Friday, July 30, 2010

Clearing the Decks

With the news that Austin Kearns has joined the Yankees for what is going to be either cash or a PTBNL (not always a bad thing for the Indians), with the answer coming by August 20th, and the assertion from ESPN’s Jayson Stark that the Cardinals have narrowed their focus on one Jake Westbrook, the realization that the Indians’ roster is about to see some serious turnover has set in. While change is not necessarily a bad thing, it will be a jarring fact nonetheless to see an Indians’ team without Peralta, maybe Westbrook, and (to a lesser degree) Kearns as the team scuffles through their AL East adversaries.

With all of that in mind (and promising that more will be coming in the Lazy One), perhaps it is time to revisit something that was written here about two weeks ago as to what the Indians should be looking to accomplish in the second half:
#1) Clear the Decks
While this is sure to be portrayed as “just another Fire Sale for an organization that runs one every year” by some in the local and national media, the 2010 season was entered as a “season to build upon”, something that certainly couldn’t be said in 2008 (coming off of a ALCS appearance) and in 2009 (when the team inked Wood and traded for DeRosa). Thus, this isn’t really a Fire Sale so much as the final step in jettisoning the veterans that aren’t under contract for 2011 and don't obviously figure into next year’s plans. Think of it more as saying goodbye to the some of the last vestiges of the 2007 team that was once thought to be “headed for greatness”.

It’s a new day on the North Coast and while the “window of contention” slammed shut back in 2008, the Indians are attempting to (ever so slightly) inch that next one up with an eye past 2010…maybe even well past 2010.

Thus, the Indians should trade Westbrook, Wood, Kearns, and (if possible) Peralta and not worry as much about how much money they’ll have to include to cover the cost of the remaining salaries to see if they can get prospects that have a serious chance of making an impact instead of simply providing organizational filler. Of course, it’s possible that the market for the players that figure to be available isn’t all that great (and my TCF colleague Steve Buffum contributed to a phenomenal Trade Deadline Primer, that’s available here), but moving these players OFF of the 25-man roster could be viewed as just as important as getting something of value for them.

Wood, Kearns, and Peralta unquestionably have no future with the team and should be moved to any team willing to take on their inconsistent performances. If the Indians can pull a couple of lottery tickets in the process, so be it…but there should be nearly no trade refused for those three.

As for Jake, if you’ve been here for any amount of time, you know of my opinion that maybe the Indians really are serious about having Westbrook in the 2011 rotation, but that shouldn't affect whether they trade him as re-signing him for 2011 isn’t affected by which uniform he’s wearing on the final day of the 2010 season. Of course, there is the possibility that Westbrook simply isn’t garnering any interest on the trade market, which is why the Indians are out in front of this, putting forth the idea that Westbrook might be kept around for the remainder of the season to provide that “veteran presence” when, in fact, there simply isn’t a trade market for him.

The impetus for bringing this up comes from John Perrotto at B-Pro as he relays what the scouts (or at least one scout) are saying about Westbrook, with the scout on the record saying, “If I’m a contender, there is just no way I trade for him for the stretch run. He’s been too inconsistent. He is not the pitcher he was before he had Tommy John surgery.”

To that I say – pay no attention to this, ye who populate the Front Offices in St. Louis and Los Angeles and Cincinnati while you’re looking to add to your rotation in a push for the playoffs…

That’s said in jest, but the veterans that the Indians figure to have on the block (Westbrook, Wood, Kearns, and Peralta) aren’t necessary to this team for the second half of the season, one that should be devoted exclusively to development and with an eye to 2011 and beyond.

What kind of Trade Market exists for that quartet?
That’s hard to say as the Indians’ willingness to eat money will play a role as will recent performance (um...Austin, Jhonny...we could use a little “bump” in production about now) of each player. If the Indians are able to find dance partners (and remember, it takes two to tango in this) in the next two weeks, they should move all of these players and not give a second thought to trading all of them.

That was true two weeks ago and that is true tonight as the Indians find takers for their ancillary veterans…

Yes, this team has been painful to watch as of late (minus one “Andy Marte…Relief Pitcher”), particularly on offense and the likes of Jayson Nix/Andy Marte/Luis Valbuena and Mike Brantley may not represent much of an improvement over Kearns and Peralta.

However, it should be pointed out that Peralta had an OPS of .698 when he was traded (21st among the 23 qualified 3B in MLB) and Kearns has an OPS of .701 since May 8th over 64 games, so given the fact that neither Peralta nor Kearns was going to be around next year lends credence to the idea that the Indians should be divvying up plate appearances and time in the field to players who figure to perhaps contribute past October of this year.

Obviously, more will be coming in the Lazy One as details are known, particularly if Westbrook is dealt now that Talbot has joined Laffey on the DL, but with the Trade Deadline at 4 PM tomorrow and with Kerry Wood presumably re-joining the Indians at some point this weekend, let us remember that big picture painted above and not get caught in the web of the craziness that July 31st has become.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jhonny Be Gone

The second domino has been felled as the Indians’ continued purging of veterans who do not figure into their plans in 2011 and beyond rolls on as Jhonny Peralta has been traded to Detroit for Low-A LHP Geovanni Soto, who is obviously not the Cubs’ current catcher. The move, which includes the Indians covering the remainder of Peralta’s 2010 contract, comes as neither a surprise nor as a disappointment as there is enough disappointment to go around from Peralta’s regression from a 23-year-old SS who hit 24 HR and posted an OPS of .885 to the defensively-challenged 3B who has posted a cumulative .693 OPS with 18 HR in 242 games since the start of the 2009 season, a regression that has been illustrative of the unrealized potential that seemed so limitless for the Indians just three to five years ago.

Peralta departs as a player who was never able to take the next step that seemed so obvious when he burst on the scene to replace Omar Vizquel (and justifiably so, I might add) as the Indians’ SS, done in by inconsistency and by an inability to make adjustments to a league that had obviously adjusted to him. His departure represents another step away from that 2005 to 2007 team that once seemed so full of promise, which now looks empty. He will go to Detroit as a pure rental player, with the Tigers obtaining him to replace the injured Brandon Inge in the lineup and with the Tigers perhaps hoping that “Hot Jhonny” makes an appearance in Motown as they attempt to vault past the White Sox and Twins in the race for the AL Central.

From the Indians’ perspective, this opens the door for an extended audition among Andy Marte, Jayson Nix, and Louie V (to begin with) as they all attempt to stake some sort of claim to the hot corner before Jared Goedert presumably emerges (assuming his defense is deemed satisfactory) to serve as the eventual bridge to Lonnie Chisenhall, the 21-year-old “3B of the Future”, currently plying his craft in Akron and who may be further away than a presumed 2011 mid-season call-up.

For now, Marte, Nix, and Valbuena will vie for plate appearances at 3B as the idea that Goedert could come up in a September call-up is complicated by the fact that he’s not on the 40-man roster. That complication isn’t too profound as there is certainly flotsam and jetsam on the 40-man that can be trimmed, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that MarteNixValbuena 3-headed monster handling 3B, with each limited player offering a different skill set for Manny Acta to utilize in the lineup and on the field.

As for the player coming to Cleveland for Peralta, it bears mentioning again that the Indians are covering Peralta’s 2010 salary and, while the skeptics would say that the only way that the Tribe was going to move Peralta and get more than the requisite bag of balls would be by paying that money, it represents a positive development in the way that the Indians (and I’m talking about the Dolans here) have been willing to cover money remaining on a contract in the interest of receiving a better prospect. The famous example is the Casey Blake and cash to the Dodgers for Carlos Santana (and, just to be clear, nobody’s purporting that Soto is in Santana’s class here), but in light of all of the financial criticism that the Indians and the Dolans take for the manner in which the Indians are operated, this practice of “buying prospects” (this one costing about $2M when they could have simply dumped that money, with little to no public objection) is a new wrinkle in all of these trades involving veterans for lottery tickets…I mean, prospects. While it is often ignored and while the average fan could not care less about the money changing hands in a deal like this, the presence of Santana in the Indians’ lineup for the next 6 years (at least) is a testament that this practice does have some merit, in terms of acquiring better talent.

In terms of that talent, that “lottery ticket” idea is wildly applicable here as Soto is a 19-year-old LHP who has been pitching in the same league that the Lake County Captains play in. His measurables say that he’s 6’ 3” and 155 pounds (that would likely be soaking wet) and his raw numbers show that he’s 6-6 this year with a 2.61 ERA and 76 K to 25 BB in 82 2/3 innings over 16 starts.

Soto’s left-handedness (remember how the Indians are lacking in a depth of legitimate LHP prospects) and his projection are what make him attractive as one scout told Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein, “He has got a nice delivery, he’s super loose, and super skinny... we’re talking rail-thin. He’s at 85-88 mph [on his fastball] and throwing four pitches with a curve, slider, and change—none of them are really good right now, but you can’t eliminate any of them, either. I hate projecting velocity, but this is the kind of guy you look for when doing it.”

What does that mean?
It means wait for two to four years and come back to Soto to see if that velocity has arrived and if the results are there because of that increased velocity. While that may not quicken anyone’s pulses, it falls in line with what the Indians have been stockpiling (young, projectable arms) as they have moved the veteran pieces and parts of their recent rosters.

With Peralta however, the addition of Soto is the subtext as the Indians have made a further attempt to clear the decks of players that don’t figure in past this year and have made room for players that could potentially contribute in 2011 and beyond to assert themselves with their newfound opportunities.

The trade of Peralta – who, by the way, leaves with the 36th most plate appearances as an Indian in the organization’s history and is 21st on the club’s all-time HR list…seriously – is another turn of the page for the Indians’ organization as the Tribe attempts to find meaningful spots for players that project to contribute in their next “window of contention” and don’t serve as sad reminders of the now closed windows.

Jhonny is gone and the Indians continue their evolution into a new team, with a new group of players lining up to do what Peralta and his mates were ultimately unable to accomplish.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Arms Trade

With the glow of a brilliant debut from Josh Tomlin against the Bronx Bombers still shining bright, the Trading Deadline (the July 31st one at least) bearing down, and in light of the recent Dan Haren deal – you know, the one in which Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan said that the Diamondbacks were “depantsed” - perhaps now is the time to revisit a topic that's been hit on before but needs some updating. The topic is the acquisition of young pitching talent, something that certainly seems to be at a premium around MLB more than ever, if anything can be gleaned from the “return” on Haren for the D'Backs, all of whom were pitchers. Realizing that young pitching is not something that is generally parted with in MLB, what is interesting is that accumulating it is something that the Indians have been in overdrive with since the summer of 2008.

While the summer of 2008 is one that will live in infamy on the North Coast as it essentially slammed shut the “window of contention” that seemed so wide open the previous October, the manner in which the Indians have acted since that time in adding arms to their system, at all levels, in just over 24 months is eye-opening when looked at it as a body of work.

While players like the aforementioned Tomlin (um...Laffey, don't rush back too soon from that shoulder issue) and Jeanmar Gomez (who probably sees some starts down the stretch once inning counts for Talbot and Masterson are reached) don't “qualify” for this little exercise, which focuses ONLY on the arms brought in since the CC deal in 2008 because they were in the organization prior to 2008, the volume of pitchers added to the organization in a short amount of time is still staggering .

While the arms added via trade get much of the attention, factoring in the 2008 and 2009 draft picks with the pitchers acquired via trade since mid-2008 gives a better idea of how quickly the cupboard has been re-stocked, particularly in the upper levels and onto the parent club. Interestingly, as much attention is paid to the players acquired via trade since the CC trade, it is worth mentioning that 4 pitchers who were drafted since 2008 have made it to AA or above:
Zach Putnam
Eric Berger
Bryce Stowell

Alex White

Remember, those are just the pitchers that have been in Akron and there are other guys who were drafted in the last two years who are currently below AA, even if they spent a day or two above Kinston (Joe Gardner, Cory Burns, Tyler Sturdevant, Trey Haley, TJ House, Clayton Cook, Marty Popham, Brian Grening, etc.) who are certainly interesting. However, in the interest of looking at immediate or close-to-the-surface arms, let's restrict this to arms acquired in the last two years who are already at AA or above, with the idea that they would be able to contribute at the MLB level in the next year or two.

With all of that introductory language out of the way, here are the players (with their numbers to date) that were not in the Indians' organization at the beginning of June in 2008 that currently populate their system, levels AA and above:
Mitch Talbot – Age 26
4.08 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, .748 OPS against with 66 K, 47 BB in 119 IP

Justin Masterson – Age 25
5.19 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, .755 OPS against with 94 K, 51 BB in 118 IP

Chris Perez – Age 24
2.31 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .666 OPS against with 34 K, 21 BB in 39 IP

Joe Smith – Age 26 (MLB)
4.26 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, .751 OPS against with 15 K, 12 BB in 19 IP
Joe Smith – Age 26 (AAA)
1.96 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, .505 OPS against with 19 K, 10 BB in 23 IP

Jess Todd – Age 24 (MLB)
9.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, .785 OPS against with 5 K, 2 BB in 3 IP
Jess Todd – Age 24 (AAA)
2.75 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, .716 OPS against with 46 K, 12 BB in 39 1/3 IP

Carlos Carrasco – Age 23 (AAA)
4.00 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, .774 OPS against with 103 K, 43 BB in 117 IP

Yohan Pino – Age 26 (AAA)
5.56 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, .836 OPS against with 78 K, 37 BB in 100 1/3 IP

Zach Putnam – Age 22 (Cumulative AA/AAA)
4.09 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, .738 OPS against with 45 K, 10 BB in 55 IP

Bryce Stowell – Age 23 (Cumulative A+/AA/AAA)
1.15 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .548 OPS against with 86 K, 29 BB in 55 IP

Bryan Price – Age 23 (AA)
3.57 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, .741 OPS against with 50 K, 13 BB in 45 1/3 IP

Scott Barnes – Age 22 (AA)
5.20 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, .725 OPS against with 87 K, 40 BB in 97 IP

Connor Graham – Age 24 (AA)
3.76 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, .758 OPS against with 36 K, 36 BB in 55 IP

Eric Berger – Age 24 (AA)
5.07 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, .755 OPS against with 58 K, 41 BB in 71 IP

Alex White – Age 21 (Cumulative A+/AA)
2.00 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, .591 OPS against with 90 K, 35 BB in 117 IP

Nick Hagadone – Age 24 (Cumulative A+/AA)

3.48 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, .666 OPS against with 72 K, 49 BB in 65 1/3 IP

Rob Bryson – Age 22 (Cumulative A/A+/AA)
3.18 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, .560 OPS against with 62 K, 14 BB in 34 IP

If you weren't keeping track at home, that's 16 pitchers at the top three levels of the organization that have been added over the last 25 months, with a mix of starters, current starters that will probably end up as relievers, and current relievers peppered throughout the list.

Going further on that, that list will soon include 60% of the Indians' rotation in the near future (Masterson, Talbot, and Carrasco) and 3 of the 7 arms in the current Indians' bullpen (CF Perez, Joe Smiff, and Jesse Ray Todd), including the closer, with the possibility that some of the bullpen arms in AAA or even AA – most notably Putnam, Price, and Stowell (2 draftees from 2008 and 1 trade acquisition from 2009) – find their way topside before 2010 is over, depending upon roster machinations.

Other than the draftees from 2008 and 2009 who are excluded from this snapshot because they have yet to reach AA, the other notable name excluded is that of Jason Knapp, who has now started to throw in the Arizona League. Even bringing up that Knapp isn't on this list brings into focus the fact that EVERY arm that they acquired via trade in the last two years, except for Knapp, is already in Akron or above.

That all being said, assuredly not all of these guys are going to pan out and it's possible that some go the way of Jerry Sowers, Fernando Cabrera, or Atom Miller and it's incredibly myopic to simply foresee a rotation and bullpen made out of all of these names as soon as the end of this year or even next year. But the sheer quantity of arms that have been acquired (and the way that they've performed to date at advanced levels) speaks to how badly this organization needed an infusion of arms, a particularly glaring hole in the organization, whose “homegrown” arms fell victim to being unable to find consistency in MLB to date (Huff), an inexplicable transformation away from being an effective groundball pitcher (Laffey), career-threatening injuries (Miller), a predilection for the HR (Jenny Lewis) and a tendency to be Sowersian on the mound (Sowers).

However, the Indians, whose rotational future is cloudy (even with the recent performances of Gomez and Tomlin duly considered) and whose history in building bullpens has been spotty at best, seem to be playing the game of attrition with the arms that they've added over the last 2+ years, with most of the pitchers representing a stark alternative to the group of soft-tossing lefties and retread relievers that have bedeviled the Indians in recent years. While that bedevilment was much of their own doing, the arms are starting to stack up beneath the surface of the parent club with the idea that the wheat will start to seperate from the chaff as seasons pass.

Whether any of the pitchers will develop into the top-of-the-rotation starter that seems to be lacking or into the lights-out reliever that the Indians have failed to develop in the last decade will play itself out, but there will be no shortage of high-end, upper-level options to choose from in that odyssey.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Black Hole Lazy Sunday

As the heat has finally loosened its grip on the North Coast and with the Trading Deadline (at least the July 31st one) coming up quickly, let’s get going on a Lazy Sunday as the Indians attempt to take a series from the Tampa Bay Rays. While there have certainly been some positive developments in the Indians’ lineup over the last month, one constant seems to be hanging around…and I don’t mean that in a good way, I mean more in the sense of the albatross hanging around the Ancient Mariner’s neck kind of way.

Now that you have a pretty good idea of where this thing is going, we’re off…
For starters on that albatross, let’s go to Castro’s Inbox from this week, in which he answers a question on Hafner and starts to get into the real issue at hand, which is a current problem and one that doesn’t look to be going away any time soon:
He has made significant changes to his swing, shortening it up and becoming more top-hand dominant. As a result, he’s more prone to line drives than deep fly balls. He’s had some nice stretches this season, but he’s not the feared, game-changing threat in the middle of the order that he once was.
Furthermore, Hafner can’t really be classified as an everyday player. Manager Manny Acta doesn’t use Pronk against certain lefties.
With Hafner, the Indians are on the hook for $13 million in 2011, $13 million in '12 and another $2.75 million when they buy out his ‘13 option. Hafner signed the largest contract in club history, and barring a dramatic change, it will go down as the worst. The Indians can’t trade him, because nobody would take that on. The Tribe’s only options are to pay Pronk and keep hoping for adequate production, or eat the contract. That would be an outrageous sum to ingest at this stage, so Hafner will remain on the roster, even if it’s not at the capacity he or the Indians envisioned.

This is a tremendous starting point and Hafner performance being “not at the capacity he or the Indians envisioned” is an artful way to assert the frustration from both sides. Outside of that, the money quote comes from the idea that eating his contract would be an “outrageous sum to ingest at this stage”, with the key words being “at this stage”, so let’s get into this in two parts – Hafner’s performance and Hafner’s contract.

For the first aspect, Hafner’s performance, over 306 PA this year (and he only had 383 last year and 233 in 2008), he’s put up this hitting line:
.251 BA / .356 OBP / .405 SLG / .762 OPS

With that “output”, Hafner currently has the 5th highest OPS among current Indians, ahead of Kearns, Donald, MaTola, Peralta, Asdrubal, Crowe, and Sizemore, but a closer look at Hafner’s splits gets to the crux of the reason why “Acta doesn’t use (The Hitter Formerly Known as) Pronk against certain lefties”. Reason being these splits for Hafner and, in full disclosure, if you have a squeamish stomach this Sunday morning, you might want to ready yourself for this:
Against LHP – 2010
.226 BA / .298 OBP / .298 SLG / .596 OPS

Against RHP – 2010

.263 BA / .382 OBP / .457 SLG / .839 OPS
Yikes…among the 96 AL players with more than 75 PA against LHP, Hafner ranks 83rd in OPS, 70th in OBP, and (realizing that we’re talking about a DH here) 85th in SLG. He has 4 extra base hits against LHP (3 2B and 1 HR) in his 84 PA against LHP and, unfortunately for the Indians, his performance against RHP no longer justifies his automatic inclusion in an every day lineup.

The problem with all of this is that these disparate (and ugly) splits are nothing new for Hafner, if you just go back to last year, you start to see why Hafner can no longer “really be classified as an everyday player”:
Against LHP – 2009
.210 BA / .289 OBP / .407 SLG / .696 OPS

Against RHP – 2009
.292 BA / .375 OBP / .490 SLG / .865 OPS

And therein lies the main problem with Hafner (among many), in that he simply cannot hit LHP, particularly for power. With his numbers against RHP even dropping from last year’s levels and seeing the two-year body of work, this devolution or degeneration of Hafner has left the Indians with a $13M a year platoon DH for the next two years AFTER this year.

The issue becomes not only how infrequently Hafner may find himself in the lineup but how the top of this lineup suddenly looks dynamic with Cabrera, Choo, and Santana with LaPorta starting to enter that realm

This question of what to do with Hafner is not a new one (he was the “Elephant in the Room” two years ago) and it may be coming to a breaking point soon where the realization arrives that this team may simply be a better team without Hafner in the lineup and if not right now, in the very near future.

Seeing as how that contract precludes a straight omission of Hafner, the Indians are left trying to put Hafner in situations where he can contribute while trying to avoid matchups that clearly overmatch him. To that end, one thought would be to platoon the RH hitting Duncan and Hafner at DH this year and maybe next, but Duncan’s splits in 2010 show that he’s hitting better against RHP (.893 OPS) than he is against LHP (.812 OPS). His career splits show that he has historically hit LHP a little better than RHP in MLB (career .733 OPS vs. RHP, career .794 OPS vs. LHP), but a platoon of Duncan and Hafner doesn’t exactly quicken any pulses.

Perhaps the answer past this year falls in line with this idea that the Indians start to move Santana and LaPorta around to take some AB away from Hafner against LHP, with Lou Marson filling in at C (Marson posted an OPS of .883 vs. LHP in a tiny sample size this year in MLB) and Santana and LaPorta filling the 1B and DH spots (remember, the Indians have toyed with the idea of Santana playing 1B some next year) to replace Hafner.

Of course, a convoluted platoon of Hafner and Marson isn’t going to elicit much confidence either, but at this point, the Indians are stuck trying to make the best out of a bad situation and a dreadful contract.

This brings us to the second part of the initial equation…that contract, and the way that it figures to handcuff the Indians with Hafner for the foreseeable future. If you’ll remember, last week I linked Choo and Santana being among the players with the highest trade value and, lest you think that I was just going to focus on the positive and the optimistic portions of the team, I would be remiss if I didn't point out which Indian appears in the players with the LEAST trade value.

If you’re confused by this concept, here’s the quick description as to how the players with the least trade value were quantified:
These guys have contracts that far outstrip their actual value, and if their current organizations wanted to ship them out, they would have to pick up a significant portion of the money they’re still owed in order to facilitate a trade. They are liabilities, not assets.

With that description, you know where this is going...but here’s the write-up and the link:
#7 – Travis Hafner, DH, Cleveland
Remaining Commitment: 2 years, $29 million
Once one of the game’s premier first baseman, Hafner is now a mediocre DH. He still has a decent approach at the plate, but his power is mostly gone, and injuries have taken a toll on his body. He’s not a bad hitter, but he’s not appreciably better than what most teams could get from picking through the scraps at Triple-A, where at least they might find a guy with some upside. Hafner comes with none, but he does carry a nearly $15 million per year salary for the next two years.

“One of the game’s premier first baseman” falls in line with what qualifies as “analysis” at Fangraphs, but, sometimes they come out with these little lists that are interesting to look at in the context of Indians against all of MLB. Regardless, how the Indians handle this whole Hafner situation (and the “nearly a $15M per year salary for the next two years” is overstated by $2M per year...but that’s just semantics and more sloppy “analysis”) is going to be interesting as the Indians are unquestionably tied to Hafner as the DH, perhaps only as the DH to face RHP.

The interesting new wrinkle in play here is the recent performance of one Nick Weglarz, a LH bat who could project as a LF/1B type, but who more obviously projects as a DH…except for the fact that the Indians have their current DH signed through the 2012 season. To get things going on Wegz, we go to his biggest fan, Andrew Humphries of the LGT to provide the latest and greatest:
Since his promotion to AAA, Weglarz has thrown together a triple slash of .289/.388/.491 with fifteen 2Bs, one 3B, and five HRs. Those are very good numbers for a young man of 22 (he’ll be 23 on December 16) just a heartbeat away from the major leagues (yes I’m implying he would be promoted in the event of an assassination). However, as is always the case, the numbers are even more intriguing when we start to manipulate them.
Now, his feet soaked through, Weglarz has claimed July as his own: .386/.462/.702, eight walks and ten strikeouts.

Andrew goes on with some compelling XBH numbers for Weglarz, and since the impetus for the piece is Weglarz’s success in July, it is worth mentioning that Weglarz has actually IMPROVED his July numbers since this piece was written on Thursday. Today, Weglarz’s July totals are a line of .371 BA / .466 OBP / .710 SLG / 1.176 OPS with 11 XBH in 62 PA.

Just to go a little further on this, there is some justified enthusiasm about the youth of players like Mike Brantley because of his on-base ability, mixed with a dollop of patience as Brantley just turned 23 in May. Consider now that Weglarz is 7 months younger than Brantley and, if we’re talking on-base ability, has actually kept pace with Brantley in OBP for the past couple of years:
Weglarz 2010
Akron - .383 OBP
Columbus - .393 OBP
Cumulative - .388 OBP

Brantley 2010
Columbus - .391 OBP

Weglarz 2009
Akron - .376 OBP

Brantley 2009
Columbus - .350 OBP

While the question of whether power will ever arrive for Brantley to augment that on-base ability as his numbers in the Minors have never pointed in that direction, Weglarz’s July (in AAA of all places as a 22-year-old) show that the power that everyone has been waiting on for Weglarz to augment HIS on-base ability may have just arrived in force.

Of course, the question with Weglarz becomes where he plays if he continues this torrid pace as 1B seems to belong to LaPorta, DH unfortunately belongs to another LH hitter, and LF has become the “proving ground” for the likes of Crowe and Brantley. If he keeps hitting like he has the Indians will find a spot for him (likely in LF), with the idea that he’ll eventually replace Hafner at DH as Hafner’s contract slowly winds down in the 2012 season…or perhaps before it.

Moving onto the Trading Post (it being 6 days away from July 31st), here’s a bit from Ken Rosenthal that reiterates what was intimated by Buster Olney earlier in the week:
... And the Divorce Court Dodgers, whose $95.3 million Opening Day payroll ranked 11th in the majors, likely will have their hands out again, offering better prospects in exchange for cash from their trading partners.
That was the kind of deal the Dodgers made with the Indians for third baseman Casey Blake at the non-waiver deadline in 2008 — well before Frank and Jamie McCourt embarked upon their messy little split.
That’s right, none of this is exactly new.
Blake proved a worthy pickup, helping the Dodgers to back-to-back appearances in the NLCS. But if the Dodgers had not needed the Indians to cover his salary, perhaps they could have made the deal without including catcher Carlos Santana, who is now emerging as one of the best young hitters in the majors.

Rosenthal’s right that “none of this is exactly new” and I don’t know why I keep coming back to the Dodgers on this (although as LGT's Jay Levin told me when he was the guest co-host for this week’s “Smoke Signals”, the reason I keep coming back to the Dodgers IS Carlos Santana), but I keep picturing Westbrook in Dodger Blue at the end of this week and Wood in Chavez Ravine sometime in the month of August, with lots of money changing hands and some of the Dodgers’ young talent coming to Cleveland as the Indians (as Levin put it during the show) “don’t dump salary, but instead BUY prospects” from the team that always seems to be selling them.

If you’re looking for proof right from the horse’s mouth, in terms of what the Dodgers are (and are not) looking to do, here’s Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti:
“I'm not inclined to take on a huge salary and unload a bunch of top-end prospects at the same time," he said. "For good or for bad, there's always a balance in every deal.”

So let’s take that “take on a huge salary” part out of the equation while leaving the “unload a bunch of top-end prospects” part in the arrangement…everyone’s OK with that, right?

Of course, the Cardinals keep hanging around in rumors about Westbrook (and Carmona) as Bernie Miklasz points out:
If the Cardinals are indeed interested acquiring one of two Cleveland starters, Jake Westbrook or Fausto Carmona, they’d fit the Dave Duncan profile. Why? High ground-ball rate. Both pitchers are getting ground-ball rates of 69 percent this season; both have GB rates of 72 percent in their careers. I still think the idea of Dan Haren to the Cardinals is a long shot. By the way: Westbrook’s contract expires after this season; he’s making $11 million this year and less than half of that remains due. Carmona has a year left; his salary in 2011 will be $6.1 million, which is reasonable. But because Carmona has that year remaining, the Indians would probably be less inclined to deal him. Or would want more for him in return.

If you want an explanation as to why I think that it’s Westbrook and not Carmona that gets dealt, here’s Miklasz’s rationale again that sums it up in two sentences:
Westbrook's contract expires after this season; he's making $11 million this year and less than half of that remains due. Carmona has a year left; his salary in 2011 will be $6.1 million, which is reasonable. But because Carmona has that year remaining, the Indians would probably be less inclined to deal him.

Wash away all the other rumors and hearsay on this and realize that Carmona is 26 and that the Indians can control him through the 2014 season for a total outlay of $34.1M over the next 4 seasons and, while that total number may look large, it doesn’t when you consider what FA pitching (even “inning-eaters” earn on the open market) and when you realize that the dollars past 2011 aren’t guaranteed, giving the club protection through the ability of simply declining any of the three club options from 2012 through 2014.

Just to put a cherry on this, it should be noted where Carmona ranks in the AL among starting pitchers after his outing on Friday night, during which he flummoxed Rays’ hitters:
3.51 ERA (15th in AL)
1.28 WHIP (24th in AL)
15 Quality Starts (4th in AL)
.647 OPS Against (10th in AL)
57.5% Groundball Percentage (2nd in AL)
1.99 Groundball/Flyball Ratio (3rd in AL)
13.7% Line Drive Percentage (2nd Lowest in AL)
6% HR/Flyball Ration (8th Lowest in AL)

Elsewhere in Trading Deadline news, injuries to David DeJesus and Ben Sheets could move the Indians and their trade chips (Kearns and Westbrook, most notably) up in the pecking order but all of that could play out this week as the Trading Deadline (the July 31st one, that is) will arrive just after the Yankees leave town later this week.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Throwing Tomahawks

As the Indians enjoy an off day before heading through the gauntlet that is a 3-game set with the Rays and a 4-game series with the Yankees, let’s get the Tomahawks going before all of these nice, clean numbers that are about to be used get some mud thrown at them from facing the best two teams in the AL over the next week.

And with that, they’re in the air…

While the Indians’ recent winning streak has gotten the lions’ share of attention locally, does everyone realize that this team is 22-24 since June 1st (including a 1-11 stretch in mid-June) and is actually 10-8 since July 1st? While that’s not going to win anything more than a “Best Sportsmanship” ribbon at the year-end awards ceremony, it is promising to examine the improvements that this team has made as the season has made by month:
April: 9-13
May: 9-18
June: 12-16
July: 10-8

As much as I hate those arbitrary “this is what they did in this imaginary timeframe” statistics, it is…well frankly, it’s easier to quantify and find statistics when you use those arbitrary timeframes. Anywho, while the (relative) success can be chalked up to a fair number of positive factors – Santana, MaTola, Talbot, Carmona, etc. – the biggest change, particularly over the past month, has been the performance of the bullpen.

Don’t believe me?
Bullpen Performance – July
Joe Smith – 0.00 ERA, 0.83 WHIP with 5 K, 3 BB in 6 IP over 9 games
Chris Perez – 0.00 ERA, 1.26 WHIP with 6 K, 7 BB in 6 1/3 IP over 7 games
Tony Sipp – 1.08 ERA, 0.96 WHIP with 10 K, 5 BB in 8 1/3 IP over 7 games
Rafael Perez – 2.08 ERA, 1.50 WHIP with 5 K, 4 BB in 8 2/3 IP over 9 games
Frank Herrmann – 2.57 ERA, 1.43 WHIP with 6 K, 1 BB in 7 IP over 7 games

Sure, there are guys like Heck Ambriz, Jenny Lewis, and Jess Todd that I’m omitting (in addition to a certain “former” closer who I’m not including here), but while optimism abounds in the lineup as the 2011 pieces are starting to assert themselves, the same can be said in the bullpen as those five names could constitute the foundation of a solid, young, (relatively speaking) “homegrown” bullpen with arms that are under club control for the foreseeable future.

Of course, it’s folly to assume that any or all of those guys (or the layer below them like Todd, Stowell, Pestano, Putnam, etc.) can be counted on from game to game, much less year to year. However, the Indians finally seem to be developing young arms that are excelling in MLB and could FINALLY settle what has been the Achilles’ heel of the organization for far too long.

As long as we’re dealing with those “arbitrary timeframe” statistics for a particular group of players, how about taking a quick look at the performances for the stalwarts in the rotation since June 1st:
Carmona – 3.60 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, .666 OPS Against
Talbot – 4.05 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, .720 OPS Against
Masterson – 4.68 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, .701 OPS Against
Westbrook – 4.70 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, .773 OPS Against

Why do the Indians have to hang on to Jake Westbrook again?
Sure, you could say that the compelling reason would be to NOT allow the likes of Dave Huff and Aaron Laffey from toeing the rubber again (although it looks like Twitter and a “dead arm” may take care of that) as each has struggled mightily in their time in the Tribe rotation.

However, two months of Jake Westbrook in this rotation is not going to make or break the 2010 season. If you want to make the case that the Indians should sign him this off-season, I’ll probably line up next to you to make that argument; but if Wednesday night’s start for the Clippers was “the best that (Carlos Carrasco) has thrown all year”, as Farm Director Ross Atkins asserted (as he is wont to do) or would like to see if Jeanmar Gomez’s start on Sunday was an aberration (and I tend to think that it was), the only way to find those things out this year is to clear some spots in the rotation.

While an argument can be made that plenty of starts will be there as the Indians monitor innings pitched for Masterson and Talbot and Laffey’s probably headed for the DL, it’s something that’s been discussed before, but facing MLB hitters (or pitchers) prior to September call-ups, instead of after them, allows a better chance to evaluate players against MLB players and not simply against their fellow September call-ups.

If the idea is to find out what Carrasco and Huff (most obviously) and Tomlin and Gomez (less obviously) are able to bring to the table before just opening a rotation spot up next Spring in Goodyear with very little known about any or most of them, then the moves need to be made to accommodate those players with those chances.

Whether they sink or swim is on them, but they need to get into the pool to find out first…

Since the subject of moving Westbrook to open up opportunities for young pitchers has been broached, let’s get the Rumor Mill spinning. Starting off with Jayson Stark as he hits on some of the high points on Carmona and Westbrook (in a roundabout way) in a piece analyzing the trade market for starters:
Teams that have talked to the Indians say they’re taking a much different approach this summer than they did when they were selling off Cy Sabathia and Cy Lee the previous two years. They’ve consistently told everyone who has called they don’t have to move dollars and they don't have to move either Carmona or Jake Westbrook. So neither is going anywhere unless it’s a deal the Indians consider
Of the two of them, the Indians appear much more amenable to trading Westbrook, if only because he’s about to become a free agent.
It’s conceivable the Indians could drop their poker face by sometime next week. But what’s a lock is this: They won’t move both Carmona and Westbrook. They’ve made it clear it will be one or the other.

If I had to read between the lines there, it looks like the Indians are looking to move Westbrook and are using Carmona as bait to get people to look at Jake. I think that Stark’s right in that they’re keeping that “poker face” up in an attempt to not only dispel the notion that they’re under a directive from ownership that they HAVE to move payroll and attempt to net a haul that they really have no business asking for in terms of Westbrook, particularly because of the money that would be owed to him.

Of course, if they are willing to pay that money remaining on the contracts of Westbrook and maybe Wood, perhaps they could once again play the role of predator to the Dodgers as prey, as according to Buster Olney, via Craig Calcaterra:
The Dodgers think they will be able to add both a starting pitcher and a relief pitcher before the July 31 deadline, making trades similar to those they’ve made in recent years when they surrendered a high-caliber prospect while asking their trade partner to pay the salary of the player involved.

That money that they’d have to eat to pay the salary of Westbrook would be close to $6M on Westbrook and a little under $5M on Wood, so if they make that deal with the Dodgers, for a “high-caliber prospect”, the guy’s last name better be Broxton or Ethier.

Obviously, that’s in jest but it speaks to the conundrum that the Tribe’s in with both Westbrook and Wood as they owe them a significant enough amount of money that they have to balance whether getting a “high-caliber prospect” (who is still a prospect) is worth eating all of that money or if the organization is better served moving them and their contracts and using the money saved to throw into their 2010 Draft Class or the International Market.

Nevertheless, staying on the topic of Westbrook, here’s a little bit on St. Louis via AOL Fanhouse’s Ed Price:
St. Louis, meanwhile, was also believed to be trying to get a starter, with its focus on Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook and Arizona’s Dan Haren.

With Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse on the disabled list, the Cardinals over the past two months have gotten just two quality starts from a pitcher other than Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter or Jaime Garcia.

As an addendum to this, I’m not sure if you knew this, but Cardinals’ 3B David Freese may not be back until late-August because he dropped a weight on his toe while he was rehabbing from his ankle injury, so perhaps the Indians could package Westbrook AND Peralta to St. Louis. If the Indians threw a raft of money down the Mississippi headed towards St. Louis along with them, do you think that they could pry away Eduardo Sanchez or buy (relatively) low on Lance Lynn?

Regardless of what they do on the Trade Market, it will be interesting to see how they balance the remaining money on these deals with the caliber of prospect that they eventually receive as covering the amount of money owed to players like Westbrook and Wood to net a better return doesn’t exactly mean that it’s the best use of money.

Finally, since the start of the season, there has been an attempt by many (present company included) to equate the stage of development that this 2010 Indians’ team finds itself in during this latest “rebuild/reload/whatever” phase. Particularly interesting is to attempt to compare it to the development curve of the 2002-2009 team that was broken down from the “Era of Champions” and built with young talent via trade and development.

Now nearly 2/3 of the way through the season, the apt comparison (in terms of years) may be emerging as the 2003 Tribe was 41-54 at this point in the season, while the 2010 version is 40-55 after this recent hot streak. Just to finish that comparison, that 2003 team finished with 94 losses, finishing ahead of the Tigers who lost 119 that year (which allowed them to select Verlander in the Draft the next year 2nd overall, by the way) and a year removed from the 2004 season, in which they were 1 game out of 1st place in mid-August.

Whether this current incarnation can follow that same arc remains to be seen, but the pieces for the future are starting to fall into place and should continue to do so as the 2010 season rolls on…

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Changes Afoot

As we all celebrate the news that Asdrubal is back and The BLC looks to be close on his heels to rejoin the Indians’ lineup at end of the week while envisioning a top-to-middle of the lineup that features Cabrera, Choo, Santana, and LaPorta, the question becomes not where Cabrera and Choo figure to return to (as that’s fairly obvious), but rather which players will find themselves out of the lineup as a result of their return.

Starting in the infield, with Cabrera returning to SS, it seems that the question of whether Jason Donald should have be given the 2B job with Jayson Nix evolving into a Utility role or whether Nix should keep his 2B job with Donald going to Columbus because “he’s going to play every day...somewhere” found an answer as Donald (rightfully) will move to 2B and Nix will stick around in a Utility role.

What I find interesting in this discussion is the lack of including 3B in the mix specifically as Nix has played 3B in his career and (maybe this is because Ive been the lead cheerleader for Jason Donald since Spring Training) I see no reason that the Indians couldn’t go forward with a more defensive-minded infield that follows the move Donald over to 2B to accommodate Asdrubal’s return by having 3B handled by Nix.

Before you utter the name that appears to be misspelled, consider this:
Jayson Nix (as an Indian) – 2010
.265 BA / .322 OBP / .542 SLG / .864 OPS in 91 PA over 21 games

Jason Donald – 2010
.276 BA / .326 OBP / .423 SLG / .749 OPS in 178 PA over 49 games

Jhonny Peralta – 2010
.252 BA / .314 OBP / .403 SLG / .717 OPS in 350 PA over 84 games

Despite the fact that I think that all of these measures of a player’s defense are wildly divergent and can’t assert any conclusions definitively, anyone want to take a guess where I think the weakest link is among these three in the field?

If Nix’s offense is an aberration (and I think that it is), maybe the door opens for Peralta or it’s possible that the Indians could even give Andy Marte a chance to linger around the periphery of the 25-man roster. While I certainly understand Peralta’s track record and his contract situation, which of the three players legitimately figures into the 2011 and beyond mix?
Here’s a hint – it isn’t the player who has had Lasik...

If we were living in an ideal world, the Indians would find somebody interested in Peralta and move him, return notwithstanding. While Jon Heymann asserts that Peralta has “very little value”, the Padres are allegedly interested in Miguel Tejada (who Heymann says has “limited value” in the aforementioned piece), so there is some interest in powerless, defensively-challenged 3B out there. It may just be a matter of whether the Indians accept a lesser offer and cover some of Peralta’s salary to move him from the 2010 team.

While that action may be seen as rash by some, have we already forgotten what the removal of Branyan from the roster accomplished as it opened opportunities for young players who do project as contributors past 2010?

Though we are in July of the 2010 season, every move that the Indians should be making should be not for this week or next week or even next month as (5-game winning streak duly considered), we’re looking past the 2010 season from this point forward.

With that in mind, with Choo returning soon, the Indians could certainly go back to their old OF arrangement of Kearns-Crowe-Choo and send Mike Brantley off to Columbus again as his performance, even since his demotion, more than justifies him heading back down I-71. Not to pile on a 23-year-old Brantley here, but his cumulative OPS from his two stints with the Tribe is .442. That .442 OPS is the 2nd lowest in all of MLB for players with 100 PA or more, ahead of only Brandon Wood. His OPS is 72 points lower than Louie V and 88 points lower than Blue Lou Marson, both of whom are now plying their trade in the capital city of Ohio.

Lest you think the performance of Brantley has been appreciably different from his first and second stint, here are numbers for each stretch of games:
.156 BA / .229 OBP / .188 SLG / .416 OPS in 36 PA over 9 games
.169 BA / .219 OBP / .237 SLG / .456 OPS in 64 PA over 13 games

That knowledge firmly in hand however, I’m more inclined to give Brantley a long leash (knowing that he may hang himself with it) and simply move him out of the leadoff spot because he is unquestionably more obvious to the future of the team than Crowe or (certainly) Kearns would be. By allowing him to ingratiate himself to MLB pitching at the bottom of the lineup, he may be able to adjust to better pitching without the self-imposed pressure that would come from batting leadoff every day.

The obvious answer would be to move Kearns (and now is not a real good time for Kearns to go day-to-day with an injury) as keeping him around accomplishes as much as keeping Peralta around does...regardless of what some hack thought two months ago.

While the cry may go out that Kearns has played a role in the “burgeoning” (term used loosely) offense for the Indians and that he’s a middle-of-the-order “presence”, consider that in Austin Kearns’ last 58 games, he has seen his OPS drop from .980 to .764 by virtue of him posting a this line:
Austin Kearns – 2010 since May 8th
.243 BA / .331 OBP / .362 SLG / .693 OPS line over 248 PA in 60 games

Want some perspective on that?
Trevor Crowe – 2010
.263 BA / .317 OBP / .355 SLG / .672 OPS over 248 PA in 57 games

Maybe Kearns has the better overall track record in his career and maybe Kearns elicits more confidence than Crowe does, but (and I say this as a founding member of the “Trevor Crowe is barely a 4th OF in MLB Club”) there’s no reason to keep Kearns on this team because of performance or “veteran presence” or even because Manny Acta likes the cut of his jib.

If the Red Sox are kicking the tires on Cody Ross, why not have them take a look at Kearns and tell them that a single-A arm or a low-level OF is all that the Indians are looking for in return? If the Braves have a similar OF need, the Indians should dangle Kearns and ask about one of their minor-league arms?

While the outfield alignment of Crowe-Brantley-Choo (with an intermittent dose of Shelley Duncan mixed in) may not remind anyone of the 1995 outfield, you’re playing 3 players who likely will be on the 25-man roster next year and who, with the assumed return of Grady Sizemore, are likely to patrol 2 of the 3 OF spots with the other player occupying the 4th OF role on the 2011 team.

This all may seem very logical to you and I realize that I’m probably preaching to the choir, but there seems to be a movement afoot to keep Austin Kearns (and Westbrook, by the by) in the name of “veteran leadership”, which should be roundly ridiculed and put into its proper place at any opportunity. Perhaps I bring all of this up ad nauseum because I made the mistake of listening to some mind-numbing post-game radio on the flagship home after the game on Sunday in which the host suggested ADDING pieces to this team, but the idea that the remainder of this season should be dedicated to anything more than developing the players that factor in PAST this year is tantamount to the type of thinking that lead the Royals to hang onto their soon-to-be-FA veterans in a lost year, season after season in a cycle of ineptitude.

To that end, this notion again that Westbrook should be given his chance to play out his contract and that he’s earned the right to finish what he was never able to really start goes against everything that this team SHOULD be doing, regardless of the “veteran presence” or the “mentoring” that is allegedly taking place. Not to bring up old news, but after moving nearly every prospective FA over the last two years (and two players who were under contract for a year and a half), this team is going to get sentimental with players NOW, with Jake Westbrook of all players?

Being all for sentimentality and having nothing but respect for the way that Westbrook returned from injury and his body of work as an Indian, let’s be honest about the real reason that Westbrook might stick around in the second half of 2010 (other than a couple of reports that teams aren’t that interested in him...and he does have an ERA of 5.10 and a WHIP of 1.41 over his last 8 starts), as it finally comes from Ken Rosenthal, who reports that:
Westbrook will receive a $2 million bonus if traded, and his salary would increase by a pro-rated portion of $1 million, according to a copy of his contract obtained by
Thus, if Westbrook is traded on July 31, he would be owed nearly $6 million — approximately $2.3 million in trade bonuses and the remaining portion of his $11 million salary, which would be approximately $3.6 million.
The bonuses in Westbrook’s contract seemingly would make it more difficult for the Indians to trade him to clubs that have payroll concerns. The Mets and Dodgers — two of the teams looking for starting pitching — fit that description.
The Indians could include cash in a trade to help reduce their trading partner’s obligation to Westbrook. If they agreed to such a provision, they would expect better prospects in return.

While I think that the Indians should be willing to cover a portion of this money, the bonuses in his contract would certainly seem to represent the real reason that the activity on Westbrook has been slim and none. Forget all of this “great relationship” and “he wants to fulfill his contractual obligation to the Indians” and “the Indians want to keep him on to mentor a young staff” stuff that’s come out over the last month or so...he’s owed a substantial amount of money because of his contract and the Indians are having trouble balancing the idea that they’re going to give him away for peanuts AND eat a portion of his salary and are out in front of this story with about a week and a half before the Trading Deadline.

By all means, if a team shows interest in Westbrook, then he should be traded post-haste and the team should throw some money in to cover those provisions that Rosenthal reports. According to a piece from John Harper at the New York Daily News, a “Mets person” had this to say about Jake:
"He’s a veteran with a reputation as a gamer, so you have to think he’d be revitalized by getting out of Cleveland and getting into a pennant race. His sinker-slider type stuff would get a boost coming to the National League, too."

I’m hoping this “Mets person” answers to Mr. Minaya…
Seriously, now that we know why he’s not garnering much interest in the Trade Market, it has to be asked why he’s seen as one of the starters that should be handed the ball every five days for the Indians, who need to answer questions about Laffey, Huff, Carrasco, Gomez (suddenly), and maybe even Josh Tomlin going into next year and beyond. We know what Jake Westbrook brings to the table and he’s not under Indians’ control for next year, so the purpose of him toeing the rubber for the Indians accomplishes what?

Perhaps the Indians are considering Westbrook as a veteran FA signing for 2011 but (and I’m not sure how many times this needs to be repeated) whether Westbrook finishes the 2010 season in a Tribe uniform has little to no bearing on whether the Indians will be able to re-sign him after this year.

Given their recent performances, I’m not sure that Peralta, Kearns, and Westbrook are necessarily the best players to be out there RIGHT NOW, much less that any of them should be taking time away from even guys like Nix, Brantley, Duncan, and the gaggle of unproven arms that represent the layer below Cleveland.

At this point, I’m past the idea that the Indians should be getting Three or Four Star Prospects for these guys and this declaration to continue the youth movement shouldn’t be misconstrued as a call to simply dump more salary. Instead, it falls in line with the idea that 2010 shouldn’t be about anything more than making every move an eye past this season.

Squeezing one or two more victories out of a team that might have some veterans on it or to allow certain players the opportunity to complete their “unfinished business” are hollow victories and whether the Indians can net a few more lottery tickets in terms of prospects for the likes of Peralta, Kearns, and Westbrook is as much of a part of the discussion as answering questions about players that factor in past 2010.

Today, those veterans do not factor in past 2010 and if the Branyan move started the dominoes, I’d prefer to sit back and watch them all fall as the team gets younger and the future composition of this team becomes clearer, not cloudier.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Lazy Sunday Rounding the Bases

While you attempt to make sense of this Dave Huff/Twitter flap (and let’s hope that Huff takes this as his “organizational slap in the face” that turned CP Lee from an off-the-playoff-roster nonfactor to…well, the guy you see today) and keep reading the outrageously insightful pieces on “The Betrayal” and I ponder High Life’s re-design and why Schlitz ever went away from their “original formula”, let’s get going on a Lazy Sunday as I’m packing up the fam in the Family Truckster to hit the game this afternoon at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

So as The DiaTot runs laps in the backyard to practice running the bases (though he can’t figure out why he won’t be able to bring his glove on the field after the game to, you know…field grounders) while I marvel at the lack of Indians-related analysis and the presence of Reds-related analysis in this morning’s PD, I’ll let you delve into “A Day In the Life” from Castro’s Saturday at the ballpark, and not just to read the quote from Carlos Santana after the second win that, “this is the baseball. Today, two game wins. So things are very happy.”

This is “the baseball” and “things are very happy” as the Indians have rattled off 3 straight wins coming off of the All-Star break, attempting the 4-game sweep this afternoon, so let’s get after it…

With the promise that I’ll hit the Wood injury and the latest at the Trading Post, let’s start off with Fangraphs’ rundown of the Top 50 players in MLB in terms of Trade Value with the criteria being stated thusly:
“Essentially, the idea is to take all the information that goes into encapsulating a player’s value to an organization – his present skills, his future potential, how long he’s under club control, the expected cost of paying him over that time, and the risks involved with projecting his future performances – and figure out which players currently have the most trade value in baseball.”

Again, just to be clear - we’re not talking about the BEST players in baseball today, or the most valuable on the field RIGHT NOW. Rather, it’s more of a projection of estimated future value balanced against salary, club control, etc. With that explanation attempted twice, here are a couple of names that you may recognize:
#28 – Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Cleveland
Over the last three years, Choo has posted wOBAs of .402, .389, and .382. He’s been consistently above average at every facet of the game, and yet he flies under the radar because his teammates haven’t performed up to his level. An thumb injury has derailed his 2010 season, but his long-term future is still very bright. He’d rank higher if he wasn’t headed for arbitration with Scott Boras as his agent, making a long term, team friendly deal less likely. Still, the Indians should be able to get three years of reduced rates out of a high-quality player before Boras takes him elsewhere, and every team in baseball would love to have him.

In case you were wondering, Choo is nestled between David Price (#29) and Clayton Kershaw (#27) on the list, and falls below this guy:
#21 – Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland
Of all the good young catchers on this list, Santana is the best. A switch-hitter with power and a tremendous approach at the plate, he projects as a better version of Victor Martinez at the plate, only with much better defensive skills than his predecessor. He’s wasted no time in establishing himself as one of the game’s best young players, and because he wasn’t called up until June, the Indians will control his rights for six more years. The Dodgers will regret trading him for a long, long time.

In this case, The Axe Man comes in just ahead of Pujols (#22) because this list is about FUTURE value based on projected production versus cost and club control and just behind Zack Grienke (#20).

As a quick aside here and just to remind you what still sits on the 40-man roster, if not the 25-man, Sizemore was ranked #12 last year and was #3 in 2008. Going back to Cameron’s USS Mariner days, the 2007 list includes Sizemore at #6 and Hafner (!) at #17, which of course illustrates how quickly things can change in “the baseball”.

Obviously the line on Santana that “because he wasn’t called up until June, the Indians will control his rights for six more years” is lost on most fans, but the amount of hand-wringing that has already taken place in terms of Choo’s new agent – one Mr. Scott Boras – has been hashed, re-hashed, and hashed over again.

Since Boras’s name is suddenly and intrinsically linked to almost everything related to Choo, does everyone know that Choo is not the only Boras client on the Indians? Boras also represents Matt LaPorta, Jason Donald, and (much less importantly) Ant Reyes. Just to go a step further, I’m not sure if you remember this, but back when AC reported that The BLC had switched to Scott Boras, he wrote that, “Top prospect Carlos Santana might be another story. Boras is apparently pursuing him hard. No surprise there, I suppose”, prompting me to throw up in my mouth a little bit.

As if on cue this All-Star Break, there was this little bit about Boras and The Axe Man:
Agent Scott Boras said as far as young hitters go, he puts Tribe catcher Carlos Santana in the same class as Manny Ramirez when he first emerged with the Indians.
“He’s had the best at-bats anybody has had against Stephen Strasburg,” said Boras, Monday at the All-Star festivities. “He was on every pitch. I don’t think he’s going to be a catcher for long. He’s too good a hitter to keep back there.”

Keep in mind, Santana is not a Boras client (to my knowledge), so why is this so relevant?
I’m not sure if you saw Boras’ recent comments on Prince Fielder when discussing whether the Brewers and Fielder were anywhere close on a new contract, but here it is:
“When you have a player that performs like Mark Teixeira, you have to look at Prince Fielder’s performance in comparison,” said Boras. “You want to know the value of a player? Take a look at it.”

For the record, Teixiera (another Boras client) signed an 8-year, $180M contract a few years back and with Choo, LaPorta, and Donald in his stable already and Santana perhaps making his way in that direction, the Indians could be seeing quite a bit of Mr. Boras, and these grand statements regarding his clients, in the coming years.

Speaking of Boras and Choo (who might even be back next week) and contracts, do you want something interesting to watch this off-season?
Watch the payroll for 2011 as there will be a LOT of money coming off of the books after the season (or earlier if the Indians can move some of their veterans…but we’ll get to that) and where the 2011 payroll number falls in relation to the past 10 years will give a pretty good indication as to how close/far this organization truly thinks it is from contention.

Just to put hard numbers on this, take a look at the cyclical nature of the Indians’ payrolls over the last 10 years:
2010: $61,453,967
2009: $81,579,166
2008: $78,970,066
2007: $61,673,267
2006: $56,031,500
2005: $41,502,500
2004: $34,319,300
2003: $48,584,834
2002: $78,909,499
2001: $93,360,000
2000: $76,500,000

This isn’t breaking any new ground, but the payroll is going to continue this cycle as it will hit the peak (2001 - $93M payroll) then drop down gradually to the valley (2004 - $34M), building its way back up gradually to the peak (2009 - $81M) before it comes back down. For the foreseeable future, the Indians look to be attempting to move between the $40M and probably $90M mark as the team matures, depending of course upon success and attendance. In terms of where we currently are in this “cycle”, 2010 ($61M) was probably close to 2003 ($48M) in that it represents the time in which the big contracts from the previous few years are jettisoned as the team goes back to they young, cheap talent that became the backbone of the mid-to-late-2000s made their way to MLB, albeit at the MLB minimum.

So what does the 2011 payroll figure to look like?
Here are the deals on the books that have set prices:
Hafner - $13M
Sizemore - $7.667M
Carmona - $6.288M
On top of those, Peralta will get $250K when the club turns down his $7M club option for 2011.

That’s it...$27.21M that is set for 2011 on the payroll obligations.
Past that, you’re going to have Rafael Perez entering his second year of arbitration eligibility (he is making $795K this year) and there’s the next group that will hit their first year of arbitration eligibility in Choo and Cabrera with the possibility that Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Jensen Lewis, Aaron Laffey, and Andy Marte hit it, depending upon service time. Even if that group past Choo and Cabrera hit arbitration, you’re talking about relief pitchers and an erstwhile 1B/3B that aren’t going to touch anything higher than what Rafael Perez netted in 2010.

See that number above for 2004?
It was $34M and while the payroll for 2011 will be higher than that (22 players to fill out the 25-man past the 3 under contract means at least $10M at MLB minimum added to the aforementioned $27.21M already on the books)…don’t expect it to be by much.

If you’re thinking that the Indians are still looking to cut this payroll to the bone, the obvious question becomes whether the Indians perhaps unload Carmona and the remaining money on his deal. I suppose it is still possible, though most reports from people who would know (and aren’t just mindless speculation) has the Indians holding onto Carmona.

On the topic of Carmona (and others),’s Jon Heymann has a little run-down of available arms with these three entries holding some interest on the North Coast:
6. Fausto Carmona, Indians, SP.
All-Star pitcher has had a nice turnaround, from 5-12 with a 6.32 ERA last year to 8-7 with a 3.64 ERA this year. "They like their rotation,” said one GM who envisions Cleveland holding on to Carmona. Another noted that the club has three option years for 2012, '13 and '14 on Carmona, and said, "They have to figure they'll be a factor within four years.” Probably will stay.
7. Jake Westbrook, Indians, SP.
Solid starter, who missed most of 2008 and all of 2009 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. In the words of one competing GM Westbrook "could be a year away from full strength.”
17. Kerry Wood, Indians, RP.
Big salary (what’s left of a $10.5 million salary this year) and small production (1-4, 6.30 ERA, only eight saves) means the Indians would likely have to contribute toward the bottom line. Still, he does average almost one strikeout per inning and someone might see something.

Nice to see the “probably will stay” with Carmona, but did anyone else notice that this is the second intimation that Westbrook is still not fully back from TJ surgery (remember, Perrotto had it as well) and that it will affect his attractiveness to other teams.

As a quick aside here in the aforementioned Heymann piece, he lists the Royals’ Joakim Soria and asserts that “the Royals are usually reluctant to trade off big pieces because they sometimes think they’re still in contention even though no one else does”, then dealing another body blow with “a trade of Soria would ‘surprise,’ one competing GM said. ‘They do a very good job of believing they’re in it every year,’ he added.”

Say what you will about the Tribe Front Office, “believing that they’re in it every year” is not something that they fall prey to and they have Choo, Cabrera, Santana, LaPorta, and Brantley (among others) to show for their self-awareness.

Back to the Trading Post, Wood’s trip to the DL obviously will affect his trade value although Buster Olney points out that Wood is more likely to be dealt prior to the August 31st Deadline instead of before the end of July “because he will clear (more) waivers next month, given the $4 million still owed to him for the rest of this season.” It was an idea that Olney didn’t originate as Anthony Castrovince had a similar thought, pre-injury of course:
…keep in mind that, because of his contract, he has the potential to be dealt all the way up until the end of August. As far as what the Indians would look to accomplish in such a deal, getting salary relief, believe it or not, is not the main objective. The Indians, already operating on a slim payroll, are not looking to move salary but rather to acquire talent and/or open up opportunities for the young kids in-house. I could see them eating all or most of Wood's contract if it means getting young talent back.

While that is certainly marvelous news that the Indians “are not looking to move salary but rather to acquire talent and/or open up opportunities for the young kids in-house” and that they could pick up “most or all of Wood’s contract”, the timing is obviously not great for Wood’s value as he looks to be eligible to come off of the DL just before that July 31st date (that may not be all that applicable to him regardless), although Peter Gammons had this to say about Wood’s desirability:
He’ll get traded because it’s hard not to take a shot with that stuff. He’s still throwing 97-98, he doesn’t have great results but he’s still throwing very hard. I think one issue you want to think about is with Kerry’s presence and ego, will he pitch in the seventh inning and how is he going to react? I think someone will take him. I don’t know if the Dodgers will give up prospects … but I think that might be a possibility. I think the Cardinals are definitely a possibility.

That came from Gammons prior to this injury, but does anyone else find it strange that the Dodgers and the Cardinals are the two teams that keep showing up among those are interested in Wood and Westbrook?

Sure the Mets keep floating around the periphery on Jake but, according to Dennis Manoloff of the PD, a Dodgers’ scout was in attendance for Friday’s game to watch Westbrook (and was also staying to watch Carmona, which I hope will be in vain) to evaluate whether Westbrook can do what Sabathia and Lee were never able to do…make their way to Chavez Ravine when the Dodgers were looking for pitching for their playoff pushes.

While we’re in “The Ravine”, I know that I seem to be mentioning this far too often, but everyone is aware that the Dodgers traded Carlos Santana for Casey Blake two years ago and Josh Bell for the recently cut reliever George Sherrill (cut less than a year after the deal) last year, with the Dodgers even picking up the remaining $1M on Sherrill’s contract last year, right?. It is worth noting that SI recently listed Santana and Bell as “the most important figure for their teams in the 2nd half”…so, can the Indians parlay either Westbrook or Wood (or even both) into some Dodger farmhand (maybe LHP Scott Elbert, for whom some shine has come off of his apple and could benefit from a change in scenery) if they’re willing to pick up the salary on either or both?

Regardless of the moves that the Indians make prior to the July 31st Trading Deadline (which is now less than two weeks away), it is very possible that Wood and Westbrook and even Peralta clear through waivers (because of their salaries) and are dealt in August. Here’s hoping that the Indians are able to find some new homes for that trio (and Kearns, who is more likely to be dealt in the next two weeks because of his contract) so the youth movement can continue in earnest.

As the last three games have shown, that “youth movement” is inordinately more pleasant to watch as the team is not devoid of talent, just experience, and removing Wood, Westbrook, Peralta, and Kearns from that equation will not make a appreciable difference.

Finally, let us all have a moment of silence for the passing of one James Gammon on this Sunday.
Who is James Gammon?
If I told you that he’d get back to you because he had somebody on the other line about some whitewalls, would that put a lump in your throat?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stepping Into the Second Half

After a nice respite from the 2010 season, the second half begins in earnest again on Friday as the Indians welcome the Motor City Kitties to the North Coast as the Tribe attempts to build some momentum for the 2011 season and beyond in the final three months of the season. Given that we know what we’ve seen so far from the Tribe, the question becomes – what SHOULD we see from the Indians to finish off the 2010 season that puts the team in the best position to look back at 2010 as rock bottom, or the low point, instead of the beginning of a linear path along the bottom?

As you might imagine, I have a couple of thoughts on this to make baseball as palatable and enjoyable (and it has been both in the past month, in terms of comparison to the first two months) for July, August, and September that allows the Indians the best shot of shortening this rebuild/reload/whatever as quickly as possible. Most of this is fairly obvious (to some at least), but it needs to be said in light of what we've seen and what we should see...

#1) Clear the Decks
While this is sure to be portrayed as “just another Fire Sale for an organization that runs one every year” by some in the local and national media, the 2010 season was entered as a “season to build upon”, something that certainly couldn’t be said in 2008 (coming off of a ALCS appearance) and in 2009 (when the team inked Wood and traded for DeRosa). Thus, this isn’t really a Fire Sale so much as the final step in jettisoning the veterans that aren’t under contract for 2011 and don't obviously figure into next year’s plans. Think of it more as saying goodbye to the some of the last vestiges of the 2007 team that was once thought to be “headed for greatness”.

It’s a new day on the North Coast and while the “window of contention” slammed shut back in 2008, the Indians are attempting to (ever so slightly) inch that next one up with an eye past 2010…maybe even well past 2010.

Thus, the Indians should trade Westbrook, Wood, Kearns, and (if possible) Peralta and not worry as much about how much money they’ll have to include to cover the cost of the remaining salaries to see if they can get prospects that have a serious chance of making an impact instead of simply providing organizational filler. Of course, it’s possible that the market for the players that figure to be available isn’t all that great (and my TCF colleague Steve Buffum contributed to a phenomenal Trade Deadline Primer, that’s available here), but moving these players OFF of the 25-man roster could be viewed as just as important as getting something of value for them.

Wood, Kearns, and Peralta unquestionably have no future with the team and should be moved to any team willing to take on their inconsistent performances. If the Indians can pull a couple of lottery tickets in the process, so be it…but there should be nearly no trade refused for those three.

As for Jake, if you’ve been here for any amount of time, you know of my opinion that maybe the Indians really are serious about having Westbrook in the 2011 rotation, but that shouldn't affect whether they trade him as re-signing him for 2011 isn’t affected by which uniform he’s wearing on the final day of the 2010 season. Of course, there is the possibility that Westbrook simply isn’t garnering any interest on the trade market, which is why the Indians are out in front of this, putting forth the idea that Westbrook might be kept around for the remainder of the season to provide that “veteran presence” when, in fact, there simply isn’t a trade market for him.

The impetus for bringing this up comes from John Perrotto at B-Pro as he relays what the scouts (or at least one scout) are saying about Westbrook, with the scout on the record saying, “If I’m a contender, there is just no way I trade for him for the stretch run. He’s been too inconsistent. He is not the pitcher he was before he had Tommy John surgery.”

To that I say – pay no attention to this, ye who populate the Front Offices in St. Louis and Los Angeles and Cincinnati while you’re looking to add to your rotation in a push for the playoffs…

That’s said in jest, but the veterans that the Indians figure to have on the block (Westbrook, Wood, Kearns, and Peralta) aren’t necessary to this team for the second half of the season, one that should be devoted exclusively to development and with an eye to 2011 and beyond.

What kind of Trade Market exists for that quartet?
That’s hard to say as the Indians’ willingness to eat money will play a role as will recent performance (um...Austin, Jhonny...we could use a little “bump” in production about now) of each player. If the Indians are able to find dance partners (and remember, it takes two to tango in this) in the next two weeks, they should move all of these players and not give a second thought to trading all of them. Reason being (even more so than adding more young talent to the mix) is that the crux of the final 2 ½ months of the season should be to...

#2) “Line Up” 2011
A little wordplay there as the shape of the 2011 position players is starting to come into view and should come further into view with the returns at the end of the month (presumably) of Asdrubal and The BLC. Once those two re-emerge, the lineup (assuming Kearns and Peralta are dealt) starts to take the shape of the 2011, with the only exception being Sizemore’s omission and the gray cloud hanging over 3B. Truthfully, this is what the lineup could/should look like on August 1st (or sooner) and shouldn’t look that much different come 2011:
C – Santana
1B – LaPorta
2B – Donald
SS – Cabrera
3B – Nix/Valbuena/Marte/Goedert
LF – Crowe
CF – Brantley
RF – Choo
DH – Hafner
There are those that are unsold on Donald as an everyday player and of Brantley’s readiness for an MLB spot, but if I’m the Indians, I let that mix play out until dipping into the likes of The Chiz, Weglarz, Cord Phelps, Jason Kipnis, and the gaggle of Crowesque 4th OF that populate the upper ranks of the Minors.

What happens with Sizemore (CF or LF, with Brantley moving accordingly) and with the 3B situation are certainly up in the air, but that lineup has potential to mature as a group over the course of the end of the 2010 season and into the 2011 season and should be given every opportunity to.

#3) Rotate the Rotation
Similar to the lineup, the rotation for the end of 2010 should really be the springboard to 2011, with the starts being meted out to the pitchers who have the potential to figure prominently past 2010. Thus, as I said above, moving a guy like Westbrook has less to do with Westbrook as much as it has to do with making sure that the likes of Carmona, Masterson, and Talbot are handed the ball every 5th day as well as to get better reads on the dyspeptic duo of Dave Huff and Aaron Laffey to see if either should be considered as an option for the 2011 rotation as well as giving opportunities to players like Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin and (assuming health) Hector Rondon down the line.

For all intents and purposes, this is what the Indians’ rotation should look like once Westbrook is sent off to a contender, assuming a contender is interested in him:

The inclusion of Carmona, Masterson, and Talbot is fairly obvious, although it will be interesting to see how the Indians handle their inning count as the totals for each last year fall far short of the inning total they’re currently on pace for in 2010. The organization has been saying that Carrasco WILL get an extended look this year and, with 74 games left, he would still have a chance to garner 10 to 15 starts if he finds himself in Cleveland relatively soon. Given that he’s now thrown nearly 300 innings in AAA, the second half of 2010 represents as good of a time as any to see if he can make good on the fact that he was a Top 55 Prospect in all of MLB (according to Baseball America) from 2007 to 2009.

As for the 5th starter, the Indians should start to make some final determination as to whether Aaron Laffey is a legitimate option as a starter and find out if Dave Huff’s trip to Columbus has turned him back into a strike-throwing LHP and not simply a Sowersian LHP. Just as apparent in that mix should be Josh Tomlin, whose name may not be as well known as the others listed above, but who has posted a career MiLB ERA of 3.20 and a career MiLB WHIP of 1.10. He’s not going to blow anybody away with his K totals or his peripherals, but as Masterson and Talbot (in particular) start to see their innings creep up, Tomlin should be given a chance to show that he can contribute as a 6th or 7th starter for the organization going forward with the opportunity to prove that he should be thought of as more than that.

There could be plenty of starts that are available as the season wears on in a season that’s only seen 6 starters in 88 games as inning counts and trades take some of the principals out of the mix. As a result, there’s going to be the opportunity for the likes of Carrasco, Huff, Laffey, Tomlin, and maybe even Rondon to assert themselves into the 2011 mix as more than just an arm fighting for a spot next year in Goodyear.

#4) Bring the Heat
With the exception of 2005 and 2007, the Indians of the mid-to-late 2000’s have been uniformly awful in the bullpen as the flotsam and jetsam found their way to the shores of Lake Erie and the Indians’ Front Office proved itself as utterly inept in building a successful bullpen from within. Realizing that relievers are the most volatile elements in the melting pot of an MLB team, the first half of 2010 has started to show some signs for optimism, none bigger than finally having a pitcher in Chris F. Perez who looks capable of being the “home-grown” young closer that the team has lacked since...well, Steve Olin.

While CF Perez still finds himself in the set-up role because of the team showcasing Wood, he’ll move into the 9th inning soon enough (Wood or no Wood) and may actually have some help emerging to bridge those 6th, 7th, and 8th innings to him. In the first half, we’ve seen The Herrmannator assert himself with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP in his brief time with the parent club and have watched Tony Sipp show flashes of being able to get out both LH and RH hitters. As is often the case with relievers, the success has not been universal or consistent, but even Rafael Perez seems to have found himself to a degree and (stop me if you’ve heard this before) some pitchers in the Minors may actually represent compelling options for the bullpen.

To that end, generally I try not to get to excited about relievers before they reach and excel at AA, but some of these performances have been too good to ignore, particularly in a newfound ability among Indian bullpen arms know, strike hitters out.

Starting with Bryce Stowell and his 78 K in 50 IP while limiting opposing hitters to a .540 OPS, he’s flown through the system this year as he now finds himself in Columbus after starting the year in Kinston. Joining Stowell in AAA is Vinnie Pestano, who has struck out 52 hitters in 39 innings while hitters have posted a .577 OPS against him on the season.

Throwing those two on top of Jess Todd and Josh Judy (now healthy) in AAA as well as Bryan Price in AA, the Indians finally seem to have some young arms that can miss bats as among those names (Stowell, Pestano, Todd, Judy, and Price), the lowest K/9 number belongs to Bryan Price, who has struck out 45 hitters in 40 1/3 IP. Of course, these K numbers should be taken with a cup full of salt as Hector Ambriz whiffed 15 hitters in 8 IP in AAA and has only struck 19 hitters out in 27 2/3 IP in MLB since getting the call to the Bigs.

Obviously, the Indians are still going to see what they have in guys like Joe Smith and Jenny Lewis and Heck Ambriz because they’re on the 40-man and, at least in the case of Smith and Lewis, can be moved on that I-71 Shuttle for the rest of the year. But the last two and a half months represent a great opportunity to promote some of these arms THIS year so they can enter the 2011 season with some MLB experience and so next April and May don’t look like the last few Aprils and Mays that we’ve seen from the bullpen around these parts.

#5) Check the ID’s
While that title is a bit presumptuous, take a quick look at the current ages of presumed starters and players who should fit into the mix in 2011 for the Indians:
Santana - 24
LaPorta - 25
Donald - 25
Cabrera - 24
Nix - 27
Sizemore - 27
Brantley - 23
Choo - 27
Hafner - 33
Marson - 24
Crowe - 26
Valbuena - 24
Certainly not all of those names inspire a ton of confidence, but the youth is on the menu and hopefully will be served soon. Factor in that the player who will hopefully be on this list by the middle of next year (The Chiz) is 21 and you start to see how there is some optimism for the offense in terms of assembled young talent. Whether it will coalesce is the great question (just as it was in the early-1990’s and the early-2000’s) and there are sure to be names that fall by the wayside, but you can start to see the backbone of a solid offense there with Santana, Choo, Cabrera, Sizemore, and LaPorta with some ancillary pieces like Donald and Brantley having a long leash and younger guys like The Chiz perhaps knocking at the door in short order.

The same age factor holds true with the starting rotation and the names that figure into the bullpen mix:
Carmona - 26
Masterson - 25
Talbot - 26
Carrasco - 23
Huff/Laffey/Tomlin - 25 (all of them)

C. Perez - 24
Herrmann - 26
Smith - 26
Sipp - 26
R. Perez - 28
Lewis/Ambriz - 26
Pestano - 25
Todd/Judy - 24
Price/Stowell - 23

You want the youth movement and to see if these kids can play?
While the thought was there at the beginning of the season that the kids would be given long leashes (some long enough to hang themselves with), that time seems to universally have arrived as the team now enters the second half. That may mean more growing pains and more games in which the team looks dreadfully young and inexperienced. However, it will also mean that the stars that are just now coming into view are going to start burning brighter as the season progresses.

The play on the field in the second half may not be flawless or even enjoyable to watch at times, but after the first half, the glimmers of hope should come clearer into focus as the young talent that’s been assembled in trades over the last two years will finally start to be on display at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

The future starts now (again) on the North Coast as the Indians attempt (again) to open up that “window of contention” with a almost entirely different set of players, with the future hopefully brighter than the recent past.