Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Flexibility Factor

A few weeks ago, I took a look at a possible change in philosophy to approaching the FA market – one that involved upgrading the team with players, regardless of position, who may not make the big splash but would allow the team to improve, both in terms of quality and depth.

From that depth, then, the Indians can obtain the arms for the bullpen that are proving so exorbitantly priced on the FA market. Truthfully, anytime that Chad Bradford can get a 3-year guaranteed deal – that’s a pretty sure sign that relievers most would rate as mediocre to good (certainly not great) are getting too many years and too much money.

So, the Indians have decided to take the road less traveled (but perhaps wiser), one in which they go to the Winter Meetings with a lot of flexibility and a lot of players that can be moved.

The Dellucci signing gives Shapiro the flexibility to move any number of players to improve the team. Whether you believe Dellucci’s agent that he was promised the LF job is irrelevant because it probably was offered to him, “If he could consistently hit LHP”. If he can’t, the flexibility is there with the other RH in the lineup to make up for his deficiency.

Does anyone think that rumored “advisor” Buck Showalter, who had Dellucci in both Arizona and Texas, was consulted before this deal was done?

Before anyone goes nuts that the money given to Dellucci is excessive, consider the other contracts being given out (6 years, $100M for Carlos Lee from a team incapable of DHing him in 3 years) and remember that a 3-year deal for a position player over 30 is much more stable than giving a 3-year deal to a reliever over 30.

With the market spinning out of control, is it easy to say the money would be better spent on Bobby Howry last off-season?
Sure, but hindsight’s always 20/20 and let’s reserve judgment until Howry pitches off the last 2/3 of the contract without a significant injury.

Back to what the Dellucci deal means to the Front Office’s approach to the trade market in the coming weeks. The possibilities and the movable parts are seemingly endless, but here are a few scenarios:
LF – Dellucci
RF – Blake
4th OF – Michaels
1B – Garko
C – Martinez
Trade Bait – Choo, Gutierrez

LF – Dellucci/Michaels
RF – Choo
4th OF – Gutierrez
1B – Blake
C – Martinez
Trade Bait – Garko

LF – Delucci
RF – Blake
4th OF – Choo
1B – Martinez
C – Shoppach
Trade Bait – Garko, Gutierrez, Michaels

You get the idea.
With Dellucci, Michaels, Blake, Gutierrez, Choo, and Garko all being a part of the equation, Shapiro can go to the Winter Meetings and move one or two of them to upgrade the bullpen. By packaging a couple of the expendable (or most desirous pieces to other teams) players with a young arm that is out of options (Guthrie, Davis, etc.), expect some activity to re-shape the bullpen while not drastically affecting the offense.

The argument, besides flexibility, for the signing of Dellucci is that the Indians are putting some faith in the likes of Marte, Choo, and Garko. After seeing the regression of Peralta last year, the inclusion of a veteran bat provides some comfort in experience and stability.

Plus, he can be referred to as The Looch in honor of Arnold’s old nemesis on “Diff’rent Strokes” – The Gooch.

The counterargument to adding a player like Dellucci and the ensuing depth on the roster is that none of these players (Michaels, Blake, Gutz, Choo, Garko) are valuable enough to merit that their definite inclusion on the 2007 team, which holds water until you remember that all these players need to do is complement the likes of Grady, Pronk, and Victor.
Nobody needs David Dellucci to be anything more than a complementary player and veteran presence. As a sign of the times for baseball economics, that’s what $11.5M will now get you.

While, at this point, this deal is only subject to evaluation on it’s own; it’s conceivable that this signing becomes the impetus to allow the Indians to give the bullpen a makeover without committing over $40M to adding Jamie Walker, Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, and Scott Williamson to doing so (which the Orioles have).

Allow Shapiro to be creative and improve the Indians early next week at the Winter Meetings.

The Dellucci signing is only the first move in what promises to be a few weeks full of them.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Rhymes with Moochie

Ken Rosenthal reports that David Dellucci has signed a 3-year deal to join the Tribe.

Dellucci is essentially a platoon OF who crushes RHP. With Michaels crushing LHP, it looks like LF is set with some amalgam of the two.

Rosenthal projects that the Indians will platoon Dellucci and Michaels in LF, play Choo in RF, and move Blake to 1B.

The odd men out, obviously, would be Garko and Gutierrez.
One or both could be used as trade bait to upgrade the bullpen.

Both still have options remaining, so they can always return to Buffalo, but don't be surprised if Garko finds his way to the Angels (to pry Scot Shields loose) or to Pittsburgh (in exchange for Mike Gonzalez).

Gutierrez could find his way elsewhere to fill the need for middle relief as he is now being pushed organizationally by the OF's behind him and the Front Office may see this as the perfect time to get some return for Frank the Tank.

On it's own, this signing doesn't excite too much. If it's a move that allows the Tribe to acquire the bullpen help that's not available on the FA market, we'll see what the second move brings before passing judgement.

Much more to come on the Dellucci signing, as we gear up for next week's Winter Meetings.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Lazy Throwback Sunday

After another dreadful showing on the lakefront, let’s turn our attention to the Indians (please, anything to forget about the Browns) with a Throwback Sunday:

Paul Hoynes reports that the Indians knew, going into the FA season that the market would be flush with money and guaranteed years. He mentions that Scot Shields is still on the radar to take over as closer, but that the Angels are looking for a substantial package of big-league players and minor leaguers.

Speaking of prospects-for-players deals, WTAM’s Mark Schwab reported yesterday that the Indians were actively pursuing acquiring Manny Ramirez from Boston. What the Red Sox asked for the Baby Bull was merely a package of Adam Miller, Fausto Carmona, and Trevor Crowe – with the Red Sox not picking up ANY of the remaining money on ManRam’s contract.

The response that Theo heard from the Tribe was the dial tone.

The illustrious Roger Brown said goodbye with his last column for the PD in typically dreadful fashion. In particular, he quotes an e-mail from Shapiro that is so full of vagaries and generalities, that you can almost picture Shapiro composing such an e-mail with a smirk on his face.

What’s shocking is that Brown had personal correspondence with Shapiro and failed to ask any relevant questions, asking questions that would obviously result in an easy sound bite.

Nice investigative reporting as usual, gumshoe, you will be missed.

There is a concern that I have with Brown moving on:
How am I going to find out when Mason Unck buys a house in the area?

With throwbacks being the recent vogue for Cleveland teams – some teams (the Cavs) faring better than the original players that filled out the uniforms than others (our beloved Brownies) – the question becomes when the Indians will break out the mid-1980’s uniforms.

Perhaps they’re avoiding them due to the old Indians’ Uprising SI Cover, but it’s time.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Keeping the Core Intact

As the masses are getting antsy that Free Agents are coming off of the board and the Indians have yet to make a signing, let’s explore the other route to spending money – extending current Indians.

Even if extending some of the players approaching the end of their contracts doesn’t affect the 2007 payroll, wouldn’t the Indians’ money be better spent to lock up the players that they know the best and have determined to be a part of that beloved “core”?

We’ll ignore the fact that the players, with all of the money being thrown around at marginal players, may not be interested in signing a deal today and would rather hit the Free Agent market when their contracts expire. That’s an argument for another day; for now, we’ll look at whether locking up these players in long-term deals is financially feasible for the Indians.

The players that would be most likely to be approached by the Front Office would be C.C. (FA after the 2008 season), Pronk (FA after his 2008 option of $4.75M is certain to be picked up), and Westbrook (FA at the end of this season).

Looking at some of the deals that have already gone down, would these players leave potential money on the table in the FA market for the safety and guaranteed money of extending their time with the Indians? Again, that’s another argument for another day, but what would it take for the negotiations to become serious?

For Westbrook, seeing as how Ted Lilly is reportedly looking for a 4-year, $36M deal, Jake would probably require a 4-year deal for about $44M-$48M to avoid the FA waters and stay in Cleveland. Whether that would be enough for him to stay is debatable, but that’s the ballpark. It’s a lot of guaranteed years for any starting pitcher, but Jake has rarely been hurt and his consistency and workload make him attractive to a lot of teams. The fact that multiple teams (like the Reds, Cubs, and Phillies) who play in bandboxes with excellent infield defense would LOVE to have a sinkerball pitcher the caliber of Westbrook is going to make him a valuable commodity on the open market.

Pronk would use Big Papi’s contract (signed prior to the 2006 season) of 4 years for $52M with a 2011 option of $12.5M as the basis for his deal. A similar deal will probably keep Hafner in Cleveland, possibly less. Hafner is only available to AL teams because his 1B defense is akin to a , but every AL team (minus the Red Sox) would salivate over the possibility of adding a LH bat like Pronk’s in the middle of the lineup. While it’s the same thing that we said about Thome, it’s possible that Hafner would offer the Tribe a hometown discount – but why risk it? Give Pronk his due and ensure that one of the premier hitters in baseball is anchoring the lineup for another 6 years.

The really big numbers are going to come out with the Crooked Cap. If Boston paid over $50M just to negotiate with a POTENTIAL ace, what would a 28-year-old (when his current deal expires) LH ace bring on the open market? It could be a 5-year deal (generally rare of for SP) worth $16M-$18M annually. That’s a deal worth between $80M and $90M. For players like C.C., whose career stats and drive to win (and for some national attention) could drive him to NYY or BOS or closer to home in SF – those numbers certainly aren’t out of the question.

Those are the hard facts for what those players would be looking for to stay in Cleveland and eschew the POTENTIAL riches on the FA market for the SECURITY and GUARANTEED money of signing contracts this off-season.

The question then becomes whether the Indians would be willing to pay those dollars to three players. The potential contracts for those 3 (at the high end of those projections) annually would be:
Westbrook - $12M
Hafner - $13M
Sabathia - $18M

Or, $43M tied up in 3 players every year.
Lots of money in not a lot of bodies, but why couldn’t it happen?
Is it that outside of the realm of possibililty for the Tribe to lock these players up?

At the risk of sounding like Costanza breaking into The Big Stein’s office, claiming that, “I think I may have found a way for us to get Bonds and Griffey, and we wouldn't have to give up that much.” - here’s the argument as to how they could, and why they should:

Because the Indians have locked up so many of their other young players to affordable, long-term deals, the payroll for the next few seasons is exceptionally flexible.

The other players under contract until, say 2010, are Victor (whose highest contract number is a $7M option in 2010), Peralta (whose highest contract number is a $7M option in 2011), Grady (whose highest contract number is a $8.5M option in 2012), and Lee (whose highest contract number is a $8M option in 2010).

If we make a quick amendment to the old Conan O’Brien sketch “In the Year 2000”, let’s fast-forward to the year 2010.
Pick up all of those options and the 2010 payroll spoken for is:
Victor - $7M
Peralta - $4.6M
Grady - $5.6M
Lee - $8M

That’s an additional $26.2M in those 4 players in 2010 (which is still 4 seasons away) to give a total of $69.2 in the “core” of 7 players.

Assuming that the farm system can produce players to play under contracts typical of younger players (like Barfield, Sowers, Marte, Crowe, and Adam Miller), the payroll won’t spin drastically out of control.

Following ShapiroSpeak for a while, that seems to be the plan – to augment a core of players with youngsters that fill holes on the team effectively and without breaking the bank.

With the way that payrolls (and revenue streams in a $3B TV deal, revenue sharing, Internet dollars, and international income –not to mention STO and the promise of years of labor peace) have leapt forward, a $95M payroll in 4 seasons, in 2010, is not out of the question.

That allows the Indians to have $25M on the remaining 18 roster spots, most of which should (if the farm system stays stocked) be playing for or around the league minimum.

If the $95M payroll looks out of this stratosphere, consider this – the Indians’ 2007 payroll is projected to be between $70M-$75M (and, admittedly, that number is a long way away). Consider that the payroll will rise about 10% a year with the sport flush with money.
The projected payrolls could roll on like this:
2007 - $75M
2008 - $82M
2009 - $90M
2010 - $99M
Granted, 10% is a healthy annual bump, but you get the idea.

Good teams win with superstar players complemented by a handful of good players with a sprinkling of role players and youngsters. By locking up the players already playing in Cleveland, the Indians have the opportunity to do just that. The superstars (C.C., Hafner, Grady) are complemented by a handful of good players (Westbrook, Lee, Peralta, Victor, Barfield, Sowers) with a sprinkling of youngsters (who knows who that will be 4 seasons from now – Marte, Crowe, Miller, etc. would be the examples).

The skeleton of this body of work is in place; it’s time to lock down the main components for the plan for the foreseeable future.

Let the rest of the league burden themselves with the contracts being signed this off-season, on lesser players than those on the current Indians’ roster. By signing these 3 players to substantial extensions, the continuity and potency of this young team stays intact without overpaying for that “one missing piece”.

These pieces are already here – keeping them here should be the focus, not overpaying for lesser Free Agents.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Making Sense of Nonsense

As the Free Agent signings spin out of control (how about Soriano’s contract running until he’s 38), and the names that the Indians had targeted are coming off of the board (Walker, Speier, Stanton, Garciaparra, Alou, Catalanotto etc.) – what are we to think?

First off, if the Indians had signed any of these players to these contracts, I think we would all be up in arms...4 years for Speier...a third year option to Stanton…who’s 39?!?

While it’s true that these players will (ideally) help their new clubs in the near future, these are the type of contracts that smart GM’s avoid. They are avoided because it handcuffs future spending, tying up dollars in bad contracts. If, when it comes time to extending C.C. or Hafner, would you rather have some extra jack to throw at them, or have Mike Stanton taking up a spot (and $3M) in the 2008 bullpen?

Secondly, as these contracts are inked, the players on the current roster’s value have to be escalating. If Juan Pierre is worth a 5-year, $45M deal, don’t Jason Michaels and (more obviously) Franklin Gutierrez have some value?

Here are their comparative stats for 2006 (OPS/HR/RBI):
Pierre - .717 / 3 / 40 in 699 AB
Michaels - .717 / 5 / 55 in 494 AB
Gutz - .648 / 1 / 8 in 136 AB

While it’s true that Pierre had 58 SB compared to Michaels’ 9 and The Tank’s big 0, either the Dodgers REALLY value the SB or we’re underestimating the attractiveness of our own outfielders.

After watching Michaels and Gutierrez last year, I don’t think that we’re vastly underestimating Michaels and/or Gutierrez. But, if these players are attractive to other teams and we can obtain a replacement corner OF (or, even if we don’t, give Choo the AB) – let’s allow this crazy market to drive up the values of these players and get some relievers for them.

Right now, it’s time to be patient. Free Agency, particularly with relievers, is a crapshoot and generally the teams that make the BIG splash (the Blue Jays last year, the Cubs this year) are no better off than they were in the previous year (unless Soriano is going to pitch in Wrigley).

Shapiro and Co. have seen the market set with these ridiculous contracts and will target guys that they can sign, without tying up future dollars that can be better spent to lock up homegrown talent.

Whether players like Roberto Hernandez or Joe Borowski excite you is not the concern (unless the Front Office sees either of them as potential closers), because they’re the type of players with experience, a track record, and without outrageous contract demands that will be targeted. Is it akin to having Mo Rivera set up for John Wetteland circa 1996? No, but it’s an improvement. And that’s what we’re looking for right now.

Nothing huge, just some tweaking to get this team closer to where we think it can end 2007.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Lazy Sloopy

With the Buckeyes heading to Glendale, let’s head into a Lazy Sloopy:
Paul Hoynes speculates that the Indians may be interested in Japanese LHP Kei Igawa as a bullpen option for this year. Igawa has been a starter throughout his Japanese League career, so it’s possible that the Indians use him in a middle relief role with the possibility of moving into the starting rotation if he finds success in the States.

Has Terry Pluto been reading the DiaTribe? He suggests that the Indians will be making their acquisitions via trade as the FA market has spun out of control. He sees guys like Frank the Tank, Guthrie and others as trade bait, though it’s debatable what these players will bring in deals.

He also reports that lots of teams are asking about Westbrook and Lee, which seems to be gaining momentum in some circles. The argument with Westbrook is that 2007 is his contract year and that the Indians should get something for him before he leaves via Free Agency.

This thinking drives me crazy as it reeks of a team in perpetual rebuilding mode. This team has rebuilt and is now ready to take the next step towards perpetual CONTENDING.

When is the moment that the Indians stop saying, "We are going to explore trading our own players, who we would like to sign, but are going to prove to be too expensive on the FA market, while we can still get them for something"?

Or, when does the discussion focus on locking up a guy like Westbrook or C.C. (players already here, under our control) for more years as opposed to what can we get for Westbrook now before we lose him to FA?

As long as it's a player we want to keep at a contract that isn't completely outrageous, I'd like to see this be the off-season.

They did it with C.C. once and have locked up the arbitration years of many of their young players, but I think that this NEEDS to be the off-season that the bona-fide core of the team is locked up through their late 20's and early 30's.

Enough of the trade talks involving guys like Westbrook and Lee (unless the return knocks us off of our barstools) because teams that contend have teams like Westbrook and Lee on their roster, not a few prospects acquired from trading them on their roster.

Off of the soapbox, Moises Alou is reportedly close to signing a 2-year deal with the Mets for less money than the Indians and Rangers were offering. While Alou would be a nice RH addition to the lineup, he’s a 40-year old on the downside of his career. Not the kind of guy you want to see a 2-year deal given to, regardless of past production.

Finally, Top Prospect Alert has emerged with the first 2007 list of the top 10 Tribe Prospects.

The list contains a number of lower minor league prospects (only 3 have played at or above AA) and it’s not hard to figure why – guys like Gutierrez, Sowers, and Cabrera can no longer be considered prospects. It’s now to the point that these players need to prove whether the hype bestowed upon them was deserved or just hot air.

Top prospect lists are always interesting to revisit, as the 2005 Baseball America list is (courtesy the Akron Aeros site) to see how the players have panned out.

From the 2005 list - guys like Gutierrez, Aubrey, Snyder, Pesco, and Brown have seen the luster come off of their stars. However, the others – Miller, Sowers, Carmona, Cabrera, and Garko are still seen as legitimate parts of this team going forward.

What’s interesting is that the list is only 2 years old and so much has changed. If the Indians are going to deal some prospects this off-season, it’s up to the Front Office and the Scouting Department to move the Snyders and Pescos while their value is at it’s peak rather than the Sowers and Garkos, whose development factors into the 2007 season and beyond.

One big game down this weekend (with the desired results), one to go.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Changing Gears?

Just a thought as the Rumor Mill and Free Agent Signings start to go into overdrive:
What if, finding that the FA Reliever market is as bad as previously thought (with bigger contracts), the Indians’ Front Office decides to divert their attention to the Free Agents on the market that can help the team, regardless of position?

That is, the Front Office realizes that the biggest hole on the team (the bullpen) cannot be fixed via FA alone and the lesser holes on the team can be filled more easily via Free Agency. The new Free Agent signees then make players currently on the roster expendable, which means that they can be traded for bullpen help.

For example, if the Indians sign Nomar Garciaparra to play 1B (which is, admittedly, unlikely because of the Dodgers wanting to sign him after losing J.D. Drew), it makes Ryan Garko available as trade bait. While Garko alone may not bring an answer for the bullpen, he can be used as part of a package to bring an arm to Cleveland.

Or, if the Tribe signs Luis Gonzalez to play the OF, it immediately makes Michaels and Gutierrez expendable (which, it can be argued, they already may be) to acquire an arm to the pen. Again, neither of these players is going to bring an answer on their own, but a package deal is not out of the question.

Knowing that every team is flush with money because of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and that contracts are going to get more outrageous going forward, expect the Indians to sign players to contracts that won’t become albatrosses around the organization’s neck in a year and a half.

Looking at the FA market (which we all knew was weak) for relievers, you have to wonder if Shapiro and Co. are going to find players that can help, regardless of position. When the dust settles after the signings, the Indians can re-evaluate where they have depth to trade from to fill the biggest hole that remains, the bullpen.

I read recently that a good GM does not sign relievers that have just had great years; they sign relievers about to have good years. Otherwise, you end up with overpaid underachievers instead of a bullpen (like Minnesota’s, as an example) in recent years, one that achieves great results without too much fanfare.

Not as easy as it sounds. And it doesn’t sound easy.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Arms Race

If the Indians’ plans to add 3 arms to the bullpen, it’s likely that at least 2 will be acquired from Free Agency. With the November 11th filing deadline behind us, here’s the final list.

A few names stand out, but expect the Indians to add a veteran RHP and LHP to fill the set-up roles for 2007.

The name that stands out among LHP is Jaime Walker, who we learned first-hand, was an extremely solid arm in the Detroit bullpen. He had a great 2006 and will likely command a multi-year deal. He's 35 and there's no guarantee of multiple years of success, but if the money is there to be spent, let’s get the top players available.

Walker’s success in 2006 proved that he could be successful in the AL, and particularly the AL Central. In addition to giving the Tribe that veteran LOOGY for next year (remember how many times he got Hafner out in tight jams), it would also weaken the Tigers’ bullpen, allowing the Indians to close ground on the defending Central Champs in more ways than one.

Walker, by the way, is reportedly looking for a 3-year deal. A bold demand for a 35-year old.

If Walker’s not the answer, it’s likely that the arm will come from this list:
J.C. Romero
Ray King
Alan Embree
Steve Kline
Mike Stanton

As for the RHP to fill the 8th inning role, the name that looks most attractive is Justin Speier, and not because when you say his name it sounds like you’re saying, “Just Inspire”. Inspire’s numbers have continually improved and he served as an excellent set-up man for B.J. Ryan in Toronto last year.

If Inspire becomes the hot name on the market, these would be the other players under consideration:
Miguel Batista
Danys Baez
Joe Borowski
Dan Kolb
Keith Foulke
Dustin Hermanson
Octavio Dotel
Tanyon Sturtze
Scott Williamson

Terry Pluto hits on the RHP in yesterday’s column and the name that still stands out is Just Inspire.

As an aside, back in college, we used to watch ECW wrestling where one of the guys was named Justin Credible. I always thought the name must’ve been thought of for him because of how clever it was.

Anyways, back to Just Inspire, he would fit perfectly into that 8th inning role, which allows Betancourt and Cabrera to move down a few notches in the pen.
Obviously, by adding more arms to the back of the pen, the domino effect takes hold.

The interesting thing to watch this off-season will be to see how many years and how much money theIndians will be willing to commit to pitchers who will not be closing games for them.

Has The Lesson of Bobby Howry been learned, that a good pitcher is a good pitcher and sometimes a team has to overpay, in terms of years and dollars, to ensure that the strongest bullpen can be created?

Howry received a 3-year deal for $12M, which isn’t out of the question for a pitcher like Speier in this market. Walker may not get that money, but he’ll be looking for the years.

After last year, I’m inclined to believe that the Indians will overpay for the players they want to fill the bullpen this off-season.

As for finding a closer, that will take a little more creativity and chutzpah, but after Josh Barfield fell into their laps, it’s starting to feel like Shapiro is going to pull another rabbit out of his hat.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Hot Stove Tomahawks

Since we haven’t talked about the Barfield deal yet, here’s Ken Rosenthal’s fascinating inside look at the anatomy of the deal. Rosenthal is that rare baseball insider who doesn’t try to make himself look more important then he is, or exhibit a hug East Coast bias (Gammons recently wrote that Jon Lester is a probable Hall of Famer).

The scouts’ insights into K2’s defensive deficiencies are pretty astounding and you have to wonder if the Indians DH’d him in Cleveland and played him at 1B in Arizona for a reason. If it’s true, then the Padres are getting fat on poor-fielding 3B developed by the Indians. Corey Smith, anyone? Russell Branyan?

I certainly wouldn’t put K2 in a category with those two (Corey Smith, the former Tribe #1 pick traded to the Padres for Jake Gatreau, is out of baseball), and I wish him the best in San Diego, where he should continue to stay classy.

From the Tribe perspective though, they had 3 players very similar in defensive availability, that is their scouts felt that Hafner, Garko, and Kouz could only DH or play 1B. One player had to go, and my guess is that Hafner wasn’t really considered. With the Padres infatuated with Kouzmanoff, the decision was made easier. Factor in Garko’s success at the BIG LEAGUE level, and you have the inner workings of a GM’s mind.

Did anyone else catch in the article that the Padres’ acquisition of Kouzmanoff may take them out of the Iwamura sweepstakes? If the Indians are hot on Iwamura, who may play LF in Cleveland, the trade reduced the number of potential suitors for him by one.

Actually, one of the most interesting parts of the article is the discussion having to do with Gary Sheffield being moved to the Tribe. It’s interesting because the Padres were willing to give up Scott Linebrink in this proposed deal. Forget Sheffield - Linebrink would look fantastic at the back end of the Indians’ bullpen. Ultimately, though, Shapiro filled a major hole with the player that was made available.

On the topic of Sheffeld to the Tigers - before anyone starts the, “this is the type of trade the Indians should be making”, stop – it’s not.

Does anyone else remember an AL Central team that, after a season of unexpected success, decided that it needed to add that one big bat? Instead of remembering that strong starting pitching, a lock-down bullpen, and a solid offense won them the World Series, the ChiSox HAD to have Jim Thome because that’s what they were lacking right?

How does Gary Sheffield make the Tigers lineup that much better than the Indians? Sure, he’ll add some better production from a corner OF spot – if he can stay healthy. He’s 38 right now, and the Tigers just handed him a 3-year deal. He’s coming off a season of injuries consistent with having a 38-year-old’s body (without the benefit of “flaxseed oil”) and he’s a noted malcontent.

On paper, I understand the move; but digging deeper into the make-up and identity of a baseball team – this is the kind of move that blows things up pretty quickly.

Then again, maybe Dombrowski and Leyland are trying to re-create 1997. If Alou, Counsell, Conine, Kevin Brown, and Livan Hernandez show up in Detroit this winter, you heard it here first.

If I have to hear the likes of Kenny Roda praise the Tigers while bemoaning the Dolans’ cheapness (Roda actually said on the Barfield trade when it broke, “I don’t know who this guy is, but I’m sure the Dolan’s didn’t have to open their wallet to get him”), I’ll go crazy.

How is it that nobody understands that strong pitching wins championships and that addition of a big bat may pacify a fan base and sell tickets, but it’s not the way that successful teams are built.

You would think in Cleveland, where the Sluggin’ Tribe of the ‘90s always fell JUST short because of pitching, that people would get that.
But they don’t.
Luckily, the guy who does is the one calling the shots.

The other news in the wigwam is that Buck Showalter is negotiating with the Indians to become a senior advisor, or as Paul Hoynes writes, to help them develop their new Spring Training Site in Arizona. Is this the veteran baseball guy that was missing in the organization in 2006?

With no Buddy Bell or Mike Hargrove, it was all on Wedge and his band of yes men, none of whom have the experience of a Showalter. Showalter could be that sounding board or second pair of eyes that could really help Wedge’s management.

That sounding board, or second opinion, is something that has been lacking since Robby Thompson left. Robby Thompson, you say? Yes, Robby Thompson.
They were 25-28 when Robby Thompson became the bench coach on June 4th of 2005 and finished 93-69. That means that the Tribe went 68-41 when Thompson was the bench coach, not to mention the fact that Thompson was the 2005 Infield Coach and coaxed a solid year of fielding out of Broussard, Belliard, Peralta, and Boone. The only difference in 2006 with that infield (which we all know was dreadful) is that Thompson had decided that he wanted to spend more time with his high school age sons and Luis Rivera became the Infield Coach.

Coaches only make so much of a difference, but those facts are hard to ignore.

I don’t buy that Showalter is the manager-in-waiting any more than Francona or Hargrove were managers-in-waiting when they filled similar roles. Shapiro and Wedge like to be surrounded by experienced baseball people and seem confident enough in their own job security that they don’t see these baseball people as threats to their jobs.

It’s early November and the Hot Stove League is putting off some heat.
Sit back and enjoy the glow.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Barfield - Day 2

Looking deeper into the Barfield deal, a few things came to light:

When putting together the middle infield wish list a few weeks ago, Barfield wasn’t mentioned because…well…there’s no way that Barfield was thought to be available. Why the Padres would trade a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate with no feasible alternative available is beyond me. Credit Shapiro, once again, for recognizing a team infatuated with one of his players (Coco to Beantown) and filling an organizational need with a highly thought of player under the age of 24 with ML experience.

As someone mentioned on the LGT, the trade illustrates what separates us “armchair GM’s” from the Real McCoy. Probably at some point in the Boone discussion this past season, the Padres asked about K2; Shapiro filed it away under “someday”, asked for the player that he wanted – and got him! As creative as we all think we are, there’s a reason that Shapiro does what he does.

Barfield hits lefties very well (.965 OPS), but struggles against righties (.675 OPS) and batted last year in the 8 hole in San Diego, not seeing a lot of good pitches as he was protected by the pitcher. Now figure in that Sizemore struggles against lefties (.718 OPS) and crushes righties (1.003 OPS). With Hafner being an equal-opportunity masher (1.100 vs. LH, 1.095 vs. RH, which is ridiculous, by the way), Barfield really fits in perfectly in that 2 hole. Teams wouldn’t be able to throw a LHP or a RHP against the top of the order because the LHP to get Sizemore out would be right in Barfield’s wheelhouse. Any time that you can make the other team burn arms in their bullpen, it works to your advantage. The fact that he would hit in front of Pronk and see fastball after fastball would represent quite a change from Barfield's experiences in San Diego. Barfield’s move to the 2 hole may not be immediate as the Indians could want to ease him into the AL, but the change will eventually be made.

The athleticism and speed of this team (two glaring weakness at the beginning of 2006) have been improved vastly with the additions of Barfield and Choo (albeit with an undefined role). The speed of Sizemore, Barfield, Choo, and smart baserunning of Blake give this team a much better presence on the basepaths than the likes of Boone, Belliard, and Luna.

The fact that Barfield, at this point in his career, projects to be mainly a doubles hitter means that the Indians have players with the ability to hit the gaps and leg out extra-base hits. Everyone who thought that Coco Crisp was an exciting player to fit in with this group, in terms of hustle and effort, are going to love Barfield’s approach at the plate, on the basepaths, and in the field.

This move immediately helps not only the offense, but also the defense and, in turn, the pitching staff. With pitchers like Westbrook, Sowers, and Byrd who pitch to contact (mainly with groundball outs), the improved infield defense is a huge plus.

Off the Barfield topic, but still on the Tribe - the lineup in its current incarnation looks like this:
CF Sizemore
2B Barfield
DH Hafner
C Martinez
1B Garko
RF Blake
SS Peralta
LF Choo/Michaels/Gutierrez
3B Marte

Not too bad, eh?
If Shapiro really wants to add a corner OF bat, it will improve the lineup; but the money and attention should first be spent on LOADING up the bullpen and possibly adding a starter with the idea that Paul Byrd can be moved to fill another need.

Keep in mind, also, that a big bat is easier to add at the trade deadline than a decent arm. Even if the Indians don’t spend all of their allotted money this off-season, remember that players like Bobby Abreu and Shawn Green were acquired (for not a lot) mid-season.

I’d be comfortable with the Indians spending money on pitching and setting some aside for when that bat becomes available.

Finally, while it’s relatively old news, Francisco Liriano is out for the 2007 season. Throw in the fact that Brad Radke is expected to retire and the strong pitching rotation in Minnesota has been reduced to Santana, Silva, Boof Bonser, and prospects.

Though the announcement is tough news for the Twins, it’s great news for the Tribe’s chances in the Central in 2007.

Although it’s only November, things are looking good right now.

What we need, obviously, is for things to look VERY good 11 months from now.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Off on the Right Foot

Superlatives fail to explain how unbelievably great today was for your Cleveland Indians!

In a flash, the Hot League season is upon us as the Indians acquired 2B Josh Barfield from the San Diego Padres for IF Kevin Kouzmanoff and P Andrew Brown.

After examining this trade for a little bit here, I’m still looking for a significant downside from the Indians perspective.

Barfield is a 23-year-old 2B who is an above average fielder, who hit .280 in his 2006 (his rookie season) with 13 HR, 32 Doubles, 21 SB, and is under the Indians control for the next 5 years, the next few at the league minimum.

He fills two holes, one at 2B, the other in the 2-hole in the lineup. As a RH hitter, he slots perfectly between Sizemore and Hafner and his numbers should actually improve as he moves from spacious Petco Park in SD to the friendly confines (and smaller dimensions) of the Jake, not to mention the natural progression of any hitter.

Barfield’s inclusion in the lineup brings more speed to the team, and his glove means that Peralta will be surrounded by above-average defenders every day, and not the likes of Aaron Boone and Joe Inglett/Hector Luna, whose range was downright laughable.

While it’s frustrating to see a player like Kouzmanoff, who really burst onto the scene with a fantastic 2006, go – this move represents a departure from former moves by this Front Office. They sold HIGH on a prospect, not waiting for him to be exposed or to see his value plummet (think Jason Davis). It also means that the Indians chose Garko, and his MLB success, over the promise of Kouzmanoff’s MiLB success.

The concerns about Kouzmanoff’s back and hamstring issues, limiting him to play 3B, 1B, or DH probably played a major role in his availability. It will be interesting to see where the Padres plan on playing K2, as he has yet to make it through a complete season healthy. Even more so because he’ll be playing without the benefit of DH’ing every so often, causing more stress on his troubled back.

Kouzmanoff’s performance in the Arizona Fall League (where he was certainly being showcased for scouts) didn’t hurt his marketability.

Brown, to me, is a throw-in – unless the Padres see something that the Indians were unable to coax out of Brown last year. He may end up in the Padres’ pen, but he was likely not to be in Cleveland and (being out of options) is a perfect piece to add to the deal.

When all is said and done, Shapiro filled the #1 hole on the team without trading ANYONE who was being counted on to contribute significantly in 2007. That, by definition, is a coup.

But, even more exciting, is that the Indians have solved their problems at 2B and between Grady and Pronk in the lineup without touching any FA money or dealing a significant arm.

The bullpen and rotation can still be fortified (along with the possibility of adding another bat) with the same dollar amount that the Indians stood at before this deal.

I’m not sure how the Padres benefit from this deal, but that’s not a major concern…actually, it’s not a concern at all.

This pre-emptive strike was the kind of move that we had been hoping for, an aggressive, creative move that dealt from areas of strength to remedy weaknesses. If this is an indication of what we can expect this off-season, I’m already salivating.

Much more on the deal tomorrow as we’re off to child-birthing class.
The DiaBride and DiaperTribe (a nod to my buddy Joyce on that one over some Christmas Ales) take precedent over this exciting news.

And this is EXCITING news!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Lazy Sunday on the Hot Stove

Lots of Hot Stove League Talk to get to on a Lazy Sunday:

Paul Hoynes hits on all of the high points of rumors to this point.

The most interesting parts of the story include the fact that the Indians wouldn’t play Akinori Iwamura at 2B, but would use him to help Marte at 3B and to play the OF (doesn’t sound like the perfect fit that it once did), that the Indians are likely to add one Japanese arm to the bullpen, that the Tribe wants 2 lefties in the pen (one a veteran, late-inning LOOGY, the other an in-house option), and that Craig Counsell is on the Indians radar, which means that either Hoynes reads Ken Rosenthal or there’s validity to this point.

Speaking of Rosenthal, he lists the Tribe as a suitor for Marcus Giles, among others. It's someting that's been heard before, but Rosenthal looks at it from all angles, not just the Indians.

Terry Pluto quashes that Ronnie Belliard’s Return talk, while exploring the middle infield options.

He also touches on the confusing fact that Kouzmanoff is playing 1B in the Arizona Fall League, giving the Indians 2 young RH 1B in K2 and Garko-my-God-did-you-see-how-far-he-hit-that. Pluto’s answer is that one of the two will be dealt, but the Front Office better be right about which one to keep as either would have to be dealt before Spring Training (as that’s when most deals get done), not giving them the luxury of pitting the 2 in direct competition in Winter Haven.

Pluto also senses (and he usually has someone directing these “senses”) that the Tribe is looking to add that corner OF, probably via trade.

One corner OF option that has been entertained has been Luis Gonzalez, who had lunch with Shapiro. As long as the Tribe doesn’t need to commit to a multi-year deal or a big number, Gonzalez would actually be a good fit, as a RH doubles hitting bat that would slot in nicely between the 3 and 6 holes.

Lots of talk, without any REAL information - but that's what the Hot Stove League is all about.

Sit back, get creative, and wait for the fur to fly.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Smoke Signals and the King

As the snowflakes fall, let’s turn up the Hot Stove with some recent happenings:

In a surprise to no one, K2 and Adam Miller won the Indians’ Minor League Player and Pitcher Awards. Interestingly, Miller may follow the same path as the 2005 Bob Feller Award winner, Jeremy Sowers – start at AAA with the possibility of helping the Tribe, if needed, around July/August if he blows away folks in Buffalo as he has at every other stop in his young career.

Billy Dot got busted for PED’s and will sit out the first 50 games of 2007. I’m not sure if this makes me feel better about Mota’s inability to handle the 8th inning. His inefficiency blew the back end of the Tribe bullpen which, among other things, played an instrumental role in a disappointing 2006 season.

While I’m no expert on steroids (picture the “Before” guy in any of those NordicFlex commercials and you’ve got the visual), Mota’s “rebirth” with the Mets may have a final explanation. But when did he start taking them? While he was in Cleveland or when he went to NY, sparking a rise in confidence, or recovery time, or a few extra MPH?

Regardless, the success that Mota experienced in NY won’t earn him any kind of guaranteed money in a contract, which counts for something, I guess.

Let’s all hope that Mota’s locker wasn’t next to any other struggling relievers when he was in Cleveland, particularly those with one strike against them already…I’m looking in your direction, Mr. Betancourt.

For Buster Olney’s take, check out T-Bone’s post from the comments section of the last post.

Pronk and The Stick topped the Elias’ annual player rankings at their respective positions in the AL.

The list of Free Agents is growing and will continue to do so, but here’s the current list. It’s not a real impressive list and, with the new labor agreement in place, there will be a number of bidding wars for marginal players.

The bidding wars could make players like Paul Byrd and Jason Michaels more attractive for a trade. Who wouldn’t want Byrd at $7M the Adam Eatons of the world are going to command $9M-$10M?

The Newark Star-Ledger is reporting that the Indians (along with Houston and San Francisco) are interested in acquiring Gary Sheffield after his one-year option (for $13M, $4.5M of which is deferred) is picked up by the Yankees. In a perfect world, this move would make a lot of sense for the Indians, who would add a power-hitting RH hitter and fill the hole in RF (Blake would move to LF) for the 2007 Tribe.

Sheffield, however, has already said publicly that he doesn’t want the Yankees to pick up the option as he feels that he should be playing under a 3-year deal and, if he were traded, would expect his new team to extend his deal.

The stance furthers the idea that Sheffield is a malcontent and a potential clubhouse cancer, regardless of the numbers he is capable of putting up, which are pretty incredible.

One wonders how much the “flaxseed oil” that his buddy Barry sent him will affect his immediate future. Taking his age (he turns 38 on November 18th) into consideration and what seems like a natural fit doesn’t look like such a natural.

If this is the TYPE of player that the Indians are targeting – fantastic…just as long as it’s not THIS player.

With the Cavaliers season underway, be sure to get your tickets to next Tuesday’s game, when they’ll be giving away a LeBron Bobblehead with LBJ in the old CAVS oranges.

It’s actually a pretty realistic King, so get your PayPal ready if you can’t make it.

Personally, I’m waiting for the time that the Q becomes “The Kingdom” and every paper’s headline reads “The King and His Court” or something to that extent when describing LeBron’s exploits. The nickname of King James seems to have disappeared for a while, but it remains my favorite one because of its simplicity and perfection on so many levels.

Finally, did anyone know that Chris Jent is the new Cavaliers’ Assistant Coach/Director of Player Personnel? Yes, THAT Chris Jent.