Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tomahawks Holding On

As another AL Central domino fell with the Tigers adding Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Motor City for top prospect Jacob Turner (a player whose value is not sniffed by anyone in the organization’s…probably including Lindor, and the Tigers still have top prospect Nick Castellanos if they want to call him up later) and with the series against the Orioles fresh in everyone’s minds, this past weekend had an old, familiar feeling to them…and it wasn’t a good one.  As the Tigers started to build momentum (and the White Sox arguably had a worse week than the Tribe recently) AND making the moves that look to cement their status as the AL Central favorites (perhaps finally), there was a growing sense that the 2012 season has disappeared…or is at least circling the drain.

But baseball is a funny game and is unquestionably a marathon, where 3-game series in late July do not dictate an entire season – although this series is important – and before any obituaries are written and before the name of any team is etched into the record books (or Claret Jugs), let’s remember that it is still not quite the end of July and while the Indians, as of late, have looked nothing like a playoff contender, let’s not simply assume that the Tribe is ready to slink quietly into the night. 
At least not yet… 

While it is true that the Indians’ perpetually glaring holes have been exposed in a BIG way in the past week or so and the fact that the Tribe sits 7th in the AL in playoff expectancy (there are 5 spots open), the Indians have 11 games remaining against the Tigers after Tuesday night, 6 more (late in the season) against the White Sox, and a whopping 25 games left against the Twins, the Royals and the Mariners.  So, they have 65 games left in the season, with 17 of them coming against the two teams presently in front of them and 25 of them (that’s 38% of their remaining games, everyone) against the unquestioned dregs of the AL.

So, before we start to wonder who the Giants would part with for Chris Perez (and I’m not opposed to this idea, but maybe not until the off-season) or wonder what Shin-Soo Choo would net in a seller’s market, let’s see what the Indians do with an opportunity right in front of them and more around every corner for the rest of season.
And so, let’s get some Tomahawks in the air…

By now, you’ve seen that Fauxberto Hernandez is back in Cleveland and will finish serving his suspension on August 11th and will at some point to his return as the reinforcement that the Tribe rotation has been badly in need of.  And I’d agree with that…at least part of it, because the way that I see the Indians’ rotation going forward, they’re still a piece short, #55’s return considered.  If the assumption is that Carmona will ostensibly replace Lowe in the rotation (and I can’t imagine that Lowe makes it that long, given the way he’s going), my fear that the Indians would STILL need another arm to remove Josh Tomlin from the rotation stands…and not just for 2012.

Thus, even with Carmona/Hernandez back in the States, I’d still look for an arm right now – and an arm that is under club control through the end of 2012 and through 2013.  Though I know you’re tired of seeing me throw Jason Vargas’ name out there (now a 1.77 ERA in his last 5 starts, where he’s averaging more than 7 IP per start), another suggestion of Paul Maholm was made recently by TCF’s Nino Colla, with Maholm (0.89 ERA in his last 5 appearances) making sense for the same reason that Vargas would in that they’d both be under club control through 2013, both are LH and both would probably be available, given that the Cubs and the Mariners are in full-blown sell mode.

Perhaps the Indians wouldn’t have the ammo (in terms of prospects) to even net a player like Vargas or Maholm – and yes, I’m serious about that, particularly seeing the prospects that are changing hands – but the Indians should still be pro-active as we approach the Trading Deadline, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the Detroit series may be.  Maybe they shouldn’t be looking for that “one piece” or a “rental” to provide a push (and the Yankees and Pirates have both been scared away by the Phillies’ asking price for Shane Victorino…the player I still like the most as a “RH” bat, given that he’s hit LHP the best among players that figure to be available), the way that it was assumed a couple of weeks ago, but if they’re still looking at 2012/2013 as a “window”, they should do their due diligence to see if they can find a player that upgrades the rotation…and for longer than just a couple of months.

With nothing in the high-Minors that figures to arrive any time soon (outside of Lonnie’s return next year) and realizing how the FA market for Starting Pitchers is usually…um, out of the Indians’ price range, finding an arm that can sit in the middle-of-the-rotation should remain a priority.  Maybe the Indians can find that “Fister-ian” addition (and remember, Ubaldo was the BIG get last year in the division, at least perception-wise, with Fister making the impact), although I’m not sure that the impact of a Maholm or a Vargas would be enough to make up enough ground in the AL Central or even the 2nd Wild Card.  Remember, Fister was acquired by the Tigers last year not only because he upgraded the 2011 team, but also because he was still under club control through the end of the 2015 season, so the Tigers made that move for now and later.

Because sometimes being a “buyer” means buying something that you need for more than just a couple of months…

Speaking of starting pitching and being a “buyer”, there are many unfortunate details pertaining to the Indians and Kevin Youkilis being traded to the White Sox on June 24.  First and foremost goes to the news passed along by Terry Pluto a couple of weeks ago that went a little something like this:
I was told Boston wanted Josh Tomlin in any deal for Kevin Youkilis. The Indians may have considered that if they had more depth of starting pitching in the minors. But the problem is Jeanmar Gomez struggled and was sent to Class AAA Columbus. The Tribe wants to keep him there for a while. 

To be clear, this is the same Josh Tomlin that currently has a 5.34 ERA on the year and that hasn’t been an effective pitcher since the beginning of last June.  Sure he’s under club control for…well, who even cares really as Tomlin’s 5.34 ERA puts him 99th in MLB among pitchers with more than 90 IP on the year.  And, given that he had a 5.26 ERA after the All-Star Break last year, they may have passed on acquiring Kevin Youkilis for a pitcher that may not finish the season in the rotation and may not figure very clearly into plans past this year.

Now, it should be noted that nobody (other than Kenny Williams) expected Youkilis to energize the White Sox in the way that he did as I wrote that he was not much more than an “incremental upgrade” and we have no way of knowing what Youkilis would have done if he would have arrived on the North Coast, but the fact that the Indians passed on him because of injuries sustained to Carlos Carrasco last year and Austin Adams this year (most notably) makes the timing of needing to make a move but being hesitant because of lack of depth pretty painful to look back on, even if was just a month ago.

What makes it all the more painful is that the Indians likely didn’t make a bigger push for Youkilis because Lonnie Chisenhall was starting to really hit, as in the 8 games prior to his injury, The Chiz posted an OPS of 1.048 with as many walks (1…but still) as strikeouts and the “need” for a 3B was lessened, with the Indians likely thinking that Lopez and Hannahan could strengthen the bench and Chisenhall would represent one “bat” that they so badly needed.  Now, remember how Youkilis was traded on June 24th?
Chisenhall was injured 5 days later, gone for the season…

And while you could certainly argue that the Indians could have utilized Youkilis in a 1B/DH/RH bat role very easily, the thinness of the young arms in the minors and Chisenhall’s presumed emergence probably made them think twice about adding him.  A week later, Chisenhall was gone for the season and about a month later, Tomlin doesn’t look long for the rotation.

Hindsight is always 20/20 on this stuff, but the timing of not knowing about the timeframe of the return of #55 AND Chisenhall’s injury less than a week later meant that the Indians passed on acting more aggressively on Youkilis because of events that led up to that point, with Lonnie’s injury less than a week later likely leaving the Tribe more than a little regretful that they didn’t make a harder push for Youkilis.

But even with Youkilis on the South Side and with the Tigers adding Sanchez, it’s possible that the Indians have added a pretty big piece in the last couple of weeks…and no, I’m not talking about Brent Lillibridge, who immediately became fodder for the 140-character artists who put forth that “THIS is our BIG addition” and spent too much time worrying about the 25th spot on the roster as usual.

No, the big “addition” that may have happened is the return of one Carlos Santana and if you’re wondering where this optimism that the severely-flawed Indians could stay in this thing, it comes from the idea that Santana may (once again) be rounding into form.  In the 15 games since Independence Day, Santana has put forth this line:
.304 BA / .484 OBP / .543 SLG / 1.027 OPS with 5 2B and 2 HR in 62 PA

Not too shabby and when you figure that those 7 XBH (which doesn’t include Santana’s 2B on Tuesday night) were as many as he had from May 12 to July 4 and while I’m not going to pretend to know what’s different about Santana recently, there is a very odd “coincidence” about when Santana started to turn his season around, because his improved performance at the plate last year actually coincided with an identical event.  This year and last year, Carlos Santana struggled mightily when Hafner was on the DL and made a dramatic and pronounced improvement when Hafner returned.   Realizing that I’ve pointed this out before, it’s worth pointing out again and updating:
Carlos Santana – 2012
Opening day to May 23
.257 BA / .374 OBP / .405 SLG / .779 OPS with 7 2B & 5 HR in 182 PA
Not bad numbers, but nothing too special and Hafner hit the DL with his knee injury on May 24, with Santana’s production dropping off a cliff…

From May 24 to July 3
.148 BA / .271 OBP / .198 SLG / .468 OPS with 4 2B & 0 HR in 96 PA
After the July 3 game, Hafner came off of the DL and (for the purposes of seeing these all together) Santana came alive…

From July 4 to now
.304 BA / .484 OBP / .543 SLG / 1.027 OPS with 5 2B and 2 HR in 62 PA
Look, I’m not going to pretend like I know why this is…maybe Santana sees more fastballs with Hafner hitting behind or maybe he hits with more confidence with Hafner in the lineup with him, but compare those three sets of numbers to what happened in 2011, when Hafner was on the DL from May 18 to June 16 of last year

Carlos Santana – 2011
Opening Day to May 17, 2011
.233 BA / .367 OBP / .419 SLG / .786 OPS with 6 2B & 6 HR in 158 PA

From May 18 to June 16
.191 BA / .312 OBP / .292 SLG / .604 OPS with 6 2B & 1 HR in 109 PA

From June 17 to End of Season
.254 BA / .355 OBP / .515 SLG / .870 OPS with 23 2B & 20 HR in 391 PA

Again, look at the power surge that happened last year after Hafner returned, with Santana hitting FOURTY-THREE XBH and TWENTY HR in his final 391 PA after hitting only 2 HR from May 1 of last year to June 16, 2011.  Draw your own conclusions on this – and don’t take it to mean that I’m anywhere CLOSE to thinking that the Tribe should pick up Hafner’s option for next year or that I think that Hafner should be on the roster next year – but this has now happened two years in a row now and there might actually be something at play with Hafner’s presence and Santana’s effectiveness.

Most encouraging about Santana’s recent play is the return of that power (something we were all hungry for about a month ago) and if he can be as successful against LHP as he was last year (because he was pretty good last year), the Indians might have that “big bat” upon which everyone has remained laser-focused, despite a league-average offense and a back-end-of-the-rotation that isn’t close to league-average.

Regardless, for as much focus as has been put on THIS series, let’s see how this series goes and see what the Tribe can do to brighten their outlook for the rest of the 2012 season…and maybe beyond.  


Unknown said...

I love your blog updates. They have a tons of content and give fans plenty to chew on. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I am in agreement. It is refreshing to see someone treating baseball the way it ought by looking carefully and analytically at trends and performances. I like this ball club. Everyone rants about Lillibridge, but I figure it was an acquisition made because more is in the works. Who knows. Sweep the Tigers. There's always room on the bandwagon.

Nick said...

It's refreshing to read your blogs after listening to the fools on the radio. I really think 95% of the sports radio folks near Cleveland know absolutely nothing about baseball. They're always quick to point the finger at the Tribe and degrade them for everything they do and every loss. They're part of the problem why we draw 23,000 fans during the opening game against the Tigers in late July. Sorry for the rant, but moral of the story is you rock and I love your blog!

MTF said...

I'm hoping to see Willingham change dugouts before tonight's game. Would Phelps, Kluber and Fedroff be enough? The Twins have a good shot of getting two major leaguers out of that group, and both Kluber and Phelps can help them right now.

Hyde said...

I'm sorry, but if Tomlin was really the stumbling block in a potential trade for Youkilis, that's malpractice on the part of Antonetti.

Of course, the need for Youk would not have been there had the front office actually abided by the phrase "we'll spend when the time is right" this past offseason, and outbid a 100-loss team for Josh Willingham.

I guess the Jimenez trade was our once-a-decade bid for midseason relevance. Meanwhile, the Tigers seem to have spare prospects around to make deadline deals whenever they want, despite continual claims that they are "mortgaging their future."

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