Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Johan and Carsten

With the news that Johan Santana is headed to Flushing for (as ESPN calls it) the 4th best offer on the table, Santana thankfully seems to be on his way out of the AL. The deal is obviously contingent on the Mets and Santana reaching a contract extension, as Santana is reportedly looking for a 6-year, $150 deal.

The obvious corollary to this (outside of that the Twins are really no longer a threat in the AL Central) is how it affects negotiations with another certain LHP who also calls the division his home. Much has been made and written (admittedly here) about the wisdom of awarding a contract to Sabathia rich in years, given the track record of long-term contracts to pitchers, regardless of their pedigree. So the question that is often posed is what a fair deal to Sabathia would be, if Sabathia would accept it, and how much risk the Indians should expose themselves to.

Knowing about the success (or lack thereof) of pitchers working under long-term contracts, I'd offer Sabathia a contract long on dollars, but perhaps shorter on years than the one that Santana is reportedly demanding. I would offer a 4 year, $89M extension with a vesting player option for a 5th year. That would give the Indians 5 more guaranteed years of Sabathia (and bump up his 2008 salary) and keep some flexibility to make sure that Sabathia’s 5th year option (which is really 6 years from now) is triggered by something like the Cy Young vote or innings pitched.
His contract would break down like this:
2008 - $20M (currently under contract for $11M, so $9M additional)
2009 - $20M
2010 - $20M
2011 - $20M
2012 - $20M
2013 - $20M vesting player option
Would all those numbers look like that?
Probably not as there would be some progression of earnings, but you get the idea…it’s a giant deal.

Some could say that the Indians, small-market team that they are, couldn’t afford such an annual salary…until you consider that C.C. and Paul Byrd will be paid a combined $19M in 2008 with Byrd coming off the books after this year, likely to be replaced by a suitable youngster earning a minimum salary in the rotation. The framework of the Tribe’s salary structure affords them the luxury of signing a few big-ticket players (like Hafner and Westbrook, to date) as the majority of the roster is designed to be filled with young, talented players earning well below fair value unless the Indians see a player that they feel is special enough to lock up (see Sizemore, Grady).

It remains entirely possible that Sabathia’s people would demand a 5th year guaranteed with a 6th year option (which would really give Sabathia 6 years of guaranteed money due to him, being under contract already for 2008) likely giving the Indians pause as Sabathia represents everything that they have strived to do as an organization – to build strong starting pitching from within. Realizing that Sabathia is essentially the poster child for “The Plan” is the moment that would force the Indians to consider the risks associated with guaranteeing the years and associated money to Sabathia versus the reward of (ideally) penciling him in at the top of the rotation until 2013 or 2014.

If he agrees to the 4 guaranteed years and the option, he’s already signed; but if he demands more than the 5th year guaranteed and adamantly sticks to that demand, I would let him walk…as much as it would pain me to see the Hefty Lefty walk away.

The 5th year guaranteed with a 6th year option, however, remains the gray area. If the Indians are willing to extend themselves beyond what they call their “comfort zone” and Sabathia’s agents are willing to point to the contracts signed by Carlos Zambrano and Roy Oswalt instead of the deal that Johan seems to be in line for, a happy medium could be reached and the Crooked Cap could be a fixture on the North Coast for years to come.

However, if C.C. sees the Santana deal as the harbinger of “what he deserves”, the Indians will rightfully let him walk after the year…for better or worse.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lazy Sunday Inside Terry's Head

In the downtime of the Sports world, unless you enjoy complete overanalysis of a game another week away (the only compelling article on anything Super Bowl related comes from the wildly entertaining Chuck Klosterman), let the Lazy Sunday commence as the official “Countdown to Spring Training” Clock thankfully ticks away:

As usual, Terry Pluto hits the nail on the head with one of his famous “talking to myself…” sections about the Indians. Pluto correctly asserts that the Indians remain built on pitching and pitching depth, which will again be the reason that they will stay in contention for 2008 and beyond.

Among the juiciest tidbits from Pluto?
On the bullpen:
Before I get to Joe Borowski, there's Rafael Betancourt. He's one of the premier setup men in baseball. In the last five years, his ERAs are 2.13, 3.92, 2.79, 3.81 and 1.47 in 2007. Last year, he allowed only three of 33 inherited runners to score. Lefty Raffy Perez had a 1.78 ERA, allowed only six of 37 runners to score and lefties batted .145 against him. I believe Jensen Lewis (1-1, 2.15 ERA with 34 Ks in 29 innings) could be the next Betancourt. He throws strikes and is effective against lefties and righties.
That, ladies and gentleman, is finally (hopefully) depth in the bullpen on the North Coast.

As an aside, it has been suggested by serial poster Tyler that the Two Rafaels should heretofore be called Fist of Iron and Fist of Steel in a reference to the Coal Mining ballad “16 Tons”:
If you see me comin', better step aside
A lotta men didn't, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don't a-get you, then the left one will

Get it…right one…left one?
With proper credit where credit is due (let us never forget that serial poster rodells is responsible for the BLC) I believe that Tyler’s suggestion makes Senor Slo-Mo (the right one) the Fist of Iron and The Scarecrow (the left one) the Fist of Steel, so I’m on board with the addition to the Tribe bullpen’s burgeoning amount of nicknames.

Back to Pluto, on Sowers:
I really believe Jeremy Sowers will bounce back. He had a tired arm early last season, was hit hard and sent to the minors. They gave him a new workout program and by midseason, his middle-80s fastball was topping 90 mph. He was 4-1 with a 2.95 ERA in his last nine starts at Class AAA Buffalo. He pitched twice for Class AA Akron in the playoffs and allowed one run in 13 innings. He threw five scoreless innings with the Tribe in September. He began to look like the lefty who was 7-4 with a 3.57 for the Tribe in 2006.
What the what?
Jeremy Sowers…topping 90 MPH?!?
And…my day is made.

Finally, an interesting take on the young OF:
Odds are that either Franklin Gutierrez or Ben Francisco will become a good player, but probably not both. Keep in mind that Gutierrez hit only .233 vs. righties, but crushed lefties (.330). Francisco won the International League batting title (.318), and showed promise in 62 at-bats (.274, three HR) with the Tribe.
It certainly doesn’t sound like Pluto’s sold on Frank the Tank, notably due to his extreme platoon split. On the Frisco Kid, it shall be interesting to see how the Indians approach to him will play out in 2008 as it could be argued that Francisco can provide the Indians the same production that they figure to get from Jason Michaels (at a lesser price, with a higher ceiling); but, fairly or not, The Ben Francisco Treat seems inexorably blocked by those ahead of him in the system, with more talent (perhaps most notably Jordan Brown) on his tail.

A couple of cubicles away (I would guess), Hoynsie put together his Baseball Insider (no link provided as it was not available online as of 10AM as the PD continues to show their understanding of the Digital Age and how they are really embracing this “InterWeb”), which includes this from Mark Shapiro on Andy Marte:
The reasons we acquired Marte were solid – scouting, analytically, everything. We want to give it time and be patient to see if we will be rewarded and he will be the player we think we will be. In the case of Brandon Phillips, we didn’t play it out quite long enough. He did become the player we thought he would when we acquired him, even though we didn’t always see indications of that when we had him.
There is not a hotter-button topic than “The Franchise” (Phillips) on the North Coast and it is interesting to hear Shapiro mention (for the first time, I think) that the Indians mishandled him in terms of time and opportunities. The B-Phil Saga is the reason that Marte is almost certain to see consistent AB this year (how, I don’t know yet) and, as a corollary, Marte’s long-term prospects are likely having a bearing on how the Indians approach the Casey Blake arbitration case in terms of how many years they are willing to commit to Blake with Marte (and others) in the pipeline.

Outside of that, not too much on this football-less Sunday as I’m not going to get into where a certain LHP feels his “second home” is or the rhetoric coming out of both camps as it doesn’t amount to more than prepackaged sound bytes.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Relief Package

As news that Rafael Betancourt and the Indians have avoided the ugly process of “exchanging numbers” and the ensuing negotiations by buying out Senor Slo-Mo’s arbitration years, to the tune of a 2 year deal worth $5.4M, as well as the Indians holding a club option ($5M) for what would have been Betancourt’s first year of Free Agency (2010), the Indians have further cemented their roster going forward by ensuring that Betancourt remains in the fold for at least another 2 years.

In light of the recent deals meted out to relievers on the Free Agent market (and realizing that a the situation of a player like Betancourt, who was under the club’s control for two more years even before this deal due to his Major League service time, is completely different than a player on the open market), the real coup in the deal is the CLUB option for the 3rd year for only $5M. The protection that the Indians retain in the chance that Betancourt’s effectiveness wanes in the first or second year (knocking firmly on wood) is something that cannot be undervalued in the highly volatile world of relievers, much less elite set-up men.

To wit, realizing that the “Hold” is a fairly new statistic (wherefore art thou, GW RBI), it does measure the ability of a reliever to “hold” a lead and transfer to a closer. While better, more complicated, measures of relievers exist; for our purposes, consider the top hold leaders from just the last few years:
Brandon Lyon – ARI – 35
Heath Bell – SD – 34
Derrick Turnbow – MIL – 33
Jon Rauch – WAS – 33
Jonathon Broxton – LAD – 33
Rafael Betancourt – CLE – 31

Scott Linebrink – SD – 36
Scot Shields – LAA – 31
Joel Zumaya – DET – 30
Aaron Heilman – NYM – 27
Juan Rincon – MIN – 26
Scott Proctor – NYY – 26

Scot Shields – ANA – 33
Tom Gordon – NYY – 33
Scott Eyre – SF – 32
Ryan Madsen – PHI – 32
Julian Tavarez – StL – 32
Bob Howry – CLE – 29

Tom Gordon – NYY – 36
Akinori Otsuka – SD – 34
Ray King – StL – 31
Chris Reitsma – ATL – 31
Salomon Torres – PIT – 30
Guillermo Mota – LAD/FLA - 30

Octavio Dotel – HOU – 33
Brendan Donnelly – ANA – 29
Jason Grimsley – KC – 28
Paul Quantrill – LAD – 28
LaTroy Hawkins – MIN – 28
Tom Martin – LAD – 28

The lists, which contain few of the same names from year to year, illustrate how relievers remain a volatile commodity and one that really can’t be counted on from one year to the next. The problem with giving these players long-term deals (which is what they’re demanding now on the open market…even the marginal ones) is that if they do regress, they are virtually unmovable and simply take up a spot in the bullpen that could be filled by a more promising youngster cashing a much smaller paycheck. It speaks to the importance of developing your own players (whether they be relievers or otherwise) into MLB players, as opposed to potentially overpaying for an extremely unstable commodity.

Overpaying, you say?
How about the fact that the Brewers committed a combined $23M to Eric Gagne and David Riske, while the South Siders gave Scott Linebrink a 4-year deal for $19M and Octavio Dotel a 2-year deal for $11M this off-season in an attempt to fortify their bullpens. All are decent pitchers, but none jump out as legitimate closers or even are would be guaranteed to be viable set-up men for THIS season. However, with the Brewers and White Sox bullpens being major question marks, with no internal alternatives to exhaust, Milwaukee and Chicago simply obtained the pitchers that they felt would best help their team, regardless of cost.

Conversely, with the Indians boasting the likes of Rafael Perez, Jensen Lewis, and Tom Mastny (with more young arms on the way), it would seem that the Tribe will finally see some permanent help for their bullpen coming up from the farm to stay, which puts them in the enviable position of not having to explore the FA market as they have in years past with…shall we say…mixed results. Having those youngsters fill the pipeline at known salary numbers and with options remaining in case of a regression is a luxury that cannot be underestimated for a team that knows all too well what a Jose Jimenez or Roberto Hernandez can (or more accurately, cannot) do.

But back to the impetus for the discussion, the deal for our presiding judge of the bullpen (you know, because “Betancourt is in Session”) and the importance of the length of the deal. Some may argue that the Indians should have included another option year or guaranteed the 3rd year with a 4th year club option. However, it is important to remember that Betancourt is no spring chicken due to his career starting as an infielder (he was a 21-year-old SS for the Michigan Battle Cats), spending some time in the Pacific Rim, and overcoming arm injuries before finally settling in with the Tribe.

Betancourt will be 33 this year and 35 in the club option year, meaning that the Indians would have been guaranteeing that 4th year to a 36-year-old in 2011. To give that some proper perspective, consider that everyone’s favorite whipping boy, that “washed up, over-the-hill” closer of ours, The Big Borowski, turned 36 this past May. Given the volatility of relievers and the variables that seem to affect relievers more than most, the 4th year is simply unnecessary.

But don’t let that explanation of why including the 4th year in the contract overwhelm the fact that the Indians re-signed (arguably) the most effective reliever in the AL last year, locking in a set salary for his two arbitration years and possibly buying out his first year of Free Agency. The deal further solidifies the bullpen, as well as the whole roster, for the short-term and the long-term as the Indians lock in another piece to the puzzle for the foreseeable future…and at a very reasonable price.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Flurry of Inactivity

Much has been made of the Indians’ activity this off-season, or lack thereof, since coming so close to the World Series, before dropping 3 straight to the Red Sox in the ALCS. Even more has been made of the additions to their AL Central rival Detroit Tigers and the continued merry-go-round of players that fill out the White Sox roster. The dreadful feeling that the Indians are running in place as the rest of the American League is passing them by and that somehow the “window is rapidly closing” due to their inactivity has pervaded many Tribe fans’ minds as Spring Training draws closer. The sense that the Indians didn’t do anything to improve their team, by way of adding outside players, while the Tigers added a huge bat and a back-of-the-rotation starter to augment their roster, has led some to believe that the Indians have already been passed by as favorites in the AL Central due to their inactivity.

But, outside of the movement in Motown, it has been a relatively quiet off-season for the rest of the bona fide contenders in the AL as most “experts” feel that the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, Tigers, and Angels enter Spring Training with the best teams in the AL. Knowing what the Tigers have done, how active have those other teams been this winter? Examining the transaction logs for each of those teams, the movement of players and additions can be broken down as “Retained”, “Lost”, “Added”, or “In Limbo”.

“Retained” meaning that the players either had options picked up or signed new contracts with their former teams, “Lost” meaning that a member of the 2007 roster has signed elsewhere, “Added” meaning a player not on the 2007 roster who has joined the club since the end of the 2007 season, and “In Limbo” referring to players on the club’s 2007 roster who became Free Agents and have not yet signed with another team.

Retained – Javier Lopez, Mike Lowell, Doug Mirabelli, Curt Schilling, Mike Timlin, Julian Tavarez, Tim Wakefield
Lost – Matt Clement, Eric Gagne
In Limbo – Bobby Kielty, Eric Hinske, Kevin Cash
Truly, some excellent retentions (Lowell, Schilling), but nothing added to Boston to augment their notoriously shaky middle relief or lineup. Of course, they’re looking at full years out of their young 2B (Pedroia) and young OF (Ellsbury) to go with the maturation of their young arms (Lester, Buchholz, Delcarmen, etc.) for improvement – but where does that fortification from the development of young talent sound familiar? All told, the Red Sox…the defending World Series Champion…will be coming back with no big additions or truly new faces as they keep essentially the roster mostly intact from their championship run of a year ago in the hopes of attaining a similar result.

New York
Retained – Jose Molina, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Darrell Rasner, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez
Lost – Luis Vizcaino, Tyler Clippard
Added – LaTroy Hawkins, Jonathan Albaladejo
In Limbo – Roger Clemens, Doug Mientkiewicz, Ron Villone
Again, like Boston, the Yankees retained a number of their stalwarts from the 2007 season (notably Pettitte, Posada, Rivera, and A-Rod), but haven’t added much outside of a few bullpen arms. For all of the talk at the end of 2007 about how the Yankees simply didn’t have the pitching to match up with the Tribe (much less the Sawx) in the playoffs, nothing has been done to date to strengthen their rotation via FA or trade. Pending any Santana deal, the Yankees seem to be content to allow their young talent (Chamberlain, Hughes, etc.) to help their own team, rather than flipping them for established players. While far from a novel concept, it represents a decided shift in thinking in the Bronx most likely spearheaded by GM Brian Cashman, who has allegedly wrested some influence away from Big Stein’s Inner Circle in Tampa. The new strategy – fortifying from within rather than continually making the big splash in Free Agency to fill holes – is one that Cashman is banking on it panning out. If you think the off-season has been relatively quiet in little ol’ Cleveland, imagine how the New Yorkers, accustomed to using the annual FA list as their personal grocery list, are reacting to their winter of discontent, when even an ALCS appearance was denied by one of their “feeder teams”.

Los Angeles
Lost – Orlando Cabrera
Added – Torii Hunter, Jon Garland
In Limbo – Bartolo Colon, Dallas McPherson
Outside of the Hunter addition, which theoretically gives their lineup some pop (for a few years at least) and depth, the Angels also seem to be subscribing to the method of letting their young talent emerge and contend simultaneously and letting their undoubtedly deep and talented farm system bear some fruit in California. The youth movement is personified by a projected infield consisting of C Mike Napoli (26), 1B Casey Kotchman (24), 2B Howie Kendrick (24), and SS Erick Aybar (24) who have combined for 1,485 career AB – which is about 576 fewer AB than Grady Sizemore (25) has amassed in 3-plus MLB seasons. They still have some very-well-known quantities on their roster in Hunter, Vlad, and Lackey, but the subtraction of Cabrera essentially amounts to another move of the Angels trusting their farm system as stud SS prospect Brandon Wood is not too far removed from Anaheim. In short, you knew that the Halos were not going to stand pat, if only for owner Arte Moreno to try to lure more LA Dodger fans into Orange County, but the addition of a athletic CF to help out Guerrero in the lineup sounds like a song I’ve heard before.

Meanwhile, back on the North Coast, we all know about the Tribe’s moves:
Retained – Joe Borowski, Paul Byrd, Aaron Fultz
Lost – Chris Gomez
Added – Masahide Kobayashi, Jamey Carroll
In Limbo – Kenny Lofton, Trot Nixon
The Indians had a hole in LF (which is almost universally acknowledged by anyone who doesn’t own a Dellichaels jersey) and needed bullpen depth. One of the needs was checked off by the retention of JoeBo and Fultz combined with the importation of Kobayashi. Outside of that, the Indians have replaced Chris Gomez with Jamey Carroll and have, apparently, decided to go with David Dellucci and Jason Michaels in LF. The latter decision didn’t exactly set the AL on fire last year, and I have a feeling that something will still happen before the team breaks camp to remedy (or at least modify) the LF situation, even if only with the possibility that Ben Francisco and, later, Jordan Brown somehow enter the fray in 2008.

But for all of the hand-wringing about Shapiro sitting on his hands and doing nothing to improve the Indians, outside of the enormity of Miggy Cabrera (pun intended) arriving in the AL, have any of the other assumed AL contenders done THAT much to improve their teams? Due to a dreadful FA market, where a lot of bad (and by that I mean putrid) money was spent, and the trade market essentially consisting of teams looking for their Bartolo Colon deal to jumpstart their player development and stock their cupboard, the winter has been generally quiet.

For as much talk as there was about Johan Santana and others, the only real earth-mover was Cabrera heading to Detroit this off-season in the AL. If the lack of activity this winter in light of the Detroit trade comes back to haunt the Indians, they won’t be alone among AL contenders.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Prospecting on a Lazy Sunday

The temperature has dropped precipitously outside and, frankly, I don’t feel much like shoveling 1 or 2 inches in single digit weather – so let us warm ourselves around the Hot Stove on a Lazy Sunday:

As the “Top Prospect” lists continue to roll off the conveyor belt in various forms, Baseball America’s highly-anticipated list was released this week. The list was compiled by Chris Kline who, prior to working for Baseball America as a national writer, was the beat writer for the Kinston Free Press, covering the Class A Kinston Indians. So, needless to say, Kline has an understanding of the Indians’ organizational philosophies and has likely retained the contacts that he had within the organization while covering the K-Tribe.

While the “ranking” of prospects will always remain (to me, at least) a bit of an extremely objective crapshoot and serves more of a purpose of seeing which names are on the list and which are not – a fascinating part of the annual BA write-up is the “Projected Roster” four full seasons from now. This year’s edition is no exception as Kline has some interesting assumptions in his 2011 Projected Roster:
- Victor is still a catcher and has signed an extension (current contract expires in 2010)
- Ryan Garko has held off Jordan Brown at 1B
- Jhonny is still at SS (with his 2011 option picked up), Asdrubal is still at 2B
- Beau Mills is the 3B, not Andy Marte or Wes Hodges
- Nick Weglarz emerges from the cluttered OF mix to claim LF
- The Tank remains in RF
- C.C. has re-signed
- Jake does not sign another extension after his current deal expires after the 2010 season
- Atom Miller (shown above) still projects as a starter
- Jeremy Sowers has been passed up by other LHP in the organization (Laffey, Lofgren)
- Rafael Perez is the closer

Obviously, I’m looking far too into something that merely takes up a portion of the write-up, but it certainly is interesting to see the continuity and stability that Kline predicts for the Tribe going forward. If you’re counting at home, that would be 2 new faces in the lineup 4 years from now (one of which, Nick Weglarz, who just turned 20 a month ago, is shown here with a sweet LH stroke) and that the young arms (Miller, Laffey, and Lofgren) are thought to fill out the middle to back of the rotation.

Speaking of Prospect lists, here is the list from Minor-League Guru John Sickels, who must have Brad Snyder and Jordan Brown confused. Also, a wrap on Tony Lastoria’s phenomenal, and phenomenally exhaustive, 1 to 50 list.

Around the horn, here is the latest Big League Choo update and a nice piece on Jordan Brown, who has won two consecutive MVP’s playing in Kinston and Akron and has the aforementioned Chris Kline predicting (in an online chat) that he could win another one in Buffalo, something Dennis Manoloff makes light of in the linked article.

Hoynsie reports that the Indians’ interest in Bartolo Colon has dimmed but that the Tribe continues to follow Mr. Anna Benson.

Anyone else find it interesting that the Indians, who at first (and second) glance seem to be extremely deep in starting pitching, are scouting these players who could possibly pitch at some point, and MAYBE contribute, in 2008? Does this mean that the Indians are simply hedging their bet in case Cliff Lee’s freefall continues and NONE of the youngsters step up? Or could the interest indicate that one of the young arms is being shopped (in addition to Lee, who certainly is being shopped) and a pitcher like Benson would refortify the depth?

Finally, Indians’ Veep Bob DiBiasio is projecting that the salary base for the Tribe’s 40-man roster in 2008 should be around $90M, with $75M of that committed to the 25-man-roster.

Seeing as how the dollars committed to the 40-man, right now, totals a little over $73M with another $6M likely going to Casey Blake and $2M going to Rocky Betancourt (both approximately) in arbitration or deals reached outside of arbitration, that takes the total to $81M with every member of the 40-man spoken for.

As everyone here should know, I’m no math genius, but where does the extra $9M or so get paid out to if the Indians’ roster and payroll to that roster is essentially set to hit the projected $90M?
Perhaps an extra $8M or so on the contract of a certain big-boned LHP (a strategy utilized in the Westbrook and Hafner deals) to make his 2008 salary closer to $19M?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Caveat Emptor

A troubling line of thinking has emerged as news that the Indians have made an initial contract extension offer to their reigning Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia was recently reported. As most know, with Sabathia’s contract expiring at the end of the 2008 season, this off-season (though negotiations can continue throughout the season) represents the Tribe’s last chance to hold exclusive negotiations with The Hefty Lefty, meaning that Sabathia’s agents are simply not able to weigh offers on the table as the Tribe remains the sole bidder for Sabathia…for now.

The movement that seems to be gaining steam among a number of Tribe fans is that Sabathia should be signed “at all costs”, that his importance to the team outweighs any perceived overpayment (in terms of years or money) by the Indians because the Tribe NEED him on this team going forward and he’ll likely get a groundbreaking offer in Free Agency from a team that doesn’t play its home games on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario if he hits the open market after the 2008 season.

Now, despite the fact that he is not a Free Agent on that open market and the contracts signed by similar pitchers to Sabathia in similar situations has already been addressed here (not included in the linked article is Jake Peavy’s 3-year, $52M extension signed December 12th), many fans seem to be subscribing to the Blank Check mentality to “give C.C. what he wants” to keep him on the team, regardless of the long-term effect on the team or how relevant contracts provide a road map for negotiations.

The argument goes that “if he wants 6 years guaranteed…give him 6, if he wants 7 guaranteed…give him 7” and so on and so on to the point that Sabathia enters Wayne Garland territory. Seeing as how Sabathia is only 27 years old (he’ll be 28 in July) and has matured to the point that he is a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter (in a Tribe uniform, which hasn’t happened since…well…) with the hardware to prove it, without a pattern of injury or ineffectiveness in his career, the argument is not without some merit. That is, of course, until the contracts of those lengths are examined to determine exactly how successful the long-term contracts (namely 5 years or more) for pitchers have worked out in the past 10 years in MLB.

As we all know, those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them, so what can the history of long-term contracts signed by pitchers tell us about the wisdom of inking Sabathia, or any other pitcher for that matter, to a long-term deal? Taking into consideration that a contract of 4 years is generally thought of as the “comfortable” period of time for starting pitchers, how have the pitchers signed to longer contracts performed over the course of those contracts?

With all of the talk of 6 and 7 year contracts fluttering around in some people’s heads in regards to C.C., please consider the longest MLB contracts (with some help from Jeff Euston of Cot’s Baseball Contracts) signed by Starting Pitchers in the last 10 years, the annual salaries associated with the contract, and the pitcher’s performance over those years:

Mike Hampton – 8 years, $121M
2001 - $8M, 14-13, 5.41 ERA, 1.58 WHIP
2002 - $8.5M, 7-15, 6.15 ERA, 1.78 WHIP
2003 - $11M, 14-8, 3.84 ERA, 1.39 WHIP
2004 - $12M, 13-9, 4.28 ERA, 1.52 WHIP
2005 - $12.5M, 5-3, 3.50 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
2006 - $13M, did not pitch
2007 - $14.5M, did not pitch
2008 - $15M
2009 - $6M buyout or $20M option
Every GM should keep a copy of this contract on his refrigerator to remind him to exert some fiscal responsibility when negotiating a contract as, no matter how well a player has performed or how young said player is (Hampton was 27 with 6 straight seasons with an ERA below 3.60 in each of those years when he signed this deal), past results do not guarantee future success.

The deal Hampton signed with the Rockies, which included a $20M signing bonus (of which $19M will be paid to him from 2009-2018 at 3% interest), remains the great cautionary tale that baseball players are human beings and not above prolonged slumps, significant drop-offs, or injury. No matter how bad this contract looked at the time, it looks worse in hindsight. So bad, in fact, that three teams paid Hampton’s 2005 salary (Colorado - $2.5M, Florida - $8.5M, Atlanta - $1.5M) when he threw all of 69 1/3 innings and earned 5 wins for the combined $12.5M paid to him. With Hampton having a slight possibility of making the Atlanta rotation out of Spring Training, there is a very real chance that the $121M that will be paid to him when all of the checks will be cashed essentially netted 53 MLB wins or more than $2.25M a win.

As numbers like 7 and 8 are so irresponsibly thrown out there in regards to the Crooked Cap and others, it is important to remember the Lesson of Mike Hampton.

Barry Zito – 7 years, $126M
2007 - $10M, 11-13, 4.53 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
2008 - $14.5M
2009 - $18.5M
2010 - $18.5M
2011 - $18.5M
2012 - $19M
2013 - $20M
Giants’ GM Brian Sabean, apparently blissfully unaware of the Hampton debacle, went out to “make a splash” last off-season, despite an aging lineup and a farm system flush with young, talented arms. That “big splash” came in the form of Zito heading across the Bay from Oakland to San Francisco, with the $126M likely covering the BART fare (one way fare of $3.55) to get him to AT&T Park (raise your hand if you knew that was where the Giants played their home games).

Prior to signing the deal, Zito posted an ERA under 4.00 in 6 of his first 7 seasons with a Cy Young Award in 2002 (at the age of 24) on his impressive resume. Zito signed the deal as a 28-year-old, seemingly poised to enter the prime of his career. He rewarded the Giants in the 1st year of the deal by posting the worst ERA among their 5 main starters and coming up short of 200 innings pitched. After his dubious 2007, the Giants must really be looking forward to 6 more guaranteed years and Zito cashing $116M more of their money, praying that Zito will post better results than he did in 2007. Although it is a bit early to categorize the deal as historically terrible after only one year, the first year did not exactly invoke the names of Sandy Koufax or Warren Spahn.

With the stark regression by Zito in 2007, a consistent pitcher if there was one in MLB, the deal is startling in the lesson that starting pitching is rarely a given. While some point to Zito’s deal as the harbinger of the direction of contracts for starting pitchers, I can only hope that it comes to represent something of the Hampton deal redux, the aberration to the trend that ultimately serves as a lesson. For if Zito’s contract is the guideline for new deals and represents “A Brave New World” in terms of pitchers’ contracts, I’m going to need a dose of soma to get to a happier place.

Kevin Brown – 7 years, $105M
1999 - $10M, 18-9, 3.00 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
2000 - $15M, 13-6, 2.58 ERA, 0.99 WHIP
2001 - $15M, 10-4, 2.65 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
2002 - $15M, 3-4, 4.81 ERA, 1.42 WHIP
2003 - $15M, 14-9, 2.39 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
2004 - $15M, 10-6, 4.09 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
2005 - $15M, 4-7, 6.50 ERA, 1.72 WHIP
Not a great comparison to Sabathia’s situation as this contract was signed when Brown was 34 (with a $5M signing bonus) and while Brown put up great numbers when healthy, he rarely was throughout the contract. After 3 straight seasons of more than 230 IP prior to the deal, Brown logged 200 innings only 3 times over the course of the 7 year contract, twice pitching less than 75 innings.

When healthy, Brown was certainly worth the annual salary, but age and injury caught up with him as the advanced age at which he signed the deal eventually made the contract about two years too long. In the final year of the deal, which he played in New York, Brown was a shell of the pitcher that he was when the deal was signed – injured and ineffective.

Mike Mussina – 6 years, $88.5M
2001 - $8M, 17-11, 3.15 ERA, 1.07 WHIP
2002 - $9M, 18-10, 4.05 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
2003 - $10M, 17-8, 4.05 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
2004 - $14M, 12-9, 4.59 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
2005 - $17M, 13-8, 4.41 ERA, 1.36 WHIP
2006 - $17M, 15-7, 3.51 ERA, 1.11 WHIP
Perhaps the first example of a long-term deal proving to be a prudent move of the ones examined thus far, as the Moose stayed startlingly consistent throughout the life of the contract, pitching between 164 and 228 innings in each year. Of course, outside of his terrific 2006 campaign (the last year of the deal which earned him another 2-year contract worth $23M), Mussina was definitely trending in the wrong direction as the contract wore on.

The contract was signed when Mussina was 32 and his reputation as an innings-eater that was earned in Baltimore stood up in the Bronx, though it is interesting that Mussina finished in the top 5 of Cy Young voting only once in all of the years of the contract. As arbitrary and ridiculous as that voting can be (see Cliff Lee, circa 2005), the fact that he was viewed as one of the top 5 pitchers in the AL only once over the course of the 6 years while being a steady contributor speaks only to the consistency, and not brilliance, of Mussina.

Pedro Martinez – 6 years, $75M
1998 - $7M, 19-7, 2.89 ERA, 1.09 WHIP
1999 - $10.5M, 23-4, 2.07 ERA, 0.92 WHIP
2000 - $11M, 18-6, 1.74 ERA, 0.74 WHIP
2001 - $12.5M, 7-3, 2.39 ERA, 0.93 WHIP
2002 - $13.5M, 20-4, 2.26 ERA, 0.92 WHIP
2003 - $15M, 14-4, 2.22 ERA, 1.04 WHIP
2004 - $17.5M, 16-9, 3.90 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
If you’re wondering how Mussina didn’t get many Cy Young votes all those years, look at this oil on canvas painted by Sweet Pete in Boston. If ever there could be an argument that a pitcher can not only perform, but excel, over a long-term deal, these numbers present a pretty convincing case. Missing the 185 inning pitch mark only once in the 7 years, winning two Cy Youngs (with two 2nd place finishes, a 3rd place, and a 4th place), and posting sub-1.00 WHIPs for four straight years gives the idea of what type of results a contract bestowed on an “ace” should reap.

The final two years represent club options that were picked up, which stretched the deal to 7 years and $87M in total; so the performance of Pedro has to be the report pulled out of any agent’s folio to show that a pitcher can excel over the course of a 7-year deal.
That, ladies and gentleman, is an example of best case scenario…and how.

Daisuke Matsuzaka – 6 years, $52M
2007 - $6M, 15-12, 4.40 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
2008 - $8M
2009- $8M
2010 - $8M
2011 - $10M
2012 - $12M
The Japanese import’s first year in MLB was solid, but certainly not spectacular, though the Red Sox almost HAD to make sure that he was signed to a deal after posting over $51M just to get exclusive negotiating rights with him. The Red Sox, while being the only team able to negotiate with Dice-K, found themselves in the unenviable position of trying to project Matsuzaka to MLB and finding a comparable contract to use as a basis, when little was known about how Dice-K would translate.

After last year’s performance, 6 years looks excessive until you consider that Dice-K earned a reputation as an innings-eating horse in Japan and his salary numbers (as long as you don’t include the posting fee, which did not get paid to Matsuzaka) really aren’t that atrocious for a #3 starter, compared to the salaries being paid to lesser middle-of-the rotation starters.

Carlos Zambrano – 5 years, $91M
2008 - $15M
2009 - $17.75M
2010 - $17.875M
2011 - $17.875M
2012 - $18M
Obviously, Big Z has yet to throw a pitch under this contract, but the deal (which includes a vesting player option for $19.25M) will always be an interesting point of comparison for whatever happens with Sabathia. Both were in similar situations (though a year apart), with comparable success at comparable ages. Zambrano decided to eschew the FA market after receiving what he felt was a fair-market deal from the only team he had ever known.

Had he passed on the Cubs’ offer, he would have inarguably been the biggest prize on the FA market this off-season for starting pitching (just a tick above Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse…right?) and surely could have commanded more on the open market. Zambrano didn’t though, perhaps paving the way for other pitchers (like, maybe a big LH who wears his hat slightly cockeyed) to do the same.

Roy Oswalt – 5 years, $73M
2007 - $13M, 14-7, 3.18 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
2008 - $13M
2009 - $14M
2010 - $15M
2011 - $16M
Speaking of similar situations and possible paths, Oswalt set the standard for pitchers re-upping with their current club before hitting FA when he signed this deal, which includes a $16M club option for 2012. Again, like Zambrano, Oswalt found himself in a similar situation to Sabathia and decided to take what was likely less money to stay with his current employer.

Again, like Zambrano (and, truly, to be fair Zito), it is extremely early to judge how this contract stacks up based on such a short timeframe. But, if 2007 is any indication, it looks like more of the same consistent excellence for Oswalt that they’ve grown accustomed to in Houston.

Chan Ho Park – 5 years, $65M
2002 - $11M, 9-8, 5.75 ERA, 1.59 WHIP
2003 - $12M, 1-3, 7.58 ERA, 1.99 WHIP
2004 - $13M, 4-7, 5.46 ERA, 1.44 WHIP
2005 - $14M, 12-8, 5.74 ERA, 1.67 WHIP
2006 - $15M, 7-7, 4.81 ERA, 1.39 WHIP
If the Mike Hampton deal taught everyone a lesson, GM’s should take a semester’s worth of classes examining the atrocious results of this deal. Chan Ho Park, inked by the Rangers after the 2001 season, proceeded to pitch more than 150 innings only once (2005) and pitched less than 100 innings twice in the 5 years over the course of this deal. Considering that the most productive year of the deal included him posting a 4.81 ERA (while “earning” $15M) in Petco Park, this is arguably the most horrific deal that’s ever been handed out to an MLB player.

Whether Park succumbed to injuries or was simply unable to adjust to the AL or the launching pad that the Rangers call home, the deal was ill-conceived from the beginning and should serve as a reminder that the seemingly simple solution of throwing money at a problem often solves very little.

Chris Carpenter – 5 years, $63.5M
2007 - $8.5M, 0-1, 7.50 ERA, 1.67 WHIP
2008 - $10.5M
2009 - $14M
2010 - $14.5M
2011 - $15M
2012 - $15M club option
Now we get to the sad, sad tale of Chris Carpenter, who pitched only 6 IP in 2007, after singing this deal based off of two straight seasons with over 220 IP and WHIPs under 1.07, and is not expected to pitch until late in the 2008 season…at the earliest. Prior to Carpenter signing the deal, he posted three phenomenal seasons with St. Louis, finishing in the Top 10 in wins in the NL and finishing in the Top 5 in the NL in ERA for 2005 (Cy Young winner) and 2006 (3rd in Cy Young voting).

But, as we all know, unforeseen injuries remain the worst case scenario for teams after these types of deals are done and, early in the 2007 season, Carpenter’s elbow acted up, causing him to have surgery to correct a ligament in his right elbow, calling into question whether he will ever be the dominant pitcher that he was just prior to the contract being signed, much less when he will even be coming back at all.

Kevin Millwood – 5 years, $60M
2006 - $6M, 16-12, 4.52 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
2007 - $7.5M, 10-14, 5.16 ERA, 1.62 WHIP
2008 - $8.5M
2009 - $11M
2010 - $12M
Somehow this seems very relevant to discuss the length of Millwood’s deal in comparison to C.C.’s deal as most Tribe fans are acutely aware of the background that the Indians, after the 2005 season, were not willing to give Millwood the 4th and 5th years on a contract proposal, allowing Millwood to explore the open market, eventually inking this deal (that also has a $15M signing bonus that will continue to pay him $3M annually from 2011 to 2015) a year after winning the ERA title in Cleveland. The Indians, meanwhile, used the money set aside for Millwood to sign Paul Byrd to less years and comparable money.

In hindsight, it is a hard strategy to argue with as Millwood has certainly not done much in his first two years in Texas, performing below league average while Byrd (while not much better) is at least a Free Agent after this year, even after the Tribe picked up a club option, and will come off the books after 2008. In contrast, Millwood is still slated to earn $31.5M guaranteed over the next 3 years, doing nothing thus far to justify the monies owed to him over that timeframe.

Greg Maddux – 5 years, $57.5M
1998 - $9M, 18-9, 2.22 ERA, 0.98 WHIP
1999 - $10M, 19-9, 3.57 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
2000 - $10.5M, 19-9, 3.00 ERA, 1.07 WHIP
2001 - $12.5M, 17-11, 3.05 ERA, 1.06 WHIP
2002 - $12.5M, 16-6, 2.62 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
Consistency, thy name is Maddux. Over the course of this contract, Maddux was a veritable machine – logging more than 199 IP in all five seasons, posting ERAs under 3.60, and walking a total of 196 batters in the 1,152 innings that he logged over the 5 years of the contract. By any measure, the results are nothing short of astounding, particularly considering that this contract was signed when he was 32 (on the heels of the expiration of the first contract with the Braves for 5 years and $28M) and ended when he was 37.

While the numbers are consistent and consistently tremendous, they pale in comparison to what he put down for the first 5-year contract (4 times posting an ERA of 3.00 or lower, never having a WHIP over 1.05, and winning 3 straight Cy Young Awards), which compare to Pedro Martinez’s performance as how a pitcher, just hitting his prime and staying healthy, can thrive throughout the life of a contract…much less two.

For those willing to anoint anyone but this man as the “Greatest Pitcher of His Generation”, please consider these statistics and realize that the consistency that he Maddux achieved is something that we may never enjoy again. Maddux is a unique pitcher and any young pitcher who even comes close to replicating what he has accomplished, in terms of overall performance and consistency, will likely be ticketed to join him one day in Cooperstown.

A.J. Burnett – 5 years, $55M
2006 - $7M, 10-8, 3.98 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
2007 - $12M, 10-8, 3.75 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
2008 - $12M
2009 - $12M
2010 - $12M
Illustrating the classic case of a pitcher being signed on potential, as opposed to achievement, Burnett was offered this deal from Toronto despite pitching more than 200 innings only twice in the previous 5 years and never winning more than 12 games in a season. While wins are a somewhat arbitrary way to judge pitchers as a certain amount of factors lie outside of their control (run support, bullpen, etc.), Burnett looked to be a talented pitcher who had never been able to stay healthy in his time in Florida.

After the deal was signed, the reputation proved to be true as he has battled through two injury-riddled seasons (135 IP in 2006 and 165 IP in 2007) flashing the same intermittent brilliance (1.19 WHIP in 2007) that caused the Blue Jays to open their checkbook, hoping that he could stay healthy. Alas, he has not to this point and even holds an opt-out clause after the 2008 season; so if he is able to stay healthy and produce over the course of a whole season, he will have the opportunity to rip up his Blue Jays’ contract and capitalize on his potential again. If his 2008 follows the pattern of his career and injuries prevent an opt-out performance, he can still sleep well knowing that he will be receiving $24M more in guaranteed dollars from Toronto.

Gil Meche – 5 years, $55M
2007 - $7M, 9-13, 3.67 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
2008 - $11M
2009 - $11M
2010 - $12M
2011 - $12M
The contract signed last off-season that trumpeted that the wheels were off the starting pitching market, Meche had never pitched more than 185 innings in a season and hadn’t posted an ERA under 4.40 in any of the previous 4 seasons, not to mention topping the 1.40 WHIP mark in the previous 3 seasons. Unbelievably, the Royals inked the 27-year-old who (surprising virtually everyone not in the Kansas City Front Office) posted career highs in innings pitched, ERA, WHIP, and tied his 2006 season strikeout total in his first year in KC.

While Meche’s 2007 constituted a pleasant surprise for Royals fans (desperate for one), Meche remains vastly overpaid in terms of dollars and years. When it’s all said and done, is it possible that his 2007 could be the year that Meche figured it out and will only improve from here, justifying this contract by the end of the 2011? In a word – no.

Darren Dreifort - 5 years, $55M
2001 - $9M, 4-7, 5.13 ERA, 1.44 WHIP
2002 - $9M, did not pitch
2003 - $11M, 4-4, 4.03 ERA, 1.38 WHIP
2004 - $11M, 1-4, 4.44 ERA, 1.56 WHIP
2005 - $13M, did not pitch
See Park, Chan Ho…but worse.
That would be 9 wins and 205 2/3 innings pitched over 5 years and $55M, which includes the $2M signing bonus.
Not much more to say here except, of course, “did anyone get the license number on the getaway car?”

Denny Neagle – 5 years, $51M
2001 - $7M, 9-8, 5.38 ERA, 1.48 WHIP
2002 - $7M, 8-11 ERA, 5.26 ERA, 1.42 WHIP
2003 - $9M, 2-4, 7.90 ERA, 1.67 WHIP
2004 - $9M, did not pitch
2005 - $10M, did not pitch (contract terminated)
2006 - $12.5M club option ($9M buyout)
Neagle’s first two years, when he pitched 170 innings and 164 innings while posting WHIPs over 1.40 were, sadly, the best years of this contract that ended unceremoniously as Neagle’s 2005 and 2006 salaries were settled by an arbitrator after the Rockies terminated his contract after he was issued a citation for soliciting sex from a prostitute.

After writing that I feel a little dirty and…just…want to move on.

Kei Igawa – 5 years, $20M
2007 - $4M, 2-3, 6.25 ERA, 1.67 WHIP
2008 - $4M
2009 - $4M
2010 - $4M
2011 - $4M
Though not outrageous in terms of annual salary, the fact that the Yankees are paying a player that simply couldn’t help the team in his first year of the deal shows how risky it can be to sign a player to a long-term deal in that if the player proves to be ineffective early in the deal, it becomes nearly impossible to move his contract as the committed (and guaranteed) years are just too much to pawn off on anyone.

That’s it!
Those seventeen are the only contracts that have been signed by starting pitchers for 5 years or more in the last 10 years, only six for 6 years or more, and merely three for 7 years or more.

Regardless of the rhetoric coming out of the Johan Santana camp regarding contract demands, it is important to know that the likes of Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, David Wells, Jaime Moyer, Andy Pettitte, Bartolo Colon, and Roger Clemens never worked under contracts longer than 4 years…EVER in their careers. Even some of the most dreadful contracts in recent memory, like those handed out to Russ Ortiz and Carl Pavano were “only” inked for 4 forgettable years. Perhaps there’s something to that which has been ignored by GM’s interested in locking up pitchers “at all costs”.

Now, will C.C. suddenly become ineffective after years of success? Not likely.
Will he get injured and become unavailable or have diminished skills upon his return? Lord knows that nobody wishes that upon him…but it is a possibility as risk needs to be weighed against reward for any contract.

Of course, for every Pedro Martinez, who sparkles throughout the life of a contract, continuing the success that merited that contract, there are the Mike Hamptons (who, prior to signing his deal had won 85 career games and just turned 27) or Chris Carpenters (who won 51 games with WHIPs under 1.13 in the 3 years leading up to his deal, only to see his arm blow up) that serve as the reminders that sometimes even the best-laid plans can quickly go awry.

Also, from the consistency standpoint and the idea that Sabathia’s history of staying healthy and effective portends future health and excellence, it is important to remember that for every Greg Maddux, there are pitchers like Dan Petry, Larry Dierker, and Dave McNally (all 4 being comparable pitchers to Sabathia at this point in his career) who have broken down in their early 30’s due to injury or simple ineffectiveness. While it is fun to think that Sabathia’s career arc will follow that of Maddux, with consistently excellent seasons with tremendous health, it is unfortunately more likely (history tells us) that Maddux is the exception to the rule and few pitchers will ever be able to match his health and results.

Could Sabathia be an exception, like Martinez or Maddux?
Certainly, but just playing the percentages, it is more likely that he’s not. So, if past is truly prologue, the debate regarding Sabathia’s signability falls to the wisdom, or lack thereof, of signing a pitcher to more than 4 or 5 years of guaranteed money, not the money. Given what is known about the long-term contracts handed out to starting pitchers and the performances of those pitchers, is the potential reward that C.C. is headed for 6 or 7 full years of health and success worth the risk of carrying an injured or ineffective pitcher on the roster for a substantial amount of money for an extended period of time?

Those guaranteed years and the expected performance over those years, not the annual salary associated with the contract, is the question that the Tribe brass (and Indians’ fans) should be asking instead of simply ascribing to the belief that Sabathia MUST be signed to a contract extension this off-season.

Unfortunately for the Indians, there will be a team willing to take on the risks associated with giving a 6 or 7 year deal to Sabathia on the open market, with a GM happy to ignore the lessons of the past to ink the aCCe. If it gets to that point (and C.C.’s agents stick to a hard line of ignoring the frameworks established by the Zambrano, Oswalt, and Peavy deals, demanding a 6 or 7 year deal) – that GM, fortunately or unfortunately for Tribe fans depending on where you fall in the debate, isn’t likely to be Mark Shapiro.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lazy Sunday With Mr. Glass Half Empty

With the DiaBride’s Pack in the NFC Championship, things are bright and sunny at the Reservation and the time has come for a brief, albeit long overdue, Lazy Sunday to address what has been happening in the Sports Department at “Ohio’s Largest”:

While I generally try to avoid including Mr. Sunshine (Bill Livingston) in Lazy Sunday, I would be remiss if I didn’t provide a link to this, which perhaps best represents proof that Livy has officially gone off the deep end in terms of negativism. In the past, Livingston at least attempted to sound rational in his arguments of negativity (even if he was unsuccessful, you could at least see some effort), but today’s piece shows that Livingston has foregone any rational thought in his blatant attempts to continually see the glass as half-empty. The article states that, despite OSU going to the BCS Championship twice in 2 years, the Cavs going to the Finals, the Browns just missing the playoffs, and the Tribe being one game away from the World Series, he’s seen this all before in the 70s, and the future of the current sports teams will simply show history repeating itself as ALL of these teams are destined to never take the next step or steps to give the city a championship. So says this soothsayer that we are all supposed to believe, based on his “experience” as an observer of sports for many, many years.

The whole article comes off as so disjointed and dripping with “trust me on this, I’ve seen it all before” that you can’t help but wonder who in town killed Livy’s cat. His bitterness has always prevented him from actually having people enjoy his columns, but now he seems to be embracing these ridiculously negative views, perhaps because he feels that the paper needs a balance from their new columnist, the generally optimistic but always superb Terry Pluto.

There has to be some jealousy in the Sports Department as Pluto, since coming north from the ABJ, has been featured on the Front Page, numerous PD advertisements, and on free standing newspaper stands around town. In fact, the other day, a telemarketer called me to “upgrade” my PD service from the weekends only to the whole week. Their main selling point…“you know we got Terry Pluto back, right?” I can’t imagine that it all sits very well with Livingston, who likely regarded himself as the tenured columnist at the PD, suddenly thrust into covering mainly OSU. Which, regardless of how big of a fan of OSU you are, you have to admit is not nearly as popular in Cleveland as the pro sports teams are. Livingston, not surprisingly in his new assignment, immediately found an ax to grind with Jim Tressel.

One can only hope that Livingston is simply greasing his way out of the PD Sports Department with all of this blatant and irrational negativity and heavy-handedness. For about 4 years, I’ve avoided reading his columns, but since Pluto’s arrival they’ve been like a car wreck – so awful that you simply can’t look away.

However, today’s piece by Livy is the last straw…I’m simply going back to looking away.

Of course, on the other side of the ledger (and back to Indians’ talk), Terry Pluto takes a quick look at how Garko, Victor, and Shoppach figure to lend stability to 1B and C for 2008. While it is not often said (as the easier, and probably more interesting, thing to discuss is what’s wrong), the Indians are very solid at 4 to 5 positions (C, 1B, CF, DH, and SS…depending upon Peralta’s defense) with hope that 2 positions will be fortified by youngsters (2B, RF) and that veterans can hold down the fort at 2 positions (LF, 3B) or that youngsters can step as they did in 2008.

While it certainly makes for more interesting discussion and debate to talk about LF, 3B, and C.C.’s contract situation (which I should have something on this week), shouldn’t there be a point that we simply express some thanks that the roster isn’t a complete work in progress and that the Indians aren’t going to Spring Training with a roster full of question marks? Sure there are some areas that we’d all like to see upgraded, but the Indians are bringing back essentially the same team that was a good performance by either C.C. or Carmona away from a World Series, with more promise at 2B, RF, and the bullpen with a full season for the talented youngsters that emerged last year.

Maybe I’m being overly optimistic in light of Livingston trying to put a dark cloud over my Sunday…but the sky isn’t falling for the Tribe and things are looking pretty good these days.

Also on the topic of good writing, if you missed Tony Lastoria’s amazingly in-depth Top 50 (yes…50) prospects with write-ups for everyone, here is the link to his site. However, be warned, don’t click until you have about an hour or two to properly digest all of the information.

Finally, as you may have guessed, the 2007 Retrospective has been put on the backburner as (while it is fun to walk down memory lane) it is EXTREMELY time-consuming and I think more people to look forward than look back…especially with Spring Training merely a month away.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sign of the Times

To quickly peruse the Saturday morning edition of the Plain Dealer, one (unaware of the announcement from the Indians yesterday) could come to one of two conclusions – either that the Plain Dealer (who committed the ENTIRE above-the-fold portion of the Front Page to the name change) has very little to report on a Saturday morning or that Jacobs Field has been scheduled for demolition. Since the former is obviously the true statement, the news about Jacobs Field is that the structure, under a different name, will continue to operate and serve as the home to the Cleveland Indians.

Never has a move like this caused such consternation and hand-wringing among fans, who called into radio stations all of Friday, calling for a “boycott” or a “way to fight this” change. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I don’t remember this public outcry when Gund Arena was essentially given a one-letter name by the new owner (who removed the name of the previous owner from the facility). I think that the reason for the difference between the reactions between the two name changes gets to the heart of the matter regarding the “end of the Jake”. Whereas few good memories exist from the building when it was known as Gund Arena (unless your Wesley Person jersey is still in heavy rotation in your wardrobe), the 14 years that the Indians called Jacobs Field home is full of happy moments, magical memories, and favorite players.

It could easily be argued that the 14 years of the franchise, since moving into the ballpark at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario represent the “Golden Age” of Indians’ baseball. With unprecedented success and playoff appearances, the Indians of the mid-to-late 90’s and, more recently 2005 and 2007, The Jake became THE place to be…the place to see and to be seen. The fact that it had a cute nickname (probably one never envisioned by the Jacobs’ brothers when they bought the naming rights in 1994) added to the ballpark’s cache.

Yesterday, news that Jacobs Field would heretofore be known as Progressive Field was received by many as a supposed “End of An Era”, when you could no longer tell friends to “meet at the Jake” to catch a Tribe game. And, while it certainly was a convenient and catchy name that Clevelanders could identify as their own, along the same lines as “The Garden” in Boston or “Candlestick” in San Francisco, times have changed in professional sports as the naming rights to a sports facility is another revenue stream utilized by most owners (quick, where do the Celtics and 49ers play now?) to assist in the upkeep of those facilities.

The Indians, like so many teams before them, sold the naming rights to their stadium…to a Cleveland company with ties to the community for 16 years to coincide when the Indians’ 30-year lease with Gateway expires. When the Tribe re-ups with Gateway, Progressive (one of the few Fortune 500 companies remaining with local ties) will get the first crack at renewing the naming rights. Regardless of what you think of the catchiness of Progressive Field, it is simply a by-product of the changing face of American sports.

As for what we can all call the ballpark (for those not among the outraged, who will continue to call it The Jake, “no matter what”), why do we need some cutesy, monosyllabic nickname for our ballpark? Has the culture of Bennifer and Brangelina pervaded our sports world that we can’t simply say that “we’re going to the Indians’ game” or “we’ll see you at the Tribe game” or “meet you at the ballpark”?

I’ll miss calling the ballpark the Jake more than many and it’s not fun or convenient to lose the Jake moniker; but, again, wasn’t the familiarity and love for the structure at East 9th more of a by-product of the superb product that was put on the field and not the sign that was posted outside the stadium? As long as the product remains viable and successful, does it really matter what the name of the stadium is?

The naming rights announcement is only a sign of the times of the changing world of professional sports and to those who feel that the Indians are “selling out”, I can only hope that they’re right…that they’ll be “selling out” World Series games at whatever they decide to call their home.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Farewell, O Jake

Though this has never been the forum that reports “breaking news” or items “hot off the wire”, instead content to simply comment on happenings on the Reservation when all information has been gathered and pored over, I would be remiss if I didn’t pass along news that Jacobs Field is no more.

No, the structure at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario is still standing, but will heretofore be known as Progressive Field, as Peter Lewis’ enormous insurance company in Mayfield has bought the naming rights for the Indians’ home ballpark.

While, the news simply changes the name of a building of steel and stone, there will be much more on this in the coming days in terms of gut reaction and what this means to the Indians (long-term); but for now, let us allow the Jake to RIP and remember the good times.

Like the corners of my mind…
Misty water-colored memories…

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Lazy Sunday with Swish and Tabs

With no Browns’ game happening today (after Jim Sorgi and Tony Dungy ruined my Sunday a week ago), it is time to, as my Dad once famously said, “get my Sunday back”.

But first, a trip around a Lazy Sunday:
Still very little happening with the Indians, but the AL Central remains abuzz with activity as the White Sox made a move to acquire OF Nick Swisher from the A’s in exchange for minor-league pitchers Fautino de los Santos and Gio Gonzalez and OF Ryan Sweeney. It is another interesting move for the White Sox this off-season, as they remain confused about whether they are building a team to contend in 2008 (which they shouldn’t be), continuing to trade their upper-level prospects. Baseball America has a tremendous take on the deal, which sums up very nicely most of my feelings on it.

This quote from the article in particular stands out:
Oakland definitely is in rebuilding mode, having shipped former ace Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks for six players in December. Perhaps the White Sox should be doing the same. They won just 72 games last year and have an aging team. Swisher is talented and inexpensive, but this deal further weakens an already deteriorating farm system.

Don’t get me wrong on this – Swisher is certainly a nice piece to add (as was Carlos Quentin), but the White Sox seem to be the ostrich in the AL Central, unaware that they are unlikely to contend in 2008 or 2009 and the subtraction of their top prospects for what amounts to complementary pieces will only them further behind the 8-ball when they need an injection of youth on their roster (which, some could argue, is now). Fully aware that both Swisher and Quentin are still young, the stripmining of their farm system to add them to the roster seems short-sighted.

Of course, the question has to be raised of why the Indians didn’t make a similar move for Swisher as he does fit the mold of what the Tribe should be targeting - namely a young, under-club-control-for-the-foreseeable-future OF who has experienced some MLB success. He would fill the role of a complimentary player needed in Cleveland (where contending in 2008 is nearly assumed) much better than he does in Chicago, where he will inexplicably be asked to play CF.

First of all, trust me in that I would have loved Swisher in LF in Cleveland, but seeing as how Beane is probably pretty aware of the Tribe farm (with the Haren talks) and who he covets in the Indians’ organization, its entirely possible that the White Sox had the prospects that Beane wanted, more so than the Tribe youngsters, or offered more than the Tribe was willing to even entertain for Swisher.

Looking at the how the youngsters the White Sox gave up are viewed by Baseball Prospectus, and how they compare to the Indians’ prospects (again rated by Baseball Prospectus), Fautino de los Santos is a better prospect than anyone in our system (with 5 stars) and Gio Gonzalez is on par with an Atom Miller (both 4 stars). Ryan Sweeney (who has lost some of the luster off of his shine due to a difficulty to adapt to MLB pitching from AAA, though still 22) was the White Sox top prospect entering the 2007 season and would fall in line with a Trevor Crowe, if the BPro rankings are to be believed.

Realizing that prospects are just that and are no certainty to pan out while Swisher has a MLB-track record that projects success, that’s still an awful lot of talent to give up for a player who may or may not be around when the necessary rebuilding (if it ever comes to pass on the South Side) starts to bear fruit.

By the way, if you click on the White Sox prospects page again, note that the player they gave up for Carlos Quentin (Chris Carter) is ranked #4 on the list compiled a mere two months ago, meaning that the White Sox have traded their #1, #2, #4, and #8 prospects to add Swisher and Quentin.
Not exactly akin to netting Miggy Cabrera for your top prospects.

I have heard the argument that the White Sox still have veterans (Konerko, Buehrle, Dye, etc.) that can be moved for prospects to fill the cupboard again, but isn’t this just akin to an organization spinning its wheels? It is a trap not uncommon among MLB teams – unsure of whether they are poised to compete or not, they begin the unending cycle of trading prospects for big leaguers, then trading big leaguers for prospects – never actually tearing down or building, just staying in a suspended state of mediocrity. The net result is a mish-mash of players cobbled together through trades and FA without a true strategy to prevent the team from ending up year after year in the middle of the pool, treading water.

Perhaps I’m looking too deeply at the Swisher deal, and the “Konerko to LA” rumor and giving them too much symbolism as an organizational “game plan” (or lack thereof) from the South Side, but if the White Sox are eager to tread water for a few years while they fool themselves into thinking that they’re going to contend in 2008, digging themselves a deeper hole for future incarnations of the Pale Hose, I’m glad they’re in the AL Central.

In case you haven’t noticed (and judging by the hits to the 1986 Take 2 site…you haven’t), your humble host has the 1986 Tribe on the brink of respectability, flirting with the .500 mark at 25-31 (sadly, I can seemingly get no closer to .500) and ahead of Curt Schilling’s Red Sox.

Does Curt know that Boston made the World Series that year?
Because right now, the AL Champs are looking up at the Tribe. A small victory to this point for the manager, but still a nice feeling.

Finally, speaking of the 1986 Tribe, I recently received some correspondence from the REAL Pat Tabler (you know, this guy), who complimented me on the site here, but asked if I could change the name that I posted the stories under to my own instead of his as he is a broadcaster for the Toronto Blue Jays and wouldn’t want players that he has daily contact with thinking that he was blogging about them or having anyone mistakenly attributing my thoughts to him.

As no harm was ever meant in my early decision to use Pat Tabler’s name as simply a pseudonym (and merely an homage to my favorite player growing up) chosen back in the infancy of The DiaTribe and would hope that most people had already realized that (unless people thought that the Tabbie Cat had a LOT of extra time on his hands and REALLY followed the Tribe this closely still) Tabler isn’t the one writing the content here, I have no problem emerging from behind the curtain and posting under my real name – Paul Cousineau – as I already do on www.theclevelandfan.com.

Tabler graciously included some signed 8” x 10” photos and cards as well as a thoughtfully hand-written letter, so no harm – no foul.

But I figured I should at least address it, as the “author name” is shown at the end of every post, lest anyone think that a new writer had emerged to provide content. It is still little old me behind the curtain, committing entirely too much of my free time to thinking about the Tribe.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Overhead Projector, Part II

After the first analytical look at the projections for the 2008 Indians, as determined by Bill James Handbook 2008 and courtesy of Fangraphs.com, the time has come to cast our probing eye to that 6” by 24” white piece of rubber that occupies the center of the diamond a mere 59 feet from the front of home plate and the players that stand atop it.

That’s right, boys and girls, it’s time for the second ½ of the 2008 projections from the Bill James Handbook 2008 (BJH2K8) – the pitchers:
C.C. Sabathia
15-10, 3.56 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.40 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, 2.74 K/BB
While BJH2K8 sees a bit of a downturn for Sabathia with a higher WHIP and ERA from his Cy Young Award winning (doesn’t that sound nice) campaign, a projected 3.56 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP are certainly nothing to sneeze at. The big difference in Sabathia’s 2007 to his 2008 projections come from a huge increase in BB/9 (1.38 in 2007 to a projected 2.70, which would be his highest since 2005) which predicates a huge drop on K/BB rate (5.65 in 2007 to a projected 2.74, this time the lowest since 2005). While the Hefty Lefty’s projected numbers look good, they are far from the numbers of 2007 or even his 2006 season, so the statisticians see something in Sabathia’s numbers that indicate that after marked improvement that he showed down the stretch in 2006 and throughout 2007, the Crooked Cap’s 2008 will fall closer in line with his 2005 season that helped the Tribe to a 93-win season. Thus, according to the projections, the aCCe will return in 2008, just perhaps not CCy.

Fausto Carmona
13-12, 3.90 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 6.07 K/9, 2.61 BB/9, 2.32 K/BB
Like his left-handed counterpart at the top of the Tribe rotation, The Faustastic One is due for a fallback from 2007, according to BJH2K8, with a higher ERA, a higher WHIP, and a higher BB rate. All of that being said, though, the “higher” numbers for all of those projections are far from significant increases as the 2008 projections for Carmona show that the number-crunchers think that his 2007 breakout season was far from a fluke. Essentially, the projections play out to the conclusion that the Indians have a 24-year-old (in December of 2007) stud sitting at the top of their rotation capable of a 6.07 K/9 rate with a 1.31 WHIP every fifth day. That…um…that’s not bad.

Jake Westbrook
11-11, 4.18 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4.91 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 1.70 K/BB
Steady as she goes, Mr. Westbrook’s projections have him returning to form after a 2007 that was marred early in the season by a muscle pull. And by “returning to form”, I mean that the innings-eater who will not dazzle anyone, will pitch to contact (combined K+BB/9 rate under 8), and figures to win as many games as he loses. A solid middle-the-rotation starter whose numbers don’t quicken the heart rate, for good or bad, Jake is what he is. His 2008 projections most closely resemble his 2006 season which, while far from dominant, established him as a viable #3 to #4 starter and justified (particularly in light of the Carlos Silva deal) the contract signed by him last year.

Paul Byrd
9-11, 4.45 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 4.60 K/9, 1.65 BB/9, 2.79 K/BB
For those expecting the Byrdman to lose some altitude after a successful 2007 season…surprise! The folks at BJH see Byrd’s 2008 nest full of a lower ERA, a lower WHIP, and a higher K rate than 2007. While the projections don’t quite recapture the pre-Cleveland success that Byrd experienced in Anaheim, Atlanta, and KC, they are (at least) a continued improvement from the 2006 season that had Tribe fans banging their collective heads against a wall. Byrd’s projected numbers are far from scintillating and (outside of some extra hormones and possibly some Crisco) nobody knows how he is still able to baffle hitters, but the folks who look only at numbers and not “stuff” and not “electricity” see a moderately successful 2008 for Byrd, certainly befitting of a #4 starter.

Now we get into the nitty-gritty, with the top 4 in the Tribe rotation spoken for in terms of projection. Whereas the top 4 are pretty black and white, the unknown 20% of the rotation exists mainly in shades of gray and who, in 2007, better personified gray than Clifton Phifer Lee?
Cliff Lee
5-5, 4.40 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 6.80 K/9, 3.30 BB/9, 2.06 K/BB
BJH2K8, unlike many Friends of the Feather, are awfully bullish on Mr. Five and (F)Lee, projecting numbers that would indicate that 2007 was the aberration on the low end for Lee much like 2005 was the aberration on the high end. Interestingly, the 2008 projections are nearly identical to Lee’s 2006 season (same ERA, nearly the same WHIP) with the highest K rate since 2004. Whether or not Lee will post these numbers at the Jake remains to be seen as the Indians do have options past Lee for that 5th spot in the rotation and the possibility of moving him prior to leaving Winter Haven still has to exist in the minds of the Tribe Front Office. However, if Lee is able to right himself from 2007 to settle somewhere in the range of a 4.40 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP with decent peripherals, his existence on the roster and his contract become entirely more palatable for a #4 or a #5 starter.

Jeremy Sowers
6-6, 4.01 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4.91 K/9, 2.45 BB/9, 2.00 K/BB
And now, from the “Welcome Back” category (pitcher edition), the boys at BJH predict a triumphant return of the Heady Hurler that we all grew to know and love in 2006 as his 2008 projections fall more closely in line with the 2006 Sowers (actually with a better projected WHIP) than the abomination of his 2007 season. If the Scholarly Southpaw has, in fact, returned to his 2006 form (albeit with the same underwhelming K rate), the Indians’ starting depth will fall in line with the desires of the Tribe brass. Sowers, despite the trumpeting of some that he was a potential #2 starter after a few brilliant starts in 2006, is likely (according to BJH) to settle into the mean of an ERA around 4.00 and a WHIP around 1.40. Again, like Lee (though at a much lower price tag), if this is true – the Indians back end of the rotation will be in good hands as few teams can boast fair, or even middling, 4th and 5th starters.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of concrete numbers, everyone’s favorite baby-faced LHP Aaron Laffey (OK, some still may prefer Sowers) was not included in the BJH2K8 projections. This is unfortunate as there seems to be a wide gap in thinking about how Laffey eventually projects out as a MLB pitcher. One school of thought sees him as a groundball-inducing machine from the left side, with a better K rate and K/BB ratio than Jake Westbrook. Another sees him as a fair prospect who simply parlayed the confidence of a good season in the minors to a great cup of coffee in Cleveland, while past success certainly does not guarantee future results. Even a third exists that Laffey, with his bulldog mentality belied by a “High School Musical” face, is best suited for the back-end of the bullpen given his infinitesimal HR rate despite his propensity to pound the strike zone. While the projections are far from Gospel, it would have been interesting to see where the number-crunchers saw the developmental curve of Laffey going in 2008.

All told, very promising projections for the 2008 rotation with the slight regressions projected for C.C. and Carmona offset (somewhat) by a full season of Jake and a bit of an uptick for Byrd. The big change, of course, is the (relative) success projected for Lee and Sowers which help the depth of the rotation to the degree that it would keep (barring a trade of Lee) the Buffalo rotation of Sowers, Laffey, and Atom Miller at beck and call in case of injury or ineffectiveness. Somewhere, the manager of the Toledo Mud Hens is groaning.

But what of the firemen, the men paid to spell R-O-L-A-I-D-S?
Ask and you shall receive -
Joe Borowski
4-3, 31 saves, 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 7.80 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 2.60 K/BB
If you’re looking for the argument that The Big Borowski’s tightrope walk is going to end badly (i.e. falling without a net) in 2008, don’t look at these numbers. BJH2K8 sees a marked improvement in line for JoeBo with a much lower ERA (5.07 in 2007 to a projected 3.90 in 2008) and a much lower WHIP (1.43 in 2007 to a projected 1.28 in 2008) both mainly due to a stat known as BABIP (Batting Average of Balls in Play) which quantifies what happens when a batter actually makes contact with the ball, discounting both K and BB. Since BJH sees Borowski’s K rate falling and BB rate rising for 2008, the difference in BABIP (a whopping .348 in 2007 to a projected .295 in 2008, nearly identical to his 2006 Florida season) is the difference-maker for JoeBo’s projection. The important thing to remember in these projections is that they are just that and don’t take into account “guts”, “intestinal fortitude”, or “ability to separate” – descriptive terms all used by some to get their head around Borowski’s save total from 2007. These projections don’t factor in any of that – it simply looks at hard data and makes projections based on trends and statistical formulas. Even for the person who refuses to call the Indians’ closer anything but “Bloworowski”, the fact that the statheads (who don’t take emotion or a “closer’s mentality” on their spreadsheets) see Borowski improving upon his 2007season, which garnered him 45 saves, this is good news.

Rafael Betancourt
7-2, 3 saves, 2.83 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 9.00 K/9, 1.88 BB/9, 4.78 K/BB
When a projected 2.83 ERA and 1.05 WHIP represents a regression from the previous year for a pitcher, you begin to fully realize how fantastic Betancourt’s 2007 was. The BJH2K8 projection for Senor Slo-Mo actually falls closer to his 2006 season (in terms of K/BB rate and WHIP) than his 2007 masterpiece while BJH sees Raffy Right’s K rate staying ridiculously high…all while throwing nothing more than a fastball. The projected numbers are certainly suitable for a closer (which many see Betancourt evolving into at some point in 2008), but at this point (particularly if the Borowski projections hold true) Betancourt’s 2008 projections essentially eliminate the 8th inning as a run-scoring opportunity for opponents.

Rafael Perez
5-3, 1 save, 3.33 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.64 K/9, 2.71 BB/9, 2.82 K/BB
Much like his RH counterpart, The Scarecrow’s 2008 projections are a disappointment only if you truly expect him to post 1.78 ERA, 0.92 WHIP campaigns (as he did in 2007) on an annual basis. As the likely 7th inning option, a projected 3.33 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with strong rates and ratios, Perez looks poised to build on his breakout 2007 season, while perhaps not with the same unbridled success that he experienced this past year. His projected K/BB rate remains favorable which bodes well for his long-term future out of the bullpen as relievers (particularly brought on with a lead) are not meant to put baserunners on via the BB. There has been some talk of returning Perez to a starting role (he started 12 games in Akron in 2006 and 7 games in Buffalo last year) but, at this point, if the bullpen role is suiting the lanky LHP and the Indians’ SP depth goes into quality arms in Buffalo, Perez’s best role for the 2008 Indians is squeezing that narrow frame through the bullpen door.

Tom Mastny
3-3, 3.74 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 8.83 K/9, 4.42 BB/9, 2.00 K/BB
If the Two Raffies are thought to “regress” in 2008, BJH2K8 has the Nasty Boy making a big leap forward with marked improvement in his ERA (4.68 in 2007 to a projected 3.74 in 2008), WHIP (1.65 in 2007 to a projected 1.42 in 2008), a higher K rate (8.12 in 2007 to a projected 8.83 in 2008), a lower BB rate (4.99 in 2007 to a projected 4.42 in 2008), and a drop in HR/9 (0.94 in 2007 to a projected 0.34 in 2008). As far as the folks at BJH are concerned the native of Borneo is ready to make the jump to a viable contributor to the back end of the bullpen. While his BB rate remains high, and would likely preclude him from usurping any of the relievers above him on the “bullpen ladder”, the 27-year-old (in February of 2008) may take the step in 2008 to becoming a fixture in the Cleveland bullpen no longer subject to the “Buffalo Shuttle”.

Aaron Fultz
3-2, 3.86 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 7.29 K/9, 3.64 BB/9, 2.00 K/BB
The projections for Fultz (in terms of a higher ERA) are actually promising as BJH2K8 sees a higher K rate and a lower BB rate (which hopefully applies to less BB with the bases loaded) than 2007. Fultz has certainly been moved down the pecking order in terms of where he fits in the Tribe bullpen, but as long as he is used to start innings and not get the Tribe out of jams (which, of course, is not an desired attribute for a reliever), Fultz should be able to eat up some innings with the Indians behind while not throwing gasoline on the fire.

All in all, an extremely bright outlook for the Tribe pen, even without projections being done for the player I’m most optimistic about (Jenny Lewis) and the most intriguing part (Masa Kobayashi). BJH2K8 projects that all 5 relievers listed above will have ERA under 4.00 with Tom Mastny’s 1.42 WHIP being the highest projected WHIP. All 5 relievers have a K/BB rate of 2.00 or better and the players with the higher BB rates (Mastny and Fultz) figure to fill out the bottom portion of the bullpen.

After years of spending Spring after Spring trying to cobble together a settled bullpen in the volatile world of relievers, the Tribe (at least according to BJH2K8) have both quality and depth residing in their bullpen. A strength of their 2007 team (once Betancourt put a stranglehold on the set-up role) would seem to remain one in 2008 with the depth available in the organization (notably Jen Lewis) to augment the relievers listed above.

And with that, all of the projections (from BJH2K8, at least) are done – its time for the players to hit the field soon…please?
42 days until Pitchers and Catchers Report…
42 days until Pitchers and Catchers Report…
42 days until Pitchers and Catchers Report…