Thursday, March 29, 2007

Turning Two

Celebrating the 2nd Birthday of The DiaTribe, it’s time for the annual birthday gift – the bestowal of nicknames.


Without further ado:
Grady Sizemore – SuperSizemore
Though this one (originated by yours truly nearly 2 years ago) has entered the greater lexicon with a “SuperSizemore” bobblehead this summer, we’ll go one more. How about SupaDupaSizemore? You’re right, the simpler blend of Morgan Spurlock and the Man of Steel is just right.

David Dellucci/Jason Michaels – Dellichaels
Since neither player will play a full-time role, neither gets a full-time nickname. Before you need to break out a pronunciation guide with a phonetical spelling, it sounds like “Delightful”. To borrow a line from TBS’s My Boys, “say it…it’s fun.”

Travis Hafner – Le Pronque

The nickname Pronk jumped the shark when Jon Miller and Joe Morgan had a lengthy conversation during an ESPN telecast on the origin of the nickname before finally deciding that it was the donkey’s name in Shrek. The slight variation is to play off of the way that the folks in Quebec call themselves Les Quebecois and live under the credo, “Vive le Quebec”. Consider me a member of Les Pronquois, who can be found in the mezzanine shouting “Vive le Pronque”.

Victor Martinez – The Stick
If Stan was the Man and the male stripper from Tom Hanks’ Bachelor Party was Nick the…well, then the Tribe catcher can be Vic the Stick. His offensive has certainly merited such an honor.

Casey Blake – J.O.A.T.
If Muhammad Ali and LL Cool J can refer to themselves as G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time), the versatile Blake can be referred to as J.O.A.T. (Jack of All Trades).

Trot Nixon – The Dirt Dog
This one is set in stone, as Nixon was able to get the notoriously brutal Sawx fans to not only embrace him, but also start a fan blog called the Boston Dirt Dogs; so, we’ll go with the status quo and keep up the nickname.

Jhonny Peralta – Honey
How many people, when Peralta first came up, were convinced the Peralta’s first name had a silent “J”, not a silent “H” (hand meekly rising). After his disastrous 2006, let’s get back to that simpler time – when Peralta was a promising young SS, capable of putting up comparable numbers to the likes of Miguel Tejada, as he did in 2005.

Andy Marte – The Dominican Dandy
Not in the sense of, “Hey Silvio, look at Jerry here, prancing around in his coat with his purse. Yup, he’s a real dandy. He’s a real fancy boy!” Not like that at all…unless he can’t hit the ball, then it will be just like that.

Josh Barfield – Jesse’s Boy
Since I heard Rick Springfield is playing kids’ birthday parties in Altoona, I think that it’s possible to even have the one-hit-wonder record a version of his hit to honor the ex-MLB player’s son.

Ryan Garko – Garko-my-God-did-you-see-how-far-he-hit-that?
As annoying as that it is type every time he is discussed, the nickname (invented by serial commenter Cy Slapnicka) is pretty good. Thank goodness he made the team so this one made the cut.

Kelly Shoppach – ShopVac
Only a catcher can have a nickname of an industrial vacuum. He’ll stop anything that comes his way, whether it be wet or dry.

Mike Rouse – Mighty Rouse

Not that it even matters since the less we see of Rouse, the better the season will be going. Since Mighty Mouse was created as a mouse version of Superman, let’s just consider Rouse as a tiny version of our own SuperSizemore.

C.C. Sabathia – Crooked Cap
For the B-I-G-P-O-P-P-A, this one is pretty obvious.

Jake Westbrook – USS Jake
As in, a submarine named after Jake. Westbrook throws a mean sinker…get it? Maybe they can play the old, “Dive, Dive, Dive” or a clip from Red October or Crimson Tide when Westbrook needs a DP grounder to get out of an inning.

Jeremy Sowers – Whiskey Sowers
Since he barely looks old enough to drink, Jeremy needs a nickname that toughens up his persona a little bit. The oft used “Sweet and Sowers” certainly doesn’t do that. Giving him a nickname straight out of Deadwood might help.

Paul Byrd – The Pheasant
A nice looking little Byrd who may, after it’s all said and done, end up…cooked.

Cliff Lee – Five and Flee
If Cliff can see the 6th or, dare I say, the 7th inning of some games this year he can shed this moniker. Kasey Blake earned his “C” back with a solid 2006, so it’s not without precendent.

Fausto Carmona – Carmona with a Lime
Miles Away From Ordinary.

Joe Borowski – The Big Borowski
White Russians, bowling leagues, Donnie out of his element, Nihilist with ferrets, rug urination and (hopefully) saves.

Rafael Betancourt – Rocky
Every time Wedge refers to Betancourt in a press conference, he says “Raffy”. What it sounds like every time is that he’s saying “Rocky”. The first time I heard it, it took me about 5 minutes to figure out who he was talking about. Worse yet, or maybe better – Hammy’s picked it up.

Roberto Hernandez – Uncle Bobby
He’s the guy on this pitching staff the youngsters can approach with a question they don’t want to take to the authority figures. Just like an uncle close in age, he can impart wisdom that parents (Wedgie and Willis) cannot.

Fernando Cabrera – El Toro
“The Bull” needs to stop whiffing at the red cape when given the chase and start whiffing some batters.

Jason Davis – Jason Dangerously
Watching JD blow up year after year, is 2007 another Year of Living Dangerously? Or can JD harness his blazing fastball to translate to lasting success. If he can’t, the Taxidermist may find himself out of his natural habitat.

Tom Mastny – Nasty Boy
While The Indonesian is more obvious (Mastny was born in Borneo), I like Nasty Boy Tom Mastny. Not in the Rob Dibble, Randy Myers, Norm Charlton sense – more in the Nasty Boy Knobbs sense or even the Janet Jackson sense of the term. How about a little screen shot to accompany his trot to the mound. “The name’s Tom…Mr. Mastny if you’re nasty”.

For those just below the ML level, they only receive nicknames – no explanations.
Adam Miller – Atom Miller

Ben Francisco – The Frisco Kid

Franklin Gutierrez – Frank the Tank

Shin-Soo Choo – Big League Choo (aka The BLC)
$1 to serial commenter rodells

Thanks to everyone who has made this site what it has become in the past 2 years. I like to think that it’s become a home for Indians’ fans to have a shared experience of their hopes and fears, with a little bit of humor thrown in for good measure.

Not to get all sappy on you, but I’m thrilled that my thoughts and comments are enjoyed by an audience that shares the same love of the Indians as I do. I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I do writing it.

There may be some changes afoot to the look of the site to freshen it up and make it look like it wasn’t put together by some hack who can’t figure out how to make changes on his own (two thumbs pointed squarely at “this guy”); so hopefully we’ll continue to evolve and improve as we begin this 2007 season, one filled with such hope and promise.

The 2007 season is nearly upon us, and although the season preview is still forthcoming – let’s get it on!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Surviving the First Shot

The Indians survived a scare today as C.C. took a batted ball off of his left wrist/forearm and was rushed off of the mound, only to find that the X-rays came back negative. Before there is rejoicing that the Indians dodged a bullet, let’s all remember that Hafner didn’t break any bones at first look last year either.

Ol’ Crooked Cap is listed as day to day and may be pushed back in the rotation to let him ease his way back into the rotation. While the “Call up Atom Miller” movement gained some immediate steam, it’s more likely that the Indians would have let Brian Slocum have a couple of starts to allow Miller to start the season at AAA to refine his repertoire.

Though not reported, it’s possible that the ball hitting C.C.’s arm looked a little somthing like this.

OK, that was downright mean. But, maybe carrying some extra girth allowed C.C. to avoid serious injury. I’m not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV), but day-to-day with further evaluation sounds a lot better than a broken fill-in-the-blank and missing X amount of starts.

Let’s all say a little extra prayer (after taking our vitamins) tonight that the aCCe will start the season in the rotation and not in a cast.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What If

With the news that Matt Miller will start the season on the DL, it raised a question for me (and not just who will replace him, which I think will be Lara to give the pen 2 LHP). The question led me to ponder some rhetorical questions that face the Indians going into the season and into the first few months.

Let’s call it a game of “What If?”

What if Matt Miller is ready to return to the team and Juan Lara (or Tom Mastny) has outperformed a veteran (like Aaron Fultz) during his absence? Do the Indians hang onto the effective reliever or side with that “veteran experience” and let a vet like Fultz ride it out?

What if, when Cliff Lee is ready to come of off the DL, Fausto Carmona is outperforming Paul Byrd in the rotation? Would the Indians relegate Byrd to the bullpen, or even cut ties with him? Or would they have the gall to send a successful Carmona back to Buffalo because of the amount deposited in Byrd’s bank account every two weeks?

What if Trot Nixon’s back isn’t healthy and he spends most of the year injured or ineffective? Is Big League Choo ready to step in? Are the Indians, who obviously had enough concerns about Choo to sign Nixon, ready to give the BLC that shot?

What if Andy Marte can’t hit an outside pitch to save his life and every one of his at-bats looks like Pedro Cerrano waving at breaking pitches? Will Jobu come to help him? Will Blake be forced to play 3B full-time, throwing the Indians’ best-laid plans into a tailspin?

What if Jason Dangerously or the F-Cab struggle with their command and become a serious liability in the bullpen? Being out of options, how many times can the Indians send them on the DL, then a “rehab assignment” to work out their problems? Is there a point that the Indians, despite the fact that both have live arms, just can’t take any more and cut ties with either one of them?

What if SuperSizemore’s slump in Spring Training is an indication that he’s going to go through some “Junior Jitters” (think “Sophomore Slump”, carrying on the collegiate theme)? What if all of the hype he’s received went to his head and he coasted through the off-season and he’s unprepared to build on his phenomenal 2006? Are Spring Training stats really that meaningless?

What if Jason Michaels doesn’t bash LHP as part of the Dellichaels platoon (last year he only had a .799 OPS vs. LHP)? Would The Frisco Kid come up to take his place?

What if Ryan Garko (assuming he makes the team) looks like Quincy Morgan (or Dennis Northcutt or Antonio Bryant or Braylon Edwards…hell, pick a Browns WR) at 1B and cannot catch a thing? Should I send my dad to the Jake to tell him “if you can touch it, you can catch it”? Would the Indians move Garko’s bat to another AL team for him to DH?

What if the contract talks that Shapiro has hinted will go into the season if there’s good momentum refer to Jake and end in Westbrook signing an extension? Does that mean that C.C. is gone? Does that mean that people will stop saying that the Dolans are cheap?

What if Atom Miller completely dominates Buffalo, while the Indians bullpen fritters away lead after lead? Would the Indians put him into a Wainwrightesque/Papelbonesque role to save the season? How long would they wait to make that decision?

What if teams run wild on Victor Martinez from Day 1? Would the Indians move him to 1B full-time, where his offensive numbers are not nearly as impressive as they are from the C position? Would the ShopVac get the full-time gig?

These are the things that wake me from a peaceful slumber…well, these and a 4-month old in the next room.

Right now, there are no answers to these questions and only time will tell if any of these concerns are merited or if they’ll just drift away.

With 6 days left until Opening Day, we’re getting closer to finding out.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lazy Sunday with a Bitterman

After actually watching SNL with Peyton Manning last night, let’s all remember why Lazy Sunday is Lazy Sunday.

On with the show:
Sheldon Ocker revisits the Garko v. Francisco debate, if it is even a debate.

Ocker also throws his pessimism on the praise being heaped on the Indians by the national media. Ocker doesn’t agree that the Indians have a shot at the Central, much less the AL, saying that those writers “are not watching what’s going on in Winter Haven every day”.
They do, however, see that Carl Pavano could be the Opening Day starter in New York, that the Red Sox JUST figured out their bullpen which forced Julian Tavarez into their rotation, that the Twins have Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz in their rotation, and the Angels have a lineup of Vlad Guerrero and…well…um.

Ocker actually compares the lofty expectations to the infamous “Indian Uprising” SI cover in 1987, and says that he has “yet to receive my first e-mail whose reference point is someone's sunny forecast about the Tribe's impending domination of baseball. It seems a little odd that fans haven't ordered me to get on the clue bus and admit that the Indians are the best team in the big leagues.”

Little does he realize that intelligent fans realized long ago to stop taking him seriously or regarding him as anything but a bitter curmudgeon whose relevance decreases with every one of these articles. The only people that e-mail him are likely the same ones who share his bitter stance. As evidenced by his weekly mailbag, if you actually present Ocker with a logical argument as to why the Indians are well-positioned to make a sustained run in the AL, he breaks out his condescending tone, dripping with sarcasm, that turns so many people off in the first place.

While Ocker is not the worst beat writer in Northeast Ohio (Branson Wright is so utterly unreadable that I haven’t finished an article of his all season…and I get the PD at home), but Ocker’s in the discussion. I’ve said it before, but when does Stephanie Storm take over his seat at the ABJ? Is today too soon?

From the worst writer at the ABJ to the best (sorry, Windhorst – you’re close, but Pluto is still the benchmark), T. Pluto weighs in on the final roster decisions, with Mike Rouse winning the Futility job. Don’t discount the concept that the 2007 Futility Infielder is not currently in the Indians’ organization as Ken Rosenthal had them interested in Tony Pena, Jr. – who has since been traded to the Royals to be their (gasp) starting SS.

Pluto also throws out the idea that Juan Lara could be a early replacement if Aaron Fultz struggles out of the gate to fill the LOOGY role. After the debacle that was Jason Johnson and the amount of time he spent eating a roster spot while Rome burned, I would expect the Indians to be more proactive in replacing a struggling pitcher rather than sticking with him because of veteran experience.

Officially, the Hector Luna Trainwreck is off the tracks…thank God. Enjoy his creative fielding, Bisons fans!

And Ozzie Guillen is well on his way to coming off the tracks, making friends on his way off the cliff.

Finally, Andy Call gets Jhonny Peralta on the record about his nightmarish 2006 season with a nice piece on the Tribe SS. I know that this article has been written a number of times and I’m not sure if this is true, but I don’t remember seeing an interview with Peralta on this until now. Jhonny certainly isn’t a quote machine, but it’s nice to actually see him speaking for himself rather than the Tribe brass saying all the right things on his behalf.

2 for 2 in the Final Four predictions (4 for 4 isn’t happening thanks to the brilliant coaching of Rick Barnes against USC), but 3 for 4 is still a distinct possibility.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tomahawks and Ballot Boxes

The countdown is on to Game #1 and the Tomahawks are flying:

  • Sheldon Ocker has stirred up a bit of controversy with his latest piece on how Garko may not make the roster due to his defensive regressions and his marginal performance this Spring at the plate (.630 OPS with the most AB in camp). It certainly comes as a surprise (if this does indeed have any merit) as most thought the fact that Mike Rouse seemed to be the leader for the Futility Infielder job (and he’s LH), made it easy for Garko to make the team as a RH off the bench and a part of the convoluted 1B/RF platoon.
    So, why would the Indians do this and is this possible?
    The thought here is that Garko’s glove is enough of a liability that the Indians aren’t comfortable putting in the infield on a regular basis due to last year’s deficiencies. It would continue that regardless of Garko’s success at the plate last year, the Indians feel that their offense without Garko is still potent enough to not jeopardize their infield defense by putting him in the lineup against LHP.
    Perhaps they’re thinking of having Blake be the full-time 1B and allowing (maybe) Ben Francisco platoon with Trot Nixon in RF. By no means is this a thought process that I’m endorsing as I’d rather see Garko given a shot from Opening Day, as he earned it with his run production last year. However, if Garko is an absolute butcher at 1B, offsetting any strides that the rest of the infield may have made – the Indians’ offense is a juggernaut, with or without The Gark. It’s a situation that bears watching as the last week of Spring Training just got a lot more interesting.

  • In case you were wondering why Opening Day’s game is scheduled to start at 4PM, which is kind of an odd time, here’s the answer – Opening Day falls on Good Friday and the Dolans asked the Bishop of Cleveland what time they should have the game start. With the time between Noon and 3PM of Good Friday being a sacred part of the Catholic Faith, Bishop Lennon “advised” the Dolans to start the game at 4PM. They complied. The Dolans decided to make Fish and Chips available to the “faithful” at the Jake that day on their own.

  • Rumors persist that STO will begin to show Bisons’ games (perhaps through the Empire Network that airs them in Buffalo) and Aeros’ games on a tape delay in the morning and afternoon. Where have I seen this idea before? Perhaps when the announcement was made? In the link, please that it was written 13 months ago and the prediction for the broadcast teams

  • A few new links up on the sidebar, notably the Ohio Sports Report, which links every article in the local fishwraps about the Tribe. It’s a nice way to start the day, as long as you still start it here on the Mothership.

  • Speaking of the Mothership, if you haven’t received the newest Sports Illustrated (and I just got last week’s yesterday, then received this week’s today…thank you, USPS), it’s the big Baseball Preview. On the Indians’ page is a breakdown of how the Indians’ SI.com page is going to look and puts it to the fans to vote the best blog onto the site. One of the participants is….drumroll, please…The DiaTribe. Here’s the link, so let’s all heed the words of Richard J. Daley – “Vote early, vote often” and give me some love.

I’ll also put the link up on the sidebar, under “Vote for the DiaTribe”

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ezekiel 25:17

An actual letter that appeared in today’s PD under the heading “Put It in Writing”:

Here's my diaTribe on the Indians' payroll situation.

In Paul Hoynes' article Sunday regarding the Indians' payroll, he listed them as having the 24th-lowest total in Major League Baseball. Included in the story was team President Paul Dolan saying the Indians have never been stronger financially.

Somewhere along the way, the Dolans have lost touch with what is supposed to be the goal of a baseball team. It is not to build a nest egg for future generations of Dolans to line their cribs with money. It is to win a championship. If they were to focus on this fact, maybe they would be less reluctant to tear apart the organization every time a prospect blossoms into a star who would like to be paid accordingly.


Their talk of being "unable" to re-sign the trio of Travis Hafner, Jake Westbrook and C.C. Sabathia dulls the enthusiasm for a very promising year.

From: Bob Verbiak, Medina


Well, Bob, since I take this letter (and particularly the inclusion of the 3rd word in the missive) as an affront to my Sunday post here at The DiaTribe, when I took Hoynes to task for a blatantly one-sided article that bordered on the absurd in its exclusion of basic facts, let me channel Jules from Pulp Fiction.

Oh, were you finished? Well, allow me to retort.
First, I missed the part of the article that you used quotation marks for regarding the Indians being “unable” to re-sign the troika of Tribesman. It’s been a while since Fr. Streicher’s freshman Grammar class for me; but generally, Bob, when you use quotation marks, it should refer to a direct quote from the piece that you are referencing. Nowhere in Hoynes’ article is Paul Dolan quoted as saying that the Indians will be unable to re-sign Hafner, Westbrook, and C.C. But that’s just getting the dander up in the grammarian in me. Nice to see that the sharp eyes at the PD caught it.

As for gist of the argument, that the Dolans have “lost touch with what is supposed to be the goal of a baseball team,” does the fact that the Dolans are paying less for young players more productive than those being overpaid elsewhere mean that they’re cheap or that they’re trying to “build a nest egg for future generations of Dolans to line their cribs with money” (note the proper use of quotation marks, Bob)?

As my counterpart at Let’s Go Tribe pointed out on Sunday, apparently everybody would be happier if Keith Foulke took the $5M he signed for, just to boost that payroll number. You know, so we can all sleep well with the knowledge that we’re REALLY getting our money’s worth out of the product on the field?

And what, exactly, dulls your enthusiasm for what is a “very promising year” (isn’t it annoying to see quotation marks used properly?) – is it at least 2 more years of Pronk and C.C. or is it that the Indians have Adam Miller sitting in AAA, waiting to take the spot of Westbrook (or that of Byrd if Westbrook is extended)?

Here in reality, the Indians have started negotiating with these players and have a good opportunity to re-sign one, if not two of them, to long-term deals because of the flexibility of their payroll going forward.

Is it preferable for the Indians to negotiate through the media, to tell Hoynes that they’ve offered Westbrook 3 years at $10M per and his agent is mulling it over, only to have Westbrook vilified for not jumping at that much money? Or is it OK for the Indians to handle their business internally as they attempt to build a consistently contending team on the field?

Realizing that the purpose of printing newspapers is to sell the newspapers, Hoynes’ article was blatantly one-sided and meant to rile up the “tight-fisted Dolans” contingent of the fan base. The printing of this letter is just further proof that the PD is simply interested in stirring the pot of inferiority and pessimism that pervades this city. While that inferiority complex and pessimistic perspective is certainly deserved, printing articles and letters like these show exactly why the Plain Dealer is having such a difficult times selling those papers, even in this one-paper town.

Enjoy the season Bob.
Keep writing the PD and calling WKNR to vent your misguided frustration.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Post-St. Paddy's VERY Lazy Sunday

The Season Tickets arrived in the mail on Friday night, and it was Christmas morning at the house. With the season so close it’s tangible, let’s take a quick Survivors’ Day (annually held on March 18th …you figure it out) trip around the bases.

Terry Pluto looks at what Spring Training determines and reports that the Futility IF job is down to Rouse and Luna with Luna’s shot of getting the spot being slim (pun intended) and none.

Sheldon Ocker thinks that Big League Choo’s career is over because of the Nixon signing…at the tender age of 24. Ocker, of course, fails to mention that Choo struck out 23 times in the last 19 games he played last season and is simply a phone call away in Buffalo. Details…details.

Ken Rosenthal reports on Andy Marte’s anxiety and updates the comebacks of 2 relievers on the Indians’ radar this past off-season.

Paul Hoynes dips into the “low payroll” barrel again for his Sunday contribution. He points out that the Royals are only $1M lower in total payroll than the Indians, omitting that the Royals are paying $11M to Mike Sweeney this year and will pay $7M to Gil Meche and $7.75M to Odalis Perez, neither of whom would crack the Indians’ current rotation.

When will Shapiro get credit for the contracts that the current Indians are playing under? The Indians are paying Sizemore $1M (15th highest on the team), and have him under club control until 2012 and somehow they are derided by the local media for having assembled young talent that isn’t drastically overpaid.

Very simply, it’s not how much money is spent; it is HOW the money is spent.

Just ask the Yankees and their World Series drought since 2000 while spending $978,129,386 (or an average of $163,021,564 annually) that they’ve spent in the 6 subsequent seasons if it’s a matter of dollars spent or wisdom in spending those dollars.

Finally, Andy Call gives a nice rundown of the Spring being enjoyed by Fausto Carmona, the Indians’ 5th starter for the first few weeks of the season.

Back to the Madness that is March and my Winthrop Eagles.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Stars of the Spring

In Spring Training, the results of the games matter much less than the performances of the participants. The youngsters, in particular, have a great opportunity to stand out in front of the Tribe brass. The two biggest standout performers thus far this Spring among the boys?

Prized prospect Atom Miller (like Radioactive Man’s “Up and Atom”) has now posted 9 shutout innings this Spring with a WHIP of 0.78 and an opponents’ Batting Average of .206. While it’s still likely that Carmona steps into the spot open due to Cliff Lee’s oblique, the Indians have to be happy with Miller’s performance this Spring. Seeing that he just turned 22 last November, he’s well ahead of schedule to hit Cleveland – possibly even at some point this year.

Since we already touched on the success that Ben Francisco has had, there’s only one remaining question: Should he be heretofore referred to as “The Frisco Kid” or “The Ben Francisco Treat”? Seriously, this is like a guy being named Stan Diego, Dan Antonio, Mel Paso, Stu Orleans, or Mort Lauderdale.
With all due respect to Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford, the Player by the Bay gets “The Frisco Kid”.
Obviously neither of these players has done enough to merit a spot on the 25-man roster as proven MLB players are already in play, but Miller and Francisco are slotting themselves nicely to make meaningful contributions if called upon at some point in 2007.

Just as big as anything (maybe bigger) than anything happening on the field this year is news just as important as signing the likes of Jake, C.C., and Pronk.

Nice to see that Shapiro will still be the captain of this ship when he brings it into Port World Championship.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Spring Sprinklings

  • The news that Cliff Lee will start the season on the DL doesn’t bother me that much. Maybe it was Lee’s “Five-and-Fly” mantra last year that wore me down as the season wound down. Maybe it’s the success that Carmona is having this Spring (including 5 scoreless IP against the Yankees’ “A” team) that gives me hope that his head is right and that he’s a making a case to become a legitimate threat to be in the starting rotation sooner rather than later. Maybe it’s that (right now) it looks like Lee will only miss 3 or 4 starts, which isn’t like finding out that there’s a torn rotator cuff. Whatever the reason is, it isn’t bothering me nearly as much as you think it would when you consider that the Indians will have a pitcher who has won 46 games over the past 3 years on the shelf to start the season.
  • Franklin Gutierrez is having a good Spring (.304 Average/.320 On-Base/.522 Slugging), but with the performance of Ben Francisco (.400 Average/.429 On-Base/.840 Slugging with 3 more Plate Appearances than the Tank), it could only mean that the Indians are able to acquire a better middle infielder for Gutierrez because the Buffalo outfield is looking awfully crowded and Frankie, a natural CF, may have more value to a team not named the Indians.
  • Speaking of Generalissimo Francisco ($1 to John Sickels), he has those gaudy numbers plus the fact that he’s poked out 3 HR with 2 doubles in 11 games. With the likes of Gutz, Crowe, Snyder, Choo, and John Drennan in camp, Benny’s made quite an impression, shedding the moniker of the most forgotten outfielder in the Indians system. Often thought of as nothing more than a 4th OF, Francisco is proving to be at least a 4th OF – and perhaps more. The way that he’s playing, it’s likely that he would get the first call to Cleveland in case of an injury. His minor league numbers at Buffalo last year don’t scream “platoon”, so it will be interesting to see if he follows the Coco Crisp path to the lineup.
  • With Joe Inglett nursing sore legs and Hector Luna nursing ice cream cones, it seems that the Utility IF race has boiled down to Mike Rouse and Luis Rivas. At this point, it seems that Mike Rouse is the leader in the clubhouse as he played 118 games at SS for Oakland’s AAA team as recently as 2005, so the requirement of being able to play SS is filled. The fact that he’s a LH bat (while Rivas is RH) would mean that his inclusion on the roster would make it easier for Garko (RH) to make the team. The possibility still remains that the Indians go outside of the organization to find a Utility IF once all of the rosters start to take shape and the hard decisions are made in other organizations; but right now, I’ll put a sawbuck on Rouse.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Lazy Sunny Sunday

Although College Basketball and their Conference Championships have dominated the weekend, STO aired two Spring Training games to serve as a reminder that baseball is in the air.

With Spring Training, March Madness, and NFL Draft prep (not to mention the Browns overhauling their roster…again), it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

With the sun shining on the North Coast, let’s take in a Lazy Sunday as the beat writers must be soaking in the Florida sun, because they seem to all be in pretty good moods:

Paul Hoynes has an article on the Tribe’s young infield. Marte is 23, and Peralta and Barfield are 24! Throw in the fact that Sizemore is 24, Victor is 28, and Hafner is 29 is astounding. Any talk that the Indians block their youngsters (the ML-ready ones, not the Gutierrezes of the organization) with marginal veterans should see the ages of those 6 starters.

Resident pessimist Sheldon Ocker even gushes about the depth of the Tribe rotation.

Andy Call weighs in on the race to be the Futility Infielder.

Jim Ingraham welcomes the Trotter back in his own sort of way.

Ken Rosenthal has a fascinating article about Ron Shapiro, father and player agent, and Mark Shapiro, son and Tribe GM, and how it affects the Westbrook negotiations.

The Tribe put their first round of red tags in players’ lockers this morning without any surprises. OK, maybe the red tag thing only happens when Lou Brown and Charlie Donovan are making the player decisions.

Finally, if the sun isn’t shining in your corner of the world, here are some pics to brighten your mood and your day.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Hefty Lefty

The fourth part in a series regarding the contract extensions being discussed in Winter Haven.
Part IV – The Crooked Cap
Rare in MLB is the true “ace” – the pitcher that you put down every five days with the expectation to win, or at least be in EVERY game that he pitches. You can count the aces in MLB fairly easily (Santana, Carpenter, Webb, Oswalt, Halladay, Peavy, Zambrano), so the development of Sabathia to that level of the elite pitchers is nothing to dismiss. While it may be premature to lump C.C. with that group, he’s not far off.

The Numbers

Last year, C.C. was 5th in MLB for OPS allowed, ahead of Halladay and Zambrano among others as he posted a 12-11 record. His 1.17 WHIP ranked 9th in 2006 and his 3.91 K to BB ratio ranked 8th. Considering that C.C. won’t turn 27 until July and has 81 career victories, it seems that C.C. is entering the next stage of his career, that of an anchor.

He can anchor a rotation, averaging over 192 innings over the past 3 years (oblique muscles be damned) while his ERA,WHIP, and HR allowed have decreased each year as his strikeouts have incrementally risen. That’s what referred to as trending upwards.

For a 26-year old, perhaps just hitting his stride, there’s going to be quite a market for a ready-made ace if C.C. continues his development into his pending Free Agency.

Contracts to Comparable Players
This is a hard area to address, because few would have thought that Barry Zito would have received his 7-year, $126M deal from the Giants this off-season, completely throwing the idea that any contract over 5 years for a starting pitcher is insane (see Hampton, Mike) and even 5 years is a stretch (see Park, Chan Ho).

How out of whack is the 7-year deal? Omar Minaya, the Mets GM who is certainly not averse to giving out long-term deals said that he dropped out of the Zito talks when the years hit 5.

How about the fact that Jason Schmidt signed a 3-year, $47M deal with the Dodgers just prior to Zito getting his 7 years.

Need more proof that the 7-year deal broke the mold? Look at the deals signed in the past year by elite pitchers:
Roy Halladay – 4 years, $42M signed March 2006
Roy Oswalt – 5 years, $73M signed in August 2006
Chris Carpenter – 5 years, $63.5M signed in December 2006 (admittedly with injury concerns)


These are the types of contracts that were the norm for the quality of these arms until the Zito deal. Again, take a look at the OPS allowed leaders from last year, and tell me that the Zito deal isn’t completely outrageous (Zito ranked 48th).

But is the Zito deal the natural progression of the way that contracts are going or is it the aberration that the Hampton and Park deals were, one that will be reviewed as a one-time deal, a regrettable contract.

There’s plenty of time (and at least one off-season until C.C. becomes a FA) to find out, so if Shapiro and the boys find the number that Sabathia is looking for, they’ll help determine the direction that the market will take.

Will it continue to go up and force the Tribe to give C.C. a deal in the range of 6 years, $108M (that’s a ton of money and way too many years) or will it regress back to the mean of the Oswalt deal and figure in around 5 years, $80M?

If the Indians can figure that out, it will go a long way in determining the values for the very talented class of Free Agent pitchers after the 2008 season.

Who Would Be Interested?
Simply – any and every team that has a starting rotation.
What team couldn’t use a 28-year old power LH ace?

But there’s something that complicates the matter. C.C. will hit Free Agency with a ridiculously talented group of pitchers, headed by Johan Santana. After Santana, there are also Jake Peavy, Ben Sheets, Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Jon Garland, and John Lackey – and that’s just the upper crust.

What becomes complicated is that when the Santana Sweepstakes finds its winner and the market is set, there are going to be teams that lost out on Santana that are sitting on a mountain of money looking for someone to take it.

What if the Red Sox outbid the Yankees for Santana?
Will the Yanks be OK not adding a stud to the rotation?

Or what if Peavy moves on from San Diego and heads elsewhere, leaving the Padres a huge hole in the rotation? Signing C.C. to pitch in his native California (where he would put up absurd numbers in Petco in the NL West) would pacify a fanbase upset about losing Peavy?

Or what if the Giants decide that they need a yin to Barry Zito’s yang to anchor a rotation that will, by then, include Noah Lowry, Matt Cain, and Tim Linecum? C.C.’s Bay Area roots aren’t going to hurt that negotiation process.

Just thinking about the prospective suitors makes my head hurt and my heart heavy…and he’s not even a Free Agent for another 18 months.

Bottom Line
Hearing the comments from C.C. about his excitement hearing the riches of the Zito deal don’t really bode well for the contract extension. If, however, he’s looking for a 7-year deal to match Zito’s deal, it’s unlikely that the Indians would offer a contract of that length. Regardless of any concerns about Sabathia’s long-term health (which could certainly have some validity with his weight and body type), it’s doubtful the Tribe would give a 7-year, or even a 6-year deal, to any pitcher.


The dollars per year that C.C. will be in the market for ($16M to $18M) may not be the ultimate problem in the contract extension talks; it will be the years that will be the stumbling block. The Indians’ comfort level for those 6th and 7th years (and whether C.C. includes them in his demands) in the negotiations will be what ultimately decides whether he is wearing a Tribe uniform in 2009.

Pronk-a-Donk-Donk

The third part of a series regarding the contract extensions being discussed in Winter Haven.
Part II – RePronkulous
While the Indians are well-stocked with young arms in the Minors as potential replacements for Jake and C.C., replacing a player like Hafner, one of the best hitters in all of MLB, may prove to be eminently more difficult.

The Numbers
Over a 3-year stretch (from 2004 to 2006), Hafner has AVERAGED 31 HR and 111 RBI while hitting .308 with a stratospheric 1.030 OPS. His 2006 season (cut short by the injury) was his best to date with 42 HR, 117 RBI and a 1.097 OPS in only 454 AB. Only Albert Pujols had a higher OPS as Hafner outdistanced Ryan Howard, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Lance Berkman, and Jim Thome. So, we’re talking some rarified air here.

Hafner is a middle of the order monster whose impressive power is only eclipsed by his batting eye (he earned the 10th most BB in MLB last year in significantly less AB than the players with more), making him a perfect #3 or #4 hitter for any team.

Contracts to Comparable Players
There have been multiple large contracts signed by lesser hitters than Hafner in the past few years, but the primary difference between Hafner and say, an Albert Pujols or a Paul Konerko, is the fact that those players play the field while Hafner is strictly a DH due to his “bull in a china shop” defense.

Thus, the only real comparables for Hafner are AL DH’s, most of which are dealing with contracts signed a few years back. Most notable among these would be:
Jason Giambi – 7 years, $120M (signed in 2002)
Jim Thome – 6 years, $85M (signed in 2003)

Even Gary Sheffield or Magglio Ordonez, who figure to DH at some point in Detroit, don’t really figure to be comparable as they’ll play the majority of their contracts while playing the field. So, the best comparable is the other elite DH (with Hafner, Giambi, and Thome) – Big Papi.

Ortiz signed a 4-year, $52M extension last April, which runs through 2010 with a $12.5M option for 2011. That contract, over all of the others mentioned above would serve as the basis for any negotiations with Pronk.

That type of contract would lock Hafner into the middle of the Tribe lineup for the next 6 years – 1 more year under the contract, 4 years of the base contract, and 1 more with the option.

Who Would Be Interested?
Due to Hafner being only able to DH, it limits the number of teams that could bid on Pronk (though we thought the same thing about Thome), so we’re only talking about AL teams. However, pretty much every AL team would welcome a hitter of Hafner’s caliber to their lineup.
Let’s start eliminating some teams first. Because of the money involved and the, shall we say, spending tendencies, of certain teams we can rule out Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Oakland. The Red Sox are tied into Ortiz until after 2008, so they’re out.

Pretty much everyone else is fair game.
Just to make you break out in a cold sweat consider that Giambi’s contract runs through the end of 2008 (as Hafner’s does), assuming that the Yankees don’t pick up his $22M option for 2009. Same for Thome, who has a $13M option for 2009.

That would put the Yankees and White Sox (assuming that Ozzie can get over Hafner’s “I was puking when they got their WS rings” comment) at the forefront of the potential suitors. Picturing Hafner in either of those uniforms just caused a shudder.

Factor in free-spending teams like Baltimore, Seattle (Richie Sexson, who may be a full-time DH by 2008, also has a contract that runs out after 2008), Los Angeles of Anaheim, and Texas (where Hafner would simply mash…as if he doesn’t already) and we’ve got a bidding war on the docket if a deal is not reached before Pronk hits the open market.

Bottom Line
Like Westbrook, Hafner has said that he’s happy in Cleveland and that he’s comfortable with his new bride on the North Coast. But, will he follow the path of Manny and Thome as sluggers who felt that they were underpaid by the Indians while they were wildly productive (Pronk will make just $3.75M this year and $4.75M when his 2008 option is picked up) and go after every last dollar?

It will likely take a deal comparable to that of Ortiz to extend Hafner and, looking at the alternatives down the pipeline, his bat is very nearly irreplaceable. Talk that Ryan Garko could shoulder Hafner’s load is just overly optimistic. Taking into account that his 1.098 OPS last year was the 91st best season by a hitter of ALL-TIME, this isn’t like we’re replacing Ronnie Belliard.

Hafner’s mere presence anchors a lineup and the Indians have to realize this. More than Westbrook and possibly more than Sabathia, Pronk’s value to the lineup and the team is immeasurable. A lineup with Pronk and a still maturing Sizemore would be lethal for the next 5 years, regardless of the pieces and parts that would surround them.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Go West, Young...No, Wait

The second in a series regarding the contract extensions being discussed in Winter Haven.
Part II – The Snake
The lone FA on the Tribe roster after the 2007 season that will be approached by the club for an extension is Jake Westbrook.

The Numbers
Over a 3-year stretch (from 2004 to 2006), Westbrook has gone 44-34 with a 4.01 ERA and a K/BB ratio of exactly 2/1. Opponents have hit .272 against him over 638 1/3 innings (average of about 213 innings a year, over which he’s posted a WHIP of 1.32.

Westbrook’s numbers are indicative of an excellent middle of the rotation starter – an innings-eater who keeps his team in games and saves the bullpen due to his tendency to pitch late into games.

Contracts to Comparable Players
The wildness of the past off-season can be summed up with the words, “Gil Meche”; but there were a number of big contracts given out to similar pitchers to Jake.
A breakdown of the deals, with $7M per being the low number:
Gil Meche – 5 years, $55M
Jeff Suppan – 4 years, $42M
Ted Lilly – 4 years, $40M
Vincente Padilla – 3 years, $33.75M
Adam Eaton – 3 years, $24.5M
Jason Marquis – 3 years, $21M

Interestingly, Baseball Reference lists Marquis and Eaton as two of his closest comparables, so the point of reference isn’t far off. Two of his other comparables are Aaron Harang (who signed a 4-year, $36.5M deal in February) and Bronson Arroyo (who signed a 2-year extension for 2009 and 2010 worth $25M, again this February).

You could argue that Westbrook is a superior pitcher to any of these, but this at least sets the ballpark, because it’s unlikely that Westbrook is going to get Barry Zito/Jason Schmidt money ($16M-$18M), as he’s not an ace. Some team may see him as an ace and pay him as an ace, but that’s on them.

Also, it just so happens that today the White Sox extended Javier Vazquez, who was also in the last year of his deal. His deal looks like this:
Javier Vazquez – 3 years, $34.5M
It gives hope to those that think that Westbrook is going to be looking for a 5 or 6 year deal as Westbrook and Vazquez are very comparable pitchers, in terms of age and recent performance.

Who Would Be Interested?
Just about any team interested in having a solid #2 or #3 starter, but teams that play in notorious hitters’ parks (or famed launching pads) figure to be even more interested in the groundball-inducing Westbrook (he was 4th in MLB last year in his Groundball/Flyball ratio, behind Cy Young winner Brandon Webb, Derek Lowe, and Chien-Ming Wang).

Teams that play in parks with high HR rates would be particularly interested and teams on that list are teams that have expressed interest in Westbrook in the past.

Suffice it to say, there would be a pretty active market for Jake Westbrook, Free Agent. Most notable among those (with the ways and the means) who would be interested include:
Arizona Diamondbacks
Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Colorado Rockies
Houston Astros
Philadelphia Phillies
Texas Rangers

What would those teams offer? It depends on whether they think that Westbrook can anchor a rotation or if he’s another cog in the wheel. The D-Bags would love to couple Westbrook and Webb in their launching pad and if the Cubs lose Zambrano, Westbrook is an attractive replacement.
But that’s further down the road.
Just remember, as we’ve all learned…it only takes one to pay more than the Tribe

Bottom Line
Westbrook has gone on the record that he enjoys playing for the Indians and the stability that the team provides him may lead to the extension being talked about. BUT…that’s a line straight from the “going into contract negotiations” handbook to feed to the media.

The Indians are likely to approach C.C. and Hafner before getting to Westbrook and, if they are rebuffed or if they have money left over to spend on Westbrook – they’ll come to the table in the range around the Vazquez deal ($34.5 over 3 years). Going much longer than that may be something that Shapiro shies away from, particularly with Miller and Carmona sitting in AAA.

Whether Westbrook is sincere about his feelings toward Cleveland will be tested this Spring; because if a deal isn’t reached in Winter Haven, Jake will hit the FA market in the top tier of FA pitchers behind Zambrano (alongside the likes of Mark Buerhle, Bartolo Colon, and Jason Jennings).

With the possibility that Westbrook could be the second-most desirable pitcher in the FA class (or 1st, if the Cubs extend Zambrano) after 2007, the fact that many teams go into FA looking to spend some money (wisely or not) to make a splash means that Jake would become the subject of a bidding war that will likely price the Indians (and most other prudent teams) out of the Westbrook Sweepstakes.

Monday, March 05, 2007

3-2-1...Contracts!

Due to the topic du jour (that means the topic of the day – which sounds good, so we’ll have some) being the contract negotiations with Westbrook, C.C., and Pronk, we’ll keep on that topic with a little series. I know that some people are jonesing for some talk about what’s happening on the field, but it’s just too early to make any determinations.

At this point all we’ve learned so far this Spring is that David Dellucci and his 1.768 OPS could win the Triple Crown if he keeps this pace up, Hector Luna and the spare tire he arrived to camp toting is unlikely to win the Futility job, and Chuck Lofgren battled some butterflies in his 1st Spring Training game – giving up 5 ER in 1/3 of an inning.

Outside of that, we’ll wait until there’s a little more time in camp to give reports, plus STO is showing games on Friday night and Saturday afternoon; so that means no longer just reading little write-ups online. It means Hammy on the radio, and the Tribe on the tube.

But back to the contract talk, which took its usual doom and gloom tone from the Indians’ writers. You know, the Indians are cheap, they’ll be lucky to sign one, won’t it be tough to see C.C. in pinstripes, blah, blah, blah.

Well, how about the contrarian view?
Why couldn’t the Indians sign 2 or all 3 of them to extensions?
Is it really that far-fetched?

In the Land of Pessimism (of which Clevelanders are card-carrying citizens) that we live in, how about some hope?
I’ll take a look this week at the environment and the salary structure of the Indians going into the negotiations to explore the financial feasibility; then take a look at each of the three individually, examining comparable players and contracts to see what kind of money these three could command on the open market.

I know I did this a while back (so forgive me if this is repetitive for you), but it’s time to revisit it since the Indians have long stated that the negotiations would happen in Winter Haven and (sound of trumpets), they’re in Winter Haven. Once the series is put to bed, we’ll go back to the product in Winter Haven and relay the comings and goings of the Spring.

Part I – The Current Salary Environment
The Indians payroll going forward is actually exceptionally flexible because the Indians have locked up so many of their other young players to affordable, long-term deals.Thanks to the tremendously helpful salary chart at the Blurbs’, we can see that in 2008, for instance, when Westbrook would be a FA, the only contracts (not pertaining to the minimum salary schedule or abitration) locked into place are:
Sabathia - $9M
Hafner - $4.95M
Victor - $4.45M
Lee - $4M
Dellucci - $3.5M
Sizemore - $3.167M
Peralta - $2.5M
Michaels - $2.2M

That comes to about $34M concretely committed to those players since Borowski, Hernandez, Fultz, and Byrd all only have club options. Byrd’s ($8M) is unlikely to be picked up if Miller or Carmona is ready and the relievers have to earn their options, so if they’re picked up it means that they’ve proven themselves worthy to be a part of the bullpen going forward. If not, it doesn’t cost the Tribe a dime.

The fact that Sowers, Marte, Garko, Barfield, Cabrera, and Shoppach will probably each make about $400K means that there’s money to spend. Take out the $6.1M Westbrook will earn this year and the amount of committed dollars looks even smaller.

Why couldn’t the Indians take the $8M Byrd option and the $6.1M that comes free from Jake’s current contract to re-apportion that money to extend Westbrook and more?

Wouldn’t that be more desirable to do? That is, cut Byrd loose, extend Westbrook, let Carmona and Miller fight it out for the 5th spot next Spring and go to bed with smiles on our faces?

But that’s getting too far out ahead of it and I know what you’re saying, “that’s only one year (2008), looking at Westbrook’s walk year; what about the heavy hitters in C.C. and Pronk?”

Consider this - the players under contract until 2010, are:
Victor - highest contract number is a $7M option in 2010
Peralta - highest contract number is a $7M option in 2011
Grady - highest contract number is a $8.5M option in 2012!!!
Lee - highest contract number is a $8M option in 2010

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 about $26M to those 4 players in 2010 (which is still 4 seasons away). 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 ever spin drastically out of control.

Following ShapiroSpeak for a while, that seems to be another basic tenet of the wildly popular 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 much larger payroll in 4 seasons, in 2010, is not out of the question.

But how much larger?
If the Indians’ 2007 payroll ends up around $70M when it’s all said and done, let’s figure that the payroll will rise about 10% a year with the sport flush with money.
The projected payrolls could roll on like this:
2007 - $70M
2008 - $77M
2009 - $84M
2010 - $92M
2011 - $101M
Granted, 10% is a healthy annual bump, but you get the idea. If the Indians have Victor, Grady, Lee, and Peralta taking up only $26M of that 2010 payroll, there’s a lot of wiggle room. Sure, guys like Sowers will get paid when they hit arbitration (or before), but not huge numbers that will throw those numbers significantly off.

So, could the Indians afford to pay (at the high end of most projections) Westbrook $12M, Hafner $13M, and C.C. $18M annually? Who knows, but that extra $43M on top of the $26M for the other four players give you a core of 7 players (who have now played together for multiple seasons) for about $69M. In 2010, if the payroll is around $92M, that number doesn’t look that big as long as the complementary players are provided via the farm system and not FA.

It means that the team has about $23M to pay the complementary players. Might be a stretch for 18 players, but if those 18 include a number of farm products, that money can go a long way.

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; the feasibility of locking down these main components may not be as far off as you think. 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 this Spring and the state of the Tribe payroll going forward may allow them to do just that.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Secret Lazy Sunday

A quick round of Lazy Sunday from the friendly confines of the father-in-law’s home office on the sunny shores of Lake Michigan before the DiaBride figures out I’m in the home office and not cutting up fruit for the soon-to-arrive guests.

Paul Hoynes examines the potential FA that will be approached this Spring about extensions. Worst quote of the story? From C.C., “this is a business too, you have to remember that.”
Um…not good. Maybe we should change his intro music to Leaving On a Jet Plane.

Sheldon Ocker takes on the same story with his usual dose of pessimism and sarcasm. When, exactly, will Stephanie Storm take his chair at the ABJ, so we can enjoy some decent beat reporting?

T. Pluto addresses the continuity that is likely to continue in the GM and Manager chairs at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario as well as naming Tony Sipp and Mike Rouse (utility IF candidate) as names to watch this Spring.

And…we’re busted. Off to cut up some fruit.

Only 28 games until Opening Day…less than a month!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Found in Translation

Since the ascension of Mark Shapiro to the GM seat in the Indians’ organization, we have learned the nuances of Shapiro-speak, a language based heavily on “corporate-speak” with traces of unbridled positive thinking, and clich├ęs. It’s like Tony Robbins meets Jack Welch, while Earl Weaver looks on.

Thus, listening to an interview with the Tribe GM becomes an exercise in translation – wading through the multitude of words to find the actual meaning. On a rare occasion, Shapiro slips and lets his true feelings known, though never by blatantly ripping a player, coach, or situation. It’s always done by a backhanded compliment. Or he throws vagaries out there, forcing us to read between the lines to determine the true feelings of the Tribe Front Office.

With that background in mind and the Shapiro-speak dictionary next to me, it was fascinating to listen to Shapiro be interviewed by Matt Underwood and Rick Manning on the Spring Training Daily (I refuse to refer to it as “STD” and can’t believe that nobody involved in the show’s naming process didn’t see that potential moniker), which is a daily program on STO from Winter Haven.

Following are Shapiro quotes, translated for your reading pleasure:

Shapiro on the bullpen:
“Experience is what we missed last year, beyond Bob Wickman, when things got tough for us.”
Translation
Obvious to anyone who watched a game last year, Mota, Sauerbeck, and Graves sucked and their inability (particularly Mota and Sauerbeck) to contribute any sort of success sabotaged the season as there was nobody in the organization ready to step in. For Shapiro’s sake, let’s hope that the names Mota, Sauerbeck, and Graves aren’t replaced by Borowski, Hernandez, and Fultz in mid-June because the youngsters (though they have some experience under their collective belts) didn’t take that quantum leap to everyday effectiveness as the 2006 season wore on.

Shapiro on Spring Training
“We have very few decisions to make; we need to evaluate the Middle Infield guys and the bullpen guys.”
Translation
As Norman Dale once famously said, “My team is on the court”. What you see right now is what you’re looking at for Opening Day. Save the Futility Infielder decision and slotting the bullpen arms, the roster is set as are the majority of the roles on the team.

Shapiro on the OF additions
“Nixon complements our lineup without the strikeouts and Dellucci adds more power, which is never a bad thing.”
Translation
Take that Big League Choo and Jason Michaels! A subtle and backhanded dig; but there’s no doubt that the comment was an indication that Choo was essentially deemed to be too strikeout-prone and an admission to Michaels’ having little power vs. RHP.

The Indians weren’t ready to accept a repeat of BLC’s 50 K’s in 175 Plate Appearances (43 K’s in 156 PA’s against RHP whom he was supposed to face in the proposed platoon before Nixon’s singing) from last year in their efforts to contend this year. The Indians will bank on the body of Nixon’s work of the past 3 years, which includes a .378 OBP vs. LHP and a mere 100 K’s over 845 Plate Appearances in that 3-year time frame (2004 to 2006).

Nor were they ready to put up with Michaels’ .354 SLG vs. RHP from a year ago, instead opting for the prospect of the average of Dellucci’s last 3 years, which includes a .509 SLG vs. RHP.

Shapiro on Contract Extensions
“Westbrook is the only prospective Free Agent with a sense of urgency. The other guys (Hafner and Sabathia) have two years left on their deals, which in baseball is an eternity. With the importance of a Hafner and a Sabathia, however, we need to determine whether there’s that right contract value two years away to extend them. We’ve initiated contact with every guy, but won’t update as we go. From here on out, we’re either going to get to the end of camp and have a deal done or we’re going to wait until the next juncture – the end of the season – to re-examine it then.
Translation
Lots here, so let’s start with Westbrook. The Indians have initiated discussions with Westbrook’s agent (from Ron Shapiro’s Agency) Michael Maas (not sure if he’s related to Kevin), and they should know relatively early in the negotiations what Westbrook is looking for.
If Maas comes to the table with a starting point of, say, 6 years for $90 Million, the Indians know that Jake doesn’t fit into their long-term plans and with good reason. The Indians are likely to offer a deal somewhere in the range of 4 years for $40 Million to $48 Million, which is a pretty fair amount for a pitcher that doesn’t really ever project as an ace and falls more into the category of “good #2-superb #3” starter. To sign a pitcher with that pedigree to a contract with 6 years attached to it or upwards of $15 Million per means you either should be fitted with a straightjacket or you already are wearing one in the form of a white turtleneck and blue blazer.

Once the Westbrook talks get their “feel”, the Indians will have a pretty good idea of whether signing Westbrook is feasible or if they need to look to spend their money elsewhere, namely on Pronk and/or C.C. Shapiro’s comments that “2 years is an eternity” means that they’ll probably feel out the situation with Hafner and Sabathia to see if the players are looking for long-term security in a familiar environment or if they’re looking to break the bank on the open market.

The “right contract level two years from now” is a pretty difficult thing to ascertain, particularly with the escalating salaries of the off-season. But, if the initial numbers thrown out there regarding Pronk or C.C. are close, the Indians will likely focus their attention on that player.
Essentially, the Indians know what amount of money they are comfortable spending on extending these 3 players. Where the players’ expectations are is the variable that the Tribe will learn during Spring Training in an effort to pound out some deals.

My favorite part of the quote, though, is that they “won’t update” the media going forward. Basically, stop asking the question, because you just got the same canned response that you’re going to get until the season starts. Leaving out any doubt that Shapiro doesn’t like to negotiate through the media, it can also be taken as a warning to the players’ agents that any attempt to curry favor with Tribe fans through the media with comments that “the Indians aren’t willing to pay market value” and take contract demands public are not going be viewed favorably.

Tribe dropped one to the Phils today, so the prospect of the undefeated Spring goes out the window.
Ah, well – we can always shoot for 162-0 once the games count.