Sunday, December 31, 2006

Lazy NYE Sunday

With another Sunday disappointment from the Browns and the groundbreaking decision that I refuse to subject my son to being a Browns fan (I made the concession to the Packers to the DiaBride in order to get a full commitment to the Tribe), let’s move on to happier thoughts of the Boys of Summer with the final Lazy Sunday of 2006:

First, a very Jason Davis-centric mailbag from Paul Hoynes, which focuses on where The Taxidermist (still one of my favorite pictures) fits into the Indians’ plans for 2007 and beyond.

Terry Pluto also addresses Jason Davis, among others, as he analyzes the bullpen for 2007. Pluto states that the Indians think that Jason Dangerously is poised for a breakout, which few Indians fans are banking on. If it happens, it will be gravy on top of the meat of the off-season additions.
Davis had much better results starting an inning (.688 OPS against in 2006) vs. coming in with runners with scoring position (1.034 OPS against in 2006) last year, so expect Davis to be used as the long man or start some 6th innings (perhaps after Cliff Lee’s patented “five-and-flies”) until he can get some footing in the bullpen.

Davis will be an interesting player to watch in the next few months as he could certainly be part of a package in (what some feel) a big trade that Shapiro is working on to add a RF or a 1B.

The hype that Pluto is attributing to the Indians’ Front Office could be an attempt to build up the value of Davis, whose stuff has never been in question. His temperament and the role that suits his talent best…those are what have always been the questions.

Or, the idea that Davis has FINALLY “got it” and understands how to harness a high-90 MPH fastball could be an honest line of thinking from the Front Office and Davis could fulfill those expectations to emerge as the power arm out of the bullpen that everyone’s been waiting for since early in 2005.
Frankly, I’ll believe in a consistently effective Jason Dangerously at the Major League level only when I see him with my own eyes.

Pluto also states that the Indians have told him that Garko-my-God-did-you-see-how-far-he-hit-that? will start the 2007 season on the bench, getting the first shot if Choo or Marte struggle (as Blake would fill in full-time at RF or 3B).

The reasoning that Garko will not be handed the 1B job is his defense and, as long as the combination of Blake, Marte, and Choo system produces runs, he would stay there. Keeping Garko on the bench limits the bench’s versatility as he really only plays 1B (apparently still poorly) or DH, but Blake’s ability to play all 4 corner spots (RF, LF, 1B, 3B) allows the Indians to do so.

Garko rightfully earned quite a few fans with his productivity last year, thanks to his approach at the plate; but if the Indians are truly committed to improving their infield defense (which was always mentioned, with the bullpen, as a big concern) – Garko’s glove at 1B (if the scouting reports that his defense is well below average are true) every day is too much of a liability.

As a fan of Garko (small sample size be damned) and his plate approach and discipline, but a believer in Shapiro’s evaluation of putting the best team on the field daily, I’ll have to put faith in the Indians that the Indians are better served keeping Blake and Choo in the lineup as opposed to Garko. Garko is obviously best served to DH in the Majors, but that position has been filled in Cleveland.

Finally, an excellent resource has been added to the sidebar with Swerbs’ Tribe Payroll Data, a link that offers a quick reference guide to answer payroll and arbitration questions.

Have fun tonight wherever you ring in 2007 and “See You Next Year”!
I hate when people say that.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Sports On Demand?

Before we get too ahead of ourselves and throw the Cleveland jinx on this whole Foulke thing, a thought occurred to me as I searched for the first instance that Keith Foulke entered the public eye:
Back in April of 2000, the White Sox and Tigers were engaged in one of the more brutal instances of basebrawl, and Foulke played the Dennis Cook role - charging in from the bullpen to crack some sculls - only to be sucker punched by Karim Garcia in the face. Foulke got 5 facial stitches and was shown, in an interview the next day, with a big shiner telling reporters how little he thought of the Tigers.

After he returned from the suspension, Foulke assumed the closer role from "Mr. Roboto" Bob Howry, and many pundits pointed to the respect that Foulke earned in the brawl for the confidence that his teammates had in him and he in himself, which has snowballed into a nice career as a closer.

Anyways, as I was looking for footage of the brawl or the interview that I remember pretty well in which it looked like somebody had glued an eggplant to the side of Foulke's face, there was no footage online.
Chicago & Detroit websites...nothing.

How could this be? How could one of the better basebrawls (that occurred fairly recently) not make it's way onto the Internet?

Then, a thought occurred:
Why doesn't ESPN, with all of it's archival footage of games and SportsCenter highlights, create a YouTube style website that anyone can view anything that has ever been shown over the ESPN airwaves?

Want to see the coverage of the first 3 picks of the 1999 NFL Draft (Couch, McNabb, Smith) and what the pundits were saying about them? Mel Kiper's hair appears instantly...

Want to see all of those great games that are on ESPN Classic, but you NEVER know when? Just type in which game you want to see and watch it in its entirety or just the 9th inning...

Want to see the Tigers-White Sox brawl on April 22, 2000 covered on that night's SportsCenter? At your fingertips...

Call it ESPoNdemand.
Make it free, like YouTube or charge a flat rate to search and view as much footage as you want.
Get the NFL, MLB, NBA, and other sports to get in on it. There's enough money out there to keep everyone fat and happy as people would pay to watch Albert Belle hitting the centerfield shot off of Lee Smith to win a game in 1995, or to watch the Browns-Jets playoff game that was ended by Mark Mosely. And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

You're telling me that ESPN, with its seemingly unlimited resources, couldn't tackle this type of project? 13-year-olds are putting the Knicks-Nuggets fight coverage from ESPN on YouTube, why couldn't ESPN do it all from Bristol?

Maybe they're more interested in developing "Quite Frankly" or making another movie like the one with Brian Dennehy as Bobby Knight. If they are, they've lost the idea behind their whole creation. Sports - what you want to watch, when you want to watch it.

Maybe it's from watching the drivel that's on TV during the day (or at 3:30AM) that's hatched the idea, but with the information age maturing before our very eyes, isn't it time that sports fans got what they wanted, when the wanted it?

Something to ponder until any news comes out of E. 9th and Ontario.
Until then, and with all of the Foulke excitement, Don't forget about Mahk Moda!

Monday, December 25, 2006

A Merry Christmas Indeed

Merry Christmas to everyone out on the Reservation!

We welcomed a little Christmas gift into our wigwam on Friday night as the DiaperTribe arrived on Festivus Eve, almost giving us a "Festivus Miracle". While there was no aluminum pole and no airings of grievances, there was a mighty feat of strength by the DiaBride.

Back to business, because my little boy is all business and was shocked to learn that the Indians were the "front-runners" to add Keith Foulke to the bullpen on a one-year deal, with a likely mutual option. Since mutual options are about as likely to be picked up by both parties, as I am to get any sleep for the rest of my life; it looks like it would be a one-year rental for the Tribe and a one-year showcase for Foulke.

If the Indians can pull it off, it gives them the insurance that they missed out on with Gagne ending up in Texas. Foulke would give the Indians another reliever with extensive closing experience, so most importantly, his addition would allow the Indians to have a closer that’s not 42 years old or born in Indonesia in case Borowski blows up or gets hurt.

Again, nothing is official and Foulke’s agent could simply be driving up Foulke’s price for his other suitors; but the addition of Foulke to the bullpen means that everyone thought to be slotted into the pen gets pushed down a notch and gives the team more flexibility and arms to come out of Winter Haven.

There remains a distinct possibility that Foulke could come to the North Coast as the Tribe closer, with JoeBo assuming set-up duties; but for now, let’s hold off of any real analysis until an official announcement is made.

So, as the Yule Log blazes (admittedly, on ONN), let’s hope that Shapiro gets everything on his list under the tree, like we did here in the wigwam.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Quick Hits

A few tidbits from the Reservation:
Matt Underwood reported on Tribe Report that the Indians offered Eric Gagne the exact same contract that the Rangers did. According to Underwood, Gagne made his decision based on geography. He wanted to train in Arizona and wanted to pitch in warmer weather.

If that’s the case, this Canadian certainly fell in love with the sun while in L.A. Gagne has passed his physical in Texas and been named their closer, moving Akinori Otsuka back to the set-up role.

The Indians pursuit of Gagne could be looked at, in hindsight, either as another B.J. Ryan (too bad he’s elsewhere) or another Armando Benitez (thank God he’s not here).

Also, the Indians moved closer to heading to the desert in Spring of 2009 and Mark Mulder’s agent was in town today to talk to the Tribe.

Mulder fits the profile of an Indians’ pitching reclamation project, looking for a short deal to restore his market value. Some of these deals have worked out, as the Tribe gets a nice season out of a recovering pitcher (Millwood, Howry, Sauerbeck in 2005), sometimes not so much. If Mulder is able to recapture some of his old magic, it’s pretty magical.

Mulder does have more than a few suitors, but he’d be a name to watch. If he does become available in June, his arrival to the rotation could coincide with the Indians moving one of their arms to fortify a weakness that presents itself.

But which current Cleveland arm would be moved to fill a hole? Obviously Westbrook (if he isn’t signed to an extension) is a FA after 2007, as is Byrd; but Lee could be the most likely casualty. Considering that he is a LHP, if the Indians did sign him it would put the possibility of 4 LHP in the rotation with C.C., Sowers, and Lee already there. With C.C. and Sowers unlikely to go anywhere, if the Tribe signed Mulder, it could signal the end of Cliff Lee as a Cleveland Indian.

Of course, Mulder could sign elsewhere, Lee could retire a Cleveland Indian, and all of this becomes forgotten.
But that’s the beauty of the Hot Stove League.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

An Argumentative Lazy Sunday

Thanks to the dearth of decent things on TV (as we simply wait to make a hospital trip - 3 days from the DiaBride's due date), I happened to catch the 1982 Cleveland Indians Year in Review on STO. Accompanied by the mellifluous tones of Nev Chandler (how he is missed), it reviews the Tribe’s 1982 season and looks forward to a promising 1983.

With a strong rotation (Len Barker, Rick Sutcliffe, Bert Blyleven, and Larry Sorenson) a decent bullpen (anchored by Dan Spillner) and an offense led by a powerful DH (Thunder Thornton) and some nice pieces (Toby Harrah, Mike Hargrove, and Rick Manning), the 1982 season ended with a 78-84 record with high hopes for 1983.

In the off-season, they traded Von Hayes for Manny Trillo, Julio Franco, and George Vuckovich and acquired Juan Eichelberger to augment the pitching staff. They were rewarded with a record of…70-92.

Realizing that these “Years in Review” or “Previews” are blatantly optimistic (anyone who has seen a Cleveland Browns’ NFL Films Year in Review since 1999 can attest to that), it got me thinking.

What if the Indians in 2007 are headed for a big letdown?
What if the Indians aren’t primed for a playoff run?
What if the 78-84 records of 1982 and 2006 are more similar than dissimilar?
Is the 2007 squad set for a disappointment, something that (after last year) isn’t going to go well in Cleveland?

So, without the presence of noted thespian Keanu Reeves, I decided to play a little Devil’s Advocate.

Following are the questions or uncertainties facing the Tribe in 2007, accompanied by arguments as to why those questions could blow up into full-blown problems. Those arguments are then followed by rebuttals that give hope that the Indians’ remain on the right track for 2007 and beyond.

The 2007 Bullpen Is No Better
Argument – Borowski for Wickman. Hernandez for Mota. Fultz for Sauerbeck. Everything else (Cabrera, Betancourt, Miller, Davis) remains the same for a bullpen breaking Spring Training, so where’s the improvement? Given the volatility of relievers, there’s no guarantee that the new pitchers don’t turn into Mota and Sauerbeck – or worse – Jimenez and Stewart. If the FA signings blow up in the Indians’ faces, we’re back to where we started. The youngsters in AAA will be called upon to rescue the season and will try to learn on the fly, ready or not. If the Indians are not able to add another reliable arm, they’re playing with fire – risking them the possibility of getting burned 2 years in a row.

Rebuttal – The bullpen is always a crapshoot. The 2006 bullpen looked better coming out of Winter Haven than the one that was sent north in 2005, but the results could not have been more different. The volatility of relievers is always going to be a constant, so the luck comes in acquiring relievers on the verge of effectiveness, not on the downswing. The Indians’ approach of quantity in lieu of absolutely certain quality is a sound approach that allows them to have enough arms available in the case that Aaron Fultz is Scott Stewart in disguise. Let’s not forget, too, that at this point last year, most thought that Fernando Cabrera was the closer-in-waiting. After a dreadful start (thanks, maybe, to the WBC), Cabrera was the biggest disappointment of 2007 this side of Jhonny Peralta. If Cabrera is able to recapture the effectiveness of the 2005 season that portended so much success, the new arms will be allowed to slot further down the ladder. Additionally, the depth of the organization at AAA, reliever-wise, allows the Tribe to have multiple options (Mastny, Mujica, Sipp, Lara, etc.) in case one of the FA signings flops. Don’t expect the Tribe to hold on to a floundering reliever while Rome burns, regardless of the financial commitment.

The Rotation is not a Strength
– C.C. is injury-prone, Westbrook gives up too many hits, Sowers has 14 career starts, Lee is trending down with an inability to get through the 6th inning, and Byrd has become nothing more than a 5th starter. For what is supposed to be the strength of the team, that’s a lot of question marks. If one of the veterans goes down, the replacement comes in the form of Fausto Carmona (he of the 7 career starts) giving the Indians two starters with 21 career starts for a team intent on contention this year.

Rebuttal – Obviously, this is a pretty weak argument as it’s become clear that the Indians’ starters have missed 7 starts in the past 2 years, and C.C.’s numbers over the past 1 ½ years scream “aCCe”. Westbrook should benefit from the improved infield defense that a full year of Marte, Barfield, and someone not named Broussard at 1B to limit the amount of groundballs that find the outfield grass. Sowers showed that he has the guile and intelligence to have a preternatural ability to pitch in the MLB, inexperience aside. Lee was a disappointment last year, as his inability to get through the 6th in most of his starts exposed a flawed bullpen. One hopes that Lee will benefit from pitching further down in the rotation, against lesser starters, to keep him in most games until he can figure out what went wrong in 2006. Byrd, as a 5th starter, is probably one of the top three 5th starters in the league. Byrd isn’t being counted to be the ace of this staff, so let’s not overestimate his importance to the staff. The depth of the organization (with Carmona, Slocum, and Miller as the 6th, 7th, and 8th starters) is something that most teams would take as a “problem” 8 days a week.

There are too many Platoons
Argument – Instead of a set lineup with 9 players locked into a spot in the lineup, the Indians are counting on a Dellucci/Michaels platoon in LF, a Choo/Blake platoon in RF, and a Garko/Blake/Martinez platoon at 1B. The Indians should have spent the money being used on Michaels and Dellucci (about $5.5M) to get an everyday LF. Furthermore, they should sign a veteran hitter, either a RF or 1B to play everyday, hand a starting job to Choo or Garko, and let Blake become the super-utility player. A team so full of platoons means simply that the players participating in those platoons are not good enough ML players to earn full-time playing status and the higher the number of platoon players on a roster limits the flexibility of the roster

– The Benuardo platoon of 2006 proved to be the most productive 1B this side of Albert Pujos before Broussard and Perez were sent to Seattle for Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera. The Dellucci/Michaels platoon in LF should prove to have similar results (Dellucci’s career OPS vs. RHP - .827, with Michaels’ career OPS vs. LHP - .851) and the price ($5.5M) isn’t too excessive if it’s figured the Indians offered a 2-year, $16M contract to Moises Alou to fill an outfield spot. Both Dellucci and Michaels have proven that they can hit either LHP or RHP, so the platoon should prove effective. As for the convoluted 1B/RF platoon, it’s likely that the Indians will watch the development of both Choo and Garko through the first few months of the 2007 season. If one struggles, it’s very possible that the Indians use some of the unused funds from the off-season to add a veteran hitter at one of those two positions, essentially replacing whichever player is less productive. The more productive player becomes a full-time fixture, allowing Blake to slot into that super-utility role. Of course, the current arrangement could work very well, Garko and Choo could both thrive to the point that they are given regular AB against both LHP and RHP and the point again becomes moot.

Jhonny Peralta v.2006 Shows Up Again
– Peralta’s deficiencies in the field weren’t offset by offensive productivity as he saw the bottom drop out of his OPS (.886 to .708) and HR (24 to 13), while his K’s (128 to 152) and GIDP (12 to 19) rose to the point of concern. His “breakthrough” year of 2005 has become a distant memory and it would take quite a bit for him to return to the 3 hole in the lineup, at which he thrived in the 2nd half of 2005. His lack of range in the field has become a major liability and the Indians are going to have to find a suitable backup at SS (neither Luna nor Inglett has shown the ability to play an adequate defensive SS) as a contingency plan in case Peralta’s 2005 season proves to be the aberration, rather than the 2006 season.

Rebuttal – For a player who doesn’t turn 25 until late May and showed enough in the 2005 season for the Tribe to give him a long-term contract, there’s a good deal of consternation about a sophomore slump. Perhaps the fact that the other player also receiving an extension last off-season (Grady) took the next step, while Peralta regressed at the plate played a part in the concern. At the bottom of the lineup, where he’ll be asked to improve his plate discipline (the guy in the bleachers knows he’s seeing a breaking ball low and away with 2 strikes) and revert back to his 2005 form, there will be a lot less pressure for him to recover. Defensively, Peralta will have the luxury of a superior 3B in Marte and a better defender at 2B in Barfield than he endured in 2006. It’s true that he needs to improve his range and approach to ensure that he’s properly positioned on EVERY pitch, but let’s remember that Peralta is still a young player learning the game, subject to the maturation process that every player goes through. Unfortunately for Peralta, he became the cover boy for everything that went wrong with the Indians in 2006, putting the microscope firmly on him. Shapiro has called Peralta “the most important player to the team in 2007”, so don’t think the glare of the microscope is off of him. How he responds and adjusts to his 3rd full year in MLB will determine if Peralta becomes a SS the caliber of Tejada (remember how we all thought he was Miggy’s second coming after 2005) or Dale Sveum (a one-year-wonder who never recaptures the success of his first full season).

Are Pronk, Grady, and the Stick Enough?
Argument – The Indians failed to add a leadoff hitter that would have allowed SuperSizemore to move to the 3 hole, and failed to add a big RH bat to protect Hafner in the 5 hole. By failing to add these pieces, the Indians are relying too heavily on either young, unproven players (Garko, Barfield, Marte, Choo) or players with mixed career results (Peralta, Blake, Dellucci, Michaels) to carry the offense. Grady, Pronk, and Victor can only do so much to shoulder the load and the unproven nature of the bottom of the order forces them to produce the bulk of the offense.

Rebuttal – This is the same team that was second in MLB in runs scored (behind only the NYY) and fourth in OPS and total bases in 2006, with the likes of Boone getting consistent AB, Joe Inglett getting over 200 AB, a dreadful year from Peralta, and Michaels batting against RHP. While the likes of Garko, Barfield, Marte, and Choo don’t have a lot of experience, they showed enough talent and promise that they should be an improvement over the players they’re replacing. Rather than throwing money at the likes of a 1B/RF like Aubrey Huff, a leadoff hitter like Juan Pierre, or a RH bopper like (gasp) Carlos Lee, the Indians are going to give their youngsters a chance to succeed. Allowing the Minor Leagues to bear their fruit is the proper (and prudent) way to build a team, filling holes from within and spending money or making trades only when holes are unable to be filled from the farm.

Going into 2007, there’s no question that question marks exist, but on December 17th, those question marks aren’t nearly as glaring as most teams face. While the naysayers will always see that half-empty glass, it’s much easier to see the glass half-full and remain optimistic about this team going forward. Of course, the 2007 season could turn into another 1983, but for now, it looks unlikely.

With that out of the way, here’s a brief Lazy Sunday (not much happening on the Reservation as of late) to put off the names on that Christmas list:
Terry Pluto brings us up to speed on the off-season moves.

Paul Hoynes addresses Pronk’s contract situation.

For now, enjoy the remainder of the Drive for Joe Thomas this Sunday.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hit or Stick?

Eric Gagne has signed with the Rangers, presumably to fill out the Rangers’ bullpen or to make Akinori Otsuka available to fill the teams’ other needs.

We’ll never know how close the Indians came to signing Gagne and how the incentives contained in the Rangers’ contract compared to those contained the final offer from the Tribe, but at some point the risk associated with signing a player like Gagne have to come into play.

From one viewpoint, what’s the difference of giving up that extra $1 million to ensure a Gagne signing? On the other hand, there has to be a line in the sand that the Indians simply refuse to cross.
Maybe the Rangers had a line a little further away than the Indians…again, we’ll never know.

While it would have been fantastic to add a Gagne to the Tribe bullpen, it comes with the big IF regarding his health. It could be that, come August, the Indians are thanking their lucky stars that they didn’t spend the money on damaged goods. It could, however, just as easily play out that the Indians end up kicking themselves for not assuming more risk to sign the “Comeback Player of the Year” if Gagne recaptures the effectiveness of a few years ago.

It all will come out in the wash, but Gagne isn’t coming to Cleveland; so, we’ll pass judgment on the Gagne thing in about 8 or 9 months.

For now, the question becomes whether the Indians’ bullpen is complete, as is, or if the Indians will explore adding another arm via trade (since a Foulke signing seems unlikely). The rest of the FA reliever market lacks that player with closing experience, injury history or not.

The Indians still have some available parts that may have value in the trade market because of their youth and affordability. Are the likes of Jeremy Guthrie, Franklin Gutierrez, and others enough to pry a player like Otsuka from Texas or Chad Cordero from Washington? Those players aren’t be enough to acquire Mike Gonzalez or Scot Shields, so it’s a matter of who the Indians are willing to trade and how much they really think they need to add another arm.

As it stands now, the bullpen looks like this:
LHP (Perez, Lara, Sipp)

Since Miller, Mujica, Mastny, and all of the LHP not making the team still have options, that’s how the bullpen would probably leave Winter Haven. If another arm is signed, Davis becomes either expendable to trade or battles to keep his spot (presumably as the long man).

With all of the spare parts that Shapiro has floating around and with the depth in the minors (particularly with pitchers and outfielders), expect some moves to the roster to strengthen the team. Who those players are and what will be moved to acquire them is what will keep us busy in an off-season that is becoming less and less of an “off”-season.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Post Winter Meeting Lazy Sunday

With the temperature rising (briefly), let’s head right into a Lazy Sunday, as I’ve got to get the board out of the garage:

Apparently Bud Shaw has now become the logician at the PD. He actually gave the Indians some love for their off-season up to this point yesterday (albeit after Buster Olney – see the last Comments section for the link – and Jason Stark gave the Indians a passing grade thus far).

Terry Pluto reports that the Pirates asked for Victor Martinez for closer Mike Gonzalez, so that’s not happening unless the Pirates back off of their demands. Speaking of demands, Pluto reports that the Red Sox stuck to their guns on their demands for Manny, which the Indians obviously walked away from.

On this whole Manny thing, if Manny TRULY wanted to return to Cleveland (and nowhere else), he would only have to tell the Red Sox, “Trade me to Cleveland”. His no-trade would allow him to veto any other deals; so if he really wanted to return, he could force Boston’s hand into dealing only with the Indians. Until that happens, Manny’s requests to return to the North Coast ring hollow.

Although it’s a day old, here’s Hoynes’ update on the possibility of signing Foulke or Gagne, now that Dotel has signed with the Royals. Surprisingly, Shapiro is quoted in the article as saying that the Indians don’t need to necessarily add another arm, which comes in stark contrast to everything that we’ve heard up to this point. Hopefully it isn’t the way that Shapiro prepares the fan base to the fact that neither Foulke nor Gagne are on their way to the North Coast.

According to multiple sources, the Indians and the Rangers are the final 2 bidders for the services of Gagne, so as I channeled my inner Clark Griswold yesterday, taking the DiaBride (a mere 10 days from her due date) out to a Swan Farm in Valley View to cut down a tree (no lie, they give you a saw and a sled to take the tree back to your car – couldn’t be more fun), I thought back to the days when Eric Gagne absolutely DOMINATED for 3 years.

Upon returning to the homestead and setting up some Christmas cheer, I learned the extent of that dominance. From 2002 to 2004, he logged 152 saves with an ERA of 1.78 and a WHIP of 0.82. That’s over 3 years! He struck out 365 batters in 247 innings over those 3 years. That’s nearly 1 ½ an inning!

If Gagne can harness ANY of that old magic, it’s worth a $6M, 1-year deal with incentives. Let’s hope, first, that Shapiro can convince Gagne to come to the North Coast and, second, that Gagne is somewhere close to the pitcher that ruled the roost at Chavez Ravine a few years back.

On another note, there was great coverage of the Winter Meetings on STO, though the DiaBride can’t figure out why we’re watching 3 guys sitting around a hotel in Florida at the beginning of December four nights in a row.
The coverage is precisely what many of us hoped STO would evolve into, something that covers the Indians exhaustively. Even if the real diehards are the only ones watching, the interviews with Shapiro, the opinions and banter of Brian Anderson and Rick Manning, and the unexpected chemistry between Buck Showalter and Brian Anderson made it very entertaining.

Hopefully, Anderson’s gig with STO develops into a job in the booth someday, where his personality and ridiculous stories and anecdotes would add quite a bit to the game. The fact that he still, at heart, is a kid from Geneva who loves the Tribe doesn’t hurt his likeability. STO should tell Anderson that when his playing career is over, there would be a chair ready for him.

Back to the Winter Meetings, some of the tidbits from people not named Shapiro, or from guys more likely to “slip up” and let some bit of information or conjecture leak out.

According to Assistant GM Chris Antonetti, the Tribe lineup vs. RHP will look like this:
LF – Dellucci
CF – Sizemore
RF – Choo
1B – Blake/Garko
2B – Barfield
SS – Peralta
3B - Marte
C- Martinez

Against LHP, the lineup will look like this:
LF – Michaels
CF – Sizemore
RF – Blake
1B – Garko/Vic
2B – Barfield
SS – Peralta
3B – Marte
C – Martinez and occasionally Shoppach

Antonetti said that Blake’s versatility is the attribute that allows the Indians to move their lineup around against different pitchers. While these lineups are the “ideal”, it’s very possible that, as the season goes forward, the players separate themselves to earn more AB, while others will appear less frequently. The idea that the depth will be improved is contingent, however, on Wedge using his bench much more liberally than he has in past years.

Speaking of the Atomic Wedgie, while he normally won’t give up any quotes that don’t include the phrases “respect the game”, “consistent approach”, or “grind it out”, he was unusually glib.

He said that Casey Blake will be in the lineup every day, whether it be RF or 1B, or even 3B. When asked about Garko-my-God-did-you-see-how-far-he-hit-that?, he said that Garko really impressed the coaching staff last year with his “approach” (Wedgieism), but he still needs to work on his defense. He has certainly improved and is playing Winter Ball to get better. Wedge said that Garko is absolutely in the mix at 1B, as is Victor, and Casey…so that’s what they’ll have to work out - to find AB for all of them.

Looking at the approach to the Winter Meetings (and the off-season as a whole) it seem that the Front Office is acquiring players to create competition in Spring Training, making players like Jason Davis and Ryan Garko earn a spot on this team in Winter Haven.
Rather than hoping somebody pans out or just handing someone a roster spot that’s not necessarily earned, the Indians want to give themselves numerous options in Spring Training to take the best team back to Cleveland.

If one of the youngsters plays his way onto the team, great…but none of them is being counted upon to take a giant step entering 2007.
67 days until Pitchers and Catchers report…not that I’m excited.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Closer on Board?

JoeBo is on board and in the mix in the bullpen. The Indians filled another need in getting a guy with closing experience on a 1-year, $4M deal with those magic words, “club option for 2008”, allowing a successful year for Borowski to translate into bullpen stability for the Tribe for another year.

On an interview on WTAM this afternoon, Shapiro stated that Borowski was not guaranteed the job of closer, but that he provided the team a “closing option”. To me, that sounds like Shapiro is not done adding experienced arms to the bullpen, either via FA (Dotel, Foulke, Gagne) or via trade (Gonzalez, Shields).

Borowski is certainly not a perfect answer (remember, he had to have an MRI exam looked at before the Tribe would sign on the dotted line and the Phillies pulled a 2-year deal off of the table after seeing an MRI), but to the Indians credit, they’re not touting him as such. By Shapiro’s own admission, Borowski doesn’t have filthy stuff; he has the mindset and “courage” (Shapiro’s word) to close out games. As we learned last year, your stuff could be electric (Carmona), but unless you have developed the mentality of a closer, those last 3 outs become the toughest of the game.

Shapiro said that, because of the risk that exists with all of the available relievers, the team would attempt to defray the risks with numbers. That is, they’ll keep adding arms to bring to Spring Training so a successful mix of relievers is brought up to the North Coast.

If, in fact, they do add another arm, they’re looking at 4 new relievers in a 7-man bullpen. That would constitute the overhaul that we were all looking for, and they’ve already added 409 career saves to a bullpen badly in need of some experience in closing ballgames. The question is which of the existing Indians fill those 3 (or 4) spots, but there’s plenty of time for that once the dust has settled.

Back to JoeBo, who successfully closed out 36 games last year, more than the entire Indians’ 2006 team, for a Florida team that won the identical amount of games as the Indians (78). The only players with more saves than Borowski last year were K-Rod, Hoffman, Jenks, Wagner, Ryan, Jones, and Street. He was tied with Joe Nathan and J.J. Putz, ahead of Gordon, Rivera, and Lidge, among others. That’s some nice company for a guy the Indians seem to be settling for and not guaranteeing the closer role to.

The last closer to move from Florida to the AL Central worked out pretty well and, admittedly, Todd Jones had some pretty lean years between his years of effectiveness. Borowski lost 2004 and 2005 to injuries, but he seems to have regained his 2003 form, when he saved 33 games for the Cubs.

This move, even if it is the last addition the Indians make to fortify the bullpen, stands up pretty well on its own. The fact that the Indians don’t sound like they’re done gives more validity to the idea that once they completed their “To-Do List”(and it essentially is, once an adequate backup middle infielder is found), they’ll roll up their sleeves and see if there are any other ways to improve this team.

For now, let the Polish community of Cleveland welcome Joe Borowski. I haven’t figured out if he should enter the field to Polka music or a montage of RoboCop with the graphic “JoeBoCloser” on the JumboTron. I’m leaning towards the Polka music, but it’s early.

The Winter Meetings are still happening and things are starting to happen, so let’s see what other cards Shapiro and the boys are willing to play.

Monday, December 04, 2006

JoeBo and the Possibilities

The official site is reporting that Joe Borowski is coming to Cleveland for a physical tomorrow, so there may be an offer on the table to JoeBo. Borowski saved 36 of 43 saves last year, enough to tie him for the 8th most saves last year. While he is certainly not a slam-dunk, he does have recent experience.
We’ll cross that bridge if the Borowski thing goes any further.

If JoeBo does become a potential closer, or even the set-up guy, there are still some possibilities for improvement this week. With the Winter Meetings underway, what Indians are possible trade bait to improve the team?

A quick list:
Paul Byrd
In the current FA market, Byrd’s contract is very palatable and manageable. If the Indians are able to upgrade the rotation via FA or another trade, it’s possible that Byrd can be moved to fill another need. It’s true that he could also be moved if Fausto Carmona is thought to be ready to contribute, but that scenario is unlikely. Most reports have Shapiro rebuffing all trade offers for starters, but Byrd would be the one that would be least missed, even if he wouldn’t bring the biggest return.

Jake Westbrook
In the last year of his very affordable contract, Westbrook would bring quite a bit in a trade. The question is whether a team that is built to contend this year even thinks about trading a pitcher the caliber of Jake, a perennial 200+ inning, 15-win pitcher. If I were to venture a guess, I would say no, particularly with an improved infield defense behind him with Marte and Barfield replacing Boone and Belliard. Unless the Indians get an absolute stud with about 2 years of service time, Jake should start 2007 in a Tribe uniform (hopefully with a contract extension in his back pocket).

Cliff Lee
Again, looking at the contracts being given to lesser pitchers than Lee (Adam Eaton got a 3-year, $24.5M deal), it’s unlikely that the Tribe would move Lee, regardless of whether he seems to be on a downward trend in the past few years. Lee’s under the team’s control for 4 years at $15M, with a 2010 option, so even if he ends up a #4 or #5 starter, that’s an extremely reasonable contract. While that contract does make him more attractive to potential suitors, the same question posed with Westbrook (do you move a young solid pitcher when the team has been rebuilt) is the bigger factor.

Jason Michaels
The addition of David Dellucci means that either Michaels will be part of a platoon in LF or will be counted on as a 4th OF. With him eligible for arbitration and likely to earn about $3M in that process, would the Indians rather move him as a throw-in for a team looking for a platoon in the OF or a 4th OF, possibly in a return to the NL? It’s unlikely that Michaels would bring much on his own and a potential platoon with Dellucci could be very productive. However, if Michaels is only thought to be the 4th OF, can the Indians get away with moving him and allowing Big League Choo, Ben Francisco, or Franklin Gutierrez to be the 4th OF?

Ryan Garko - Big League Choo
Shapiro has intimated that Dellucci’s inclusion on the 2007 team means that only one of these two players will be on the squad next year. You have to think that the Front Office has a pretty good idea of whom they would prefer to keep and have known since they showed interest in Dellucci. Garko would likely bring the bigger bounty as he excelled as a run-producer next year and is extremely attractive to teams in need of a 1B/DH, particularly because of his affordability (dollars-wise). Choo started off very quickly, and then tailed off as he struggled down the stretch. Considering that the Indians acquired him for Broussard straight up, it’s unlikely that Choo would bring much back in return. These would be 2 names, particularly Garko, to watch in the coming week.

Jason Davis - Jeremy Guthrie
With both of these talented, but highly unproven, arms out of options, they may be part of a package to bring in a player who plays a different position, but is in a similar situation (out of options with no guaranteed roster spot). If the Tribe could use them to upgrade the backup middle infielder, it would give the players a needed change of scenario and improve team depth. Guthrie is more likely to be moved as he has more value as a potential #5 starter, and it’s possible that the Indians didn’t give Guthrie starts down the stretch so his solid AAA 2006 season remains the most current chapter in his body of work. If the Front Office thinks that Jason Dangerously can compete for a spot in the 2007 bullpen, they’ll keep him to give him the opportunity (Lord knows the talent is there, he just needs to find consistent success); if not, Davis could be an Andrew Brown-type addition to a trade.

Hector Luna
Unless the team is convinced a slimmed-down Luna will be a huge improvement than that guy who took the field with a frying pan last year, Luna could be a throw in for an NL team looking for some versatility in the MI. Inglett seems preferable to Luna, unless can improve his defense dramatically (and Inglett doesn’t exactly remind anyone of Ozzie Smith); the addition of Barfield removes Luna from even spot time. The report that the Indians went after Craig Counsell (only to be turned down so he could stay in his hometown of Milwaukee) to fill the spot currently held by Luna/Inglett doesn’t bode well for the long-term future of either.

Franklin Gutierrez
With CF in short supply around the league (see how much Juan Pierre and Gary Matthews, Jr. got on the open market), is Gutierrez more valuable to another team than the Indians? Though he has a strong arm that allows him to play RF, Frank the Tank’s speed and hitting project him more as a CF. The dilemma of Coco Crisp could be a harbinger of Frankie’s fate. With CF pretty much sewn up in Cleveland, David Dellucci sitting on a new 3-year deal, and Trevor Crowe knocking at the door, where does Gutierrez fit in? Is he more valuable to a team in need of a speedy CF, willing to part with a young 1B or a ML-ready pitcher? If he is, I’d make that trade yesterday – memories of Giles-for-Rincon be damned.

It should be an exciting week as all of the major players are in the same confined place for a week…with a hotel bar. I’m sure it’s not how it happens, but I like to think that deals are done on cocktail napkins.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Winter Meetings!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pre-Winter Meetings Lazy Sunday

With the mercury falling, let’s take a quick look at a Lazy Sunday before the Christmas lights have to go up in sub-freezing temperatures:

Paul Hoynes has a nice synopsis of what the Tribe’s plans are for the Winter Meetings regarding a closer as well as reporting (as we said last week) that the Red Sox’s demands for Manny Ramirez are so steep that even the old clubhouse attendant that found $20,000 in Manny’s glove compartment would have to take pause.

Terry Pluto reports much the same on the Manny demands and implies that Carmona and Miller may be ready to help this season, allowing the Tribe to possibly move a Starting Pitcher.

Ken Rosenthal reports that Shapiro has fielded multiple calls asking about moving one of the starters and projects that Shapiro will only listen to offers for Westbrook that would fill multiple holes on the team. Rosenthal gives Seattle closer J.J. Putz as an example, but I would think more would come in return for a starter like Westbrook. I also don’t expect the Tribe to move a starter unless another starter is added to take their place. Allowing Carmona to start the season in the rotation would give the Indians two VERY young starters going into the season (with Sowers), something that is rare for a team with all intentions of contending from Day 1.

Lastly, on the Dellucci signing (which still isn't official), there was some disappointment that the Indians didn’t add a RH bat to protect Pronk in the lineup. But, prior to the Dellucci signing, the only LH assured of being in the lineup were Grady and Pronk.

Outside of Victor switch-hitting, everybody else is RH, so as nice as a big RH bat would be – the Dellucci signing gives some variance to the lineup, particularly if he fits in around the 6 spot in the lineup.

Winter Meetings start tomorrow, so look for that Hot Stove to really start blazing.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Arms Dealing

The Tribe’s bullpen got a much needed injection of experience and arms today with the signings of RHP Roberto Hernandez and LHP Aaron Fultz.

Both deals are for one year with an option for 2008, so this certainly doesn’t fall under the Baltimoresque 3-year deals that they were giving out to players who are, essentially, on par with Hernandez and Fultz. Realistically, any deal for a reliever (whose effectiveness fluctuates so drastically from year to year) for more than 2 years, unless his name is Mo Rivera or Trevor Hoffman, is irresponsible.

Hernandez and Fultz bolster the pen without marrying the Indians to either for a long period of time, potentially saddling the club with a poor contract or blocking the development of one of the young arms on the farm.

Before the signings are derided as not solving the closer problem, realize that neither is being depended upon to be the closer. Both add depth to a bullpen sorely in need of some.

The signings allow the bullpen to set up like this:
If another reliever is signed as a potential set-up guy, it knocks everyone on the list down a notch, as well as allowing the Indians to start with more veteran relievers in the bullpen. As we saw last year, it’s more prudent to enter the season with too many proven arms in the bullpen as opposed to too few.

It won’t end here, either. The names that have been floated around that are still available are Joe Borowski and Keith Foulke, both of whom have closing experience and could be viewed as one-year trials with a possibility to blossom into something more. Borowski recently had a multi-year contract pulled off of the table by the Phillies, so there are certainly some red flags on doling out a multi-year deal to sign him. However, both can be had with flexible deals that allow the Indians to add more depth to the pen.

Still possible (even if Borowski or Foulke are signed) is that deal to add a younger closer (Pittsburgh’s Mike Gonzalez) or closer-in-training (LAA’s Scot Shields) at the Winter Meetings, but they won’t come cheap. With the relief market so shallow and with the Orioles setting the market far too high (the Indians’ recent signings being much more feasible), the demand for young, affordable closers will be high.

In an interview on WTAM, Shapiro was asked if he would be able to fill all of the team’s needs through Free Agency. Shapiro said that the lack of depth in the FA market would not allow him to do so and that the Indians would have to make a trade to fill their needs. He mentioned that the Kouzmanoff deal could be indicative of the type of deal that they’re going to have to execute. That is, they’ll give up a prospect (whom they generally tend to hold onto because of depth and affordability issues) to bolster the big league team.

Interestingly, he implied that the addition of Dellucci means that either Ryan Garko OR Big League Choo would be with the team next year, but not both. If Garko is moved, Blake moves to 1B and Choo to RF. If Choo is moved, Garko stays at 1B and Blake in RF.

There’s a lot of conjecture that can be made before the Winter Meetings, but by knocking the LOOGY role and a possible set-up reliever off of his list, Shapiro can go to the Winter Meetings ready to wheel and deal.