Thursday, November 29, 2007

Central Standard Time

As Delmon Young heads to Twinkietown, with the Johan Race being handicapped, and the Winter Meetings on the horizon (coupled with not too many smoke signals coming out of the Reservation on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario), perhaps it’s time to take a quick look around the AL Central to examine the moves that the teams (other than the Tribe) have made and what questions still exist for them as they ready themselves for the 2008 season.

Moving downward from their 2007 finishes in the Central (Tribe excluded because…well, that’s all I ever write about) here goes:
Detroit Tigers
For the team that led the AL Central as late as August 16th, the Tigers jumped into the Hot Stove season with both feet, moving quickly and decisively on the Trade Market and being active in the FA market. They began with a trade for Edgar Renteria, which will allow them to move Carlos Guillen to 1B full-time, jettisoning Sean Casey (and his 4 HR and .746 OPS from 1B) from the lineup. While they gave up a nice pitching prospect in Jair Jurrjens (who, at age 21, posted a 1.14 WHIP over 7 starts in 2007), Renteria adds another piece to the puzzle that Jim Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski are trying to put together, one that may look vaguely familiar to Tribe fans…you may remember them as the 1997 Florida Marlins.

With Renteria in the fold to join Sheffield and Pudge, could they be targeting Livan Hernandez instead of Player Agent Kenny Rogers (he fired Scott Boras and is representing himself) to fill the rotation?
Are they contacting Robb Nenn to fill the void created when Joel Zumaya hurt himself moving boxes in Southern California?

By the way, before moving on to the rest of the Tigers’ moves, did anyone know that former Browns QB Josh Booty was on that 1997 Fish team that broke my heart?
HE has a World Series ring? Ugh…I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

Anywho, elsewhere in Motown, the Tigers re-upped with Joe Borows…errr…Todd Jones on a one-year, $7M deal, which lends some sort of semblance to their bullpen. However, without Zumaya, the Motor City Kitties are still prowling for some bullpen arms and are likely to overpay for LaTroy Hawkins and the like to bridge the gap between their starters and Jones.

The Tigers also netted Jacque Jones from the Cubs (for Futility Infielder Omar Infante) to serve as ½ of the LF platoon for the Tigers with Marcus Thames until 20-year-old uber-prospect Cameron Maybin (who underwhelmed in his brief MLB stint in 2007) is ready to take over in LF. As long as you can stomach platoons (and many Tribe fans can’t), this isn’t a bad looking arrangement as it’s mainly to keep Marcus Thames away from RHP (.705 OPS vs. RHP in 2007). Thames was terrific against LHP in 2007 posting a .310 BA / .341 OBP / .586 SLG / .927 OPS line; so as long as Jones improves on Thames’ struggles against RHP, the platoon will prove to be advantageous for the Tigers.

Apparently, LF in the AL Central is best occupied by ½ men – first Dason Dellichaels, now Marque Jomes in Detroit. Who knows what amalgamations will appear in KC (Emil Brown / Ross Gload / Joey Gaithright?), Minnesota (Craig Monroe / Jason Kubel?), or Chicago (Jerry Owens / Josh Fields / Pablo Ozuna?)
Admit it, seeing that does make you feel a LITTLE better about Dellichaels, doesn’t it?

But back in Detroit, the rest of the offseason will be focused on searching out that bullpen depth that was thinned out when Zumaya injured himself in SoCal with only the dregs of middle relievers (all looking for multi-year deals) on the radar of the Tigers.

As for other concerns going forward (outside of the bullpen depth), there will be a point with this team when age becomes a factor. These Tigers are no kittens (Pudge – 35, Guillen – 32, Polanco – 32, Renteria – 32, Sheffield – 39, Ordonez – 33, Jones – 39) and most are working on long-term deals that could outlive the productiveness of the player. How long the Tigers can stay productive as age and potential injuries mount for them will go a long way in determining how far their talented young pitching (more of which is coming) will carry them for the 2008 season and beyond.

Minnesota Twins
Up in the Twin Cities, the offseason started with a disappointment (albeit an expected one) as CF Torii Hunter packed up his Gold Gloves and headed west to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim playing in Orange County in the Republic of California. While the wisdom of the length of the deal that Hunter received from the Angels can be questioned (generally players who make their living with their legs aren’t too productive on the south side of 35 and Hunter will be 33 next July); it is inarguable that Hunter is no longer a fixture in CF at the HomerDome and will no longer contribute his 25 HR, 100 RBI production to the Twins’ lineup. For the offensively-challenged Twins (with Hunter in the lineup) – that’s a big deal.

A few weeks prior to Hunter’s announcement, the Twins decided to prepare themselves for Hunter’s imminent departure by acquiring…wait for it…Craig Monroe – the same Monroe cut by the Tigers down the stretch last year! I know, I know – Monroe was not seen as a Hunter replacement, he was simply seen as an upgrade over Jason Kubel and Jason Tyner in LF. But his acquisition speaks to the lack of quality hitters in Minnesota. Hunter’s departure only made it worse for the Twins.

So the Twins found themselves in a troubling spot, with Hunter gone and Johan Santana and Joe Nathan seemingly destined to follow him out of town with nothing in return after 2008. Of course, by now most of us know that the Twins went into full-blown activity mode – declaring Santana “on the block” and dealing from their depth at starting pitching to fill a void in their lineup by trading (among others) highly regarded pitching prospect Matt Garza to the Rays for (among others) highly regarded hitting prospect Delmon Young.

On the surface it looks to be a trade that benefits both teams as the Rays fill out a spot in their rotation at a reasonable salary while the Twins augment their pop-gun offense with a tremendously talented (although not very disciplined) 21-year-old Young who figures immediately to help out LH Mauer and Morneau and RH Cuddyer in the middle of the Twins’ lineup. Young will attempt to take the place of Hunter in the lineup, though not necessarily in CF, depending upon what happens with Johan Santana.

Ahh, Johan…
Depending on the day and the source, Santana has been rumored to be heading to the Bronx, Queens, Beantown, Chavez Ravine (let’s hope the Twins do the AL a favor by sending him to the Dodgers), and Anaheim. The names being connected to Santana in a deal are pretty lustrous (Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Jon Lester, Clay Bucholz, Matt Kemp, Chad Billingsley, Jose Reyes, Jered Weaver, Brandon Wood are just a few…the main name in the “meh” category is Coco Crisp), so if a deal gets done it would definitely constitute a “blockbuster”. One interesting to watch is whether the team that acquires Santana (if one does) insists on having a contract extension done with Santana prior to consummating the exchange. Regardless, the face of the Twins could change overnight with their haul for Santana filling in holes on their roster…but creating a pretty big one at the top of their rotation.

The question in Minnesota is if Santana is dealt – is Nathan far behind?
And are the Twins in full rebuild mode, stockpiling high-ceiling prospects while keeping the payroll flexible with an eye to their new stadium opening with a now-mature team of budding superstars to fill it? While those quandaries do affect the 2008 team (can we all agree that a team with Johan is different than one without him at the top of the rotation), they are all basically long-term questions.

In the short-term, if Santana is traded, the Twins better hope that 2006 wunderkind Francisco Liriano is fully healthy because if he’s not, their starting pitching now has Boof Bonser and Scott Baker fighting it out for Opening Day (depending, of course, on the return for Johan). On the offensive side, the overall lineup remains weak (Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Young, and Yuck), and doesn’t figure to be too much better than the 2007 version (Young replaces Hunter), which outscored only the White Sox and Royals in the AL.

The Santana Sweepstakes will be fun to watch to see what (if any) haul Santana will bring to the Twin Cities; but, after that excitement subsides, it could be a long summer in Minnesota as the rebuilding project may be starting and the waiting for the young talent acquired for Santana (and perhaps Nathan) to gel with the pieces in place already in Minnesota.

Chicago White Sox
Like the Tigers and the Twins, the Pale Hose have been extremely active in the offseason, addressing a number of glaring holes on the roster, while some remain unresolved. The South Siders started the offseason by extending SS Jose Uribe’s contract, then trading for SS Orlando Cabrera, which will essentially move Uribe to 2B. To obtain the Gold Glove-winning Cabrera, the White Sox parted with Jon Garland, who is set to earn $12M in 2008, his contract year. Cabrera immediately and immensely upgrades Chicago’s infield defense and adds a quality bat who won’t K as much as the other White Sox hitters (5 of their 9 regulars had more than 100 K in 2007) to the lineup.

The trade of Garland is one that wasn’t unexpected as GM Kenny Williams is known for moving around his pitchers that he deems more valuable as trading chips (Freddy Garcia, Brandon McCarthy), but it does put some pressure on the young pitchers in Chicago to step up in Garland’s absence. It will be interesting to see how Gavin Floyd (5.27 ERA, 1.49 WHIP in 2007) and John Danks (5.50 ERA, 1.54 WHIP in 2007) react to being handed rotation spots and if they can attain a level of consistency at the MLB level.

Outside of upgrading the SS position, the White Sox had a huge hole in their bullpen in front of Fat Bobby Jenks as no Chicago reliever outside of Jenks (with more than 30 IP) had an ERA under 4.79 and 3 of the 6 with more than 30 IP had ERA over 6.00! To remedy the problem, the White Sox took a page out of the 2006-2007 Baltimore Orioles’ offseason playbook and overpaid for a middling middle reliever in Scott Linebrink. Don’t get me wrong, Linebrink is a nice addition to the Chicago bullpen, but a 4-year, $19M deal for a 31-year-old RH reliever a full two years away from his most successful season (in pitcher heaven Petco Park, no less) borders on lunacy. Two years from now (or maybe as soon as this year), Linebrink’s presence in the bullpen and contract will be an albatross around the team’s neck as they realize their lack of foresight when inking Linebrink.

The other glaring hole at The Cell that Kenny Williams will attempt to remedy is the lack of a legitimate CF and LF as they lost out on Torii Hunter and Aaron Rowand seems unlikely to return to Chicago. I suppose that Andruw Jones and everyone’s favorite 4th OF masquerading as a legitimate CF, Coco Crisp, are out there; but right now, Jerry Owens and Pablo Ozuna figure in pretty squarely into their outfield picture. Take into consideration that Joe Crede may be dealt (moving Josh Fields to 3B and out of the LF picture) and the situation becomes more muddled.

Of course, the White Sox could be working on the deal to land “The Big Fish”, Miguel Cabrera, out of Florida; but holes remain in the lineup to go with the youth in the rotation and the still-paper-thin bullpen. Consider that the troika of Konerko (32), Dye (34), and Thome (37) are now a year older and one has to wonder if the White Sox are fooling themselves into believing that they’re closer than they really are and would be better served to develop their own players (or trade for some MLB-ready prospects) instead of grasping for that brass ring again with a decidedly inferior team.

Kansas City Royals
With a new manager (Trey Hillman) a new Japanese reliever (Yashuhiko Yabuta), and a promise from ownership to be “in” on some FA deals (they were allegedly $20M short on the Torii Hunter sweepstakes), the Royals find themselves waiting for a young nucleus of talent to mature…again. The difference this time is that it seems that KC may actually have some quality young players to build around. Between Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, David DeJesus, and Mark Teahan, the Royals at least have a core group of players that have the possibility of developing into something resembling a lineup.

Pitching-wise, Gil Meche (though overpaid) looks to be a main cog for the rotation, as does Brian Bannister. Starting prospects Leo Nunez and former overall #1 pick Luke Hochevar could augment the talent in place to give the Royals some pitching depth. Additionally, with Joakim Soria in the bullpen and talented arms like Jimmy Gobble and Zack Grienke to fill out the staff while finding their niche, the Royals are rich in talented arms – something not many teams can boast.

With all of the positives and the hope that springs eternal in KC, the Royals still have lots of holes in the lineup, from LF to SS to 1B, coupled with the overall inexperience of the whole pitching staff. Overall, some young talent is there, but they remain a good distance away from the Indians and Tigers at the top of the division. The stubbornness of the White Sox Front Office and the decisions of the Twins’ Front Office this offseason could put the Royals more firmly in the mix of the AL Central in 2008, but they remain an emerging and still-maturing group of players.

2008 Outlook
While it’s embarrassingly early to even consider how 2008 is looking to shape up in the AL Central, every team has its own flaws, concerns, and hopes. No team is perfect, but some are certainly further along in the process of building a sustained contender. The teams looking up at the Tribe at the end of 2007 have all improved (or made attempts to improve) their clubs for 2008 and while the Indians will still probably look to upgrade their team (regardless of the public comments from the Front Office), it is important to follow the activity of our AL Central brethren as the easiest path to the playoffs remains simply raising the AL Central banner and not having to worry about the Wild Card.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Back to Basics

As most Tribe fans know by now, the new “alternate” uniforms were announced last week (coincidentally just in time for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season). As the only known DiaTribe regular who is a paying member of, our fearless leader asked me, Little ol' T-Bone, to step in and to talk about the changes, which I'll do in entirely too much detail. Be forewarned.

The new threads represent a “back to basics” approach, as not only are the new alternates your traditional “throwback” jersey, but some slight changes were made to the regular home, away, and blue alternate jerseys as well to give them a cleaner look.

The last tweaking of uniforms occurred in 2002, when not only were the alternate vests and “script I” hats introduced, but silver was added as a third accent color to white/gray/blue jerseys and caps (and when Chief Wahoo was shrunk in half, but we’ll get to that later). Also, navy blue replaced red as the primary accent color, as jersey piping, belts, socks and shoes all went to navy blue (and/or black with belts and shoes).

Here's Kenny in times of red and then in blue:

Now I cant find it documented anywhere, but back in 2002 I’m nearly positive it was noted by Indians' brass that the silver was added to help merchandising. Sure enough, what did they do last week? They took away the silver accenting to get away from the “retail look,” as I heard Bobby D say on a local morning show.

The other tweak is while the “vest” alternate jersey being retired, the “script I” hat is sticking around but will now be matched with the “away” blue alternates. I throw quotes around “away,” because while the club officially calls them away alternates, in June last year we started seeing them them at home for the first time since the 2002 season.

But enough of the minutia, let’s dig into the new gear!

What was shown at the press conference for the unveiling was the exact rendering which was leaked here and on baseball (and uniform) blogs and bulletin boards everywhere two months ago.

Oddly enough, with most players getting the heck out of dodge for the offseason, your models for the unveiling ceremonies were coaches Joel Skinner and Derek Shelton.

The new alternate is your traditional “throwback” jersey, and was spearheaded by none other than 2007 Sporting News Executive of the Year Mark Shapiro himself.

"They are uniforms we think are reflective of our team's personality," Shapiro said. "They are throwback uniforms, and we have a throwback team, to some extent."

It is said that the idea was born back in April, and I cant help but think the idea was hatched at or after the “Civil Rights Game,” the exhibition game the Tribe and Cardinals played in Memphis at the conclusion of spring training. Take a look at what the jerseys for that game looked like, compared to what we ended up with.

The story states “the block lettering harkens back to the 1960s, the coloring is similar to that of the late 1940s and the block "C" is reminiscent of the early 1900s.”

Let’s compare that statement with a look through the Dressed to the Nines database.

Well, the “block lettering of the 1960s” is accurate to a point, as the Tribe wore this jersey from 1958 through 1962 (a whopping three years of the 60s):

The “coloring similar to that of the late 1940s” indeed shows similarity, as seen here in the 1944 uniform (note: if they sported these stirrups with the new alts, I’d be in heaven):

I also think the new gear bears a resemblance to the 1971 outfit, sans pinstripes:

It should be noted that the new jerseys are more of a “cream” color than white (although the pictures we've seen thus far don't depict that all too well), and per anything I've read, will be of the “CoolBase” material which has been filtering into the majors. While it may keep the players cooler, at times it isn’t as aesthetically pleasing, as CC shows here.

Names will be absent on the back of the jerseys, which I don’t mind at all. If you don’t like it, hey, at least now you wont have to worry about having the jersey of a guy who left because his wife is his “rock” and “it comes down to winning,” right? (no names, please)

As seen at the top, Chief Wahoo remains on the left sleeve, and since I’m firmly in the “they’re phasing out the Chief and I’m not happy about it” camp, I loved seeing the following quote from Kurt Schloss, director of merchandising.

"Chief Wahoo is a piece of who we are," says Schloss firmly. "It's not about representing a person or a group, it's about our history."

With regards to the cap, “the block "C" is reminiscent of the early 1900s.” Here’s how that looked.

Compare that to new hat:

While I love the jerseys, I’m not so hot on these caps. They’re almost just too "plain Jane" for me. A simple, subtle white outline around the C could have done wonders. If the hat had to be Wahoo-less, I personally would have preferred to go back to the “Reds” C, which we used in some way, shape or form on cap or jersey from 1933 to 1972. That being said, I’m guessing the new alt cap will grow on me and I’ll have one by mid-February.

As mentioned earlier, only changes to the other hats are the removal of silver lining around the Chief or I, and the Chief remains the same size as he has since 2002, but I guess I’m used to that by now. Compare the sizing on this picture of Grover compared to current lids below.

The only other thing I’m disappointed in is that they had a chance to correct the many shades of blue used in all aspects of the uniform, and get it down to just one stinkin' hue of blue. To me at least, it seems the hats are one shade (lightest), the blue jerseys another (slightly darker), the piping on home and away are another (darker), the helmets are another (even darker), and now the alt caps are yet another (comparable to helmets). It’s been bugging me since 2002, and looks to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. And yes, I know I’m crazy.

OK, I’ll stop here before you go and commit me to an institution for all this nonsense. The good thing is I realize I have a problem, and have a focus group to report to each morning around 10:30 a.m.

Although I hear the alt jerseys and caps are available in team gift shops, only the caps are online as of this minute. Grab ‘em now while you can!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lazy Sunday with Terry

With leaf pick-up starting tomorrow, it’s time for a quick Lazy one so the leaves can make it to the tree lawn prior to 1:00 PM. And with that, we’re off:
Once again, Terry Pluto remains the only Cleveland writer still paying attention to the Indians, starting with the signing of Kobayashi. I think that as much as people would like to predict what Kobayashi will do and throw comparisons out there (as I did when the signing was announced), there has to be a wait-and-see approach. We can search YouTube, watch his delivery over and over again, and pore over Japanese baseball stats, but Kobayashi will be a relatively unknown quantity until he arrives in Cleveland on March 31st for the Home Opener. Seeing as how the White Sox just gave a rapidly declining Scott Linebrink a 4-year, $19M deal (and he will set up – at best – for a couple of years), the financial commitment to Kobayashi is minimal.

Since the Kobayshi is the only Pluto article available on line right now, I’ll summarize his other piece on Peralta, where he comes to the conclusion that the Indians are better off dealing Peralta in a package (he mentions with Lee for Jason Bay – which would go against about everything that Neal Huntington should be looking to do as the Pirates’ GM by adding payroll and not prospects, regardless of what public opinion may be) and go with Cabrera and Barfield at SS and 2B.

If he’s going to rehash this, I’ll come back with my same argument against it – Cabrera and Barfield are simply too unproven to simply hand them the middle of the infield with no viable alternatives on the farm.

Cabrera has all of 159 AB at the big league level and, while he performed very well, young players are prone to inconsistency as they make the full adjustment to MLB. Perhaps Cabrera is an exception (he certainly made a quick transition last year), but to give him the SS, again without a backup plan, seems shortsighted.

As for Barfield, he had the 2nd lowest OBP (.270) of all MLB players with more than 400 AB last year, ahead of only Miguel Olivo (.262). But it wasn’t just that he wasn’t able to get on base, his slugging percentage (.324) was 5th worst in all of MLB for players with more than 400 AB, ahead of only Nick Punto (.271), Jason Kendall (.309), Omar Vizquel (.316), and Marcus Giles (.317). Not getting on base very frequently is not a great attribute, but combining it with a low slugging percentage calls into question a player’s readiness for the every day lineup. By no means am I suggesting that Barfield is a lost cause and should be given up on. Far from it, in fact, as Barfield seems to have the talent and ability to play at the ML level (evidenced by his 2006 in San Diego), but was simply unable to make any adjustments at the plate in 2007 and should have to EARN a starting spot at 2B, not simply have it handed to him as a by-product of trading Peralta.

So, if Peralta is traded, Cabrera struggles in his 2nd trip around the league (with game tape on him), and Barfield continues the troubling trends of his 2007 – the Indians just took two positions that they have the ability to perform well at and created a monstrously bad middle infield in one fell swoop. If, in 2008, Cabrera thrives at 2B and Barfield shows some promise (or MI depth is achieved), the “Peralta trade talk” could start up again, but it just seems premature to me right now as it may fill a hole on the team…but could create one (or two) bigger ones when it isn’t a necessity.

This week, T-Bone should be putting his finishing touches on a new uniform piece that (since T-Bone is rather maniacal about the minutia of uniforms) should be awfully in-depth on the new Sunday alternate jerseys and hats. Also, I still have some feelers out on some big things that I don’t want to jinx but should know about very soon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Name is Kobayashi

The Indians have apparently lost their minds and have decided to “fortify” their bullpen today by signing a British lawyer with unsavory ties to extremely questionable characters, which I can’t figure out how this helps the team at all in the short term OR the long term.

You know, back when I was picking beans in Guatamala…what?
Different Kobayashi?

Oh, Masa Kobayashi – OK, OK – my Thanksgiving appetite just re-appeared.
Seriously though, the Indians may have found the “inefficiency” in the FA market (where value exists as opposed to getting in bidding wars for the services of lesser players) that many teams fail to find (or choose not to look for) and could have identified some real value for the bullpen with the signing of Kobayashi.

The 33-year-old Japanese reliever has compiled a 2.79 ERA with 227 career saves in 7 seasons, topping 20 saves in each of those seasons. He has a repertoire of a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a slider, and a cut fastball and has been durable throughout his career in Japan (although he spent some of 2007 on the shelf), so the Indians eschewed the barren domestic FA market for relievers and inked Kobayashi (for about what the middling middle relievers will fetch on the open market) without having to pay a posting fee as Kobayashi is an unrestricted Free Agent.

Kobayashi’s stats since 2001 are pretty impressive with the Chiba Lotte Marines:
2001 – 48 Games, 33 Saves, 52 IP, 47 K, 4.33 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
2002 – 43 Games, 37 Saves, 43 1/3 IP, 41 K, 0.83 ERA, 0.74 WHIP
2003 – 43 Games, 33 Saves, 47 IP, 30 K, 2.87 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
2004 – 51 Games, 20 Saves, 57 2/3 IP, 50 K, 3.90 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
2005 – 46 Games, 29 Saves, 45 1/3 IP, 33 K, 2.58 ERA, 1.28 WHIP
2006 – 53 Games, 34 Saves, 53 2/3 IP, 48 K, 2.68 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
2007 – 49 Games, 27 Saves, 47 1/3 IP, 35 K, 3.61 ERA, 1.37 WHIP

Those are pretty consistent (and consistently impressive) numbers with similar stats across the board every year for 7 years. He averaged between 43 and 53 games, 43 1/3 and 57 2/3 IP, and 33 and 50 K over those 7 years, so it’s not as if the Indians are taking one season of success and hoping it translates stateside.

Ah, the translation of success from Japan to America…
Success with Asian pitchers has been hit-and-miss, with recent signings from the Pacific Rim ranging from closer material to “why did we sign this guy”. For every Takishi Saito (Dodgers closer) and Hideki Okajima (you remember him looking at Mike Lowell) standing out as some excellent finds, there are Kei Igawas that scream “Caveat Emptor” when dealing with Japanese pitchers.

So, if we’re going to accept that that success of Saito and Okajima is what the Indians are obviously trying to capture, is it fair to compare how those two fared in Japan for some measure of comparison? If so, Saito’s last three years in Japan were as a starter (1st year with Dodgers – 2006), so we’ll take a look at the last time he closed:
2002 – 39 Games, 20 Saves, 47 2/3 IP, 46 K, 2.45 ERA, 1.09 WHIP
2001 – 50 Games, 27 Saves, 64 2/3 IP, 60 K, 1.67 ERA, 1.01 WHIP
From those numbers, they look pretty similar to those of Kobayashi, but Okajima is the one that most people are comparing the signing to; so how do Okajima’s stats look from his last 2 years in Japan?
2006 – 55 Games, 4 Saves, 54 2/3 IP, 63 K, 2.14 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
2005 – 42 Games, 0 Saves, 53 IP, 56 K, 4.75 ERA, 1.39 WHIP
It looks like Okajima had higher K rates than Kobayashi, but Kobayashi is far and away the more proven product…in Japan.

Okajima’s success hinges on his deceptiveness to the plate and the illusion that the ball explodes out of his hand because of his exaggerated head snap.
Does Kobayashi posses similar deception?
It sure doesn’t look like it based on this video from 2005, where Kobayashi certainly doesn’t look too impressive pitching for Bobby Valentine, walking home a run before inducing an inning-ending grounder.

In fact, the best comparison for a well-established closer to come from Japan to America would have to be Kazuhiro Sasaki, who made a seamless transition to MLB by compiling 129 saves for the Seattle Mariners from 2000 to 2003.
Consider Sasaki’s career Japanese stats against those of Kobayashi:
439 Games, 252 Saves, 627 1/3 IP, 851 K, 2.41 ERA
445 Games, 227 Saves, 580 1/3 IP, 463 K, 2.79 ERA
Outside of the K numbers put up by Sasaki in Japan, the two are relatively comparable in terms of how they left Japan – and Sasaki had marvelous success in MLB in his 4 years in the Emerald City. Of course, Kobayashi could just as easily mirror the career path of Shingo Takatsu (though Takatsu was 36 when he entered MLB); another Japanese closer to record over 200 saves in Japan.

Obviously, something piqued the Tribe’s interest for the Indians to go against their patterns of relievers working off of one-year deals to offer 2 guaranteed years to a reliever (for $6M), with a 3rd year as a club option (worth $3.25M) to Kobayashi, likely in part based on his track record.

While we’ll truly not know how Kobayshi’s repertoire will translate to MLB until he toes the Jacobs Field rubber for the first time, his signing indicates that the bullpen essentially set (before Thanksgiving) with the 7 relievers that are likely to break Spring Training with the Tribe:

The goal of adding some back-end depth and making the bullpen deeper to accommodate for injury and ineffectiveness seems to have been accomplished prior to the Winter Meetings. Now, the advantage of adding Kobayashi to a largely settled bullpen is that he can work his way into the sequence of relievers while he acquits himself to his new surroundings. If he finds success, he can quickly become another back-end option in the bullpen to lead up to JoeBo or even become an option (with Betancourt) to close games as it certainly seems that he has the stomach for it. If he struggles out of the gate, other relievers exist on the staff to pick up the slack to allow him to attempt to right himself to prepare himself again for the back end.

When it’s all said and done, the Indians took a relatively low-risk, high-reward gamble on one of the more decorated relievers in Japan, strengthening the depth in their bullpen, allowing relievers to slot into roles out of Spring Training and shortening the game for the Tribe rotation. In this age of teams throwing money and years at fair relievers with track records in MLB, the Indians have embraced the trend of finding bullpen help elsewhere and it would seem that they started at a pretty high level by inking the pitcher third on the career saves list in Japan.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lazy Sunday in the Bullpen

After a nice victory yesterday up North and hopefully another one coming in Baltimore this afternoon, let’s take a quick whirl around a Lazy Sunday:

Terry Pluto addresses how the Indians are shying away from FA and identifies what the Pirates and Marlins would be looking for in exchange for Jason Bay or Miguel Cabrera.
Here’s a hint: One of the names rhymes with GastroBlab.
Still interested in those guys?

Pluto also touches on some of the names that the Indians are looking at to fortify their bullpen depth via Free Agency, mentioning Troy Percival, Mike Timlin, and LaTroy Hawkins. All three would seem to fit the mold of relievers that the Indians generally sign – high-risk, high-reward type pitchers who would likely work off of a one-year deal so as not to compromise the financial flexibility of the club.

Here’s the entire list of relievers out there on the FA market.
Not too much to see here, unless you want to pay Francisco Cordero $10M for the next 4 years (allegedly what he’s asking for). Players that intrigue, like a Jeremy Affeldt or even David Riske, are probably in line for the Danys Baez treatment from some short-sighted, desperate team. Otherwise, it’s the same names that seem to populate this list year after year; and a lot of the players that were rumored to be coming to Cleveland (Dotel, Gagne) or never actually made it north to Cleveland (Foulke).

Luckily for the Indians, they have a pretty deep farm system when it comes to pitchers and the first bona-fide MLB relievers to come out of the Tribe organization since…well, David Riske (?), showed up down the stretch last year in Perez and Lewis and it is conceivable that more pitchers like that could emerge in 2008. While it would be foolish to count on any coming out of Winter Haven, pitchers like Jeff Stevens (whom Pluto mentions), Reid Santos, Randy Newsom, T.J. Burton, or James Deters could be fast-tracked to Cleveland if they compile a start to 2008 similar to what Jenny Lewis did.

Elsewhere around the horn, Pat McManamon touches on the Cy for C.C. adequately until he embarrasses himself by making fun of the VORP statistic favored by a good number of baseball statisticians as an accurate way to measure a player’s value.

I’m fine if McManamon doesn’t know what it is (it is very confusing), but why even bring it up then?
Just to make fun of something that he doesn’t understand?
By the way, the man who created VORP for Baseball Prospectus, Keith Woolner, was hired by the Indians last year…so, yeah, it might be relevant, particularly if you care to know how the Indians’ Front Office makes decisions.

In today’s Plain Dealer PdQ section, they “reveal” that the Indians have new Sunday uniforms, something that was mentioned here about two months ago…I think. While I can’t find a link or photo online (way to embrace the Information Superhighway, PD!), the article says that the new jerseys and hats will be available at the Team Shops for Christmas. If you forgot how phenomenal these are, here’s the design again:

By the way, there are no names on the back of the jerseys and the article claims that the retro look was Shapiro’s idea to go back to a “simpler look” as well as quoting Kurt Schloss, the Tribe director of merchandising interviewed for the piece that, “Chief Wahoo is a part of who we are. It’s not about representing a person or a group, it’s about our history.”

Outside the realm of reality, the 1986 Cleveland Indians are now sitting at 5-6 after finally taking a game from the red-hot Tigers last night thanks to Mel Hall’s big night and in spite of the Candy Man sitting on a 6.38 ERA after 3 starts.
By the way, Brett Butler is killing me.
One hit and two BB in 32 plate appearances at the top of my lineup does not create a lot of scoring opportunities.

Finally, some big things may be forthcoming this week (I hope) in terms of an “interview” that I don’t want to jinx, but stay tuned to see if it comes through as I think that it would be amazingly informative and insightful…again, if it comes through.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Trophy Trading

Another BBWA award announcement, another hearty congratulations for a Cleveland Indian – this time to The Atomic Wedgie for being named AL Manager of the Year, and rightfully so for leading a young Indians team to a tie for the best record in MLB and one win away from The Fall Classic. This week has been quite a week to fill up the trophy case down at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario as Wedge joins C.C. as a recipient of a major award given out by the BBWA (and the first Tribe skipper to be named MOY since they began the award in 1983) in a matter of a couple of days.

With all of these individual accolades and awards flowing into the North Coast, however, I’m reminded of a story that appeared recently in an article in Sports Illustrated about New England Patriots’ Player Personnel Guru Scott Pioli addressing the Indians team in 2002, when Eddie Murray was still the hitting coach and the Indians were still a team full of young players trying to find their way in MLB:

Scott talked to our team after the Patriots won their first Super Bowl,” says Cleveland Indians’ general manager Mark Shapiro. “He said, ‘Who here has played in a World Series and an All-Star Game?’ Eddie Murray was the only guy who raised his hand. Scott said, ‘Which was better?’ And Eddie said, ‘No question, the World Series.’ That was Scott’s point – we all play this game to win championships.”

I can’t imagine the effect that the conversation would have on the young players in that clubhouse (like Sabathia) as Murray, regardless of how effective he was as a hitting coach, was wildly respected by the players as an MLB legend and a Hall-of-Famer. His admission (and quick one at that) about the differences between individual success and recognition and team success articulates why being recognized for being a great PLAYER is fine and dandy, but fleeting; while being a part (any part) of a great TEAM is something that can never be taken away. To wit, Mike Pagel is seen as some sort of “celebrity” and “expert analyst” in Cleveland because he BACKED UP Bernie Kosar on a Browns’ team over 20 years ago that captured the hearts and imagination of the city.

The Indians, like most teams, rightfully stress the “team-concept” over the accomplishments of a few (Sabathia and Wedge this week), which is why these awards are nice things to put on the mantle; but, at a certain point they ring hollow as they only serve as a reminder of what could have (and probably should have) been. Knowing fully what the answers are in reality, I find myself wondering again why the Indians couldn’t close the Red Sox out in Game 5, with the AL Cy Young Award Winner on the hill, and seemingly undone by the AL Manager of the Year’s bullpen mismanagement in the game.
But what’s done is done.

You would hope that C.C. would like to trade in his Cy Young for a ring (does anyone question that Wedge would give his Manager of the Year trophy to second place finisher Mike Scioscia in exchange for a WS ring?) and that he feels that this award is a reminder that he WAS the best pitcher in the AL in 2007, he just stopped being so once the playoffs rolled around.

Surely, Wedge is downplaying the importance of this award and spewing some sort of lingo having to do with the team “grinding” and “separating” having nothing to do with the award when asked about the AL Manager of the Year. But ask me what I think Wedge’s real feelings are and I'd tell you that he probably thinks that these trophies are nice, but really only one matters…the one that slipped through their fingers in the ALCS.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cy Cy

While I’m not real big on celebrating individual awards, congratulations to C.C. Sabathia for winning the 2007 AL Cy Young Award. The first Indian to win the award in 35 years, Sabathia garnered more votes than his ALCS foil, Josh Beckett – honestly, helped immensely by the fact that the voting is done prior to the playoffs.

In the final tally, Sabathia received 19 1st place votes, compared to Beckett’s 8 (Fausto received 1 on his way to finishing 4th, debunking the myth of teammates “splitting the vote”) and tallied a total of 119 points to best the 86 that Beckett garnered.

Beckett and the aCCe compiled eerily comparable stats for 2007:
19-7, 3.21 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 7.80 K/9, 0.15 BB/9, .684 OPS against

20-7, 3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.70 K/9, 0.20 BB/9, .663 OPS against
The main difference (that may or may not have swayed the fickle, and sometimes ill-informed, BBWA voters) is the fact that that Sabathia put up his statistics while pitching 40 1/3 more innings (240 for C.C. against 200 2/3 IP for Beckett), making the Crooked Cap’s accomplishments all the more impressive.

Outside of the accolades, one of the more important results of winning the award is that the Hefty Lefty will earn somewhere between $2M and $3M more in his 2008 contract. Obviously that talk of money and contracts brings up the inevitable C.C. extension talk from Clevelanders not content with living in the moment and always dreading the worst. While many in the fatalistic Cleveland media will tell you that this will put C.C. out of the Indians’ price range, I can’t see how this announcement makes TOO much of a difference.

While it is awfully nice to have “Cy Young Winner” on one’s resume, I’m pretty sure that the Indians and Sabathia’s agents were equally aware of C.C.’s track record, accomplishments, and potential – which will dictate where Sabathia’s contract negotiations start, regardless of a piece of hardware. It’s not as if the news today forced the Front Office on Ontario to suddenly realize that C.C. is an elite pitcher. This simply validates it, while not changing the fact that the Indians remain well-poised to sign C.C. to an extension.

With all of the downplaying out of the way, it is an incredible individual honor for Sabathia and, really, for the Indians – who haven’t had a major award winner since Sandy Alomar won the Rookie of the Year in 1990. From a historical perspective, considering the lack of BBWA awards that the Indians have received, this news is downright momentous.
Consider the Tribe winners (or lack thereof) of the main BBWA awards:
George Burns – 1926
Lou Boudreau – 1948
Al Rosen – 1953

Cy Young
Gaylord Perry – 1972
C.C. Sabathia – 2007

Rookie of the Year
Herb Score – 1955
Chris Chambliss – 1971
Joe Charboneau – 1980
Sandy Alomar - 1990

Granted, Albert Belle’s surliness prevented an MVP award coming his way in 1995 (“awarded” to Mo Vaughn instead) and the Cy Young Award started in 1956 (as the likes of Feller and Lemon wound down their careers)…but that’s a lot of years with not a lot of winners on the North Coast.

And, with that, a big congrats to the Big Fella…now let’s see if we can get him to sign a certain piece of paper to bring more hardware to the Tepee in the coming years.

If today’s announcement is good news…THAT would be great news!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Lazy Sunday at the Rumor Mill

With a late Lazy Sunday (something was happening in Pittsburgh this afternoon), there’s very little happening in reality with the Indians (at least if you just check your local fishwraps…who have nothing on the Tribe today with OSU and the Browns taking up all of the ink).

Regardless, let’s take a quick turn around the Rumor Mill for everything being said nationally about the Erie Warriors. Keep in mind that all of these “reports” should be taken with a grain of salt the size of a beach ball as they’re often nothing more than the fanciful thinking of a beat reporter or a bunch of writers sitting at a bar writing on napkins. Every so often, one of these “rumors” has merit and is grounded in fact; but most of the time, they’re simply large projections on “whispers” that someone heard from a guy who heard it from a guy who heard it from a guy…and on and on.

That, of course, doesn’t take the fun out of looking at them:
Here’s the latest Jason Bay to Cleveland noise, although reading the whole article makes me think that we’ve found the equivalent of Roger Brown in the Great White North (how about that Tom Brady-Calvin Klein News!) as the only real reason Bay is mentioned is because he’s Canadian.

From the Gotham Baseball Magazine is news that the Yankees and Mets are interested in Shoppach, and that Shoppach’s name came up multiple times while Shapiro and Mets’ GM Omar Minaya discusses…Cliff Lee?
The text is a bit of a way down, so here’s the gist of it:
The scouts that Gotham Baseball Magazine have spoken with this week -- in preparation for our third straight trip to the Winter Meetings -- are all in agreement that Cleveland backup catcher Kelly Shoppach is one of baseball's up-and-coming prospects.

They also are very sure that both the Yankees and Mets are actively keeping tabs on the young backstop, in hopes of dealing for his services.

The Mets' needs are more immediate, as their interest in Yankees' backstop Jorge Posada are a bit "overblown" said one agent. Though Mets GM Omar Minaya's talks with Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro this past week were said to be more about Tribe starter Cliff Lee, as many as three industry sources have told GBM that "Shoppach's name came up more than once."

The Indians aren't looking to deal Shoppach, but might be willing to listen if a package included Mike Pelfrey or Aaron Heilman.

Shapiro has stated that he’s not averse to making any deal if it can help the club, but the lack of a suitable replacement Catcher on the roster (those who think that Wyatt Toregas is ready to be the back-up C, raise your hand) would seem to preclude Shoppach from getting dealt right now. If, however, Shapiro was blown away by an offer from Queens, a back-up Catcher can be found pretty quickly.

The Phillies are looking for a 4th or 5th OF to shore up their suddenly depleted OF depth. Would that include some former Phils who reside in LF at the Jake? Probably not, as they’d be more interested in a player like Francisco, but would probably have little to offer the Tribe as the two teams just don’t match up very well in terms of positions of strength and weakness.

Outside of that, all’s pretty quiet on the Northern Front on a weekend that Cleveland fans would probably like to forget.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Out of Left Field

With the Hot Stove talk in full swing, the Indians face few decisions this off-season (particularly after picking up the options on Byrd, JoeBo, and Fultz), but the idea that the Indians need to address and improve their offense remains a common theme, regardless of what reports you’re reading or what you’re listening to (I listen to the classical music of 104.9 to keep me even-keeled). With most of the offense spoken for and with the youngsters asserting themselves in RF and 2B to close out 2007, few real issues or arguments exist when discussing the Tribe lineup…until you get to LF.

The Indians’ LF in 2007 posted a .715 OPS (which ranked 25th of 30 MLB teams) with 15 HR (25th of 30), and while the argument exists that the Indians get production from unlikely sources (the C, the SS) allowing the Tribe to carry less-productive players in LF, is this a position that needs to be manned by an entity known as Dellichaels – as it looks to be now.

If 2007 proved anything, it proved that David Dellucci and Jason Michaels are strictly platoon players…and rather poor ones at that. Consider the numbers of how these two performed against the pitchers they were supposed to thrive against:
Dellucci vs. RHP - .709 OPS, 4 HR, 20 RBI in 154 AB
Michaels vs. LHP - .800 OPS, 5 HR, 28 RBI in 136 AB
Those numbers aren’t deplorable, but they certainly don’t scream that either “mash” a certain type of pitcher. The problem became more transparent when Kenny Lofton arrived to, essentially, take Trot Nixon’s spot in the RF platoon and ended up taking over LF full-time to close out the season and for the playoff run.

Now, before the idea of going outside the organization to add this LF is dissected, let’s acknowledge that there are internal options that exist for the Indians in The Ben Francisco Treat, The Big League Choo, and Ms. Jordan Brown (sorry, it sounds like a girl’s name). First off, let’s recognize that the BLC has undergone Tommy John surgery and won’t be able to get involved in the “derby” until after Spring Training. But Francisco, Choo, and Brown all present legitimate options for the Indians…some more so today than others.

Ben Francisco won the International League batting title last year with a .318 average while posting an .878 OPS with 12 HR and having the versatility to play all three OF positions. He, like Michaels, is RH and could simply need a shot to show off his talents in The Show – something that unfortunately is unlikely to be handed to him as he will have to follow the Coco Crisp path to the lineup, working his way up from the 4th OF into the everyday lineup. The Frisco Kid is a player who intrigues in that he and Frank the Tank have matched each other, stride for stride, through the Minors (with Francisco displaying more consistent hitting) and Gutierrez (when given his chance) thrived in RF down the stretch in 2007. At the very least, Francisco should exist as an option for LF (or somewhere else) in 2008 with the possibility of being much more.

The BLC, unfortunately for him, is a LH hitter who seems destined to fill ½ of a platoon as he has yet to show an ability to hit LH pitching. His stint with the Tribe in 2006 resulted in a .795 OPS vs. RHP and a .437 OPS vs. LHP. Choo is a fine OF with speed and a rocket arm; but until he shows an ability to hit LHP, he will remain a strict platoon player…and that’s something that perhaps the Indians should be moving away from.

The Dark Horse candidate in the race is Jordan Brown, who has won consecutive MVP awards the past two years in Kinston and Akron. He posted a .906 OPS with 11 HR (but 36 doubles) and 76 RBI in Akron last year with no discernable platoon split. The LH Brown played mainly 1B for the Aeros, but a position change has been discussed to the OF. He was drafted out of the Universtiy of Arizona so he is 24 (in December) and figures to start the season in Buffalo; but, if Brown slices through AAA pitching the way he has at his other stops in the sticks, he could become an option rather quickly for the Indians to explore.

With those internal options being known, and most people hesitant to simply “hand the job” to an unproven youngster (regardless of what Cabrera, Gutierrez, Perez, Lewis, and Laffey did last year), what else is out there for the Indians to acquire?

Obviously there’s the FA market and trade possibilities, but really…who’s out there?

On the FA market, the pickings are truly slim as I’m going to limit the list to players that would constitute an upgrade over Dellichaels (.743 OPS, 11 HR, 59 RBI in 445 AB), even if it’s slight, so if you’re looking for the “Sign Brady Clark” movement – you’re in the wrong place. Milton Bradley will also not get a mention because…well, if you really need to know, I’m questioning your “fanhood” right here and now.
2007 Stats – OPS / HR / RBI
Barry Bonds – 1.045 / 28 / 66
Mike Cameron - .759 / 21 / 78
Luis Gonzalez – .792 / 15 / 68
Shawn Green - .782 / 10 / 46
Jose Guillen - .813 / 23 / 99
Torii Hunter - .839 / 28 /107
Geoff Jenkins - .790 / 21 / 64
Andruw Jones - .724 / 26 / 94
Aaron Rowand - .889 / 27 / 89
Sammy Sosa - .779 / 21 / 92
Shannon Stewart - .739 / 12 / 48
Brad Wilkerson - .786 / 20 / 62
On top of those, you have the likes of Cliff Floyd, Reggie Sanders, Rondell White, and Preston Wilson – the perennial FA OF who always seem to make this list year after year…with good reason.

Can we say, outside of the “jewels” of the FA class that we KNOW won’t make the trip to the North Coast to play LF (Hunter, Rowand, Jones, etc.), that the FA options to upgrade the outfield are pretty underwhelming?

Players like Sosa and Wilkerson may get some run, but the upgrade over what the Indians currently have is minimal and probably not worth committing years and dollars to a player when internal options exist.

With that in mind, if the Indians do decide to upgrade the LF position and acquire ONE player to man the position instead of playing the platoon, the player is going to have to come via trade (unless there are those who think that the Frisco Kid or Brian Barton, another farmhand, is just going to work their way into the plans suddenly and forcibly) – so what would be out there for the Tribe?

Without getting into the George Costanza scenarios (“I’ve figured out a way to get Griffey and Bonds…and it wouldn’t cost us that much” – remember the episode is about 10 years old before mocking the players involved), what teams would have depth in the outfield to deal from and needs that may match up with what the Indians could offer?

Taking a quick gander around the league, some possibilities:
Carlos Gonzalez
Carlos Quentin

With Eric Byrnes and Chris Young locked in at CF and LF and Justin Upton knocking on the door in RF, these two could be made available by GM Josh Byrnes (Shapiro’s former co-worker under John Hart and Dan O’Dowd) to significantly upgrade a thin Diamondbacks rotation. With Livan Hernandez a FA and Randy Johnson coming off of back surgery, this team could be a place that the Indians could send a young (or older) arm in exchange for one of the aforementioned OF.

Gonzalez would likely need another year of seasoning at AAA (10 career AB in AAA), but there’s no questioning his talent as he’s accounted for at least 88 RBI in his last 3 seasons. Waiting for Gonzalez (unless the Tribe deems him to be ready) and moving MLB players for him sounds like a step back in the organization to a time of projecting a few years out, regardless of Gonzalez’s long-term potential. As nice as Gonzalez would look, the Indians have probably moved past the point of trading for “prospects”, especially if it means creating a hole on the roster.

Quentin represents a far more interesting option as he is a young RH OF out of Stanford (remember the Tribe’s predilection to Stanford guys – Garko, Guthrie, Gerut) who has battled injury (right hamstring, then rotator cuff) since coming into MLB after cruising through the D-Back’s system
His OPS, by year, level, and age is pretty impressive:
2007 – AAA – Age 24 - 1.004
2006 – AAA – Age 23 - .906
2005 – AAA – Age 22 - .942
2004 – AA – Age 21 - .976
2004 – A – Age 21 - .990
This, to me, looks like a player simply blocked, organizationally, while producing at every level he’s been at (up to MLB). While his HR totals have never been eye-popping, he has always had a consistently high OBP (something the Tribe deep thinkers love) and has high 2B totals which could translate to HR as he adjusts to MLB pitching.

Quentin did just undergo rotator-cuff surgery (non-throwing arm), which will keep him out of action until April, so his health concerns would be comparable to Choo; but, if the Indians are happy to do the same thing that they did in the bullpen last year (let the veterans keep a place warm for the youngsters to assert themselves) and they feel that Quentin will bounce back from the rotator cuff (not a certainty), they could find themselves a RH bat to handle LF…and possibly buy low on him because of the injury concerns.

Matt Murton
Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan threw this one out there in last week’s edition of Sports Illustrated, with Jhonny Peralta going to Wrigleyville for Matt Murton and RP Sean Gallagher. Murton does have some value to the Cubs as the RH complement to Jacque Jones (.891 OPS vs. LHP in 2007) in an OF that figures to have Soriano and Felix Pie, but doesn’t figure to get the full-time gig as long as Jones is still under contract.

The idea of giving a full-time player (Peralta) up for less than a finished product is more based in the imagination of this writer than it is based in reality. Taking the “Peralta” factor out of the idea of acquiring Thunder Matt, Murton would certainly be an upgrade over the likes of Jason Michaels, David Dellucci, and even Casey Blake, mainly because of the fact that he lacks the pronounced splits of Michaels and Dellucci. Murton is a good looking player who may simply need consistent AB to establish himself as a legitimate everyday player.

The difficulty could arise that the Cubbies (and namely Lou Piniella) are not looking for youngsters or projects to fill out their team; they’re looking for veterans to get the Cubs into the Fall Classic…now. The Indians don’t possess (or aren’t willing to part with) that type of player if Matt Murton is the only return.

Josh Hamilton
While Junior Griffey or Adam Dunn are the most likely in a crowded Reds’ outfield (both of whom the Indians should have no interest in) to be dealt, the Reds are inexplicably trying to make room for Norris Hopper and Josh Hamilton could be dealt. It would make no sense from the Reds’ perspective given Hamilton’s affordability and versatility, but the Reds are in DESPERATE need of pitching in that bandbox they call GAB and one of these days they’re going to figure that out.

Hamilton has an enormous split (1.028 OPS, 18 HR vs. RHP - .588 OPS, 1 HR vs. LHP), so he would basically play the “Dellucci” role in a platoon (for far less money) unless the Indians decided to let him play everyday with the idea that he could eventually hit LHP. Unfortunately, because of his substance abuse problem, few stats exist for his minor-league totals above the AA level – but, if the Tribe feels that he could eventually project as an everyday player (and his substance abuse problems are truly a thing of the past), the Reds would love to bolster their rotation from the Tribe’s depth.

Miguel Cabrera
Josh Willingham

If the Marlins are willing to listen to ANY trade offer, how about throwing a line in the water on these Fish? Cabrera is obviously the “Marlin” (thanks, I’ll be here all week…try the veal), but the bidding figures to get pretty hot and heavy pretty quickly for Miggy. For some perspective, it would likely take a package of Atom Miller, Franklin Gutierrez, and Asdrubal Cabrera (as a starting point) to get Cabrera out of South Florida. While he would obviously fill a hole in the lineup, is it worth creating more holes on the current team for 2 years of Cabrera before he becomes a FA after 2009 and pay him about $10M and more per year through the arbitration process in the meantime?

As for Willingham, he’s not in the same tax bracket as Miguel Cabrera, but if the Tribe could offer some rotation help (particularly if the D-Train is moved), it could be a match. Like Hamilton, Willingham has pretty drastic split (.897 OPS, 19 HR vs. RHP - .621 OPS, 2 HR vs. LHP), but the numbers actually show what’s known as a “reverse split”. That means that the RH Willingham had better number against RH in 2007 despite going the complete opposite way in 2006 (.785 OPS vs. RHP, 1.030 OPS vs. LHP) – so, essentially, the jury’s out on whether Willingham projects as an everyday player. If he is determined to be, though, the Indians have the young and affordable talent that the Marlins desire – a starter, Francisco or Marte (if Cabrera is dealt) – so the Tribe could find a solution to LF in Florida.

Matt Kemp
Andre Ethier

In most situations, these two would have no business being “trade bait” as they represent essentially what most teams are looking for – affordable, developing corner OF under club control for the foreseeable future. But, the events in DodgerLand of the past few weeks have changed that as Joe Torre probably isn’t going to be content to start two generally unproven OF to flank Juan Pierre or preside over a “developing” team. While reports out of LA say contrary, I can’t imagine Torre or GM Ned Colletti not making a splash on the FA market to sign a big bat, possibly making one of these players expendable.

If, in fact, the Dodgers decide to “fortify” their team with known quantities, the Indians should have Colletti on speed-dial for these two youngsters with the idea that the Tribe’s depth in the rotation could help fill out a thin Dodger starting staff.

Kemp, or “The Bison” as he’s known, played extremely well in his 2007 MLB stint, compiling an .894 OPS over 292 AB with success against both LHP and RHP. Kemp possesses power (10 HR in 2007) and speed (10 SB in 2007) and his RH bat would nestle into the middle of the lineup quite well. He just turned 24 in late September and may be deemed to be expendable, in part because of a locker room altercation with Jeff Kent where he and teammate James Loney (allegedly) got into it with Kent regarding the young Dodgers “not caring” and Kent “not being a leader”. Since Kent’s history with teammates is…um…checkered, the attitude factor shouldn’t come into play the way that it has for other Tribesman.

Kemp’s platoon partner in 2007, the LH Andre Ethier, also had a successful 2007 season as a 25-year-old OF, posting an .802 OPS with 13 HR over 447 AB. His plate discipline and speed are inferior to Kemp, but Ethier seems to be at the edge of becoming a viable everyday OF, a chance that may not present itself in Chavez Ravine with a new regime probably hesitant on “waiting” for players to develop.

The Dodgers, to me, look like one of the most viable trade partners with their young corner OF and needs in the rotation. Considering that they play in the weak-hitting NL West, they could survive with one of the pitchers who could be made available by the Indians filling their #3 or #4 spot in the rotation. Torre’s arrival could grease the wheels to the Dodgers transitioning to a “win-now” team, making these young OF available.

Lastings Milledge
The perpetual prospect that has either been overhyped by the New York media or simply hasn’t had a full-time opportunity to flash his wares as we’ve heard his name for about 2 ½ years now as one of the “Next Great Things” with marginal performance to show for it. He is extremely young as he’s 22 and has already logged 350 career AB, but he hasn’t posted an OPS over .900 since his days in the Sally League (the Lake County Captains’ league) in 2004. Granted, he was 19 at the time, but it seems that he’s been living off that “potential” tag for quite some time.

If the Indians feel that Milledge projects into a run-producing corner OF, the Mets are desperate enough for starting pitching (and are craving the big splash in FA for a bat that would make Milledge expendable) that a deal could be made. His September as a Met (.887 OPS, 4 HR in 49 AB) show that the hype that’s been out there may be warranted (as he was one of the few Mets to show up during September) – but the hauntings of Alex Escobar, warranted or not, serve as a harsh reminder of highly touted prospects from the Big Apple.

Pat Burrell
This name seems to come up every year as a RH bat that could “solve” the Indians problems, despite the fact that he holds a full no-trade clause and is making $14M a year. There’s no question that Pat the Bat can hit (.902 OPS, 30 HR, 97 RBI in 2007) – the question becomes how much the Phillies are looking for in return, namely in the Starting Pitching department.

Like the Cubs, the Phils aren’t ready to trade a player like Burrell for some prospects who may or may not help their club in 2008 or even 2009. They’re looking for a middle of the rotation starter that can add some depth to their thin starting pitching corps now. Unless they truly feel that Cliff Lee could put up decent numbers in the Jet Stream-aided Citizens’ Bank Park, there really is not a good match for the two teams. Players like Aaron Laffey, while his groundball tendencies seem tailor-made for CBP, aren’t the type of established “known quantities” that the Phillies generally deal in. Perhaps the Tribe can convince the Phillies to take a package of Ben Francisco (to replace Aaron Rowand) and Laffey to acquire Burrell (if that price isn’t too high) – but Pat the Bat would still need to approve it and the Indians would be adding some SERIOUS payroll dollars that I’d rather C.C. included in another contract.

Jason Bay
The rumor du jour as Neal Huntington, formerly of the Indians’ Front Office, is the new GM where the Three Rivers meet and Jason Bay is biggest bargaining chip for overhaul of team in the Bartolo Colon sense for a team with so many needs that they TRADED for Matt Morris and his dreadful contract last year.

Bay, despite an off year in 2007, is exactly what the Indians would be looking for in an OF acquisition as he is under contract through 2009 with some reasonable numbers attached to him ($5.75M in 2008, $7.25M in 2009) as he’s averaged 29 HR and 98 RBI over the last 3 years while posting a .883 OPS over that timeframe.

Obviously Jason Bay would look good in front of the Pepsi (or is it Toyota…Ford?) Home Run Porch in LF, but what would cause Huntington to trade him as his first real move as GM in regards to players? The only reason that I can think of is if Huntington arrives in Pittsburgh to find the cupboard so bare that he realizes that the only way for him to truly build a “winner” is to tear it completely apart and start from scratch, using his own scouts and criteria to pick the players that will make up “his” Pirates. It’s a move that would be, again, like the Colon trade when the Indians decided that they had to blow it up and move their most valuable piece to get the highest return for him.

If this does indeed come to pass, Huntington would be intimately familiar with the Indians’ prospects and players and would know (just as Shapiro and Antonetti would) where there was disagreement on a player within the Tribe Front Office. For example, if Huntington carried the flag for a Ben Francisco or a Cliff Lee in a number of organizational meetings (perhaps going against others), all parties involved would be obviously aware of it and could move the chess pieces around the board accordingly.

The possibility, thus, remains that Huntington has his “favorites” from the Tribe organization that he feels are undervalued in Cleveland and could make a play to acquire some of the talent that he is most intimately familiar with. If Jason Bay is the carrot dangled in front of the Indians, he could get the players he wants as little else on the Pirates (outside of a few relievers) are going to quicken the pulses on Ontario Street.

Raul Ibanez
Out of Seattle, news that the Indians have an interest in Ibanez to play LF for “right-hander” (which destroys quite a bit of credibility – remember, he’s a LHP) Aaron Laffey is being reported by the local paper. This looks like a nice little upgrade until you consider Ibanez’s splits over the last few years:
2007 vs. LHP - .650 OPS, 2 HR
2007 vs. RHP - .899 OPS, 19 HR

2006 vs. LHP - .663 OPS, 4 HR
2006 vs. RHP - .955 OPS, 29 HR
Acquiring Ibanez simply upgrades the LH portion of the platoon over Dellucci (who would have to be moved) for about $2M more than Double D. There’s no question that Ibanez would provide a certain upgrade over Dellucci as he bashes RHP, but isn’t the idea to get away from platoons? And is a simple upgrade in a platoon slot worth a 21-year-old LH groundball pitcher who thrived in his first exposure to MLB?

Elijah Dukes
Overloaded with OF (just put the possibility of getting Carl Crawford out of your head because it would cost the Indians a legitimate front line starter with an MLB track record…and frankly, I’d rather hang onto anybody that even resembles that description) and ALWAYS in need young pitching, the Rays (they’re dropping the “Devil”) will field all calls pertaining to the immensely talented and immensely trouble Elijah Dukes.

On the basis of talent alone, the Indians could kick the tires on Dukes (who sent a picture of a handgun to his ex-wife’s cell phone last year), but knowing their history on dealing with troubled players, this one seems awfully unlikely.

Alex Rios
Reed Johnson

The window is quickly closing on J.P. Ricciardi’s plan, although every move that they have made in the past few years seems to point to 2008 being the year. Despite a high payroll, they are still in need of pitching depth and the fact that OF prospect Adam Lind seems ready to assume one of these corner OF jobs could make Rios or Johnson available. Rios would be a big “get” for the Tribe, but he’s unlikely to be moved, considering his production last year with Vernon Wells regressing, unless Ricciardi is bowled over by an offer of pitching unlikely to come out of Cleveland.

Looking Ahead
Heading into 2008, the Indians have options in LF – to either stand pat with Dellichaels, to promote from within and give Ben Francisco an opportunity to seize LF as Frank the Tank did in RF (with Dellucci as the LH 4th OF), to attempt to find a solution in a wafer-thin FA market, or to consummate a deal to acquire a legitimate everyday LF from their surplus of pitching depth.

The goal of filling LF should essentially come down to the idea that the Indians are better off playing ONE player in LF, allowing the roster flexibility that keeps a spot for Andy Marte and enabling the veterans on the team like Dellucci and Michaels to slot into roles that better suit them (4th OF or packing their bags) and the team.

While the FA market barely musters a yawn, the Indians should explore the trade market using Dellichaels (as a known quantity) and Francisco (as a prospect) as the baselines for players that they would seek out. If a player simply represents a platoon upgrade or doesn’t project to be much better than Francisco, the Indians should politely move down their list.

Unfortunately for them, legitimate corner OF with the ability to play everyday don’t exactly grow on trees (Albert Belle isn’t walking through that door…Manny Ramirez isn’t walking through that door) and the Indians should weigh the potential of the players already in the organization (namely Francisco and Brown down the line) before making a move that does little to upgrade a position that needs to be upgraded from the 2007 performance of its current occupants.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

In Case There Was Any Doubt

The Indians picked up the options on JoeBo, Byrd, and Fultz today.
From the official press release:
The Cleveland Indians today announced the club has exercised the 2008 club options on RHP JOE BOROWSKI, RHP PAUL BYRD & LHP AARON FULTZ.

Borowski, 36, had an outstanding season in his first campaign as Indians closer, compiling a career-high 45 saves on his way to leading the American League in saves. Joe became just the 2nd Indian to ever lead the AL outright in saves, joining Jose Mesa (46 saves) in 1995 as his 45 saves were tied for the 2nd highest single-season total in club history. Joe converted a season-high 13 straight save chances from May 20 to July 3 and from May 20 thru the end of the season he posted saves in 33 of 39 opportunities. His ERA in save situations was 3.73 (50.2IP, 53H, 21ER). He also recorded 2 saves and a 4.50 ERA in 6 postseason games for the Indians.

Byrd, 36, went 15-8 with a 4.59 ERA in 31 starts (2SHO, 192.1IP, 239H, 98ER, 28BB, 88K) in his second season in Cleveland in 2007. His 15 wins finished tied for 11th in the American League and were his highest total since 2002 with KC (17W). He led the AL in walks per 9.0IP (1.31), was tied for 11th with a .652 win % and tied for 1st with 2 CG/shutouts. He also recorded Game 4 wins in each round of the postseason for the Tribe, going 2-0 w/a 3.60 ERA in 2 starts (10.0IP, 14H, 4ER).

Fultz, 34, posted a record of 4-3 w/a 2.92 ERA in 49 games (37.0IP, 31H, 12ER, 18BB, 28K) in 2007, his first year with the Indians. Aaron posted scoreless outings in 40 of his 49 appearances as his 4 relief wins were tied for 14th among AL relievers. Aaron was on the 15-day DL from June 24 thru August 1 with a strained right intercostal muscle. Over his last 13 appearances from August 18th on his ERA was 2.19 (12.1IP, 11H, 3ER) as batters hit .182 (4-22) off him with RISP and 2 outs for the year.

No real surprise as all of the options were reasonable compared to the contracts that are sure to be doled out this off-season to the likes of Carlos Silva, Odalis Perez, and David Riske.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Marte-nizing on a Lazy Sunday

Since the DiaperTribe is failing to grasp the Daylight Savings Concept of “gaining an hour” of sleep, it’s an early Lazy Sunday at the Tepee with naps on the docket, particularly with the Browns not kicking off until 4 PM.

Plenty to get to (despite a lack of ink being used on the Erie Warriors this fine Autumn morning), so let’s give it a go:
Terry Pluto (the only consistently excellent Cleveland writer who writes consistently on the Indians…beat writers included) touches on some Tribe topics in his weekly trip around Cleveland sports. Pluto sees the Tribe picking up Byrd’s option with the Indians starting the 2008 season with Lee and Sowers in Buffalo as the 6th and 7th starters. To me, the Byrd option is a given and I still see Lee as possible trade bait; however, the negotiations with C.C. and the readiness of Atom Miller will play just as big of a role in whether Lee is still in the organization come Opening Day 2008 as the depth of starting pitching is something that the Tribe believes very strongly in.

Pluto also lays out the Tribe infield with Peralta and Blake (though he throws in the caveat that “one trade can change anything” reiterating, subtly, his belief that Peralta should be moved) manning the left side of the diamond. But Pluto, perhaps inadvertently, points out EXACTLY why the Indians shouldn’t be so quick to move Peralta as he points out that Josh Barfield’s 2007 remains a mystery meaning that he is no sure thing going into 2008. If the Indians moved Peralta, it would leave Barfield at 2B and Cabrera (who was impressive…but only has 159 career AB in the Majors) at SS with few viable “in-house” options if one of them struggles or gets hurt. If Andy Marte forces himself into the discussion, the Indians will have completely overhauled an infield that made it to the ALCS with young, largely unproven, players.

As much as a lot of people would like to throw Jhonny under the bus, or out the window, he should remain the Tribe SS for next year until the 2B situation sorts itself out, allowing perhaps Peralta to end up in LF or, eventually, sliding over to 3B.

Speaking of potential options for LF, if Blake is, in fact, the Tribe 3B for 2008 – where does Andy Marte go…to LF? The Indians have gone on record to say that Marte will have to play some 1B to make the team out of Winter Haven next year (he is out of options…in case you forgot), but what about LF?

The Braves, prior to dealing Marte to Boston, thought about giving Marte a shot in LF before he was moved in the Edgar Renteria deal. Though he’s never played there, could he be an option for platooning in LF with the left handed Dellucci (assuming he’s still around), who should NEVER face a LHP?
Consider Marte’s minor league splits:
2007 – Buffalo (AAA)
.827 OPS vs. LH
.748 OPS vs. RH

2006 – Buffalo (AAA)
.894 OPS vs. LH
.730 OPS vs. RH

2005 – Richmond (AAA)
.936 OPS vs. LH
.848 OPS vs. RH
Position changes, particularly from the infield to the outfield (ahem, Ben Broussard) are never quick or seamless; but if Marte can get some regular AB against LHP to improve his confidence and play a decent LF, it may be his ticket onto the Indians next year as a quasi-super-utility player. If he adapts well to LF and takes some plate appearances away from Dellucci, so be it.

If a position change is deemed to be too drastic for the youngster, what about some sort of convoluted platoon of LF and 3B to ease Marte into the Majors while facing only LHP? Against LHP, Marte would play 3B and Blake would play LF while against RHP, Blake would move into 3B and Dellucci would play LF. Blake would remain in the everyday lineup and Marte could transition onto the 25-man roster while playing 3B and facing only LHP. Again, if at some point, Marte takes AB’s away from Dellucci and Blake ends up in LF full-time (isn’t his versatility outstanding), let it be.

The odd man out in the situation is Michaels, who may be dealt back to the NL for a reliever at some point anyways. Wouldn’t seeing what the Indians have in Marte be preferred over what we already know about Michaels?

Instead of Blake and Dellichaels guarding the LF line, it would simply be Blarte and Blakucci (don’t say that out loud…it sounds dirty) – and is that really such a bad thing to keep Marte on the roster?

It’s important to remember that Marte is still only 24 and the numbers he put up in Richmond (splits above while compiling an overall .275 BA / .372 OBP / .506 SLG / .878 OPS) as a 21-year-old in AAA, so the talent is there.

Does anyone else remember a player that struggled in Buffalo after being sent down in 2006?
Garko (AAA - Age 25 in 2006) - .248 BA / .353 OBP / .421 SLG / .775 OPS
Marte (AAA - Age 23 in 2007) - .270 BA / .312 OBP / .461 SLG / .773 OPS
While Marte’s career OBP causes some concern, giving up on him because of some (allegedly) down years in Buffalo would be astonishingly short-sighted.

Outside of the internal debates regarding the makeup of the roster for next year, how nice is to not be following the absurdity of the Free Agent market and the talk coming from the South Side and the Bronx of all of the trade options and “what-ifs”?

A bullpen arm? Sure, we’ll take one…perhaps a different flavor of CoCo?
Want a starter? What are you offering?

For a change, the Indians have a roster that is pretty much set in November and can sit back, explore a few trade options, and not be forced into making an unnecessary deal unless a terrific opportunity falls into their collective lap. It’s a good feeling to have the stability and organizational depth to fill holes from within and not participate in an increasingly inefficient Free Agent market.

This week, I’ll try to touch on Chris Antonetti staying in Cleveland and why it may be the biggest (and best) off-season move that the Tribe makes all season. The “Season in Review” is still on the table and the 1986 Tribe’s season kicks off against the Orioles in Memorial Stadium with Tom Candiotti squaring off with Mike Flanagan.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Being Pat Corrales

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Bernie Hou at the Sporting News, asking me if I wanted to manage the 1986 Cleveland Indians in a simulated season that would be replayed using the Sporting News’ Strat-O-Matic game. Intrigued, I agreed although I had never played the online version of Strat-O and hadn’t played the board game since…probably 1986.

For those not familiar with Strat-O-Matic, it was originally a board game that included player cards for each MLB player with a series of numbers and results on the back of the card that corresponded to the player’s actual statistics. The game was played with dice and constituted each at-bat breaking down to a pitcher’s card vs. a hitter’s card with a roll of the dice determining the outcome of the at-bat. It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t and is truly a great statistically-driven way to “play” your own baseball games, with your favorite teams, All-Star teams, etc.

Unbeknownst to me, TSN (The Sporting News) developed an online edition where a computer would simulate full games and full seasons based on the same cards, odds, and a “roll of the dice”. But, having agreed to “manage” the 1986 Indians, I decided to check out this subculture of Strat-O-Heads and how I could go about approaching this league.

While doing some research on the 1986 Indians, I was e-mailed the list of “managers” for the league and was shocked to learn that in the AL East (remember, in 1986, the Tribe was still in the East) they had Curt Schilling managing the Red Sox, Bill Daughtry (an MSG broadcaster) running the Yankees, Sean Forman (who created…CREATED… handling the Tigers, and Jeff Sackmann (he of, and a part-time consultant for MLB teams) taking the helm of the Brewers.
And that was just in my division!

Needless to say, my confidence was shot, staring down the barrel of matching wits with these baseball minds (plus Schilling is allegedly a “Strat-O Freak”) and confessed my fears to the DiaBride, who (like a good wife) told me that I know a lot about baseball. It did not have the calming effect on me that I would have liked, but I amped myself up to re-learn as much as I could about the 1986 Tribe, prompted again by reading Jeff Sackmann’s ridiculously exhaustive “strategy piece” on being the manager of the Brew Crew.

Perusing the 1986 team and the players, I realized something – 1986 was the the first year I remember poring over every box score and attempting to know every little stat about each Indian as a 9-year-old. I actually think that 1986 was the year that totally hooked me on baseball, with the Tribe, the amazing LCS's (HOU vs. NY, BOS vs. ANA) and the World Series, a love affair that has not abated.

To borrow a corny phrase from Indians’ Marketing Campaigns of the past – This WAS My Team!

Here’s the thing, though – I actually think that the 1986 Tribe could make some noise in this “1986-Take 2 Game” as the offense is stacked (most runs in 1986) and there's some depth to make a move for another starter or bullpen help. The real 1986 Tribe finished 84-78 and were in 1st place in May, in 2nd place as late as July (43-35) until the bottom dropped out and they finished in 5th in a tight AL East.
By the way, here’s just about the coolest thing I’ve found on the InterWeb in quite a while. You can do it for any season!

As I said, the offense is absolutely loaded (5.1 runs per game, outpacing the Blue Jays) and a look around the diamond shows why (with their cumulative stats):
Player – OBP / SLG / OPS
C Chris Bando - .325 / .327 / .652
1B Pat Tabler - .368 / .433 / .801
2B Tony Bernazard - .362 / .456 / .818
SS Julio Franco - .350 / .441 / .791
3B Brook Jacoby - .338 / .422 / .760
LF Joe Carter - .335 / .514 / .849
CF Brett Butler - .356 / .375 / .731
RF Mel Hall - .346 / .493 / .839
RF Cory Snyder - .299 / .500 / .799
DH Andre Thornton - .333 / .392 / .725

Even the bench has some nice players:
OF Otis Nixon - .352 / .326 / .678
OF Carmen Castillo - .310 / .439 / .749
C Andy Allanson - .260 / .280 / .540

In determining the lineup, I decided to look to see where the decided splits existed; that is, if a player struggled against LHP or RHP, how would that affect their placement in the lineup against that particular type of pitcher and whether any platoons would be created.

To me, because of the depth of the lineup, OBP became the most important determining factor in placement in the batting order as I attempted to construct a lineup that would fill the bases with the idea that the middle-of-the-lineup run producers would have many RBI opportunities.

The first thing that stood out was the pronounced split for Mel Hall (OBP / SLG / OPS):
Hall vs. LHP - .241 / .231 / .472
Hall vs. RHP - .353 / .510 / .863

Considering that Cory Snyder had a split going the opposite way (though not as egregious as Hall’s), the decision was made to platoon them in RF - (OBP / SLG / OPS):
Snyder vs. LHP - .333 / .585 / .918
Snyder vs. RHP - .285 / .466 / .751

Due to the fact that Hall and Snyder absolutely crushed the pitching coming from the side they would face, I slotted them in the clean-up spot to maximize RBI opportunities for each.

As an aside, thank God for Baseball Reference’s pages on individual seasons for teams, which I am going over with a fine-tooth comb. Did I mention that the guy who CREATED and RUNS B-Ref is managing the Tigers?

Anywho, looking then at how I could get Otis Nixon and his speed into the lineup (as the team is not exactly full of many “athletes”), I attempted to determine where he could play every day. With Carter, Butler, and Hall/Snyder, the OF was pretty crowded, unless I moved Carter to the DH in lieu of Thunder and had Otis (MY MAN) playing LF. Carter, though, is a better defender than Nixon, which scrapped the plan.

But what about Nixon DH’ing ahead of Thornton to add some baserunning options to the lineup?
Would omitting Thornton lessen the offensive power of the team?

While Thornton is a beloved Indian, 1986 represented the beginning of the end as his OPS beat out only Nixon (by a paltry 47 points considering the type of players each are), Bando, and Allanson on the team. His 1986 ended with a .229 Batting Average, 17 HR and 66 RBI despite playing 105 games (of the 120 in which he played) in the clean-up spot on an offensively loaded team.

So, with enough offensive weapons and little speed and flexibility with Thornton’s defensive deficiencies (his only possible position is DH), I sat him on the bench to play the PH role while the speed (and OBP) of Nixon will add baserunners to the bottom of the lineup.

A corollary to the Hall/Snyder/Nixon decisions is that if any of the players thrives in their role, because of the depth of the team (Castillo is actually not that bad), one could be used as trade bait to bolster the rotation and bullpen that sabotaged the real 1986 Indians.

That all being said, here’s how the lineup shakes out for MY 1986 Tribe:
Lineup vs. LHP

Lineup vs. RHP

Bernazard gets the nod at the #2 spot over Franco because of Bernazard’s .419 OBP vs. LHP (Franco’s is .370 vs. LHP) and .341 OBP vs. RHP (Franco’s OBP vs. RHP - .326). Tabler and Jacoby flip-flop because of Jacoby’s OPS being 50 points higher against RHP and Tabbie Cat’s OPS being 50 points higher against LHP. As for Chris Bando…well, I tried to put him where he could be the 3rd out and lead off some innings with Franco and Nixon setting the table and to keep Andy Allanson as far away from the batter’s box as possible.

With the offense locked and loaded, it was time to turn my attention to the Achilles Heel of the 1986 Tribe – the pitching staff. The rotation posted a somewhat respectable 4.33 ERA that year only to be relieved by the still-developing “Bullpen from Hell” (that was 1987), which posted a 5.33 ERA and is populated by players I don’t even remember.

But there is reason for hope based on some of the players granted to me by the Strat-O-Matic Lords at TSN. The fact that I have Swindell (who pitched only 9 games that year) for the whole season could be huge in fortifying a rotation that (in reality) was dependent on Neal Heaton and Scotty Bailes.

The rotation that year actually posted some modest numbers as this is how my rotation looks to play out with their 1986 results:
Tom Candiotti – 3.57 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
Greg Swindell – 4.23 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
Phil Niekro – 4.32 ERA, 1.60 WHP
Ken Schrom – 4.54 ERA, 1.29 WHIP (a 1986 All-Star)
Neal Heaton – 4.24 ERA, 1.42 WHIP

Nobody’s ever going to confuse these guys with the Mets’ rotation that year that had three starters with sub-3.00 ERA (Ojeda, Darling, Gooden) and the other two (Fernandez, Aguilera) under 4.00, but all I need these pitchers to do is eat up innings to allow the offense to score runs and to keep the ball away from the bullpen.

Ah…the bullpen.
With only 2 legitimate relievers (one of whom, Doug Jones, only pitched 11 games that year), many Tribe leads could evaporate in the 6th and 7th innings if the starters can’t make it very far into the game and the likes of Scott Bailes and Rich Yett become regular guests on the mound.

I think the best way to approach the back end is to allow the 8th and 9th innings with Doug Jones and Ernie Camacho work (as reader Shane Holmes pointed out to me) like the Indians worked JoeBo and Senor Slo-Mo this year. If a lead can be handed to Special Delivery and Macho, the Tribe could be in decent shape, but getting a lead to them with the dregs of the bullpen is going to be the challenge.

The rest of the bullpen is a giant question mark with the aforementioned long man Scotty Bailes, Bryan Oelkers, Rich Yett, Dickie Noles, and Don Schulze. The only way that I can think to get any kind of production out of any of these pitchers is to go Mike Hargrove (the manager, not the player) on them – let’s play the match-ups.

Interestingly, most of these pitchers have pretty profound splits vs. LH and RH and I’ll use them only against hitters that they may have a shot of getting out. Keeping in mind that a LOOGY is a Lefthanded One Out GuY and a ROOGY is a Righthanded One Out Guy, this is the strategy for bridging the 6th and 7th innings:
LOOGY – Brian Oelkers (OPS vs. RH - .843, OPS vs. LH - .771)
LOOGY – Rich Yett (OPS vs. RH - .852, OPS vs. LH - .719)
ROOGY – Dickie Noles (OPS vs. RH - .662, OPS vs. LH - .918)
ROOGY – Don Schulze (OPS vs. RH - .694, OPS vs. LH - .835)
Oelkers is probably the closest thing to a pitcher that can find success against both LH and RH hitters, but even that’s a stretch.

The bullpen (and the rotation to a lesser degree) remains a concern, but I’m hoping that I can work some sort of trade from the surplus of hitters to fortify the bullpen to lock down the 9th inning and allow the rest of the relievers to either slot down in the ladder or simply fade into oblivion.

Feeling confident about the team and the strategy I’ve laid out, I have to admit that I’ve acquired my first heckler for the Strat-O-Matic game. He goes by the name of Maxie Minoso and he checked in with some advice:
Don't ask Schilling if that was red paint on his sock.

Be sure to call time and visit Camacho after he throws three pitches.

Lastly, Dave Stewart knows martial arts. Don't make a fool of yourself; keep your temper under control.

Good luck. The fate of the Men of the Cuyahoga and their fans are riding on your skills

I'll be the guy yelling "JUUUUUUUUUUUU...LIO."

As if I wasn’t stressed out enough about embarrassing myself up against some of the best and brightest baseball minds out there, I’m going to hear the echoes in an empty Municipal Stadium.

Regardless, hecklers and the like can follow the season here on the “1986 Take 2” page. Bookmark it, add it to your favorites, do whatever you like with it. If you think you’re heckling me at some point in the season with a suggestion, don’t be surprised to see it happen as I’m not above listening to my own version of sports talk radio and taking advice from the congregation.

Undaunted by the task ahead, I’m encouraged by the talent on the 1986 team. Remember that this is the same team that garnered enough attention to merit the notorious SI Cover for the 1987 Preview Issue:

For me, there is no “next year”, there is no “team to build”.
I’m managing the 1986 Indians with the idea of bringing the 1st World Championship to Cleveland in 22 years (remember, this is 1986) to bring some joy to this off-season back in reality.

It’s 1986 all over again and (literally) THIS IS MY TEAM!