for Jimmy Fallon, Ben Affleck, and that whole hack SNL skit that skewered Sawx fans, if Nomar came to the North Coast, I’d be shouting NOMAHHH with the rest of the fans.

Nomar seems to fit into the Indians’ line of reclamation projects (if you want to call them that), or players who have something to prove and are given the opportunity to prove them. I have no problem with Nomar filling the “Tony Phillips role” as Buster Olney suggests, having him move around the field. As a SS, one has to be a pretty good athlete, certainly good enough to play 1B (RF may be another story, even though Kasey Blake acquitted himself nicely to the outfield). There’s one thing that Nomar has always been able to do: drive in runs. The presence of his RH bat between Hafner and the Stick would look great to Tribe fans and like a nightmare to opposing pitchers. But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself because these rumors (about Nomar and Giles) are just that.

Before my final spiel about salaries and perception vs. reality, here’s what the always-perceptive Terry Pluto had to say about the Tribe’s rotation next year from his online newsletter:

• Even without Millwood, I am very optimistic about the Tribe's starting pitching. C.C. Sabathia looks like he'll be a consistent 15-game winner, and Cliff Lee can be the same. Jake Westbrook can win 12-15 games. Most teams would love to build their starting rotation around those three guys. Then the Indians will face a decision on their prospects: Jason Davis, Jeremy Sowers, Fausto Carmona, Brian Tallet and Kaz Tadano. One Tribe executive told me that he believes Carmona is very close to big-league ready. I saw Sowers, and I believe the same is true for him. Tallet is an interesting prospect. I like Tadano, and Davis better in relief.
• One plan for the Tribe might be to sign a modestly priced veteran starter, such as Scott Elarton, for the fourth spot in the rotation, then shuffle through the kids to find a fifth starter. Let's remember how Lee and Westbrook established themselves. It happened because someone said, "These guys have the talent, now let's hand them the ball.''

Finally, I’m tired of hearing all of the talk about whether the Dolans are “going to step to the plate and pay some players or just pay us lip-service.” Last I checked the contracts that have been signed thus far have been ludicrous (see Perez, Neifi and Eyre, Scott), so the question isn’t whether the Indians will pay for their players, it’s whether they’ll pay prudently for their players.

Last year, the Tigers signed Magglio Ordonez and Troy Percival (two players many thought the Indians should have signed) and were perceived to have really improved their team. Meanwhile, in reality this year the Tigers are in the market for…a big RH bat and a closer. There’s a big difference between shelling out big bucks for quality talent and shelling out big bucks for marginal talent. The system put in place seems to be working pretty well and, within that, there has to be some level of restraint. Sure, it would be great to have B.J. Ryan, but not at those numbers. It’s about spending wisely, not spending the most. Just ask all those teams that spent more than the White Sox this past season and watched the WS the same place that we did…at home.

If you’re not checking out the comments that are posted, start. There’s enough links and dirt flying around in there to keep everyone fat and happy.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Fleecing of Toronto

Imagine the range of emotions this morning, as I see that B.J. Ryan reportedly agrees to a deal on the front page of the Sports section. Disappointment and a little bit of surprise, as Ryan had stated his intent to join a team ready for playoff contention.
Open the paper to the article detailing in the terms. Incredulously say out loud, “5 years for $47.5M?!?”. My thoughts turn to how the negotiations must’ve gone, probably over a nice dinner:
John Courtright (Ryan’s agent) – B.J. would really like to play for a contender next year.
J.P. Ricciardi (Toronto GM) – We feel we’re right there in the AL East, with money to spend.
Courtright – There are other teams in the running a lot closer than the Jays.
Ricciardi (going into used-car salesman mode) – OK, tell me what it will take to get B.J. into a Jays uniform. Throw out a number.
Courtright – I don’t know…5 years, $47 and a half million.
Ricciardi – Done.
Courtright (getting up, shaking hands, and throwing money on the table) – OK, great I’ll send over the paperwork tomorrow morning, (under his breath) before you realize what you’ve just done.

That may be a bit of a stretch, but let’s look at some hard numbers. Now in no way am I discounting that B.J. Ryan is a nice relief pitcher, certainly with the potential to close for a very long time in the majors. However, let’s do a comparison, using Mariano Rivera’s contract from 2001-2004:

Ryan 2005 - 31 years old, 42 career saves, 1 year of closing.
-Contract for 5 years worth essentially $9.5M a year
Rivera 2001 – 31 years old, 165 career saves, 4+ years of closing.
-Contract for 4 years worth essentially $10M a year
-Did I mention he also had 19 postseason saves and a WS MVP under his belt?

I realize that players’ salaries go up every year, but this is ridiculous. Billy Wagner, the consensus best FA closer is 33 with 284 career saves during 9 years of closing games.
Guess whose price just went up. Do you think that Omar Minaya reacted well to the report?

I assumed that Wagner would get about $9.5M a year over 3 years with Ryan’s deal settling at about $8M a year over 3. So, this just completely threw those numbers out the window, not only in terms of money, but also in terms of years. Who gives a reliever a 5-year deal? He may perform at a nice level for a few years, but to lock up a closer with a short track record for that amount reeks of desperation.

Now there are conflicting reports of whether this deal is truly done (probably as Ricciardi went back to the office, looking for congratulations and receiving only gasps of, “how long…and for how much…for B.J. Ryan?), but it illustrates the FA concept that It Only Takes One Team:

  • It Only Takes One Team to offer two more years than everyone else.
  • It Only Takes One Team to outbid everyoe (sometimes outlandishly) to set the tone for the whole FA market, causing everyone's prices to go up.
  • It Only Takes One Team to “make a splash for their fans” by getting the player they want, regardless of any other circumstances.

We'll see if this deal goes through and, if so, who the Indians turn their attention to (Farnsworth, Hoffman, Gordon, or good ole Wicky) in the continuation of their bullpen restructuring project.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Trade Thoughts

With the trade market taking off (Delgado, Thome, Beckett, etc.), expect the Indians to join the festivities shortly, either via FA or trade. Some thoughts on recent happenings:

The White Sox acquisition of Thome puzzles me. Granted they got $22M of the $43.5M owed over his last 3 years, but the timing of it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Thome is essentially a DH, whose contract makes him attractive to very few AL teams (meaning that they weren't bidding against a ton of teams). Yet the White Sox jump at the chance to get Thome, before the Konerko situation is even resolved. He’s essentially the replacement for Frank Thomas, and insurance for 1B if Konerko moves on. But that’s assuming that his back is healthy enough to play the field. The White Sox were pushing hard to make this happen, but couldn’t they have waited until the asking price came down a little?
That being said, it was a great trade for Philly, whose lineup looks pretty tough for next year (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Abreu, Burrell, Rowand).

Even more curious is what the White Sox gave up to get Thome. Last offseason, Chicago traded Carlos Lee for Scott Podsednik which seemed to set the tone for the season, as it moved the focus of the team from Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em to pitching, speed, and defense. It worked pretty well, obviously. So, the first move they make after winning a championship is to trade a Gold Glove caliber CF, and a grinder who epitomized their philosophy for … a slugger, capable of the big HR, but also the big K.
Brian Anderson is a nice OF prospect, but he remains just that. For every Grady Sizemore that emerges, there are a lot more Alex Escobars and Ryan Ludwicks.
I can’t tell if my personal feelings for Thome (that he always said all the right things, until he jumped town for “a better shot at the playoffs”) is influencing my thoughts on the trade, but it will certainly be intriguing to hear the reaction that Thome steps to the plate for the first time at the Jake.

You want a rival for the Indians, there’s your rival. Complete with a former teammate becoming the face of your nemesis, with Jim Thome in the Jack Parkman role from Major League II. Bad reference and a bad movie, but the similarities are just too eerie.

Now, the Philadelphia media is reporting that the Thome sweepstakes came down to the White Sox and the Tribe, with the Indians offering David Riske and Coco Crisp for Thome and Jason Michaels. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, or if it was “leaked” to give Tribe ownership some credence that “they went hard after Thome”. That trade would only be made if Thome’s back was guaranteed to be healthy enough to play the field, and the Phillies threw in a similar financial package. The Tribe was hesitant to give Thome these last 3 years when originally negotiating with him, so why suddenly would they want him for ONLY these 3 years?

The interesting aspect of the trade rumor is the names that came up in it for the Tribe. I don’t think that there’s any question that Shapiro is trying to deal Riske, seeing as how he just had a good year (stats-wise), even as he fell out of favor with Wedge. Shapiro will almost certainly try to move him in a package for a bat.
Coco’s name is more surprising, until you look at the big picture. Coco was always seen as a 4th OF as he progressed through the organization, fighting his way into the picture. After a solid year, Coco’s value may be at its peak and the fact that he doesn’t fit the mold of a corner outfielder (he’s really a CF/leadoff hitter, which we’re set on) leads me to believe that if Brian Giles becomes an Indian, Coco’s days may be numbered. Even if Giles doesn't join the Indians, when either Brad Snyder of Franklin Gutierrez is ready for the bigs, expect Coco (assuming he’s still around) to be the odd man out. With that being said, Coco’s stuck around a lot longer than other more ballyhooed prospects, so he may retire an Indian at this rate.

Coco would draw some interest in the trade market as he's a prototypical leadoff hitter (in some people's eyes who look only at his speed) and a good defensive OF (despite a weak throwing arm). He could always be packaged with Brandon Phillips and some arms for a starter (Javier Vazquez, Barry Zito) at some point to solve the hole in the rotation, rather than giving Millwood the 5-year deal that he is almost assured of getting somewhere.

Back to the Giles front, it seems that Giles may be willing to return to the place it all started, as he’s ruled out the Yankees. The Padres, the Cardinals, and the Cubs remain the other suitors, but Giles seems like the kind of guy who takes comfort and environment into consideration more than most. I would imagine that his personality would fit in well to the loose clubhouse where Hafner walks around in Battista T-shirts (from the WWE, for the uninformed), but is he willing to leave the San Diego sun or more money on the table for a return to the Jake?

It seems like the Indians are more concerned about locking up a bat and bullpen help as opposed to locking up the rotation, from the reports of who they are courting. B.J. Ryan is reported to be very interested in signing with the Tribe because he wants to close for a winner. Take the Yankees (set-up role), the Orioles (losers), and the Blue Jays (losers) off of the list. It seems that the loser of the Billy Wagner Sweepstakes (Mets or Phillies) will make a hard push for Ryan, which is why Shapiro is working hard to stage a pre-emptive strike. Unfortunately, since Wagner’s contract will set the market, you can’t have it both ways.

The next week or so should set up for some action coming from the Indians’ offices, as the there may be more money to spend, and moves are now being made, so the precedent is set.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Jim Thome was dealt to the White Sox in exchange for Aaron Rowand and cash.

How's that for a return to the Midwest and the Indians' backyard?

What this means for Konerko and his status with the White Sox and what it means to the AL Central and specifically the Tribe, I'm going to need some time on.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bullpen Option?

The FA "Visiting Period" has started as B.J. Ryan was in Cleveland on Monday night, being courted by the Indians. Ryan, the Orioles' closer, would look great at the back end of the bullpen, but he will not come cheap. Ryan is one of the top closers available and will be looking for a long-term deal like Alfonseca and Percival did last off-season (we saw how those worked out).

Ryan, a tough lefty, would give the Tribe 3 lefties in the pen (with Rhodes and Sauerbeck) and if Rhodes is thought to be the 8th inning guy right now, that's a lot of southpaws. Additionally, if Fernando Cabrera is not far away from closing, what's the point of giving Ryan a 3-4 year deal? And what's the harm in giving Wickman another year to raise my blood pressure?

Initially, I was pretty excited about hearing that Ryan was in town, but the more thought that I gave to it, the more I think that the money can be better spent elsewhere (rotation, RF, 1B) as bullpens always seem to be a bit of a crapshoot. Remember that Bobby Jenks closed WS games last year.

I think that the Tribe will go in the direction of re-signing Wickman on another one-year deal and signing another bullpen RH, like Julian Tavarez, to give the Tribe the bullpen depth that was so important in 2005.

Lastly, it looks like Bob Howry will join Scott Eyre in the Cubs' bullpen (for $12M) as the Cubs have made the decision to overpay for all of their FA signees this offseason. Bidding against yourself is not a good strategy.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Nibbles on the Hook

With most of the focus right now on the FA market, I have a feeling that there will be more action on the trade front for the Indians this offseason. With some parts that can be moved, the Indians can fill holes by trading for value. Obviously, many trades involve prospects in leagues so low that very few people know about them. But, since we had previously looked at players who may be viable options for the Tribe to acquire, it’s time to take a look at the flip side of the equation, because to get value, you have to give up value.

Players Who May be Trade Bait:
Ben Broussard –
If Bono Broussard is not brought back into the fold for next year (i.e. the Tribe signs or trades for another 1B or gives the job to Garko), Broussard will likely be non-tendered and shopped in the offseason. Broussard, whose streakiness has made Clevelanders feel that he’s the player on the outside looking in this offseason, seems unlikely to be the Indians lone starting 1B next year. He may remain as part of a lefty/righty platoon, but a lot of that would depend upon what kind of dollars he may command in an arbitration hearing.
That being said, Broussard is an attractive player to a team that does not require a lot of power from their 1B. He will likely remain a .250 hitter who will hit about 20 HR with 65-75 RBI. Not bad numbers for some team, particularly one in need of a LH bat and a decent glove at first (maybe an NL team). Broussard may be dangled for another bullpen arm, depending upon the outcome of the Wickman/Howry/Riske situations.
If Broussard were to leave, I would equate him to the Paul Sorrento of this era. A nice player, unlikely to really catch on elsewhere; but produced some nice memories while here. Plus, he can promote his album.
David Riske –
Riske (whose spell as the closer was derided by my bride as “not such a good sign…having your closer named Riske”) is another player who may be more attractive to another team, other than the Indians. He, like Broussard, could be non-tendered and traded to avoid the Indians going to arbitration with him. Riske is a nice reliever who seemed to fall out of favor with Wedge as the season wore on. His appearances grew less and less frequent as Betancourt, and then Cabrera, became more established in the bullpen.
Riske does have nice career stats, averaging 47 appearances a season in 6 seasons. His career ERA is 3.55 with a WHIP of 1.26, which could be very attractive to a team looking for a 7th inning reliever. With the Indians having Rhodes, Betancourt, and Cabrera all set to fill the 6th through 8th innings, Riske could be the casualty of numbers. If that is the case, most teams are looking for bullpen help and Riske could certainly bring something in return, as he is somewhat of a “known commodity”. He has limited closing experience (which didn’t go well), but he would be useful to most teams in the back end of the ‘pen; again, probably more so for teams other than the Tribe. This one may come down to dollars – whether the Indians think that Riske’s arm and experience is worth that much more money (he made $1.425M last year) than that of an Andrew Brown, Jason Davis, or Matt Miller.
Jason Davis -
With Fausto Carmona and Jeremy Sowers having seemingly leapfrogged Davis in the Tribe rotation’s future, Davis will probably figure into next year’s plans in the bullpen or on another roster. There is no debate over the fact that Jason Dangerously has a live arm, capable of dominating at the big league level. The internal debate for the Indians is whether his stuff translates better to starting or reliving.
Personally, I’m of the belief that his stuff would be better out of the bullpen, BUT (a big but) I’m not sure if his emotions are best suited for the bullpen. When he pitched for the Tribe, he was always victimized by that big inning or seemed to lose his cool, often with disastrous results. That is not the kind of track record or mentality you’re looking for in a reliever, where you have to almost be amnesiac. So, while his stuff may be best suited for the pen, I don’t think that he’s necessarily best suited for the pen.
With all of that being said, it takes us back to the fact that Carmona and Sowers would have to go into Spring Training as the top contenders for a spot in the rotation (if one exists). And other arms in the bullpen might be further along than Davis. So where does that leave JD? Trade bait?
Davis would be sure to bring some value back from a pitching-starved team. While trading young pitching is normally not a good idea, Davis may be the victim of the numbers game. The strength of the Indians’ farm system is pitching, and if Davis does not translate anymore into one of the top prospects (remember that the studs from Akron last year will be one step closer next year), Davis may be able to bring a young bat into the fold. Or he could be packaged to acquire a more established hitter. His potential (and his fastball) could enamor another team to overvalue Davis and give up something decent in return. Or, this could all just be conjecture and Davis could take a spot in the bullpen (or even the rotation) in 2006.
Brandon Phillips -
As has already been determined, the re-signing of Ramon Vazquez and Jelly Belliard’s option being picked up means the end of B-Phil’s time in Cleveland. Once the jewel of the Colon deal, Phillips’ head never caught up to his talent. Whether it was a maturity issue or being given too much, too early is hard to say. But with Phillips out of options and no spot available on the big-league roster, Phillips will be playing elsewhere next year. He may just need a fresh start or to go to another organization where he is not always referred to as “the main player in the Bartolo Colon” trade (particularly with the success of Lee and Sizemore staring him in the face).
The question becomes whether the Indians can get anything of value for Phillips. He is still young and nobody has ever questioned that his glove his ML caliber. He needs to shorten his swing and become the player he is, not the player he thinks he is. A couple more years in the minors would do that. Expect Phillips to be packaged up this offseason to a team in need of a utility player or an upper level 2B/SS prospect.
Jeremy Guthrie -
The Stanford grad and former 1st Round Pick’s career has stalled at the time when the Indians’ brass thought he would more than likely be in the rotation (or at least challenging for that spot). Guthrie, however, lost his confidence in his first trip to Buffalo (after cruising up to that point) and hasn’t gotten his mojo back. Maybe Dr. Evil took it. He is under contract for 2006 (the last year of a 4 year, $4.5M deal) and the Tribe would like to see some return on their investment. Whether that comes in the form of production in Cleveland or in the acquisition of some other talent is the question.
Right now, Guthrie wouldn’t bring much in return (he posted a 5.08 ERA in Buffalo in 25 starts and he’ll be 27 by Opening Day next year), so expect Guthrie to go to Spring Training “competing” for a spot in the rotation (in name only. Next year, he would fill the “6th starter” role that Jason Davis filled last year. The loser of the 5th spot (Carmona or Sowers) would probably be sent back to Buffalo and be kept on a schedule until a regular starting gig became open in Cleveland. Guthrie, meanwhile, could yo-yo back and forth, with no set day to pitch. He could just fill-in where he was needed, either helping the Tribe, showcasing himself for a midseason trade, or putting the final shovel of dirt on his Major League career.

Other players could be traded (Tallet, Stanford, Tadano, etc.), but they’d all fall under the category of a “throw-in” like Tim Drew in the Colon deal.
Remember that Shapiro talked about acquiring Barry Zito last off-season, so the trade market is always a fluid one. You never know who is “available” and what it would take to get them. Shapiro has pulled off some beauties in the past (acquiring Hafner, Sizemore, Lee, Crisp, Westbrook, and Rhodes via trade), so a trade is certainly a possibility. Maybe even moreso than a big FA signing.

With that being said, the more I read about this FA starting pitching market, the more inclined I am to believe that the Indians will sign a player like Paul Byrd to a 2 year deal. Something like that retains the financial flexibility that Shapiro preaches, while not locking down a rotation spot if (when) the young arms are ready for the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Incidentally, Billy Traber was signed by the Washington Nationals. Witnessing Traber's one-hit gem against the Yankees at the Jake is one of my greatest memories at the Jake. Half for Traber's performance, half for my confrontation with 4 New Yorkers in our section. After being told by the bride that she didn't "have my back" if it went down, things simmered to the point that we had beers with them at Cooperstown afterward. Seeing as how I was outweighed by them, collectively about 85o lbs. to 150 lbs. (soaking wet), and I escaped without bodily injury, it remains a feather in my cap.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Here and There

Since I don't want to give any more credence to Scott Boras' comments on Millwood, the Indians, and budgets; you can check them out in the Paul Hoynes article from Sunday's PD.

Other than Scott Boras proving he's the smarmiest agent this side of Bob Sugar, I take issue with the PD running this article and giving some credence to this blowhard. The problem is that Joe Bandwagon wakes up on Sunday and reads this article, saying to himself, "Boy, is Dolan cheap. If they don't give Millwood an 8 year contract - I'll never buy another ticket."

Knowing the (unfortunate) influence that the PD Sports Section has in this town, that's just irresponsible. Why don't they just float a story that Manny wants to come back to town (regardless of money still owed on a bloated contract or what the Red Sox would want in return). Oh, wait.

With article titles like "Time to Pay Up", is it any wonder there's so much defeatism in this town when it comes to sports?

Meanwhile, in reality, it's INSANE to give any pitcher a 5 year deal, much less one with major arm problems in his past. I'm all for getting Millwood back on this team for the innings, leadership, and guidance that he adds to the Tribe. But 5 years!?! Let Mike Ilitch sell some more Little Caesers' pizza to pay off that contract. A 5 year deal for a 32 year old pitcher with arm problems sounds tailor made for the Tigers or Orioles.

Word around the Stove has the Tribe offering Tom Gordon a contract, presumably to close. Howry seems to have priced himself out of the Indians' plans. While Howry had a great year with the Tribe, he too is still only a few years removed from major arm surgery and just pitched a ton of innings. Howry will probably get closer money and close somewhere next year, just not the Jake. Wickman remains a name not often seen or heard as to 2006.

If the Tribe signs Flash Gordon to close, expect them to sign another veteran reliever to solidify the bullpen. Perhaps a return to Cleveland by that famous bw-3 (when it was still bw-3) pitchman Julian Tavarez? I would pay to see him do another commercial where the umpire goes out to the mound to see wing sauce on the ball. Or maybe he'll come back to hit Brecksville's senior prom again (which Tavarez did in 1995).

All of this is probably just smoke coming out of the Hot Stove, but with pitchers and catchers scheduled to report on February 18th, the clock is ticking.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Hot Stove Tomahawks

Some quick hitters with all of the awards and Hot Stove League talk:

  • Mark Shapiro was named TSN's Executive of the Year. Warranted for sure, but interesting that he was thought to have done a better job then Ken Williams, who (in a year) transformed his club from a group of underachieving sluggers to small ball playing WS Champs.
  • The Atomic Wedgie came in second in AL Manager of the Year voting, behind Ozzie Guillen. Maybe if he had started the year out without the Magnum P.I. mustache, he could have avoided the slow start and won the Central and the Manager of the Year. Who said anything about superstition?
  • Booger Colon won the AL Cy Young, with Cliff Lee and Kevin Millwood receiving votes. It seems that Colon has finally turned into the ace that everyone thought he would always become. Luckily, the Indians have something to show for it, unlike the Expos and the White Sox. Yesterday, today, and every day I still make that trade.
  • Huston Street won AL ROY, only because Sizemore had too many AB in 2004. Otherwise, Sizemore would have (more than likely) been the first Indian ROY since Sandy Alomar, Jr.
  • Bob Howry is allegedly looking for a 3 year deal worth between $10.5M and $12M. Wow! Basically, he's looking for closer money in the market. Here's the question: Do you re-up with Howry at those numbers, or go after a B.J. Ryan or Tom Gordon. And where does Sticky Wickman fall into this? Luckily, Shapiro is addressing the bullpen now, before all of the arms are pulled off of the market.
  • According to Scott Boras, Kevin Millwood is looking for a 5 year deal, while the Indians' limit seems to be 4 years. All it takes is one team (Baltimore, Detroit, etc.) to make that commitment and Millwood is pitching elsewhere next year. Before you just say, "give him another year, we need him on this team" - remember similar comments were made about Jim Thome and the length of his deal. The Phillies gave Thome the extra years and now have to wear that contract like the albatross around their neck that it is. I'm not sure where I come down on this one, knowing the thinness of the FA starting pitching market, but also knowing that C.C., Lee, and Jake are a pretty solid nucleus of a rotation.
  • Texas and Cleveland are talking trade. David Riske's name has come up, as has Coco Crisp. Paul Hoynes reports that the Indians may be going after Adrian Gonzalez, but what about Riske and Jason Davis for Kevin Mench? Throw in Jason Cooper if they want a young OF.
That's it for now, Lost is starting with that delicious Evangeline Lilly.

Monday, November 07, 2005

LOOGY on Board

The Indians' officially announced the re-signing of Scott Sauerbeck, who never even filed for Free Agency. The rationale for the Tribe is pretty obvious as Sauerbeck fills a need in a familiar place. Couple that with the idea that his now being two years removed from arm surgery should allow him to become more than just a situational lefty.

Sauerbeck's comments that the Indians' stuck with him and he wanted to reward them fall in line with those heard from Aaron Boone last year (when he extended his deal). It seems that the Indians' organization is quickly developing a reputation for taking care of players, taking chances on players, and sticking with them.

That respect is becoming a two-way street. In this time of Players vs. Management (see Owens, Terrell), the Indians actually seem to have a good relationship with most of their players. Whether that edict comes from the Dolans or it's just the way that Shapiro and his front office have decided to conduct their business - it's a welcome respite from the 25 minutes that SportsCenter devoted tonight to a malcontent. Let's hope that Howry and Millwood follow suit.

Off the soapbox, as I look more at this Sauerbeck move and hear that the Tribe is looking not only for a closer, but also a veteran set-up man, I have to wonder: Where is Arthur Rhodes in all of this? I'm assuming that he would be back next year to pitch the 8th until Cabrera was ready, but there remains a possibility that the Indians try to move Rhodes (possibly to a West Coast team to be closer to whatever problems exist at home) and pursue another set-up man.

If Rhodes (and Riske) are moved, there better be some other alternatives wearing Chief Wahoo next year that don't remind anyone of Scott Stewart and Jose Jimenez. There are young arms on the farm, but I have a feeling that Shapiro give veterans the first shot, forcing those young arms earn their way into the bullpen of 2006. Remember that it took Matt Miller getting hurt last year before Cabrera and his filthy stuff finally got the call.

While Brian Giles, Mike Sweeney, etc. will sell the papers, the bullpen and rotation remain the keys. As Justice Hill put it so eloquently in his mailbag on the official site:

I think until people realize that you don't need a roster of star players to be a good team, I'll keep getting questions about trading a boatload of talent for one aging, overpriced player (Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome fit into this category). Look at the White Sox. The priority should be on pitching, a strong bullpen, good defense and smarter production on offense.

The re-signing of Sauerbeck, though it won't make 216-420-HITS ring off the line, may be one of the most important moves of the off-season.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Jelly Belly

With the Indians’ picking up Ronnie Belliard’s option for 2006 (which had been widely assumed), the Tribe has essentially gotten almost all of their position players under contract for next year. There was some thought that Shapiro would try to rework Belliard’s deal to give him a couple of more years (similar to what they did with Boone during the season) because of the lack of legitimate 2B prospects on the farm, but something like that could certainly happen during the season.

Belliard certainly earned this contract with a career year at the plate and some sparkling D. Does anyone turn the DP faster than him? Plus it means one more year (at least) of untucked shirts, pants dragging on the ground, and our 2B playing a softball position (short outfield). The Jelly Roll is great to watch; especially when he’s wearing the vintage 1987 Oakley’s and looks like he has a tennis ball in his lower lip, tongue flapping every which way but loose.

It’s also being reported that Scott Sauerbeck is nearing a deal with the Tribe, which would be a coup to keep the veteran LOOGY in the bullpen. Signing Sauerbeck (probably with the promise of an expanded role in 2006) keeps some continuity of the fantastic bullpen of 2005.

It would also essentially mean that Rhodes, Betancourt, Cabrera, and Sauerbeck would all be under contract with decisions necessary only on closer (Wickman vs. Howry…which is kind of a big one), whether to offer Riske arbitration, and on the final bullpen spot (which can be filled by Matt Miller, Andrew Brown, Jason Davis, Kaz Tadano, etc.).

If Sauerbeck is signed, it could also signal the end of the line for the BT Boys (Traber and Tallet), whose best shot of sticking on the 25 man roster next year was as a LOOGY.

Additionally, giving Sauerbeck a one-year deal with an option year (as is being reported) means that Sauerbeck would serve as a bridge until the minors produces a quality LH reliever (a likely option would be Tony Sipp, who could follow the Fernando Cabrera arc into the bullpen in a couple of years) capable of giving the Tribe a homegrown product.

Did you ever think that the re-signing of Scott Sauerbeck could be analyzed to such an extent? These are the things that pop into my head when the gerbil gets on the wheel. Sad, but true.

Interestingly, Sports Illustrated’s Daniel Habib made some Hot Stove League predictions in the latest issue and touched on a few Indians-related matters. He’s predicting that:

  • Kevin Millwood will sign with the Orioles, presumably to reunite with Leo Mazzone and to put lots of Peter Angelos money in his pockets.
  • Manny will be traded back to the Indians, one of seemingly only 2 teams (the Angels being the other) that he has agreed to be traded to. Remember that he’s now a 10 and 5 guy, which means that he can veto any trade, if the destination is not a place he wants to go.
  • Bob Wickman will retire at age 37.

The first thought on this would be, “Who in the world are we going to trade to Boston to get Manny back, and how much of his contract will they pay?” Unless Boston is content to take some package of Broussard, Phillips, Davis, and Riske with some lower level prospects included, I don’t make this deal. Yes, Manny would look great in this lineup (unbelievable in fact), but I would rather spend those dollars on Millwood. The ‘90s proved to us that a potent offense (while exciting) does not guarantee a World Series Championship. History has shown us that pitching wins championships, and I would value Millwood’s potential contributions over those of Manny (as ridiculous as his numbers have always been).

So, for those of you dusting off the #24 jerseys from the back of the closet - hold off for a while. The Red Sox would want a run-producer to replace Manny in the lineup (remember A-Rod for Soriano) and unless the Tribe gives up a great young bat (really Sizemore since DH, SS, and C are spoken for in Boston), it won’t happen. I can’t imagine Dan Shaughnessy writing a column that Casey Blake is a great fit in front of the Green Monster.

In the meantime, enjoy the emergence of the Cavaliers as a legitimate playoff team (last night’s meltdown in San Antonio notwithstanding) and the continued ruined Sundays due to ugly Browns’ losses. Is anyone else reading less and less, and caring less and less about this team? Apathy in longtime fans is not a good sign for the franchise.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Homecoming...Sort Of

With reports that the Indians have contacted Brian Giles’ agent, let’s all take a deep breath before we pencil him in at RF for 2006. It’s November 2nd. Right now, teams are just expressing interest, not even able to talk dollars with free agents that aren’t theirs until November 11th.

With the deep breath out of the way, let’s return to reality and take a look at the possibility of Giles returning to the Tribe. Reports state that Giles, a San Diego native, is looking for a 3 year deal worth around $8M-$9M per. If the Indians give him that much, it means that Millwood is pitching elsewhere next year (barring an about face from ownership on the 2006 budget). Sorry to put it that way, but it's based on more than a guess.

Giles would fit nicely into the Indians lineup, and he does have a history with the Tribe (though few outside Cleveland remember those 297 AB) and, more specifically, Mark Shapiro. Various stories on the freewheeling days of John Hart (as he traded top prospects for the likes of Kevin Seitzer, John Smiley, Ricardo Rincon, and Dave Burba...nothing against Slurva) paint a vivid picture of Shapiro, then the Director of Minor League Operations, banging the table against the trade of Giles for Ricardo Rincon.

Giles does have that relationship with Shapiro, with his minor league years mirroring those of Shapiro. And he is familiar with Cleveland and Jacobs Field (which would help his overall numbers after a few years at Petco Park), so the possibility is out there.

Whether this is just talk or there is something to this remains to be seen, but it brings up an interesting question: If Giles (or another veteran LH run-producer is signed) where does he hit in the lineup? Does he hit 6th behind Victor, leaving 7, 8, & 9 as (probable) RH bats? Or does he work his way into the top, which risks disrupting the emerging force that is the first five spots in that lineup? If this does happen, it will be interesting to see how the Atomic one handles it.

But those are questions for another day as we are still at the beginning of November and the Cavaliers season is starting on TV.

Oh, before Ronnie Duncan deafens me for the first time, ESPN has the Tribe ranked #1 in their first 2006 Power Rankings. Not bad for some has-beens and a couple of never-will-bes.

Monday, October 31, 2005


Some quick hits to cover the last few happenings in the Teepee:

  • The Indians signed Ramon Vazquez to a one-year deal, officially eliminating any chance of Brandon Phillips playing for the Tribe next season. With the Tribe certain to pick up Belliard's option, Peralta entrenched at SS, and Phillips out of options expect Phillips to be packaged as part of some trade (major or minor). It's too bad that things never worked out for Phillips here, but his Felix Ferminesque play never really caught up to his Hall of Fame ego. Despite the fact that the primary prospect (Phillips) in the Colon deal never panned out, two out of three ain't bad.
  • Signing Vazquez means that 2 spots remain open for position players. With Casey Blake likely to fill either RF, 1B, or a Utility position (comparable to what Jose Hernandez did last year), Shapiro can really survey the landscape for those spots and not have to worry about a backup catcher or anything else, position-playerwise.
  • Millwood, Elarton, Howry, and Wickman all filed for Free Agency. Remember that last year Elarton never filed, opting instead to just re-sign with the Tribe. His filing does seem to indicate that he will at least test the FA waters. Plus, didn't Wickman say that the only place he wanted to play in 2006 (if he did play) was Cleveland? And he files on the first day? Curious.
  • Cliff Lee underwent hernia surgery, but should be fully recovered by Spring Training. Lee can probably also expect to be approached about a long-term contract this offseason as the Tribe will try to lock up the young southpaw.
  • Ryan Garko (whom the luminaries at the PD has deemed unfit to play until midseason of next year) is getting hits in the Arizona Fall League (as Phifer says) like Kid Capri makes tapes. Interesting poll on the official site:
    Who would you like to see start at first base for the Indians next season?
    Incumbent Ben Broussard 340 votes (14%)
    Rookie Ryan Garko 551 votes (23%)
    Free agent Paul Konerko 1269 votes (53%)
    Free agent Kevin Millar 127 votes (5%)
    Free agent J.T. Snow 124 votes (5%)
  • Does anyone else see a combination of Ryan Garko and J.T. Snow as the hidden meaning in this poll?
The World Series matchup (and all the playoff games really) proved that the success in the postseason begins and ends with pitching. The White Sox won the championship with position players that (overall) most would think to be equal to, or on par with, the Indians. Chicago got great pitching, overcame their toughest competition from the Indians, and got some lucky breaks and calls on their way to the trophy. The Astros went to the Series with players like Mike Lamb and Chris Burke in their lineup because their pitching staff was able to shut down a potent Cardinals' offense.
I think watching the playoffs should only reinforce the belief that the Indians (with their strong pitching) should continue to focus on putting together a strong staff on the big league level, while cultivating an excess of arms on the farm. Sure, it would be great to add big time run-producers like Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez to the Indians; but last I checked they were both watching the World Series at home, just like Ben Broussard and Casey Blake. Baseball is about pitching, then pitching, and finally pitching. Luckily for Indians' fans, Mark Shapiro and his staff seem to understand that and prioritize it accordingly.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Heard it Here First

From an actual post on the DiaTribe from June 12th by serial poster Cy Slapnicka, in a mocking reference to one man’s opinion of how long the White Sox could keep their winning up:

"Seriously, how long can the White Sox keep this up?”
-The DiaTriber during Game 6 of the 2005 World Series

Maybe not Game 6, but we should ask Nostradamus who he's got winning Super Bowl XL.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Playing Some “9” Ball

Using the criteria that the Indians are looking for in a RF – a veteran hitter, preferably right handed, who can be placed in the lineup (either behind Hafner or behind Martinez) to give the Tribe another run-producer – this is what I’ve come up with. I’ve ranked them in terms of productivity, not necessarily availablility.
1) Pat Burrell - .281 – 32 – 117 - .892
We said that we are looking for a run-producing RH outfielder and Burrell is certainly that. The reason he may be available is the Jim Thome/Ryan Howard situation in Philly. Thome, unless he is traded, is only capable of playing 1B; leading to speculation that Ryan Howard could be moved to the outfield. Burrell’s contract (about $7.5M for the next few years) isn’t too outlandish and he can hit, but the Phillies would be looking for a heck of a lot more than Jason Davis and Brandon Phillips for Pat the Bat. They’d probably ask for Lee, or at least Westbrook and some prime prospects. Another downside to Burrell is an alleged attitude problem or “lack of heart” (so says Larry Bowa), but the same was said of Scott Rolen when he was in Philly, and he seemed to be OK once out of the glare of the Philly press.
2) Bobby Abreu - .286 – 24 – 102 - .879
See above for the reason that Abreu may be available, though it’s very unlikely. Abreu is a serious masher, who may be beyond what the Indians are looking for. Don’t get me wrong, his numbers would look good in the lineup, but at $13+M for the next couple of years, I don’t see Shapiro taking much interest in Abreu.
3) Cliff Floyd - .273 – 34 – 98 - .863
With the Mets most likely playing Victor Diaz in RF and with their top prospect Lastings Milledge on the cusp of the Majors, Cliff Floyd might be available. His OPS and run-producing bat would look awfully good in the Tribe lineup. He is LH, but his $6.5M salary makes him a more than palatable. The Mets aren’t likely to just give Floyd away (particularly with two largely unproven commodities as their corner outfielders as the alternatives), but I’m just trying to give an idea of middle-of-the order hitters that may be out there.

As a sidebar as we move on, now do we understand the problem of “just going out and getting that big RH bat”? Last time I checked, Pujols, Sheffield, and Chipper aren’t exactly available.

4) Kevin Mench - .264 – 25 – 73 - .797
The departure of John Hart leaves some uncertainty in Arlington, as it remains to be seen if new GM Jon Daniels (who is 28, by the way) is from the John Hart Knock ‘Em Sock ‘Em, Worry About Pitching Later school, or if he actually values pitching. The Rangers are stacked in their infield with hitting and seem content to go with David Delucci and Gary Matthews in OF (with prospect Adrian Gonzalez possibly getting a look).
That leaves Mench as the potential trade bait to bring in some pitching to a team that counts Chris Young as their ace going into 2006. The Rangers are sure to overpay for some FA pitcher (A.J. Burnett?) whose contract will replace Chan Ho Park’s as the albatross around the team’s neck, but they need depth, in both their rotation and bullpen. This may be the ideal trade partner for the Tribe, with a history of similar trades (pitching for hitting) on the books. Although, with the fleecing of Travis Hafner for Ryan Drese and Einar Diaz, I wonder if Daniels would be gun-shy.
The Rangers might be interested in a combination of David Riske, Jason Davis, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Tallet, Billy Traber, Kaz Tadano, and lower level pitching prospects to fortify their weak pitching staff.
Mench has been rumored in the past to be on Shapiro’s radar, and though he is arbitration eligible, he made $345K this past year, which would fit in nicely to the budget. Even if the Tribe were to give him a Victor/Hafner type deal (with less years), it would be a coup to put the 28-year-old RH Mench in the 5 spot, between Pronk and the Stick, for the next few years.
5) Mike Cameron - .273 – 12 – 39 - .819
With Cameron not even guaranteed a starting job for next year (thanks to the emergence of Victor Diaz), Cameron could probably be gotten on the cheap from the Mets, looking to unload his $7+M salary. The two-time Gold Glover’s defense has never been questioned (except perhaps by Carlos Beltran’s face one afternoon last year), but his offensive numbers drastically declined last year. That being said, a return to the AL might do some good for him. He did hit 30 HR with 80 RBI in 2004, so he may just need to be placed in the right situation. On the downside, he tends to be a windmill, averaging 152 K’s per year (Blake, who always seemed to be whiffing, had only 116 last year for comparison’s sake), and he doesn’t always necessarily hit for average (.249 career hitter).
6) Wily Mo Pena - .254 – 19 – 51 - .796 (in 311 AB)
See the Sean Casey analysis for why Wily Mo may be available for the right package this offseason. The 23-year-old certainly has power (with 51 HR in 830 AB), but, again his K totals (averages 154 a season) and his average (.248 lifetime hitter) remind us that with power potential, there are always drawbacks and risks. His salary of $440K is certainly attractive, and he may blossom when surrounded by a talented lineup and regular AB, but the Reds have been known to ask for the moon and the stars in trade negotiations. In their eyes, C.C. for Wily Mo might be an even trade. Also, the youngster Pena is certainly not the veteran presence that has been clamored for.
Interestingly, similar hitters to Pena through the age of 23 in history include Jesse Barfield, Rocky Colavito, Harmon Killebrew…Pete Incaviglia and Dave Kingman. This is one where Shapiro better have a pretty thick folio from scouts, full of glowing reviews, before making a move on Wily Mo. If he did, however, make no mistake that I would be the first online to order a jersey with WILY MO on the back.
7) Austin Kearns - .240 – 18 – 67 - .785 (in 387 AB)
See the Sean Casey/Wily Mo analysis for why Kearns may be available (if the Reds ever thought that decent pitching would help their cause), and he may be more attractive than Pena because of his consistency. Despite a lousy 2005 (by his standards), Kearns has averaged 24 HR, 95 RBI, a .266 BA, and a .821 OPS for his career. Like most on this list he swings and misses too much (average of 145 K’s per 162 games), but the 25-year-old may be just what the Tribe lineup is in need of: a solid RH bat who can produce runs and serve as a bridge between Hafner and the Stick in the lineup. As stated above, the Reds may ask for a lot to acquire Kearns (Gammons reported that the Reds were looking for 3-4 Major League ready prospects when Kearns was DEMOTED in the middle of the season!), but the young pitching depth of the Tribe may be enough to pry Kearns loose.
I believe that he is arbitration eligible (playing for $930K), but see the Mench analysis for how Shapiro would likely handle that dilemma. After Mench, I would say that Kearns might be the best fit for the Tribe. He may not bring the WOW factor of a bigger name, but he may go further than that bigger name in the solidification of the lineup.
8) Jay Gibbons - .277 – 26 – 79 - .833
Despite the fact that he looks like Sloth from The Goonies (OK, that was mean), Gibbons is a consistent hitter with some nice power numbers. He averages 27 HR and 89 RBI per season, without the gaudy K numbers (only 84 a season); so he actually might be a nice option. Whether he’s available from the O’s (with new VP Mike Flanagan in charge) will depend on where the Orioles decide to waste their money this off-season (Let’s see Sammy Sosa? No we tried that…Sidney Ponson? No, we tried that too) and if Gibbons is deemed worthy of playing in Camden by Peter Angelos. Though he is LH, he would fit nicely into the lineup behind the Stick, ahead of Jelly Belliard.
9) Aubrey Huff - .261 – 22 – 92 - .749
The crowded outfield in Tampa Bay becomes more crowded with the return of Rocco Baldelli and the imminent promotion of Delmon Young. Factor in Carl Crawford, Joey Gaithright, Jonny Gomes, and Damien Hollins PLUS the possibility that B.J. Upton may end up in the outfield, and it’s plain to see that Huff is not long for the Tampa Bay outfield. Huff, a LH, has averaged 26 HR and 96 RBI over his 6 MLB seasons, and his strikeout numbers (average of about 85) make Huff an attractive option. His reasonable $4.9M salary and versatility may move Huff onto the short list, but the possibility remains that the Rays could keep Huff as a 1B. The Rays need more pitching and a package of some young talented arms could pry Huff out of Florida.
10) Trot Nixon - .275 –13 – 67 - .804
Last season’s numbers don’t exactly dazzle (nor do his 2004 numbers), but Nixon is a solid RF whose numbers average 23 HR and 88 RBI. Whether his career is on the downswing, or if he’s worth $7.5M per would be the questions. He is 31, so his best days could be behind him, but his grittiness and experience could play out well on the young Indians. The Red Sox are sure to shake some things up, calling up some talented youngsters and signing some big FA’s, so Nixon could be available. The Red Sox could use some bullpen help and some young arms to groom for the rotation. Does that sound like Riske and Davis?

For comparison’s sake:
Casey Blake - .241 – 23 – 58 – .746

So, again, what are the options presented to the Tribe in RF? Here would be my Plan A and contingency plans

Plan A: Sign a Right-handed RF
Place into lineup behind Hafner, in front of Martinez. The order in which I would pursue the players listed above (based on productivity and availability, or what it would take to get them) would be:

Plan B: Sign a Left-handed RF
Place into lineup behind Martinez, in front of Belliard. The order in which I would pursue the players listed above (based on productivity and availability, or what it would take to get them) would be:

Plan C: Play Casey Blake
And pray that 2005 was an aberration, rather than a true indication of the player that he is. Remember that Blake hit 28 HR with 88 RBI in 2004, so he may have just needed to work out some kinks…or 2005 exposed him as something else: just a solid big leaguer, not good enough to merit a spot in a big league lineup every day.

I think it’s fairly obvious that the answer in RF for 2006 lies outside the Indians. With the only attractive FA outfielders being Giles, Sanders, and maybe Juan Encarnacion, the RF will probably come via a trade.

If I missed anyone on the trade options list, let me know. It’s difficult to determine what each and every team is thinking going into the off-season, but the players listed above have a better than average shot of being available.

Next, we’ll take a look at trade bait that the Tribe can throw into the water of trade talks, like the chum of Shark Week going after the Great White.