Thursday, March 30, 2006

Positional Analysis, Part IV and the 25 man

With “The Franchise” on the outside looking in (read this article if you think that Phillips was ever going to stick with the Indians), along with Einar Diaz, Jason Dubois, Steve Karsay, and Jason Davis – the roster is essentially set.

Kelly Shoppach is the backup Catcher, Danny Graves is the 7th bullpen arm (for now, at least), Ramon Vazquez is the Utility IF, and Todd Hollandsworth is the 4th outfielder (again, for now, at least).

Some roster moves need to be made to the 40-man to accommodate adding both Graves and Hollandsworth (Phillips’ departure will clear one spot, the other has yet to be determined), so the Tribe isn’t done yet. Also, Phillips was told that he’d be traded in the next three days with Kansas City, Florida or Tampa Bay (won’t he be happy to play every day for one of those teams) as possible destinations.

One last note on Phillips: Cliff Lee was quoted as saying that Phillips was the best player to come over in the Colon deal. When did he say this? THIS SPRING!!! Anyone who thinks that Phillips’ attitude didn’t affect his ability to stick on the big-league club is fooling themselves. After his demotion in 2004, he moped and pined to get out of the Tribe organization, which he finally will be able to do. It’s interesting that Sizemore signs his deal the same day that Phillips clears out his locker with Phillips breaking his Spring moratorium to say, “that should have been me.” He also said that the Indians asked him to stay in camp in case someone got hurt. Phillips’ response was that he had to get out of there. Does that sound like the type of player who meshes well with Eric Wedge?

Brandon, enjoy your career in Kansas City or wherever you end up, and good luck. Just don’t enter your new clubhouse wearing your “The Franchise” sneakers.

Since we’ve already addressed Shoppach and Hollandsworth previously, we’ll touch on Graves in the final installment of the Positional Analysis:
Unlike the lineup, which starts at the top, and the rotation, which starts with the #1 starter, the key to the bullpen is found in the back end. Occupying that back end, again this year, is Bob Wickman – he of the Pepto-inducing innings, the intentional balks, and AL leading 45 saves of a year ago. Whether Wickman, who is 5 saves away from being the Indians’ all-time career leader in saves, can replicate the results of 2005 will play a major role in the success of the Tribe this year. If Wickman can produce again, and save games at the clip he did last year, it would go a long way to solidify the bullpen and allow the rest of the components to find the “roles” that seem to be so important in the composition of a bullpen. If Wickman cannot recapture his success of 2005, the Indians do have other options. However, the ideal is for Wickman of 2006 to be the equivalent of (or greater than) the Wickman of 2005. What is this, Math Class?

The first option, and the likely 8th inning pitcher (at the start of the season, at least) is Guillermo Mota, who came over in the Coco Crisp deal. Mota, with the Dodgers in 2004, was the best set-up reliever in the game, setting up Eric Gagne to the tune of a 1.97 ERA over 105 IP. In 2005, he was given the opportunity to close for Florida and, either due to injury problems or the Arthur Rhodes disease (stuff doesn’t translate to the 9th inning), he couldn’t match his 2004 success. He struggled so much that he lost the job to journeyman Todd Jones (now the Tigers’ closer) and was traded to the Red Sox as part of the Josh Beckett deal. He never saw Fenway though, as he was dealt to the Tribe after passing numerous physical examinations. Mota, if he can revert to 2004 form and avoid injury, will be a tremendous asset in the bullpen. If his elbow acts up again, he will be relegated to the DL or less stressful situations. How he responds to his first back-to-back outings may go a long way in determining his health for 2006.

The other options for the back end of the bullpen are Rafael Betancourt and Fernando Cabrera. Betancourt continued his ascent in the Tribe bullpen last year (despite a steroid suspension) as he struck out 73 and walked only 17 in 67 2/3 IP. He continues to throw strikes and produce with, essentially, a fastball. Betancourt struggles with pitching back-to-back games and has landed on the DL each of the last 2 years with a tired arm. The 7th inning role suits him, but he may be called upon to take a more important role if Wickman and/or Mota falter.

The other 7th inning option is Fernando Cabrera, the young flamethrower and possible closer of the future. After blowing away the batters at AAA to the tune of a 1.23 ERA while striking out 68 and walking 11 in 51 1/3 IP, he made the seamless transition to Cleveland. After being called up to the parent club, Cabrera struck out 29 and walked only 11 in 30 1/3 IP and posting a 1.47 ERA. Giving Tribe fans a taste of what may be to come only made us want more. Whether Cabrera is mature enough to handle the pressure of a late game situation needs to be answered, but the fact that he closed for a loaded (and successful) Puerto Rican team in the WBC bodes well for his future in the 9th inning at the Jake.

Filling the role as the match-up lefty out of the bullpen is Scott Sauerbeck, who signed on again for 2006, with a club option for 2007 after a successful 2005 campaign. After Arthur Rhodes left the team for personal reasons, Sauerbeck (along with Howry, Betancourt, and Cabrera) seemed to pitch every night to get the ball to Wickman in the 9th. Though Sauerbeck would like to see his role expanded to face RH, as well as LH, expect Sauerbeck to remain the club’s LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY) for 2006 and possibly beyond.

The forgotten man of the 2005 bullpen was Matt Miller, who figures to play a more prominent role in 2006, now that he is recovered from elbow problems. Miller posted an impressive 1.82 ERA until his placement on the DL in mid-July. Last year with the Indians provided Miller’s first real success in the Majors, so 2006 will determine if he was simply riding some momentum after making the team out of Winter Haven last year or if his stuff is for real and translates into a career.

The final bullpen spot has gone to Danny Graves over Jason Davis and Steve Karsay, which means that Graves will probably be asked to pitch multiple innings or pitch in mop-up duty until he either proves that he’s back to his old self or if he proves to be over-the-hill, at which point the Indians will waive him and call up either Davis or Andrew Brown. One gets a sense that, because Jason Davis and Andrew Brown had options remaining, either Graves or Karsay would make the team out of camp, as long as they showed the team something. Karsay will go to minor-league camp and try to latch on with another club (maybe the White Sox), while Davis will go to Buffalo to get into the routine of pitching out of the bullpen full-time and wait for the phone to ring.

In the minors, the Indians have a multitude of arms that are ready to help today, tomorrow, and down the road. The closest group of relievers to the Majors is headed by Andrew Brown, who was in the mix for the final bullpen spot this Spring (and probably would have won it if not for having another option). Brown will pitch in Buffalo until the call is made for him to join the Tribe, probably for good. The other relievers that will start in Buffalo include Jeremy Guthrie (who will be in the Buffalo rotation, but would relieve in Cleveland), still trying to resurrect a once-promising career, Kaz Tadano, who may find his way onto another roster eventually with the depth that the Indians have, pitching-wise, Jason Stanford, who could eventually project as a match-up lefty out of the ‘pen, Felix Hermidia, a recently signed left-handed Shapiro reclamation project who provides insurance against Sauerbeck getting hurt, and Ben Howard, a former Padre prospect with a live arm trying to latch onto the Tribe.

The next line of relievers, who are still probably at least a year away, is highlighted by Edward Mujica, who dominated out of the bullpen in Kinston and Akron after making the transition to a reliever, and Tony Sipp, a former college outfielder at Clemson who is on the fast-track to be the match-up lefty of the (possibly near) future.

3 days until Opening Day. WTAM is playing Hamilton’s calls over Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” in promos. Try not to get excited when you hear one of those.

1 comment:

t-bone said...

March 30, 2006

Dear Cavaliers Partner,

I thought now would be a great time to share some thoughts with you about the Cavaliers and the position we are in. Clinching a playoff birth is certainly a step we can all be happy in taking. While it is an important, positive step forward, it is only the first step and one which we expect to take many times again. More appropriately, it should serve as a reminder of where we ultimately are headed. We can't and won't be satisfied with simply making the playoffs. Our goals and your expectations are, and should be, much higher.

Dan Gilbert and our ownership team are committed to developing a championship-caliber culture with the Cavaliers franchise. Hopefully, you can sense this by now. Dan has been completely supportive in all the right ways. Investments in our players, investments in our facilities and investments in the community with new jobs. Most importantly though, Dan is passionate about winning championships. Our goal will be nothing short of that.

The foundation has been set this season. LeBron continues to improve and has elevated his game to an MVP level. Zydrunas continues to be one of the premier centers in the league. Larry is just starting what we think will be a long, successful career at the core or our championship aspirations. We have grown as a team and continue to develop on the court and off. From Dan Gilbert to myself and our basketball front office to Mike Brown and our coaching staff to our veteran players to our younger guys, we believe we are well positioned for the future.

I believe it is also important to note what LeBron is doing for OUR team and for his hometown fans and community. This is what helps punctuate the position we are now in. Dating back to his high school years and then the 2003 NBA Draft Lottery, LeBron has raised the spirit of this community in ways that are remarkable. Yes, he is a game changer on the court every night, but he has proven himself to be an all-star off the court as well with numerous points of giving in our community. LeBron is not just playing a big role in changing the way people think about the Cavaliers. He is changing the way people think about Cleveland and all of northeast Ohio in a way that no one else can.

There continues to be a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we believe we're entering an era where it is truly possible to dream big. This year's team and those to follow are going to need your energy in the arena every night to help make the championship a reality. It does make a difference. We'll do everything we can to do our part.

Thanks for your continued support of OUR team.

Most sincerely,

Danny Ferry
General Manager
Cleveland Cavaliers