Friday, March 31, 2006

The DiaTribe Turns One

For the One-Year Anniversary and in anticipation of the Season Opener, it’s time to have some fun. I'd like to introduce some nicknames, and re-establish the ones that should, by now, be standard fare for our Tribesmen:
Grady Sizemore – SuperSizemore
Think Morgan Spurlock, McDonalds, and Grady in a cape. Can we get a graphic on the JumboTron of Grady, in full Superman gear, flying over Downtown? Or maybe him ripping open his jersey to see the big Superman “S”? Cleveland is Superman’s birthplace, after all.
Jason Michaels – The Showstopper
In honor of Shawn Michaels and Jason’s propensity to throw down, we’ll go with the Showstopper instead of the innocuous J-Mike. HBK didn’t sound tough enough.
Jhonny Peralta – Jhonny Cool
His demeanor and lazy eyes make me feel like they should show the song from West Side Story when he makes a great play. Just play it cooool, boy…real cooool. And to nip any insults in the bud, the only movies that St. Margaret Mary School owned in the late 80’s and early 90’s were “West Side Story” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, so anytime that a movie was shown in school, it was one of those two movies. Thus, anyone who attended St. MM in those years is able to recite essentially every line from both of those movies because both movies have been permanently burned into our synapses.
OK, maybe that revelation will just bring more insults.
Travis Hafner – Le Pronque
For his French-Canadian heritage (that I just made up), the Pronk nickname gets some culture. It also allows us to yell, “Vive Le Pronque”.
Victor Martinez – Vic the Stick
Pretty self-explanatory, but one letter too long to be embroidered on a custom jersey.
Ronnie Belliard – Jelly Belliard
Every time I see Belliard run, I think of the line in “The Night Before Christmas”:
He had a broad face and a round little belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

Aaron Boone – Mr. Laura Cover
Similar to Chuck Finley being Mr. Tawny Kitaen, having a wife this hot means that nobody’s EVER looking at you when you’re out, even if you’re a ballplayer.
Ben Broussard – Bono Broussard
If Benny’s baseball career doesn’t pick up, maybe his album sales will.
Casey Blake – Kasey Blake
K’s too much to earn the C back. He could earn the C back, but not yet.
Kelly Shoppach – ShopVac
When your manager refers to you by the name of a vacuum AND you’re a catcher, you’ve just acquired the nickname that will accompany you throughout your career.
Eduardo Perez – El Senador
If Dennis Martinez was El Presidente and Sean Casey was The Mayor, the ebullient Perez can be referred to along the same lines, with the Spanish equivalent of The Senator. Think of Perez of this team’s Alvaro Espinoza, minus the bubble-gum caps.

C.C. Sabathia – Crooked Cap
Rather than Captain Cheeseburger or Corporal Curveball, we’ll stick with the obvious one.
Jake Westbrook – Jake the Snake
Randy Wolf has guys that dress up like Teen Wolf and Dontrelle Willis has fans that dress up like train conductors (D-Train). Is it too much to ask the fans of Cleveland (the ones that sit way up in the RF corner that can’t even see the game) to form a Snake Pit when Westbrook throws?
Cliff Lee – The General
Like my 6th Birthday Party, we’ll have a “Dukes of Hazzard” theme.
Paul Byrd – Free Bird
Lynard Skynard did enter the Rock Hall this year. A stretch? Sure.
Jason Johnson – Sugar
Yes, he’s a diabetic. Yes, I should be more sensitive. But I know very little about the guy right now, so we’re sticking with this one.

Bob Wickman – Sticky Wicky
Not that he gets us out of sticky situations; rather, they are of his own doing.
Fernando Cabrera – F-Cab
Our own version of K-Rod, literally.
Rafael Betancourt – Rocky
As I’ve often said, whenever Wedge or Hamilton call Betancourt “Raffy” it sounds like “Rocky” to me. Maybe they can play the montage from Rocky IV when he ditches the Russian guards and climbs a mountain when he strikes out the side. They play the music at the Q. It took me about 5 seconds to recognize the song.
Guillermo Mota – Billy Dot
If Jose Mesa can be Joe Table, Guillermo Mota can be Billy Dot
Matt Miller – Miller Time
They should show those old ridiculous “Less Filling, Tastes Great” commercials with Bob Uecker and Bob Lanier, among others, that end with the line that they can all agree that it’s Miller Time.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the growth of this blog, which is essentially the rantings of a former Little Indian Fan Club member who, by my own admission, has the Indians on the brain during about 75% of the day in the off-season, 90% of the day in-season (the bride would dispute the numbers being that low).

Just like every birthday I’ve had since age 8, maybe I’ll celebrate this weekend with a Dairy Queen ice cream cake with Chief Wahoo on the top.
There’s nothing wrong with having a DQ ice cream cake in the freezer.

2 days until Opening Night.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Positional Analysis, Part IV and the 25 man

With “The Franchise” on the outside looking in (read this article if you think that Phillips was ever going to stick with the Indians), along with Einar Diaz, Jason Dubois, Steve Karsay, and Jason Davis – the roster is essentially set.

Kelly Shoppach is the backup Catcher, Danny Graves is the 7th bullpen arm (for now, at least), Ramon Vazquez is the Utility IF, and Todd Hollandsworth is the 4th outfielder (again, for now, at least).

Some roster moves need to be made to the 40-man to accommodate adding both Graves and Hollandsworth (Phillips’ departure will clear one spot, the other has yet to be determined), so the Tribe isn’t done yet. Also, Phillips was told that he’d be traded in the next three days with Kansas City, Florida or Tampa Bay (won’t he be happy to play every day for one of those teams) as possible destinations.

One last note on Phillips: Cliff Lee was quoted as saying that Phillips was the best player to come over in the Colon deal. When did he say this? THIS SPRING!!! Anyone who thinks that Phillips’ attitude didn’t affect his ability to stick on the big-league club is fooling themselves. After his demotion in 2004, he moped and pined to get out of the Tribe organization, which he finally will be able to do. It’s interesting that Sizemore signs his deal the same day that Phillips clears out his locker with Phillips breaking his Spring moratorium to say, “that should have been me.” He also said that the Indians asked him to stay in camp in case someone got hurt. Phillips’ response was that he had to get out of there. Does that sound like the type of player who meshes well with Eric Wedge?

Brandon, enjoy your career in Kansas City or wherever you end up, and good luck. Just don’t enter your new clubhouse wearing your “The Franchise” sneakers.

Since we’ve already addressed Shoppach and Hollandsworth previously, we’ll touch on Graves in the final installment of the Positional Analysis:
Bullpen
Unlike the lineup, which starts at the top, and the rotation, which starts with the #1 starter, the key to the bullpen is found in the back end. Occupying that back end, again this year, is Bob Wickman – he of the Pepto-inducing innings, the intentional balks, and AL leading 45 saves of a year ago. Whether Wickman, who is 5 saves away from being the Indians’ all-time career leader in saves, can replicate the results of 2005 will play a major role in the success of the Tribe this year. If Wickman can produce again, and save games at the clip he did last year, it would go a long way to solidify the bullpen and allow the rest of the components to find the “roles” that seem to be so important in the composition of a bullpen. If Wickman cannot recapture his success of 2005, the Indians do have other options. However, the ideal is for Wickman of 2006 to be the equivalent of (or greater than) the Wickman of 2005. What is this, Math Class?

The first option, and the likely 8th inning pitcher (at the start of the season, at least) is Guillermo Mota, who came over in the Coco Crisp deal. Mota, with the Dodgers in 2004, was the best set-up reliever in the game, setting up Eric Gagne to the tune of a 1.97 ERA over 105 IP. In 2005, he was given the opportunity to close for Florida and, either due to injury problems or the Arthur Rhodes disease (stuff doesn’t translate to the 9th inning), he couldn’t match his 2004 success. He struggled so much that he lost the job to journeyman Todd Jones (now the Tigers’ closer) and was traded to the Red Sox as part of the Josh Beckett deal. He never saw Fenway though, as he was dealt to the Tribe after passing numerous physical examinations. Mota, if he can revert to 2004 form and avoid injury, will be a tremendous asset in the bullpen. If his elbow acts up again, he will be relegated to the DL or less stressful situations. How he responds to his first back-to-back outings may go a long way in determining his health for 2006.

The other options for the back end of the bullpen are Rafael Betancourt and Fernando Cabrera. Betancourt continued his ascent in the Tribe bullpen last year (despite a steroid suspension) as he struck out 73 and walked only 17 in 67 2/3 IP. He continues to throw strikes and produce with, essentially, a fastball. Betancourt struggles with pitching back-to-back games and has landed on the DL each of the last 2 years with a tired arm. The 7th inning role suits him, but he may be called upon to take a more important role if Wickman and/or Mota falter.

The other 7th inning option is Fernando Cabrera, the young flamethrower and possible closer of the future. After blowing away the batters at AAA to the tune of a 1.23 ERA while striking out 68 and walking 11 in 51 1/3 IP, he made the seamless transition to Cleveland. After being called up to the parent club, Cabrera struck out 29 and walked only 11 in 30 1/3 IP and posting a 1.47 ERA. Giving Tribe fans a taste of what may be to come only made us want more. Whether Cabrera is mature enough to handle the pressure of a late game situation needs to be answered, but the fact that he closed for a loaded (and successful) Puerto Rican team in the WBC bodes well for his future in the 9th inning at the Jake.

Filling the role as the match-up lefty out of the bullpen is Scott Sauerbeck, who signed on again for 2006, with a club option for 2007 after a successful 2005 campaign. After Arthur Rhodes left the team for personal reasons, Sauerbeck (along with Howry, Betancourt, and Cabrera) seemed to pitch every night to get the ball to Wickman in the 9th. Though Sauerbeck would like to see his role expanded to face RH, as well as LH, expect Sauerbeck to remain the club’s LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY) for 2006 and possibly beyond.

The forgotten man of the 2005 bullpen was Matt Miller, who figures to play a more prominent role in 2006, now that he is recovered from elbow problems. Miller posted an impressive 1.82 ERA until his placement on the DL in mid-July. Last year with the Indians provided Miller’s first real success in the Majors, so 2006 will determine if he was simply riding some momentum after making the team out of Winter Haven last year or if his stuff is for real and translates into a career.

The final bullpen spot has gone to Danny Graves over Jason Davis and Steve Karsay, which means that Graves will probably be asked to pitch multiple innings or pitch in mop-up duty until he either proves that he’s back to his old self or if he proves to be over-the-hill, at which point the Indians will waive him and call up either Davis or Andrew Brown. One gets a sense that, because Jason Davis and Andrew Brown had options remaining, either Graves or Karsay would make the team out of camp, as long as they showed the team something. Karsay will go to minor-league camp and try to latch on with another club (maybe the White Sox), while Davis will go to Buffalo to get into the routine of pitching out of the bullpen full-time and wait for the phone to ring.

In the minors, the Indians have a multitude of arms that are ready to help today, tomorrow, and down the road. The closest group of relievers to the Majors is headed by Andrew Brown, who was in the mix for the final bullpen spot this Spring (and probably would have won it if not for having another option). Brown will pitch in Buffalo until the call is made for him to join the Tribe, probably for good. The other relievers that will start in Buffalo include Jeremy Guthrie (who will be in the Buffalo rotation, but would relieve in Cleveland), still trying to resurrect a once-promising career, Kaz Tadano, who may find his way onto another roster eventually with the depth that the Indians have, pitching-wise, Jason Stanford, who could eventually project as a match-up lefty out of the ‘pen, Felix Hermidia, a recently signed left-handed Shapiro reclamation project who provides insurance against Sauerbeck getting hurt, and Ben Howard, a former Padre prospect with a live arm trying to latch onto the Tribe.

The next line of relievers, who are still probably at least a year away, is highlighted by Edward Mujica, who dominated out of the bullpen in Kinston and Akron after making the transition to a reliever, and Tony Sipp, a former college outfielder at Clemson who is on the fast-track to be the match-up lefty of the (possibly near) future.

3 days until Opening Day. WTAM is playing Hamilton’s calls over Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” in promos. Try not to get excited when you hear one of those.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Positional Analysis, Part III and 24 for 7

First things first, the Tribe locked up Grady Sizemore until 2012, with a deal that could be worth upwards of $31 million when all is said and done.

To say that this is a coup for the Tribe is an understatement, as they now have the young CF under their control, with the option for the 7th year until he’s 31 years old. The final option year in 2012 is for $8.5 million to $10.5 million, which should by then be quite a bargain (heck, it’s a bargain now if Grady continues to develop).

The deal essentially ensures that Sizemore will be in a Tribe uniform during his peak productive years (usually between ages 27 and 30) and adds another name to the list of Martinez, Sabathia, Hafner, and Peralta as players playing with long-term contracts for the Tribe.

Sure, there are risks associated with signing a player with less than two years’ experience to such a long deal, but on a day like today, we’re only dwelling on the positive.

Next on the Tribe’s radar is Cliff Lee, but the self-imposed deadline of Opening Day for these deals to be done is closing in.

With that pleasantness out of the way, onto the continued analysis:
Rotation
The unquestioned strength of the 2005 Indians was the starting staff, as all 5 starters logged 30+ starts on their way to leading the charge for the Indians to post the best team ERA (3.61) in the AL. But gone are individual ERA leader Kevin Millwood (off to Texas to pitch for 5 years in a hitters’ park) and Scott Elarton (who reunites with Buddy Bell in Kansas City). Replacing those two in the rotation are Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson, two veteran inning eaters who figure to pitch out of the 4 and 5 spots in the rotation (if spots in the rotation mean anything).

The rotation starts with their anchor, and he is a big one. The Crooked Cap enters his 6th big league season riding high after a strong finish to 2005. In C.C.’s last 11 starts, he went 9-1 with a 2.24 ERA and 74 K’s in 76 1/3 IP to lower his overall ERA by over a point.
After a midseason meeting with Curt Schilling (who apparently told him to only throw his fastball), C.C. got hammered in July, going 1-5 with an astonishing 6.68 ERA (after a June ERA of 6.83). Remarkably, after those 2 awful months C.C. rebounded and started to PITCH, as opposed to just throwing his fastball. His comments that he didn’t want to go to the WBC so he wouldn’t be away from Carl Willis show some maturity on C.C.’s part, in that he understands that his coaches are trying to help him maximize his immense potential not just give him lip-service. 2006 could be the season that C.C. finally “puts it all together” and dominates, like he can, from the very first start of the year through October. Granted, we’ve said that for about 2 years now, but Sabathia had never experienced a dominant stretch like last August and September and that stretch may give C.C. enough confidence to lead this team as their true ace, not an ace in name only.

Settling in behind Sabathia is Jake Westbrook, who came back to earth in 2005 with a 15-15 record and a 4.49 ERA after his breakout 2004, during which he posted a 14-9 record with a 3.48 ERA. So, will the real Jake Westbrook please stand up? Which pitcher will we see in 2006: the one with 5 complete games in 2004 or the one who led the Majors with 9 losses on June 9th of last year? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Westbrook, in 2004, rode the wave of some early phenomenal outings to build his confidence and stake his claim in the rotation. He began 2005 slowly, though, and seemed to gain steam as the season progressed, miraculously finishing with an even record and an ERA under 5.00. Westbrook this year will probably come closer to a 4.00 to a 4.25 ERA with about 15 wins again, but should limit his losses by pitching from ahead and with the luxury of a more confident Jhonny Peralta, a fully healthy Aaron Boone, and a short outfielder in Ronnie Belliard to eat up the many ground balls he induces. The other positive that Westbrook adds to the rotation is the change of pace that he provides between Sabathia (a power lefty) and Lee (a crafty lefty). Westbrook’s style of fast-paced baseball and allowing hitters to make contact allows Eric Wedge the ability to break up the two lefties very nicely.

Cliff Lee won 18 games last year, received 8 points in the Cy Young voting (inexplicably), and led the AL in winning percentage. Not bad for a player with 44 career starts on the resume. Lee wasn’t the best pitcher on the Indians staff last year, but he was the most successful. Whether it was run support or opportune starts, it doesn’t matter how he got to the win total. He just won. That’s what he’s done since he’s entered the Indians’ organization, racking up 32 wins in 2 years (good for 7th most wins in the Majors for 2004-2005). And there’s no reason to think that he would stop winning now. Lee’s ability to get out of trouble improved greatly in 2005, perhaps due to the presence of a veteran like Millwood or perhaps due to a better understanding of the game. Again, you can’t argue with his results. Lee moves up a spot in the rotation this year and will be facing tougher match-ups against better pitchers, but we’re not talking about going from the #4 starter to the #1 starter. Lee will get his share of wins because he is better than most #3 starters out there and will continue to have a good offense behind him. It’s unlikely that he’ll match his 18 wins of a year ago, but his win totals have set a precedent that suits him very well.

With the flight of Kevin Millwood to Texas, the Indians turned to one of their old farmhands to take his place. Byrd, originally drafted by the Tribe in 1991, returns to the Tribe as the veteran arm on a relatively young staff. The wily Byrd posted 22 Quality Starts last year (defined a 6+ IP with 3 ER or fewer), 2nd in the AL behind only Johan Santana. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, and he’s not going to lead the league in strikeouts, but Byrd does know how to pitch. Anyone who saw him pitch against the White Sox in the postseason last year (1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 2 ALCS games) knows that. In fact, he was the only pitcher to defeat the White Sox in the 2005 post-season. Well, welcome to the Teepee, Byrdie. Let’s pretend that every start against the White Sox in 2006 is an ALCS contest. Byrd has had some injury problems, undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2004. But, like many pitchers who have successfully emerged from TJ surgery, Byrd has excelled since the surgery and may be one of those pitchers who pitch into his 40’s with experience and deception (like a Jaime Moyer or a Kenny Rogers). There won’t be huge expectations for Byrd this season, pitching out of the #4 spot in the rotation, but he provides comparable depth to what Millwood provided last year (at a LOT less dollars and a TON fewer guaranteed years). Some fans will pine for Kevin Millwood, but Byrd should be a nice fit with the 2006 rotation.

Rather than letting the young pitchers (Carmona, Sowers, and Davis) enter Spring Training battling for the #5 spot in the rotation, the Indians signed Jason Johnson away from Detroit on a one-year deal (with a mutual option for 2007). Johnson comes to the Tribe as an innings-eater (he started 98 games since 2003) whose W-L record has been far from impressive. His career record stands at 52-86 after an 8-13 campaign with the Tigers last year. It’s true that Johnson has never played for a good team (Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh are his other stops), but something has got to give here. An average pitcher on a good team will steal some wins, just like a good pitcher on a bad team should be able to overcome his situation to snatch a few victories from the jaws of defeat. According to numerous reports, Johnson is throwing his sinker with more regularity, which could mean that he’s a completely different (and more effective) pitcher. Or it could mean that he’s one step away from learning the knuckleball. He did log 19 Quality Starts last year (Millwood had 20, Elarton had 16 – same as Lee), so maybe it’s just a matter of getting into the right environment. While he doesn’t have big shoes to fill (figuratively speaking) in replacing Scott Elarton, don’t expect the Indians to stick with Johnson too long if his career record is more indicative of the type of pitcher that he is, opposed to something that a scout saw.

In the chance that one of the 5 pitchers in the rotation misses a start or an extended period of time due to injury, the Indians’ farm system is ready to provide some relief in a hurry. The first wave of pitchers (who are not far away from being completely ready) would come to Cleveland in the form of Fausto Carmona and Jeremy Sowers.

Carmona is a 22 year old who has rocketed through the farm system, winning at every stop along the way. He impressed the Tribe brass this Spring and will be the first call-up in case of an injury or prolonged ineffectiveness (probably by Johnson).

Sowers would be the next in line, as a polished LH out of Vanderbilt. Just 2 years removed from being the 6th overall pick in the draft, Sowers has leap-frogged most other pitching prospects and figures to start the season in Buffalo, with a trip to Cleveland not far off. Sowers excelled at three levels last year, posting a 14-4 composite record and a 2.37 ERA. Terry Pluto, in particular, raves about his poise and his presence on the mound and wonders if Sowers isn’t ready right now.

The other group of starters in the high minors consists of former prospects trying to make another impression (Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Stanford) or younger players trying to force themselves into the starter mix (Jake Dittler, JD Martin, and Dan Denham – when healthy). Further down the line is what the Front Office refers to as the next “wave” of arms, which would include the highly touted Adam Miller, Nick Pesco, and Chuck Lofgren along with the underrated Bear Bay, Tom Mastny, and Aaron Laffey.

Tomorrow, the Bullpen.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Positional Analysis, Part II


Is positional even a word? Regardless, here's the outfield and the land of Le Pronque:

Left Field
With the departure of Coco Crisp, the Tribe has handed the LF spot, as well as the #2 hole in the lineup to Jason Michaels, acquired from the Phillies for Arthur Rhodes. Michaels has always been a 4th outfielder/platoon player up to this point in his career, so this represents his first chance to play every day and be a regular contributor. His hard-nosed style of play and his On-Base Percentage (.399 last year) should translate well into the Indians’ lineup. He will not be asked to do much more than play solid LF (and spell Sizemore in CF occasionally) and serve as a bridge between Sizemore and the run-producers down the line. His Spring numbers (.295 BA/.367 OBP/.500 SLG) show that he should remain a pretty consistent presence in the lineup. While he may not provide the power or the popularity that Coco did in LF last year, he should take better lines to fly balls and exhibit a better arm while adequately replacing Coco’s production from the #2 hole.

Todd Hollandsworth will likely serve as the backup LF and LH pinch hitter, though if Hollandsworth struggles, a player like a Ben Francisco (who projects as more of a 4th outfielder than other prospects) may end up filling the role at some point this year.

Down the road, it is likely that Brad Snyder or Franklin Gutierrez would be given opportunities to play one of the corner spots. Snyder might project as more of a RF, while Gutierrez is a superb defensive CF who may emerge and allow the Indians the option of moving Sizemore to LF. Ryan Mulhern or Jason Dubois would also factor into the mix as prospects, but would have to continue to mash to overcome defensive deficiencies.

Center Field
Along with the breakout year enjoyed by Jhonny Peralta, the year that Grady Sizemore put together in CF was nothing short of astounding. He became the 2nd Indian in History to have 20 doubles, 10 triples, 20 HR, and 20 SB in one year (Robby Alomar was the other), and did so with only 43 previous games played under his belt. Sizemore’s demeanor, defense, and hustle make him one of the leaders of this team, if by example only (remember that he won’t turn 24 until August). He should continue to add weapons to his arsenal as he cuts down on his strikeouts, improves his baserunning, and grows into his body, which should translate into even higher power numbers. Sizemore should become the face of this “new” Indians regime, and won’t disappoint.

As stated earlier, it may come to a point in the future that Gutierrez’s defensive prowess allows the Indians the luxury of moving Sizemore to LF (and Grady’s no slouch in CF) which would create a speedy outfield capable of cutting most balls off before they reached the wall.

Like the situation at SS, the Indians shouldn’t have to worry about the CF position for a very long time. SuperSizemore will remain just that - Super.

Right Field
The big question in RF this year is whether Casey Blake will finish 2006 as the starting RF or if Kasey Blake will finish 2006 as the Indians’ 4th outfielder. We’ve discussed, ad nauseum, how this year (and really the first few months) represents a make-or-break time for Blake as a legitimate starter in the Majors. Whether he can recapture the magic of 2004 and cut down on his strikeouts while hitting better with Runners In Scoring Position should be answered by mid-June. If he has not improved his numbers by that time, expect the Indians to go in another direction in RF. Blake would then move to the 4th OF/Super Utility role that may ultimately suit him better.

The internal options would be (in order of Major League readiness): Jason Dubois, Franklin Gutierrez, Brad Snyder, and Ryan Mulhern (you could throw Jason Cooper in the mix if you really want). All obviously need more polish on their apple before they join the Tribe to stay, but it’s likely that the Indians would promote from within and exhaust their internal options before making a move to acquire a RF. Whether that player would be a bat-for-hire or an up-and-coming player acquired in the trade that has become the Shapiro specialty (you trade from your depth, and I’ll trade from mine) remains to be seen.

The RF position could be an ongoing soap opera as the Indians hold open tryouts until the final answer is found, possibly by the trading deadline. It all could be avoided, though, if Blake is able to put up respectable numbers and is able to shed his rally-killing streak.

Designated Hitter
Travis Hafner continued making a claim for being the best DH in baseball with a monster 2005 season, to the tune of .305 BA, 1.003 OPS (second in the AL, behind only A-Rod, ahead of Ortiz, Manny, and Guerrero, among others), 33 HR, and 108 RBI. Now, are you ready for the kicker? He missed 25 games last season because of the lingering effects of the concussion sustained after the Buehrle beaning. So, what could Hafner do with a full season, entrenched as the cleanup hitter, with productive hitters around him all season long (remember that until June, Victor provided him very little protection in the lineup)? Who knows, but another year like 2005, or even an improvement certainly wouldn’t be a surprise.

Hafner may see some games at 1B this year (particularly in interleague play), so expect Victor or Eduardo Perez to log some AB at DH. But the lion’s share will go to Pronk, who can hopefully stay healthy all season to continue his tear through the league.

Down below, the Tribe has a number of players that project to nice DH types in Jason Dubois, Ryan Mulhern, and Jason Cooper. Those guys project as DH’s mainly because they don’t necessarily excel in the field. However, with Hafner on the big-league squad without much of a movement to transfer him to 1B permanently, those players will have to find another spot to break into, because Hafner has DH covered.

Tomorrow, the Starting Rotation.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Positional Analysis Part I

In anticipation of the Tribe’s first game with the White Sox (a mere 6 days away), let’s take a look at the breakdown of the components of the 2006 Indians. First up, the Infield:
Catcher
Victor started his 2005 off slow (he was hitting .192 on May 27), but thrived the second half (.347 over his last 401 AB) to finish the season with a .305 BA, 20 HR, and 80 RBI. It stands to reason if The Stick can avoid a slow start this year that he should even build on those numbers, which are phenomenal from the C position, typically one of the less productive positions on the diamond. His presence in the middle of the lineup has become a fixture, though the Tribe would like to upgrade their protection behind him in the lineup to allow Martinez to see better pitches.

The Indians have said that Victor will play some games at 1B to keep him fresh this year, and the presence of Kelly Shoppach (assuming he gets the backup C spot out of Spring Training) should allow Wedge to do so. Last year, after Wedge lost all faith in Josh Bard’s bat, Victor didn’t receive a single day off. Shoppach’s excellent defense and throwing, along with some power, will allow Victor to stay rested with an occasional start at 1B, or even DH.

Organizationally, the Tribe is not that strong at C – with defensive receivers like Javi Herrera, who does little hitting – in the minors. In a pinch, Einar Diaz (if he sticks around in AAA) and Tim Laker can spell Kelly Shoppach or lend some relief in innings caught if need be.

First Base
Arguably the biggest spot of concern and conjecture, the Indians enter the season with a platoon of Ben Broussard (to face RH) and Eduardo Perez (to face LH). Ideally, the two will combine for totals in the range of .275 with 25 HR and 80 RBI, which would thrill the Front Office. There remains a huge possibility, though, that Broussard’s downward spiral of last year will continue, forcing the Indians to look elsewhere for production from 1B.

Ryan Garko would represent the first option, particularly if a hot start in Buffalo by Garko coincides with a slow start by Broussard in Cleveland. Garko’s bat has been, according to numerous sources, been Major League ready for a full year now. It has been his defense that has been the concern, as he is a converted catcher and not very fleet of foot. His defense, this Spring, however, was more advanced that projected which means that the Indians would be less reticent to hand the 1B job to Garko. If that were to happen (and Broussard is traded, or even cut – reportedly his contract is not guaranteed until Wednesday), Perez would likely stay on as a RH pinch hitter and 1B defensive replacement for Garko who could log some innings in OF, if truly necessary.

On the farm, the Tribe is loaded with OF/1B prospects along the lines of Jason Dubois, Ryan Mulhern and true 1B Michael Aubrey and Stephen Head a little further down the line.

Second Base
If there is one key player that has not been given a lot of attention in the offseason, it is Ronnie Belliard. He is key not so much for what he brings to the team, but rather how there is very little insurance behind him. Belliard has always entered the season with lower expectations, with most saying that “he’ll never outperform what he did last year”, but the team’s Energizer Bunny just keeps producing year after year. In this, his Free Agent year, expect Belliard to continue to provide what he’s been doing in Cleveland for 2 years now – hit about .280 with 15 HR and 65 RBI, while playing a 2B that is more akin to short OF on a softball team, and turning the double play faster than you would think a man of his dimensions. 2006, though, will probably be Belliard’s last in a Tribe uniform, as he will command decent FA money on the open market. While he is considered a nice “complementary” player for the team, he is certainly not considered a part of the “core” and will not be overpaid just to keep him here if a comparable alternative can be had at a lower price (and less years).

Behind Belliard, again, there’s not a whole lot to get excited about. Most of the 2B in the organization project more as Utility IF-types (Joe Inglett, Jake Gatreau, Pat Osborn) who could probably man 2B adequately for a year; but none will set the world on fire with their bat. Most are proficient enough defensively to be a #9 hitter in a stacked lineup. One possible future option is 2005 #1 pick Trevor Crowe, who played OF in college and in his first year of minor-league play, but may be moved to 2B, possibly this year, to fill an organizational hole.

Shortstop
The most pleasant surprise of 2005 was the breakout year by Jhonny Peralta, who proved to be more than up to the challenge of replacing Omar Vizquel to the tune of .292 with 24 HR and 78 RBI. The insertion of Peralta into the #3 hole in the lineup coincided with the explosion of the Indians’ offense as it finally gained some continuity and an identity. He should continue to thrive in that spot, with Jason Michaels’ OBP in the #2 hole and the continued development of Sizemore hitting leadoff allowing him more opportunities to be a run-producer. His glove, while not of the caliber of Omar’s (whose is?), was certainly solid after some early blips. Peralta’s easy demeanor and steady presence often underscore how good he really is, but expect his 2006 to force people to really stand up and take notice of Peralta as a player who should be a perennial contender for MVP for the next 10 years.

At the SS position, the Tribe is mainly stocked with slick-fielding speedsters (Ivan Ochoa, Eider Torres) who do very little with the bat and do not project to be much more than marginal Utility IF types. With a 24-year-old All-Star SS locked up through 2011, the Indians shouldn’t have to worry about developing too many SS for the next few years.

Third Base
Aaron Boone’s nightmare 2005 season, in which he hit .243 with 16 HR and only 60 RBI, did have its bright spots. Namely that he improved as the season progressed, hitting .284 from June 4 until the end of the season, which is closer to his career average and should be a harbinger of what the Indians can expect for 2006. The Front Office speaks often of Boone’s leadership and approach as having a good influence on the young players, so Boone’s value (to the organization, at least) may be deeper than just numbers.

That value, though, took a pretty big hit when the Tribe traded Coco Crisp for uber-prospect Andy Marte. Marte filled a huge organizational hole that existed for a Major League ready 3B and is thought by most to be Major League ready right now. The Indians are content to allow Marte to start in Buffalo, but he is simply a phone call away from being in the Indians’ lineup for the next 5-6 years. Marte’s numbers in the minors are comparable to Peralta’s and, if Marte can produce a season like Peralta’s 2005, the Indians will have a left side of the infield that should be the envy of every GM in the game for the next 6 years.

Past Marte, Kevin Kouzmanoff will start in Akron (though he is now a 24 year old “prospect” who has 7 games of experience above A ball) and Matt Whitney will start in Kinston (where he will try to get a career, derailed by a knee injury in a basketball game, back on track). Like the SS position, Marte at 3B makes the Indians solid at the hot corner in the near future.

Tomorrow, the Outfield.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Lazy Sunday

Exactly one week until Opening Day, so let's get right to it:
Paul Hoynes addresses the White Sox bullpen issues, among other things. Looking at the White Sox bullpen, one has to feel good about the Tribe ‘pen (regardless of your feelings for Wickman). Hoynes writes that Neil Cotts may be the White Sox closer before too long.

As much as you have to admire the season the White Sox had last year (and the job that Ozzie Guillen did to get them there), EVERYTHING went right for the 2005 Sox. It was their “dream season” where every call went their way, every move Guillen made seemed inspired, and every player outperformed expectations. I’m not saying that it should in any way force us to underestimate the White Sox in 2006; I’m just throwing it out there.

Hoynes also mentions that the Tribe would take a look at Alfonso Soriano, if he were available. I don’t see that. If he doesn’t want to play in the outfield, and Belliard is the 2B – where would he play for the Tribe? Would they acquire a malcontent, on a one-year-deal making $10M a year? It doesn’t sound like the prototypical Shapiro move. Sure, they’d take a look…but that would be about it.

Terry Pluto astutely breaks down the Tribe’s rotation and the next wave of arms available.

Jim Ingraham, once again, shows his ability to describe his always half-empty glass, as he turns a clearly improved Spring by Jeremy Guthrie (who was sent to the Buffalo rotation yesterday) into a denunciation of the former #1 pick.

Tribe brass has finally decided that Jason Davis is a reliever only, not a hybrid starter-reliever (even in Buffalo). Hopefully, JD can settle into the routine of being a reliever and harness his live arm. Usually, when a pitcher goes to the bullpen, the team instructs them to concentrate on 2 or 3 pitches to get through an inning, rather than try to master 4-5 pitches to get through a start. Time is running out for Jason Dangerously to be considered a true prospect, and for him to hone his mechanics to pitch more effectively.

It looks like Josh Bard may be the Red Sox backup catcher after all, mainly because of his ability to catch Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball. He will also wear #77, in honor of Boston Bruin great Ray Borque. Here’s a quick prediction: the honeymoon of Bard honoring one of Boston’s favorites will end when he catches his 4th game for Wakefield and has yet to hit the ball out of the infield. Not even wearing #33 in honor of Larry Legend could save Bard from the inevitable criticism in Boston.

A Lazy Saturday allowed me to make the trip to SouthPark Mall to get the 2006 Media Guide (complementary to Season Ticket Holders). As I was leaving the mall, Media Guide in hand, I realized that, with the trip back home, I had just spent about 45 minutes to get the Guide. No other errands, no other stops…just the Guide.

By the way, the cover features C.C., Lee, Peralta, Sizemore, Hafner, and Victor (as do all of the tickets in season ticket books). Did someone say something about having, say 6 core players to build this thing around? Don’t read too much into it, though. The 2004 Guide had C.C., Milton Bradley, Jason Davis, Omar Vizquel, and Jody Gerut. That’s a .200 average, strangely reminiscent of Brandon Phillips’ career ML average of .206 (Sorry, it wouldn’t be Sunday without the obligatory swipe at B-Phil.)

Did I mention that it's only one week until the 1st game?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Heading to Buffalo

With the announcement of Andy Marte, Ryan Garko, and Franklin Gutierrez being sent to Buffalo (along with Lou Merloni, Jose Flores, and Ben Howard being sent to minor-league camp), the roster stands at 32 with 7 more players to be cut to hit that magic 25 number.

Marte, Garko, and Gutierrez all being sent down certainly isn’t a surprise as that has been the stance of the Front Office since Day 1 of Spring Training, but the three represent a rarity in baseball. They represent viable options (Marte and Garko more than Gutierrez right now) to be called up to the Major League team to contribute. That they happen to play the same positions as the players who underperformed last year is astounding.

This group of “not-ready-for-primetime-players” (says the Front Office) may share more in common than that first group of performers at Saturday Night Live, who went by the same name, than you would think. All of the players are talented, and may be more talented than what is currently showing in “primetime”. They just lack the chance to do so, and should be more than ready when the call comes to play in the Majors.

The one explanation that Shapiro gave, specifically about Marte, but it could apply to the other 2 as well, is that Marte had never started a season in cold-weather and some players have trouble adjusting to the climate change, causing slumps at the beginning of the season. Shapiro’s logic is that he’d rather have these players start out in Buffalo to work out the kinks, without the glare, attention, and expectations of starting for the Indians on Opening Day. That argument holds some water, as an early-season slump in Cleveland would do more to damage a players’ confidence than one in Buffalo; but it also seems to infer that these players (Marte and Garko, specifically) will get the call pretty quickly in the chance that Boone or Broussard starts the season poorly.

The comment from the PD that I love this morning is from Grady Sizemore, who told Garko to “go down there and just blow everything up”. Do you think that the similarities of Grady’s situation of last year to Garko’s of this year are lost on the young CF? Grady came into camp last year, did everything that was asked of him to make the team, and was the last guy sent out of camp because of the Juan Gonzalez Experiment. Luckily for all of us, Gonzo's rubber band hamstrings forced Grady back onto the club in time for Opening Day.

Garko came in this year and proved that he was adequate defensively, while continuing to hit consistently. Grady, who some would argue is one of the leaders of the club at 23, has to see that the Indians may be better off with Garko at 1B and the comment would seem to indicate that Grady wants Garko to force the organization to make a decision sooner rather than later. Or it could just be a clich├ęd quote for the paper.

There is no denying Garko’s comment that the Front Office told him he could be a “championship-caliber 1B”. Hmmm…with the Indians meant to contend for the Central (at least) this year, do you think that Shapiro is saying the same thing to the two-headed monster of Broussard and Perez?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Quick Q & A

Going into the 2006 season, the Indians face a few internal questions that should play out as the season progresses. Without addressing unforeseen injuries to key players (everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, knock on wood 3 times) or external factors (what the White Sox did in the offseason, etc.), the Tribe enters 2006 with fewer questions than in years past, but questions nonetheless.

The questions of Spring Training, while fun to debate, don't count once Opening Day hits (maybe then I will stop getting my B-Phil updates - by the way, a virus has kept him out of camp for the last week, further damaging his chances at making the team).

Most serious questions have to do with specific players and how their performance affects the development of particular positions in 2006. Without further ado:

Was 2005 the aberration year for Casey Blake, or was 2004?
Blake famously exceeded all expectations for him in 2004, putting up big numbers (.271 BA, 28 HR, 88 RBI) and earning a contract from the Tribe. But, in 2005, he showed why he didn't make it to the Majors on a full-time basis until age 30 as he struggled, particularly with runners on base. So which Casey Blake will patrol RF this year, Version 2.4 or Version 2.5?

Much has been intimated that Blake went through personal problems in 2005, about how he made a position change to the OF, and about how he put undue pressure on himself after signing a long-term deal, but the first 3 months of 2006 are vital for Blake to reestablish himself as a legitimate full-time Big Leaguer. If he recaptures the consistency of the 2004 campaign, the point is moot and you pencil him in at RF and at the bottom of the order for some nice RH pop.
However, if he continues his descent into the world of being Kasey rather than Casey (K's too much), the Indians will have no choice but to explore other options. Blake figures to be on a shorter leash than last season as the position change adjustment should be over and the Tribe expects to contend from Day 1. If Blake is hitting in the sub-.240's with a low OBP by Memorial Day, somthing will be done.

But what can be done?
Who's out there that represents that much of an upgrade? Do Craig Wilson or Trot Nixon (who seems to be the odd man out in Fenway with the addition of Wily Mo) figure to put up THAT much bettter numbers than Blake? Keep in mind that neither are cheap and are flawed, just like Blake?

Are there internal options?
Spring Training showed that neither Franklin Gutierrez nor Brad Snyder are ready to play in the Majors every day right now, so the options are Jason Dubois and, possibly Ryan Mulhern. Dubois is intriguing because of his AAA numbers last year and his Spring, but his cup of coffee in Cleveland couldn't have gone worse (25K's in 45 AB). Mulhern, the Tribe 2005 Minor League Player of the Year, impressed at Spring Training, but still could use some polish on his overall game and will start the season at Buffalo.

So, what do the Indians do if Blake struggles in 2006? The answer is that they probably go outside of the organization to add a veteran, who may or may not be that "big bat" that EVERYONE feels the Tribe needs right now. It's awfully early to throw names out there, but Moises Alou would look pretty nice as that hired gun. What you would give up would be the question.

Blake, to most, is the most pressing question (mainly because the Tribe lacks an obvious contingency plan), but an answer as to whether Casey or Kasey is suiting up this year should be evident by Memorial Day.

Is Jason Michaels ready to be a full-time player, and can he replace Coco Colavito...I mean Crisp?
This, to me, is one of the lesser concerns, as Michaels does have a track record of being a prototypical #2 hitter, had a good Spring, and is solid defensively. The suggestions that Michaels will platoon with Todd Hollandsworth in LF to me seems ridiculous. Wedgie has gone on record saying he dislikes platoons, and with the obvious platoon at 1B, I doubt that Wedge wants to vary his lineup that frequently. Michaels has also been told from Day 1 by the Tribe that LF and the 2 hole are his.

Michaels will be under scrutiny by the "fans of Coco", who will forget their declaration to stay away from the Jake (made after the Coco deal) as soon as they see that Michaels is not that much of a downgrade from Coco (if at all) and that the Indians are in contention. Michaels' style of play - hardnosed, hustling, and fundamentally sound - should resonate with the fan base that has embraced Sizemore.

By year's end, Michaels will have adequately replaced Coco's numbers and should hold down the LF job (on a full time basis) all year.

What will become of Benny B?
History majors do not normally find math to be their strong suit, but I was "crunching some numbers" the other day and came up with some interesting results. Typically in a 162 game season, a full time player will log approximately 580 AB. Players in a platoon situation (like Broussard will be with Perez this year) can cut that number in half (that's math by a History major). So, we're at 290 AB apiece for Ben and Perez.
BUT, the Indians have stated that Travis Hafner will play about 30 games at 1B, thus taking another 65 AB (130 AB/2) away from both (because Broussard can only play 1B). So, now we're at 225 AB each.
BUT, the Indians have said that they want Victor to play about 10 games at 1B to keep him fresh all year, taking away another 25 away from each (50 AB/2). We are now all the way down to 200 AB for Broussard and Perez this year.

Considering the contract that Broussard just signed (a little under $2.5M), his streaky bat, and public statements by Shapiro and Wedge that this is a "make or break year" for Benny, 200 AB is not a good thing. Unless Broussard comes torching out of the gate and continues some sustained excellence (not mediocrity) at the plate, the Indians will be looking in another direction...and fast.

The fact that he has struggled this Spring, to the tune of a .541 OPS (!?!) and the report from Rotoworld that his contract is not guaranteed and even the ever-optimistic Terry Pluto is saying "don't be shocked if Broussard is traded" and the deck looks to be stacked against the young axeman.

If Blake is on a tight leash, they're holding Broussard by the collar. Throw Ryan Garko into the mix, who was ahead of everyone's expectations defensively this Spring and can, by most observers' estimations, be an impact RH bat in the lineup and things don't look good for Benny.

So how will it all play out for Benny (and Perez, and Garko for that matter) in 2006? If Broussard and Perez are both able to perform well while in the linuep, again the point is moot. But if Broussard falters, I doubt that the Tribe would hand the 1B job to Perez lock, stock, and barrell. Garko would likely be called up, with Broussard likely getting traded. Perez could also be trade bait, but would likely stay on as a late inning defensive replacement at 1B or to act as the veteran RH bat off of the bench.

Most people are pulling for Broussard to thrive (which would make the season better), but his Spring performance and the Tribe brass' opinions on his general streakiness seem to show an underlying theme that his time may be limited in Cleveland. Maybe if you buy his CD, he'll start hitting in the Haven.

There remains a possibility that Broussard doesn't even break camp with the team (2 roster spots are needed to add Hollandsworth and Graves/Karsay to the 40 man roster) and Mark Shapiro proved with the Milton Bradley deal that he's not afraid of some last-minute tinkering - but, for now - we'll assume that Broussard heads north to the North Coast.

Will Aaron Boone return to form, or was 2005 an indication of what a post-knee injury Boone can do?
This was one of the pressing questions as the Tribe entered camp, particularly with the glowing initial reports that came out of Florida about Andy Marte. But Boone has scorched this Spring, as if to say that he's not ready to concede 3B just yet. All of that could change, of course, once the games start to count if Boone struggles. But the organizations' opinion of Boone's leadership and work ethic would lead me to believe that he's on the longest leash of the Filler B's.

If, by some terrible situation, Boone is hitting .210 in June of 2006 - you won't see Boone hitting on a regular basis at the Jake. If he does struggle out of the gate, Marte (like Garko at 1B) is a phone call away to lend a heavy bat to the lineup. Boone could then be moved in a trade, or can provide some leadership and infield flexibility as a utility player (though he hasn't played SS in 3 years).

A very serious long-term possibility is that Boone stays on the Tribe for next year as well, replacing Free Agent Ronnie Belliard at 2B, while he mentors a young Marte at 3B in 2007.

Is Jason Johnson better than his career record indicates, and what if he's not?
The Indians point to the Scott Elarton Reclamation Project (now showing in Kansas City) as Exhibit A that a pitcher in the right circumstances can thrive. Those right circumstances for Johnson would be pitching out of the 5 spot in the rotation, against lesser pitchers, and without the pressure of being a top-of-the-rotation starter. They would also point to the high number of quality starts in 2005 for Johnson, his history of pitching 200 innings, and the development of his sinker last year as reasons he should succeed in 2006.

His career record would be attributed to the losing teams that he's played on, but that doesn't explain his career ERA or his propensity to give up the long ball. So, what if Johnson crashes and burns in the 5 spot? What do the Indians do?

Two words: Fausto Carmona. Carmona's Spring performance and his continued brilliance throughout a minor league career have the Indians excited about the possibilities. Some could even second-guess the signing of Johnson if Carmona was, in fact, ready to step into the rotation this year. Carmona would get the nod over Jeremy Sowers, who probably needs another 2-3 months in the minors to develop his confidence. Carmona, on the other hand, seems to be there.

Don't be surprised if someone misses a few starts (again knock on wood...HARD) and Carmona forces himself into the rotation like Westbrook did in 2004. If that were to happen, Johnson could be moved (somebody always needs affordable veteran pitching) and the Tribe could let Carmona develop from that 5 spot.

What if Wickman's tight-rope saves turn into throw-things-at-the-TV blown saves?
If Wickman struggles out of the gate, or goes through a prolonged slump, the Indians do actually have legitimate options (not Scott Stewart or Jose Jimenez) to step in. Guillermo Mota, who closed in Florida last year, Fernando Cabrera, who closed for the Puerto Rican team in the WBC, or Rafael Betancourt, who just strikes guys out, would all be acceptable options.

I have a feeling, though, that it won't come to that. Maybe because I'm one of Wickmans' Warriors, maybe because I'd like to drink some High Lifes with the guy, I don't know what it is. I think that Wickman will match, if not exceed, his 2005 season.

There was a report that Wickman last year still couldn't throw his slider because it hurt too much, so he really excelled on guts and guile. This year, with that slider back in the fold, and that gut getting bigger...I mean, that guts and guile still in play, Wickman should exceed expectations again and keep the bullpen intact.

If he does implode, though, and the shelves at Walgreens are devoid of Pepto because of it, the other relievers are there to fill that role.

Those are the main questions entering the 2006 season, some more pressing (because they lack an obvious contingency plan) than others. One never knows with a baseball season, though. Last year, the question we were asking ourselves was how Jhonny Peralta could possibly replace Omar Vizquel.

I saw my first ESPN commercial advertising Opening Night with the Tribe v. Sox. That is enough to put you in the mood for some baseball. Only 11 days until it happens.

Coming soon, in celebration of the one-year anniversary of The DiaTribe, the 2nd Annual Nickname Team, as well as a preview of the 2006 season.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Roster Moves

In addition to Ryan Mulhern getting trimmed off of the roster earlier (to join the Bisons), it looks like Andrew Brown and Fausto Carmona have been optioned to Buffalo.

Brown made a strong push for the final bullpen spot (which Graves now looks like the front runner to fill), but will start the season in Buffalo. Expect Brown to follow a similar path as Fernando Cabrera last year, where he will likely overwhelm hitters in AAA, then be ready to contribute in Cleveland when called upon.

Carmona, too, impressed the Tribe brass this Spring (with a 0.75 ERA in 12 IP) and looks to be the spot starter for the team. He seems to be a little further along than Jeremy Sowers (at this point) and may be called up in case Jason Johnson doesn't perform well in the first few months.

Both players would be classified as "Stars of the Spring" who opened a lot of eyes in terms of where they are in their development. Expect both to throw some innings in Cleveland this year.

More posts will be forthcoming, the Coldplay concert and getting 16 channels of HBO and Cinemax since Friday have put a dent into my productivity.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Here and There

The Tribe executed their second round of cuts earlier this week. Does anyone else wonder if they really put those red flags in these players’ lockers (like the one that sparked the epic Vaughn-Dorn melee of ’89)?

Kaz Tadano and Brad Snyder are the only widespread known names, though their demotions certainly aren’t unexpected. For those who have heard rumors about Kaz Tadano and are curious, go to Deadspin and do a search on Kaz Tadano. The third one down is the one to which I refer. I won’t link it here because this is NOT that kind of site.

John Farrell was on the radio earlier this week and said that Fausto Carmona will be the first starter called up to make a spot start. Part of that probably has to do with the fact that Jeremy Sowers is not on the 40-man roster, but more has to do with the fact that Carmona has pitched all Spring like the 5th spot SHOULD be his. In 9 innings, he has an ERA of 1.00, has a WHIP of 1.22 with no walks, and has impressed the Tribe brass to the level that they realize that he’s not far away from being a vital cog in the rotation.

It was mentioned recently that the 22-year old Carmona is 6-5, 240. To put that in perspective, LeBron is 6-8, 240 and looks like a freight train; so Carmona is a well-put-together physical specimen. The book on Carmona is that he’s a pitcher who induces contact (he’s not a strikeout pitcher), but his control allows him to spot his fastball with his changeup, while mixing a developing slider in. Let’s Go Tribe’s Top Prospect Listing (Ryan’s) compares him to Carlos Silva of the Twins, who projects as their 3rd starter this year. I’ll take that out of the 5th spot if somebody goes down or Jason Johnson doesn’t perform.

The readiness of Carmona underscores what has become the theme in this Spring Training, and that is that the Indians have young talent (Carmona, Brown, Marte, Garko) that may be ready for the Majors. But that talent is not necessarily needed right now and doesn’t need to be force-fed into the Majors. They can start the season in Buffalo and provide the Indians the kind of depth that they haven’t had in 10 years.

Finally, for those who needed a Cory Snyder fix for a Saturday, here’s the White Knight in his 1990 glory:

Someone out there has to know this: What was the premise of the poster that had Cory Snyder dressed up as a cowboy?

Enjoy a Survivors’ Day (the day after St. Patty’s Day) made for a Saturday on the couch with the Tourney and the afternoon Spring Training Game (if you get STO).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Tomahawks

Not even the arrival of the 2006 Season Tickets could pull me off of the couch yesterday as a 24-hour bug ravaged me, but the news that Adelphia has signed on with SportsTime Ohio and will show Thursday night’s game is enough to perk me up.

As promised, here’s Sunday’s View from Pluto, with a nice overview of the Marte situation and a breakdown of the Dolans’ spending (which you might remember from a week ago here).

Nothing too exciting happening in the Haven (where the Tribe is 12-5), but some housecleaning nonetheless:
No surprises in the first round of wholesale cuts as most of the guys will be headed to the minors or extended Spring Training.

Wedgie set his rotation for the year. Again, no big surprises as he divides up the lefties (C.C. & Lee) and the sinkerballers (Westbrook & Johnson).


Watching Victor hit out of the DH hole for Venezuela (and bashing a GS) on the same day that Pronk took some grounders at 1B in Spring Training got me thinking.

If Ryan Garko is able to prove his worth as a defensive 1B (as well as Hafner and Martinez at 1B, for that matter), the Indians could have a 3 man rotation of Victor, Pronk, and Garko to play C, 1B, and DH every day. This would keep Victor fresh throughout the year and keep these 3 bats in the lineup at all times. If Shoppach took some AB’s at 1B as well, more power to him; however, this arrangement could give some stability to the lineup (i.e. Pronk 4th, Vic 5th, Garko 7th) while not running the players ragged and burning them out.

Maybe I’m counting Broussard out of the picture prematurely, but it seems to me that versatility is an important value to the Front Office and Wedge. Garko’s versatility (he did win the Johnny Bench Award as the top collegiate catcher) would seem to appeal to the idea that you can fill a majority of positions without having a huge amount of players (unlike the Broussard/Perez platoon of this year, who are both really just 1B) fill them.

Having that rotation would allow the Indians another arm in the bullpen or keep Boone around after the promotion of Marte to play some 2B or 3B. Again, I’m probably about a year ahead of myself (does anyone else think about what our rotation would look like in 2008?), but it has to be buried in somebody’s head that these three players could give each other days off in the field, while not disrupting the continuity of the lineup.

By the way, I see the 2008 rotation as C.C., Adam Miller, Lee, Carmona, and Sowers. That would separate the southpaws.
Not that I’ve given it much thought.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Lazy Sunday

Nothing like a Sunday morning to run some errands, enjoy a nice breakfast and a cup of coffee, and force the bride to drive around the Kohl's parking lot because Mark Morrison's "Return of the Mack" came on the radio.

But without further ado, here's the Sunday roundup:
We’ll start off with Terry Pluto’s insights from Spring Training in his newsletter. If, by chance, you are not currently subscribed to his newsletter, then stop what you’re doing…’cause I’m about to ruin the image and the style that you’re used to. Sorry, but I would highly recommend it.

Terry’s View from Pluto wasn’t available at press time (is that the right term?), but I’ll link it when it comes up.

Paul Hoynes’ Sunday debut is highlighted by the fact that Scott Elarton may be the Royals’ #1 starter. Yes, the same Scott Elarton that the Indians wouldn’t give a 2-year deal to.

He also says that SuperSizemore and Lee are on board for some long-term action.

Bud Shaw actually seems to be on board with the Tribe, commenting on the Coco move (still). About a month ago, Livingston referred to Coco as George Herman Crisp (brilliant!). Could these guys actually be drinking the Shapiro Kool-Aid?

Ken Rosenthal weighs in on the Andy Marte situation.

Sheldon Ocker handicaps the race for the final reliever spot, among other notes.
Then Ocker responds an intelligent question about Jason Davis by mocking the question. He always handles constructive criticism and knowledgeable questions well, doesn’t he?

With that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at the main spring “battles” to see how they’re progressing:
Utility-BA/OBP/SLG/OPS
Brandon Phillips-.300/.364/.500/.864 with 1 HR & 3 RBI
Ramon Vazquez-.273/.273/.318/.591 with 0 HR & 6 RBI
Lou Merloni-.333/.566/.833/1.214 with 1 HR & 3 RBI
This is an interesting race, as both of the main competitors (B-Phil and Vazquez) have come out of the gate pretty quickly. It will probably come down to the last few days of camp on this one, but there’s more to look at in this race- more than just stats.

A big part of the decision on this spot is what the Indians’ plan on doing at 2B in 2007. With Belliard’s contract running out after this year (and if he continues to play like he has, he’ll be in line for a big contract…probably not from the Indians, who view him as a complementary player, not a “core” player) and Phillips out of options, the Indians risk losing Phillips (who is the front-runner for the 2007 2B spot) if he doesn’t make the roster.

Vazquez is probably the better prototypical utility player (and he has a major-league deal) in that he is a slap hitter who could pinch hit, pinch run, and fill in defensively if needed; but he doesn’t project as a full-time player next year like Phillips (ideally) does.

With that being said, Phillips could get the nod, mainly because the Indians feel that he is their best player for 2B in 2007. Another factor in the 2B in 2007 conversation is Joe Inglett, who is a nice little middle infielder that’s knocked around the Indians farm system for a while. Think a poor man’s David Eckstein…a solid 2B/SS who will never blow anyone away, but is solid with the glove and fundamentally sound. The 2B position in the next few years is not a position the Indians figure getting much production from, so Inglett could fit the bill, at the right price.

Lou Merloni looks to be an afterthought in this race (he has 1/3 of the AB’s of the other 2 so far), and will likely start the year in Buffalo, unless he can latch onto another big league team.

Backup C- BA/OBP/SLG/OPS
Kelly Shoppach-.091/.231/.182/.413 with 0 HR & 0 RBI
Einar Diaz-.333/.385/.417/.892 with 0 HR & 1 RBI
While Shoppach has certainly struggled at the plate, expect him to still make the team out of Spring Training. Changing organizations (particularly as a young player) is difficult as you learn about your new team, but more so for a catcher. Learning brand-new coaches, pitchers, players is difficult for the “general” of the defense, so Shoppach’s offense may be suffering as a result of his new surroundings.

With Diaz, the Indians know what they are getting…and it doesn’t excite them too much. Shoppach is a player who needs experience and some time at the big-league level to gauge his effectiveness.

Diaz will likely go elsewhere to try to open the season on a big-league roster, while Tim Laker will head to Buffalo to provide some veteran insurance, in case Shoppach flames out.

Bullpen Spot-ERA/WHIP/K to BB Ratio
Jason Davis-4.50/1.25/5 to 2
Danny Graves-4.50/1.75/2 to 2
Steve Karsay-6.75/1.00/2 to 1
Andrew Brown-4.50/1.50/5 to 2
This is probably the most intriguing spot to be decided in camp, with Davis and Brown on the 40 man roster, both trying to make good impressions; while Graves and Karsay, who are signed to minor-league deals, are trying to prove that there’s some gas left in the tank.

Jason Davis had a strong outing yesterday, going 2 scoreless innings, but has struggled up to that point. The question still seems to be out there of whether JD is a starter or a reliever. But while that question has been debated for the past year and a half, he’s fallen out of the group of front line starters (being passed by Carmona and Sowers) and has been leapfrogged by Fernando Cabrera, and now possibly Andrew Brown, as bullpen options. This Spring could be a real crossroads for Davis, who, at the beginning of the 2004 season was seen as the #2 starter behind C.C. for years to come; Davis needs to establish himself as the 6th starter, or drop a couple of his pitches and dominate out of the pen. He has the arm for it. Something just hasn’t clicked for him, whether it’s mental or a result of the yo-yo he’s been on between the rotation and the bullpen (remember Danys Baez). With all of that being said, Davis still has to be the front-runner here because of his ability to be the long man out of the bullpen, something that the Indians currently lack.
Andrew Brown has made a strong push for the final spot, despite getting roughed up on Friday. He has received rave reviews from many sources, in terms of his stuff and his mound presence. He’ll have to keep up the solid performances to force himself into the bullpen, though, because he (like Davis) still has an option, which means he could start the year as the Buffalo closer (like Cabrera did last year) and be ready at a moment’s notice.
Graves and Karsay (they keep getting lumped together this Spring, don’t they) have pitched well and either could make the team if Shapiro wants to get Davis or Brown more seasoning in Buffalo.
The other interesting scenario, pointed out by the CIR is that Matt Miller (who apparently is still working himself up to 100%) could start the season on the DL and have a few rehab appearances early in the year, Davis and Brown could be sent to Buffalo (with their options), and Graves and Karsay would make the team out of camp. This would allow the Indians about another 2 weeks to sort out this final spot. The downside, however, is that if BOTH Graves and Karsay make the team, they would have to be added to the 40-man roster, meaning that 2 players would have to be removed from the 40-man (perhaps in a late camp trade?).
The other players who were “fighting” for this spot (Tadano, Guthrie, Sipp, Stanford, and non-roster invitee Ben Howard) will likely fill out the bullpen in Buffalo. That’s right, Guthrie and Stanford would likely project as relievers after the Haven.
Keep your eyes on this last bullpen spot, because it may not be resolved much sooner than the 1st game of the season in Chicago.

Another development in camp is the performances of Andy Marte and Ryan Garko. While Shapiro has gone on record to say that Marte “will not make the team out of camp”, both players are making huge impressions with the coaching staff and the Front Office. Marte has excelled at the plate and in the field and could force a decision soon, regardless of the performance of Aaron Boone.

Garko, meanwhile, has shown that his glove work is further along than most thought it was, making him a very viable option for 1B at the Jake should Broussard falter (or enter a prolonged slump). Since Shapiro has often stated that Garko’s bat was ready for the big leagues, it was only his glove that needed improvement – Garko could force himself onto the Indians by June.

The other thing to watch is the 4th outfielder position as Todd Hollandsworth has struggled, hitting .176/.222/.353/.575 with little pop. Jason Dubois has hit the ball well, but his strikeout numbers continue to be high, and he really isn’t a 4th outfielder. Franklin Gutierrez has been impressive in the field, but his offense needs more polish in Buffalo. Hollandsworth is still the 4th outfielder by default, but he may not remain in that role for very long.

The Tribe has played 12 Spring Training games, with 21 games left to play, so we’re more than 1/3 of the way through the Spring. We’ll keep watching these battles and the other developments.

Also, a big welcome goes out to the Browns’ signings, notably the homecomings of LeCharles Bentley (a Wildcat), Dave Zastudil, and Joe Jurevicius.

Jurevicius will forever be remembered for a reverse dunk in a CYO High School Basketball game (Paterno didn’t want him to play for Lake Catholic his senior year) circa 1994, in which he stole the ball at mid-court and posterized the man known as the Rock Dawg in this forum.

Best dunk I’ve ever seen from half-court, and quite a change of pace from the usual hack b-ball that was played in the Borromeo Seminary gym in the early to mid ‘90s.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Locked Up

Peralta’s deal, which is "only" guaranteed for $13 million over 5 years, represents quite a coup for the Tribe, particularly the club option for the 6th year. That 6th year would have been Peralta’s first year of Free Agency, but the Indians (like they did with Victor last year) bought that first year by giving Peralta the security of a long-term deal. By the time the contract is up, Peralta will be 30 years old and the likely Tribe career leader in HR from the SS position (the record is currently held by Woodie Held, who has 131; Peralta has 28 in 1+ year)

Is this signing another indication of the Dolans’ cheapness? Not at all. If anything, it’s a sign of their acumen, as they’re solidifying the salaries that will be paid to the players that they envision as long-term Indians.

I’m tired of fans questioning the validity of the Dolan ownership and whether they will ever “spend money” for a good team. What most fans don’t understand is that these young players are under the Indians’ control for 5 years once they come to the Majors. Contracts like Peralta’s ensure that the talent will remain in Cleveland for even longer, at a predetermined price. It’s not as if, suddenly, Grady Sizemore can sign with the Yankees. That’s not how baseball contracts are set up. Grady is under the Indians’ control until 2010, whether that includes arbitration hearings or is determined by a long-term contract to avoid arbitration (like Peralta) is the only question.

I, too, at one point questioned the Dolans’ willingness to spend money to keep the homegrown players here, but when C.C. signed a long-term deal, forfeiting a few years of FA to stay with the organization – my questions were answered.

The plan is to sign young players to club-friendly contracts (that the players sign for the financial security) to avoid arbitration and keep a “core” group of players together. That “core”, then, will be complemented by Major League-ready prospects (think Marte, Garko, or Sowers) or with veterans to fill holes (think Byrd, Belliard, or Boone). That plan will ensure that this team is not a flash-in-the-pan or a one-year wonder; they’ll be built to last. The Braves have done it very effectively, as have the A’s, to stay in constant contention.

The Indians did the same thing in the mid 1990’s (as we all know), but deviated from the plan by trying to acquire that “one missing piece” and generally overpaying for that piece. Had the Indians kept with their initial plan, Giles, Sexson, Casey, David Bell, and others would have seamlessly replaced the outgoing players (Belle, Manny, etc).

The manner by which this team is being constructed is the right way to put together a team, with strength up the middle (Martinez, Peralta, Sizemore), a power presence in the lineup (Hafner), and complementary players that can be shuffled around until the long-term answer is found (1B, 2B, 3B, LF, RF). More importantly, it hinges on strong starting pitching (C.C., Lee, Westbrook) with a few vets to eat innings, starters in the minors fine-tuning their repertoire, and a VERY deep bullpen (both on the big-league squad and in the minors).

Peralta’s signing, and the upcoming signings of Sizemore and Lee (though Lee certainly won’t get a 5 year deal), is another big step in the right direction. Another big step is a series of steps that the Indians continue to take on their way to another “Era of Excellence” that this time will hopefully include a WS Championship.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Jhonny Be Good

According to Mark Schwab of WTAM, the Indians have agreed to a deal with Jhonny Peralta. Details of the deal are still being worked out, but it seems to be a 5 year deal, with a possible option on the 6th year (which would be his first Free Agent year).

If this is true (and it's scheduled to be announced tomorrow), this is great news as Peralta is now in the fold for 5, maybe 6 years.

According to the WTAM report, the Indians will now turn their attention to Grady and Lee to lock them up for long-term deals before the start of the season.

More on the deal later as the specifics become known.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

With These Eyes

Thanks to ESPN (for showing an Indians’ Spring Training game) and to the genius that invented TiVo (watched 24 last night in 1 hour 20 minutes in case you needed another reason to get it), I was able to catch the Tribe-Mets game from Monday afternoon.

Here are the impressions from the couch:

  • The stars of the game were Grady Sizemore, who went 3-3 with 2 doubles and a HR, and Andy Marte, who hit 2 doubles (one to left, one to right). Other players made some contributions, but those two really stood out.
  • A lot of face time was given to Sizemore as well as a lot of hype surrounding his talent. It’s easy to forget that this time last year, Sizemore was a long shot to make the team and was eventually called up ONLY after Juan Gone went down with the hammy injury. It didn’t take long, but people are starting to notice Grady, and rightfully so. And, the scary thing is that last year seemed to just be scratching the surface. If it’s possible, he’s playing with more confidence than last year.
  • I was excited to see Marte in action, as you can only learn so much about a player from stats and scouts’ rave reviews about him. After watching him play, though, know this – this kid is the real deal. First, he belted a Tom Glavine fastball off of the LF wall, driving in Ryan Garko (who had also lined a hit to left off of the future Hall of Famer); then he went opposite field with a drive to the wall off of Jose Lima (after Lima had mowed down Garko and Kelly Shoppach). His swing is very fluid and his hits off of big-league pitchers (granted, Lima is marginal) were no cheap shots, they were crushed. The ball jumps off of his bat. Plus, he’s built like a ballplayer; similar to Jhonny Peralta, but a little bigger. He looks like he belongs NOW. I’ll be very interested to see how long they can keep Marte out of Cleveland, because he’s not far off, right now.
  • Garko displayed some patience at the plate and showed that he can hit, particularly with his at-bat against Glavine. He’s a big, thick guy that looks like a catcher, so he’s not going to win any footraces. Speaking of thick guys, Kelly Shoppach (who didn’t do anything too noteworthy) has legs that look like tree trunks. Where Victor has a body that doesn’t necessarily look like a catcher’s, Shoppach does.
  • Jason Michaels (or J-Mike, as Wedgie referred to him when he was talking to the announcers) laid down a nice situational bunt to move Grady over. I’m not a huge fan of bunting, but maybe this will shut up all of those guys that call the radio and say that they’re better bunters than anyone on the Indians. Also, Michaels resembles Lenny Dykstra with a perm.
  • Brandon Phillips (who, if you’ve read the DiaTribe before, you know is not one of my favorites) didn’t do anything to change my impression of him. He still has that big swing and seems to swing at everything. Phillips is reminiscent of Kenny Lofton. Not the young Lofton that played in the late 1990’s, though; the Lofton now. He seems to have attended the Kenny Lofton “the only way to get paid is to hit homers” school over the winter. He even emulates Lofton, right down to flipping the bat when he walks.
  • Ryan Mulhern, who was the Indians’ Minor League Position Player of the Year last year, didn’t look too impressive. As a 25 year old who didn’t seem real comfortable at 1B, he seems to project as more of a Ryan Ludwick or Jason Dubois. He’s a big RH hitter with power, but he may just top out at the AAA level, like a Jason Cooper.
  • Jason Davis seems to have toned down his motion, where he seems to be a little more in control. His arms and legs no longer flail around as he falls off of the mound in his follow-through. It didn’t seem to help him much, though, as he always seemed to be pitching from behind and gave up a number of base hits. Even the outs were balls that were hit solidly. I would still say that he's the front-runner for that final bullpen spot, but Andrew Brown is closing quickly.
  • Kaz Tadano came on and didn’t fare much better than Davis to help his case for that final bullpen spot. He, too, always seemed to be working from behind in the count and was unable to work himself out of a jam. Not a real impressive outing for Tadano.
  • Tony Sipp, the minor league lefty, did impress with his aggressiveness and mound presence. Where Davis and Tadano seemed to be nibbling, Sipp was throwing strikes. He wasn’t nearly as effective against RH hitters as he was against LH hitters, when his stuff was just nasty. He could climb the ladder of the organization pretty quickly this year as a matchup lefty or LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY), perhaps even seeing action at the Jake if another southpaw is needed.
  • Edward Mujica, who dominated at Akron last year, is a big Venezuelan with a nice easy motion who only pitched one quick inning. Being only 21, he could follow the path of Fernando Cabrera to the major league pen by next year.

It was awfully nice to see some baseball being played by the Indians, even if it’s via TiVo on a Monday and Tuesday night.

Incidentally, on the official site’s depth chart, there are 2 names missing from the C position and 2B/SS position that are “fighting” for a roster spot. Can you tell who’s missing, and what does it tell you about their chances?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Thoughts from the GM


Before we begin, as promised, here’s the Belliard mullet. Note the little thing coming out of the back of his helmet. It's a little puff of hair, that looks like...well... a poodle’s tail.

Mark Shapiro sat in the broadcast booth during Sunday’s game against the Braves. Some highlights:

  • Shapiro is pleased about the progression of this Spring Training compared to years’ past. In the past few camps, there have been undecided positions (namely SS and OF last year); whereas the only real positional “battles” are for a backup C, a utility IF, and one spot in the bullpen. This is the next step to having an established roster, allowing Spring Training to become a place for the regulars to work into playing shape, for the youngsters to mix with the veterans, for a veteran to attempt a comeback to make the team (Graves, Karsay, Diaz), and to allow the young players an opportunity to make an impression in front of the decision-makers of the organization.
  • He endorsed the WBC as “good for the game” (though he did so without a lot of enthusiasm) and said that the biggest impact it will have in camp is the opportunities that it will give to players who wouldn’t normally get a lot of AB’s or IP’s in camp. It, namely, allows Kelly Shoppach and Einar Diaz more of an opportunity to make the team while Victor plays for Venezuela; or gives Ramon Vazquez and Brandon Phillips extended playing time in Ronnie Belliard’s absence.
  • While Shapiro was in the booth, Steve Karsay gave up a 3-run HR, eliciting an “Oh, my” from the GM. He later joked that if the game had been for real, the “Oh, my” would have likely been an “Oh, bleep”. Nice to hear that he has the same reaction that we do.
  • When asked about Andy Marte, Shapiro gushed about his ability, but said he still needs a little bit more time at AAA. He called Marte one of those players that “forces the organization to make a decision” by virtue of their talent. Interestingly, later he was asked about Aaron Boone’s health, as he is now a full year removed from surgery. Shapiro said that Boone should be at 100% from the start, but then showed his hand a little bit. He said that Boone is one of those players who embodies everything that you want in a ballplayer that you find yourself rooting for him; someone that you develop a relationship with, which sometimes allow personal feelings to get in the way of a baseball decision. So, does Marte “need more time in AAA” or is the Tribe organization rooting for Boone, when Marte may be the better option right now?
  • On the topic of his OF prospects, Franklin Gutierrez and Brad Snyder, Shapiro said that both still needed to show quite a bit to prove that they’re ready for the big leagues. It represented quite a different answer from the one given about Marte.
  • In the game, Jason Dubois continued to tear the cover off of the ball. Dubois, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be too much in the mix for the 4th outfielder spot and may be relegated to AAA unless something drastic happens.
  • The story of the game, again, though was Andrew Brown. He came on and completely blew away hitters with a 96 MPH fastball (this early in the Spring) and a wicked 78 MPH slider. He struck out 2, giving him 5 K’s in 2 IP. The story with him seems to be that he’s a big flame-thrower, who tends to tire after pitching more than a couple of innings. The comparison (which has been made before) to Eric Plunk was elaborated on. However, if (as the broadcasters pointed out) he makes this team out of camp, the Tribe has some real hard throwing RH (Mota, Cabrera, Betancourt, Brown) in the pen to blow through the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings to set up Wickman.

As much as I like walking around the house with a radio (being semi-productive), wouldn’t it be great if Sunday’s game were on TV to make these judgments for myself, instead of relying on somebody else’s eyes and judgments? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge - STO.

Gotta go, have to watch the Tribe-Mets game that was on at 1:05 on ESPN that I recorded. Can’t wait to see Tony Sipp and Edward Mujica myself.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could do that all the time? All right, you get it, I’m done.

By the way, to keep track of the different players, here’s the link to Indians’ Spring Training stats.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Lazy Sunday with a side of Tomahawks

Not much for a Lazy Sunday, but here we go:

Terry Pluto checks in from Winter Haven, with some thoughts on Tribe players.

Sheldon Ocker wonders whether the Indians are too nice. That’s a nice bit of insight (heavy sarcasm). I suppose that the Patriots could use some more real jerks to give them an edge, too. I guess there wasn’t a lot to write about, so Ocker decided to turn on Art Rhodes.

And with the niceties out of the way, let the Tomahawks fly:
Reportedly, Jhonny Peralta & SuperSizemore are negotiating long-term deals with the Indians (likely in the 5 year range). This should get all the hype of a Giles or Hoffman courtship (it won’t), because this is a big deal. What this would do is allow the Indians to control their costs through the life of these contracts, avoiding arbitration and keeping these young players’ salaries under control. For those who don’t appreciate what Jhonny Cool accomplished last year, here’s what the Pluto says about him. I love it when Pluto’s in Winter Haven.

For the players, it means sacrificing potential bigger money in 3 to 4 years to gain the financial stability of a long-term contract, as well as being paid more in the first few years of the contract than they would under current MLB contract rules.

If these two signings go through, as expected, you just added Peralta and Grady to C.C., Hafner, and Victor as players locked up in long-term deals. There’s your “core” group of players, all under control for 3-5 years.

Cliff Lee will probably be the next one to be approached, giving the Indians 2 top starters and 4 position players to build from. Is it coincidental that those 4 players (C.C., Lee, Sizemore, Pronk, Peralta, and The Stick) are on the front of the 2006 Indians’ Media Guide? No, these are the players that have been identified as the “core” and should all be signed to multiple year contracts by the start of the 2006 season.

For those who don’t see this as that big of a deal, and would rather see the Indians make a splash in FA: would you rather give Jeromy Burnitz or Preston Wilson a big contract for a few years or have a guarantee that Sizemore and Peralta will be wearing the Chief until 2011? That’s right, 2011.

These young players will be locked in, not eligible for arbitration, and will be grateful (for at least the first few years) to the Indians for paying them more than they truly had to. In the latter years of the contract, they’ll likely be HUGE bargains, but you never know if something would be renegotiated in the future.

Another HUGE story out of Winter Haven - Brandon Phillips is not talking to the media. Wait, what? Exactly who cares? Even when he tries to do something mature, it comes off as selfish. His inflated ego makes him think that people are dying to know what he thinks or what his thoughts are about his situation. But, in reality, he’s a 24-year-old former “prospect” trying to make the team as a utility infielder, that’s it. This is not newsworthy. It’s in the same vein as Ramon Vazquez talking to the media…or Lou Merloni. Are either of those guys’ sound bites newsworthy? Was it a big deal when Enrique Wilson or Tommy Hinzo didn’t talk to the media? I know that Phillips has come out of the gate fast in Spring Training, but he and the Indians need to part ways this Spring, for the betterment of all parties involved.

Earlier in the week, I caught the first exhibition game in Kissimmee against the Astros on the radio. Nothing warms up a cold February day in Cleveland like Tom Hamilton calling the first game of the year (exhibition or otherwise). Terry Pluto has a great piece on the game, which should produce jealousy in any red-blooded Tribe fan. Did I mention that I love when Terry's in Winter Haven?

There were, as always, highlights during Hammy’s time on the radio:
Hamilton and Hegan began to talk about how being in Kissimmee always reminded them of Milton Bradley, because that’s where his infamous meltdown (walked out of the clubhouse, hailed a cab in full uniform back to Winter Haven, and paid the cabbie the $70 cab fare…from the wallet in his uniform pants, I assume) occurred. As the two discussed how Milton was the first real example of Wedge’s even-keeled handling of his players, the field mikes picked up a baby crying. The ensuing exchange was priceless:
Hammy: I don’t know if the folks at home can here this, but we’ve got an unhappy baby here in front of the booth
(Mumbling in the background, followed by laughter)
Hammy: Mike Hegan just wondered aloud if Milton had returned to Kissimmee.
(Audible groaning in the background)
It was classic. You could see the scene from Major League being played out, when Monty puts his hand over the mike and tells Harry Doyle what he cannot say on the air. Hamilton probably paraphrased the Harry Doyle line, “Don’t worry, it’s Spring Training – nobody’s listening.”

The other hot topic of conversation was the impressive inning by Andrew Brown. He came on, gave up a leadoff triple, and then struck out the side as he blew away all three batters. The accolades rolled in, with Hegan even predicting, “this guy’s coming back to Cleveland”. Brown is certainly a sleeper for the bullpen spot; and, at the very least, he should be the first call made to Buffalo WHEN someone in the ‘pen goes down.

In case you missed it, C.C. bailed on the WBC, saying that his body wasn’t ready for it. After his first outing (I know it’s only Spring Training), we can at least say that C.C. is learning to listen to his body.

I don’t have too much of a problem with C.C. dropping out of this, mainly because he is a starter, who needs more time to get into shape for the season with pitch counts and bullpen sessions. The WBC doesn’t seem like too much of a change of pace for position players, and even relievers, but starters seem to be very regimented; where C.C. is probably already on a program where he will be on schedule to pitch the opener in Chicago.

If you haven’t seen Ronnie Belliard’s hair, it’s worth its own section on Mullets Galore. When I see a picture online, I’ll post it. Right now, I’ve only seen it on highlights on TV.
He looks like…I can’t even explain it.

On a personal note, a shopping trip for upcoming birthdays turned into a personal shopping spree at the team shop.
The purchase of note: I’ve finally purchased my first player-specific shirt for the “new” Indians (the Cliff Lee jersey is technically the bride’s). And the winner is…Travis Hafner. Not the Pronk shirt, the Hafner shirt. There is nothing that I don’t like, or respect, about Hafner.

He took a Buerhle fastball off the mouth last year, he wears WWE gear in the clubhouse, and he lists Old School as his favorite movie. He even says that he graduated in the top 10 in his high school class (failing to mention that there were 8 kids). How can you not like this guy?

I debated with the Grady jersey until the bride said, “You’re getting on that bandwagon? Fine…have fun with Grady’s Ladies, maybe you could get a Mrs. Sizemore shirt next time we’re here.” You need someone to keep you grounded, fellas.

By the way, her attempt to get a Wickman jersey (a fellow Wisconsinite) did not pan out. No Sticky Wicky jerseys in the team shop.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend and remember...
...Throw the snacks in the bag and I'm Ghost like Swayze.