Sunday, July 15, 2012

Rumor Has It on A Lazy Sunday

About a month ago, my 5-year-old son was walking around the house singing a fairly recognizable tune to himself, one of those refrains of a popular song that sticks in a head, regardless of one’s age.  As I recognized it myself, I asked him what he was singing, to which he responded, “That song that Mom likes…you know ‘Boomer Has It’ by that lady that Mom’s always listening to”.  Well, if you’ve turned on a radio (or seen a montage on TV with music in the background) in the past year, you know that he’s referring to Adele’s ubiquitous “Rumor Has It” and I asked him again what the name of the song was.  He said again, “Boomer Has It”, explaining that it was a song about the dog at his babysitter’s house (named “Boomer” obviously) and how the dog “has it”.  Though he wasn’t quite sure what the “dog” had in the song, he was adamant that the song was about that dog and wouldn’t listen to anything that went against his now-firm belief in the song.

That may seem like an odd introduction to anything related to the Indians, but my wife and I were laughing about it the other day (as he still walks around the song singing “Boomer Has It…oooo…Boomer Has It”) and it got me thinking about how in these last few weeks and upcoming weeks where rumors (not Boomers) fly about this player and that player and this team and that team, most fans get locked into rumors involving Player A or Player B or Team A or Team B and follow the Rosenthals, the Olneys, the Heymanns, the Knoblers, and any other rumor source and fit the influx of chatter neatly into their own set of beliefs of what is about to happen…if anything is to happen at all.  Ultimately people hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe on this stuff.  The Ubaldo trade flew in the face of everything that we thought we knew about how this organization operates (with Andrew Clayman making a brilliantly unorthodox suggestion for the Indians to signal this as one sign of a reason that things are not “business as usual” for the Tribe) and STILL those that looked for the Indians to make a splash, to show that they’re going to make a run began…yep, the inevitable tracking of the careers of Drew Pomeranz and Al White because the Indians had to have just made a mistake.  

You might think that the Indians will make a move or that they won’t or that the move will put them into the driver’s seat or it won’t be enough.  But I think that those preconceived notions (like my son’s absolute belief that Adele is singing about his babysitter’s dog about having “it”) are hard to shake for most fans as everyone’s opinion on the team (and Front Office) varies wildly and this time when the grist is running through the Rumor Mill always makes that distinction even more pointed.

That said, it’s an interesting time for sure every year, that’s been made crazier (and harder to sort through) in this Twitter Age, where rumors fly and names are attached to teams, with much of it full of sound and fury, but often ultimately signifying nothing.  So, we enter into these next 2+ weeks with a pretty good idea of what a team like the Indians are looking for (pitching and offense…that’s all) and trying to parse through all of the noise that’s out there to figure out if they’re going to add a player (or players), how they’re going to add that player (or players), and if they even have the pieces and parts (in terms of prospects) to add that player (or players).
So with that (usual) long introduction out of the way, let’s get loose on a Lazy Sunday…

At this point, we have seen all of the names that are purported to be available, both in terms of hitters and pitchers, and while it remains to be seen whether they can add one or both, Terry Pluto had an interesting piece earlier in the week about the sense of urgency that the Indians created for themselves at this time last year with the addition of Ubaldo.  Pluto posits something that’s been written here (and other places) since the Jimenez trade went down, in that the Indians very clearly marked off the next 1+ years, through the end of the 2013 as a very obvious “window” of potential contention, with the players that can possibly leave after 2013 (most notably Choo and maybe Ubaldo, since he does have that 2014 option) meaning that the Indians will have this current group together through that time.

That’s not to say that this thing goes over a cliff sometime in September of 2013, but this particular assembled “group” has put them in a position to contend as we enter the 2nd half of the season.  Concurrently, there is an overwhelming sense that the “group” as currently constructed is going to need some reinforcement(s) to make a serious push for the playoffs this year, even in the weak AL Central.  So to that end, Pluto (in the aforementioned piece) mentions that “the Indians are trying to deal for Carlos Quentin, but I’ve been told that they don’t have much common ground with the Padres right now. They have talked about adding a starting pitcher. They intend to keep talking.”

Now “that they don’t have much common ground” shouldn’t be all that surprising as we all know that the Indians’ farm system has been stripped pretty clean in the past year or so with Kipnis and The Chiz graduating to the parent club and Pomz and White making their way to Colorado, leaving very little of interest in the upper levels and some interesting pieces at the low levels…but pieces that are far away from legitimately even being considered close to MLB-ready with Adam Van Arsdale of LGT providing a terrific look at those “tradable assets”, or lack thereof.  And that’s where this “add a piece” or “necessary reinforcement” thing gets interesting as the Indians don’t have a ready-made reinforcement sitting in AAA this year the way that they had in Kipnis and, to a lesser degree, Lonnie last year and the dearth of impact players at the upper levels is doubly disappointing as they may not have the ammunition in terms of near-MLB-ready prospects to make a move for an impact player like Quentin or even an arm like Garza.

Now, you could say that they shouldn’t have to make a give up TOO much for Quentin (just to use him as the desirable example), given that he would be a 3-month rental (though I hold up this odd hope that they can add him, then extend him with a contract similar to the one that Edwin Encarnacion just got in Toronto once in the fold), but there will be no shortage of suitors for Quentin and the Indians may be coming to a gunfight without more than one bullet that they’re probably (and rightfully) unwilling to fire.  By that I mean that the Indians have one legitimate blue-chip prospect in Francisco Lindor, but that they likely won’t (and absolutely shouldn’t) part with him for anything that resembles a rental for the remainder of the 2012 season.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic about the thinness of the system, realize that John Sickels did his mid-season Top Prospect update and the Indians had ONE player on the list of the Top 120 with Lindor coming in at #25.  Now, you may be saying that Top 120 is still pretty limited for 30 teams, but Sickels also listed 46 more players that were “under consideration” for the list, with no Indians’ farmhand being listed in that grouping, meaning that the Indians have one…yes, one player in the Top 166 players ranked by Sickels at this point in the season.  Hell, even the notoriously farm-poor White Sox had two players that merited “consideration” for the list.  Now, it is important to point out that “one” Indians’ name is a pretty exciting one as Jason Parks of B-Pro said of Lindor at the Futures Game, “You know where I stand. He’s going to play 15 years at the major league level; high quality. Book it.”

As I wipe the drool off of my chin thinking about Lindor, his excellence isn’t enough to conceal the fact that the Indians’ system isn’t exactly teeming with the multiple pieces that may be necessary to make an impact addition.  Obviously, I know that it doesn’t take multiple players in the Top 100 or Top 120 or Top 166 to make a deal at the Trading Deadline (one needs to only look at what the Indians received for Peralta, Garko, etc. or what they gave up for Fukudome, Thome, etc. to see that the players that change hands are not always blue-chip, bona-fide prospects), but to think that the Indians are going to get an impact player at the Trading Deadline just…well, just because we all (well, not Shelley Duncan) think they should and want them to is to ignore the matter at hand in terms of the Indians lacking the prospects that may be necessary to get it done.

So while some part of my brain deludes me to thinking that some combination of Ronny Rodriguez (#3 Prospect entering the season), Cord Phelps (still 25-year-old switch-hitting middle infielder with a career .843 OPS in AAA) and Cody Allen (has struck out 51 of the 155 BATTERS HE’S FACED this year) could fetch a Carlos Quentin, the reality of the situation is that the Indians may not have enough prospect “ammunition” to land one big gun on the Trade Market, much less two.  Blame the injuries to Nuke Hagadone (not a typo, simply his new name in these parts), Austin Adams, CC Lee, Hector Rondon (remember him?), and others for the thinness of the system as well as what Van Arsdale calls in the aforementioned LGT piece (which you should read…so here’s the link again), the “lack of development in the pre-Brad Grant positional prospects” that put them in this spot, but there is little question that the Indians simply may lack the resources (prospects, not cash) to acquire one of the true impact players, be it hitter or pitcher.

Maybe you’re saying that Jesus Aguilar, who was Lindor’s teammate in the Futures Game represents an interesting trade piece, and I wouldn’t disagree with that, but here’s what B-Pro’s Jason Parks (who said “15-year high-quality MLB career” for Lindor with a “book it” to boot) had to say on Aguilar:
1B Jesus Aguilar: Big kid; tons of raw power; the numbers suggest I’m supposed to like this player; not a fan of the swing; it’s very strength driven; lots of room for exploitation in bat plane; upper-body strength is massive; doesn’t read balls well out of the hand; contact will be an issue against higher level pitching; body could get destructive; power of this level is rare in the minors, but I see a Four-A type rather than a middle-of-the-order masher at major league level.

And this is where you get to the point that the Indians have to know MORE about their own players/prospects than other teams to make the determination now if Aguilar is a “Four-A type rather than a middle-of-the-order masher at the major league level” because if Jason Parks at Baseball Prospectus thinks that, you can be sure that others do as well.  But do the Indians…and if so, are there teams out there that would be higher on Aguilar than that so the Tribe could ostensibly “sell high” on a Single-A player like they did with Max Ramirez?

That’s ultimately the game at this point as, at this time last year, Pomz and White were deemed to be expendable (somewhat) or at least more valuable as trade bait than as future Indians.  Whether that has to do with acronyms (TINSTAPP) or concerns about White’s finger issues at the time or aspects of either player’s personality that led the Indians to believe that they were essentially “selling high” on them to net Ubaldo, the Indians need to ask the same hard questions of themselves this year BUT without the benefit of anybody (save Lindor) who’s anywhere close to regarded as a top prospect the way that Pomz and White were at this time last year.

Ultimately, Lindor is the only real untouchable in the organization below the parent club and if they can find some combination of players to net something of worth that can improve the Indians for this year, I’m sure that it will be on the table.  But there is a growing sense that “some combination of players” may not be enough to net much of anything and, if they can be cobbled together in some fashion for a trade, the returning player is likely to be more of the “second-tier” variety.

Maybe that’s depressing and underwhelming heading into the end of July, but as much as it’s on the Indians to find some combination of MiLB assets to utilize, they need to find that player or players that fit this team’s needs almost perfectly WHILE looking for (what I called last week) that “Fister-ian” addition that will allow some aspect of the team – be it pitching or hitting – to settle in, gain some consistency, and rattle off some wins.

Whether that addition is a pitcher or a hitter is certainly up for debate (and I feel like I waver from day to day and game to game), but there could be some interesting pieces out there that could be underwhelming on the surface, but could make an impact on this team.  Though I know I’ve mentioned him before, here’s what a scout had to say to B-Pro’s John Perrotto on Phillies’ OF Shane Victorino, who continues to grease his way out of Philly:
“He’s having a bad year, but I still think there is something there. He still has the bat speed and the wheels. That whole Phillies team is in a malaise, and a change of scenery would probably help a lot of their guys.”

With Buster Olney reporting that the Indians aren’t (sigh) counting on anything from Grady this season and now past the All-Star Break with no new “news” of the “imminent” return of Fausto/Roberto, there is a growing sense that the Indians are planning for the rest of the season without either of them…so there isn’t any kind of cavalry on any horizon internally.  Maybe you see the value in adding a player like Victorino or an arm better than Jason Vargas and both of those arguments are compelling on each side, but the Indians simply may not have the pieces to make the upgrades everywhere that everyone (save Shelley Duncan) seems to want.

Maybe you see the improved numbers for Damon and Duncan and come to the conclusion that Acta is managing these guys masterfully (in terms of usage and situation) and see how Marson and Kotchman are actually both swinging well recently and believe that the offense can be made more consistent for the rest of the season because those 4 players can combine to make up two spots in the lineup and (when utilized properly) can consistently produce.  There are numbers to back up this line of thinking as here are the compiled stats for those 4 guys since June 16, admittedly an arbitrary date on the calendar, if about a month ago:
.278 BA / .372 OBP / .722 SLG / 1.094 OPS in 43 PA

.368 BA / .457 OBP / .500 SLG / .957 OPS in 46 PA

.309 BA / .345 OBP / .509 SLG / .854 OPS in 58 PA

.297 BA / .333 OBP / .500 SLG / .833 OPS in 78 PA

On the other hand, maybe you see those numbers and believe that are paces are simply unsustainable (and that argument isn’t hard to make either) for those players…and I tend to fall in this category.  But the Indians have some very hard decisions to make when it comes to deciding where they’re going to add a piece and how much of an “impact” that piece can offer, given their limited resources to make an addition, much less a couple of them.

If you’re parsing the words of the FORMER GM (in a piece about the Indians offering discounts and incentives to get people to the ballpark, with Cleveland “fans” coming off as pathetic – “food and beer costs too much”, despite the fact that you can bring your own food into the park and this is the same city that I see people at Browns’ games argue over how many overpriced beers they can buy at one time), he’s still talking about adding a starter over a bat.  Shapiro had this to say to the assemblage at GLBC when discussing the attempts to get the pathetic Tribe fans to the park:
“I think our chances will be as well as our starting pitching takes us…Can Zach McAllister be the guy he's been initially? Can Justin Masterson and Ubaldo (Jimenez) continue to pitch well, and can we get better performance out of the other two spots?”

That should be nothing new if you’ve been around these parts since Shapiro gave his interview to Lubinger a couple of weeks back and I’m not sure if anyone’s paying attention enough to this to consider this “misdirection” or a “smoke screen”, but it certainly looks like the Indians might have enough to make one semi-significant addition, surrounded by some ancillary additions.  

What, if anything, the Indians can add to the current group of players for the stretch run could make a HUGE difference for this team’s ability to make the playoffs.  Because while the people who cover the Tigers seem just as confused as us as to whether Detroit can stick around in the AL Central race, the Indians have a chance to fortify their team – and their playoff chances – by adding something to the current mix.  Whether they have enough, in terms of prospects, to make those additions, may be the unspoken factor in these “negotiations”…and I don’t mean the ones that take place in 140 characters or less…


Adam said...

Paul, nice read. I’ve been surveying the Columbus team for the last few weeks trying to figure out what pieces are expendable. There seems to be talent there, and some good pitching and positional players, however what is troubling is that a lot of these guys seem blocked from ever going anywhere positionally barring multiple injuries to players on the parent club. I mean, Phelps really has no shot in Cleveland that I can see due to Cabby and Kipnis in front of him. Therefore in my mind he’s totally expendable as trade bait. Another guy that seems blocked is Carlin. He was up for a little while, when Santana, and seems to be a pretty decent catcher, also there’s this Chun guy in Akron that is tearing the cover off the ball. I don’t see Carlin with any sort of future with the Indians. Additionally, there’s this Canzler guy, who I feel should be playing left and probably should get a shot with the Indians, considering how horrific the left field situation is, but for some reason he’s playing third base, which is confounding. I guess that makes him expendable as wel considering Hannahan and Chiz (when he comes back) have got third base locked down. So there’s 3 guys that are all good players in AAA that would figure to be trade bait. Not sure if its enough to get a “blue-chip” guy like Quentin or Victorino, but we definitely have options and trading some of these guys wouldn’t be the worst thing, from both parties perspectives.

garb said...

Before I read Today's article I just want to say....this post was absolutely hilarious.....and a great one. I really love the blog; just started following it this year. You do a tremendous job and I appreciate it.

As for the Tribe, Truth be told I don't know what they should do. I just know that this team needs to do something if they are going to catch the WS.