Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reluctantly Looking at Cooperstown on a Lazy Sunday

I had no intention of writing about this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame voting. None. Zip, zilch, zero. Felt it was already extensively covered elsewhere, and the comments on other articles I’ve seen approach the insanity that has only been replicated at the bottom of CNN/FoxNews articles about the recent presidential election. Figured I’d find a much better way to spend my time. But then the unthinkable happened; not only did the Baseball Writers Association of America not elect a single candidate to the Hall this year, they also allowed Kenny Lofton to fall completely off the ballot. So with an equal combination of frustration, anger and reluctance, I approached the keyboard late this week to at least get my thoughts down on “paper,” submitted for the world to see. If you’re completely over the Hall debate and have absolutely no interest in discussing or reading about this anymore, I totally understand. Good news is you’re still getting a Lazy one this week, and I’m saving the Hall stuff for the very end so you can pull the ripcord before that point if you’d like. We’re still going to have a nice Sunday chat about Trevor Bauer, Spring Training, and even a little Jeanmar Gomez thrown in for good measure. So whether you’re in for the whole show this week or not, here’s a meandering effort for you to digest with your morning coffee, fresh waffles and crispy bacon on this unseasonably warm Lazy Sunday…

Newly-acquired starting pitcher Trevor Bauer has already had himself a busy 2013. First, he had his new club’s big-league skipper and GM visit him in Texas to have a chat and observe his unique training regime. As if that weren’t stressful enough, the a player who is shy and quiet by his own admission flew to Cleveland to take part in the Indians winter development program, and as a result was put through his paces by the assembled host of media in his first interviews for his new baseball city. As I’ve indicated previously both in this space and on Twitter, I’m all-in on Trevor Bauer and am really looking forward to watching him pitch in an Indians uniform. But part of the reason the Indians were able to acquire the talented youngster was his perceived “weirdness” in the Arizona clubhouse. It got to the point where Bauer actually contacted his D-Backs teammates in the offseason to ask them what he did to rub them the wrong way. So this initial interaction with the cantankerous Cleveland media had the potential to be ugly, or at the very least awkward. Judging by the articles that have been coming out, the complete opposite occurred. Both Anthony Castrovice and Jordan Bastian put out their usual excellent pieces on Bauer, and both had interesting and good things to say about the 21-year old righty. I wrote about my thoughts on Bauer’s issues with the Diamondbacks in a previous Lazy Sunday, so I’m not going to extensively rehash them here. But if you’d like to see some of the…interesting pregame activity that Bauer has become known for, there’s a video embedded into both Castro and Bastain’s articles that are linked above.

Bauer is a bright kid, the son of an engineer who is interested in not only the results but in the raw mechanics of pitching. He’s come right out to say that he’s been somewhat shy all his life, and teammates throughout the years have sometimes mistaken that shyness for arrogance. He’s clearly bothered by that impression, and it seems like he’s really taken steps to identify and mitigate those issues. The bottom line is that if Bauer comes out and pitches effectively, then his personality quirks, unique pre-game and pre-inning warm-up routine will become “colorful” and “fun.” If he struggles, then people will question whether he “needs” to throw long-toss, or crow-hop to fire in his first warm-up toss between innings. I’ll rely on the classic baseball film Bull Durham here, as Crash Davis made his point to Nuke LaLoosh about success allowing for a little extra freedom to be different:

“Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You'll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you'll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press will think you're colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you’re a slob”

This also serves to highlight the Indians much-heralded Winter Development Program, the brainchild of Indians team president Mark Shapiro 18 years ago. The program serves to acclimate some of the top prospects in the organization to the city of Cleveland, Progressive Field, major league training staffs and facilities and of course, dealing with the media. The players that have gone through the program in the past have always given it rave reviews, and it really makes a difference in preparing the prospects to move up the organizational ladder. This year, the players will have an opportunity to interact with GM Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona, and featured speakers will include ESPN’s Buster Olney and…wait for it…Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer. Meyer was actually a pretty good baseball player in his youth, having been drafted out of his Ashtabula high school in the 13th round by the Braves back in 1982. Meyer played just two years of professional baseball, never making it out of Rookie ball and posting a career OPS of just .585 in 110 at bats. So Meyer’s presentation will hopefully be more motivational than batting practice. Participating in the program this year are 1B Jesus Aguilar, RHP Shawn Armstrong, C/1B Yan Gomes, RHP Preston Guilmet, RHP Trey Haley, LHP T.J. House, OF Tyler Holt, SS Francisco Lindor, RHP Fabio Martinez, OF Carlos Moncrief, SS Ronny Rodriguez, RHP Danny Salazar, LHP Gio Soto, and SS Tony Wolters. All of those players are going to appear in the top half of my upcoming prospect countdown. Some are still quite a ways away from the MLB roster, but all will benefit from the knowledge and experience gained in the program this offseason.  

In a relatively minor deal earlier this week, the Indians dealt pitcher Jeanmar Gomez to the Pittsburgh Pirates in return for outfield prospect Quincy Latimore. Gomez was designated for assignment to make room for outfielder Nick Swisher, and became expendable after the Brett Myers signing. The soon to be 25-year old Gomez went 5-8 with a 5.96 ERA in 90 2/3 IP for the Indians last year, and has a career WHIP of 1.510 in 206 2/3 big league innings. Gomez is probably most known for throwing a perfect game for AA Akron, and has the upside of a #5 starter in the big leagues. A switch to the NL might help his numbers, but the raw talent just isn’t there for Gomez to be anything more than a rotation filler in the Show. He’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the Pirates 25-man roster out of spring training then he’ll have to be exposed to waivers again in order to be assigned to Pittsburgh’s minor league system. So if I were Gomez, I wouldn’t exactly start house hunting in the Steel City just yet.

Latimore (not Lattimer) was the Pirates 4th round pick in 2007 out of a North Carolina high school. Last year in his age 23-season, Latimore hit .252/.321/.433 with 15 HR, 71 RBI and 10 SB for AA Altoona. He was repeating the level, and did show a lot of growth from 2011 by improving on his average, OBP, SLG, RBI, SB, BB and cut down his strikeouts from 140 in 2011 to 105 in 2012.  I’d be lying if I told you I knew anything about Latimore prior to this week, so I perused some Pirates blogs to get a flavor of their thoughts on the trade. No one seemed to broken up over losing him, calling him an organizational player and criticizing his approach. Hopefully the drop in strikeouts from 2011 to last year was a trend rather than a one-year aberration, but I’m not exactly penciling Latimore in as the Indians LF of the future. I’d expect him to start in AA Akron next year but have a chance to progress to AAA Columbus fairly quickly if he can get a hot start out of the gates. He’s got intriguing power potential, but will need to cut down on the strikeouts to turn the raw power into more consistent game power.

One of the most exciting days of the year for me is the day I book my annual Spring Training trip. Earlier this week I scheduled my flight, rental car and hotel for Goodyear, and will be down in sunny Arizona from March 21-26 (departing 67 days from today…not that I’m counting). If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it as it’s one of my all-time favorite experiences as a baseball fan. I’ve been three years in a row now, so this upcoming March will by my fourth trip in as many years. There’s as much free baseball as you want if you’re interested in the minor league games, and the lawn seats in the outfield for the MLB games are cheap and plentiful. If anyone else is going to be down during the week I’m there, let me know and we can meet for a pop or two during or after a game.

As promised, we waited till the end to delve into the Hall talk. By its very nature the Hall debate is an extremely subjective one. A player can be a grizzled sportswriter’s Hall of Famer but a sabermatrician’s replacement player and vice versa. Setting aside the Jack Morris/Tim Raines debate for now, I’d like to put one statement out there that I think everyone can agree on; the Baseball Hall of Fame exists to commemorate and record baseball history. There are some players, most notably “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, who have been banned from baseball for their actions and have been declared ineligible for inclusion into the hallowed grounds of Cooperstown. While there’s debate over whether or not those two players should be eligible, the fact is they are not and no one is allowed to vote for them. With the recent attention (note; not recent USE) on performance enhancing drugs in baseball, there’s another debate raging between sportswriters and fans, this one focusing on whether or not players who have been conclusively linked to the use of performance enhancing drugs should be elected into the Hall of Fame based on their on-field accomplishments. Even worse, there’s a debate as to whether players not conclusively linked to PEDs, but who played in the “PED era” should be voted into the Hall of Fame. This hypocritical self-righteousness of the writers voting for the Hall this year has resulted in zero players reaching the 75% threshold necessary for induction.

Here’s where I come down on the debate (if you haven’t already figured it out); I think that anyone not banned from baseball should be eligible for the Hall of Fame based on their on-field accomplishments. Any player who is conclusively linked to or has admitted to PED use who was good enough on the field to be voted into the Hall should have his PED use appropriately reflected on his HoF plaque, right below his batting average, home runs and on-base percentage. If a player is elected and PED evidence comes to light after the election, just appropriately alter the plaque after the fact. Barry Bonds played the game of baseball, and there’s an argument to be made that he played it better than anyone else, ever. Barry Bonds not having a plaque in the HoF does not change that. He should be in there, with his numbers and PED use accurately reflected. So should Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmerio and others. The baseball writers, commissioner, owners and fans didn’t seem overly concerned about PED use when offense (and revenue) was way up and baseballs were flying out of the park at a record pace. Now everyone wants to step up and act like this was the worst thing since the Black Sox scandal? Keeping these players out of the Hall of Fame does not simply wipe out two decades of baseball. The steroid era happened, like it or not. Plugging our ears, shutting our eyes and holding our breath will not make that go away. If you go to the MLB record book, Barry Bonds still holds the home run records. Mark McGwire still broke the long-standing Roger Maris HR record. Not voting for these players doesn’t make history simply disappear.

If I had a ballot (spoiler alert; I don’t), here’s who would have appeared on my ballot this year:
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Tim Raines, Kenny Lofton, Mike Piazza, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. Under the current rules, you can’t vote for more than ten players in one year. As I indicated before, I think that Raffy Palmerio and Sammy Sosa deserve votes as well. Alan Trammell would probably get my vote too, and I am right on the line as to whether I’d vote for Larry Walker. But those first ten would have appeared on my ballot in 2013. Of those ten, two (Bonds and McGwire) have been conclusively linked to PED use and Clemens has a lot of evidence out there. Bagwell and Piazza have “suspicions” afloat that have less evidence than my claim to have kissed Kate Upton last week. Biggio, Raines and Lofton are speed/defense type guys who’ve never had a shred of suspicion cast their way, at least as far as I’ve seen. Not one of these players was deemed by the BBWAA as worthy of inclusion into the Hall of Fame at this time. Everyone on the ballot this year ended up being punished by the sanctimonious nature of the voters, whether they used PEDs or not. Biggio, Raines, Lofton…some holier than thou voters couldn’t even be bothered to vote for the clean players, because so many had to make a “statement” by sending in a blank ballot. I suppose that if one says “I’m a smug, pompous SOB who bought into the steroid era when it was taking place but now feel the need to retroactively punish everyone who dared play baseball in the 1990’s so people will pay attention me” is a statement, then mission accomplished.

Grantland’s Jonah Keri, far away my favorite Canadian sportswriter, posted a great piece about the Hall voting that I agree with 100%. If you’re interested in the process and how it could (and should) be changed, I highly recommend reading this entire article. I’m not going to sit here and rehash all of Keri’s points, but I’m glad someone with a national voice is pointing out the serious flaws in both the voters and the voting process. Listen, I love the Hall of Fame. Cooperstown is a wonderful little town that I visited with my parents and younger brothers back in high school, and it was my all-time favorite family vacation. I want to take my kids there someday, and I think every baseball fan would enjoy at least one trip to the hallowed grounds at some point in their lives. But this raises a larger point; the Hall is in danger. It lost over $2 million last year, and has lost money in 8 of the last 10 years. The city’s economy revolves around the Hall, and induction weekend is a big part of that economy. This year, there will be no induction weekend. Astros, Expos, Yankees, Giants and Red Sox fans will not descend on the small city in New York to pay homage to the heroes of their youth. That doesn’t help the Hall, much the opposite. The selfishness of the voters is making the Hall less relevant, not more, and that’s a concern.

This all brings us to the real impetus for this article, which is the fact that Kenny Lofton garnered less than 5% of the vote (he appeared on just 3.2% of ballots) and is thus removed from future Hall of Fame ballots. Lofton was one of my favorite players growing up, and I truly consider myself lucky to have watched him play in his prime. Having a front row seat, whether at the sold-out Jake or glued to my TV set, to see Lofton’s spectacular catches and overall effect on opposing pitchers once he reached first base was a treat. He was a superb athlete who played at an elite level for the better part of a decade, and was a more productive player late in his career than most people give him credit for. Watching him lay the bat down on home plate and stride confidently to first base after a walk, knowing he’d be able to stretch that base on balls into at least a double. Seeing him use the pad on the bullpen door in CF as a step on a ladder like it was designed for him to rob a home run. I’ll admit that my Lofton vote is a bit of a homer vote, but it’s not like I’m stumping for Andy Allanson here. Lofton has a legitimate case as a Hall of Famer, and I’ll again rely on Grantland’s Jonah Keri (as an independent observer) to provide the explanation. Keri wrote two articles that touched on Lofton’s candidacy, and I’ll cut and paste from them both here for your convenience:
Kenny Lofton: Yes, seriously, that Kenny Lofton. The well-traveled center fielder was a wildly underrated player throughout his career for having Tim Raines starter kit skills during an era in which those abilities were an afterthought. Lofton is one of four modern-era players with 1,500 or more runs scored who's not in the Hall (Rafael Palmeiro, Bagwell, and yes, Raines are the others). He ranks 15th all time with 622 steals, swiping those bags at an excellent success rate a shade under 80 percent. He hit .299/.372/.423 lifetime, and played fantastic defense at a premium position in center field, whether you prefer advanced stats or traditional measures (four Gold Gloves). As with Raines, few monster seasons stand out. Instead, you have a multi-year stretch of excellence, in Lofton's case the first three full seasons of his career, which netted nearly seven wins per year (he hit an outrageous .349/.412/.536 and stole 60 bases in just 112 games during the strike-shortened 1994 season). Lofton slots in nicely among the best center fielders of all time, just a shade below Duke Snider and above the likes of Richie Ashburn and Andre Dawson. He has no chance in hell of induction anytime soon. But he's got my vote.
…starting with the one player who got the biggest screw job of all.
Kenny Lofton (3.2 percent of the vote): Any player who receives less than 5 percent of the vote gets kicked off the ballot. Not only did Lofton warrant more time on the ballot, but he also had a legitimate case for induction. As I wrote in a ballot breakdown, Lofton was one of the most prolific base stealers of all time, an on-base machine who played superb defense at a premium position in center field, had an early-career peak in which he produced MVP-caliber numbers, and slots in just below Duke Snider among all-time center fielders, ranking just a hair below average for center fielders already in the Hall. Like Lou Whitaker and Kevin Brown before him, Lofton's been chucked out of the running after just getting started.

If you’d like a more local perspective, Bastain (who’s not a Cleveland fan, just the beat writer from MLB), wrote a piece on his blog where he started out against Kenny’s candidacy, but ended up convincing himself that he deserved enshrinement after all. Lofton was punished for merely playing in the steroid era, and probably also for his less than friendly attitude to the media in general. If Lofton acted like Sean Casey and provided writers with better soundbites, I have no doubt he’d have garnered enough votes to at least appear on the 2014 ballot. One only need look to the never-ending lovefest towards accused double murderer Ray Lewis in Baltimore to see how friendly the media will treat a player who talks to them and provides interesting copy. The Baltimore and national media virtually ignored the issue while fawning over him after #52 announced his retirement, and the “best linebacker in history” will slide right into a job with the Worldwide Leader when his Ravens lose in the playoffs this year. But a guy like Lofton, who didn’t fall all over himself to cater to the every demand of sportswriters across the country, is punished for it.

I’ll even trot out the Mazeroski argument here; if Bill Mazeroski, noted primarily for his defense, is in the Hall of Fame then how can Kenny Lofton not be? Lofton was a great defender at one of the most important positions in the game and was a FAR superior offensive player to Mazeroski. Don’t believe me? Maz never posted an OPS of higher than .747. 747! His career high in OPS+ was 97.  If you’re not familiar with OPS+, it’s a stat that is normalized so that 100 is league average. This isn’t meant to inflame folks to march on Cooperstown in an effort to de-induct (is that a word?) Mazeroski, only to point out that Lofton has a legitimate case on his defensive credentials alone based on those who were inducted before him. I didn’t think Lofton would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer (not that there should be a distinction between first and second ballot guys, but whatever). I also didn’t think he’d get less than 5% of the vote and fall off the ballot entirely. He was a star in his day who has somehow become unappreciated after his retirement, possibly because he bounced around the league towards the end of his career and didn’t stay in one city for a significant period of time other than Cleveland. It’s a shame, but I still feel grateful for having been able to enjoy his exploits on the diamond for as long as I did.

Just to re-emphasize a point here, I’m not looking for an argument or intense debate about whether PED users should be admitted into the Hall of Fame. I’m not even looking to argue about whether guys like Lofton or Raines or Jack Morris have the stats to grace the hallowed halls. If you’re still with us here at this point of the article, I appreciate your interest in my point of view on the subject, and I’m aware and appreciate that your opinion may be 180 degrees from mine on the subject. The beauty of the Hall debate is that it is subjective, and there’s no “right” way to approach it. This article simply served to put my stream of consciousness on the subject out there for all to see, and I hope that if you disagree that we’re still friends. So with that out of the way, let’s look towards equipment trucks, pitchers and catchers reporting and other signs that spring has arrived, because believe it or not, opening day is less than three months away!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Celebrating Swishmas on a Lazy Sunday

Happy Swishmas, everyone! The Indians rang in the New Year by making the most expensive free agent signing in the history of the club official, introducing former Buckeye Nick Swisher at a press conference at Progressive Field this past Thursday. Free agent starter Brett Myers was officially signed on Friday to considerably less fanfare, and GM Chris Antonetti’s offseason shopping list has most of its items crossed off. Young, high upside pitching? Check (Trevor Bauer). Veteran starter? Check (Brett Myers). Righthanded power bat at 1B? Check (Mark Reynolds). Power OF bat? Check (Nick Swisher). Throw in guys with upside potential like Drew Stubbs and Scott Kazmir and consider that proven winner Terry Francona is onboard to shepherd the flock for the next four years, you just can’t help but feel like the Indians are having one of the best offseasons in baseball to this point. While they’re not going to be able to hang with a team like the Angels or Dodgers, who went out and signed the most expensive hitter and pitcher on the free agent market, Antonetti clearly identified and attacked specific weaknesses on the club’s 40-man roster. For a team and a fanbase that has become accustomed to quiet offseasons, the winter of 2012-13 has been a revelation. The team that wins the winter rarely ends up winning the World Series, but compared to the deafening silence of the recent past, this year has been an awfully enjoyable experience.

The Swisher signing has been extensively covered by pretty much everyone who writes about the Indians by now, but my favorite piece was (unsurprisingly) penned by Anthony Castrovice for Castro focuses on more than just the contract value and the numbers on the field, and discusses what the signing means for the Indians moving forward. Swisher seemed genuinely excited to be back “home” in Cleveland during his press conference, showing off his trademark energy and enthusiastic personality. While some have criticized the contract as too long and for much money, the club had a ton of money coming off the books with the Hafner, Sizemore and Lowe contracts expiring, and also freed up a nice chunk of change with the Choo trade based on what he would have received in arbitration. Add to that additional revenue from the sale of STO to Fox Sports Ohio and the Indians went into this offseason in the rare position of having a real surplus of dollars to spend in the free agent market. Remember too that the overall MLB TV deal is going to start giving each club another $25 million in revenue, and in a year or two that Swisher deal could very well look like a bargain.

Irrespective of the final dollar amounts, what can we reasonable expect out of Swisher on the field going forward? Francona has already indicated that the switch-hitting outfielder will hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup, which is a no-brainer when you look at the current roster composition. When you look at Swisher’s career, it’s easy to see why the Indians decided that he was worth the contract they offered him; Swisher has appeared in 148 or more games for the last 7 straight seasons, and he posted an OPS+ of 120 or more in each of those seasons save one. He’s hit more than 20 home runs in every season going back to 2005. Since his rookie of the year season back in 2005, Swisher’s average season line is an impressive .256/.361/.468 with 26 HR, 83 RBI and a 118 OPS+. He stays healthy and in the lineup, and he’s a remarkable consistent hitter who will be a better defensive RF than the man he’s replacing. He can also play 1B, which will make him much more likely to hold value through the back end of the contract even if he can’t hold onto his defensive chops in the OF. Is there still risk involved? Of course there is. But when you look at the history of the player, the influx of money from the TV deals and the glaring need that Swisher fills in the middle of the lineup and in the outfield, it’s easy to see why the Indians inked the Ohio native to the deal that they did.

After the Indians acquired Trevor Bauer to strengthen their rotation for the next half-decade or so, there remained a glaring need in the near term for at least one (preferably two or three) effective arms. To that end the Indians signed veteran starter Brett Myers to a one-year contract worth $7 million with a club option for a second year with a raise to $8 million if the Indians decide to pick it up. To make room on the 40-man for Myers, the Indians (again) exposed Russ Canzler to waivers, and he was again picked up by an AL East team, this time the Yankees. So for those of you keeping score at home, Canzler has gone from the Indians to the Blue Jays back to the Indians and now to the Yankees in less than 14 days. Anyway, Myers will be returning to the rotation after spending all of last season in the bullpen for both the Astros and White Sox. Normally, that would invite questions about the durability of a player, but if you look at Myers’ career he’s consistently been an innings-eater, having thrown over 175 innings in every season he was in the rotation other than 2009. He put up a 3.79 ERA in 439 2/3 innings for Houston in 2010-2011, so it’s not like he’s years removed from being an effective starter. His move to the bullpen was based more on Houston’s specific team needs than anything else.

Expect Myers to slot into the middle of the rotation where he can throw 180-220 innings and give the Indians lineup a chance to win a bunch of ballgames. Myers velocity dropped from the mid-90’s in his prime to the high 80’s in 2011, and to his credit Myers re-invented himself as a pitcher. He relies much more on location that pure stuff now, and uses his four-pitch mix to set up and outsmart hitters rather than trying to blow them away. Better pitchers than Myers have succumbed to a loss in stuff and been forced into an early retirement, but Myers responded to an absurdly high 17.8% of his flyballs finding the seats in 2009 to a downright outstanding rate of 6.6% in 2010. If Myers can continue to locate his pitches and get hitters to beat the ball into the ground (GO/AO ratio of 1.35 last year) he can be an effective #3/4 guy and even a veteran presence that can mentor a guy like Trevor Bauer. Bauer famously got in trouble at the MLB level last season by trying to strike out too many hitters and not trusting his stuff to get outs on balls in play. Myers just happens to be a guy who used to strike everyone out and now gets outs on balls in play. Sounds like a match made in Heaven to me. Myers does have some personal issues in his past, from confrontations with teammates to the much more serious charges of domestic abuse involving his wife. But any worries about Myers negatively affecting the clubhouse have to be at least partially mitigated by the presence of bench coach Brad Mills. Mills was Myers’ manager in Houston, and if there were serious issues in the Astros clubhouse created by Myers, I’d have to think Mills would have stepped up to Francona and management to advise them against throwing $7 million at the guy. There are other pitchers out there that would have been worth that kind of money (Marcum) so it’s not as if Myers was the only option available to the Indians and they had to sign him, warts and all. So until proven otherwise, I’m going to give Myers the benefit of the doubt for his tenure in Cleveland, and hope he provides veteran leadership to a staff that sorely lacked that component last season.

So this all begs the question…what exactly are the Indians trying to do? GM Chris Antonetti has come out to say that Myers is likely the last significant free agent in the budget this offseason, so other than the usual slew of minor league contracts with invitations to Spring Training we’re not likely to see any additions to the 40-man via free agency. Early in this offseason, I advocated trading Choo, Chris Perez and Asdrubal Cabrera in an attempt to jump-start the inevitable rebuilding process, and listening to offers on Vinnie F. Pestano and Justin Masterson as well. The club did of course deal Choo for Trevor Bauer and others, but rather than continue to demolish/rebuild via trade, Antonetti used a significant chunk of change to bring in a FA replacement for Choo and a badly needed arm. So are the Indians done significantly altering the roster for one offseason? If so, it feels a little like the club has reached the dreaded “in between” talent level; not quite good enough to make the playoffs, not bad enough to just let the kids play and trade for prospects. Pauly C. sent me an e-mail this past Thursday comparing the Indians offseason this year to Oakland’s last season; trading away established players for youngsters while simultaneously signing veterans to replace the players they were trading away. The day after I got that e-mail from Paul, Baseball Prospectus published their transaction report on the Myers signing that included this little tidbit:

Cleveland’s offseason strategy is beginning to resemble Oakland’s from last winter. The key difference is Oakland’s pitching quality and depth. The Indians are hoping Justin Masterson or Ubaldo Jimenez can lead the way, while some combination of Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco, and Corey Kluber shore up the back end. Yes, Trevor Bauer is around, and yes, Cleveland could add a veteran like Shaun Marcum. For now it’s hard to gamble on either scenario. Likewise, you shouldn’t bet on Cleveland winning the division. This Indians bunch should win more games than they did last year (68), however, and fans have to be pleased to see some offseason additions.

The main takeaway here is that while the offseason has been a solid one that has addressed two of the Indians main needs, the team is far from complete. ESPN’s Buster Olney went through his offseason top-10 series, looking at the top 10 infield, outfield, lineup, rotation and bullpens around baseball. The Indians were completely absent from Olney’s series. Even the vaunted bullpen mafia, led by all-star closer Chris Perez and lights-out setup man Vinnie Pestano, failed to rate even honorable mention status. As currently constructed, this team is better than last year. But that doesn’t mean they’re destined for the playoffs. Francisco Lindor and Trevor Bauer are the only blue-chip prospects in the system. So while the rebuild of the roster was given a great jump-start these past few weeks, it’s far from complete. Antonetti should still be looking to move Asdrubal Cabrera for young pitching. He should still be considering every offer that comes across the table for Chris Perez, whether that offer is made during the offseason or closer to the 2013 trading deadline. The team can still rebuild while making marginal improvements to the roster from season to season, but they cannot get stuck in the purgatory of winning between 75-85 games a year, every year. The Swisher signing will sell some tickets regardless of what happens the rest of this offseason. But the team can’t build for the long haul without acquiring more young, cost controlled talent, particularly on the mound. The 5th overall pick in this June’s draft will help, but that pick will need to be augmented by prospects from outside the organization as well. The best route to acquire those prospects is still dealing Cabrera and Perez.’s Bernie Pleskoff put up an excellent piece on Indians relief prospect Trey Haley earlier this week. Pleskoff is a former scout who has turned to writing, and is a great follow on twitter. I’m not sure if Pleskoff was ever an Indians fan, but he seems to tweet about Indians prospects fairly frequently and always gives his thoughts on moves the club makes. Pleskoff responds to almost every question he’s asked on twitter, so if you don’t already follow him I highly recommend it. It’s great to have the impartial opinion of a guy who’s made a living out of assessing talent on the baseball diamond. Pleskoff is high on Haley, as the former 2nd round pick out of a Nacogdoches, TX high school has an arm capable of touching triple digits out of the bullpen. He compliments the plus-plus velocity with a hammer 12/6 curveball and a developing slider and occasionally throws a changeup. Pleskoff called Haley’s arm one of the best that he witnessed in the Arizona Fall League, and thinks that while he has the raw talent to start that he’d work best as a closer in The Show. There are only two things that concern me about Haley, and they go hand in hand. He’s had a little trouble staying healthy (sports hernia last year) and has had some command issues. If he can stay healthy and on the mound though, his command should come around as there are no mechanical issues that will keep him from throwing consistent strikes. Haley was my #19 prospect last year, and will be at least a few spots higher than that in this spring’s countdown.

It’s not exactly Indians related, but Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus put together a very entertaining article where he mined some of the deep, dark corners of the Internet for a ridiculous trade offer from every team’s fanbase for the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton. There are some pretty entertaining offers in there, especially the Yankees and Red Sox fans that suggest including draft picks in the deals. I won’t spoil it for you, but a fan of one MLB team is not interested in Stanton because, wait for it, he hits righthanded. It’s alarming to see how many fans have no idea how to even spell the names of some of their top prospects and apparently have no access to google or baseball reference to determine the correct spelling. At the very least it’s a fun and entertaining look at some of the less educated baseball fans around the league. If nothing else it’s good for a laugh on a cold Lazy Sunday with less than two months till Spring Training…