Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Look At All These Rumors

With all of the crazy things that are flying around in the paper and the Internet in the past few days, it reminds me of the classic Timex Social Club song, Rumors.

With so much happening though, here are some thoughts:
When the PD reported that Paul Byrd was in town to meet with the Tribe brass, it occurred to me that Byrd is the type of pitcher likely to sign with the Tribe: a solid, if unspectacular, starter who will sign for a 2 year - $12M deal and perform solidly for the life of the contract.

The Tribe is looking for a RH to slot between Sabathia and Lee who can give them innings and keep them in games. Loiaza signing with the A’s has set the market (though I think that Oakland overpaid for Loaiza, to go along with every other ridiculous pitching contract handed out so far this offseason), but at least there are some parameters to get a deal done. Pitchers like Byrd and Matt Morris fit into the mold of the Indians’ desire for this year, more so than giving a Millwood or a Burnett a 5-year deal.

Remember that the Indians’ farm system is loaded with young arms, so if you lock up too many pitchers on long-term deals, those young arms never get a chance to prove themselves.
At the beginning of the 2005 season, if someone had told you that B.J. Ryan was going to get $47M on the FA market after the year, you would have thought they were crazy. So, what’s changed? He had one nice year and has great potential as a closer. But a 5-year deal? For that money? No chance.

Reportedly, the Yankees are close to signing Kyle Farnsworth as their set-up guy and the Phillies are making a strong push for Tom Gordon, so those two “targets” may be off the radar very soon. Both players have closed in the past, but have their warts, just like a Wickman, so neither is a sure thing.

On the other hand, a possible HOF closer who was “insulted” by his former team’s initial offer may be just what the doctor ordered. IF Trevor Hoffman is able to baited off of the Left Coast and into Jacobs Field, it would be a major coup for the Indians. Apparently, he’s looking for a 2-year deal worth about $16M with a vesting option for a third year. Considering what the Tribe “allegedly” offered B.J. Ryan, I don’t think that’s an impossible request. Yes, Hoffman is 38 and has had arm trouble, but he does also have a track record and was his usual dominant self last year. Who knows what he might be able to do in the AL. But with the number of closers dwindling, time is of the essence on the Hoffman front.

Wedgie was on the radio over the weekend, singing the praises of Hoffman, using a lot of the same adjectives used about Millwood prior to his signing last year: Veteran, Presence, Clubhouse Leader, Poise. The Hoffman thing could be a replay of the Millwood thing from last offseason, where the Tribe “missed out” on the big names (Pavano, Clement, Wright of last year, Ryan and Wagner of this year) to take a chance on a veteran looking to prove his worth. The fact that Wedge (who normally is so vanilla in interviews) was so over the top in his evaluation of Hoffman makes me think that Hoffman will be the one closing games for the Tribe next year.

Think about this: Would Hoffman have the same effect on the young bullpen (Cabrera, Betancourt, Brown, etc.) that Millwood did last year on the rotation? A future HOF teaching those young arms how to prepare themselves for games, how to get out of jams, how to keep their emotions in check, etc. would be invaluable considering the talent that is out in the pen.
So with one starter taking up about $6M-$7M next year and a closer costing about $8M for next year, you’ve added about $15M to solidify the pitching staff (remember, I’d like to see Cabrera in the Howry role and have the young guns Carmona and Sowers battle for the 5th spot). My thinking is that the Tribe is probably going to add about $20M-$25M in payroll to what is there, so you’ve taken up about 2/3 of it.

The final $5M-$10M goes toward that bat. The two names now being thrown around are Brian Giles (still) and Nomah (new). Despite my feelings for Jimmy Fallon, Ben Affleck, and that whole hack SNL skit that skewered Sawx fans, if Nomar came to the North Coast, I’d be shouting NOMAHHH with the rest of the fans.

Nomar seems to fit into the Indians’ line of reclamation projects (if you want to call them that), or players who have something to prove and are given the opportunity to prove them. I have no problem with Nomar filling the “Tony Phillips role” as Buster Olney suggests, having him move around the field. As a SS, one has to be a pretty good athlete, certainly good enough to play 1B (RF may be another story, even though Kasey Blake acquitted himself nicely to the outfield). There’s one thing that Nomar has always been able to do: drive in runs. The presence of his RH bat between Hafner and the Stick would look great to Tribe fans and like a nightmare to opposing pitchers. But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself because these rumors (about Nomar and Giles) are just that.

Before my final spiel about salaries and perception vs. reality, here’s what the always-perceptive Terry Pluto had to say about the Tribe’s rotation next year from his online newsletter:

• Even without Millwood, I am very optimistic about the Tribe's starting pitching. C.C. Sabathia looks like he'll be a consistent 15-game winner, and Cliff Lee can be the same. Jake Westbrook can win 12-15 games. Most teams would love to build their starting rotation around those three guys. Then the Indians will face a decision on their prospects: Jason Davis, Jeremy Sowers, Fausto Carmona, Brian Tallet and Kaz Tadano. One Tribe executive told me that he believes Carmona is very close to big-league ready. I saw Sowers, and I believe the same is true for him. Tallet is an interesting prospect. I like Tadano, and Davis better in relief.
• One plan for the Tribe might be to sign a modestly priced veteran starter, such as Scott Elarton, for the fourth spot in the rotation, then shuffle through the kids to find a fifth starter. Let's remember how Lee and Westbrook established themselves. It happened because someone said, "These guys have the talent, now let's hand them the ball.''

Finally, I’m tired of hearing all of the talk about whether the Dolans are “going to step to the plate and pay some players or just pay us lip-service.” Last I checked the contracts that have been signed thus far have been ludicrous (see Perez, Neifi and Eyre, Scott), so the question isn’t whether the Indians will pay for their players, it’s whether they’ll pay prudently for their players.

Last year, the Tigers signed Magglio Ordonez and Troy Percival (two players many thought the Indians should have signed) and were perceived to have really improved their team. Meanwhile, in reality this year the Tigers are in the market for…a big RH bat and a closer. There’s a big difference between shelling out big bucks for quality talent and shelling out big bucks for marginal talent. The system put in place seems to be working pretty well and, within that, there has to be some level of restraint. Sure, it would be great to have B.J. Ryan, but not at those numbers. It’s about spending wisely, not spending the most. Just ask all those teams that spent more than the White Sox this past season and watched the WS the same place that we did…at home.

If you’re not checking out the comments that are posted, start. There’s enough links and dirt flying around in there to keep everyone fat and happy.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Fleecing of Toronto

Imagine the range of emotions this morning, as I see that B.J. Ryan reportedly agrees to a deal on the front page of the Sports section. Disappointment and a little bit of surprise, as Ryan had stated his intent to join a team ready for playoff contention.
Open the paper to the article detailing in the terms. Incredulously say out loud, “5 years for $47.5M?!?”. My thoughts turn to how the negotiations must’ve gone, probably over a nice dinner:
John Courtright (Ryan’s agent) – B.J. would really like to play for a contender next year.
J.P. Ricciardi (Toronto GM) – We feel we’re right there in the AL East, with money to spend.
Courtright – There are other teams in the running a lot closer than the Jays.
Ricciardi (going into used-car salesman mode) – OK, tell me what it will take to get B.J. into a Jays uniform. Throw out a number.
Courtright – I don’t know…5 years, $47 and a half million.
Ricciardi – Done.
Courtright (getting up, shaking hands, and throwing money on the table) – OK, great I’ll send over the paperwork tomorrow morning, (under his breath) before you realize what you’ve just done.

That may be a bit of a stretch, but let’s look at some hard numbers. Now in no way am I discounting that B.J. Ryan is a nice relief pitcher, certainly with the potential to close for a very long time in the majors. However, let’s do a comparison, using Mariano Rivera’s contract from 2001-2004:

Ryan 2005 - 31 years old, 42 career saves, 1 year of closing.
-Contract for 5 years worth essentially $9.5M a year
Rivera 2001 – 31 years old, 165 career saves, 4+ years of closing.
-Contract for 4 years worth essentially $10M a year
-Did I mention he also had 19 postseason saves and a WS MVP under his belt?

I realize that players’ salaries go up every year, but this is ridiculous. Billy Wagner, the consensus best FA closer is 33 with 284 career saves during 9 years of closing games.
Guess whose price just went up. Do you think that Omar Minaya reacted well to the report?

I assumed that Wagner would get about $9.5M a year over 3 years with Ryan’s deal settling at about $8M a year over 3. So, this just completely threw those numbers out the window, not only in terms of money, but also in terms of years. Who gives a reliever a 5-year deal? He may perform at a nice level for a few years, but to lock up a closer with a short track record for that amount reeks of desperation.

Now there are conflicting reports of whether this deal is truly done (probably as Ricciardi went back to the office, looking for congratulations and receiving only gasps of, “how long…and for how much…for B.J. Ryan?), but it illustrates the FA concept that It Only Takes One Team:

  • It Only Takes One Team to offer two more years than everyone else.
  • It Only Takes One Team to outbid everyoe (sometimes outlandishly) to set the tone for the whole FA market, causing everyone's prices to go up.
  • It Only Takes One Team to “make a splash for their fans” by getting the player they want, regardless of any other circumstances.

We'll see if this deal goes through and, if so, who the Indians turn their attention to (Farnsworth, Hoffman, Gordon, or good ole Wicky) in the continuation of their bullpen restructuring project.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Trade Thoughts

With the trade market taking off (Delgado, Thome, Beckett, etc.), expect the Indians to join the festivities shortly, either via FA or trade. Some thoughts on recent happenings:

The White Sox acquisition of Thome puzzles me. Granted they got $22M of the $43.5M owed over his last 3 years, but the timing of it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Thome is essentially a DH, whose contract makes him attractive to very few AL teams (meaning that they weren't bidding against a ton of teams). Yet the White Sox jump at the chance to get Thome, before the Konerko situation is even resolved. He’s essentially the replacement for Frank Thomas, and insurance for 1B if Konerko moves on. But that’s assuming that his back is healthy enough to play the field. The White Sox were pushing hard to make this happen, but couldn’t they have waited until the asking price came down a little?
That being said, it was a great trade for Philly, whose lineup looks pretty tough for next year (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Abreu, Burrell, Rowand).

Even more curious is what the White Sox gave up to get Thome. Last offseason, Chicago traded Carlos Lee for Scott Podsednik which seemed to set the tone for the season, as it moved the focus of the team from Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em to pitching, speed, and defense. It worked pretty well, obviously. So, the first move they make after winning a championship is to trade a Gold Glove caliber CF, and a grinder who epitomized their philosophy for … a slugger, capable of the big HR, but also the big K.
Brian Anderson is a nice OF prospect, but he remains just that. For every Grady Sizemore that emerges, there are a lot more Alex Escobars and Ryan Ludwicks.
I can’t tell if my personal feelings for Thome (that he always said all the right things, until he jumped town for “a better shot at the playoffs”) is influencing my thoughts on the trade, but it will certainly be intriguing to hear the reaction that Thome steps to the plate for the first time at the Jake.

You want a rival for the Indians, there’s your rival. Complete with a former teammate becoming the face of your nemesis, with Jim Thome in the Jack Parkman role from Major League II. Bad reference and a bad movie, but the similarities are just too eerie.

Now, the Philadelphia media is reporting that the Thome sweepstakes came down to the White Sox and the Tribe, with the Indians offering David Riske and Coco Crisp for Thome and Jason Michaels. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, or if it was “leaked” to give Tribe ownership some credence that “they went hard after Thome”. That trade would only be made if Thome’s back was guaranteed to be healthy enough to play the field, and the Phillies threw in a similar financial package. The Tribe was hesitant to give Thome these last 3 years when originally negotiating with him, so why suddenly would they want him for ONLY these 3 years?

The interesting aspect of the trade rumor is the names that came up in it for the Tribe. I don’t think that there’s any question that Shapiro is trying to deal Riske, seeing as how he just had a good year (stats-wise), even as he fell out of favor with Wedge. Shapiro will almost certainly try to move him in a package for a bat.
Coco’s name is more surprising, until you look at the big picture. Coco was always seen as a 4th OF as he progressed through the organization, fighting his way into the picture. After a solid year, Coco’s value may be at its peak and the fact that he doesn’t fit the mold of a corner outfielder (he’s really a CF/leadoff hitter, which we’re set on) leads me to believe that if Brian Giles becomes an Indian, Coco’s days may be numbered. Even if Giles doesn't join the Indians, when either Brad Snyder of Franklin Gutierrez is ready for the bigs, expect Coco (assuming he’s still around) to be the odd man out. With that being said, Coco’s stuck around a lot longer than other more ballyhooed prospects, so he may retire an Indian at this rate.

Coco would draw some interest in the trade market as he's a prototypical leadoff hitter (in some people's eyes who look only at his speed) and a good defensive OF (despite a weak throwing arm). He could always be packaged with Brandon Phillips and some arms for a starter (Javier Vazquez, Barry Zito) at some point to solve the hole in the rotation, rather than giving Millwood the 5-year deal that he is almost assured of getting somewhere.

Back to the Giles front, it seems that Giles may be willing to return to the place it all started, as he’s ruled out the Yankees. The Padres, the Cardinals, and the Cubs remain the other suitors, but Giles seems like the kind of guy who takes comfort and environment into consideration more than most. I would imagine that his personality would fit in well to the loose clubhouse where Hafner walks around in Battista T-shirts (from the WWE, for the uninformed), but is he willing to leave the San Diego sun or more money on the table for a return to the Jake?

It seems like the Indians are more concerned about locking up a bat and bullpen help as opposed to locking up the rotation, from the reports of who they are courting. B.J. Ryan is reported to be very interested in signing with the Tribe because he wants to close for a winner. Take the Yankees (set-up role), the Orioles (losers), and the Blue Jays (losers) off of the list. It seems that the loser of the Billy Wagner Sweepstakes (Mets or Phillies) will make a hard push for Ryan, which is why Shapiro is working hard to stage a pre-emptive strike. Unfortunately, since Wagner’s contract will set the market, you can’t have it both ways.

The next week or so should set up for some action coming from the Indians’ offices, as the there may be more money to spend, and moves are now being made, so the precedent is set.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Jim Thome was dealt to the White Sox in exchange for Aaron Rowand and cash.

How's that for a return to the Midwest and the Indians' backyard?

What this means for Konerko and his status with the White Sox and what it means to the AL Central and specifically the Tribe, I'm going to need some time on.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bullpen Option?

The FA "Visiting Period" has started as B.J. Ryan was in Cleveland on Monday night, being courted by the Indians. Ryan, the Orioles' closer, would look great at the back end of the bullpen, but he will not come cheap. Ryan is one of the top closers available and will be looking for a long-term deal like Alfonseca and Percival did last off-season (we saw how those worked out).

Ryan, a tough lefty, would give the Tribe 3 lefties in the pen (with Rhodes and Sauerbeck) and if Rhodes is thought to be the 8th inning guy right now, that's a lot of southpaws. Additionally, if Fernando Cabrera is not far away from closing, what's the point of giving Ryan a 3-4 year deal? And what's the harm in giving Wickman another year to raise my blood pressure?

Initially, I was pretty excited about hearing that Ryan was in town, but the more thought that I gave to it, the more I think that the money can be better spent elsewhere (rotation, RF, 1B) as bullpens always seem to be a bit of a crapshoot. Remember that Bobby Jenks closed WS games last year.

I think that the Tribe will go in the direction of re-signing Wickman on another one-year deal and signing another bullpen RH, like Julian Tavarez, to give the Tribe the bullpen depth that was so important in 2005.

Lastly, it looks like Bob Howry will join Scott Eyre in the Cubs' bullpen (for $12M) as the Cubs have made the decision to overpay for all of their FA signees this offseason. Bidding against yourself is not a good strategy.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Nibbles on the Hook

With most of the focus right now on the FA market, I have a feeling that there will be more action on the trade front for the Indians this offseason. With some parts that can be moved, the Indians can fill holes by trading for value. Obviously, many trades involve prospects in leagues so low that very few people know about them. But, since we had previously looked at players who may be viable options for the Tribe to acquire, it’s time to take a look at the flip side of the equation, because to get value, you have to give up value.

Players Who May be Trade Bait:
Ben Broussard –
If Bono Broussard is not brought back into the fold for next year (i.e. the Tribe signs or trades for another 1B or gives the job to Garko), Broussard will likely be non-tendered and shopped in the offseason. Broussard, whose streakiness has made Clevelanders feel that he’s the player on the outside looking in this offseason, seems unlikely to be the Indians lone starting 1B next year. He may remain as part of a lefty/righty platoon, but a lot of that would depend upon what kind of dollars he may command in an arbitration hearing.
That being said, Broussard is an attractive player to a team that does not require a lot of power from their 1B. He will likely remain a .250 hitter who will hit about 20 HR with 65-75 RBI. Not bad numbers for some team, particularly one in need of a LH bat and a decent glove at first (maybe an NL team). Broussard may be dangled for another bullpen arm, depending upon the outcome of the Wickman/Howry/Riske situations.
If Broussard were to leave, I would equate him to the Paul Sorrento of this era. A nice player, unlikely to really catch on elsewhere; but produced some nice memories while here. Plus, he can promote his album.
David Riske –
Riske (whose spell as the closer was derided by my bride as “not such a good sign…having your closer named Riske”) is another player who may be more attractive to another team, other than the Indians. He, like Broussard, could be non-tendered and traded to avoid the Indians going to arbitration with him. Riske is a nice reliever who seemed to fall out of favor with Wedge as the season wore on. His appearances grew less and less frequent as Betancourt, and then Cabrera, became more established in the bullpen.
Riske does have nice career stats, averaging 47 appearances a season in 6 seasons. His career ERA is 3.55 with a WHIP of 1.26, which could be very attractive to a team looking for a 7th inning reliever. With the Indians having Rhodes, Betancourt, and Cabrera all set to fill the 6th through 8th innings, Riske could be the casualty of numbers. If that is the case, most teams are looking for bullpen help and Riske could certainly bring something in return, as he is somewhat of a “known commodity”. He has limited closing experience (which didn’t go well), but he would be useful to most teams in the back end of the ‘pen; again, probably more so for teams other than the Tribe. This one may come down to dollars – whether the Indians think that Riske’s arm and experience is worth that much more money (he made $1.425M last year) than that of an Andrew Brown, Jason Davis, or Matt Miller.
Jason Davis -
With Fausto Carmona and Jeremy Sowers having seemingly leapfrogged Davis in the Tribe rotation’s future, Davis will probably figure into next year’s plans in the bullpen or on another roster. There is no debate over the fact that Jason Dangerously has a live arm, capable of dominating at the big league level. The internal debate for the Indians is whether his stuff translates better to starting or reliving.
Personally, I’m of the belief that his stuff would be better out of the bullpen, BUT (a big but) I’m not sure if his emotions are best suited for the bullpen. When he pitched for the Tribe, he was always victimized by that big inning or seemed to lose his cool, often with disastrous results. That is not the kind of track record or mentality you’re looking for in a reliever, where you have to almost be amnesiac. So, while his stuff may be best suited for the pen, I don’t think that he’s necessarily best suited for the pen.
With all of that being said, it takes us back to the fact that Carmona and Sowers would have to go into Spring Training as the top contenders for a spot in the rotation (if one exists). And other arms in the bullpen might be further along than Davis. So where does that leave JD? Trade bait?
Davis would be sure to bring some value back from a pitching-starved team. While trading young pitching is normally not a good idea, Davis may be the victim of the numbers game. The strength of the Indians’ farm system is pitching, and if Davis does not translate anymore into one of the top prospects (remember that the studs from Akron last year will be one step closer next year), Davis may be able to bring a young bat into the fold. Or he could be packaged to acquire a more established hitter. His potential (and his fastball) could enamor another team to overvalue Davis and give up something decent in return. Or, this could all just be conjecture and Davis could take a spot in the bullpen (or even the rotation) in 2006.
Brandon Phillips -
As has already been determined, the re-signing of Ramon Vazquez and Jelly Belliard’s option being picked up means the end of B-Phil’s time in Cleveland. Once the jewel of the Colon deal, Phillips’ head never caught up to his talent. Whether it was a maturity issue or being given too much, too early is hard to say. But with Phillips out of options and no spot available on the big-league roster, Phillips will be playing elsewhere next year. He may just need a fresh start or to go to another organization where he is not always referred to as “the main player in the Bartolo Colon” trade (particularly with the success of Lee and Sizemore staring him in the face).
The question becomes whether the Indians can get anything of value for Phillips. He is still young and nobody has ever questioned that his glove his ML caliber. He needs to shorten his swing and become the player he is, not the player he thinks he is. A couple more years in the minors would do that. Expect Phillips to be packaged up this offseason to a team in need of a utility player or an upper level 2B/SS prospect.
Jeremy Guthrie -
The Stanford grad and former 1st Round Pick’s career has stalled at the time when the Indians’ brass thought he would more than likely be in the rotation (or at least challenging for that spot). Guthrie, however, lost his confidence in his first trip to Buffalo (after cruising up to that point) and hasn’t gotten his mojo back. Maybe Dr. Evil took it. He is under contract for 2006 (the last year of a 4 year, $4.5M deal) and the Tribe would like to see some return on their investment. Whether that comes in the form of production in Cleveland or in the acquisition of some other talent is the question.
Right now, Guthrie wouldn’t bring much in return (he posted a 5.08 ERA in Buffalo in 25 starts and he’ll be 27 by Opening Day next year), so expect Guthrie to go to Spring Training “competing” for a spot in the rotation (in name only. Next year, he would fill the “6th starter” role that Jason Davis filled last year. The loser of the 5th spot (Carmona or Sowers) would probably be sent back to Buffalo and be kept on a schedule until a regular starting gig became open in Cleveland. Guthrie, meanwhile, could yo-yo back and forth, with no set day to pitch. He could just fill-in where he was needed, either helping the Tribe, showcasing himself for a midseason trade, or putting the final shovel of dirt on his Major League career.

Other players could be traded (Tallet, Stanford, Tadano, etc.), but they’d all fall under the category of a “throw-in” like Tim Drew in the Colon deal.
Remember that Shapiro talked about acquiring Barry Zito last off-season, so the trade market is always a fluid one. You never know who is “available” and what it would take to get them. Shapiro has pulled off some beauties in the past (acquiring Hafner, Sizemore, Lee, Crisp, Westbrook, and Rhodes via trade), so a trade is certainly a possibility. Maybe even moreso than a big FA signing.

With that being said, the more I read about this FA starting pitching market, the more inclined I am to believe that the Indians will sign a player like Paul Byrd to a 2 year deal. Something like that retains the financial flexibility that Shapiro preaches, while not locking down a rotation spot if (when) the young arms are ready for the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Incidentally, Billy Traber was signed by the Washington Nationals. Witnessing Traber's one-hit gem against the Yankees at the Jake is one of my greatest memories at the Jake. Half for Traber's performance, half for my confrontation with 4 New Yorkers in our section. After being told by the bride that she didn't "have my back" if it went down, things simmered to the point that we had beers with them at Cooperstown afterward. Seeing as how I was outweighed by them, collectively about 85o lbs. to 150 lbs. (soaking wet), and I escaped without bodily injury, it remains a feather in my cap.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Here and There

Since I don't want to give any more credence to Scott Boras' comments on Millwood, the Indians, and budgets; you can check them out in the Paul Hoynes article from Sunday's PD.

Other than Scott Boras proving he's the smarmiest agent this side of Bob Sugar, I take issue with the PD running this article and giving some credence to this blowhard. The problem is that Joe Bandwagon wakes up on Sunday and reads this article, saying to himself, "Boy, is Dolan cheap. If they don't give Millwood an 8 year contract - I'll never buy another ticket."

Knowing the (unfortunate) influence that the PD Sports Section has in this town, that's just irresponsible. Why don't they just float a story that Manny wants to come back to town (regardless of money still owed on a bloated contract or what the Red Sox would want in return). Oh, wait.

With article titles like "Time to Pay Up", is it any wonder there's so much defeatism in this town when it comes to sports?

Meanwhile, in reality, it's INSANE to give any pitcher a 5 year deal, much less one with major arm problems in his past. I'm all for getting Millwood back on this team for the innings, leadership, and guidance that he adds to the Tribe. But 5 years!?! Let Mike Ilitch sell some more Little Caesers' pizza to pay off that contract. A 5 year deal for a 32 year old pitcher with arm problems sounds tailor made for the Tigers or Orioles.

Word around the Stove has the Tribe offering Tom Gordon a contract, presumably to close. Howry seems to have priced himself out of the Indians' plans. While Howry had a great year with the Tribe, he too is still only a few years removed from major arm surgery and just pitched a ton of innings. Howry will probably get closer money and close somewhere next year, just not the Jake. Wickman remains a name not often seen or heard as to 2006.

If the Tribe signs Flash Gordon to close, expect them to sign another veteran reliever to solidify the bullpen. Perhaps a return to Cleveland by that famous bw-3 (when it was still bw-3) pitchman Julian Tavarez? I would pay to see him do another commercial where the umpire goes out to the mound to see wing sauce on the ball. Or maybe he'll come back to hit Brecksville's senior prom again (which Tavarez did in 1995).

All of this is probably just smoke coming out of the Hot Stove, but with pitchers and catchers scheduled to report on February 18th, the clock is ticking.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Hot Stove Tomahawks

Some quick hitters with all of the awards and Hot Stove League talk:

  • Mark Shapiro was named TSN's Executive of the Year. Warranted for sure, but interesting that he was thought to have done a better job then Ken Williams, who (in a year) transformed his club from a group of underachieving sluggers to small ball playing WS Champs.
  • The Atomic Wedgie came in second in AL Manager of the Year voting, behind Ozzie Guillen. Maybe if he had started the year out without the Magnum P.I. mustache, he could have avoided the slow start and won the Central and the Manager of the Year. Who said anything about superstition?
  • Booger Colon won the AL Cy Young, with Cliff Lee and Kevin Millwood receiving votes. It seems that Colon has finally turned into the ace that everyone thought he would always become. Luckily, the Indians have something to show for it, unlike the Expos and the White Sox. Yesterday, today, and every day I still make that trade.
  • Huston Street won AL ROY, only because Sizemore had too many AB in 2004. Otherwise, Sizemore would have (more than likely) been the first Indian ROY since Sandy Alomar, Jr.
  • Bob Howry is allegedly looking for a 3 year deal worth between $10.5M and $12M. Wow! Basically, he's looking for closer money in the market. Here's the question: Do you re-up with Howry at those numbers, or go after a B.J. Ryan or Tom Gordon. And where does Sticky Wickman fall into this? Luckily, Shapiro is addressing the bullpen now, before all of the arms are pulled off of the market.
  • According to Scott Boras, Kevin Millwood is looking for a 5 year deal, while the Indians' limit seems to be 4 years. All it takes is one team (Baltimore, Detroit, etc.) to make that commitment and Millwood is pitching elsewhere next year. Before you just say, "give him another year, we need him on this team" - remember similar comments were made about Jim Thome and the length of his deal. The Phillies gave Thome the extra years and now have to wear that contract like the albatross around their neck that it is. I'm not sure where I come down on this one, knowing the thinness of the FA starting pitching market, but also knowing that C.C., Lee, and Jake are a pretty solid nucleus of a rotation.
  • Texas and Cleveland are talking trade. David Riske's name has come up, as has Coco Crisp. Paul Hoynes reports that the Indians may be going after Adrian Gonzalez, but what about Riske and Jason Davis for Kevin Mench? Throw in Jason Cooper if they want a young OF.
That's it for now, Lost is starting with that delicious Evangeline Lilly.

Monday, November 07, 2005

LOOGY on Board

The Indians' officially announced the re-signing of Scott Sauerbeck, who never even filed for Free Agency. The rationale for the Tribe is pretty obvious as Sauerbeck fills a need in a familiar place. Couple that with the idea that his now being two years removed from arm surgery should allow him to become more than just a situational lefty.

Sauerbeck's comments that the Indians' stuck with him and he wanted to reward them fall in line with those heard from Aaron Boone last year (when he extended his deal). It seems that the Indians' organization is quickly developing a reputation for taking care of players, taking chances on players, and sticking with them.

That respect is becoming a two-way street. In this time of Players vs. Management (see Owens, Terrell), the Indians actually seem to have a good relationship with most of their players. Whether that edict comes from the Dolans or it's just the way that Shapiro and his front office have decided to conduct their business - it's a welcome respite from the 25 minutes that SportsCenter devoted tonight to a malcontent. Let's hope that Howry and Millwood follow suit.

Off the soapbox, as I look more at this Sauerbeck move and hear that the Tribe is looking not only for a closer, but also a veteran set-up man, I have to wonder: Where is Arthur Rhodes in all of this? I'm assuming that he would be back next year to pitch the 8th until Cabrera was ready, but there remains a possibility that the Indians try to move Rhodes (possibly to a West Coast team to be closer to whatever problems exist at home) and pursue another set-up man.

If Rhodes (and Riske) are moved, there better be some other alternatives wearing Chief Wahoo next year that don't remind anyone of Scott Stewart and Jose Jimenez. There are young arms on the farm, but I have a feeling that Shapiro give veterans the first shot, forcing those young arms earn their way into the bullpen of 2006. Remember that it took Matt Miller getting hurt last year before Cabrera and his filthy stuff finally got the call.

While Brian Giles, Mike Sweeney, etc. will sell the papers, the bullpen and rotation remain the keys. As Justice Hill put it so eloquently in his mailbag on the official site:

I think until people realize that you don't need a roster of star players to be a good team, I'll keep getting questions about trading a boatload of talent for one aging, overpriced player (Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome fit into this category). Look at the White Sox. The priority should be on pitching, a strong bullpen, good defense and smarter production on offense.

The re-signing of Sauerbeck, though it won't make 216-420-HITS ring off the line, may be one of the most important moves of the off-season.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Jelly Belly

With the Indians’ picking up Ronnie Belliard’s option for 2006 (which had been widely assumed), the Tribe has essentially gotten almost all of their position players under contract for next year. There was some thought that Shapiro would try to rework Belliard’s deal to give him a couple of more years (similar to what they did with Boone during the season) because of the lack of legitimate 2B prospects on the farm, but something like that could certainly happen during the season.

Belliard certainly earned this contract with a career year at the plate and some sparkling D. Does anyone turn the DP faster than him? Plus it means one more year (at least) of untucked shirts, pants dragging on the ground, and our 2B playing a softball position (short outfield). The Jelly Roll is great to watch; especially when he’s wearing the vintage 1987 Oakley’s and looks like he has a tennis ball in his lower lip, tongue flapping every which way but loose.

It’s also being reported that Scott Sauerbeck is nearing a deal with the Tribe, which would be a coup to keep the veteran LOOGY in the bullpen. Signing Sauerbeck (probably with the promise of an expanded role in 2006) keeps some continuity of the fantastic bullpen of 2005.

It would also essentially mean that Rhodes, Betancourt, Cabrera, and Sauerbeck would all be under contract with decisions necessary only on closer (Wickman vs. Howry…which is kind of a big one), whether to offer Riske arbitration, and on the final bullpen spot (which can be filled by Matt Miller, Andrew Brown, Jason Davis, Kaz Tadano, etc.).

If Sauerbeck is signed, it could also signal the end of the line for the BT Boys (Traber and Tallet), whose best shot of sticking on the 25 man roster next year was as a LOOGY.

Additionally, giving Sauerbeck a one-year deal with an option year (as is being reported) means that Sauerbeck would serve as a bridge until the minors produces a quality LH reliever (a likely option would be Tony Sipp, who could follow the Fernando Cabrera arc into the bullpen in a couple of years) capable of giving the Tribe a homegrown product.

Did you ever think that the re-signing of Scott Sauerbeck could be analyzed to such an extent? These are the things that pop into my head when the gerbil gets on the wheel. Sad, but true.

Interestingly, Sports Illustrated’s Daniel Habib made some Hot Stove League predictions in the latest issue and touched on a few Indians-related matters. He’s predicting that:

  • Kevin Millwood will sign with the Orioles, presumably to reunite with Leo Mazzone and to put lots of Peter Angelos money in his pockets.
  • Manny will be traded back to the Indians, one of seemingly only 2 teams (the Angels being the other) that he has agreed to be traded to. Remember that he’s now a 10 and 5 guy, which means that he can veto any trade, if the destination is not a place he wants to go.
  • Bob Wickman will retire at age 37.

The first thought on this would be, “Who in the world are we going to trade to Boston to get Manny back, and how much of his contract will they pay?” Unless Boston is content to take some package of Broussard, Phillips, Davis, and Riske with some lower level prospects included, I don’t make this deal. Yes, Manny would look great in this lineup (unbelievable in fact), but I would rather spend those dollars on Millwood. The ‘90s proved to us that a potent offense (while exciting) does not guarantee a World Series Championship. History has shown us that pitching wins championships, and I would value Millwood’s potential contributions over those of Manny (as ridiculous as his numbers have always been).

So, for those of you dusting off the #24 jerseys from the back of the closet - hold off for a while. The Red Sox would want a run-producer to replace Manny in the lineup (remember A-Rod for Soriano) and unless the Tribe gives up a great young bat (really Sizemore since DH, SS, and C are spoken for in Boston), it won’t happen. I can’t imagine Dan Shaughnessy writing a column that Casey Blake is a great fit in front of the Green Monster.

In the meantime, enjoy the emergence of the Cavaliers as a legitimate playoff team (last night’s meltdown in San Antonio notwithstanding) and the continued ruined Sundays due to ugly Browns’ losses. Is anyone else reading less and less, and caring less and less about this team? Apathy in longtime fans is not a good sign for the franchise.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Homecoming...Sort Of

With reports that the Indians have contacted Brian Giles’ agent, let’s all take a deep breath before we pencil him in at RF for 2006. It’s November 2nd. Right now, teams are just expressing interest, not even able to talk dollars with free agents that aren’t theirs until November 11th.

With the deep breath out of the way, let’s return to reality and take a look at the possibility of Giles returning to the Tribe. Reports state that Giles, a San Diego native, is looking for a 3 year deal worth around $8M-$9M per. If the Indians give him that much, it means that Millwood is pitching elsewhere next year (barring an about face from ownership on the 2006 budget). Sorry to put it that way, but it's based on more than a guess.

Giles would fit nicely into the Indians lineup, and he does have a history with the Tribe (though few outside Cleveland remember those 297 AB) and, more specifically, Mark Shapiro. Various stories on the freewheeling days of John Hart (as he traded top prospects for the likes of Kevin Seitzer, John Smiley, Ricardo Rincon, and Dave Burba...nothing against Slurva) paint a vivid picture of Shapiro, then the Director of Minor League Operations, banging the table against the trade of Giles for Ricardo Rincon.

Giles does have that relationship with Shapiro, with his minor league years mirroring those of Shapiro. And he is familiar with Cleveland and Jacobs Field (which would help his overall numbers after a few years at Petco Park), so the possibility is out there.

Whether this is just talk or there is something to this remains to be seen, but it brings up an interesting question: If Giles (or another veteran LH run-producer is signed) where does he hit in the lineup? Does he hit 6th behind Victor, leaving 7, 8, & 9 as (probable) RH bats? Or does he work his way into the top, which risks disrupting the emerging force that is the first five spots in that lineup? If this does happen, it will be interesting to see how the Atomic one handles it.

But those are questions for another day as we are still at the beginning of November and the Cavaliers season is starting on TV.

Oh, before Ronnie Duncan deafens me for the first time, ESPN has the Tribe ranked #1 in their first 2006 Power Rankings. Not bad for some has-beens and a couple of never-will-bes.