Sunday, June 29, 2008

Lazy Sunday with a Familiar Topic

If you feel like Lazy Sunday has turned into a dumping ground for discussion on the “Whither C.C.?” party, you’re not alone. But, it being the most written and talked about topic, I would be remiss if I didn’t take it head-on, regardless of the fact that the Trading Deadline is about a month away and with the Indians heading to Chicago tomorrow to see if they can take care of some divisional business themselves.

First and foremost is the new report of what would likely constitute a final offer to C.C. from the team, which conspiracy theorists would have you believe is a way for the Indians to save face when C.C. turns it down. Without getting into how skeptical of everything in life you must be to truly think that, does anyone think that SUDDENLY he’s going to reconsider with obscene amount of money and security…more than the Tribe figures to offer…mere months away? C.C. will not be an Indians when the 2009 season starts and the reason is that he won’t take anything less than a guaranteed six or seven years, which history has taught us is a contract too long for starting pitchers.

Take this report (reported by the NY media, who will print anything) for what it is – the Indians are seriously considering moving C.C. and it would be irresponsible of them to do so before throwing their best offer on the table and seeing if the Big Fella bites.
If he accepts it (he won’t), the trade discussion is off the table.
If he rejects it (he will), the Indians continue with their due diligence before making a determination on what to do with him and, if they decide to trade him, what to ask for.

There’s nothing more sinister at play here, it’s simply a matter of the team asking, one last time, if C.C. is willing to accept the deal that the club is comfortable offering.
Think of it this way, what if C.C. gets traded and says after the trade, “you know all they had to do was sit back down with me and maybe we could have worked something out…because I wanted to stay” – everyone would rip the Tribe up and down for not making one last-ditch effort while they were the only team that held exclusive negotiating rights. That’s all this is…one last-ditch effort to sign him as part of the overarching organizational analysis of whether he stays or goes prior to August 1st.

Moving on, as we all know, the national reporters have taken the C.C. trade discussions to new levels as all of the principals are here with thoughts. Jon Heyman hits on it on (note that he doesn’t list the Byrdman in his Top 10 starters who could be available) while Jayson Stark addresses the C.C. topic while touching on a few more Indians who could be ordering new return address labels soon and Ken Rosenthal gets in on the action, addressing the possibility that C.C. AND Blake could be trade fodder.

On the same topic from the local angle, Erik Cassano lists his Indians who might be traded, in order of likelihood, which looks about right to me, given the heavy weighting at the top of players who don’t figure into long-term plans with the players whose future with the team has become murkier this season addressed down the list. Meanwhile, Paul Hoynes touches on the C.C. thing with a brief synopsis of where we are today, if lacking in any new information, and how the next three series (in Chicago, in Minnesota, and in Detroit) will basically make the decision on the season as the Indians have some opportunity to make up ground in the Central. If they don’t make serious gains in the GB column by the time the team welcomes the Rays to Cleveland, just before the All Star Break, the white flag may be waiting for them at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario when they arrive home.

Surprisingly, though, not everyone is fully convinced that the Indians should give up the ship (I mean other than on this site) as Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus feels that the Indians should be “buyers” instead of “sellers” in the winnable AL Central, despite their recent struggles. I think that some of Sheehan’s reasoning is flawed as the improvements that he portends for the likes of Garko, Peralta, and Betancourt look awfully hard to see with each passing day; but the argument is there, based mainly on the fact that the top of their rotation is as solid as any (with Fausto coming back around the All-Star Break) and the fact that the Central remains a crapshoot as weeks pass.

Back to the C.C. thing and climbing up on a soapbox, it still feels awfully early to start attaching names and teams to C.C. as much can change in divisional races prior to July 31st, much less in the Central. That is, the Brewers are just as likely to go on a run to pull themselves close with the Cubs or gain a commanding lead in the Wild Card race as they are to having the bottom drop out and find themselves in a similar situation to the Indians, looking to sell off pieces like Ben Sheets and Eric Gagne. The same goes for the Dodgers, the Rays, or any other team alleged to be in the mix.

The only argument that makes sense to me on trading C.C. now instead of waiting for a month is the idea that trading C.C. now means that his new team has one more month of C.C. to help their team which, in turn, drives up his price. If the Indians TRULY feel that there is no chance for them to climb back into the AL Central race and even a hot couple of weeks aren’t going to change their mind that C.C. WILL be traded, trading him now actually makes more sense than waiting it out. If the writing is on the wall (and I am not sure that it is, perhaps stubbornly, based on the rest of the AL Central and the fact that the Tribe’s starting pitching is pretty impressive), then one more month of C.C.’s starts would mean more to a team intent on contending, meaning that they would be more inclined to give up more to get him.

With all of that being said, let me reiterate the main point on trading the Hefty Lefty:
If the Indians make the determination that 2008 is a wash and turn their attention to 2009 (which is STILL not a foregone conclusion in my mind, given the state of the Central and the fact that Carmona is about 2-3 weeks away from returning), C.C. is the biggest chip that the Indians have to play in this trade market and the return that they should hold out for in exchange for him should be MLB-ready players, not “high-ceiling” AA guys or players that COULD contribute in 2009.

If, say, the Indians DO trade C.C. on July 31st, I want our lineup for the parent club on August 1st or August 2nd to contain a player (or players) that were obtained for the Crooked Cap. If they trade him before that…fine, as long as the players that come to Cleveland are sitting in or near the middle of the lineup for the Indians as soon as they join the team. I’m not interested in the principal player in the acquisition needing more “seasoning” in AAA or a player who has mashed all of this year…at AA or high A.

If we’re trading C.C., I want someone who can contribute at the big league level TODAY! The reasoning being that this is not 2002, when the team was a collection of overpaid, aging players that can’t be counted on going forward (as much as the people that can’t stand Lacey Cake and The Looch and what they “represent”, only Jamey Carroll joins them as “regulars” over 31) and need to be jettisoned for sorely-needed young talent. Consider that the 2002 team had three players UNDER 30 in Milton Bradley (24), Russell the Muscle (26), and Einar Diaz (29), so the roster and the whole organization was in need of an injection of youth, even if it took a while for the acquisitions to mature into MLB players.
Time was not of the essence in 2002, development with an eye toward the future was.

Not so in 2008, where pieces ARE in place as the Indians still boast a 24-year old ace who flummoxes hitters and makes them feel “hungover” with his nastiness, a groundball-inducing 23-year old LHP with an ERA of 2.83 in his 1st ML season, a 29-year-old LHP who will probably start the AL All-Star game by totaling 11 wins in ½ of the season on a team with only 37 wins, a 25-year-old perennial All-Star and Gold Glove winning CF, a slick-fielding 22-year-old Middle IF who has taken any frustration for his recent demotion out on International League pitchers, and a catcher and a DH under the age of 31 whose three year averages from 2005 to 2007 give them OPS of .971 (Hafner) and .863 (Victor), meaning that track record for the past few years dictates that 2008 is likely the aberration and (hopefully) not the trend.

Are there holes to fill?
No question, but the team is not as hopeless or without talent as the people who sense an impending 15-year stretch of bad baseball (and, trust me, they’re out there) and see a team that needs to be rebuilt…again. Talent (and young, elite, MLB talent at that) does exist on this roster, it simply needs to be augmented properly, from within and from the outside, to get back to the level of winning that 2007 seemed to promise.

In short, I’m not looking for a REBUILD if (note the “if”, not a “when”) the Indians figure to sell off pieces and parts that don’t fit in their long-term plans. Rather, I’m looking for a RELOAD that surrounds a rotation built around Carmona, Lee, and Laffey for next year and a lineup built around Grady, with the hopes that Victor and Hafner can get healthy and productive, with progressions from the likes of Francisco and Asbrubal, and with Garko and Peralta (assuming they’re both still around, which is no given) taking the next step as players who don’t simply mire in the mediocrity that has been their 2008.

Rebuilding is not a word that should be in the Indians’ vocabulary, given the amount of talent under club control for the foreseeable future…retooling or reloading would fit the bill better to me and that approach should be the one that the Front Office takes as they make the determination on cashing in some of their chips.

OK, down from the soapbox.
Does anyone else think that the retro jerseys that the Tribe wore against the Padres a few weeks back should be made available? This picture is the hat and jersey I’ve been scouring the online stores for and have yet to find it…then the Indians tease me by wearing the jersey that I grew up loving?

Time to see if the Tribe can get some momentum for the all-important road trip coming up here by winning a series against a Reds team that looks to have packed it in a few weeks ago.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Paradise Lost

Once upon a time, in what feels like a galaxy far, far away, the Indians sat atop the AL Central with a 1 ½ game lead after sweeping the A’s in the friendly confines. The date was May 15th, a mere 6 weeks ago, and some hack decided to look at the upcoming schedule of the Indians, decided that it was relatively easy with the opponents on queue, and made the determination that the 53 games separating mid-May from the All Star Break would be the time that the Indians ran away with the Central by beating up on lesser opponents.

Um…are we playing with mulligans?
While that Indians are still in the midst of that 53 game stretch, the early returns (though the first 37 games) shows that the INDIANS were the lesser competition on the schedule as the Tribe has posted a 13-24 record (a .351 winning percentage) as they have sunk to the bottom of the AL Central, looking up at the (gulp) KC Royals.

So what in the wide, wide world of sports happened here?
The team, as it stood on May 15th, was still with an effective Fausto Carmona and at least contained Hafner and Martinez (however impotent their bats were) in the middle of the lineup as their aCCe showed signs of returning to his Cy Cy form and Cliff Lee and Aaron Laffey were in the process of vying for the AL ERA lead.

Now, six weeks later, the team puts a lineup against the worst (and most overpaid) pitcher in MLB by “featuring” a player (by his own admission) whose best role is that of a utility player in the #2 hole, a player that started the season in AAA in the #3 hole, a #4 hitter with a .719 OPS whose Lasik may or may not have taken, a #5 hitter with a .693 OPS on the season who runs like he has a refrigerator on his back, and a 33-year-old SS who didn’t play in MLB from 2004 to 2007 when he was signed (then cut) by the Rays.
Is it any surprise that Barry Zito shut down the Tribe offense on Wednesday night?

Instead of just focusing on one frustrating game, though, let’s focus on a whole mess of them, starting with the series opener in Cincinnati on May 17th after the Tribe swept the Athletics out of town. Here is how the Indians have performed against the “weak” part of their schedule with the records of the teams at the start of the series indicated:
@ CIN (18-23): 0-3
@ CHI (23-20): 0-3
vs. TEX (24-25): 1-2
vs. CHI (27-22): 1-2
@ KC (21-32): 1-2
@ TEX (29-29): 2-2
@ DET (24-35): 2-2
vs. MIN (31-33): 2-1
vs. SDP (30-38): 2-1
@ COL (28-41): 0-3
@ LAD (34-38): 2-1
vs. SFG (32-44): 0-2*
*sorry, since “There Will Be Blood” arrived via NetFlix today, that’s what I’m watching tonight

Against ONE team (though they faced the White Sox twice) that had a record above .500 when the series started among ten opponents, the Indians have played .351 baseball as they’ve seen their record drop from 22-19 to 35-43 over a course of time that has seen the rest of the AL Central do precisely what the Indians SHOULD have been doing. In fact, here’s how the AL Central has fared since that magical May 15th date, which looks, unfortunately, to be the high-water mark of the season for the Tribe:
CHI: 22-15
MIN: 22-16
DET: 21-15
KC: 17-22
CLE: 13-24
OK, OK…stop banging your head against the desk.
Let’s try to figure out what’s going on here without getting too deeply into individual performances, as that discussion is for another day and another couple thousand words.

Surprisingly, the offense has not been the primary culprit, as anemic as it has looked as they’ve averaged 4.6 runs per game. Not an overwhelming number, but certainly an improvement over the first few months of the season when the Indians were actually winning games due to their pitching. The offense has posted a .739 OPS over those 37 games, which doesn’t remind anyone of the glory days of Jacobs Field, but falls in the middle of the pack in terms of offensive production in the AL. The offense has been fair, if inconsistent, over this stretch that has caused the season to circle the drain with the only stat jumping off the page is the disproportionate amount of K (averaging nearly 7 ½ per game) to the amount of BB (a little over 3 a game).

So, it’s not the offense’s fault on its own…then it must be the bullpen, right?
Over the 37-game stretch, the Indians bullpen has collectively posted 5.48 ERA with a 1.61 WHIP while compiling a 3-14 record with only 4 saves in the 13 wins that the team has won since May 15th. Scary numbers, for sure…so that must be the reason, right? Fix the bullpen and the mediocre offense combines with the strength of the team, the starting pitching, to allow this team to go on a run.

Ah, the starting pitching…
Not using injuries as any sort of excuse as the Indians’ depth at starting pitcher was thought to be (and probably is) the strength of this organization. However, over this 37-game stretch that is under the bright lights of examination, the starters don’t come out much better than the relievers as they’ve posted a 4.90 ERA as a group while allowing 1.49 walks and hits per inning pitched. A far cry from the month of April, when 3 of their 5 starters had ERA under 3.00 (and C.C. and Laffey, the two most consistent starters currently, weren’t among those three), is it not?

And herein lies the rub – its not ONE thing that has caused this team to go belly-up, so it’s not as if ONE thing is going to magically fix what has gone awfully wrong. Would a settled and efficient bullpen help? Sure, but the starters have been as much of a problem as the bullpen over the last six weeks, just as the inconsistency of the offense has been a culprit for the team dropping to the cellar in the AL Central.

One would like to think that this team could tread water until they get healthy, but the fact remains that they haven’t and the stretch of games they’re coming off of gave them what was likely the best opportunity to stick around the .500 and stay in the AL Central mix. If they had even been able to do that and go 18-19 in this 37-game stretch, they’d be sitting at 40-38, a mere three games back in the Central.

I don’t mean to showcase these hard numbers just to ruin everyone’s weekend, I just want to provide some empirical evidence that this team is not one improvement of one aspect of the team from getting back into this race. If adding a big bat would solve all the problems of the team or augmenting the bullpen would settle the whole team, then optimism would still exist. But this team, as it stands right now, is simply not good enough to put together a stretch of wins due to the inconsistency of all aspects of the team and the opportunity that was ahead of them six weeks ago lies behind them with regret being the prevailing feeling that remains.

Ultimately, against the worst of MLB, the Indians have been at their worst, allowing the 2008 season to become a casualty on a road that once looked so full of hope that is now going nowhere.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Double Standard?

In the midst of the Omar Love Fest that’s taken over the North Coast, something keeps bothering me. I have no problem with the outpouring of gratitude and appreciation for Vizquel from Indians’ fans and from the organization (though, at a certain point, cheering his RBI squeeze that proved to be the game winner was a bit over the top because…you know…he’s not playing for the Indians anymore), but I’m a little confused as to what seems to be a double standard that Omar has been the beneficiary of as he returns to the North Coast for the first time.

Follow me on this, if you will:
A player who was a main cog in the 1990’s Tribe juggernauts becomes a Free Agent as the team rebuilds in the early-to-mid 2000’s as the team rebuilds.
The player voices his desire to stay in Cleveland, but leaves for greener pastures.

The player returns for the first time to Cleveland to face off against his old team. How is he received by the fans that adored him for so many years?
If you said, “It depends on the perception of WHY the player left”, you’re exactly right.

If you’re seen as a player who was wronged by the organization, passed over despite the fact that a few good years are left in you for a hotshot youngster ready to take your place, you’re embraced and cheered upon your return.

If you’re seen as a player after nothing more than money, who wronged the organization by leaving after saying that you wanted to end your career as an Indian, then signed for more guaranteed money and years than the Indians were willing to offer, you’re vilified and booed upon your return.

Maybe I’m simplifying things a little too much, but how were the departures of Omar Vizquel and Jim Thome a year apart THAT different?

Both left the rebuilding Indians after both stating that they wanted to retire as Indians, but returned to entirely different reactions as opponents of the Indians. Omar has been given a hero’s welcome, a reminder of how marvelous that magical era of Jacobs Field was while fans condemn the Indians for shooing away Little O (despite the fact that Jhonny Peralta had just been named the International League MVP at age 22 and was ready for Cleveland) to San Francisco, while Thome came back to the mocking catcalls that his wife was “his rock” and he that he had somehow turned his back on the entire fanbase by accepting the Phillies’ offer of more guaranteed years than the Indians were willing to offer.

Why is this?
Is it really HOW these players leave town instead of what they do while in town?

You won’t be able to convince me that Omar was more popular than Thome while both were here as talk of a statue of Thome was actually part of the Tribe’s negotiations with him and I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning a spot next to Rapid Robert for Vizquel. Both players were THE icons of those teams of the mid-to-late 90’s, despite the fact that better players played on the same team as fans marveled at the skill of Belle and Ramirez, but never adopted the surly Albert or the mercurial Manny the way that Omarvelous and The Thomenator had a hold on our collective hearts.

I won’t even delve deeply into how deeply Omar’s hitting has fallen off since he left the Indians because I don’t care to disparage his overall body of work by examining his struggles at the plate as he winds down his career (as most players do) or get into the whole debate of Omar staying to play SS because the “Hindsight Is 20/20” axiom is too overwhelming for any rational discourse when you travel back in time to the winter of 2004 and the mitigating factors when the decision was made.

Don’t get me wrong, Omar deserves the praise and adulation that has been heaped upon him as he comes back to Cleveland, but be aware of the similarity of the way he left town to the way that Thome left town. Both players wanted to stay (depending upon what you believe), but ultimately left for NL destinations. Their returns, however, could not have been more different, mainly based on the perception about their exit from town and who was perceived as greasing their way out of town. In Omar’s case, the organization is seen as the bad guy, letting a local treasure escape because of what was expected to be a regression as he aged over the next few years with a ready-made replacement waiting in the wings to be a part of the rebuilding while Thome is seen as the villain in his case, seen as grabbing every last dollar from the Phillies on his way out of town, reneging on his promise for a “hometown discount” and his stated desire to stay in Cleveland.

Maybe the state of the Indians at the time of both players’ return shed some light on the situation as Thome arrived as a member of an AL Central rival with the Indians’ star on the rise, with Travis Hafner mashing his way through the AL, and with Thome’s balky back (which was the reason the Indians wouldn’t match the Phillies’ contract offer) relegating him to DH for the White Sox. Thome’s comments that he left for Philadelphia for a “chance to win” were thrown back in his face as the Indians looked poised for a prolonged run of success, with his replacement (the artist formerly known as Pronk) besting Thome’s output. Fans had the idea that the Indians were better off without Thome, given the success of Hafner and the team’s “bright” future.

Meanwhile, Omar returns with the Indians’ current season (one once so full of hope) teetering on the brink, with his replacement looking heavy-footed in the field and underperforming at the plate, and with fans looking for a reason to blame the current regime for the 2008 season – this time inexplicably bringing up the irrational notion that keeping Vizquel in Cleveland for the last 4 years would have improved the current team, despite Vizquel’s contributions at the plate (or lack thereof) since he left Cleveland.

Perhaps the way the two players handled the situation provides the explanation as Thome made comment after comment that he wanted to stay in Cleveland, giving fans hope that FINALLY the player to give that “hometown discount” had arrived and Jimmy would finish his career donning the Chief while Omar simply and quietly went off to San Francisco as the writing was on the wall that the Indians had planned for his departure with Peralta and some kid who called himself “The Franchise” ready to step into the middle infield upon his departure.

What if Thome had simply toed the Players’ Union party line and said that he would see how it all played out? What if Omar had been offered a contract to stay in Cleveland, with the idea that Peralta would move to 3B and Vizquel could stay at SS until he retired?

To further the question, why are players like Vizquel, Lofton, Nagy, and Sandy remembered in such reverential tones when recalling the 90’s? Is it because the perception that these players were forced to leave on the organization’s terms, which is in stark contrast to Thome, Manny, and Belle, who left of their own volition and signed larger contracts elsewhere?

Were those players that have been received warmly (to say the least) greater contributors than those that have had their names besmirched for the manner in which they left town? I’d like to see an argument that says that the former list of players was more instrumental in the success of the 90’s than the latter three names.

I suppose the lesson is for a player to leave in good standing with the fans, regardless of past contributions, as the last action before your foot steps out the door is the action for which you will be remembered.

Back to Omar and Thome, we’ll never know how the two may be thought of in Cleveland had things sorted out in a different manner. But “different” is an understatement as to how these two former teammates and former torchbearers for the Indians organization are received when they return to Cleveland to face off with their former team in front of Indians fans.

Fair or not, Omar has come out as squeaky clean as memories of his dazzling us playfully while playing a child’s game remain as the black that Thome wears when he visits the corner of Carnegie and Ontario as a member of the White Sox is more than symbolic as the role of the greedy player, ready to turn his back on a city for every last zero on a paycheck, has settled on his vast shoulders that once carried a city.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I Left My Water Weight In Los Angeles

As the DiaBride, myself, my brother, and his fiancé headed out to La La Land, it just so happened that the Tribe made their trip out to Dodger Stadium in an attempt to stop the bloodletting that they experienced in Coors Field and take advantage of the White Sox squaring off against the Cubbies in the Windy One. The trip began innocently enough, ambling around Long Beach, catching the Tribe-Dodgers game on TV (with Himself, Vin Scully, broadcasting as only he can) on Friday night, followed by a trip south to Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach on Saturday.

Despite the fact that all of the national news stations were covering the blistering heat in SoCal, the weather we experienced was marvelous as we stayed close to the Pacific Breeze and soaked in the rays while benefiting from the proximity of our locales to the ocean. With the weather so perfect, we obviously bellied up to a bar in Laguna Beach (which was open air and had sand in the front portion…so we weren’t TOTALLY indoors while the Pacific was 50 yards away on a sunny Saturday afternoon) and reveled in the majesty of C.C.’s power stroke and power pitching.

After spending the afternoon watching the 7-2 win at the bar, we ventured out into the ocean, then returned home where the “festivities” that had commenced at Hennessey’s in Laguna Beach continued well into the night, including a trip to a liquor store in North Long Beach (walking distance from the hotel) where my brother and I were greeted by a (how shall I say this) “lady of the night” at the front door, kept our heads down, and bought some drinks to accompany our card game at the hotel.

When the alarms went off on Sunday, we were worse for the wear, but all excitedly donned our Tribe gear and headed up towards Dodger Stadium as we would no longer be simply watching our Erie Warriors on Fox Sports, we would be representing in Chavez Ravine to see if the Tribe could sweep their way out of town and continue to gain ground on the scuffling White Sox.

Arriving to Elysian Park, we were blown away that this stadium was just sitting in a big ravine in the middle of LA. I mean, I know that everyone refers to it as “Chavez Ravine”, but this was ridiculous as all sides of the stadium were essentially surrounded by hills…something we would later learn is not ideal in the conditions we were about to enter, given the way that hills block wind. We made our way to the stadium, walking about a mile (the park is in the middle of an ocean of parking lots) and went to find our way in.

Now, nobody clued us into a unique feature of Dodger Stadium, which is that you have to enter the level at which you have tickets. Our thought was that we would go into the closest entrance and, having arrived early, we could explore the park and make our way to our seats when game time approached. Such is not an option at Dodger Stadium as we were turned away from our first option, then told the wrong direction to head by the ticket-taker who turned us away. After being turned away a second time, we finally headed to our proper gate going up and down stairs about 5 time because…the ballpark is built into a hill and there’s no easy way to get anywhere.

Nevertheless, we finally found our entrance and moved over to our seats, which happened to be on the 1st base side…under the glare of the sun that may have been the same one that melted Icarus’ wings. To read that the temperature at first pitch was 94 degrees does not do justice as to what we experienced sitting in the still, hot air with the sun baking our skin and turning the ice cubes that we were dropping down our shirts into hot water by the time they made their way to our waistline.

It was hot…damn hot….and the fact that the first four Dodgers who faced Paul Byrd scored did not make the beginning of the day any more enjoyable. We suffered through the first few innings trying to cool ourselves and focus on the game while admiring the sightlines in the stadium (which were magnificent as long as you could wipe the sweat off of your brow quick enough to keep your eyes open), but the sun continued to bear down on us and we made our way over to a shady section of the stadium, which is about 2,000 of the 56,000 seats there.

We found some refuge in the shaded sections, but now we had to deal with the Dodger fans that were…um…not happy to see people in opposing teams’ gear. Before I go further, let me say that I’ve been to a number of ballparks to watch the Indians as the visiting team and usually run into a knucklehead or two who rides you a little bit, but eventually loses interest or is easily put in his place by a witty remark or an innocent, “hey, thanks for the warm welcome”.

Most fans in the cities I've visited are more than cordial and show an interest in the fact that you came to visit and ask various pleasant questions. Not so with Dodger fans, who went after us to “go back to Cleveland” (and worse) or just followed us around the concourse to a chorus of boos. After using my better judgment NOT to come back with a quick rejoinder as I don’t think the Latin Kings were going to get my reference to Dante’s Seven Layers of Hell, we finally settled into the only place that had a semblance of a breeze and put up with the guy standing behind us who booed (quietly and loudly…but constantly) until we parted.

The Tribe had lost 4-3, but all we could think about was getting to the LAX Hilton pool in an attempt to return our core body temperatures to what we thought would be “safer” levels. After a little more harassment in the parking lot, we finally made our way out of what felt like Death Valley and headed to our hotel with the pool, some AC, and a tall, cool drink on our minds.

All told, it was very cool to see Dodger Stadium, to admire the architecture of the ball park itself, and to see the Indians play there (with the obvious head nod to other Tribe fans in attendance from time to time) against the Boys in Blue. The heat, however, was the overriding factor in the day being more of something that you had to ENDURE rather than something to ENJOY. The fact that the Indians weren’t able to complete the sweep was ancillary at a certain point as heat exhaustion was more of a concern than whether Peralta should have tried to score on Ethier in the 5th.

For now, I’ll continue to rehydrate myself in anticipation of the Indians hopefully beating up on Little O and the Giants, then the Reds while the White Sox head out to Chavez Ravine before facing the Cubbies again. It could turn out to be a VERY interesting week that tells us a good deal about where 2008 is headed as the Indians face off against the White Sox one week from today.

Big thanks go out to T-Bone for captaining the ship in my absence yesterday (or this morning) as I attempted to cool off and…it’s nice to be home.

It's Already Monday Lazy Sunday

So I’m sitting at Flannery’s with a few buddies after “work” Sunday night, playing the touch screen sports trivia game (yes, after playing several rounds of photo hunt), when the second-ever call to the bullpen came. PC, out in sunny SoCal, was unavailable to turn in the Lazy Sunday. Thus, here is your very much abbreviated version of the LS, courtesy of little ol' T-Bone. Please be gentle, this LS comes after stops at Zocalo, Flannery’s, then concluded with a couple/few Great Lakes Moondogs (my new favorite beverage) at Winking Lizard.

But to first touch on the comments since Paul’s last post…

  • a) I’ve been on the FireFox bandwagon for the past 3 years. If you’re still using Internet Explorer, you’re silly.
  • b) Vin Scully is the bomb diggity. Due to STO’s technical difficulties Friday night, I also was able to take in most of the game with Vin telling the story. Within the first 30 seconds of switching over to the Fox Sports Cali broadcast, as Vin went into a story dating back to Ebbets Field, I knew I was in love. And CSUSI, I too learned more about the Tribe players in that couple hours than I have in the past 5 years. I agree that he must have a lot of interns looking up info for him, but he ran with it and there was never a dull moment with him calling the game. Sure, there were a few miscues here or there the deeper we got into the game (ala Herb Score’s last few years), but for the most part, it was amazing to listen to, and it furthered my… loathing of Mr. Underwood’s work. Sorry, Matt.

Alas, let’s get to the LS. And trust me, it’s going to get pretty lazy, pretty quick…

I don’t get the PD, but upon strolling into the Winking Lizard restroom, above the urinal I saw that the Plain Dealer turned their Sunday sports page into an Omar Vizquel tribute, as Omar makes his return to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario this Tuesday. Bills Livingston (cover story) and Lubinger talk about the greatest shortstop I’ve ever seen, and links to their 2004 Omar tribute page. Here’s what Omar has done in San Fran. In a related note, here’s T.Pluto piling on Jhonny.

Also in the PD, here’s an article about the newest member of the Tribe, Sal Fasano. Unfortunately, Sal arrived sans awesome mustache. Hopefully he gets that going soon.

I don’t feel like linking to Sheldon.

I only link to the Morning Journal because a MJ truck passed me on I-90 west (well over the speed limit, mind you) on my way home out of downtown.

Ken Rosenthal talked in the FOX pre-game on Saturday about the Tribe trading CC, and wrote about it here.

I close giving mad props to the Bernie Kosar-lead Cleveland Gladiators, who clinched an Arena Football League playoff spot in their inaugural season at the Q. In 2007, in Las Vegas, the Gladiators went 2-14, averaging 5,383 fans. Upon moving to the Great Erie Coast in 2008, the Gladiators have compiled a 9-7 record, averaging 14,031 a game, and are hosting a home playoff game against the Gruden-lead Orlando Predators. Obviously, everything BK touches turns to gold. I attended the playoff-clinching victory Saturday night, and although I couldn’t get my BK bobblehead due to the fact that the bobblehead shipment was stuck in Colorado because of the Midwest floods, it was a great night nonetheless. Gladiators HQ, I will be there on July 1st with my voucher to pick up my BK bobblehead… receding hairline and all.

OK, time for bed for this guy. Sorry for the half-arsed version of LS, our fearless leader will be back at it soon.

Oh, and if you didn’t catch C.C. hitting it out of Dodger Stadium on Saturday, check it. Does anyone else wonder if it wouldn’t be worth trying him over Dellucci at DH???

EDIT: Here's a link to Castro's story on the bomb, and also a nicer, bigger, cleaner clip.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fear and Worrying in Los Angeles

On the cross-country flight to the Left Coast (a few rows on the plane behind Rafael Betancourt’s wife, unless you can think of another smoking hot Latino woman with a diamond necklace that says “63” with a reason to be flying from Cleveland to LAX on Thursday), awful thoughts filled my head about where this 2008 season is headed for our beloved Erie Warriors. The Indians, presented with a portion of the schedule to take advantage of to make up some ground in the AL Central, have continued to scuffle and watched EVERY other team in the AL Central blow up their Interleague opponents while getting swept by the Rockies.

Losing ground when they should be gaining ground, or at least keeping pace. Ugh.

Now sitting 8 ½ back, with 3 teams ahead of them in the Central, perhaps it’s time to start asking some very hard questions about this team…and none of them even getting into a certain 300+ pound lefty. Sitting now in my sister’s house in Long Beach (for the record, we’re out here because she just had a baby, not because the Tribe is playing in Chavez Ravine the next few days…which doesn’t hurt), let’s throw some of those questions out there that need to be answered in the next week, month, and few months.

Not many answers, but the questions are plentiful:
If 2008 is an afterthought (which is looking more likely by the day) is it time to flip Paul Byrd in a Chuck Finleyesque nature to see if the Indians can fill some organizational holes that have become apparent? Do the injuries of Westbrook, Fausto, and Miller make you think twice about keeping Byrd around for another year to help fill out the rotation? If the team does decide to move him or if he is reticent to talk about re-upping for next year, it's time to put the feelers out there, even if he’s not going to bring much in return, in terms of anyone close to being MLB-ready or being a shiny prospect.

Continuing on the same vein regarding veterans not under contract for next year, isn’t this situation almost exactly like what happened in 2006, when the Indians were able to flip Benuardo to Seattle for Asdrubal and Choo and jettisoned Wickman and Belliard?
Is it time to look to move anything not nailed down?

If so, what other veterans, besides Byrd, could be fodder for a trade?
Blake to a team looking to strengthen their bench?
Dellucci to a team looking for a LH bat, given that Choo is filling the “Dellucci” role on the team?
Borowski to a team desperate…please note, I said DESPERATE…for bullpen help?

If we’re talking about players that may be fungible, what other players on the Indians may have more value to another team and could be moved to augment the suddenly shifting “core”? That is to say, are there young players that are not seen as “core” players that are young enough (and under club control at known salaries) that they could net some talent in return from a team that may have a greater need at a certain position than the Indians?

If Victor figures to come back at a certain point, are BOTH Garko and Shoppach needed on the roster? Victor will, at some point, settle into 1B or C, meaning that one of those players figures to remain a backup (unless Pronk, as we once knew him, is gone forever and Garko becomes the DH) and wouldn’t it be a good idea to deal from a relative strength to fill some other holes on the team rather than stockpiling similar players?

Given Frank the Tank’s superb play in the OF (and his relative struggles at the plate), is he attractive to other teams as a defensive wizard in CF (and that role is filled in Cleveland for the foreseeable future), where he can play everyday? Is he essentially blocked by Grady, making him more valuable to teams not playing in Cleveland? Couldn’t an NL team, able to sit Gutz at the bottom of the lineup and happy to benefit from his defensive prowess, be a better spot for Gutierrez?

With the organization down on Jhonny Peralta (and there’s no question that they are), is it time to look into moving him to a team that needs offense more than defense at SS? Asdrubal looks to be the long-term answer at SS (anyone notice he’s playing SS in Buffalo), so where does that leave Jhonny? Trying to figure out how to play 3B (with no guarantee that his defense would improve by moving to his right on the infield? Not with the way that Wedge and Shapiro have PUBLICLY said that Peralta is not where they want him to be as a player.

Are the signings of Morgan Ensberg and Sal Fasano simply for “organizational depth” or are they harbingers of things to come where a player like Blake or Shoppach could be moved?

Is Andy Marte alive? No…seriously. Isn’t it time to just cut bait with a player so obviously not in this team’s plans? The Indians have had chance after chance to work Marte into the lineup because of ineffectiveness or injury and haven’t done so, portending that Marte simply will not see the field any time soon in Cleveland…regardless of how obvious opportunities for him may seem to some.

Again, no answers today…just food for thought. Answers are for another day.
For today, it’s time to go walk to the Pacific Ocean with my new niece and take in some ocean air. They’ll be plenty of time to consider the answers as I get to watch all of these Dodgers’ games ending before midnight local time (although I got up at 5:00 AM “local time” this morning) and head to Dodger Stadium for Sunday’s game.
If you’ve been to Chavez Ravine, any input is appreciated as I try to figure out a way to get Matt Kemp into my carry-on.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It Takes Two to Tango

With CM Wang out until September and the rumors flying fast and furious regarding the effect that a broken foot by a Yankee could have on the next month for our beloved Indians (and one in particular), I thought it was finally time to address this whole C.C. thing before it spirals away too quickly.

Now, by no means do I think that trading C.C. today, tomorrow, or next week is a good idea as I think I’ve been pretty clear that the AL Central remains a very winnable division, that the Indians’ offense is showing signs of life just as they approach a very winnable stretch of games, and that the Indians with C.C. are certainly more likely to get back into the AL Central race (not that 6.5 games behind means they’re out of it) than they are without him.

If, however, the Indians fall out of this thing in the range of eight to ten games out by the middle of July or so (and news that Hafner is going to see famous orthopedic surgeon James Andrews in Birmingham and that Carmona’s feeling hip pain is not good news), there’s no question that C.C. is the biggest chip to play…but only if the right package is coming back, and that’s what I think bears addressing.

As soon as the Indians had fallen off the pace earlier in the season, the doom-and-gloomers came to the immediate assumption that C.C. would head to New York as the Yankees are “the only team that can afford to keep him in Free Agency”, so why not get something for the Hefty Lefty before he makes the assumed trip to the Bronx? Now with Wang out until September and the Yankees’ already thin pitching rotation looking anorexic, there are certainly some fascinating perspectives emerging on the “C.C. to the Bronx to replace Wang” firestorm that seems to be descending over the East Coast. While so many of the national media have almost reached the “foregone conclusion” stage that Sabathia is gonzo to don some pinstripes, take a look at these thoughts from the other side of the ledger from Joel Sherman of the NY Post and Tyler Kepner of the NY Times.

Sherman points out that these are not the Yankees that you think you know, no longer the team simply using the rest of MLB as their farm system, dipping into the trade market as soon as a need arises, mainly because GM Brian Cashman has realized the value of young talent and its importance in building a perennial winner:
“The only major in-season deal the Yanks have made since 2005 was for Bobby Abreu. And Cashman waited two months, until the price dropped from Phil Hughes to a bunch of non-entities and the Phillies agreed to throw in Cory Lidle, too. Last year, despite a yearning need for a set-up man to Mariano Rivera, the Yanks refused the Rangers' requests for Melky Cabrera and Ian Kennedy although it meant Eric Gagne would go to Boston.

In the old days, Steinbrenner simply would have overruled his GM and Gagne would have been a Yankee.

The Gagne non-deal is instructive to how the Yanks are likely to act now. Like Gagne last year, Sabathia is in his walk year. The asking price for a top, one-inning reliever - even in his walk year - was Cabrera and Kennedy. So anybody dreaming up trades should recognize how much greater the demand is going to be for the defending Cy Young winner.”

Let me point out also that the Gagne deal was done when Ian Kennedy still had quite a bit of shine on his apple and before the struggles of his 2008 season.

Kepner echoes many of the same views as Sherman, analyzing the situation from all angles:
“Cashman will surely consider the downside of a Sabathia deal: he trades valued young players, Sabathia proves to be a bad fit in New York, and the Yankees let him walk after the season. The upside there is that the Yankees would get two high draft picks in return, replacing some of the talent they would lose in the trade.

Another potential downside is this: the Yankees sign Sabathia to a rich contract extension (six or seven years, $19 million or so per year) and he breaks down physically like Mike Hampton or Kevin Brown, or turns into a 2-10 pitcher like Barry Zito. Cashman understands the horrible track record of pitchers who sign $100 million deals. But the upside is alluring. If the Yankees trade for Sabathia, who is a very large man but has no injury history, they instantly replace one ace with another for 2008 and continue the business of contending for a playoff spot.

They would get a three-month trial run with the best pitcher on the free-agent market, and then they could re-sign him and enter the new ballpark with three ace-type pitchers – Sabathia, Wang and Chamberlain – born in the 1980s…”

Interesting that Kepner points out the value of the two high draft picks that would come as compensation for the YANKEES losing Sabathia if they were unable to re-sign him or deemed it to be too risky.

I find these thoughts fascinating because it illustrates the point that it’s going to take two to tango if C.C. does hit the block (and, AGAIN, it is far too early to make that determination), rather than the Indians simply naming their price for the Yankees, or any interested team, to fetch the youngest, most talented players that they find to their liking.

It goes hand-in-hand with a conversation that I had with my future brother-in-law (who is an enormous Cubs fan who pores over the denizens of Wrigley Field as I do our Erie Warriors) over the weekend. As we settled in to watch the Twins crush the Brewers in Miller Park on Friday night, I asked him to make me an offer (on behalf of the Cubs) to add a LH stud to the Cubs’ rotation. His answer surprised me as he said, “I can’t do it”.
Wait…WHAT!?! He wouldn’t want the reigning Cy Young Award winner to pair with Zambrano and do just about anything to make it happen?

He clarified to say that he’d love to have C.C. pulling a Cubs’ hat on cockeyed, but that the Cubs simply didn’t have what it would take to compel the Tribe to make a trade. I pressed him on it, saying that they were set at so many positions with young talent (namely C, 1B, 3B, LF) that there surely must be a guy ready to break out, blocked by Lee or Ramirez. He told me that they didn’t, although they did have a number of middle-to-back of the rotation starters (Sean Gallagher and Sean Marshall), a glut of middling middle infielders (Mark DeRosa and Ronny Cedeno), a platoon OF (Matt Murton) and some prospects that were thought to be studs-in-waiting (Felix Pie and Rich Hill) who are now entering what he called “Corey Patterson Territory” in that he thought that both were more highly regarded than they should be who could be bundled in some sort of trade to acquire C.C.

His best offer to pry C.C. out of the North Coast was to throw in A LOT of quantity without a lot of quality…but even he knew that a package of roster filler, without an impact centerpiece, would be unacceptable. Hearing a package of what would equate to guys like Sowers, Barfield, and Marte in the Indians’ system, I broached the one name that would make me think long and hard about a trip to the NL Central for the Crooked Cap…Carlos Marmol. After he picked himself off the floor essentially saying, “we’re going to destroy our bullpen for 2008, a strength this year after it has sabotaged so many seasons, by giving you a stud 25-year-old reliever who could anchor the 9th inning for us for the next 6 years…for 3 months of Sabathia and PRAY that we win a World Series with him?”, he politely passed on the idea of creating a hole to fill a hole.

And I guess those two examples underscore where this whole C.C. thing lies for me:
How many teams are willing to give up that most valuable commodity in MLB these days (which are young, club-controlled, inexpensive, impact players) for a 3-month rental of C.C. in the hopes that he can bring them home a ring?
And how many teams even HAVE that type of talent close to the Bigs that could be deemed fungible by their current team?

Look at it this way - do the Indians want to trade C.C. for the marginal MLB players or low-level prospects that the Cubs would be throwing on the table? How about a team like the Phillies, with the scorched Earth of their farm system, and the fact that (much like the Cubs or anyone else for that matter) they’re not going to create one or two holes on their roster to fill one hole at the top of their rotation. Is a return of Shane Victorino and a few mid-to-low level prospects something you might be interested in?
Me neither.

Additionally, if you think that the Indians are going to net a player who is contributing for a contender this year, without that team having a viable 2nd option ready and able, you’re fooling yourself. So hold off on the deals that center on Geovany Soto and Chase Utley for a moment and realize how this thing (if it were to happen) figures to go down. That is, the Indians need to find a trade partner that has a player that is a bona-fide impact player either in MLB or MLB-ready that is essentially blocked by a player currently on the parent club…and is willing to deal them, which is not a certainty anymore given the landscape of how GM’s are approaching roster construction.

To me, the most intriguing matches from teams that could be interested (as per Gammons) would come from the Red Sox, the Dodgers, and the Rangers. Boston fits the mold with their pitching depth (although Theo Epstein seems to subscribe to the same magazine that Shapiro does called “Waves of Arms”) and the fact that some of their recent drafts have started to bear fruit. But it’s important to remember that the only regulars in the lineup under the age of 32 are Youkilis (29), Pedroia (24), Crisp (28), and Ellsbury (24) and they’ll be looking to reload from within in the very near future. Just as an aside, Casey Blake (34) and David Dellucci (34) are the only Indians’ position players OVER the age of 32.

The Dodgers have a good deal of young talent that has been bandied about ad nauseum in these discussions before (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Andy LaRoche, Chad Billingsley, Jonathon Broxton, etc.), have a GM in Ned Colletti with a tendency to go with veterans over youngsters (with a history in SF as the Assistant GM before he got to Chavez Ravine) and a manager in Joe Torre who doesn’t figure to be interested in growing with a young team and would likely prefer to win right now. I suppose if Colletti and Torre are shortsighted enough to part with some of the best young talent in MLB, rather than watch them mature into the perennial contender that they look poised to become WITH all of that young talent, there’s no question that Shapiro and the boys should burn up the lines to La-La Land. However, the Dodgers’ issue this year has not been their pitching (even considering that Brad Penny just hit the DL), as they rank 4th in the NL in team ERA. Rather, their issue is scoring runs (295 runs in 70 games) and short of them making another trade for a bat ALONG with netting C.C., I don’t see how adding Sabathia solves their problems, regardless of Cy Cy’s pedigree and his ability to shift the balance of power in any division he would join.

The Rangers, or the “Dark Horse”, are the Wild Card as they have a history of irrational, short-sighted moves when they sit anywhere close to the top of the division (acquiring Carlos Lee on July 28, 2006 with a losing record and 3 GB in the AL West with hitting being the least of their problems at the time springs to mind) and a glut of attractive players. If the Rangers think that C.C. is that “one missing piece” for a prolonged run at the division (and he isn’t, given their pitching as a whole…which one person won’t fix) and are willing to part with a player like Ian Kinsler because Hank Blalock gets healthy and Ramon Vazquez can slide over to 2B without their obscenely loaded offense suffering too greatly, I'd take the 26-year old Kinsler with open arms. But, to a rational person, it’s the same principle as the Soto or Utley dreams as the Rangers would be giving up their table-setter for a top-of-the-rotation starter for all of 3 months, while trying to run down the A’s…THEN the Angels.

If we get closer to the Trading Deadline and the Indians have not been able to right the ship, I’ll get much more into possible destinations and packages (trust me, this is not in detail); but I think that this idea that the Indians are going to fill their holes at 2B and 3B while adding another starter and a reliever for Sabathia (all at the ML level) is ignorant to a certain point when you consider the potential trading partners and their limitations in terms of available talent or their organizational philosophies. If they can find that sucker out there willing to part with young impact players for a look at it this year, a deal should be done if the determination is made that the 2008 season is lost.

Interestingly, consider where these teams that are “allegedly” interested in C.C. all reside in the standings and how it relates to the Tribe, as not all of the teams linked to the Crooked Cap are division leaders:
Dodgers – 4.5 GB
Yankees – 5.5 GB
Rangers – 7.0 GB

Indians – 6.5 GB

Obviously, the mounting injuries (and the longer stays on the shelf for the principals already residing there) play a huge role in the difference of being a “buyer” and a “seller”, but let’s continue to take a wait-and-see approach on this thing. If the Indians can get hot at the right time, they could catapult themselves right into the thick of the AL Central race. If they don’t, however, and C.C.’s leaving on a jet plane, the Indians need to make sure that the return that they’re netting is more than just roster filler or lower-level prospects and include that impact player (or, better yet, two of them) because they only have one chance to do this (if it comes to that)...and I’m not so sure that perfect deal is out there.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

LS in the Waukee

Sitting in the Milwaukee, sipping some Spotted Cow (which, if you’re ever in Milwaukee…just order it wherever you go), it’s time for a quick run around a LS before we watch “Tiger Tiger Woods, y’all” take a run at this thing at Torrey Pines and try to get the image of K2 (the other one) out of our heads from Saturday night.

First off, Ron Vallo of Tribe Fan in Yankeeland comes strong (as always) with a theory on the differing views of the 2008 Indians’ season from the differing perspectives of age groups. It certainly makes a compelling argument, though this 31-year-old got hooked on the Tribe thanks to the likes of Pat Tabler and Brook Jacoby and spent much of the late 1990’s wondering where the party was and whether girls would be there, with the juggernaut Tribe taking up only a piece of my adolescent brain. Regardless, I think there’s something to it as most Tribe fans who lived through the lean times (and it was a LONG time) draw immediate corollaries to disappointing teams of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s before considering the more immediate past. I suppose it raises the age-old question of whether ignorance is truly bliss or whether experience gained is more valuable in the enjoyment and analysis of a situation.
Me? I’m going to enjoying my half-full glass.

Somewhat related, Joe Posnanski has a brilliant (and I mean, utterly brilliant) piece on the rise and fall of Super Joe Charboneau, told against the backdrop of being a Clevelander, and a wide-eyed 13-year-old Clevelander at that, which puts into better perspective than I think I ever could. It so perfectly encapsulates what I imagine so many of our childhoods to be like, with our own Joe Charboneaus giving us hope, and often false hope…just go read it.

Some props come from Mike Harrington, who covers the Buffalo Bisons for the Buffalo News and also writes his “Inside Pitch” blog (which has been up on the sidebar for some time). One of the more disappointing effects of the Indians (probably) moving their AAA affiliate to Columbus next year (OK, there’s no probably about it) is that Harrington won’t remain the go-to source that he has become for all thing related to the Bisons, as well as providing an insightful perspective on the Tribe from outside the Greater Cleveland Metropolitan area. My dad, who often spends weekends up in Lake Chautauqua, is constantly referencing Harrington on Sundays and Mondays as to the pulse of the Indians…seen from the environs of Dunn Tire Park, so unless the Harrington continues to follow the Tribe or follow Jim Rosenhaus West on I-90 to cover the parent club (fingers crossed), we’ll have to visit the old “Inside Pitch” for Harrington’s general baseball takes, which figure to become decidedly less and less Indians-centric as the 2009 season dawns.
By the way, as per serial poster Cy Slapnicka, The “I’m Big in Buffalo” t-shirt is already en route.

From the fishwraps today, Terry Pluto jumps on the “play Marte against LHP” discussion that sounds vaguely familiar, and Sheldon Ocker touches on the reporting of injuries (or lack thereof) and believes that all of the cloak-and-dagger handling of players’ injuries is counterproductive and benefits no one.

And, oh yeah…um…you guys over there…in the bullpen.
How about a little help here?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sitting Down with Mr. Blue Sky

Just as the Family Truckster took on the last of its cargo for a trip to Milwaukee, word came down that Victor’s elbow was much more than a “balky” elbow and that Josh Barfield is going to see the same hand specialist that shut down Atom Miller’s season. After channeling my inner GOB and yelling, “COME ON” about 15 times (by the way, if you don’t get that reference or the link – just do yourself a favor and go get hooked on “Arrested Development”), I piled the fam into the car for the 7-hour trip with the highlight being the 12-2 win on WTAM (which you can get clear into Wisconsin, amazingly) en route.

Upon arriving, with my spirits in the dumper because in case you haven’t heard…the season’s over, I decided to call my good buddy Mr. Blue Sky, who always has a way of brightening my day with his unbridled enthusiasm and perspective on all things Tribe-related:

The DiaTribe: Mr. Blue, I wish we were talking on better topics…but it’s good to see you.
Mr. Blue Sky: Great to see you too. What do you mean? What’s going on?

DT: You didn’t hear? Victor’s out for 6 to 8weeks and Barfield could be a goner for the season.
MBS: No, I heard that…so, what’s the problem?

DT: Maybe you didn’t hear me right…Victor’s on the shelf until MAYBE the end of July, joining Fausto, Jake, and Travis on the DL. Going into the season, that’s our #2 and #3 starter and #3 and #4 hitter. Season’s over…raise the white flag.
MBS: But, with this news what has changed since, say, Wednesday? Victor’s been at 50% for the LAST 6 weeks, thanks to his hammy and elbow. His inclusion in the middle of the lineup was doing more harm than good when you consider what he’s done since the beginning of May:
May - .221 BA / .269 OBP / .279 SLG / .548 OPS, 5 extra base hits, 8 RBI in 86 AB
June - .207 BA / .333 OBP / .241 SLG / .574 OPS, 1 extra base hit, 3 RBI in 29 AB
THAT’s what you’re so worried about leaving the lineup? You’re confusing your perception of the type of hitter Victor HAS BEEN because of the player you’ve seen in the last few years with the player that he IS right now, which is a shell of his former self, incapable of power or anything more than a well-placed single. If anything, this will hopefully give him some rest to get back to the player that you remember, with his return (as you say) slated right around the Trading Deadline. If the team happens to be floating around the top of the AL Central, could you name another hitter (assuming that Victor’s at full capacity) that you’d rather see the team add in terms of a bat?

DT: I guess not, but it’s VICTOR! If one player were to don the “C” of a Captain for this team, wouldn’t it be The Stick?
MBS: Look, these numbers are by no means designed to diminish Victor’s worth to the team and his leadership and presence in the clubhouse will undoubtedly be missed and his efforts to remain in the lineup through these injuries is valiant (if perhaps misguided); but the fact has become very apparent that his bat (as it has been contributing) simply won’t be missed in the lineup. Regardless of the intangibles that Victor brings, wouldn’t you rather see if Kelly Shoppach at 100% is able to contribute more to the team than Victor at 50%? Isn’t it time to find out if those “Shoppach could be an everyday catcher for a number of MLB teams” phrase we always hear has anything to back it up? Isn’t this why Shoppach wasn’t dealt in the off-season, to retain the depth that this team is relying so heavily upon right now?

DT: Boy, I know a lot of people will say that you’re just “Mr. BS”, but I feel better about Victor…but what about Barfield?
MBS: What about him? You didn’t actually think that his promotion was going to magically result in production from 2B, did you? His promotion had very little to do with him, and much more in getting Asdrubal right in Buffalo in the hopes that Asdrubal could return at some point later in the season to contribute. Barfield was posting a .679 OPS in Buffalo with 48 K to 13 BB this year…did you think that he would suddenly improve against the MLB pitching that he would face after struggling against AAA pitching? Barfield’s injury changes very little, except for Jamey Carroll getting more playing time and the depth of the team at the big-league level being thinned out a little bit more. You may not know anything about Jorge Velendia…but it won’t matter as he’ll see less time than Andy Marte.

DT: OK, but the Westbrook thing…that’s just crushing.
MBS: For 2009, yeah that causes some issues…
DT: No, I mean right now.
MBS: I suppose if by “right now” you mean until Fausto comes back…which looks to be soon. Aaron Laffey has been as good as Westbrook has ever been in his career for almost two months now and Carmona’s scheduled to throw 50 pitches in a bullpen session on Saturday which means that, barring any unforeseen setbacks, he should be back to replace Sowers (who, for most teams, is more than a suitable #5 starter…today) and get the rotation back in line. It certainly affects the depth of the rotation, but enlighten me as to another team that would lose their #2 and #3 starter heading into the season (and the pitcher that is arguably their top prospect in AAA) and survive as the Indians have.

DT: Then what about 2009?
MBS: That’s another topic for another day; let’s keep this conversation about this year.

DT: Fair enough. But these injuries mean that C.C. will be gone sooner rather than later, right? I mean, the writing is on the wall.
MBS: Again, why the rush to judgment? Did the road just get a little tougher for the Tribe? Sure, but Victor wasn’t contributing (and neither was Hafner before his DL stint) and the starting pitching depth has stepped in admirably to keep this team in the race, relatively speaking. They’re 6.5 games out with an optimal part of their schedule coming up. Hold off on the “what would the Cubs give up for 3 months of C.C.” talk until this thing has some time to play itself out in the next three weeks.

DT: But what about all these reports that the Indians have sent scouts out to watch other teams’ prospects?
MBS: I’m not in the business (nor do I pretend to be), but doesn’t this happen regardless of whether a team is looking to make a deal…or at least shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t the Indians have a scout trolling around different organizations’ minor league affiliates at all times to see if they can find another Asdrubal for Eduardo Perez deal or see if they can pluck Sizemore out of A ball if the time to trade should present itself. I think that the national media has grabbed onto this C.C. thing and convinced all of us that it’s going to happen. There’s still lots of baseball to play before July 31st and who’s to say the return for 3 months of C.C. (if it comes to that) isn’t a couple of high-ceiling, low-level prospects? If that’s as good as it gets, why wouldn’t the Indians hold onto him in the off chance they can keep it close until these guys (Carmona, Hafner at 80%-90%, Victor at 100%) come back and make a charge?

DT: OK, so it’s still too early on C.C. What about the bullpen?
MBS: Ummm…well…Scott Elarton is…hmmmm…sorry, I have to be honest on this one – I’ve got nothing for you on that one. I guess my best advice would be to see what kind of bulk packaging BJ’s has for TUMS…because you’re going to need it unless somebody (anybody) steps up to protect a lead.

DT: You know what? That’s OK, Blue Sky…you allayed most of my fears this morning. You know you’re my boy Blue, right?
MBS: Always.

DT: Hey, we’re headed to the Brewers-Twins “Showdown” tonight with an extra ticket…any interest in rooting on the Brew Crew to see if they can help the Tribe out tonight in the Central with a W over the Twinkies?
MBS: Wrong ELO song (great link, though), but you know I’m in. Let me just grab my Dave Bush jersey and the cornhole board and cooler because we’re tailgating, right?
DT: We are in Wisconsin. When in Rome…

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My Second Home

After spending a disappointing (but enjoyable) night in the Mezz last night, I figured it was as good a time as any to post a piece that I did at the bequest of Yahoo’s Big League Stew as they run through descriptions of different ballparks throughout MLB and asked your humble host to provide his thoughts on the ballpark a the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
As we go a little something like this…hit it:

Already in it’s 15th year of existence, Progressive Field (which has been known by the more familiar Jacobs Field and more familial “The Jake” prior to this season when the naming rights transferred from the former Indians’ owner Dick Jacobs and his family to Cleveland-based Progressive Insurance) has maintained the luster that it brought to downtown Cleveland those many moons ago when Manny and Jimmy were just a couple of kids batting 7th and 8th (seriously) in the Indians’ lineup.

Despite the relative age of the park (time flies when you’re having fun, I suppose), the structure at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario (Clevelanders are still wrestling with the proper term for the stadium with the name change…“The Prog”?) has held up very well and has been enhanced over the years with improvements to the park that have added to the allure of visiting, long after the consecutive sellout streak of 456 games in a row has passed.

Best Way to Get There?
Unlike many other stadiums, Progressive Field is easily accessible by car from all directions as it sits where the main arteries of NE Ohio (I-77, I-90, and I-71) converge downtown. This being the case, most fans make their way down via car and park in one of the lots surrounding the stadium. Parking prices vary from around $5 to $25 and will change depending upon the day of the game (higher on the weekends) and the opponent (always jacked up for games when the Boston and New York “fans” who grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland show up). I generally park at a lot between Bolivar and Prospect, just west of E. 9th street, that has two levels and offers a quick walk to the game or to local establishments prior to the game with the price varying from $7 to $20 (those high-end contests on the weekend are the games when the RTA Rapid becomes a better option if you have easy access to an RTA station as the train lets you off in Tower City, a 10-minute walk to the ballpark) and quick on-off access to the highways to get out of downtown after a game.

While the guide is a little over a year old, the boys at Mistake by the Lake Sporting Times did a comprehensive breakdown of parking lots in terms of cost and distance that is absurdly exhaustive. While some of the prices may be outdated, the guide provides a nice thumbnail sketch of where to hone in on a lot and where to avoid.

Progressive Field…er, The Jake…er, whatever – here are the specifics if you’re going:
Tickets Online or call 216-420-HITS

Seating Chart

Best Spots to Hit Before or After the Game
The area around Progressive Field (known as Gateway) is home to a number of nice restaurants and bars that are within walking distance to the ballpark, so figure on heading down early to hit up some hot spots in the general vicinity before making the trek over to enjoy some baseball.

If you’re looking to put down some adult beverages and grab some grub prior to making the trip into the game, the area just east of East 9th Street on Prospect is full of bars to whet your appetite for some baseball. Between The Clevelander and Panini’s, which share an outdoor patio on the sidewalk, and the Winking Lizard (if you’re more inclined to stay inside to sip some suds), there’s more than enough to entertain you before you head over to the game. If you do head to Panini’s, be sure to try out one of their famous overstuffed sandwiches, on par with (if not directly based on) the Primanti Bros. sandwiches in Pittsburgh.

If you’re more inclined to just fill up on a liquid dinner, Local Heroes is right across the street from the entrance of Jacobs Field and always provides a raucous atmosphere before and after ballgames as does the Thirsty Parrot, which is just across Bolivar from Progressive Field and boasts an outdoor deck that fills up quickly, particularly after weekend games.

Of course, I realize that not everyone heads to the game just to get their drink on, so be sure to check out the Bob Feller Statue at the East 9th Street entrance and marvel at the career numbers of Rapid Robert on the base of the statue, made more incredible that he didn’t pitch for three years (when he would have been 23, 24, and 25 years old) because he was serving his country in WWII.

If you head into the park prior to the game starting, head over to centerfield to check out Heritage Park, which recognizes those who excelled in a Tribe uniform (and, yes, there were some prior to the 1990’s, smart aleck) as well as housing a bronze plaque commemorating Ray Chapman, the only MLB player to pass away as a result of on-field action as he died after being hit in the head by a pitch in 1920.

On Sunday, the plaza between Progressive Field and The Q (where the Cleveland LeBrons play) is filled with all sorts of kid-related activities to entertain the youngsters to wear them out before the game starts so they’re not antsy and wanting to walk around the park while your stomach is in knots because Joe Borowski just came on to protect a one-run lead in the 9th with his 82-MPH fastball and beguiling mix of “veteran savvy” and “closer mentality”.

Best Concession Stand Item
What trip to a baseball game would be complete without the requisite Hot Dog? In Cleveland, that requisite Hot Dog comes only with a slathering of Stadium Mustard, a brown, spicy concoction that takes you back to the days of old Municipal Stadium, when the Hot Dog was actually the highlight of the game. Of course, there’s a distinction to make here as the Hot Dog one should buy is not the coney dog that is sold for $1 on Dollar Dog Night…oh no. Stadium Mustard should only grace the All Beef Hot Dog, preferably grilled at the Beers of the World stand in the lower concourse of Right Field, near the visitors’ bullpen. While at the BotW stand, you can sample some of the finest local microbrews from Great Lakes Brewing Company (Dortmunder Gold remains the “gold” standard).

If a Hot Dog doesn’t appeal to your sensibilities, The Market Pavilion in Center Field has a decent selection of different types of food, as well as butting up against the popular Batter’s Eye Bar, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Best Place to Sit
Speaking of the Batter’s Eye Bar in Center, the most economical way to watch a game is to buy a standing room only seat or the cheapest possible seat that is available in the upper deck and heading to the Batter’s Eye Bar (a full-service bar with plasma TV’s and good view of the game, if you get there early enough) or to the Home Run Porch in Left Field to try to catch a HR off the bat of Victor Martinez…assuming a HR actually figures to come off the bat of Vic the Stick at some point this year.

For the most bang for your buck, I’ll take the seats in the Mezzanine ($18 advanced, $20 gameday) in RF, or the Bleachers ($16 advanced, $18 gameday) in LF for unobstructed views in good seats at reasonable prices. If you end up in the bleachers, be sure to say hello to John Adams, who has been sitting at Indians’ games, banging the drum (literarally) for the Tribe since 1973.

If price is less of a factor, the Club Seats (which hang over the lower deck on the 1B side) offer a great view of the game as well as the ticket price ($110 per seat) including all food and non-alcohol related drinks throughout the game.

What’s So Great About It?
After years of trudging down to the lakefront to the dilapidated Municipal Stadium, I remember most Clevelanders’ reaction upon entering (what was then) Jacobs Field. It was a feeling of “are we still in Cleveland” as everything gleamed like new and shined brightly in a city not used to bright, shiny things. Even 15 years later, that luster has not dulled as the park remains a jewel of the city and the delightful experience of going to a baseball game in downtown Cleveland on a beautiful summer night still holds that special spot in my heart. At Progressive Field, visitors are right on top of the action, privy to the best sight angles I’ve seen at any stadium I’ve visited with the convenience of an easily accessible ballpark without the obscene prices that are found at many other MLB parks.

After attending Game 4 of the Cavaliers-Celtics playoff series, I remember exiting The Q with my ears bleeding from the noise and my synapses overloaded (from T-shirts flying at me and being commanded to clap and jeer…but only when instructed to do so) longing for my perch in the Mezzanine with a frosty beverage in my hand to watch some baseball where my thoughts are my own, the accompanying denizens of the park are like-minded baseball fans.

To me, there’s no better way to spend three hours of my day than watching my Tribe…and no better place to enjoy it than at the ballpark (whatever you want to call it) at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario in downtown Cleveland.

There you have it…everything from the recesses of my brain on the old ballpark.

Tribe tries to go for a series win tonight against the Twins with Victor’s elbow joining Victor’s hamstring, Hafner’s shoulder, Westbrook’s elbow, Fausto’s hip, Brodzoski (The Close)’s “tricep”, Barfield’s finger, and Senor Slo-Mo’s back (I hope) on the laundry list of what’s gone wrong in terms of Indians and their collective health.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hold That Obit

While most people probably have a similar story of where they were when they heard of the extent of Jake Westbrook’s elbow injury, I was sitting in the 3rd base boxes of Comerica Park on Saturday afternoon, sipping some adult beverages and readying myself for what was once thought to be a “must-see” game in the AL Central, if not the whole Major Leagues. The cell phone in my pocket vibrated and the text simply read “westbrook out for year”. After asking (via text) whether or not the surgery that would put him out for the year had any connection to a former Yankees pitcher with two first names (“tj?” I believe was the exact text), my phone came back with the words “probably…who cares”. And I think those final two words get to the crux of the way that a lot of people are feeling about the Indians these days – who cares?

Between sports talk radio-fueled conjecture that the whole team should be blown up because “everyone outside of Sizemore and Carmona should be fair game…and the Indians should entertain offers for them because this team is going nowhere as it is currently constructed” (I think I have that flawed logic right) and questions of “how long until Browns’ Training Camp starts”, let’s hold off on the doom-and-gloom that pervades the Cleveland sports psyche for a moment.

Is the news that Jake Westbrook is essentially out for this year, probably most of next year, and may never be the same pitcher a crushing blow in a series of them for the Erie Warriors? Certainly…and it’s made worse by the fact that he’s getting paid $33M for this season and the next two seasons.

Does this news, along with the fact that the Indians have endured a nightmare month from C.C., a catastrophic drop in effectiveness from several key cogs in the bullpen, and playing without 2 of their 3 best hitters (Victor on one leg does not make a full Victor) have the I-480 bridge filling up? I hope not, but the storm that this team is weathering just picked up some extra steam with the Westbrook news, furthering the unlikelihood that the Tribe can climb its way back into the Central race.

But, contrary to popular belief, all is not lost for this once-promising team or even this once-promising season…even as the White Sox get hot as the Indians tread water in the Central. It is still June and while the White Sox are doing their damnedest to pull away in the AL Central, there is a lot of baseball left to play in this season.

Before getting into this, let’s get the simple math out of the way in terms of the AL Central. Assuming that the AL Central is going to take about 88 games to win, here’s how the Indians and White Sox would have to close out their remaining games to reach 88 wins:
Indians: 59-39 (.602 winning percentage)
White Sox: 51-48 (.515 winning percentage)

Surely, you jest.

But hear me out on this as I’m not ready or willing to throw in the towel on this thing…yet. The only reason that I’m holding out hope on this (and, yes, I do watch the games every night) is that the Indians figure to play in what SHOULD be some very winnable games for the next three weeks before they head out to face the White Sox in Chicago at the end of June.
The schedule for the next three weeks:
MIN (31-33) @ home
SD (28-37) @ home
COL (24-39) on road
LAD (30-33) on road
SF (29-35) @ home
CIN (31-34) @ home
Could these teams be licking their lips at the anticipation of facing the 29-35 Tribe?
Sure, but the Indians’ offense has shown signs of life (aided admittedly by the launching pad in Texas…but those games and their results still count) as they’ve scored the 3rd most runs in MLB in June, while their starting pitching remains strong despite the absence of Carmona and Westbrook and figures to get a boost when Carmona returns. The Indians have the opportunity get fat on the NL West while the White Sox are forced to play the suddenly dominant Cubs (40-24, by the by) six times over the next three weeks and attempt to close the gap before their June 30th tussle with the South Siders.

Could the Indians continue to fall on their collective face and be done in by a bullpen that seemingly remains undeterred by escalating gas prices as they always bring their handy gas can to the mound with them or an offense incapable of cobbling together strings of extra-base hits? Of course, but despite reports that the Indians are dead in the water and that the White Sox are running and hiding with the AL Central pennant, it all seems a little premature given the date on the calendar.

Even if the Indians don’t make a huge dent in the White Sox lead heading into the month of July, have we all forgotten what happened in 2005 so quickly?
June 10, 2005
CHI: 41-19
MIN: 35-24 (5.5 GB)
CLE: 29-30 (11.5 GB)

July 31, 2005
CHI: 68-35
MIN: 54-50 (14.5 GB)
CLE: 55-51 (14.5 GB)

September 8, 2005
CHI: 87-52
CLE: 79-61 (8.5 GB)
MIN: 73-66 (14.0 GB)

September 24, 2005
CHI: 93-61
CLE: 92-63 (1.5 GB)
MIN: 78-76 (15.0 GB)

Obviously, we all know that the Indians fell just short of making the playoffs in 2005 after making one of the more spirited runs at a White Sox team that faded down the stretch. But look at those dates again above and consider where we are today:
June 10, 2008
CHI: 37-26
MIN: 31-33 (6.5 GB)
CLE: 29-35 (8.5 GB)

Not that dissimilar at this point in the season from 2005, and the Indians slipped further out of it before they quickly closed a 7-game gap in a three-week stretch in September of 2005. Surely that represents and exceptional case, but it at least sets a precedent (involving the same two teams a mere three seasons ago) for the Indians to continue to attempt to gradually dig out of a hole that, at this point, seems to be getting deeper by the day.

Now, if the Indians are sitting as far out as they were in 2005 this year at the Trading Deadline, there’s no question that the Tribe would be looking to move some pieces as the construction of the two clubs are at different stages of their maturation. But that date is over seven weeks away and the Indians still have the possibility to make up some ground in the Central prior to that date. Based on how quickly the Indians closed that gap in a three-week stretch in September of 2005, it’s not completely outside of the realm of feasibility…as hard as that may be to see given the recent road trip.

As frustrating as it is to watch this team scuffle (and the White Sox thrive), it remains early in a division that could tighten up in the next few weeks, so let’s hold off on the concession speeches and declarations of death for this team. With the caveat that if the Indians continue to go as they are (which is, playing about .500 ball against beatable teams and coughing up leads in winnable games) they’ll be fitted with a toe tag soon enough as they look to move some pieces (but, PLEASE, nobody not scheduled to become a FA after this season), the Indians are not out of this race based on precedent and what lies ahead.

All is not yet lost.
Don't get me wrong, it still could be...but not yet.
I'm still holding onto that towel in the corner.
I may be alone, but the towel hasn't hit the canvas by my hand.