Sunday, March 04, 2012

Looking for Plan B on A Lazy Sunday

While the North Coast collectively wonders if the future “Face of the Franchise” for another one of their organizations is worth the cost to go up and get him in the NFL Draft, the past week has been noteworthy on The Reservation as the man once considered the “Face of the Franchise” (present and future tense) found his way to a doctor’s operating table…again. While the Grady injury has allowed every local comedian – who works in 140 characters or less – to take their shots at the organization, at Grady, and at whatever cloud hangs over Cleveland in terms of players that we assume to thrive in Cleveland, it’s time to look at something that is very real – life without Grady.

It could be argued that this reality (life without Grady) is something that the Indians should have come to grips with and planned for in August of last year, but the news that Sizemore will be 8-12 weeks due to the back surgery puts it right in that gray area of what to do now. There’s plenty of time to get to all of that, so let’s get it rolling on a Lazy Sunday…

Starting off, and before getting too in-depth into all of this, there’s a great piece from Pete Gammons at on the nature of the way that Grady plays (or are we now saying “played”) the game and draws the comparisons to Darin Erstad and other players whose style of play contributed to their early demise. While saying “demise” has a sense of finality to it, seeing that Grady had a back injury that numbed parts of his leg, simply by bending down for a grounder in practice certainly portends the idea that Sizemore’s body is breaking down on him.

Regardless of whether that is true or not, what’s being reported is that Sizemore is out for 8-12 weeks while he recovers from back surgery, with his knee rehab (which apparently is still going on) continuing within that time period. The announcement came around March 1st, meaning that Sizemore figures to miss a significant amount of the regular season. How much of the regular season is up for debate as 8 weeks from March 1st is May 1st and 12 weeks from March 1st is June 1st. Despite that, the PD at the apron of my driveway (thanks for making getting the paper even more pleasant, new delivery guy) trumpeted that Sizemore would be out until July…and perhaps mid-July. Perhaps that’s a more reasonable return date, given what we’ve seen from Sizemore in the recent past, but that is a solid 16 to 18 weeks out, not the 8 to 12 week timeframe that was reported.

Maybe that’s just all semantics and calendar counting because we don’t want to think about how Grady’s going to perform when (if) he returns, but let’s get into the nuts and bolts of the injury (for a while) before moving on. On the specific injury – as it’s been reported – Grady had a “microdiscectomy”, a word that looks like it has an extra “c” in there…but that’s neither here nor there. Being fortunate enough to have a healthy back to this point in my life (knocking firmly and unmistakably on wood), I’m not going to pretend to know what a “microdiscectomy” is, so I’ll give the floor up to Corey Dawkins and Rebecca Glass, who write the regular “Collateral Damage” piece at B-Pro:
Sizemore underwent a microdiscectomy in his lower back and will be out at least eight to 12 weeks. In terms of surgeries for herniated discs, a microdiscectomy is about as minimally invasive as you can get, and has a good track record of full recoveries. It doesn’t guarantee an elimination of the herniation forever, but it can be years before symptoms start to return.

Again, that 8 to 12 week timeframe comes up and this write-up certainly is cause for some optimism. Of course, we don’t know how Grady’s body will react to the surgery or what other of Grady’s body parts is waiting for its turn to go “SPROING”…so maybe there is something to the July/mid-July return date. More relevant about any of these timeframes is to put some real “time missed” numbers on the ledger as even if Sizemore is out for 12 weeks and returns at the beginning of June, he misses the 50 games that will be played in April and May – or about 1/3 of the season.

If you want to say he’ll be out 8 weeks from March 1st and will return May 1st, he misses 21 games…
If he misses the month of June and comes back July 1st, he misses 77 games…
Go to Independence Day, and you’re at the exact mid-point of the season…
This may seem odd to plot out, but the “Half-Full” crowd will trumpet his return as a great July pick-up, except for that…well, the team has to be in a position where they’d be looking to add (and not subtract) for that to even make sense at that point in the season.

By that I mean that you have to remember that the 2006 team (pretty much the same team as the talented 2005 team that would have made the playoffs in the new configuration) was 10 ½ GB by Memorial Day of that year. Yes, two months into the season, they had a 10 ½ game deficit. Of course, it’s true that those April and May struggles meant that the Indians started flipping non-essential pieces (resulting, most famously, in Benuardo becoming Choo and Asdrubal), building some of the core of the team that we see today, but it’s meant to point out that a slow start can bury a team.

Lest you forget, that 2008 team (basically the same roster that was one game away from the WS the previous year) was 8 GB on June 8th of that year and in 2009, with the reigning Cy Young Award winner on the team and after adding Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa in the off-season, the Indians were 8 GB a week earlier by the beginning of June.
I know, I know…The Atomic Wedgie is elsewhere touting “the grind” and “one game at a time”, but the point remains. With so many question marks facing the team, getting off to a slow start could do some damage to this “window” that is supposed to be open/opening for the Indians in terms of contention and the loss of Grady (or the threat of Grady, as we once knew him) could contribute to a slow start, mainly because of the in-house options past Sizemore.

How confident are the Indians in going with the likes of Cunningham or Duncan or Spilborghs for 50 games or 80 games, realizing that their two other OF (Brantley and Choo) are also coming off of injury-plagued seasons, with Brantley’s health being an issue throughout his career?

For the answer on that, let’s go to Antonetti, via Bastian:
“We tried to build in some depth to our roster in some of the alternatives that are already in camp. We feel like we have some quality in-house candidates who will go out and compete for some of that playing time, and our scouts will continue to be out there evaluating other camps to determine if there are potential upgrades from somewhere else.”

Read that again and notice that Antonetti said that those “in-house candidates…will go out and compete for some of that playing time” and while that may be looking too deeply at the choice of wording, realize that Danny Knobler of CBS Sports tweeted on Saturday that, “With Grady Sizemore out (which moves Brantley to CF), Indians are looking around for a left fielder.”

After spending some time earlier in the week (prior to the announcement regarding the extent of the Sizemore injury) wondering how pro-active the Indians would be in looking for external options…well, huzzah for that.

That said, after spending the off-season looking for “external” options in the OF and coming back with Aaron Cunningham and some NRI’s, would the landscape have changed that much for the Indians to now be able to find a trade partner to land the OF that they need for the present AND for the future?

For that, you have to go out and look around those “other camps” that Antonetti referenced and realize that the Indians’ interest is no longer confined to a 4th OF/RH bat type that they may have been earlier when they thought they were looking for a compliment to Sizemore (and Brantley) in the OF, but may now be looking for that player that profiles more as an everyday player. Essentially what the Indians have to look for is a team with a “crowded” OF or a team that may have a veteran who may get pushed out by a prospect this Spring so the Indians could benefit from another teams’ largesse in the OF.

The first two such teams that come to mind on this are Oakland and Toronto. Remember that the Athletics added Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, and Seth Smith…all this off-season, THEN went out and added Yoenis Cespedes and, if the A’s are thinking that Cespedes is going to be playing in Oakland this year, that’s suddenly a crowded OF with Crisp’s 2-year contract saying something about his likelihood to leave the Bay Area. So could the Indians pry Smith or Reddick away?

Since this isn’t the first time that I’ve mentioned Reddick’s name, it is worth mentioning that the A’s parted with their young closer and a Brantley-esque OF in Ryan Sweeney to acquire him, so his cost may be prohibitive, but the A’s do have a sudden need that the Indians may be able to fill. In what was a bad week for baseball players named “Sizemore”, Scott Sizemore was lost for the year last week, so the A’s would be looking for a 3B, with the Indians having the player that was supposed to be their starting 3B going into last year in Jason Donald perhaps being the bait, along with some arms.

Similarly, Toronto has Colby Rasmus in CF, Joey Bats in RF and Eric Thames and Travis Snider battling it out for LF. Would the “loser” of that competition represent a better everyday option for the Tribe?
The 25-year-old Thames posted a .769 OPS (104 OPS+) last year and Travis Snider, a former uber-prospect, posted a .616 OPS (65 OPS+ last year), so whether they represent much better than some odd amalgamation of Duncan/Cunningham/Spilborghs/add a name remains to be seen.

Outside of Oakland and Toronto, the Red Sox have Ellsbury and Crawford (though injured) locked in with Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, and Darnell McDonald to shake out in the RF/4th OF mix, which may make Ryan Kalish available. Though most people remember Kalish for his…um, ill-advised “slide” into the leg of The Axe Man, he’s a compelling option, even if he’s included in that Gammons article about players going “hard” with Kalish saying “This is the way I’ve played every sport, I’m not going to change.”

Maybe that’s something that hits a little too close to home in light of Grady’s fall from grace, but Kalish is interesting as I linked this bit from B-Pro’s Kevin Goldstein a few months ago while making the case that the Indians should make a play for Reddick, but Kalish is the other name mentioned here:
Kalish and Reddick have come up together through the Red Sox system and have similar potential as corner outfielders. Kalish is the more athletic of the pair, but Reddick has more power and the stronger arm. As of right now, Reddick is the starting right fielder in Boston, but as one scout put it, "They're both good enough to play every day in the big leagues… just not for the Red Sox." Both could be involved in potential deals that return older, more expensive upgrades.

Are Kalish and Reddick and Seth Smith AND Thames AND Snider all LH?
Sure, but beggars can’t be choosers at this point in terms of handedness and if the Indians are looking for a long-term option, and they should, because Albert Jojuan Belle (great piece of his return to camp here) isn’t walking through that door and there are no compelling bats in the Minors in the OF…well, anywhere.

If you want to continue through other teams’ OF situations, the Cubs have Al Soriano, added David DeJesus and re-signed Reed Johnson this off-season with uber-prospect Brett Jackson waiting in the wings. The North Siders are in rebuild mode (29-year-old Bryan LeHair will be their clean-up hitter this year…you know the Pacific League MVP last year), so one has to wonder what it would take to (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) pry Marlon Byrd out of Wrigleyville, with Theo and the boys picking up the majority of Byrd’s $6.5M salary for 2012 if a decent prospect was sent to the North Side.

This could go on for a while, but the Diamondbacks added Jason Kubel, presumably pushing Gerardo Parra into a 4th OF role and the Phillies seem reticent to give Domonic Brown a chance, seeing as how they’re planning on giving John Mayberry, Jr. the first chance at Raul Ibanez’s spot in RF with the plan (right now) to start Brown in AAA for the season, but it’s all just looking at it from Cleveland’s perspective and not wondering if the Indians would even have what it would take to pry a player like Allen Craig (injury issues considered, even if he fractured his kneecap, which causes shades of Grady) from the Cardinals since they added Carlos Beltran or Chris Heisey (who is in a platoon that…get this, is based on whether the opposing pitcher is a “high-ball” or “low-ball” pitcher) from the Reds.

Kyle Blanks of the Padres…
Tyler Colvin of the Rockies…
David Murphy of the Rangers…

Again, this could go on for a while, making stops in every Spring Training camp, but it certainly looks as if the Indians know that the options for an everyday LF AND for that depth 4th OF are tenuous at best, particularly considering that there are other spots in their lineup that may not be the most offensively intimidating. This was known when last season ended, but the OF was the spot that the Indians could least afford an injury, particularly early on and one has to think that the mess of the 2011 OF, when Kearns, Zeke, and Buck combined for 560 PA (with Crowe and Jered Head combining for 57 PA) that they realize that the “depth” that they’ve built is – while impressive as “depth” – underwhelming if you’re talking about any of those players (Duncan, Cunningham, MaTola, Spilborghs, etc.) as an every day player. Maybe a guy like Russ Canzler surprises and emerges and if this wasn’t the Indians and wasn’t the Indians’ LF situation, I’d say that this would be the perfect opportunity for a player like LaPorta to make the most of a situation but, frankly…I know better than that. Perhaps that’s a little too much of the skeptical Cleveland fan there, but the current group of LF options (and 4th options, considering the injury factors with Brantley and Choo) underwhelm.

Would the Indians even have enough trade bait to make something like this happen?
For whatever reason, they built up an odd and solid amount of middle-infield depth with Jose Lopez and Christian Guzman to go on top of Asdrubal, Kipnis, Donald, and Phelps. Whether the Indians could actually move Donald or Phelps (and don’t take this as a condemnation of either of those players, both of whom I like…because you have to give up something to get something) to add something that resembles an everyday LF?

Probably not on their own, but bullpen depth is something that the Indians could pick from as well, particularly because the arms that they brought in as non-roster invitees (Wheeler, Ray, Accardo, Tejada) are interesting enough that you could see how they might be comfortable to continue to dip into those bullpen arms to sweeten pots in potential trades.

Regardless of this whole infuriating Chris Perez injury – and can anyone remember Soloff being so blunt in his language of an injury, that Perez’s body “was clearly not ready for the intensity of that bullpen session” or why Chris Perez would go 100% on Day 1 because, “that’s not who I am. I get work in at 100 percent. I’m not going to throw a bullpen at 50 percent, miss all my spots and pretty much waste a day” and how he now has 4 to 6 weeks to “waste” – the Indians bullpen is still well-positioned to handle losses to augment the team elsewhere.

That said, it always takes two to tango on the trade market and while it looks like the Indians are attempting to find a “Plan B” in Grady’s absence (the length of which still remains to be seen) in LF. Perhaps they have been attempting to find that “Plan B” all off-season, but when Grady’s back went under the knife, those attempts hopefully found some new momentum.

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