Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How Far Away is Spring Training?

In case you missed it (and in this ridiculously slow time, sports-wise, this is news) Jeremy Guthrie has been claimed by the Baltimore Orioles, ending the former 1st round pick’s tenure with the Tribe. Before anybody says that this is an instance of the Indians giving up on a prospect (and invoking the name of the current 2B for the Reds), receiving nothing in return, consider this – Guthrie turns 28 in April and has compiled a 1.76 WHIP over 37 MLB innings since being drafted in 2002. Over the course of his career, he’s proven to be more of a AAAA pitcher than a legitimate prospect, regardless of the money he made or his draft position.

If there was any doubt that the Indians had soured on any chance of Guthrie succeeding in Cleveland, you only have to look at the pitchers that hit the Jake BEFORE him from Buffalo. You would have to think that with the turnstile that occupied the bullpen last year, if Guthrie had a good shot of making a worthwhile contribution at some point in the future, wouldn’t the organization have given him a crack over waiver wire claim Brian Sikorski or the 2nd round pick from the same year, Brian Slocum?

It’s true that Guthrie had a nice season at Buffalo last year, but that’s a nice year by a 27-year old who had already logged 47 starts in AAA from 2003 to 2005.
So, the luster had come off of his star long ago.

Maybe Leo Mazzone can pull a magic act and resurrect his career as he did so many pitchers in Atlanta, but the O’s won’t have the option of sending Guthrie to the minors if it Mazzone’s miracle cure doesn’t show immediate results to adjust to the level of competition, as Guthrie did in AAA over those 47 starts.

Seeing the likes of Gil Meche and Ted Lilly get rich this off-season, I thought that Guthrie could perhaps fetch the Indians something in return, but Guthrie is only a little over 2 years younger than Jason Stanford, who at least had a modicum of success in Cleveland in 2003 and 2004, and has better overall Minor League numbers than Guthrie.

If the Indians traded Stanford, would you expect anything more than a case of beer?

While it’s true that Stanford cleared waivers last year and Guthrie was claimed, their minor league numbers are similar enough to make the comparison. Really, if you take away that 1st round designation from Guthrie, this DFA and waiver claim is nothing more than a player looking for a change of scenery to kick-start a MLB career.

If Guthrie can pull a U-turn on his career path in Baltimore, more power to him.
But, in Cleveland, for Jeremy Guthrie, it was unlikely to ever turn around in the positive direction. Regardless of any future successes he may experiences – that needs to be remembered.

On another topic, after hearing a report that Hector Luna still needs to lose weight (ugh), is there any possibility that we can we send him (and his frying pan glove) back to San Luis…today?

With Eckstein and Kennedy set at SS and 2B at Busch, they could use Luna’s bat off the bench more than the Indians (who more obviously need a slick-fielding MI) could.

And aren’t Luna and Pujols supposed to be boys?

Actually, wouldn’t Luna fill the Cardinals’ criteria for a backup middle infielder while their current backup MI, Aaron Miles, would fit the Indians’?

Miles has the ability to play SS (39 games there in 2006), is a decent defender (higher range factor and zone rating than noted defensive specialist Orlando Hudson last year); and although he is an offensive liability as an everyday fixture in the lineup (.682 career OPS) he’s not too much different than Johnny Mac, who everyone decries as “what we really are looking for”, but is not available.

Speaking of all of these 2B in St. Louis and Cleveland, where is Ronnie Belliard going to play in 2007?
Just checking, because it’s getting close to Spring Training and Jelly is still without a contract.

Finally, after watching “Teen Wolf” countless times on HBO in the last few weeks, I can only hope that the Atomic Wedgie relays Coach Bobby Finstock’s 3 Laws of Life when counseling the troubles of the young Indians.

Those obviously being:
1) Never get less than twelve hours sleep
2) Never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city
3) Never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body
Of course, as Coach Finstock says, “Now you stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese.”
Styles used to be the hands-down favorite from the movie (with good reason), but Coach Finstock is an absolute legend. He’s on screen for a total of, like, 10 minutes. But he uncorks all of these beauties.

If the Lake Erie Snow Machine (which apparently is the new moniker from the local hack weathermen) has you down, here’s some news to brighten your day:
Wait for it…
…only 14 days until Pitchers and Catchers Report.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Youth IS Being Served

In Paul Hoynes’ mailbag, a complaint that’s been making its rounds recently, that the Indians are blocking their young players with marginal veterans, is addressed.

The reasoning behind the argument is that the signings of Nixon and Dellucci are the latest in a long line of veterans signed by Shapiro that blocked homegrown talent. The argument continues that it started with Juan Gonzalez blocking Sizemore (which sorted itself out in Spring Training), then continued with Jason Johnson blocking Carmona and Sowers and Danny Graves taking a bullpen spot away from a young reliever last year.

In actuality, the Indians’ history of putting faith in their farm system and youngsters is pretty admirable. Some have panned out (Peralta…for 2005, at least), some have not (Phillips) and very few could have ever imagined that players like Sizemore and Sowers would experience the phenomenal success that they did right away.

The lesson of Brandon Phillips, in 2003, is probably the reason that the Indians don’t just hand starting jobs to any youngsters, making them earn their way onto the team instead. Phillips was given the 2B job, completely flopped, and started a series of events that led to his trade to Cincinnati (which was not the giant gaffe most believe it to be if you look at the complete body of work that Phillips put together from 2003 on…but that’s another discussion for another day). The lesson of Phillips was not to simply hand a young player a job, without having earned it on a consistent basis in MLB or without any competition from a player who has performed consistently in MLB.

That’s why the Indians brought in Nixon and Dellucci to take the place of Gutz and Choo and the bullpen arms to replace the youngsters we saw at the end of last year. If one of the prospects dazzle in AAA, they’ll force their way into the parent club’s plans; but if they struggle, they’re doing it in Buffalo, not Cleveland.

And really, are Nixon, Dellucci, and the bullpen arms really blocking any of their young talent?

Not unless you want to see Gutierrez and Choo cut their teeth on MLB pitching on an everyday basis when this team is poised to contend, or would like to see the Tribe break camp with a bullpen comprised of Betancourt, Cabrera, Miller, Davis, Mastny, Perez, and Mujica.

Judging by interviews with the position players this off-season, they certainly weren’t in favor of doing so. Put it this way – if you’re Grady, sitting in CF, watching the young bullpen blow save after save or watching Choo wave at pitches from LHP, would you have a lot of confidence that these young players will “turn the corner” before another season is frittered away? Or would you rather see Borowski and Foulke trot in from the bullpen to protect a late-inning lead and see professional hitters like Nixon protecting you in the lineup?

And what of allowing some youngsters some space on the roster?
Ah…no, the roster is tremendously young, even with the new players.
To wit, take a look at the ages of the likely 25-man roster on Opening Day:
Martinez – 28
Shoppach – 26
Garko – 26
Barfield – 24
Peralta – 24
Marte – 23
Luna – 27
Blake – 33
Nixon – 32
Sizemore – 24
Dellucci – 33
Michaels – 30
Hafner – 29
Sabathia – 26
Westbrook – 29
Lee – 28
Sowers – 23
Byrd – 36
Borowski – 35
Foulke – 34
Hernandez – 42
Fultz – 33
Betancourt – 31
Cabrera – 25
Davis – 26

So, before the signings of the platoon OF and the bullpen arms, there were 4 guys over the age of 30. Is that an old roster, devoid of young players given a chance to succeed?

If anything, the veteran signings were made to add some experience to a young roster. Because the Indians’ best players all fall under the age of 30, signings like this become a necessity to add some MLB experience to a core of players with a limited amount of service time, not an indication of an organizational strategy to impede the progress of young talent.

Knowing that the Indians remain one of the youngest teams in the Majors and that none of the “blocked” talent is truly ready to contribute, the argument that the Indians keep “blocking” these young players just doesn’t hold water.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Prospecting

With some downtime between the Hot Stove and Spring Training, the Top Prospect Lists are coming fast and furious. These rankings always strike me as a bit arbitrary; as most people who put these lists together have never seen the prospects play and rely instead on pure stats and reputation.

The stats part is easy to see who’s thriving, but there are always other factors involved like age (a 24-year old playing against 19-year olds can be reminiscent of a dodgeball game involving Billy Madison) that complicate matters. Some players stay on these lists based on name recognition only (Jeremy Guthrie, as a 26-year old, still made some of these lists), but the players will separate themselves on the field this year.

Regardless, the lists are interesting to look at as it gives fans some names to watch as the season progresses in Buffalo, Akron, Kinston, and Lake County.

And away we go:
The exhaustive Top 75 from SI.com includes Adam Miller at #10, Lofgren at #46, Crowe at #57, and Barton earning an honorable mention nod. By the way, Kouzmanoff is #59.

Top Prospect Alert has another Indians-only Top 10 ranking.

Baseball Prospectus provides a comprehensive look at the Top 10, though you need a subscription to see 4 through 10.

John Sickels, who knows more than probably anybody about minor league players, lists his top 20, grading them out.

Baseball America and Chris Kline (who used to write about the Kinston Indians for the local paper) gave a “State of the Tribe Farm” last November and gives his Top 10, along with the annual “Best of…” the organization.

Since it’s difficult to gauge where the prospects rate against each other, due to them all being at different stages in their development, here’s a modified “Top Prospect List”, breaking down 5 names to watch on each level. I’ve omitted the names that you already know or have already seen for an extended period of time in Cleveland (Gutierrez, Carmona, Mujica, Mastny, and Perez) or have more than 50 IP or 130 ML AB.

The Fab Five (by level):
Buffalo
SP Adam Miller – See any of the above links if you’re still unaware of him to see the hype.
RP Tony Sipp – Talented LHP likely to see the Jake this summer…and not on a tour.
SS Asdrubal Cabrera – Slick-fielding youngster who struggled at the plate in 2006.
OF Brad Snyder – Former 1st rounder needs to significantly cut down on K rate.
SP JD Martin – A year off of Tommy John surgery, he’ll look to recapture the dominance of 2005.

Akron
SP Chucky Lofgren – 2007, and AA, will be a big test to see if a monster 2006 was no fluke.
OF Russell Crowe – Terrific in Gladiator and Master and Commander. Wait, who?
OF Brian Barton – An old 24 to be in AA, but his .923 in 2006, regardless of level, is undeniable.
SP Scott Lewis – Still limited by arm issues, a 0.97 WHIP & a 1.48 ERA over 115+ IP bode well.
OF Jordan Brown – 2006 Carolina League Player of the Year in Kinston is under the radar…for now.

Kinston
OF John Drennan – Time for this former 1st rounder to be known for more than a HR off of Clemens.
C Max Ramirez – Acquired for Sticky, he may end up elsewhere due to suspect defense; but he can hit.
SP Joe Ness – Big RHP who gets lost in the shuffle, but K/BB ratio from 2006 is a great sign.
OF Jose Costanza – “Can’t Stand Ya” is a little speedster who gets on base a ton.
SP James Deters – One of many young SP in Kinston; someone (maybe Deters) will take the next step.

Lake County
Mostly 2006 Draft Picks to watch here, so not too many results, just draft expectations.
SP David Huff – 2006 1st Round Pick
3B Wes Hodges – 2006 2nd Round Pick (no 2006 stats due to injury)
OF Josh Rodriguez – 2006 2nd Round Pick
C Matt McBride - 2006 2nd Round Pick
SP Joshua Tomlin – 2006 19th Round Pick pitched very well for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in 2006.

It’s an imperfect “Top 20” list, but these would be the names to watch when perusing the stats from the Tribe minor league teams as the season goes forward. Certain players like Sean Smith and Jensen Lewis could catapult into the forefront, but these players certainly present a list of (to steal ESPN the Magazine’s) Who2Watch4 in 2007.

With that farming out of the way, how about this farm boy and his SI spread?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Comfort Zone

Today’s PD addresses the possibility of Westbrook signing a contract extension, including all of the cuddly language that is so prevalent prior to contract negotiations.

Now, Westbrook appears to be a great guy.
In fact, last summer, while having dinner at an outdoor patio at a Crocker Park restaurant, one of my friends recognized Westbrook coming into the restaurant. As he left with his take-out, we commented about how it must be difficult for athletes to go anywhere without being approached by someone who feels that they know them, probably resulting in them rarely being able to eat in a restaurant.
Scintillating dinner conversation, I know.

No sooner had we finished the conversation did we see an older guy stop Westbrook and start bending his ear. Westbrook was obviously very cordial as he nodded quietly, while the guy carried on an animated one-person conversation. Our attention was diverted elsewhere as we discussed the pros and cons of being a pro athlete when our food arrived.

After we finished eating, my buddy noticed that Westbrook was STILL talking to the old guy, some 30 minutes later. Westbrook was still standing there, speaking every so often, but mostly agreeing with whatever ridiculousness was coming out of this guy’s mouth.

Thankfully, the guy’s wife finally came out of a store and, presumably, convinced her husband to leave the nice, young man alone. Westbrook said good-bye and continued to his car, probably a solid 45 minutes after picking up his food at the restaurant, simply by being polite to a fan.

The story is told to show that Westbrook is a very genuinely polite and nice guy who is unlikely to embarrass the Indians with a poor decision.

That being said, the notion that he’s going to stick around in Cleveland because he’s “comfortable” came right out of the Clich├ę Handbook. And the “nice guy” label doesn’t get you much more punch than the rest of the folks at the party (see Thome, Jim), so these warm and fuzzies floating around in January aren’t going to get the Indians much further than any other prospective team this coming November.

Unfortunately, fans see today’s article – somehow take it as gospel that Westbrook wants to stay in his comfort zone of Cleveland, regardless of price – and file it away in the recesses of their brains as ammunition to ride the Dolans for not ponying up the cash if Jake doesn’t end up in Cleveland.

There’s no doubt that Westbrook will join the Tribe at the negotiating table this Spring Training to discuss extension; but, with the money given to lesser pitchers than Westbrook this off-season, expect Westbrook to go into a contract year attempting to accentuate his value as a Free Agent.

If, for instance, Westbrook wins another 15 games with an ERA around 4.00 in 200+ innings in 2007, he’s in line for a HUGE contract – both in terms of years and guaranteed money.

Unless the Indians completely blow away what Westbrook thinks he can earn on the open market (it would probably take a 5-year deal worth $60M for Jake to even consider eschewing the riches that will be on his table next year) at the Spring Training negotiating table, expect Westbrook to test the waters.

From the other dance partner's persepective, with Miller and Carmona in the pipeline and C.C. and Hafner taking priority over Jake, the Indians are unlikely (and justifiably so) to offer such a deal.

It’s a situation that bears watching as some have suggested that the team trade Westbrook before they lose him to FA – something a team in position to contend simply can’t afford to do without a legitimate replacement already in line.

Maybe Westbrook is that rare bird that puts more stock in comfort of surroundings than financial comfort.
Despite all the best intentions and his comments, I’ll believe that Westbrook is such a person when he’s sitting at a press conference announcing an extension with the Tribe.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Trotman's Sunday

As the dust has settled on the surprising Colonel Trotman (I know it’s Troutman in First Blood) signing, the question remains whether the move was truly necessary. That is, will Nixon taking over the LH portion of the RF platoon outperform Choo to the degree that it was worth $3M?

The good folks over at the Baseball Think Factory have produced what they call their ZIPS Projections for 2007, which includes all MLB players. Here’s how the BLC and the Colonel compare (someday I'll figure out how to make this look better):


Name-BA/OBP/SLG/AtBat/H/R/2B/HR/RBI/BB/K/SB/RC27/RC
Choo-.280/.361/.427/482/135/81/27/12/62/59/100/18/5.5/76
Nixon-.272/.371/.415/357/97/52/24/9/50/53/52/1/5.6/57

Pretty similar comparing the disparity in projected AB of 125 with Trot coming in higher (slightly) in the Antonetti-favorite of OBP and MUCH lower in K’s. In fact, adjusting for the disparity, Choo clocks in at a higher only at R & SB. The 2nd last column contain figures refer to runs created, a stat created by Bill James designed to estimate the number of runs a hitter contributes to his team. The numbers, obviously, are very similar.

Before moving on, you may ask yourself, who comes up with these projections (ZIPS is just one of the projections out there)?
Remember NORAD in WarGames? While I’m sure it’s not like that, I like to think that there are a bunch of middle-aged men in short sleeve collared shirts and skinny ties with bad comb-overs and horn-rimmed glasses, chain smoking and pounding pots of coffee while sweating uncontrollably, staring desperately at giant computer screens in some secret location trying to figure out how many times Choo is going to be HBP in 2007.

In reality, it’s probably a program some 14-year-old developed that just needs raw data. I still hope the program has a name like WOPR or HAL, though.

Speaking of HAL, not to go all Cliff Clavin on you but…ah…it’s a little know fact that Stanley Kubrick gave the name of HAL to the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey because the letter H, A, and L precede the letters I, B, and M in the alphabet.

But I digress.
Back to the Choo/Nixon quandary and the fact that if Choo would have provided comparable production in the RF platoon, why sign Nixon? Would that $3M be better spent elsewhere at some point in the season or at the negotiating table with Jake, Pronk, and C.C?

Perhaps, but the idea of Choo adjusting to MLB on the fly, along with Marte doing the same, while Barfield learns the nuances of the pitchers in the AL, AND the idea that Jhonny Peralta’s regression in 2006 could be more than just an anomaly must have kept the Mylanta close enough to Shapiro’s lips to make the move. Having all of these young players go through these adjustment periods early in a season so dependent on getting a fast start in the Central more than likely proved to be too much uncertainty for Shapiro to stand pat.

In Nixon, the Indians get a player familiar with the American League who will play only against RHP, allowing his body the appropriate time to heal and stay healthy throughout the season. In the meantime, Choo will return to AAA (where he thrived last year at Tacoma) to improve his K rate and his ability to hit LHP.

Whether the move was a necessity is a point that can be debated ad nauseam, but the Dirt Dog (Nixon’s Boston nickname) is in Cleveland to provide some certainty and stability to a team that is, no question, making the push in 2007.

With Nixon in the fold, the lineup shakes out like this:
Vs. RHP
CF – Sizemore
RF – Nixon
DH – Hafner
C – Martinez
1B – Blake
LF – Dellucci
SS – Peralta
3B – Marte
2B – Barfield

Vs. LHP
CF – Sizemore
LF – Michaels
DH – Hafner
C – Martinez
RF – Blake
SS – Peralta
1B – Garko
3B – Marte
2B – Barfield
Every so often, Shoppach would see some time instead of Garko, with Victor shifting down to 1B to ease the wear and tear of catching on the Stick. So, all of you Garko-my-God-did-you-see-how-far-he-hit-that? fans out there, Gonnie Garko will play in about ½ of the Indians’ games this season and the addition of Nixon (another LH bat) virtually assures Garko a spot on the 25-man roster.
With that, let’s take a wide berth on a Lazy Sunday, catching up on the week that was:
SI’s John Donovan reports on the different approaches to building a bullpen, employed this off-season by the Braves, O’s, and Tribe.

FoxSports.com’s Dayn Perry marks the Tribe as the team to beat in the Central. Who’s Dayn Perry? The ONLY guy who said, prior to 2006, that the Tigers were a vastly improved team poised for a breakout. Something for which he was mocked unmercifully by some guy…ahem.

SI.com’s Jon Heymann gives the Indians a nice off-season grade as he examined the moves made by AL teams.

Terry Pluto weighs in with his usual dose of logic and optimism on the Trotter.

Paul Hoynes reports that the search for Jhonny v.2005 is in full swing and that Peralta wears shirts with inspirational messages. Hoynesie also reports that Johnny Mac is working out at Jacobs Field, though there’s no chance the Blue Jays will give him up to fill the hole in the Tribe MI. If you’re the Blue Jays, doesn’t that strike you as odd and….um…not a good sign for team chemistry that one of your players is working out with ANOTHER big-league club?

Finally, for that Christmas gift that you forgot, or realized while in line at the Team Shop that you were about to purchase the IDENTICAL shirt that you had given the SAME person on your list last year (I know someone who was at the register when the realization was made), here are the jerseys that promise to be big hits down at the Jake this year.

Following the premise of the famous
Benuardo platoon and adding the uniform numbers of the participants of the 2007 platoon, these jerseys are sure to turn some heads.

Friday, January 19, 2007

A New Trotter for the Stable

The Tribe added a veteran bat today in the form of Trot Nixon, designating Jeremy Guthrie for assignment off of the 40-man roster to make room for him. The move came as a total surprise as there hadn’t been anything even resembling this out there. It was even more surprising in that most indications were that the Indians’ roster was set for Winter Haven.

The Nixon signing represents a move that the Indians didn’t NEED to make, but obviously Shapiro had some misgivings about going into the 2007 season depending upon the youngsters (Barfield, Peralta, Marte, Garko) to augment the meat of the lineup. Nixon provides some veteran certainty (assuming that he can stay healthy, which he hasn’t done since 2003) and some grittiness and leadership to a group of position players largely made up of young talent (proven and unproven) and some veterans who haven’t experienced the level of success that Nixon did in Boston. While Nixon will never be the rah-rah guy at the top of the dugout, his style of play (hard-nosed hustler who goes all out, all the time – sometimes to his detriment) could serve as an example (along with what Grady gives every night) to show some of these young players how to approach life as a MLB player.

Nixon’s health is the obvious unknown and you would have to think that the Indians have done their due diligence on him before guaranteeing him $3M. The money, while big in any other walk of life, is not a huge commitment as the Indians are providing themselves insurance and depth in the outfield by adding a veteran.

There are a lot of ifs with Nixon, as well as the major question of whether he really would outperform the BLC in Cleveland this year, but his addition gives the Indians more depth in the OF and insurance in case of an injury to any of their OF. Similar to the way that the bullpen experienced the trickle-down effect of adding veteran arms, the Indians OF depth has been augmented by Nixon…but almost too much.

The Tribe’s organizational OF breaks down like this:

Cleveland
Dellichaels (sounds like “Delightful”)
Super Duper Sizemore
Blixon (Blake/Nixon to the unimaginative)

Buffalo
Francisco
Gutierrex
Choo

Akron

Crowe
Snyder
Barton

Using that depth chart, the Indians will ask all of those players in Buffalo to repeat a year in AAA and for Snyder to repeat a year at AA. Sorry, I just don’t see that stagnancy on the farm for an organization that prides itself on having “waves” of prospects ready to step in.

So, a trade would seem to be in the offing. Gutierrez is the most likely candidate; as he is pretty highly regarded in baseball circles and has more value outside of Cleveland, where he could actually supplant a CF.

Don’t believe me that Gutz is highly regarded? Here’s what ESPN’s Jim Callis said about Frank the Tank and Juan Pierre in a recent chat:

Joe (Syracuse): Who would you rather have as your CF, Juan Pierre or Franklin Gutierrez, with salary factored in?
Jim Callis:
Gutierrez. If Pierre doesn't hit .320, he's a drag on your offense; he's not that great a basestealer; and he's not that great a defender.

Gutierrez, on his own, isn’t going to bring a huge return; but he could be a part of a package to acquire a LHRP or obtain a better long-term 1B prospect.

Basically, the Nixon signing allows Shapiro to explore those options, with the knowledge that he is covered in the OF in Cleveland and would still have Choo and Francisco at AAA ready to help in a pinch (in case the 5 current outfielders go down). Could the signing be the precursor to a bigger trade, with Westbrook or whomever else to really rock the boat? Who knows?

For now, let’s hold off on final judgment on this signing until the other shoe drops; because in a vacuum, the trade looks like more of a depth signing than it does a legitimate need on the roster. Did the Indians HAVE to make this deal or does this deal allow them to improve their team in other ways?

Much more on the surprising signing of Colonel Trotman in the next few days as we try to get inside Mark Shapiro’s head (one that doesn’t dump us on the side of the NJ turnpike after just 15 minutes).

Oh, yeah…anyone want a Jeremy Guthrie jersey?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Avoiding Arbitration...Again

The Indians have taken care of ¾ of their arbitration-eligible players, starting with Matt Miller signing a one-year deal in the range of $550K-$600K. Miller remains in the mix for the bullpen and this contract shouldn’t change his role for next year. That role being fighting for that last spot, but still having an option, allowing the Indians to start him in Buffalo to prove his health and effectiveness if the decision becomes too difficult.

Next, Jason Michaels signed a 2-year deal, with a club option that pays him $2M this year, $2.15M next year, and a $2.6M if the Tribe picks up the 2009 option. The deal (though the first 2 years are guaranteed money) is surprisingly affordable for a player with 5 years in MLB as Michaels, regardless of his place on the roster as a platoon OF/4th OF.


Of course, before making the argument that Michaels is “blocking” the younger players with a 3-year deal, remember that Casey Blake is a FA at year’s end and that even if Michaels ends up as the 4th OF in 2008 or 2009, his new contract is very manageable. Also, for Michaels to “block” the younger players, that would mean that one of the youngsters is ready RIGHT NOW or even close, which they are not.



Of the top prospects, T. Crowe has played 39 games in AA and Brian Barton has played 42 games in Akron and neither in a game any higher. The players above them in the organization (Gutierrez, Snyder, Cooper, etc.) haven’t done enough to merit the thought that they’re being “blocked”.

If anything, this deal for Michaels should galvanize Shapiro to explore trades for Gutierrez, as his value is probably greater in MLB outside of Cleveland. If Frank the Tank can net a player that would fortify a weakness on this team (RP, 1B depth, MI), expect Shapiro to leave no stone unturned. Of course, Shapiro may have already started to do so, which could have prompted the 2nd and 3rd year of the Michaels deal.

The other situation that would bear watching regarding Michaels would be a replay of the construction and destruction of the Benuardo platoon. That is, if Michaels thrives in the platoon with Dellucci, it would raise his trade value; if the Indians wanted to move him, they would be able to do so while his value is at its highest. Like Broussard, his weaknesses will be masked by the platoon and the Indians could move Michaels (when a suitable replacement exists or if they decide to add a corner OF at some point in the season) and get max value from Michaels. The Indians received Choo and a 20-year-old AAA shortstop for Benuardo, so this scenario is not unprecedented or without merit.


Even if Michaels crashes and burns in his new platoon role (which is unlikely), he remains eminently tradable, as many teams would gladly take on the certitude of Michaels’ contract for a platoon player/4th outfielder/pinch hitter of his caliber.


Most recently, Rocky Betancourt inked a 1-year, $840,000 deal for his 1st arbitration year. Again, this contract is much lower than where I thought this contract would fall (around $2M was the projected neighborhood, but what do I know). With what other relievers are getting on the market, Betancourt at that price is quite a deal and, depending on where Betancourt slots into the bullpen, could turn into one of the bigger bargains on the team.

Jason Davis is the last arbitration-eligible player on the roster and I can’t imagine Davis taking the team to arbitration, given his precarious situation on the 25-man roster and the distasteful nature of arbitration.

Once again, the Indians quickly avoided the ugly process of arbitration (Jerry Browne was the last Indian to do it – and I’ll do just about anything to mention and include a picture the Guv’nor), allowing them to concentrate on tweaking the last few spots on the 25-man, finalizing the 40-man, and (everyone in unison) get to the negotiating table with Jake, C.C., and Pronk in Winter Haven.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Lazy “No Sun” Day

With the weather mizzy outside, it’s time to warm up with a nice, hot cup of Lazy Sunday:
Paul Hoynes answers his mailbag, addressing the usual questions. The answer to the question regarding the bullpen contracts is very amusing as Hoynes completely shoots down the questioner; essentially pointing out that the question is misinformed and illogical.

You have to wonder what happens when the person who writes these questions in reads the answers to their questions. In this case, Mike Shepka must have opened his paper in Macedonia this morning, felt elation as he saw that his question had been chosen to appear in the paper, then slowly have anger and embarrassment creep in as he realized that Hoynes had just put him in the corner. The rest of his Sunday must be filled with phone calls from ridiculing friends and dread in facing the guys at work on Monday.

The lesson that few people ever learn (just listen to sports-talk radio) is that, while the “experts” generally have little expertise, they usually know more than you.
But opinions are like…ah, forget it.

The more interesting Hoynes piece from the weekend was the inevitable “C.C. is going to be a rich man soon” article from Saturday. After the Zito signing, we all knew it was coming. But how many spirits sank in Indian Nation with this quote from the Crooked Cap:

"It's going to be tough, not just for me, but for Jake and [Hafner], too," said Sabathia. "The people around here are going to have some tough decisions to make in the next two years."


Sabathia continued that he “wants to be where he’s comfortable” and wants to “play for a winner”, but the Mylanta that was chugged after reading the aforementioned quote was more calming to the stomach than those clich├ęs.

Ken Rosenthal revisits the Franklin Gutierrez to the Marlins rumor. The Marlins have quite a bit of pitching depth and the Indians could find another arm for the bullpen from the Fish. They do have a few LHP (Renyel Pinto is one example, or maybe Taylor Tankersley – whose name, frankly, sounds a little made up) who could join Fultz to give the Tribe 2 LHP in the bullpen, which was Shapiro’s stated desire entering the off-season.

Of course, what’s to say that Gutierrez couldn’t fill the Michaels role of a RH bat in LF any better than Michaels himself? Nothing, but Gutierrez (a natural CF) is more valuable to a team in need of a CF than he is the Indians. With LF tied into Delluchaels and RF being offered to the BLC on the big league level, and Crowe and Barton looking more promising than Gutierrez (and Snyder), perhaps the Indians can “sell high” like they did with another CF playing out of position in Cleveland.
What was that guy’s name again?
Has he been run out of Boston yet?

While the 40-man (and probably the 25-man) roster is essentially set, the Indians will likely make some tweaks regarding the last 2 or 3 spots (last reliever, middle IF, 4th/5th OF) before leaving Winter Haven.

They have to be loading up the equipment trucks soon, right?
I need something to get me through this inevitable season in Cleveland that gives more attention to the NFL Draft than the NFL Playoffs.
Must be January in Cleveland.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

DVReview

With the DVR in overdrive due to the fact that it’s virtually impossible to watch anything on TV live with a two-week old in the house, I thought I’d go off the board and recap the shows that have been honored with the “Record All Episodes on this Channel at any Time” tag:

The Office
The absolute gold standard for shows currently on TV. Every episode I go in with high expectations, and haven’t been disappointed yet. Not since the heyday of “Seinfeld” has a show been so well written and so good at capturing the minutiae of daily life. If you don’t know a Michael Scott, Dwight K. Schrute, or Kevin (who, oddly, may be my favorite), you’ve never worked in Corporate America. “The Dundies” from last season has remained on the DVR…it’s that good.
You down with the Dundies?
Yeah, you know me.

The only show that rivals “The Office” is…“The Office”. That is, the BBC version, which is more outlandish, has an even more ridiculous boss, and has an even more outrageous “oddball”. BBC America has a standing order to record the show at any and all times and, while I can understand about ½ of the dialogue and jokes, enjoy it thoroughly. It’s rarely on, but it’s like a Christmas present when the DVR picks up a random episode on a Wednesday morning.

English Premier Fan Zone
Speaking of British shows that are mainly unintelligible gibberish, this show on Fox Sports Soccer (which I had no idea was even in our package until I stumbled upon this gem) turns the concept of watching sporting events on TV on its collective ear.

The concept is that the “Game of the Week” is broadcast without a play-by-play or color man. In their place are two fans in the booth, one representing each team. And not celebrity fans or ex-players (as far as I can tell), it seems to be just guys they pull out of the stands.

If you can imagine, it’s high comedy to hear two Brits openly cheering for their team and ripping on the other team and the other guy in the booth. To wit, the Manchester United-Newcastle United game featured this exchange:
NU fan: “(Wayne) Rooney looks pretty slow today…too many pints last night, Waynie?”
MU fan: “Rooney Boy hung-over, or drunk, is better than anyone on Newcastle.”
NU fan: (long pause) “Well, I still think he’s nursing one.”

These guys are talking about if the star player in the EPL is hung-over in a game! This is like an ESPN conversation centering on whether Jason HGHiambi (better example than Jeter) had too many Jack and Cokes at the Rainbow Room.

And comments like that are just the tip of the iceberg. The same game featured the Newcastle fan just screaming “C’MON…C’MON” whenever Newcastle had possession and the Manchester fan sounding like he was just sitting in the booth chain-smoking and slamming pints. They call their own players, “wankers” and just rip on each other’s cities, families, and hygiene…whatever.
From the comments that I can understand, it’s hilarious. It’s a fantastic concept and one that should have some legs.

My Boys
A surprisingly good original show on TBS (no idea when it’s on) that is genius in the fact that it portrays a group of guys (and one girl) who live in Chicago. The genius lies in the representation of the guys’ lives and the fact that everyone in their late 20’s and early 30’s know THESE guys.

They go out every night, spend every waking moment with each other – examining each other’s love lives, jobs, and minor decisions. They’re experts on everyone’s lives…except their own. They go out “to meet girls”, but all they really want is to hang out with each other and party.

The guys I know live in Charlotte and are constantly out, making late-night phone calls to their married friends at 4AM every weekend, going through “phases” to meet ladies.
What phases? Let’s say this – we all went to Vegas for March Madness a few years back when these guys were in their “Clubbing Phase”, when they all wore tight shirts, black pants, and dress shoes. As we made our way to our SkyBox in Rain at the Palms, I was mocked for wearing a polo shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes. Needless to say, on our way to working up a $3K bar tab (don’t ask), they didn’t meet any girls and ended up at the roulette table at noon the next day, sucking down Vodka Cokes (don’t ask) with the “Swedish equivalent of Tom Jones” (ask away).

Anyway, the show captures that jocularity and camaraderie among guys in the transitional phase of their lives very accurately and cleverly. The actress being oddly hot makes it even better.

How I Met Your Mother
This show makes the list because the main character is from Cleveland, living in NY. The first show I saw had him in Yankee Stadium, wearing a Tribe uni, cheering on the Erie Warriors.

As if that isn’t enough, the show is pretty funny; then, there’s the clincher…Bob Saget is the narrator (a la Wonder Years retrospective) telling the story to his kids at some point in the future.

If a Tribe uni and Saget aren’t enough for you, you’re past the point of help.

30 Rock
The only thing that makes this spotty and uneven comedy worth watching is Alec Baldwin simply being Alec Baldwin. Baldwin plays himself, or at least what you would expect Alec Baldwin to act like. His smarmy, sly, subtle delivery is spot-on and couldn’t be more entertaining.

The rest of the show…not so great, but Alec Baldwin – fantastic.

Arrested Development
Thanks to a Christmas Gift of Season 2 & 3, I no longer have to rely on G4TV (whatever that is) for reruns of one of the greatest shows ever made. If you enjoy the other shows on this list and have never seen AD, rent the DVD’s. It’s incredible.

Otherwise, like GOB, you will have made a huge mistake.

STO Offerings
In the past week, I have seen Ted Ginn, Jr. playing QB for Glenville in 2003 (incredibly), Jeremy Sowers using the word “exceptional” 4 times in an interview, an Indians’ game from 1987 in Fenway (Joe Carter hit 3 HR), an introductory piece on Tony Sipp, and the 1996 Indians clinching the AL Central pennant against the ChiSox.

You just can’t beat that.

The 1996 game was especially interesting to see all of the players look all “puffed up” without anyone wearing pirate shirts. The Sports Guy touched on this in his last column addressing Albert Belle, but these guys were HUGE. Take a look at the AL Leaders in 1996, where AB is pretty prominent. Not exactly a pack of Boy Scouts that Belle is among in the power categories. Unfortunately, you have to sit there and wonder, watching that team play, who was legitimately that good and who was aided by Ripped Fuel or whichever of the 31 Flavors was popular that day.

I’d be interested to hear if we’re missing anything as I always appreciate a 30 to 60 minute diversion while holding a sleeping infant. I’ve been told that “Man vs. Wild” on Discovery is something to see and that “Heroes” is good, though it may be too late to get involved.

And don’t give me your “Ghost Whisperer”, “Desperate Housewives”, and “Las Vegas” type shows, because hot leading ladies only hold the attention for so long
Finally, hearty congratulations go out to the Baltimoran and the Baltimorette on adding a little girl to their brood earlier today.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Sunday-In-A-Box

A little Lazy Sunday, as I have yet to figure out how to incorporate the latest SNL Digital Short into a regular installment:

The Official Site touches on extensions for Jake, C.C., and Pronk. The feasibility of such an idea was addressed here back in November (see post below after linking).

Paul Hoynes takes on a mailbag question regarding the Indians trading either Lee or Westbrook for Carl Crawford if the Mulder signing takes place.

What Hoynes fails to address in his answer is that there’s no conceivable reason for the Rays to trade 4 years of Crawford (signed through 2010) for 1 year of Westbrook or Lee, who’s coming off of a regressive season. The Devil Rays are looking for pitching help more along the lines of Jeremy Sowers; so, unless the Indians want to trade their young, contract-controlled pitching, a Crawford arrival to the North Coast remains unlikely.

Many Tribe fans don’t remember that it takes Two to Tango and, while we’d all like to see the Tribe acquire Ryan Howard for Guthrie, Davis, and Gutierrez, reality remains a factor in trade talks.

Terry Pluto takes another trip around the bullpen and examines observations made by SI’s Jon Heyman earlier in the week.

Also on SI.com, John Donovan lists Westbrook as one of the most highly sought after FA after the ’08 season.

I’m beginning to think that the courtship of Mark Mulder is more closely related to this fact than you might think. Mulder probably won’t be ready until June, after recovering from rotator cuff surgery, which would coincide with the Indians being able to shop Westbrook at the Trading Deadline to fill another hole (1B/RF?). If extension talks with Westbrook don’t go anywhere, the addition of Mulder would allow the Tribe to replace Westbrook with (a healthy) Mulder for 2008.

If Mulder is healthy, and can recapture the success he experienced from 2001 to 2005 (when he averaged a 18-8 record, 138 K’s, a 3.65 ERA, and a 1.25 WHIP a season over that 5-year stretch), that’s a pretty good exchange. Whether it’s worth the kind of money that the Indians are reportedly offering, particularly with the risk involved, is another argument for another day.

Of course, if the Indians sign Mulder AND extend Westbrook, the depth of starting pitching in the organization will go from great to phenomenal. The Indians wouldn’t be tied to picking up Paul Byrd’s option and could allow Adam Miller and Fausto Carmona to join the starting rotation with a more refined repertoire, as opposed to rushing them to MLB.

Next up, it’s time to go off the board as the DVR has been running in overdrive and it’s time to find out if you’ve been missing out on any recent TV offerings (particularly around 2AM) or, more importantly, if I have.

That is, of course, unless Mulder signs on the dotted line at Carnegie and Ontario in the next few days.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Depth Charges

With Keith Foulke in the fold (and Brian Sikorski outrighted off of the 40-man), the Indians’ bullpen is vastly improved in terms of the quantity of experienced arms available in 2007. The importance of having those experienced arms, obviously, is that the Indians are not relying upon young pitchers unprepared to make an impact at the Major League level.

The “trickle-down effect” of the signing of Foulke, etc. is not just that it allows the likes of Betancourt and Cabrera to slot lower in the bullpen, but also those below them in the organization. In the second half of 2006, the Indians exposed some of their young, talented (if not quite polished) bullpen arms to see how they responded to the bright lights of the Majors.

Some sizzled, then fizzled (Carmona, Mastny), some could never find their footing (Mujica), and some showed promise, albeit inconsistently (Perez, Lara). Their performances showed that they possessed talent; they just needed a little bit more shine on their apple.

So, what does these pieces of unpolished fruit provide for this year for the Indians?
Essentially, depth.

A depth that was painfully lacking as the 2006 bullpen came off the tracks. After last year’s season-changing game in Baltimore, in which Betancourt and Miller BOTH were injured in the same inning (forcing the Indians to depend upon the likes of Gas Can Graves in situations he was not best suited for), that depth can’t be underestimated.

Considering that Cabrera hit the DL 5 days before Betancourt and Miller did last year, the Indians replaced 3 of their 7 relievers in 6 days in April last year, with little depth to replace it. It was a roadblock that proved insurmountable and the organizational depth this year at least dictates that the Indians have some better options to contribute.

For the sake of analyzing that depth in the minors, let’s assume that Jason Davis fills the final bullpen spot (due to him being out of options and his ability to serve as the long reliever) instead of Matt Miller.

With Miller starting the year in Buffalo and the Foulke signing, the Buffalo bullpen starts the 2007 season like this:
LHP Rafael Perez
LHP Juan Lara
RHP Matt Miller
RHP Dan Denham
RHP Ed Mujica
RHP Tom Mastny
LHP Tony Sipp

Obviously Miller could start the season in Cleveland as the fact that he DOES have an option remaining would allow the Indians to shuffle pitchers in and out of that 7th bullpen spot in Cleveland.

That is, if the bullpen is exhausted during a particular series, Miller could be sent down for, say, Rafael Perez in case of emergency – thus allowing the Indians to keep a fresh arm in the pen. If Davis throws 4 innings of long relief in a game and the starter lasts only 2 innings the next, the Indians are handcuffed in that no reliever on the team would have an option to take the trip up I-90 and be replaced by a fresh arm.

But, I digress. There’s plenty of time to debate the merits of Miller and Davis going forward.

The main point remains that, by looking at the names on the Bisons’ staff, it illustrates how promising these names are. While they may not have been able to contribute consistently for the Indians last year, their return to Buffalo allows them to mature and improve outside of the glare of the Majors. If any of the pitchers shows the maturation and improvement that forces the Indians to make a decision, it only improves the Indians’ overall strength.

That is, if Aaron Fultz proves to be ineffective by mid-May, the Indians will have some a few months of Buffalo results to decide if Perez, Lara, or Sipp would best fill the hole. Or, if Roberto Hernandez goes Gilly Mota in the middle of the season, the Indians have Mujica or Mastny (with an idea of their 2007 is progressing) to take his place.

What the bullpen additions in the off-season have done is allow these young pitchers to mature in the minors, away from the bright lights of MLB, and prove themselves worthy of a roster spot as opposed to simply being the “best remaining option”. If Mastny or Sipp proves himself to be worthy of a spot in the bullpen, at least they’ve earned it instead of having it handed to them.

The lesson of the 2006 bullpen is still fresh, and the depth that the off-season signings have given the Indians for 2007 is another by-product of the Indians’ philosophy that volume is the key.

Of course, we could always top 2006 and see THREE pitchers hit the DL in ONE inning.
I can’t believe I just said that, somebody find some wood…quick!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Meet the Foulker

While the Foulke signing certainly strengthens the Indians’ weakness, the bullpen, please hold off on the overly optimistic assumption that the Indians’ games just got shortened to 7 innings with Foulke joining JoeBo in the bullpen.

By some accounts, Foulke is a surly guy who isn’t always the most genial player in the clubhouse, but what would you expect from a guy whose last name is eerily similar to that of Greg Focker? While Focker adjusted pretty well to the ridicule, Foulke could have gone the way of Johnny Hildo – which few would truly care about as long as he pitches an inning of baseball (8th or 9th) effectively.

What Foulke adds to the Indians is more experience (190 career saves) to what was, just 2 months ago, a very inexperienced pen. Foulke’s addition means that 57% of the bullpen has been turned over since last year, and nobody can argue that the turnover for a bullpen badly in need of an overhaul is a bad thing.

Bullpens being the volatile animals that they are, the addition of Foulke (and JoeBo and Hernandez and Fultz) doesn’t guarantee that the Indians’ 2007 bullpen is going to be any better than last year’s. But, with bullpens, a successful one is built with a little luck and, in the Tribe’s case this coming year, LOTS of arms.

The real wisdom of these additions to the bullpen is the nature of the contracts to which they are signed. The Indians signed the pitchers to one-year contracts, some with club options – making a limited commitment to these particular pitchers while covering the future in the chance that one of these players thrives in 2007. The flexibility in payroll with the manageable contracts allows the Indians to succeed if the pitchers succeed as opposed to being handcuffed to a long, unmanageable contract.

Before the signings are viewed as another instance of “Dolan thriftiness” (if you can really call a $5M-$7M contract “thrifty” with a straight face), realize that whether your team plays in Yankee Stadium or Kauffman Stadium, the flexibility in an unpredictable aspect of a baseball team is the desired result for any team. Otherwise, the team is saddled with dead weight in a place that really is incapable of carrying any. One awful reliever, working on a big contract, that is unable to contribute outside of mop-up duty is comparable to playing a turnstile on an offensive line – it affects the whole dynamic of the unit, as the other members are given more responsibility, stretching everyone a little too thin.

The other big benefit of the signing is the “trickle-down effect”, which allows the relievers already in place to slot down another inning. Basically, it allows Betancourt and Cabrera (thought to be 7th and 8th inning options) to slot down another rung in the ladder to the 6th or 7th inning, where they will be joined by Hernandez and Fultz. If one of the pitchers is hurt or proves to be ineffective, the pitchers that prove to be effective as the season proceeds can take a step up the ladder to fill that void. That depth is desirable, and that’s just at the big-league level. The way that the signing affects depth organizationally is a whole other post.

So, we get to Meet the Foulker, a low-risk, high-reward pitcher to bolster the weakness of 2006. The quantity of arms that Foulke joins completes the Indians’ off-season strategy of quantity in lieu of certain quality. In the roulette world of bullpen creation, it’s as good a strategy as any.

Finally, for you Danzig fans out there (both of you), FYI, Foulke leaves the bullpen to that ode to the Oedipus complex, “Mother”.
Enjoy it.