Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Indians in the Outfield

The OF situation for 2007 is an area that has not gotten the attention, or ink, that 2B and the bullpen have received. However, it projects to be just as interesting in the off-season, in that there are multiple options that the Indians can explore - both in-house and from elsewhere.

There’s Sizemore in CF, and that’s a good start. SuperSizemore entered some rarified air in 2006, establishing himself as one of the elite players (not outfielders) in all of ML (not just the AL). What Grady’s capable of, who knows, but watching Carlos Beltran play for the Mets, one realizes that he is what Grady projects to – a perennial 30-30 guy who anchors a team.
And that’s on the low end of Grady’s potential.

The fact that Sizemore is locked up until 2012, when the Tribe holds an $8.5M option on the 29 year old (in 2012) is absolutely staggering and should bring a smile to your face every time you remember that nugget.

The second player almost certain to be in the mix somewhere in the outfield next year is Casey (the K is gone after 2006) Blake, whose ability to play both corners as well as 3B and 1B (with Marte and Garko the likely starters for 2007) nearly ensures the fact that he’ll be in Cleveland.

Before the AAAA player comments start flying, consider what Blake’s 2006 numbers project out to with 550 AB, instead of the 400 that he got - 26 HR, 95 RBI, .835 OPS. Why is that production not acceptable for a corner outfielder? Plus, his 2006 compares closer to the 2004 season that led the Indians’ contract offer and not his 2005 season that made them re-think the same offer.

Blake’s a solid defender, a smart base runner, and doesn’t take plays off. There’s a lot worse that the Indians could have at $3.75M, especially with his versatility that protects the Indians if Marte or Garko REALLY struggle out of the gate.

With 2/3 of the outfield spoken for, it’s time to evaluate our good friend Michootierrez – the three-headed monster that the Indians need to squeeze one quality outfielder from.

Unfortunately for the Indians, this isn’t like Voltron, where the sum of the parts is greater than individuals. Instead of getting the “Defender of the Universe”, combine these three and we’re stuck with a ballplayer with a perpetually wet mullet who wears a batting helmet with two flaps and left his power stroke (and limitless potential) somewhere in Vero Beach, Florida.

Jason Michaels proved in his first season as a full-time player that…he’s not a viable full-time player. The Phillies were onto something when they only played him in a platoon, and the Indians learned that Michaels is effective as a platoon OF, not as a regular. The fact that he’s due to make multiple millions of dollars in arbitration in the off-season makes it all the more unlikely that Michaels will be part of any platoon in Cleveland in 2007.

Michaels might be able to be moved for a reliever that needs a change of scenery, much like Arthur Rhodes did last year (how did the Phillies get him again?). Some NL team, like the Pirates, might be interested in Michaels as a stopgap until their next “prospect” emerges. If the Tribe could pry Damaso Marte from Pittsburgh straight up for Michaels or even package him with some cheap, young arms (like Guthrie, Brown, or Davis) to get Mike Gonzalez into a Tribe uniform, one would hope that Shapiro makes that trade the moment the World Series ends.

Of the 3 options, the BLC offers the most complete package of speed, defense, arm, hustle, and approach. Choo’s downfall thus far in his career has been his inability to hit LH pitchers (a .225-point difference in Slugging % vs. LH & RH), but there’s more to work with and room to grow. Where Michaels has proven over time that he plays better in a platoon, Choo has not yet been given that full go at attempting to hit all pitchers in the Bigs.

Choo, because of his arm, projects into more of a RF and would likely play there if given the job on a full-time basis. Playing Choo in RF and allowing Blake to play LF improves the outfield defense dramatically from 2006 edition.

And, finally, there’s good ol’ Frank the Tank. The perpetual prospect has yet to recapture his power numbers that he enjoyed in the lower levels of the minors, due in part to his swing shortening to cut down on strikeouts. Gutz, with all of his speed, doesn’t project into a leadoff hitter now, or seemingly at any time. Though he’s considered by most the best defensive outfielder in the system, his lackadaisical approach to line drives and bloops and his predilection for throwing to the wrong base do not bode well for his long-term prospects with the parent club.

Ideally, Gutierrez would fill the role of the 4th OF, capable of pinch running or spelling Choo against the wicked LH pitchers tend to face (see Santana, Johan). If another team becomes enamored with Gutz, the Indians may be able to fill another need and move Ben Francisco into the 4th OF role for 2007.

The wild card in the mix for 2007 remains Trevor Crowe, whose 2B Experience is over so he can concentrate on developing his offense. Crowe is the homegrown answer to who can bat leadoff, improve team defense, team speed, and allow the Indians to not overpay for a Juan Pierre-type player.

If Crowe blows away the Minors this year, he can move into CF (or LF) and let the Tribe either move Blake into the super-utility role (if Choo is thriving) or move Blake back to RF (if Choo is struggling).

Put Blake in LF, St. Grady in CF, Choo in RF, and Gutierrez as the 4th OF…and let it ride.

The bottom line on the outfield is, sure, it could be upgraded. Free Agents like Carlos Lee and Mike Cameron are an immediate upgrade and players like Pat Burrell can be had on the trade market.

But what have we learned is the key to creating a consistent winner – one that wins games, divisions, playoff series, and World Series championships? PITCHING, PITCHING, and more PITCHING!

Spend the available money to fortifying the bullpen or upgrading the bullpen, not an outfield anchored by Grady. If, come July, a big bat is available to make a push to the playoffs, so be it.

But, off-season, let’s stick to adding arms.


Baltimoran said...

like the voltron reference

i agree, bullpen and 2nd base and we SHOULD be good to go. got to see the end of the mets game in a crowded bar with mets fans...i enjoy seeing other fans get their hearts ripped out

Rockdawg said...

Is there any way to pair up Hmailton and Manning....that would be a combo that may only be rivaled by Tait/Chones. If anyone wants to have a good laugh, youtube has GREAT coaching meltdowns, such as the CLASSIC "Playoffs?? You talkin' about....Playoffs?"