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.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Farewell, Hal

Hal Lebovitz passed away today, at the age of 89.
The "Man in the Know" was the grandfather of Cleveland sportswriting.

It is a loss for all of Cleveland sports fans.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Getting to First Base

With the FA’s available not exactly knocking anyone’s socks off, let’s take a look at what could be available in the trade market for 1B (in order of preference):
1) Lyle Overbay - .276 – 19 – 72 - .816
With Prince Fielder ready for the majors, Overbay will probably be stroking doubles somewhere other than Miller Park in 2006. Honestly, though, he may be only a slightly better version of Broussard, a gap LH hitter with a nifty glove. Is it worth giving up prospects for another Broussard?
2) Sean Casey - .312 – 9 – 58 - .795
There WILL be an odd man out at SOME point in Cincinnati with Griffey, Dunn, Casey, Kearns, and Pena all fighting to play 4 positions. If this is the year, the Tribe may have an interest in the odd man. Casey, a Tribe product would probably like to return to the North Coast, but is he that much of an upgrade, with his dwindling power numbers? Or will the Reds continue to inexplicably hold onto too many position players, while their pitching staff continues to struggle?
3) Shea Hillenbrand - .291 – 18 – 82 - .792
Whether Hillenbrand is on the block or not remains to be seen. With the Blue Jays new ownership wanting to make some splashes in the FA market, they’re unlikely to move an established player. I put Hillenbrand on this list to compare an “established major leaguer” to the numbers that Broussard put up (shown below and in less at bats) in 2005.
4) Tino Martinez - .241 – 17 – 49 - .767 (in 303 AB)
Tino, if he decides not to retire, would fit the bill of a veteran presence in the lineup and the clubhouse that many decried as lacking in the final week of the season. With the Yankees likely to pick up his 2006 team option as insurance against another “tumor” attacking Giambi’s pituitary (what would cause that?), he probably won’t be available (why would they pick up his option only to trade him?) but this might be the kind of player added to the Tribe for the 2006 season, much like Easy Eddie Murray and El Presidente brought some veteran savvy to a very talented 1994 team for the 1995 campaign.
5) Matt LeCroy - .260 – 17 – 50 - .798 (in 304 AB)
LeCroy is a nice stick (and looks a lot like Wickman), but his glovework at first (or lack thereof) would probably prevent LeCroy from donning the Chief in 2006.

For comparison’s sake:
Broussard - .255 – 19 – 68 - .771

So, what are the options presented to the Tribe? Here would be my Plan A and contingency plans:
Plan A: Platoon Broussard & Garko
Terry Pluto called Garko the best young hitter in the organization, putting him in a class with the likes of Sean Casey, The Stick, Brian Giles, and Manny Ramirez as great homegrown hitters. He said that the ball jumped off of Garko’s bat at AA Akron much in the same way that it did with the aforementioned players.
Keeping both Broussard and Garko allows Garko to take a break against tough RH pitchers as he adjusts to the majors and gives the Tribe some insurance (Broussard) if Garko fails to make the transition to 1B, not to mention a late-inning defensive replacement. All indications in the Arizona Fall League are that Garko’s hitting in the minors is far from an aberration and his glove may be adequate. As the year progresses, if Garko proves himself to be a competent major leaguer, Broussard can always be moved.
Plan B: Platoon Broussard & Blake
Plan C: Plug Acquisition (see above) into #6 hole
None of the names above excite me enough to merit trading some prospects for what may or may not be much of an offensive upgrade.

I think that the organization is high enough on Garko and realizes that Broussard is not the “lost cause” that many people think because of his streakiness to go with Plan A as listed above.

Broussard is certainly not the long-term answer, but may serve as a bridge to Garko, much like Paul Sorrento did in the mid-90s, until the young Stanford grad gets comfortable enough to establish himself as another “core player” for the Tribe.

Next up, the trade options that may be out there for RF, the most likely spot for that “Big Bat” to solidify the lineup.

122 days until pitchers and catchers report. After Sunday’s debacle in Baltimore (thanks go out to the Baltimoran for taking his patented “jinx” to the game), it’s time to start the countdown.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A Good Listen

Terry Pluto's thoughts on the 2006 Tribe are available through a podcast. As usual, his comments are well-thought-out and take all the factors into consideration when discussing the off-season and the 2006 season.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Going Shopping

Available Free Agents with 2005 Stats:
First Base / BA / HR / RBI / OPS
Paul Konerko / .283 / 40 / 100 / .909
Tony Clark / .304 / 30 / 87 / 1.002
Dmitri Young (TO) / .271 / 21 / 72 / .796
Travis Lee / .272 / 12 / 49 / .757
Kevin Millar / .272 / 9 / 50 / .754
J.T. Snow / .275 / 4 / 40 / .708

Ben Broussard / .255 / 19 / 68 / .771

The drop-off is obviously pretty big after Konerko, with Tony Clark (who the D-Backs did a favor by signing this past year) rating as the second best 1B available. Somebody (hopefully not the Tribe) will overpay for Clark because of his 2005 campaign, one which is not likely to be duplicated. The Tigers hold a team option on DaMeatHook, though I’m not sure he would work in Cleveland because of his poor fielding. Lee and Snow represent two veteran players who are good defenders who can spell a 1B who may be a defensive liability (Garko).

It’s interesting to see how our boy Benny stacks up against this list - not too badly. Though his streakiness causes many headaches, Broussard is a solid defender and did knock in nearly 70 runs, not facing left handed pitching. I’m not saying he’s the answer, but brace yourself (because Konerko is likely to command top dollar, probably from the ChiSox) for the possibility that he may be back in a platoon with either Garko or Blake at 1B. What this FA list essentially tells us is that the answer at 1B isn’t on the FA market. The solution will come either via trade or from within.

Outfield / BA / HR / RBI / OPS
Brian Giles / .301 / 15 / 83 / .906
Reggie Sanders / .271 / 21 / 54 / .886
Juan Encarnacion / .287 / 16 / 76 / .796
Jacque Jones / .249 / 23 / 73 / .757
Preston Wilson / .261 / 10 / 43 / .772
Jay Payton (TO) / .267 / 18 / 63 / .769
Jeff Conine / .304 / 3 / 33 / .777

Casey Blake / .241 / 23 / 58 / .746

A couple of nice names at the top of this list, though Giles and Sanders are unlikely to leave San Diego and St. Louis, where they’ve grown comfortable. I would love to see Reggie Sanders come to Cleveland on a 1-2 year contract, but I think that the Redbirds will get the first shot at him. It’s also not likely that Giles would leave a comfortable situation in Southern California, unless the money is REALLY right. Encarnacion, Jones, Wilson (though he was hurt), and the others may not be that much of an upgrade over our Iowa farmboy. There certainly isn’t that “big RH stick” here that will miraculously solve all of the Tribe’s problems.

Shapiro has recently been talking up Blake as an adequate #9 hitter, hitting 20+ HR and knocking in some runs. So much so, that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Casey keep a starting role (1B or RF) or become a “super-sub” playing nearly every day. Again, like at 1B, the immediate answer doesn’t jump off the page at you.

Starting Pitcher / W-L / ERA / IP / WHIP / BAA
Kevin Millwood (R) / 9-11 / 2.86 / 192.0 / 1.22 / .300
Paul Byrd (R) / 12-11 / 3.74 / 204.1 / 1.19 / .301
Matt Morris (R) / 14-10 / 4.11 / 192.2 / 1.28 / .315
Jeff Weaver (R) / 14-11 / 4.22 / 224.0 / 1.17 / .305
Jamie Moyer (L) / 13-7 / 4.28 / 200.0 / 1.39 / .331
Esteban Loaiza (MO) (R) / 12-10 / 3.77 / 217.0 / 1.30 / .318
Scott Elarton (R) / 11-9 / 4.61 / 181.2 / 1.30 / .315
Jason Johnson (R) / 8-13 / 4.54 / 210.0 / 1.34 / .328
Brett Tomko (R) / 8-15 / 4.48 / 190.2 / 1.37 / .329
Joe Mays (R) / 6-10 / 5.65 / 156.0 / 1.56 / .361

Also Available:
A.J. Burnett (R) / 12-12 / 3.44 / 209.0 / 1.26 / .312
Jarrod Washburn (L) / 8-8 / 3.20 / 177.1 / 1.33 / .330
Kenny Rogers (L) / 14-8 / 3.46 / 195.1 / 1.32 / .323
Tony Armas Jr. (R) / 7-7 / 4.97 / 101.1 / 1.52 / .355
Ted Lilly (L) / 10-11 / 5.56 / 126.1 / 1.53 / .348

The thinness of this list has a two-fold effect on me:

1) It makes the Indians’ efforts to re-sign Millwood that much more important because of the limited number of impact pitchers available through FA this off-season.

2) It makes me think that the market for Millwood (who is clearly the best available pitcher) is going to spiral out of control in a hurry.

Don’t you think that the Yankees and Red Sox (or even teams like the Blue Jays and Tigers who are looking to spend money this off-season) are sharpening their pencils right now to get a shot at Kevin Millwood? What’s their alternative? Jason Johnson or Matt Morris? Burnett and Rogers (attitude), Washburn, Armas, and Lilly (injuries) don’t interest me. But neither do Tomko, Johnson, and Mays (performance)! That leaves 7 attractive starting pitchers hitting the market at a time when (as always) pitching is at a premium.

All it takes is one team. We learned that with Manny and the Sawx and Thome and the Phils. All it takes is one team wanting to make a splash or wanting to “send a signal to their fans” to take Millwood out of Cleveland. Either that, or The Boss sinking another $40M into the pinstripes.

The alternatives, were Millwood not to sign, would be to lock up Byrd or Moyer (or even Loaiza) to a 2 year deal or go after Elarton (who is eminently signable). Let the Tigers go after Matt Morris (more damaged goods to join Percival and Ordonez) and let Weaver stay on the West Coast. Bottom line, the FA starting pitching market all starts with Millwood, and we should hope that the Tribe is in on those discussions to the bitter end.

LOOGY /G / IP / ERA / BA vs. LH
Chris Hammond / 55 / 58.2 / 3.84 / .164
Mike Myers / 65 / 37.1 / 3.13 / .158
Scott Sauerbeck / 58 / 35.2 / 4.04 / .162
Terry Mulholland / 49 / 59.0 / 4.27 / .202
Mike Stanton / 59 / 42.2 / 4.64 / .235
Buddy Groom / 47 / 41.0 / 4.83 / .244
Joey Eischen / 57 / 36.1 / 3.22 / .250
David Weathers (TO) / 73 / 77.2 / 3.94 / .265

The ever-popular LOOGY (Lefthanded One Out GuY) is one that is usually the last to be filled, but can have dire consequences (see Paul Assenmacher vs. Scott Stewart). The Tribe may fill this one from a bunch of LH arms in the minors (Tallet, Traber, Stanford, Zerbe, etc.) because players like Hammond and Sauerbeck like to pitch in the NL, where their role is expanded. An interesting name on the list is Terry Mulholland, who is a former Featherhead. Despite the fact that he’s probably 55, he can be used in the role of a LOOGY or of an innings eater.

Closer / S / ERA / WHIP / BAA
Bob Wickman / 45 / 2.47 / 1.26 / .310
Bob Howry / 3 / 2.47 / 0.89 / .237
Trevor Hoffman / 43 / 2.97 / 1.11 / .274
Billy Wagner / 38 / 1.51 / 0.84 / .229
B.J. Ryan (L) / 36 / 2.43 / 1.14 / .284
Braden Looper (TO) / 28 / 3.94 / 1.47 / .345
Todd Jones / 40 / 2.10 / 1.03 / .276
Mike Timlin / 13 / 2.24 / 1.32 / .319
Tom Gordon / 2 / 2.57 / 1.09 / .272

As I’ve said before, the dominoes on this one all start with Wickman. If Wickman wants to come back, you weigh signing him vs. signing Howry vs. bringing someone else in. If Wickman wants to retire, you weigh re-signing Howry vs. going after a B.J. Ryan or Tom Gordon (who are still going to cost a ton, in guaranteed years and money). Only one thing is for certain: the closer next year will have closer experience. Shapiro has gone on record that he would not give the closer role to someone who has never closed before.
But it all starts with the Sticky One.

The Free Agent period is always a kind of poker game, but expect Shapiro to bring some serious chips to the table to bring continuity and strength (again) to the pitching staff. The offensive help will probably come through other avenues.

Next we’ll take a look at players who may be available via trade for these same positions (with one of the offensive needs likely being filled via trade) and what players on the Indians’ roster may be expendable or attractive to a trade partner.

Enjoy the playoffs, where I’m throwing my weight behind the Cardinals (though we all saw what 150 lbs., soaking wet, did for the Tribe this season).

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A Look Back Before the Look Ahead

With the October rain falling on the North Coast, it presents a good opportunity to look at that main cog of the off-season – Free Agency. To look at Free Agency, I thought it might be best to take a look back at the past off-season to gauge Shapiro’s success and see if it lends any clues as to the direction of the team entering the 2006 season. Here’s a comparative look at the FA’s that Shapiro considered (or the player the Indians ultimately used in certain spots, namely OF – Grady/Blake instead of Gonzalez – and SS):

Millwood 9-11 2.86 1.22 .248
Clement 13-6 4.57 1.36 .260
Lieber 17-13 4.20 1.21 .263

Again, the list shows that Shapiro had the right FA pitchers targeted in the off-season, and essentially hit the jackpot by giving Millwood a one-year, incentive-laden deal. Clement’s season took a nosedive after getting hit in the head by a line drive, while Lieber proved to be a steady presence in the Phillies rotation all year long.

I would expect Shapiro’s targets (in case Millwood moves on, of course) would be similar to a Clement or Lieber, in that they would be expected to play a large role in the stabilizaition of the pitching staff for 2006 and beyond. The FA starting pitching crop is thin, but we’ll look at that in a future post.

Wickman 45 2.47 1.26 .247
Benitez 19 4.50 1.37 .229
Percival 8 5.76 1.20 .207
Hermanson 34 2.04 1.10 .222

There can’t be much debate on the prudence of re-signing Wickman for 2005. Though most people thought that giving Benitez or Percival a long-term deal seemed like a safer bet, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. The fact that San Francisco and Detroit are stuck with their perpetually injured closers, while the Indians maintained the flexibility with a one-year deal with Wickman (plus getting the best results) is hard to argue against. I threw Hermanson in here because his name was bandied about as insurance for Wickman. It turns out that Howry was more than adequate in that role.

Where Shapiro goes in this spot for 2006 becomes a set of dominoes, set to fall once it’s determined whether Wickman will return. After that determination, the Indians will go through a check-list to fill that back end of the bullpen and hope for a repeat of 2005.

Sizemore .289 22 81 .832
Blake .241 23 58 .746
Alou .321 19 63 .918
Burnitz .258 24 87 .757

I wasn’t sure whether to include Grady or Casey in this comparison, since Grady was called up initially when Gonzo got hurt in Spring Training, but would have been called up once the deficiencies of Casey Blake reared their ugly head. There’s no question that Sizemore is the best player on this list (at 23, no less). In fact, Tom Verducci ranked Sizemore 6th in his MVP race in the latest issue of SI (Pronk was 3rd).

The RF position will be the most intriguing of the off-season, as I expect Ryan Garko (who is one of 6 Tribe prospects to hit the Arizona Fall League) to be given every opportunity to win the 1B job in Spring Training. Whether that means Bono Broussard is non-tendered or not, I’m not sure.
But back to RF – Blake certainly isn’t the answer, which means that the Indians will target an OF with a big stick to shore up the bottom part of the lineup, either via FA or trade..

Peralta .292 24 78 .886
Omar .271 3 45 .691

Any questions?

So, after looking at the almost universal success of the past off-season, we can only hope that it serves as a harbinger of things to come in this off-season. We all know the decisions to be made and the holes to be filled, so next we’ll take a look at what’s available – first through FA, then through possible trades. I wish I could figure out how to put a table in this blog so the stats aren't so confusing.

Also, I’ll compile the 1st Annual Tabbies (in honor of Pat Tabler) to recognize some of the top performers of the 2005 Indians’ season.

Some new links on the Baseball Sites Section of the sidebar dealing with MLB contracts. The Hardball Dollars link is especially interesting.

Welcome to the 6 months of the year when living in Ohio is like living inside a dirty milk carton – always cloudy.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Wait 'Til Next Year

As much as I hate those four words, that’s what we have to look forward to after Sunday. And, there is quite a bit to look forward to. This young Indians team took some huge steps this year, finishing the season with 93 games, and narrowly missing the playoffs. So, despite the hanging heads in the picture, there’s a lot of talent and potential here (particularly with the four players pictured).

By the way, the Red Sox just took it on the chin from the AL Central Champion. Feel any better about the weekend? Me neither. But I digress.

The “core” that was talked about for so long has not only taken shape in one season, but the cement has started to harden.

“Core” position players under the Indians control for at least next year include: Vic, Grady, Pronk, Coco, and Jhonny. That happens to be 5 out of the 9 players in the lineup, and also happens to be the top 5 in the batting order. Throw in Boone and Belliard (whose option may not just be picked up, but may be negotiated for a longer deal with the Brandon Phillips situation as it is) as complementary players and you’re looking at a strong team. The weaknesses, as has been mentioned here since about June are 1B and RF, but more on that later. The strength of this team is the youthful talent converging at the right time to create a very competitive offensive team.
“Core” pitchers under the Indians control for at least next year include: C.C., Lee, Westbrook, Betancourt, and Cabrera. Obviously, the holes and needs are bigger and more obvious with the pitching staff, but Shapiro did one whale of a job this past off-season, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t do it again. The rotation needs to be filled in and the back end of the bullpen needs to be finalized, but the maturity and growth that C.C., Lee, and Jake showed as starters this year were above and beyond most expectations.

With all of these positives on the table, it’s time to look at the question marks, in order of importance to the 2006 incarnation of the Indians:
1) Is Kevin Millwood’s health bankable enough to be given a 3 to 4 year deal?
Millwood proved his worth his weight in gold by winning the AL ERA title and, more importantly, teaching the Indians’ young starters how to prepare to pitch, how to handle adversity, and how to be professionals. Shapiro will make a pitch to Woody, but the question is whether the Indians will guarantee a 3rd or 4th year in a contract that will probably be worth $8-$10 million per. The track record shows that the Indians will lean heavily on the advice of their medical and training staff (they thankfully wouldn’t guarantee the latter years of Thome’s deal because of health concerns), but the re-signing of Millwood would be a big boost to the fan base. It’s the age-old question: Do we do what’s popular or what makes sense? Shapiro has shown that he does what he thinks makes the most sense. is reporting that the Tribe is planning on offering a long-term deal, so priority #1 may be resolved, for better or worse, relatively soon.
2) If Millwood is not brought back, what do the Indians do with Scott Elarton?
The FA starting pitching market is dreadfully thin, so if the Tribe misses on Millwood, they may sign Scott Elarton (his agent is Shapiro’s father) and throw a young gun (Carmona, Sowers, Davis, or Guthrie) into the mix as the fifth starter. Regardless of who the Indians sign (Millwood, Elarton, or another FA), I think that their fifth starter will be a rookie, to break him in with the hopes that he would progress along the same path as Lee and Sabathia did. Scott Elarton was a nice pitcher for the Indians this year and would come at a reasonable price, but the preference (obviously) is to sign Millwood, thank Elarton for his performance in 2005, and wish him congratulations on the 2006 payday he earned himself.
3) What About Bob?
The Indians bullpen decisions start with which Bob to sign (Wickman or Howry) as both will command closer money on the open market. We all saw last year how an unsettled back end of the pen can destroy a team early in the season. If Wickman wants to return, and according to, he does, Shapiro will probably give him another 1-year deal and slot the rest of the bullpen accordingly. If Sticky wants to go the northern woods of Wisconsin to live the High Life, Howry will be approached with a 2 to 3 year deal with closer money involved. Once the closer role is determined, look for Rhodes, Cabrera, and Betancourt to slot in accordingly in the 6th, 7th, and 8th. Andrew Brown, Riske (if he’s not traded), Matt Miller (if he’s healthy), Jason Davis, and Kaz Tadano will battle to join a left-handed specialist (probably not Sauerbeck) to fill out the pen. But, as we learned in 2004, you start in the back of the bullpen and work your way up.
4) Which of the Filler B’s is Gone?
The lack of offense from 1B (Broussard/Hernandez) and RF (Blake) proved to be magnified in the final week of the season, causing the seemingly apparent to become painfully obvious. With Boone and Belliard in the fold for 2006, one of those positions will be upgraded via FA or trade. Looking at the available FA at both positions and the prospects at those same positions, the Indians can play this a couple of ways. They can platoon Broussard and Ryan Garko (who has just mashed in the minors) at 1B, and acquire a RF via FA or trade, allowing Blake to fill the Jose Hernandez role for 2006. They can package Broussard (with Riske and Brandon Phillips?) for a RF and bring in a veteran 1B (J.T. Snow?) to push Garko in Spring Training. They can sign or acquire a big bat at 1B (Konerko, Overbay) and let Blake play another year, until Brad Snyder or Franklin Gutierrez are ready. They can sign or acquire a big bat at RF (Encarnacion, Floyd, Mench, Trot Nixon, Giles, Jacque Jones) and hand Garko the 1B job. And so on, and so on. There are a lot of possibilities for these two positions. The one certainty is that on Opening Day 2006 you won’t see Broussard at first AND Blake in right.
5) Which Prospects become the Grady and Jhonny of 2006 and which ones are expendable for trades?
Hot Prospects: Andrew Brown, Fausto Carmona, Jeremy Sowers, and Ryan Garko
Expendable: Brandon Phillips, Jeremy Guthrie

Those are the questions off of the top of my head for the off-season. There’s more, but The Office is about to start and, with the Tribe season over, I can finally enjoy Arrested Development, The Office, and Lost when they happen on not via TiVo.

For those of you who thought that The DiaTribe would take an offseason, realize this: There is no offseason - unless your name is Alan Trammell, Jack McKeon, Jim Tracy, or John Hart.

I’ll try to convince one of the most passionate Cavalier fans that I know (he owns a Mark Price old school jersey) to start one of these forums for the Wine and Gold. As soon as he is convinced, I’ll pass along the address, as long as the DiaTribe remains the active and passionate forum that it has become over its inaugural season. Thanks for a great season and let’s enjoy the offseason.

Monday, October 03, 2005


After 3 straight days at the Jake, surviving only on hot dogs, peanuts, and beer, I’m drained. So much of the energy and optimism that results from a great season will unfortunately be tainted by the final homestand. I can’t even think about it right now.

At least Wickman is coming back.

More to come in future DiaTribes on the final week, a look back at the season, and what promises to be a busy and exciting offseason. Right now, I need some time.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Don't Stop Believin'

Rather than becoming Debbie Downer (which I was referred to on the drive home from the Jake last night) and touching on missed opportunities: playing the White Sox "B" team, lack of execution and clutch hitting, and conveying the general feeling of being nearly inconsolable after the game last night; I've decided to focus on the positive and what the Indians still can do.

Right now, it's time for this team to dig its heels into the ground and put up a fight. Most people forget that this team was given up for dead in late June, only to go on an epic tear through the second half of their schedule. They did so with stellar pitching (rotation and bullpen) and timely hitting. The pitching has been there all year, so now it's time for the hitters to go on a bit of a tear. It's time for these young players to take off the training wheels and go flying down the block for the first time, displaying that devil-may-care attitude that put them in this position. It's October, fellas, the month that you work so hard for all year long to see.

The Atomic Wedgie always talks about how this team is able to separate games very well and not dwell on past games, instead only focusing on the business at hand. Well, here's the business at hand:

  • If the Indians win the last 2, they force (at least) a play-in game for the Wild Card. By virtue of the Yanks and Sawx playing each other today, one has to lose. An Indians victory today would make them tied with Saturday's loser. The Tribe could then go into Sunday's game and either win the Wild Card straight out (if either the Yankees of Red Sox lose two in a row) or go into a series of playoff games created by scenarios that Matthew Broderick from WarGames is still trying to figure out.

Bottom line: The Indians need to win their last two games to put some pressure on the AL East teams for the playoffs. If they split the last two, they'll need some help. But all is not lost.

Am I as upset as you about this team limping to the finish? Moreso, but it's not time to dwell on the mistakes and the missed opportunities of the past week. The Tribe is still in control of their playoff future, it's just that now they've painted themselves into a corner and are in need of some high-wire theatrics to get out.

I'll be at the Jake today - cheering on this exciting team, praying for the dice to roll in our favor, and trying not to throw up from the nervous pit that seems to have replaced my stomach.