Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Time for a Army of Slump Busters

Much more on the Indians' inactivity at the Trading Deadline and how the trades made could affect the Tribe down the stretch still to come in the next few days.
More importantly, the Indians' offense is scuffling.

And it's not just one player.
The Tribe's numbers in the month of July (first pointed out to me by the incomparable Steve Buffum):
Tribe Player /BA /OBP /SLG /OPS
Ryan Garko /.382 /.450 /.691 /1.141

Franklin Gutierrez /.306 /.340 /.551 /.891

Victor Martinez /.262 /.363 /.464 /.827

Trot Nixon /.294 /.390 /.431 /.821

Ben Francisco /.263 /.310 /.500 /.810

Grady Sizemore /.245 /.336 /.461 /.797

Jhonny Peralta /.281 /.350 /.427 /.777

Casey Blake /.250 /.318 /.450 /.768

Travis Hafner /.260 /.333 /.417 /.750

Josh Barfield /.213 /.256 /.263 /.518

Jason Michaels /.186 /.234 /.209 / .443

Mike Rouse /.125 /.211 /.125 /.336

Kelly Shoppach /.097 /.147 /.129 /.276

To have all but two of your regulars under .800 for OPS (three if you count the Trotter and Frank the Tank) means that the disease is widespread and contagious.

The Indians need to snap out of this collective funk...and fast - before they waste any more stellar performances by C.C. and Fausto.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Attention Shoppers...

The trading deadline is coming up quickly and the Indians still are looking for that bullpen arm to add to the back end. Some reports out of Kansas City have the Braves giving up Kyle Davies, a 23-year-old starter that would be a coup for 2 ½ months of Dotel for the Royals. To see Davies go for Dotel means that the ante is being raised (again) for quality bullpen arms, but if the Indians lose out on Dotel, it certainly won’t mean that the Tribe has missed the boat.

Just because Dotel’s name is the one that’s been most regularly linked to the Indians doesn’t mean that he’s the best option out there. With JoeBo and Senor Slo-Mo taking care of the 9th and 8th, the Indians are looking for quality depth, not a savior.

Look how Dotel compares with some of the other names that might be out there. With Fultz almost ready to come off of the DL and The Scarecrow thriving in the 7th, it’s unlikely that another LHP is the target, so only RHP are compared. Obviously, Joaquin Benoit probably would have come over in the Lofton deal if the two teams were in negotiations for him, but David Weathers, Al Reyes, or Russ Springer offer other excellent RH alternatives that could be had for a lesser price than the better known (if not necessarily better) players like Dotel, Gagne, or Farnsworth.

The need is great enough that Shapiro may overpay to fill the void in the bullpen created by Mastny’s recent struggles and Cabrera’s season long ineffectiveness. Everyone is out there looking for bullpen reinforcements that is in the playoff hunt, so it may come down to a matter of finding a trading partner enamored with someone in the Indians’ organization to make it happen.

Further down the list of needs, is the growing concern that the Indians infield depth (ahem…Mike Rouse…ahem) may be another problem as this team goes down the stretch without many days off. While I recently read (from a wise man) that arguing or complaining about the Utility IF is the lowest form of baseball conversation, Rouse has made it very clear that he is far from a viable ML alternative at the plate. His recent performance in the field (I know, I know – in VERY limited appearances) though, is what has made the hole more glaring. Without viable options in the minors (Inglett can’t play SS and Luis Rivis is still Luis Rivas), the Indians may have to make a minor move to acquire some Middle Infield depth.

Without going all “those were the good old days”, a player like John McDonald (who may be available from Toronto as he is a FA at season’s end and could be headed to Cleveland at that point) would fit the Indians’ need of a slick glove and a bat that is going to be an upgrade over Mike Rouse (not difficult, but the perennially light-hitting Johnny Mac has an OPS double that of the Mighty Rouse) on the roster.

Additionally, McDonald could offer some insurance for the continued struggles of Josh Barfield as he continues to adjust to the AL. By no means should that statement be misconstrued as a suggestion that McDonald should replace Barfield at 2B, but having a better alternative than Rouse on the roster is depth that a playoff team needs going into the stretch run.

Much can happen before tomorrow afternoon, so here are the links to Ken Rosenthal’s page (funny how Rosenthal has surpassed the boys in Bristol as THE go-to guy for being the 1st to report trades without being an “Insider” or sitting on the set of a “BBTN Trade Deadline Special” all afternoon), Fan Nation’s Rumors Page (which links into newspaper feeds), and MLB Trade Rumors, which scans the web for rumors, (though they are just that…RUMORS) to monitor everything that could happen between now and 4 PM.

Less than one shopping day left.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hazy Lazy Sunday

After attending last night’s game in a Party Suite to celebrate the DiaBride’s and my 30th year on this earth, Lazy Sunday’s coming a little late as the group rationalized that $22 for a 6-pack of domestics was not a bad deal…all night long.

But, it is Sunday and a Lazy One it shall be:
Truthfully, not much of note in the local papers, which is a pretty telling commentary that the beat writers are given the Sunday paper to offer more than game recaps and “Notebooks” and are unable to offer anything compelling two days before the trade deadline. The only article of note is a nice piece by Terry Pluto on Bob Feller, though it has nothing to do with today’s Indians.

So, let down by the Indians’ writers, how about a look outside of the North Coast?
Ken Rosenthal bangs the drum again on Dotel for Francisco, among other tidbits. He also touches on the Dan Wheeler to the Devil Rays move and other rumors out there.

Up in Detroit, the Tigers are looking at the same relievers as the Indians and are looking to upgrade their middle infield depth, which the Indians should be considering as well.

It actually looks like the Tigers are out of the Gagne sweepstakes and are looking at Kyle Farnsworth.

Plenty of time left before 4 PM on Tuesday (the deadline time and date), so we’ll see if Shapiro is able to make the move to bolster the team after making a couple of them at the end of the week.

Speaking of which, the return of Kenny Lofton to the Indians, a move that caused the people who call radio stations to wonder if Sandy or Omar’s return could be far behind, represents a nice little pick-up for the Tribe. While some have grandiose ideas of moving Grady to the #3 hole and hold hopes of Kenny Lofton performing the way he did 12 years ago, Lofton is simply an upgrade in the OF platoon situation over Trot Nixon and David Dellucci (should he return).

Lofton is an excellent complement to the OF as he brings increased OBP, speed, and athleticism in lieu of Trot Nixon’s presence in the lineup against RHP. But, truthfully, he’s not much more than that. He’s not going to be playing very frequently against LHP (and rightfully so) and there will certainly be an adjustment period in LF.

Is he a nice complementary piece to add?
Absolutely, he fills a hole on this team as a LH-hitting OF with speed.

Is Kenny Lofton going to put this team into the playoffs by himself?
No, not unless he’s going to help out the back end of the bullpen during his down time.

Lofton is the type of player that teams get to help them with their playoff push, not the “missing piece” that’s going to make the difference. The fact that the Indians have acquired him should be received as good news, as long as people realize that he is, right now, a 40-year-old platoon OF with some veteran experience (10 out of his 12 seasons, he’s been in the playoffs) and that Lofton is no longer the player that wowed the Jacobs Field crowd with his play in the mid-90’s.

The way he’s been received the past few games, you would have thought that Bob Feller had returned to the mound and, while the 1995 Indians were a fantastic team (they finished 100-44, which would be like this year’s club winning the next 40 after last night’s loss), the fans need to show as much love to the Hafners and Sizemores on this team, as opposed to giving the prodigal son a welcome fitting of a bigger acquisition.

Certainly a positive acquisition, but let’s be more excited about the more important players on this team and appreciate their contributions and talent more than thinking that Kenny Lofton is the “masterstroke”.

On the pitching front, the demotion of Cliff Lee signifies that the Indians have realized that every game going forward is vitally important for their playoff pursuit. Having Lee take the hill every five days, giving the Tribe little chance of winning (particularly recently) became too much of a liability as the Front Office bit their lip and sent Lee down to Buffalo.

How Lee reacts to this will determine his future with the organization as he could take it as the wake-up call he needs to return to his winning ways, or he could just as easily pout and display the stubbornness that is reported in the media and work his way out of the organization.

Just like the Hernandez release, the Indians have shown that this year is different than the past few with the Lee demotion. No longer will a “wait-and-see” approach be taken to the detriment of the team. The Front Office is going to put the team they feel gives the club the best chance to win, contracts and guaranteed money aside. That can only be viewed as a positive decision and a necessary one as the team tries to get some momentum going into August after limping to the end of July.

The Tigers are 3-7 in their last 10, giving the Indians a perfect opportunity to overtake them in the Central. However, the Tribe has started their homestand with a 2-5 mark and will have to play better to make up ground on the Tigers. The Rangers, the Twins (possibly without Torii Hunter), and the White Sox precede series against the Spankees and the Motor City Kitties in mid-August, so the time to rally is now.

Finally, the website www.thediatribe.com has been registered and this page can be found at that URL. It’s a little easier to remember than the convoluted one that I’ve been working with and is easier to tell people.
Thanks to everyone who visits the site so frequently (from Chicago to Westerville to Charlotte), who made the suggestion.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Back to the Jake

It's official - Lofton to the Tribe for Max Ramirez.

Could this open up a Dotel for Francisco trade to bolster the back end of the bullpen, as Benny ceratainly seems like the odd man out in the OF mix?
Is there more coming?

Don't touch that dial.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cliff Diving

Cliff Lee’s usefulness, to me, in the Indians’ organization has come to an unceremonious end. Tipping his cap (not in this picture, but as he ran off the field) to the cascade of boos raining around him as he exited his 3rd straight start allowing 7 runs has brought me to the conclusion that it’s time to cast him aside and see what other options exist internally to take the bump every 5 games.

Finishing the month of July with a 1-4 record, an ERA of 9.00, and a WHIP of 1.71, Lee has earned himself a trip to Buffalo (that one option remains as a wake-up call to Cliff), the bullpen, or elsewhere. If this were a blip or had the look of an aberration, the leash would be longer; but Lee has been regressing for 1 ½ years now and seems to be too headstrong to accept what is happening to him.

Perhaps that pitcher that held such promise a few short years ago exists somewhere under Lee’s jersey, but it’s getting harder and harder to imagine as his starts have become embarrassments, particularly when they follow the virtuoso performances of C.C. and Fausto the previous two nights.

There’s no mystery about why Mark Shapiro has spent the past two days in Buffalo watching Jeremy Sowers (5 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K yesterday) and Aaron Laffey (6 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 K today) start, both of whom are on schedule to take Lee’s next start which is…July 31st!
Isn’t there something else happening on July 31st?
Can Cliff Lee be an active participant?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Having attended numerous MLB games in my 30 years, I am surprisingly not very hesitant to rank tonight’s win against the Red Sox as one of the best games that I have ever seen live.

Every batter, every pitch, was wrought with nervous excitement. The butterflies that entered my stomach in the 4th inning when I realized Carmona was working on a no-no (it was broken up after 5 1/3) didn’t leave until Blake squeezed Ortiz’s lazy pop in the 9th.

The game was baseball in its purist form.
Tremendous pitching, great defense, excitement on the base paths with a catcher (maligned for his defense) turning in a sparkling performance behind the dish, and the difference in the game being a young OF putting ONE pitch into the HR porch in Left Field.

Carmona was superb.
Beckett was amazing.
The crucial moments of the game were well-played and well-executed plays that were determined by mere seconds.

If you prefer the slugfests, where balls fly out of the park at astonishing rates and the crooked numbers on the scoreboard are plentiful, no ill will comes your way.

But give me two dominant pitchers, a stadium full of fans sitting on the edges of their seats for every single pitch, and game-deciding plays taking the breath out of 30,000 people until the umpire’s hand is raised, and I call it beautiful baseball.

After seeing the Tribe drop a 1-0 game, then win a 1-0 game (the first time in 65 years that the Indians have split consecutive 1-0 games), I am convinced, now more than ever, that Cleveland and Boston represent two of the top teams in all of baseball.

Built on tremendous starting pitching and a balanced lineup, the teams are on a collision course with destiny to determine the AL. How the Indians and Red Sox close out the last 3 months of the season remains to be seen as a lot of baseball lies ahead of both teams.

But, on this night in late July, I count myself lucky to be able to witness what I did – baseball as an art form, as a game that ties your stomach in knots and leaves you gasping for more.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On the Short End of a Beauty

Seriously, though, a great game tonight with two heavyweights in Dice-K and the aCCe living up to their reputations. Essentially, it turned into a game where the Red Sox were able to capitalize on opportunities while the Indians were not, leaving 8 men on base.

Back to the rapidly approaching Trading Deadline, be sure to check out an excellent piece and some nice banter (although somewhat soured by an overly irrational commenter) on what’s out there for the Indians in regards to relievers over at the LGT.

It looks like a lesser-known name like Joaquin Benoit (who, ironically, could come over with another piece from Texas, like Lofton) fits into the Indians long-term needs better than a 3-month rental like Octavio Dotel. The fact that Benoit has outperformed Dotel this year and better fills the role that the Indians need (that of the 7th or 8th inning augmentation), at a lower cost, makes more sense for Shapiro, as he should be targeting relievers having great seasons, under club control for the next couple of years, that aren’t going to break the bank.
Benoit (and Washington’s Jon Rauch) certainly falls into that category.

Remember that the Indians aren’t necessarily looking for a closer or a set-up guy, as theirs have thrived. What they need is a RH complement for The Scarecrow in the 7th, with the possibility of giving Betancourt some time off in the 8th, with the added insurance in case of injury.

With news that Mark Teixera is definitely on the block, would the Rangers be interested in Buffalo 1B Ryan Mulhern, who is effectively blocked by Ryan Garko and stuck in an organization rich with 1B prospects with little place to go? The Rangers’ cupboard is pretty bare behind Teixera (with Pronk and Adrian Gonzalez moved in some dreadful deals), so Mulhern may be enticing to them.

Would a combination of a young OF (Ben or Franklin) and Mulhern be enough to pry away Benoit and Lofton?

To me, a bigger name (like Gagne or Dotel) doesn’t necessarily mean a better option for this team. What Shapiro needs to target is a reliever that will remain under the club’s control for a few years that is on the way up the mountain (hopefully, with no injury history) as opposed to getting a player that may have his better days in the rearview mirror, with past injuries playing a major role.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Laffey Taffy?

With Aaron Laffey clearing out his locker in Buffalo, and his next scheduled start coinciding with Lee’s Thursday start against Boston, is the writing on the wall for Cliff Lee?

It’s true that Fernando Cabrera could have been placed on waivers and the Indians won’t announce anything until he either clears waivers or is claimed…or Cabrera could be traded. But that means that Laffey will come up to help in the bullpen, which seems like a confusing move as Laffey has never pitched out of the pen and wouldn’t get steady work (vital to the 22-year-old’s development) as a long man.

It’s also possible that Jason Stanford will be traded, Lee will be demoted to the pen (which could happen if Cabrera is sent out), and Laffey will take his spot, but what would Stanford (on his own) bring? A new mascot?

It’s entirely possible that Lee could be moved, even if Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News says that he thinks it’s just Cabrera being on waivers.

Back to Lee, though, as it seems that he has certainly fallen out of favor with his steady decline in all of the important stats and his disagreement with Vic on Saturday. Lee won’t be moved for a simple rental player, as his value (due to his left-handedness and club-friendly contract) is greater than just renting a bullpen arm for a few months. That rent-a-body strategy, too, would go against everything that Shapiro has ever done or said.

It’s much more likely that the Indians would look a young stud reliever or for a young corner OF that would allow them to move either The Frisco Kid or Gutierrez for that late inning bullpen arm (like Octavio Dotel, which, even for just Ben or Franklin, would be overpaying for 3 months of Dotel with no promise of extending him).

So if Lee is, in fact, on the block, who would be interested?
Because of his fly ball tendencies, let’s start with teams that play in larger ballparks that could put Lee in the middle of their rotation and hope that he keeps the ball in the yard.
MLB ballparks, ranked by fewest HR allowed in 2007, break down like this:
AT&T – San Francisco
RFK – Washington
Busch – StL
Metrodome – Minnesota
PNC – Pittsburgh
Petco – San Diego
Fenway – Boston
Angel Stadium – Anaheim
Tropicana – Tampa
McAfee – Oakland
That’s the 10 with the least HR hit this year and, as an aside, how depressing is it to just see these corporate names being up there instead of Candlestick, Three Rivers, or The Murph?

The fact that Washington (with Cordero, Rauch, Colome, and Church) and Pittsburgh (with Capps, Torres, Marte, and Doumit) have compatible parts for the Indians’ needs has been addressed, but one has to wonder if they’re looking to add payroll at this point in the season.

Also, with Washington, they are building a ballpark to replace the cavernous RFK, so that may not be as much of a factor when the Nats are ready to move in.

Would Tampa bite on Lee to help out their constantly beleaguered rotation, dealing from their surplus of OF to get the veteran LH? Or would the Padres be interested in having some insurance in case David Wells finds a new favorite bar in San Diego? The Padres certainly have some bullpen depth (Linebrink, Meredith, Bell) that would make a match.

How about teams looking to bolster their rotation for a playoff push?
Dodgers – They have young hitters in OF Andre Ethier or OF Matt Kemp (though Ethier would be the more easily obtained), and an excellent bullpen, but how would Lee play out in Chavez Ravine and how close is Randy Wolf to coming back?

– They have dangled OF Lastings Milledge for a while, long enough to take some of the luster off his star, and he is still highly thought of enough that the Indians may have to sweeten the deal. The Mets’ rotation is old, though, and Omar Minaya may want to gobble up a starter via trade.

Braves – The Braves are looking for a back-end of the rotation starter and 1B help, so a Lee/Ryan Mulhern package may work for the Braves, but what they would be able to offer the Indians would be the question. It’s pretty unlikely that they’d be willing to part with Rafael Soriano, as that would essentially be like the Tribe trading Senor Slo-Mo to fill a hole.

Phillies – Putting Lee in the HR haven of Citizens’ Park would be such a disaster; I shudder at the mere thought of it.

Mariners – Safeco would be a nice fit and the two teams certainly aren’t unfamiliar with each other at the trade table (Broussard, Perez, Dangerously), but how much are the M’s willing to part with to get Lee? Certainly they wouldn’t dip into Adam Jones (not PacMan), even with Ichiro signed to a long-term deal…would they? One would have to question the wisdom of trading a starting pitcher to a Wild Card rival (regardless of how you think Lee would sabotage their playoff hopes), but it’s not like the move would be consummated with a team that you’re going to face 10 more times.

This is really just throwing things up against a wall and seeing what sticks, but the actions in Buffalo could be the first domino to the fall of Cliff Lee in Cleveland.

Of course, if Shapiro doesn’t get what he feels is equal value, he has other options with Lee. It just seems that the fact that they pulled Laffey out of Buffalo means that something may be in the final stages of happening.
Could simply be Cabrera, or something larger may be in the works.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

It's a Wonderful Life

An advertisement from last week’s Sports Illustrated caught my eye as it featured our own SuperSizemore responding to questions regarding Las Vegas, titled “Vegas Overtime with Grady Sizemore”.
Since I can’t find a link to the story by Alec Morrison anywhere (and the answers are that good), here’s the transcript:

Grady Sizemore’s had his Las Vegas routine for years. All that’s changed is his mode of transportation. Sizemore, who makes his off-season home in Arizona, used to drive up each fall for a low-key weekend of dining, clubbing and observing the poolside talent. Now that he’s an All-Star outfielder with the Cleveland Indians, he can afford a plane ticket instead. During the season, the budding superstar can’t avoid crowds watching his every move. But on his Vegas jaunts he flies under the radar, preferring the close company of his buddies to the hopes and dreams (and marriage proposals) of the most ardent Indians fans.

Who’s usually your company for Vegas?
When I first got out there (to Arizona), one of my friends had a birthday around November, so it kind of became an annual trip. Now it’s usually me and my two roommates. I live with my brother and a friend of mine. And then anyone else who wants to go. We make a weekend of it.

What is it about the city that has you hooked?
There’s a lot of energy. It’s the kind of place where you can do what you want, no matter the time of day. I like seeing the shows. There are great clubs. Vegas is the kind of place where you can lose yourself for a weekend.

Do you have a certain Vegas style when you go out?
I keep it pretty casual. I’m not rockin’ a Gucci suit or anything like that. Just a nice button-down shirt and jeans.

You favor the Hard Rock pool scene. Why do you like it so much?
The opposite sex, I guess you could say (laughs). I wish I could spend more time there. If you get there early enough, you can get yourself a table or a chair and watch the scenery.

What about the club spots?
My favorite would probably be Drai’s at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon. Good late-night club. It’s one of the first stops we make. I also like to start off at Ghostbar, up top in the Palms. That’s one of my favorites.

What makes a good club for you?
Drai’s is at the bottom of a smaller hotel, and I didn’t know what to expect. I went in there and it was just alive, people were laid back, having a good time. I had a club scene in my mind, but this one had its own thing going on, had a good feel to it. And Ghostbar, it’s just cool to be on top of a building looking down on everybody else. They always have a good mix of people there. And the Palms is always great. It’s off the Strip a little, but it has a lot to offer.

Do you have a favorite hotel?

The last time I went, I stayed at the Palms, and I really liked it. That was my first time, and it was one of my better trips. I like the Bellagio too. And the Hard Rock, obviously – if I can get to the pool in time.

Can a 24-year-old with a chance to go 30-30 be your hero?
Methinks yes.

Also, it seems that the Victor-Cliff Lee dust-up during Saturday’s game (if you missed it - they argued on the mound, then in the tunnel, keeping their distance from each other the rest of the game prompting a players-only meeting, called by the Trotter, that lasted for about 25 minutes) could mean the end of the road for Cliff in Cleveland.

Numerous reports have Aaron Laffey being pulled out of his start after 50 pitches; with the Bisons’ manager Torey Lovullo essentially saying that Laffey was on his way to Cleveland.

The 50 pitch count is important because it puts Laffey on schedule to take Lee’s next start, meaning that either Lee is being sent down (he does have an option), being sent to the bullpen and someone else is on their way out or to the DL, or Cliff Lee is that bait to make a move.

Stay tuned.

Lazy Sunday with The Franchise

The Tribe tries to take 3 of 4 tonight (in a Sunday night game NOT on ESPN?) from the Rangers and Lazy Sunday is upon us:

Paul Hoynes comes through with ANOTHER Brandon Phillips piece, using the intro of “The Indians' decision to trade Brandon Phillips to Cincinnati early last season has been discussed and debated. It's gotten old, so old that it probably shouldn't be talked about again.”

An interesting way to start a piece when Hoynes continually writes about Phillips and the awful mistake that the Indians made, hindsight obviously being 20-20. But let’s step back to the sequence of events for Phillips career with the Indians, using only on-field performance.

In 2003, Phillips was handed the 2B job out of Spring Training and proved himself to be completely overmatched by posting a .208 BA / .242 OBP / .311 SLG / .553 OPS. Finally sent down, Phillips continued to struggle in Buffalo, hitting at a clip of .175 / .247 / .279 / .526. Those are numbers that scream that a player is ill-equipped for to remain in the pros and needs more time in AAA.

In 2004, Phillips rebounded nicely in Buffalo, coasting to a .303 / .363 / .430 / .793 line with 8 HR and 50 RBI. In related news, Ronnie Belliard was putting together an All-Star season in Cleveland and Phillips’ teammate in Buffalo, Jhonny Peralta, was named the International League MVP.

Going into 2005, the Indians had one spot open at SS with the departure of Omar Vizquel via FA and 2B belonged to Belliard (who, remember, was a 2004 AL All-Star). Peralta won the job and the decision was made to send Phillips back to Buffalo to give him regular AB and not to simply play once a week as the Utility IF is prone to do. Phillips responded to the demotion with a regression from the previous year to the tune of .256 / .326 / .409 / .735 in Buffalo while Peralta put together the finest offensive season at SS in Indians’ history and Belliard played a decent 2B on a contender.

Heading into 2006, the Indians were seemingly set at SS and 2B with Peralta and Belliard, but Phillips had run out of options and needed to stick with the big-league roster as a Utility IF, pitted against the incomparable Ramon Vazquez.

The decision was made that Vazquez fit the role of a Utility IF, despite being less talented than Phillips, mainly because of the way that the club felt that Phillips would react to being “only” a Utility IF. Phillips was dealt at his absolute lowest value as most teams knew that he could be had for a low level minor-leaguer. Cincinnati sent Single-A pitcher (Jeff Stevens) to the Tribe in the hopes that Phillips would accept the role of their Utility IF. He actually thrived and broke out in his first year in Cincinnati, staking a claim to the 2B job and making a case to become a perennial All-Star since. Meanwhile in Cleveland, as we all know, Peralta struggled as the Indians had a terrible year, resulting in Belliard being traded and the “We never should have traded Brandon Phillips” cries growing louder by the day.

But essentially, on the field only, Phillips was blocked by a player who had played superior to him in Peralta and a 2004 All-Star in Belliard from playing everyday. True, he could have been pitted as the Utility IF and become insurance in case the worst-case scenario of 2006 unfolded.

But the actions that accompanied those statistics is what greased Phillips’ slide out of Cleveland. He debuted in our consciousness on his first day of Spring Training wearing shoes embroidered with the nickname he gave himself, “The Franchise”, and had his final act as an Indians famously sitting at his locker on the day of the press conference that Sizemore signed his big contract, complaining “that should be me”. Between those two instances were numerous run-ins with club officials (not just Eric Wedge), including an argument with Farm Director John Farrell in the Buffalo locker room that was described by some as a “dressing down” of Farrell by the young infielder.

Phillips' talent is unmistakable and the Indians received very little in return for him, but to paint Phillips as a martyr and to project that he was somehow “wronged” by the organization is not taking all of the facts and situations into account.

Brandon Phillips was given an opportunity in Cleveland and failed, then sulked and argued his way out of the organization. His attitude and sense of entitlement are what bought him a ticket out of Cleveland and any fan who fails to take that big picture approach is doing themselves a disservice by not appreciating the current Indians for what they are, a better team without Brandon Phillips on the roster.
If a change of address and management benefited him, good for him.

While it may not be the popular or widely held belief by Tribe fans, Brandon Phillips, on another team, is something that I have no problem with. Let him be himself, the self-proclaimed “next Barry Larkin”.

Just let him do it in a uniform without “Cleveland” on the front.

Back to the show, Sheldon Ocker stands up for Jim Thome after saying that he doesn’t know what he would do with Fernando Cabrera.

He also offers his sincere, uplifting words to those who take the time to write him.

Jim Ingraham goes out on a limb and feels that the Indians should be buying.

Ken Rosenthal touches on the availability of the Astros’ relievers and what the Royals are looking for in exchange for Octavio Dotel.

The New York Post reports that the Royals are looking for a RH MLB-ready CF for Dotel.
Sound like anyone you know?

While we knew that Eric Gagne wasn’t coming to Cleveland, maybe he’s not going anywhere. Perhaps Joaquin Benoit, also mentioned in the article, will be the Texas reliever headed north.

Speaking of Rangers, it appears that Kenny Lofton (as long as his foot injury is not serious) is not adamant about playing CF and would play LF for a contender.

Finally, I was forwarded two web pages that are pretty much the best thing I’ve seen in quite a while, by Michael Bobal of Parma. They are depth charts of the Indians’ pitchers and hitters from the top down, including their stats for this year, compiled by the incomparable Baseball Reference website.

Basically, if you want to know what LH relievers we have in the system, from Cleveland to rookie ball, how old they are, and how their season has gone, it’s all right there, neatly organized for you.

The ages, for me, are great because you see that guys like the OF in Buffalo and Akron are a lot older than AA and AAA players should be (Jon Van Every is 27), which gives you a point of comparison of where these players are developmentally and how they stack up with the other players in the system that play the same position.
It also lists updated stats for each minor league team, with all of the relevant stats.

Like I said, this was a phenomenal find and I think I lost about two hours of my life examining these lists.

Anyway, the links for the pitchers is here and the hitter link is here.
I’ll add it to the sidebar as it’s something that contains up-to-the-minute stats for the WHOLE organization, separated by position.

A tough stretch awaits the Tribe after tonight’s game (4 vs. BOS, 3 vs. MIN), so it’s time to get fat on the scraps of the AL West.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Setting the Hook

With all of the trade talk swirling about who’s available, who’s selling, and what the Indians need, it’s time to take a look at what the Indians are able to offer other teams that would be attractive enough to merit a decent return. As great as it would be to trade Jason Stanford and Mike Rouse for Jon Rauch (throwing Trot Nixon in doesn’t help) – value begets value, and the Indians are going to have to part with some valuable pieces to fill the holes on the roster.

The key in determining which pieces are expendable is to not weaken the existing ML roster or deal someone who is contributing today or is not at least easily replaceable with an in-house option. That is to say, the Indians can’t consider dealing a player like Franklin Gutierrez unless they feel that Ben Francisco is capable of producing the way that Frank the Tank has in the past few weeks to replace his production in the lineup. If we’ve heard anything from Mark Shapiro ad nauseum, it’s that he’s “not going to create a hole to fill a hole”.

With that in mind, though, who could be considered for a trade? Guys like Hector Luna or Joe Inglett may have some value as a throw-in on a trade, but neither can be considered a vital piece to a package. The same can be said for the young OF in Buffalo and Akron (Van Every, Snyder, Barton, Crowe) as none of them screams “can’t-miss” the way that a Cameron Maybin does or a Lastings Milledge once did.

So to say that a mix of those middle-tier prospects is going to get the job done, if the Indians are serious about truly augmenting the 25-man roster, is short-sighted.

Additionally, the Indians are hamstrung by players dealing with injuries, currently on the DL. At the beginning of the season, the depth of starting pitching was thought to be the reserve from which the Indians could deal their lesser prospects that could be close-to-MLB-ready while not disrupting the upper echelon of arms.

Unfortunately, guys like Smoke ‘Em Brian Slocum, who made some starts last year in Cleveland and would have some value, is now on the DL and just another hurt 26-year-old AAA pitcher. In the same vein, J.D. Martin returned from injury last year and thrived in his first stint in the bullpen in Kinston and Akron, to the point that he would have garnered some consideration for a Jensen Lewisesque call-up this year, or at least to be dangled as part of a trade. But Martin has hit the DL (again) and isn’t good for much of anything these days.

Remember, I’m not advocating a trade just to throw something against the wall the way that some message board rumors get started, but it’s time to identify the parts that the Indians could conceivable offer in a trade.
Not included are the obvious “take them if you want them” players like Jason Stanford, that could project as a starter somewhere, but has cleared waivers about 4 times and isn’t going to bring more than a bag of balls on his own. Also not included is C.C. (whom trading would constitute grounds for a padded room at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, regardless of his signability) or Westbrook (who, despite some lackluster starts is still knocking the rust off as he’s sporting a post-injury ERA of 4.50 in 5 starts).

That all being said, the list of Indians that could be considered a key to a package AND would bring some substantial return would break down like this:
Cliff Lee
This move would have to be entirely contingent on whether the Indians feel that Atom Miller is ready (right now) to step into the rotation and fill the #5 spot, which is what Lee has pitched himself into. Shapiro said, during Wednesday’s game, that the Indians are stretching Miller out in Buffalo so he has the ability to pitch EITHER in the bullpen or in the rotation, “wherever there is a greater need”. Shapiro said that Miller is 100% healthy and intimated that the young Texan would be in the bullpen now if that was his determined path for this year.

The fact that they’re stretching him out means that they’re obviously displeased with the recent performances of Westbrook and Lee (and rightfully so) and won’t hesitate to replace one of them with Miller. While Westbrook has only 5 starts since returning, Lee has now been healthy for some time (2 ½ months) and his reluctance (or inability) to throw his curveball has rendered him terribly inconsistent.

The problem with trading Lee, and subsequently moving Miller into the rotation, is that if Miller crashes and burns, we’re back to the Jason Stanford Show (assuming he’s still with the team) or we have Jeremy Sowers coming back, when his recent performance in Buffalo doesn’t justify it. If the Indians feel that Sean Smith or Aaron Laffey are close enough, there could be more confidence in the depth, but Smith and Laffey are 23 and 22, respectively, and are still in their first year of AAA.

Before you say that Lee would have no trade value, remember that Lee is a LH starter who is working under a VERY club-friendly contract (he’ll make $5.75M in 2009) with a club option through 2010. In the right situation, Lee could thrive in the middle/back of a rotation. When I say the “right situation”, I mean that his flyball tendencies would be a disaster in a place like Minute Maid Park (Houston), Chase Field (Arizona), or the GAB (Cincinnati), but could find success in a larger park like Petco (San Diego), RFK (D.C), or AT & T Park (San Francisco). Don’t think that the Astros and D’backs aren’t aware that Lee would be breaking HR allowed records if they slotted him into their rotations.

The degeneration of Five and (F)Lee from a possible solid #3 starter to his current role on the team has been a disappointing one, but the contract that the Indians signed him to last year is actually a positive in the equation as it offers another team an affordable LH starter. Where most of us thought Paul Byrd would be at this point in the season (used as trade bait) is the seat that Cliffie occupies and, if the Indians feel that the Atomic One in Buffalo is ready to step into the rotation like Andrew Miller did in Detroit (allowing them to trade LH Mike Maroth), Lee could be packaged to upgrade the team in an area of need.

Jeremy Sowers
Even more than the case with Lee, this would be the ultimate example of “selling low” on a player that many thought, after last year, had the opportunity to develop into a #3 starter because of a road bump in the path of his development. Sowers has, no question, struggled this year to figure out how to adjust to a league that has seemingly adjusted to him, giving his confidence a jolt in the process.

While the Indians could probably demand a good deal for Sowers, based on last year’s success, most teams would come in with a much less tantalizing package due to Sowers’ struggles this year. Frustration with his performance this year aside, the fact remains that Sowers is still a 24-year-old pitcher who experienced phenomenal success in the 2nd half of 2006, with a 7-4 record with a 1.19 WHIP.

If the Indians truly feel that his struggles are not easily fixed (first, someone should lose their job as a pitching instructor), then they may look into moving The Vandy Dandy. Otherwise, it’s time to give the intelligent Sowers some time to work out his difficulties (really the first he has ever experienced as a pro) and hope that it doesn’t turn into the type of regression that another 1st Round Pick, Jeremy Guthrie, was not able to pull himself out of until he was paired up with Leo Mazzone in Baltimore.

Ben Francisco / Franklin Gutierrez
As similar as these two young OF are, one of them is likely to be included in a deal, if the Indians do pull the trigger before July 31st. Both are RH, can play all 3 OF positions, and thrived in AAA early in the year, seeing their success continue in their brief stints in Cleveland. What the Indians’ deep thinkers need to decide is which player projects to become a full-time player (and not just a platoon player or a 4th OF) while balancing that with which of the two has more trade value on the open market.

The dearth of quality OF (particularly CF, which both can play) in MLB means that there will be some interest in both, though neither is a “can’t-miss prospect” that will bring a lot in return on their own. The fact that both are entirely affordable and under club control for the foreseeable future means that a team with an eye on the bottom line, attempting to augment their position player talent might bite on one of them.

My thought is that the Indians have similar feelings on both players and will trade the player that is asked for in a deal. Personally, I think that Frank the Tank is more attractive to teams because of his stellar defense, speed, and excellent 2007 showcase with the parent club. If that is the case and Gutz is the OF dealt, I’m fine with giving an extended opportunity to The Frisco Kid, whose shorter swing may be better suited for the Indians lineup and the lack of a disparate split (like FG has) means that he may have a better future as an everyday player.

Andy Marte / Asdrubal Cabrera
Call this the Jhonny Contingency Group.
It all depends on where the Indians see Jhonny Peralta two to three years from now, with the added factor of how these two players develop. If the Indians are comfortable with Peralta at SS and feel that Marte (who is still 23) projects as the everyday 3B next year,
Cabrera is essentially blocked as an everyday player. Now, AstroCab could certainly stick with the club as a Utility Infielder, but his talent (this year particularly) would say that he projects as an everyday SS or 2B. So, assuming that the Front Office is comfortable with Peralta and Marte on the left side of the infield (and Barfield at 2B, really), with him tearing it up in Akron, do the Indians sell high on Droob?

The other direction to go would be if the Indians have lost their faith that Marte is the answer at 3B and feel that Peralta will eventually slide to his right, clearing space for Cabrera at SS. If that’s the case, the Indians need to deal with Marte NOW and not during Spring Training next year when he’s out of options and every other team in MLB knows that he can be had for pennies on the dollar.

As much as this one depends on how the Indians see Peralta as a fielder two to three years from now, a lot depends on whether the Tribe still holds Marte in the high regard that they did when he was acquired for Boston. If they do, Cabrera could fetch a bit as a 21-year-old tearing up AA. If they don’t, it’s time to cut bait with Marte before their hand is forced in Winter Haven.

Ryan Garko / Kelly Shoppach
OK, sit down. It’s going to be all right.
Nobody’s advocating trading either one of these vital pieces to the 2007 team right now, but let’s examine the situation. With Pronk signed through 2013 and Vic under contract until 2010, those two are going to fill two of these spots – C, 1B, DH. That means that the Indians have one of those spots open for an everyday player and one for a back-up.

Let me put this another way, assume Pronk is the everyday DH, Garko stays at 1B, and Victor stays the C – Shoppach is nothing more than a back-up C, when he certainly has the talent to catch every day in MLB. Say The Stick moves to 1B on a full-time basis and Shoppach assumes the catching duties…see where I’m going here?

The fact is that one of these two players is not (barring injury) going to be in the lineup everyday and should be for some MLB team. Is Shoppach more valuable on our bench or as part of a package to get a stud corner OF? What about Garko?
The Indians are flush with talent at this convoluted C/1B/DH position and will have to deal from their strength at some point to fill another hole.

Is that point now? No, I don’t think it is as there are no suitable replacements in the minors waiting to step up. If, say next year, Wyatt Toregas or Max Ramirez looks like a MLB-quality back-up C, Shoppach may find himself ordering new return address labels.

Right now, I don’t think the team makes this move (though they both would be valuable trading chips) because of a lack of MLB-ready replacements…just don’t be surprised when the day arrives.

Fernando Cabrera
Here’s hoping that one man’s trash…
Cabrera, who has pitched himself out of ANY role in the bullpen due to his inability to pitch well with the bases empty or the bases full, seems to be following the Jason Dangerously Train out of town. Cabrera, who was SO effective a mere two years ago, filling the same 7th inning role in 2005 that Rafael Perez has thrived in for the squad this year, has regressed to the point that the Indians cannot afford to put him into a game…any game.

Perhaps they’re able to diagnose him with a “tired arm” or say that he’s played too much “Guitar Hero” and send him to the DL, then a rehab assignment that would buy the organization more time to try to rectify whatever has happened to Cabrera, mechanically or confidence-wise. If not, Cabrera’s potential could serve as enough of an oasis in the desert of reality that a team could take Cabrera as part of a package with the idea that he can be fixed and can become the reliever that we all thought he would be in Spring Training of 2006.

If the team is unable to find a taker for Cabrera, or cannot put him on the DL with an injury (tendonitis, anyone?), the Indians will be forced to DFA him and put him out to pasture with the promise of very little (Davis brought an extremely low-level prospect and has since been DFA’d in Seattle, by the way) coming in return.

Edward Mujica
If the Indians do make a move for an established reliever, and the team would like a younger, less expensive, high-ceiling arm in return, the just-turned-23 Mujica may be the man. While he’s struggled with the parent club, Mujica has served as the closer in Buffalo and could just need a little more seasoning to find his MLB rhythm.

Of course, the question becomes if Mujica is a reliever, and we need relievers, isn’t this counter-productive? The answer to that would be that the Indians need stability in the bullpen TODAY, not in two years, so if Mujica can bring a more established (and more expensive) reliever in return, he could be the bait to help consummate a move.

He does have some value as just last year, as a 22-year-old, Mujica posted a 2.95 ERA with a 1.36 WHIP, out 12 and walking none in Cleveland, so the potential is there. But after watching him struggle with his command the year, it’s apparent that the Indians are reticent to allow him to come back up and pitch in a meaningful situation as it stands now.

The Young Arms
Aaron Laffey (22-Buffalo) / Sean Smith (23-Buffalo)
Not including Chuck Lofgren (21-Akron) in the list, these two would be the closest to MLB-ready prospects not named Miller or Sowers in the system. Both are having fine years in Buffalo (Laffey 7-3, 3.23 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 53 K, 14 BB not to mention a stellar stay in Akron; Smith 8-6, 4.15 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 60 K, 41 BB), and the Indians could make the decision that, because there are arms that slot above them in the pecking order, they can be better used to fill a hole elsewhere. While Laffey has garnered quite a bit of attention with his performance this year, possibly moving in step with, or ahead of Lofgren (9-5, 4.13 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 92 K, 44 BB in Akron) in terms of value, Smith has flown under the radar a little, but his youth and success in AAA could intrigue a team enough to merit a look.

The flip side to moving either of these players is that you lose the depth that we have learned is pretty important through the course of a season due to injuries and unexpected ineffectiveness. But, if the Indians feel that their depth can absorb the loss of one of these two and another team is looking for a young, high-level, successful arm – both of these players would fit the criteria.

The Younger Arms
Shawn Nottingham (22-Akron) / Scott Lewis (23-Akron) / Ryan Edell (23-Kinston) / David Huff (22-Kinston) / Kevin Dixon (23-Kinston) /Sung-Wei Tseng (23-Kinston) / Frank Herrmann (23-Kinston)

Call these the “throw-in arms” to make a package a little more juicy as they are young, lower-level prospects who aren’t going to help an MLB club at any point, but are the type of players that, if a team is enamored with one of these arms, could enhance a package.

With the depth of starting pitching that the team has, and quality starting pitching depth at that, it’s conceivable that one (or two) of these guys can be used without drastically effecting the overall depth and getting a decent piece in return.

While the reliever market is getting more competitive with more teams getting into contention and the available names’ list getting smaller (Akinori Otsuka seems destined for the 15-day DL and may no longer be an option for movement before the July 31st deadline), the Indians need to make some very hard decisions in the next two weeks.

How does what the Tigers decide to do affect their strategy?

Do they trust the young players (Atom Miller, Francisco, Gutierrez, Perez, Jensen Lewis, etc.) to carry them through the AL Central or do they need help?

If they need help, the price isn’t going to be cheap and, after the Dolans have spent some money to turn the world on its axis for some, the trading of youngsters by Shapiro in mid-season to bolster the parent club would land some fans in some sort of Bizarro world (night is day, down is up, etc.).

Is 2007 the year to go for it, regardless of what the consequences are down the line?

Should they fill the holes internally and hold off on dealing any parts for fear of dealing away a Brian Giles, Sean Casey, Danny Graves (when he was a Red, not an Indian) because the window of opportunity is not close to closing?

It promises to be two weeks full of rumors, conjecture, and debate – but bear in mind how these deadline deals have reduced in frequency and importance as it takes a buyer AND a seller to make these trades happen, not just one team’s wish list.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tribe Tunes

Long-time readers know of my interest in players’ introduction music that borders on the absurd, due to the inconsequence of the matter.
That hasn’t stopped me, however, from making my own suggestions for the songs that should accompany our Tribesman as they stride to the plate or out of the bullpen.
The 2006 suggestions can be seen here and the 2007 list can be seen here. So much time spent on those thoughts...

Well, after spending a few games down at the Jake recently, unable to recognize a number of the beats emanating from the sound system, I went to extreme measures to satisfy my curiosity...I asked somebody.

And so, without further ado (and thanks to a helpful representative of the Cleveland Indians organization), I present the introductory songs for YOUR 2007 Tribe:

Grady Sizemore - Da Rockwilder - Method Man
Casey Blake - All These Things That I've Done - The Killers
Victor Martinez - Rosalia - Juan Luis Guerra
Travis Hafner – Du Hast - Rammstein
Ryan Garko - This Is Why I'm Hot - Mims
Jason Michaels - Coming Undone - Korn
David Dellucci - Devil's Dance - Metallica
Trot Nixon - Walk the Line - Johnny Cash
Josh Barfield - Go Getta - Young Jeezy
Joe Borowski – Pay to Play – Staind

Interestingly, Peralta and Shoppach do not have set introductory songs and none of the other pitchers have designated music to warm up to.

That seems like such a waste to me, who spends so much time thinking what I would have blaring over the speakers (right now it’s the intro to Can I Kick It? By Tribe Called Quest), but I suppose these guys have “better things to do” with their time.

Obviously some of these are pretty cool (Garko and the Trotter being the first-glance standouts), but I’ll stand by my suggestions from the above links.

If only I could barricade myself in the Jacobs Field Audio Center and run the music for the game...I’d get jiggy with it.

Finally, pictures of the DiaperTribe’s first game at the Jake are forthcoming. The best laid plans to have him decked out in Tribe gear hit the skids thanks to a blowout (no not a tire - if you’re not a parent and don’t know what that means...just wait) prior to even getting out of the car.
Thus, he entered the Jake in outfit #2 (non-Tribe gear from the diaper bag) and was thoroughly entertained, albeit by a loss.

He did, however, say something on the way home about how he hoped that last night would be the first and last time he saw the mound stylings of Fernando Cabrera as we left in the 6th, right after Cabrera’s abysmal performance.
So young...and oh, so wise.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Keeping Pace on a Lazy Sunday

As a quick progress report, with today’s W against the Royals, the Tribe stands at 54-37. Using the overly simplified formula of winning 2/3 of home games (54-27) and going .500 on the road (41-40) to go 95-67, the Tribe has gone 33-13 (.717) at home and 21-24 on the road (.467).

Not an exact science, but a nice way to gauge a team’s progress through the year and see that the Tribe is keeping pace with the projection.

With that out of the way, it’s on to Lazy Sunday:
An excellent piece from Terry Pluto’s newsletter on the Cleveland fan experience. If you’re not getting Pluto’s newsletter, do it right now for the most even-handed and rational commentary on Cleveland sports that the local writers have to offer.

On the flip side, Sheldon Ocker takes some time in his infinitely entertaining (tongue inserted firmly in cheek) mailbag to unnecessarily mock a reader’s misstep in Westbrook’s first name and a misspelling in C.C.’s last name.
Really, did Sheldon have to include this letter so he could mock this guy? Are there that few letters coming in, or did he want to project his air of superiority and condescension that everyone finds so lovable and informative?

Paul Hoynes continues his “Best I Ever Saw” series, with Manny manning RF on Hoynes' squad.
I like the “Manny being Manny” story as the first one hits so close to home.
The date was October 3rd, 1995 and a certain verdict was being meted out in Southern California, but more important to this college freshman, the Indians were playing the BoSox in Game 1 of the ALDS as El Presidente was scheduled to face the Rocket.
On my way back from class to the freshman dorm, a guy stopped me to ask what I thought of O.J.
Me - (incredulous) “Ogea!?! What the hell is he pitching for? What happened to Martinez!?!”
Guy - “What are you talking about?”
Me - “Chad Ogea allegedly pitching Game 1, according to you.”
Guy - “I’m talking about O.J. Simpson being found innocent, you idiot.”
Me - “Oh…yeah…O.J….well, that’s nuts…um…I gotta go.”
I had bigger fish to fry than the verdict of the Trial of the Century, race relations in America, and whether or not a glove fit.
The Tribe was playing in the playoffs for the first time in my life and (since the game was not on locally in Dayton and the bouncers at bw-3, which would carry the game for the over-21 crowd, did not believe that I was Peter Allegra from Danbury, CT) I was going to have to listen to the game in my dorm and had to make sure that the reception was OK.
Of course, we all know how the game ended with Pena’s extra frames HR and the jubilant Clevelanders taking to the halls of Stuart Hall about 1AM to celebrate.
Oh, yeah, and O.J. was found innocent.

Moving on, Andy Call has a nice piece on Grover hanging it up in Seattle, bringing the fact that these guys are still husbands, fathers, and grandfathers into the “conspiracy theory”-rich story.

If I’m STO, I welcome Grover back with open arms to join the STO either to have an occasional 3-man booth with Manning and Underwood or to invite him to the STO set to incorporate a “Baseball Tonight” type show with Al Pawlowski and Brian Anderson. It would keep Grover in NE Ohio, close to the fam, and close to the game he loves. With analysis from BA and The Human Rain Delay, it would certainly offer an intriguing alternative to the sinking ship of BBTN.

SI.com’s John Donovan likes the Hafner deal and the other deals that lock up a teams’ own stars instead of overpaying for someone else’s on the open market.

And from the rumor mill:
Here’s the weekly dose of Astros’ relievers on the block rumors.

Here’s the story that reports that the Indians (and Brewers) have sent scouts to look at Kenny Lofton, and probably some of the relievers in Arlington. The Brewers have already (allegedly) offered Tony Gwynn, Jr. and have been rebuffed by the Rangers, so it may take a nice little package to get Kenny and Otsuka into Tribe unis. As was discussed by Hammy and Hegan during today’s game, Kenny could bat 8th, in front of Barfield and offer the Indians more athleticism and “small ball” ability.

According to Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi, the Blue Jays aren’t throwing in the towel yet, so forget those Troy Glaus to 3B, Casey Blake to RF dreams.
Does this also apply to Johnny Mac? Just wondering.

Heading down to tomorrow’s game versus the White Sox, when the DiaperTribe (pushing 7 months) will make his Jacobs Field debut in Pronkville.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Making a List...Checking it Twice

The promotion of RHP Jensen Lewis to the Indians and the transference of David Dellucci to the 60-Day DL represents two hints at what the Indians may try to do as they approach the trade deadline in a little over two weeks.

The promotion of Lewis (who, incidentally, was selected with a pick acquired as compensation for losing Omar Vizquel) means that the Indians are going to give their young arms a chance to emerge as the cavalry for an unsettled bullpen. Lewis thrived in his first full season in the bullpen in Akron, then Buffalo and his trip to Cleveland, ahead of Matt Miller or Mike Koplove, gives the impression that the Indians are trying to ride the hot hand or find another Rafael Perez to emerge to fortify the bullpen.

Wedge has been quoted that he will attempt to work Lewis into the mix in a similar manner to the way that Perez was worked in, slowly and in non-crucial game situations at first, with the possibility to graduate to a more meaningful role if he finds success. This strategy does not bode well for Fernando Cabrera, who seems to be falling further and further down the ladder in the bullpen, regardless of past success and promise shown.

Basically, the move shows that the Indians are aware what they have in Matt Miller, Mike Koplove, and Edward Mujica and don’t feel that the troika is going to be able to contribute many meaningful innings going forward. In promoting Lewis over those three, the Indians are showing that they’re willing to take a look at EVERY possibility within the organization before conceding to the fact that help is needed from the outside.

The next promotions to the bullpen could be Atom Miller or even Bubbie Buzachero as the Tribe needs to find out if they have internal options that can help (they can always toss some of the dead weight on the 40-man overboard to do so) stabilize the 5th, 6th, and 7th innings before they make any trades for relievers (which I think will have to eventually happen unless Jensen Lewis and 1 or 2 other youngsters turn out to be MORE than effective).

The bigger move, though, is the fact that David Dellucci has been transferred to the 60-day DL, meaning that in a best-case-scenario, he’s eligible to come off the DL at the end of August. That best-case-scenario, to me, is a pipe dream and the Indians are going to have to start looking for a LH OF, unless they think that the Trotter is good for anything more than a post-game pie in the face (which, frankly, he is not).

The need arises because Michaels is best as a platoon player in LF, facing only LHP and both Francisco and Gutierrez are RH. While The Ben Francisco Treat has nice numbers against RHP this season in Buffalo, there’s some trepidation to allowing him to be ½ of the LF platoon.

While some could argue (and I certainly could) that the Indians could go with Michaels and Francisco in LF, give Gutierrez the full-time gig in RF and allow Nixon to remain the LH bat off of the bench, you have to think that the Indians (now with Dellucci possibly not coming back at all this year) are making their list of available LH OF to either take over RF full-time or serve as ½ of the LF platoon.

Well, if the Indians can make their list, why can’t I?
The criteria would be either a LH or Switch-Hitting OF that would currently reside on a roster out of contention that has good splits against RHP.

First, the list of LH OF, ranked by OPS.
Here they are, ranked by OPS vs. RHP (with more than 25 plate appearances).
Not exactly a list of “Who’s Who”, is it?
How about Switch-Hitting OF, ranked by OPS?
And the Switch-Hitting OF vs. RHP (again, with more than 25 plate appearances).

Without including Ken Griffey, Jr. or Adam Dunn (for whom the asking price would START with Atom Miller and probably include more) or any players obviously on a contending team, the players that jump (relatively speaking) out of the list are:
Chris Duncan – STL
Total - .293 BA / .385 OBP / .552 SLG / .937 OPS / 16 HR / 47 RBI
Vs. RHP - .302 BA / .398 OBP / .599 SLG / .997 OPS / 15 HR / 37 RBI
Duncan certainly has crushed RHP and it’s debatable whether the Cardinals are in “Sell” mode right now, but he could certainly step in as part of the platoon in LF and possibly even project as the everyday RF. He’s only 26 and he’s eminently affordable ($400K this year), so the Cardinals probably aren’t that eager to move him unless they can get some GREAT young pitching in return.

He would cost a lot, but if David Dellucci’s injury is as serious as some think it is and Big League Choo could be headed for Tommy John surgery on his elbow (as is the rumor), the Indians could be interested in making a move for someone that doesn’t represent just a one-year rental.

Kenny Lofton – TEX
Total - .304 BA / .387 OBP / .436 SLG / .823 OPS / 6 HR / 20 RBI
Vs. RHP - .321 BA / .400 OBP / .469 SLG / .869 OPS / 6 HR / 17 RBI
Speaking of one-year rentals, how about K-Love? I’m all for this if only to see that giant gold medallion that Lofton wears (a K surrounded by a gold diamond) flop around as he wails away at a pitch, or see him drop his bat on home plate after Ball 4, just like the good old days. Seriously, without including sentimentality in the conversation, Lofton would be a pretty good complement to Michaels in LF in a platoon and the pair forming a productive platoon is not without precedent. In 2005, the 2 split time in the Phillies CF as Kenny logged a .818 OPS vs. RH and Michaels posted a .853 OPS against LH.

There’s no question that the Rangers are “sellers” on the market and Lofton could be had for the right price. Although he’s not going to light up the box score as he once did, he can still prove to be an effective part of the LF platoon with Michaels and offer the team increased speed and athleticism (which Nixon offers very little…actually, none of).

Ryan Doumit – PIT
Total - .305 BA / .381 OBP / .509 SLG / .7890 OPS / 6 HR / 21 RBI
Vs. RHP - .308 BA / .381 OBP / .546 SLG / .927 OPS / 6 HR / 17 RBI
Doumit has mainly played as a platoon RF for the Pirates, though his splits against LHP (.297 / .381 / .378 / .759) in his limited time could project to the possibility of playing RF full-time. Doumit is truly more of a super-utility player, in the Casey Blake mold (as he plays OF, C, and 1B), and you have to wonder if the Pirates have them in their long-term plans.

On second thought, what are the Pirates’ long-term plans? They’d move a part-time player for some prospects in a second as they’ve shown for the last 10 years.

Ryan Church – WAS
Total - .261 BA / .347 OBP / .422 SLG / .769 OPS / 7 HR / 37 RBI
Vs. RHP - .274 BA / .350 OBP / .453 SLG / .803 OPS / 7 HR / 24 RBI
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Church was an Indians’ farmhand who was traded (along with Maicer Izturis) to the Expos for Scott Stewart. After muscling back down the throw-up that just came up in my mouth a little bit while remembering THAT trade, I looked at the fact that Church is essentially playing in a platoon in Washington, with 88 plate appearances against LHP versus 237 PA against RHP.

His numbers aren’t great, but he would fit the bill of ½ of a LF platoon. Whether he would offer much of an improvement over Francisco remains to be seen, but he at least has more of a track record. He is 28 and would rank somewhere above “meh” on the excitement chart if acquired, but he hits from the right side of the plate and with some success enough to be considered one of the targets.

Luke Scott – HOU
Total - .223 BA / .320 OBP / .441 SLG / .761 OPS / 10 HR / 38 RBI
Vs. RHP - .212 BA / .318 OBP / .423 SLG / .741 OPS / 8 HR / 28 RBI
Another ex-Tribesman dealt away in the Jeriome Robertson deal, his inclusion on the list is only cursory once you see his numbers against RHP. While he has decent power against RHP, his OBP (.318) is something the team would never consider in place of giving The Frisco Kid a chance.

Interestingly, Scott has better overall numbers against LHP as a LH hitter, but most of his power numbers come against RHP. Really, it doesn’t matter, though because (unless he’s coming with Brad Lidge or Chad Qualls) he’s not on his way to the North Coast.

That’s about the best there is to offer, so those looking for a blockbuster move to happen, there’s just too many teams that are still in contention this late in the season and GM’s conducting fire sales ask for the moon and the stars, even for marginal parts (remember that the Reds gave up TWO position players for middle relievers last year). The fact that there just aren’t that many real options out there also plays a part of it.

The last line, though, regarding Scott possibly being part of a package with Lidge or Qualls is what is so interesting about these five players. All would come from teams that also have bullpen help to offer:
Jason Isringhausen
Ryan Franklin (though he did just agree to a 2-year contract extension on July 5th)
Russ Springer

Salomon Torres (should come off of the DL on Monday)
Matt Capps
Damaso Marte

Eric Gagne
Akinori Otsuka
Joaquin Benoit
Frank Francisco

Chad Cordero
Jon Rauch
Saul Rivera
Jesus Colome

Brad Lidge
Chad Qualls

It’s possible that the Indians could fill a few of their needs from one of these teams and, while the “name factor” isn’t going to cause the switchboard at the Jake to light up like a Christmas tree, these are the players that are available.

Most contenders are going to be shopping for similar needs, so the bidding could get intense and the price could get steep. But the Indians need to determine if Jensen Lewis (or any other internal option) can help shore up the bullpen, if Ben Francisco and Franklin Gutierrez are able to contribute in MLB, and if Trot Nixon will become the Alvaro Espinoza of this team – comic relief in lieu of actual contributions.

If any of the answers to the above questions turn out to be bigger question marks before July 31st, the list is there, the players and the teams are identified - “Let’s Make a Deal”!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The “Core” Corps

The news that Hafner has signed a 4-year, $57M extension means that another one of the “core” players has been locked up for the long term. Going into the season, the Tribe faced the prospect of losing Jake Westbrook after this season and Hafner and C.C. after next season to Free Agency. Westbrook, obviously, has been taken care of, and now, with Hafner in the mix (the C.C. discussion will be touched on in a bit), the following players are locked up through the corresponding years:
Hafner through 2013 (club option in 2013)
Sizemore through 2012 (club option in 2012)
Peralta through 2011 (club option in 2011)
Victor through 2010 (club option in 2010) Westbrook through 2010
Lee through 2010 (club option in 2010)
That’s 4 of the 9 positions (and the 4 best position players on the team) in the lineup and 40% of the rotation locked up through 2010.

Now consider the young players under the Indians’ control until their first year of FA year indicated:
Barfield – FA after 2011 season
Carmona – FA after 2012 season
Garko – FA after 2012 season
Mastny – FA after 2013 season
Perez – FA after 2013 season
Shoppach – FA after 2011 season
Sowers – FA after 2012 season

Figuring that Barfield and Garko/Shoppach take up 2 more positions (with Garko and Shoppach’s future tied to where Victor eventually ends up), that’s 6 of the 9 positions locked up for 3 more years AFTER this season.
In 2010, the lineup should include the emerging talent of Sizemore, Barfield, Peralta, Hafner, Peralta, and either Garko or Shoppach. To call that solid would be an understatement. The inclusion of Hafner in that lineup serves as the bedrock that everyone else can feed off.

It’s true that Pronk has struggled this year, but he’s still on pace for 26 HR and 107 RBI with the chance that this contract could trigger a Pronk fury that we’ve become accustomed to and balloon those numbers. Hafner has proven himself to be an elite hitter and a few months of average production doesn’t change that fact (he was 1st in the AL in OPS last year and 2nd in the AL in 2005, behind only A-Rod, and 2004, behind only Manny). Seeing as how those are his only 3 full seasons in the league, there’s no reason that we should expect any less.

Back to the big picture, specifically in the rotation, where you can pencil Carmona in and the possibility that either Sowers or Atom Miller or Chuck Lofgren (the latter two who haven’t even had their service clock start) project into the rotation and the Indians are sitting on 60% or 80% of their rotation pretty solidly in place or en route

And that doesn’t include the Hefty Lefty, about whom there’s a prevailing attitude emerging from skeptical Cleveland fans who are perpetually casting a gloomy eye to the future that the news that Hafner means that they’ll have to accept that “2 out of 3 ain’t bad”, already assuming that C.C. is gone.

At the beginning of the season, how many people thought that we would sign Westbrook and Hafner?
Why not C.C.?
Hafner’s agent (Scott Parker) also represents the Crooked Cap and there’s this quote from C.C. when asked about how a Pronk extension would affect him:
"It would be huge [if a deal is reached]. I would be happy. I would definitely take that as a good sign about getting something done with me. Everybody wants to stay. The core of this team has been together for a long time. We've been through a lot together, and we want to bring a championship to Cleveland together."

My head is racing after that quote and the excitement may result in my having trouble sleeping tonight, but for now, let’s table the C.C. talk and take the bird in the hand and give kudos to the Dolans for giving an elite, somewhat-homegrown player this money and give thanks to the fact that Pronk will remain in a Tribe uniform for the next 5 years.

The contract represents the second instance (with Westbrook’s deal) that the Dolans are “spending when the time is right”, locking up their OWN players to keep a talented “core” together. Keeping Hafner on the team is the biggest move to date and should be applauded…by the fans of Cleveland on Friday, when the Tribe plays KC at the Jake. Featherheads should show up to recognize the Dolans with their attendance and Hafner with their appreciative adulation.

The pieces continue to fall into place and obviously a lot can happen between now and then, but the Indians’ core continues to grow and Pronk in a Tribe uniform through 2013 is reason to celebrate.

In the Fold

As reported previously, Travis Hafner has agreed to a 4 year deal that will keep him in Cleveland through 2012. Looks like the money breaks down to $57M, with some of that being added to his current contract.

Much more on this phenomenal news, but for now...Pronk!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Many Faces of All Stars

While I couldn’t care less about the HR Derby, Barry Bonds, the All-Star Game, or the absurd idea that the game somehow determines World Series home field advantage, I hope that you enjoy it.
Actually, I hope you enjoy the All-Star Break as much as these two seem to:

How’s that for the dichotomy of being a professional athlete...or even a man, for that matter?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Lazy Sunday Heading Into the Break

A very quick Lazy Sunday heading into the All Star Break as hanging a storm door for six hours in 90 degree heat has sapped most of my energy:

Paul Hoynes had a first-half recap in the front page of the PD.
It was below the fold, but front page nonetheless.

Hoynes also has a story from our old friend Brandon Phillips on what happened to the Reds this year. Quoth The Franchise, “it's all about certain players. Ken Griffey and his home-run chase, Josh Hamilton and his comeback season, everybody got caught up in that instead of winning. We're happy for Josh, but we want to win. And the next thing you know, Homer Bailey's up here. We're a team, and everybody's worried about three guys." Maybe it’s my inherent distaste for Phillips, but if he was included in the list that everyone’s talking about, would he be complaining?

As Andy Call points out, thing may be worse in Pittsburgh than they are in Cincinnati, as Pirates reliever Salomon Torres in considering filing a lawsuit against the team.

The LGT makes a mid-season shopping list.

Chuck Lofgren, who’s tearing AA ball apart, is the headliner for the Futures Game. Also on the team will be Max Ramirez, the player acquired from the Braves in the Bob Wickman deal.

And, of course, Sheldon Ocker makes more friends.

Finally, a little something I looked up regarding our 2nd 10-game winner, El Diablo. After Carmona got run in the 6th inning of Saturday’s game, I explored what his OPS against is each inning:
1st inning - .716
2nd inning - .737
3rd inning - .573
4th inning - .804
5th inning - .473
6th inning - .833
7th inning - .924
8th inning - .873
9th inning - 1.286
Sure enough it seems there is something to Carmona being effective the first two times through the order, than seeing a huge jump in OPS against from the 5th to the 6th and even higher in the 7th. It’s not unusual for any pitcher to see this type of jump, but again, when stats back up what your eyes see, there’s something there.

Heading into the All-Star break with a 52-36 record.
Revel in it for a few days.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

We're Talkin' Wiffle Ball

It’s time to take our minds off of the little hiccup that the Tribe has experienced the last few days (can I put a sign outside Carnegie and Ontario that says “Middle Relievers Needed – Apply Within”?), so what better than an opportunity to play Wiffle Ball with…wait for it…Grady Sizemore!?!

That’s right folks, you can play backyard Wiffle Ball with that American League All-Star, that Sports Illustrated cover boy – SuperSizemore himself!

Now, if you’ve watched any Tribe game this year, you’ve seen the brilliant commercials. If you hail from parts unknown and haven’t seen these gems, they can be viewed here, here, and here.

The best part of this promotion (outside of the argument between Grady and the kid about ghost runners in the 3rd commercial, obviously) is the stipulation that “Winner must be 21 and a legal Ohio resident.”

I’m not sure why that strikes me as so great as the contest is obviously meant for a parent to enter and win the contest for their child and his or her friends to play with Grady some afternoon in a sterile development’s cul-de-sac.

But all I can think of is a group of guys in their twenties winning the contest.
The same guys who play Wiffle Ball under the “Simpsons’ Softball Rules” and just do it as a way to kill an afternoon and a few cases of pops.

For those of you keeping track of the ground rules outlined by the Ump:
You can't leave first until you chug a beer.
Any man scoring has to chug a beer.
You have to chug a beer at the top of all odd-numbered innings.
Oh, and the fourth inning is the beer inning.

Maybe because that’s what I would do as no “sport” is more conducive to pulling a cooler out and tying one on than Wiffle Ball HR Derby, a pastime that occupied a full summer for some idiots at the University of Dayton back in the late 90’s and the same idiots in Lakewood a few years later.

How great would it be to see the look on Grady’s face as he shows up just as the kegs are getting tapped?
I don’t think the 24-year-old Sizemore would have too much of a problem with it.

Actually…how do I sign up for this thing?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Remembering a Legend

With today marking the 60th Anniversary of Larry Doby’s first appearance as a Cleveland Indian, I asked a longtime reader, who is an avid Larry Doby memorabilia collector and possibly one of the greatest fans of the influential trailblazer anywhere, for a reflection on Larry Doby, his impact on Indians’ history, his role in the integration of baseball and his thoughts as we reach the anniversary of a brave act by Larry Doby.

It’s 1952, the voice of Jimmy Dudley (WERE) is heard in the background of the goings-on of daily life-- at home, at the barbershop, or at the corner mom and pop grocery store. “Hello Baseball Fans Everywhere….” There is no SportsCenter, no Baseball Tonight, nor ESPN for that matter. Local broadcast TV is in its infancy; Cleveland’s WXEL-TV’s rare coverage is seen by only a few who own televisions.

Your neighbor, Mr. Preston sees you outside in your gray-flannel Cleveland Indians uniform and asks you who you are. You respond, “Larry Doby.” You’re four years old and the name Larry Doby resonates in your ear much like the kids today hear Grady Sizemore or Travis Hafner.

Larry Doby’s among the league leaders in runs, home runs, and slugging percentage. As a four year old you are immune to the adult world of racism. You have no understanding of what Larry Doby has endured off the field over the past five years. On July 5, 1947, Larry broke the color barrier in the American League eleven weeks after Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play major league baseball. In your lifetime, Larry Doby has played in one World Series and four all-star games.
He’s your hero.
The color of a man’s skin doesn’t matter to a four-year old.

It’s fifty-five years later, and my interest in Larry Doby has not waned. I admire his success on the field and the character he showed off the field. My respect for him continues to grow. Unlike Jackie Robinson who had the opportunity to prepare by playing minor league ball with the Brooklyn Dodgers AAA club in Montreal the previous year, Larry Doby came to Cleveland directly from the Negro League’s Newark Eagles. Racism and bigotry did not end with Robinson’s entry. Doby faced years of prejudice throughout his career. Acceptance by his own teammates was not a given. He was often excluded from team functions and dinners. In 13 spring trainings, he was only allowed to stay in the same hotel as his teammates in three of those seasons. The spring of 1960, with the White Sox, was his last.

Larry Doby paid a great personal price for crossing the color barrier, but his athletic ability earned for him a series of firsts—1st African-American to hit a homerun in a World Series (1948), 1st African-American to play for a World Series Champion (1948), and 1st African-American to win a homerun title (1952). His induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 brought him the highest level of recognition for his contributions to the game of baseball.

Part of the enjoyment of being an Indians fan is dreaming, wishing, and “what if-ing.”
As a Doby memorabilia collector, I end this remembrance with my favorite story about Larry Doby:
From 1947 through 1958, only two different teams won the American League pennant, the Yankees and the Indians. The Indians won in 1948 and 1954.
How different Major League history might have been had Indians G.M. Hank Greenberg listened to Larry Doby. In 1949, Doby suggested the Indians take a look at three players he played against in the Negro Leagues-- Hank Aaron, of the Indianapolis Clowns, Ernie Banks, of the Kansas City Monarchs and Willie Mays, of the Birmingham Black Barons.
The scouting reports were not good. Greenberg reported to Doby, “Aaron has a hitch in his swing and will never hit good pitching. Banks is too slow and didn’t have enough range, and Mays can’t hit a curveball.”
Hmm, how different the 50s and 60s might have been for this four-year old and all of baseball?

For more in-depth information about Larry Doby see the following websites:
Larry Doby's Hall of Fame Biography
Sights and Sounds of Larry Doby
Larry Doby Chronology

A big thank you to our writer, who (not surprisingly) goes by the handle doby14 in the forum, and I hope that this monumental anniversary opens some eyes to the tremendous career of Doby and the important role that Doby played in the integration of MLB, one not too far off of the role that Jackie Robinson played, but with considerable less fanfare and acclaim.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Where Is Everyone?

With the final homestand of the 1st half completed, the Indians currently stand 25th in attendance in MLB, averaging 24,327 fans a game to watch a 50-32 team. To put that in the proper context, that is merely 1,571 more fans than Washington (currently 33-49, 13.5 games out in the NL East) averages per home game and 372 fewer fans than Baltimore (36-45, 14 games out of the AL East) averages per home game.

The Indians are 50-32, right? Those numbers aren’t transposed?
We’re at the beginning of July, so weather can’t be an excuse anymore.
The Cavs’ magical season is over, it’s not like there’s something more exciting in town that’s occupying people’s time.

While the attendance improved recently (with the biggest walk-up crowd in Jacobs Field history against the Devil Rays on Monday), the Jake still sits at about 80% capacity filled on a “good” night like Monday.

What gives?
Why are people staying away in droves from Jacobs Field?
Is the economy in Cleveland THAT bad?

After doing an admittedly unscientific poll, two answers came up most frequently:

I’ll come to the games when the Tribe starts winning.
Rather than just dismissing this out of hand (as it should be), I’ll instruct these people to look at the standings every now and then. They’re right there in the Sports Page, usually on page 4 of the PD. If you look REAL close, you’ll see that the Indians are at the top of the AL Central and we’re about ½ of the way into the season, so they have played some games.

OK, that was a little dismissive; but I have no time or respect for this argument.

These are the same people who hopped on the bandwagon in the 90’s, quickly hopped off due to some arbitrary move that somehow offended them (“how dare they get rid of Sandy Alomar”) or when the Jake was no longer the “place to be”, and will break their Tribe gear out of mothballs once the calendar turns to September.

Nothing bothers me more than these fair-weather fans and while I accept them for what they are and realize that their interest in the team is what differentiates a season with 3M people in attendance from 2M, it doesn’t mean I have to like them.

I’ll come to the games when the Dolans start spending money.
Now I think I’ve got it.
People are upset that the Indians’ payroll is $61M, 23rd of 30 MLB teams in terms of spending. They feel that the Dolans’ contention that they would “spend when the time is right” has rung hollow and are looking for the Dolans to reach into their pockets to add the necessary pieces to bring the “multiple World Series” that the Dolans promised in their introductory press conference.
They feel that if the Dolans were to push up that payroll number, everyone would magically appear back at Jacobs Field because a high payroll guarantees a winner, right?

So that’s why the Orioles ($95M) are perennially successful? No…
Perhaps the White Sox payroll ($109M) shows how spending money on players is a sound strategy for building a team? Wait…

I know that the Red Sox, the Tigers, the Angels, and the Mets all sport big payrolls, but this doesn’t guarantee any modicum of success.

If the Indians were like the Pirates, who sport a $38M payroll and haven’t been relevant in 15 years, fine. But, the last I time I checked the Indians barely missed the playoffs in 2005 and are playing pretty good baseball right now.

Did the 2006 regression scare that many people off?
Are they just waiting for this team to fail because that’s what they’ve come to expect as Indians’ fans?
Or is it really this payroll thing?

Before people fly off the handle and start rattling off all of the FA signings that have failed in the past two years (Jason Johnson, Danny Graves, Roberto Hernandez, Trot Nixon, etc.), I know – I’m right there with you with the ulcer to prove it.
But realize that all of these players were working on short deals that don’t handcuff the club by burdening the payroll with a high salary and a low output.

Should the Indians spend money just to spend money regardless of how it affects the team in the future?
Should burdening the team in four years with a cumbersome contract be overlooked to add that “one piece” or to give a player a contract with more years than common sense dictates?
Isn’t that the strategy that got us in this mess in 2002, when the team had a $90M payroll full of overpaid, aging players like Chuck Finley ($7.9M) and Wil Cordero ($4.17M) because they “went for it” by adding pieces regardless of future effects?

Since 2002, when the trade of Bartolo Colon signaled the end of the “rebuild while contending” concept, the Indians have made many wise non-signings because of the onus that a “too long” contract would put on a payroll:
To wit, Kevin Millwood signed a 5-year deal with the Rangers two off-seasons ago for $60M. In this, his 2nd year of the contract, he has had three different stints on the DL and sports a 7.06 ERA and a 1.84 WHIP.
But the Tribe should have signed him instead of giving a 2-year deal (with a 3rd year club option) to Paul Byrd because Millwood was so good on the 2005 staff?
I think you could find some people in the Rangers’ Front Office who would feel otherwise. My guess is that Rangers’ owner Tom Hicks (the guy who signs the paychecks every two weeks and will do so for Millwood for the next 3 ½ years right up to the point he’s still making $12M in 2010) must feel that way.

Or maybe the Indians should have give Omar Vizquel the contract that the Giants signed him to after the 2004 season. He looked great the first two years, but he’s currently toting a .585 OPS to the plate as his contract winds down.

Take Jim Thome (please…ba-dum-dum), who the Indians hesitated to give a 5th (and 6th) year to as they thought his back might break down. The Phillies took the risk, giving him a 6-year deal worth $85M, with a 2009 club option for $13M.
After being moved out of Philly because of his inability to play the field (having Ryan Howard waiting in the wings didn’t hurt), he’s spent a good portion of time on the DL in Chicago, where he’s simply been asked to man the DH role. While his production 4 years ago would have been nice, that $14M he’s paid this year (not to mention the $14M he’s guaranteed NEXT year) is an awful lot of cash to see on the DL on a regular basis.

Also, for those of you who would have liked to see Omar and Thome signed to be “Indians 4 Life”, regardless of the cost, remember that Peralta and Hafner might not be on this team and would be blocked by two underachieving, overpaid stars in the twilight of their careers. As great as Thome and Vizquel’s careers have been and how much they mean to the history of Cleveland Indians baseball, that, sadly is what they’ve become.

Credit the Indians for seeing that and not adding extra years to their offers to ensure that they would retire as Indians.

But that’s old news. We’re talking about the Dolans’ unwillingness to spend this past off-season to improve the bullpen with QUALITY arms and a corner OF now that they’re ready to contend. That’s what was promised to us.

OK, I’ll take the bait.
The Indians targeted a number of relievers in the off-season to shore up the set-up and closer role in the back end of the bullpen. They signed Joe Borowski and Keith Foulke as they were the two relievers available with the most closing experience and figured that, while both may not pan out, they should hit on one. Well, as we all know, Foulke retired and the Big Borowski has been stomach-acid-inducing, but effective.

Next the Tribe turned to augmenting the rest of their bullpen with players that could fill the 6th or 7th innings, identifying players like Justin Speier, Danys Baez, and Chad Bradford, among others. Speier was the first to go off the board to the Angels (for a 4-year deal worth $18M), causing the myriad of teams looking for help to go out of control to ensure that they would be able to fill their bullpen with “suitable” relievers.

One, in particular, the Orioles, went completely out of their mind in overpaying for Jaime Walker (3 years/$12M), Danys Baez (3 years/$19M), and Chad Bradford (3 years/$10.5M).
What’s been the return on their $41.5M investment?
So far, the worst bullpen in the AL and two more guaranteed years to all three pitchers?
Regardless of what anyone says about Hernandez (none of which is PG material), at least the Indians could cut him loose when it showed he didn’t have anything left in the tank.

But that’s the bullpen, which can be easily fixed by finding the right mix of relievers, young and old. What we need is a big power bat in the corner of the OF.

A RH one, at that, if I remember the cries.
You’ll remember the reports that Moises Alou turned down more money from the Tribe to sign a 1-year, $8.5M deal with the Metropolitans.
So, I believe this refers to one Mr. Carlos Lee, right? The same Carlos Lee that, as a 31-year-old OF had never achieved an OPS over .900 going into 2007 and is a huge defensive liability today, that signed a 6-years contract with the Astros for $100M?

Now Carlos Lee has certainly had a magnificent first half of the season, with 16 HR and 70 RBI, earning every bit of his $11.5M salary (though his OPS still hasn’t cracked the .900 mark). However, two or three years down the road, when Lee becomes a bigger liability in the field and (since Houston can’t simply put him at DH) the Astros are forced to move him to an AL team for pennies on the dollar (likely picking up a portion of his salary in the process), the deal won’t look as good.
Should the Indians have overlooked this fact to add Lee to the lineup?
Would they be the highest scoring offense instead of the 2nd highest scoring offense if they had?

The Indians certainly could have found room for Lee on this roster and the current payroll at $11.5M in 2007 and probably for more for a few years going forward at a comparable salary, but the Astros gave Lee SIX guaranteed years to seal the deal. While it netted them the slugging OF, the extra years on the contract will become the same albatross around their necks that Thome’s did in Philadelphia.

The point illustrated by the Baltimore bullpen and the extra years on the Lee deal is that these contracts don’t happen in a vacuum. The Indians, or any other team for that matter, don’t simply put a value on a player and just sign that player because there’s always going to be some team that goes outside the realm of sanity and comfort to make the “splash signing” regardless of how it affects the team 4 years from now.

We’ve learned it many, many times…it only takes one team to lavishly overpay on a contract that eliminates reason from the discussion to sign the player they feel will put them “over the hump”.

Now, if Travis Hafner is locked up to the deal that is rumored to be back on the table that would keep him in Cleveland through 2012, will people come streaming back?
At the beginning of the season, the Indians faced contract negotiations with Westbrook, Hafner, and Sabathia. If 2 of 3 of those are signed this year and they still have a full year and a half to figure out a way to keep the Hefty Lefty in Cleveland, doesn’t that constitute some sort of financial commitment to the team?
Is that “spending when the time is right”?

It seems that the Dolans are penalized for their young players being bargains and for the foresight to buy up the youngsters’ arbitration years, making their contracts extremely club-friendly. So, essentially, those club-friendly contracts keep the overall payroll number down.

Riddle me this Batman, whom do you prefer?
Grady ($750,000, .870 OPS this year) or Johnny Damon ($13M, .698 OPS this year)?
Victor ($3M, .929 OPS this year) or Jason Kendall ($13M, .543 OPS this year)?
Pronk ($3.75M, .844 OPS this year) or Jason HGHiambi ($21M, 149 AB this year)?
Peralta ($750,000, .836 OPS this year) or Julio Lugo ($8M, .541 OPS this year)?
A bigger contract number does not translate automatically into better player.

While seeing a payroll closer to $80M may warm your heart or make you feel that the Dolans are putting money into this team, spending money to simply spend money doesn’t exactly make good business sense. It’s easy to say that the payroll should be higher without offering concrete examples of players that the Indians SHOULD have signed, taking all factors into consideration.

It’s feasible that the Dolans gave Shapiro a budget around $80M for the season and he simply didn’t see the value on the FA market to merit the spending authorized by ownership. Of course, it’s just as feasible that the Dolans authorized only $65M and the retirement of Foulke is the only thing that has prevented the Indians’ payroll from being at that number.

Regardless of the case, who cares?
Does the number listed in the payroll column matter more than the numbers in the standings? While a correlation can be drawn that teams with higher payrolls are more likely to find success because they are able to outspend their mistakes, it doesn’t guarantee anything. Just as relevant is the fact that a high payroll isn’t mandatory for a team to experience a successful season.

To hold tightly to your belief that the Dolans are cheapskates who shouldn’t own this team, rather than accepting the team for what it is – an excellent team built on young talent and interchangeable parts that don’t burden future payroll numbers allowing them to keep their own players – that’s on you, it’s no longer on me.

In fact, if you really feel that strongly about the payroll - just stay away from the Jake.

You staying home to stew over that which you don’t care to understand, or refuse to remove your blinders to take in the whole landscape, enhance my ability to occupy my seat in Pronkville, sip an adult beverage, and enjoy a game that the Indians are likely to win.