Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lazy Sunday in Sconnie

Betwixt a trip to Madison yesterday for the Badgers’ football game against Akron (and, no, I couldn’t answer the question of why they are the Zips and why the Zips’ mascot is a kangaroo…unless there are kangaroos in Akron that I’m unaware of and the guess from my father-in-law that Zip Codes were invented in Akron sounds a little made up) and a trip to Wrigley tomorrow for some day baseball, it’s time for a Lazy Sunday from the satellite office in Milwaukee.

In case you were wondering, I’m not up here for Harley Fest – although the site of tens of thousands of motorcycles and the bikers that ride them is one of the more unbelievable sights I can imagine.
Nevertheless, we’re off:

Terry Pluto reports that the organization is approaching the OF situation about the way that I have been laying out in the past few weeks, with Francisco and Chootierrez handling the corners and the addition coming in the infield. All told, this is the layout that makes the most sense if you’re prioritizing needs as Franchootierrez (yeah, I just went there) has certainly shown more than Marte and Barfield while in Cleveland.

Pluto also points out that the Indians may be looking for a “quick fix” at 1B for next year because of the struggles of Garko and because it’s likely that Victor will stay the Catcher. While that is certainly possible, and 1B are easier to find on the FA market than most other positions, what about pitting LaPorta and Garko against each other for 1B in Goodyear? If the Indians REALLY think that the OF positions are taken care of and that 1B is a problem…um, I think there’s this guy that we just traded for who’s supposed to be a near-MLB-ready impact bat who can either play LF or 1B.
So, the WangBanger moves to his natural position of 1B, right?
If the team wants to give Garko one last shot (at mediocrity) and start LaPorta in Columbus, with the idea that they can move him up like the Brewers did with Ryan Braun last year, so be it. But the way that these positions look to be shaking out, LaPorta with a 1B glove looks like a surer bet than the idea of him patrolling the OF.

Finally, Pluto hits on the players acquired for Lacey Cake, as both Bones Meloan and Carlos Santana have found immediate success in the Indians’ organization. Does anyone else think that the Blake trade is going to be looked at in the same fond terms that the Colon deal is, say two years from now…if not sooner?

Tony Lastoria hits on some of the MVP hardware being bestowed upon some of the youngsters with Beau Mills winning the MVP in the Carolina League and the aforementioned Carlos Santana winning the MVP in the California League (despite the fact that he hasn’t played for Inland Empire in a MONTH). Throw those two, presumably, on the Akron team for next year along with Nicky Weglarz and Canal Park could certainly see some offensive fireworks all season…except, of course, when Hector Rondon pitches.
By the way, look at that picture of Beau Mills in the piece again.
Do you think that Mills could get a girl like Giselle Bundchen, just like his identical brother?

David Briggs over at TBN’s The Inside Pitch has a quick blurb on the elephant in the room, the shoulder of one Mr. Travis Hafner, from Buffalo. I’ll probably have something on this later this week, but this Hafner thing (he can’t play consecutive games…at DH?) is turning into one of the biggest things to watch (if it wasn’t already) as the season plays out. With the return of Victor, one can’t help but be reminded that The Atomic Wedgie said that he wanted BOTH Vic and Hafner to log some AB in Cleveland this year so they weren’t going into 2009 without some MLB plate appearances under their belt. This “news” that Hafner’s shoulder remains balky, with little strain being put on it and no “official diagnosis” from the club…well, it doesn’t look good.

Also from TBN, Mike Harrington thinks that Aaron Laffey, Rich Rundles, Jeff Weaver, John Meloan and Tom Mastny are all coming topside when rosters expand. Remember that Laffey probably won’t get called up until next week, or later, as his accumulated service time is right on the cusp of him potentially being a FA a full year later if he’s kept down in the minors for another week or so.

Ken Rosenthal thinks that the GM carousel will be going at top speed this offseason, so don’t be surprised when Tribe Assistant GM Chris Antonetti’s name comes up in connection with a number of these looming openings. Despite the struggles of 2008, here’s hoping that the “deal” that was agreed upon last year when the Cardinals courted Antonetti is still in place (or even enhanced) to keep the chain of command in place for the Tribe and the heir apparent on the North Coast.

Finally, with a trip to the North Side of Chicago happening tomorrow, here’s a great piece by one of my favorites, Joe Posnanski, in his maiden voyage on regarding how the Cubbies may not be as universally loved as everyone seems to think. As an aside here, with the Yankees and perhaps even the Red Sox not making the playoffs, does anyone else sense that the Cubs are going to be the team that TV execs and the folks at Bristol are preparing to shove down our throats this postseason?

If you thought the Red Sox fans made a quick transition from long-suffering to insufferable, just wait to see what happens to Cubs’ fans, with an assist from the Worldwide Leader who would cover a Cubs’ WS victory with the same fervor as a certain “retired” QB who ends up in NYC. Nobody turns a good story into an annoyance like ESPN…and the Cubs’ story is just sitting there, waiting for them.

It’s not going to stop me from enjoying some Old Style tomorrow as I join the other “Ferris Bueller-wanna-be’s” on Labor Day, but you’ve been warned.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go watch a certain LHP who goes by his initials only (and is now sporting a full beard!) try to pitch his current team into the playoffs on FSN Wisconsin.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Who Are Those Guys?

In the days before Netflix entered our greater lexicon and even before the days of DVD’s, my family used to find a good deal of their movie fix in the aisles of Glengate Video as we perused the VHS tapes for nighttime entertainment. Often, these excursions up to Glengate would consist of my dad and I walking up and down the aisles of wire shelving loaded with tapes that either had a rubber band around it (that meant it was not available) or not.

Invariably, if one of the participants in the trip was my father, the tape that would accompany us back to the homestead would either follow the inane adventures of Inspector Closeau (which my sister “didn’t get” while my dad and I laughed until we cried), would be some tough-guy movie with Lee Marvin, or had one or both of the dynamic duo of Paul Newman and Robert Redford adorning the front of the VHS case. While I longed for the likes of RoboCop, Aliens, and Commando (never really worrying as the guys up the street always had the latest shoot-em-ups), I was exposed month after month to The Dirty Dozen, Jeremiah Johnson, Cool Hand Luke, and my favorite…Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.

Where am I going with this?
Watching this Indians’ team rattle off 10 straight victories, I’m reminded nightly of the chase scene in the movie when Butch and Sundance are riding away from their pursuers, attempting to throw them off the trail by jumping off of cliffs and the like, but are never able to escape the white skimmer hat that appears on one of their pursuers on the horizon. When the two would stop to see if they had lost the following group, as soon as they saw that they were still being tailed, they would exchange forlorn glances and say, incredulously, “Who are those guys?”

Anyone else find themselves wondering the exact same thing after each victory as a team ravaged by injuries, ineffectiveness, and ultimately trades finds itself as the hottest team in MLB?
As this team somehow hits another gear, let’s rattle off what’s NOT on the field which was assumed to be givens for the season on Opening Day:
#1 Starter (CC)
#3 Starter (Jake)
#4 Starter (Byrd)
Closer (JoeBo)
#3 Hitter / Starting Catcher (Vic)
#4 Hitter / DH (Pronk)
#7 Hitter / 3B (Blake)
Perhaps I’m overstating the assumed roles of Borowski and Blake coming out of Winter Haven…but did I miss anything?

All of those players are not currently pulling their Chief Wahoo caps on and STILL the Indians have the 4th best record in baseball since the All-Star Break at 24-14. The All-Star break, you may remember, started just days after the Indians “put up the white flag” by trading their aCCe to the shores of Lake Michigan.
I mean, seriously, every night the question can be asked - “Who are those guys?”

The Indians have the 2nd best record in baseball in August (18-7, behind only the Cubs’ 18-6) with a rotation that “boasts” Jeremy Sowers, Anthony Reyes, and Zach Jackson. Their DH most nights is David Dellucci (who, truth be told, has a 1.056 OPS in August) and their lineup consists of a #3 hitter that started the season in AAA (Francisco) and their best power hitter who was a back-up when the season started (Show Pack).

How is this happening?
How does Kelly Shoppach have an OPS of .992 since the All-Star Break while SEVEN players have OPS over .800 in the month of August…and one of them isn’t Grady Sizemore? The Indians have the 3rd most productive offense (5.70 runs per game) since the All-Star Break in the AL, all without Victor or Pronk picking up a bat in Cleveland. Given what we know about the importance of those two in the lineup, what’s going on here? Are we seeing the offensive maturation of multiple players or are we just seeing a team get hot collectively, something that figures to serve as only an enticing mirage in this desert of a 2008 season?

Certain things are becoming clearer, like knowing Kelly Shoppach’s value is awfully high right now and the Indians need to decide whether they are “selling high” on him or this is what can be expected of Shoppach in 2009, either making him an integral part of the team or moving him to fill a hole via trade, and knowing that Jensen Lewis is making a strong case for being in the back end of the bullpen (in some sort of role) for 2009.

But most of those things that are “becoming clearer” usually lead to another question.

We now know that acceptable production from Chootierrez IS possible (Gutz’s August OPS is .977, The BLC’s August OPS is .936) for an extended period of time and that The Ben Francisco Treat looks to be is what he is – a valuable complementary piece, but not much else – Coco without the plus range in the outfield. But can the corners be occupied by The Frisco Kid and Chootierrez to start 2009 until LaPorta is ready?

Given the power that the team gets (and assumes to get in 2009) from Sizemore, Peralta, Martinez, and (fingers and toes all crossed) Hafner, can the corner OF positions be complementary pieces until some of the youngsters start to force themselves into the picture? I tend to think that it can, as long as nobody is overestimating Francisco as a “core” player or assumes that (at age 28 in 2009) he’s on the verge of something more than he is right now. The likes of Frisco and Chootierrez aren’t that much different than having your corners patrolled by Coco and Dellichaels, which could certainly be upgraded; but if greater needs exist, this can’t be the top priority, particularly with LaPorta, Weglarz, and perhaps Brantley (though all three are presumably LF) in the pipeline.

We seem to be getting a better idea that Andy Marte is not long for Cleveland and that Ryan Garko’s true performance probably lies somewhere between his 2007 and his 2008…which means that neither should be counted on to provide adequate production from 3B or 1B for 2009. What dominoes fall based on that notion seem infinite with the makeup of the whole infield in flux, with the only known being that (barring a trade) Peralta, Cabrera, and Victor will occupy 3 of the 5 positions when the team leaves Arizona next Spring. Where they fall figures to remain a mystery as The Kelly Shoppach Show continues on a nightly basis and as the Free Agent and trade markets are explored for a 2B or a 3B.

We know that C.P. Lee is on an incredible run and hope that it will continue into 2009 while hoping that “Good Fausto” (the one that can throw all three of his pitches for strikes) shows up more frequently than “Bad Fausto” (the one who throws 100 pitches through 4 innings…with ½ of them being balls) next year. Beyond that, the principals in the running for the rotation need a longer look, and it looks like we’ll get it as Aaron Laffey will join the rotation (to make it a 6-man rotation) in the first or second week of September. Now, should a strong finish by Sowers, Reyes, Jackson, or Laffey guarantee anything for 2009? No, nothing should be guaranteed…and Dave Huff (yes, he prefers “Dave”, according to a family member who complimented my piece on him last week) is right in that pack as well (if not leading it). But Rey-Rey is out of options after this year and a decision should probably be made on whether The Zach Attack (or is it Zachson) should go into Spring Training next year vying for a spot in the rotation or the bullpen.

Beyond Lee and Fausto, questions abound including when Jake Westbrook is thought to be returning from TJ surgery and at what capacity. Given what the Indians like to pad their rotation with in terms of depth, a middle-of-the-rotation starter should be on their shopping list this winter, if only to slot those young arms into the #6 through #8 starters in the organization so a Matt Ginter sighting or something like it isn’t forced to occur again.

We are being reminded what an effective 9th inning option can do to the rest of the bullpen while realizing what roles seem to best suit the Fist of Iron and the Fist of Steel, which would be as effective bridges to the 9th…not pitching the 9th itself.. Consider that the Indians have put up that 24-14 record since the All-Star Break with 5 blown saves in 15 opportunities, prior to Jenny Lew getting the nod in the 9th. There were 5 games that the bullpen has blown (Eddie Moo – 2, Betancourt – 1, Perez – 1, Masa – 1) since the All-Star Break…and the Indians STILL have won 63% of their games in that stretch!

Now, has this 10-game winning streak allowing us to see what a settled pen can do for a team?
Absolutely…but we thought the pen was relatively settled and stocked with arms going into THIS season, so the thought that everything is now suddenly fine with the bullpen for 2009 shouldn’t pass through anyone’s mind. While Lewis, Perez, and Betancourt are rediscovering their effectiveness down the stretch here and young hard-throwing arms like Jon Meloan, Jeff Stevens, Atom Miller (whose transition to the bullpen looks like a near certainty), and perhaps even Tony Sipp figure to be factors in filling out the 2009 bullpen, I don’t think that even the most optimistic person could think that the bullpen doesn’t need some quality and depth added to it. Certainly some pieces are slotting themselves for roles next year; but again, that’s what we thought last year.

All told, this stretch of success has been a thoroughly enjoyable ride as the lost season essentially has piqued some interest once again as winning baseball has returned…even if it is too little, too late. We know that this team isn’t content to just roll over and wait for the end of the season (anyone else think signing checks is not one of Mike Ilitch’s favorite activities these days?) and that some key youngsters are gaining (or regaining) some momentum for next year.

However, while this stretch is exciting and seeing these young players excel gets the mind racing, it’s important to remember what this team looked like in May and June and that a 2009 that could potentially start similarly will have the same debilitating effect on the season that it did this year.

Despite the recent run of success, it’s not safe to say that once this team is set once it gets Victor and Hafner back because they’ll simply enhance the performance of a winning team. If the transition from 2007 to 2008 has taught us anything, it’s to revel in the good times and prepare for the bad times to maximize the former while limiting the latter. These last 30 games could roll on in this suddenly magical manner that leaves us all smiling and excited for next year. But temper that enthusiasm with the reality of why, after a 10-game winning streak, the team is still double digits out of 1st place in a very winnable Central.

Right now feels like the best of times…just as the playoff chase and run of 2007 did. Now, avoiding the worst of times as an encore is what needs to be in the back of everyone’s minds as we revel in being able to FINALLY watching a team that consistently wins games as we try to turn “Who are those guys” into “THESE are the guys” that make this team a contender in 2009 and not another construction project.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


For a moment, let’s take a break from all of the talk of uncertainty about which glove Victor is going to use in the field in 2009 or whether Jenny Lew’s performance over the last few weeks has reduced the need for a closer in the offseason. Those are all topics that can be hit on and debated from today to the end of the Hot Stove Season.

No, today it’s time to (once again) acknowledge and extol the accomplishments of one Grady Sizemore, who blasted his 30th and 31st HR in a game last night in which the scoreboard could have read “Sizemore – 2, Tigers – 1” for a portion of time as Grady’s contributions outweighed those of the entire Detroit club.

In leading the way to another victory, Grady became the 25th player in MLB history to go 30-30, and only the 2nd in Tribe history (Joe Carter being the other) to achieve the feat. The accomplishment in and of itself is a shockingly amazing feat, just by virtue of how rare it is, made even more impressive when you consider that there are 32 games (or about 20% of the season) still remaining on the schedule.

So whatever your preferred method of adulation may be, now would be a good time to get to it:
If you’re a golf clap kind of guy, let’s hear that polite acknowledgement of greatness.
If you’re still in the “Wayne’s World” mindset (that movie was made 16 years ago, people) and prefer the “We’re Not Worthy…” bow at the waist, get those arms up and start bending.
If you’re a bit more subdued and prefer the hat tip, it’s time to raise your thumb and forefinger to the brim of that cap.
If you’re a female and want to pretend you’re at a Tom Jones concert, it’s time to see Center Field at Progressive Field littered with some of Victoria’s Secrets.

However you publicly acknowledge that greatness is present before you or however you show respect, please look towards our Center Fielder the next time you’re at Progressive Field when he hustles out to the green expanse that he occupies and acknowledge away…because he’s earned it.

Because, perhaps not so surprisingly, in a season so full of disappointments and “what-ifs”, where we all focus on the volatile bullpen and the fluidity of the rotation and deal with the inconsistency of numerous position players, Grady somehow flies under the radar as almost a given and most fail to properly recognize it on a regular basis. We take his steady contributions at the plate and in the field for granted because you know you’re going to get maximum effort out of him (the ultimate “grinder” if there ever was one…just with immense talent), solid and spectacular defense in CF, and steady numbers throughout the season at the plate.

As we all sit and wonder who is going to play 3B or RF or 2B in 2009 or whether the team will “sell high” on Shoppach, what becomes overlooked is that Sizemore’s name remains in permanent ink on the lineup card. It’s almost like a discussion of the Cavs’ starting five that either starts with “Well, there’s LeBron…obviously” or LeBron’s name simply isn’t included because there’s such an assumption of his presence and his greatness.

How is the way that Grady is perceived much different?
It could be argued that EVERY single position for next year is in some sort of state of flux…except CF. There’s no debate, there’s no conjecture, there’s no “but…maybe” involved. It’s Grady – every game at full capacity.

Why is it so easy to take what he does for granted?
Consider for a moment his numbers by month:
.847 OPS, 5 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 13 RBI

.826 OPS, 5 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR, 16 RBI

.970 OPS, 8 2B, 1 3B, 9 HR, 16 RBI

1.115 OPS, 6 2B, 1 3B, 8 HR, 18 RBI

.778 OPS, 4 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 18 RBI

Until the month of August (which still isn’t over and, if Monday night was any indication, could still be “salvageable” in terms of maintaining his frighteningly consistent numbers), Sizemore has put up steady production across the board, including a July that put him in some pretty rarified air in the AL, made even more impressive by the fact that he’s also contributing SB and Gold Glove defense.

How impressive, exactly, in terms of how he looks against the rest of the AL?
Well, there’s a statistic (invented by Keith Woolner…who happens to now be employed by the Tribe) that is nearly universally accepted by baseball people (at least those that acknowledge the importance of statistics in the evaluation of a player) in terms of putting one hard number on a player and how valuable he is, compared to other players.

It’s known as VORP (or Value over Replacement Player) and is best described here, by the creator. Essentially, it attempts to determine how much a particular player contributes in comparison to an “average player” or “freely available talent”. It assigns a number that is easily comparable to measure a player’s value against other players with one number.

Don’t be, and don’t try to figure out what that number means…just know that people smarter than you and I calculate it and use it to compare and evaluate players using the same criteria and with the same factors instead of looking at 40 different numbers (BA, OBP, SLG, HR, etc.) and attempting to accurately compare players, apples to apples.

Turning off the overhead projector, let’s go back to Grady and compare how Sizemore ranks with other players in the AL in terms of VORP this year:
Alex Rodriguez – 57.6
Grady Sizemore – 57.2
Ian Kinsler – 54.8
Aubrey Huff – 51.0
Milton Bradley – 51.0
Carlos Quentin – 49.2
Kevin Youkilis – 47.5
Josh Hamilton – 47.4
Brian Roberts – 46.8
Justin Morneau – 43.9
What do those numbers mean exactly?
Unless you’re ready to jump into some high-level math, don’t concern yourself with it…just know that those numbers are the ones that decision-makers in MLB look at instead of Batting Average or RBI.
So, according to VORP, Grady’s the 2nd most valuable position player in the AL – behind only A-Rod.

Is your appreciation growing yet?
If you thought he was in some rarified air in terms of July production, how about that list…or how about the fact that he’s accomplishing all of this having turned all of 26 at the beginning of August? And maybe that’s the most impressive thing that Sizemore is accomplishing, as he’s maturing as a hitter to awfully impressive levels at an age when most players are still entering MLB or going through an adjustment period to MLB pitching.

For some fun, let’s see how Sizemore’s career is progressing compared to another LH OF who some people may have heard of:
Age 22
Sizemore - .832 OPS, 22 HR, 37 2B, 11 3B, 81 RBI, 22 SB
Player A - .821 OPS, 25 HR, 34 2B, 9 3B, 59 RBI, 32 SB

Age 23
Sizemore - .908 OPS, 28 HR, 53 2B, 11 3B, 76 RBI, 22 SB
Player A - .859 OPS, 24 HR, 30 2B, 5 3B, 58 RBI, 17 SB

Age 24
Sizemore - .852 OPS, 24 HR, 34 2B, 5 3B, 78 RBI, 33 SB
Player A - .777 OPS, 19 HR, 34 2B, 6 3B, 58 RBI, 32 SB

Age 25
Sizemore - .915 OPS, 31 HR, 28 2B, 5 3B, 81 RBI, 34 SB (stats through 126 games)
Player A - .971 OPS, 33 HR, 32 2B, 3 3B, 114 RBI, 52 SB

Who is Player A, you ask?
Um, that’s Barry Bonds… when he was still playing just a couple of hours southeast of Cleveland and prior to his “unexplained” head expansion.

Forgetting for a moment what transpired with Bonds’ career when the new millennium dawned, let’s remember what everyone has always said about Bonds. All together now…“He was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer before he started (allegedly) juicing.”
Well, Grady’s right with him in terms of progression as a hitter – even distancing himself from Bonds in terms of power at his tender age.

OK, have you ordered that Sizemore jersey yet?
It’s a safe bet to get some heavy use for a good amount of time as, in case you’ve forgotten, SuperSizemore’s club option for 2012 for $8.5M is pretty likely to get picked up…unless the Indians re-negotiate with their young CF to add more years and more guaranteed dollars to his deal.
Even if they don’t…2012?!?
Seriously…can any of us even grasp what he’ll be doing a full FOUR seasons from now?

As if this whole thing isn’t impressive enough, how about the fact that Sizemore has started to assume a leadership role on the team with the likes of Sabathia, Blake, and Byrd donning new polyester? Maybe it’s his quiet demeanor, maybe it’s the way he’s always conducted himself in the dugout, and maybe it’s just pure speculation to think that Sizemore deferred to those veterans in terms of leadership while each was on the team. And I know that this is based on nothing tangible, but this team just FEELS like it’s become Grady’s team – feeding off him, looking for him now in the dugout to be that guy on the top step or having someone’s ear.

For whatever reason though (and with Victor and Pronk also shelved), the Indians have put up these records since moving their veteran players:
Since CC trade: 26-16 (.619 winning percentage)
Since Blake trade: 18-10 (.642 winning percentage)
Since Byrd trade: 9-3 (.750 winning percentage)
Don’t ask me to explain that (and, obviously, 12 games a season does not make), but Grady assuming a leadership role and these young players taking their cues from him and following his example certainly can’t dismissed out of hand.

With the season winding down and Grady’s projected numbers looking like they could enter an even more exclusive club if he keeps up his pace, 2008 will go down as a “lost season” in many aspects of the Indians as a whole...but not for Sizemore.

When it’s all said and done, 2008 will represent the year that “what he could be” matured into “what he is” with room for growth. And that, for Tribe fans, is something that should not be taken for granted or simply assumed. It should be something admired, respected, and enjoyed every night.
Grady doesn’t take a day off or go into cruise control…why shouldn’t your appreciation of him follow his example?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lazy Sunday in Print

With the Indians rolling up victories (while Jenny Lew racks up saves) on their way to 3rd place and my dad calling while I was still sleeping this morning to tell me that my name and this site appeared in the PD via a mention by Terry Pluto, let’s get right to it and hit “all the news that’s fit to link” on a Lazy Sunday:

As pointed out, Terry Pluto gives a quick hat tip to yours truly (specifically the Huff piece from a few days ago) in addition to hitting on topics ranging from the infield situation for 2009, where Kelly Show Pack fits in, and what help may be en route from the farm.

One piece of conjecture that Pluto puts out there is that he thinks that the PTBNL in the CC deal will be OF Michael Brantley, a 21-year-old speedster with a high OBP and the look of a potential leadoff hitter. With the two other notable names that have been thrown out there being 3B/2B Taylor Green (who would admittedly fill more of an organizational need, assuming he can make the transition to 2B) and C Matthew LuCroy (who is around the same level of advancement at the same position as newly acquired Carlos Santana…who I’ll get to soon), I have to agree that I hope that Brantley is the pick.

Detractors have pointed to his lack of power and his suspect arm in LF, but given his age (and the fact that power is often the last “skill set” to develop) and the fact that the team has won with Coco and The Looch lobbing balls in from LF, I don’t think that they’re major concerns. All told, Brantley’s positives (OBP, youth, speed) outweigh the negatives (lack of power, arm) to the point that the Indians should lean in that direction to give them what they thought they were getting with Trevor Crowe when they drafted him in 2005…you know, before he became the soon-to-be-25-year-old with all of 111 AB above AA and a career minor league OPS of .747.

Anywho, great stuff as usual from Terry, who should be expecting that check in the mail any day now.

Outside of the category of articles that mention me by name, Ken Rosenthal hits on some very pertinent Tribe topics including CC’s unbelievable pitch counts in the Cream City and what the Tribe may be targeting in terms of arms, in addition to a bit on Grady’s ascension to a leadership role. Most interesting is his take on some potential bullpen arms and how some internal parts might fit in 2009:
“Francisco Rodriguez will be out of the Indians' price range. Kerry Wood likely will stay with the Cubs. But look for the Indians to make runs at virtually every other closer on the market this offseason, from Brian Fuentes to Brandon Lyon to Rafael Soriano.

Class AAA right-hander Adam Miller almost certainly will open the season in the Indians' bullpen if he is healthy, but the Tribe will need to add at least one veteran reliever and maybe more. They also will need to use an internal option such as left-hander Zach Jackson or righty Anthony Reyes in their rotation until right-hander Jake Westbrook returns in the second half from Tommy John surgery.

Class AAA left-hander David Huff is another pitcher who could figure into the Indians' plans. The Yankees planned to take Huff ahead of Joba Chamberlain in the sandwich round of the 2006 draft, but the Indians grabbed the lefty first. Huff is a combined 10-5 with a 2.39 ERA at Class AA and AAA, with 135 strikeouts and just 27 walks in 135 2/3 innings.”

Hard to argue with the line of thinking on the bullpen and it isn’t anything too new, though a guy like a Fuentes figures to be in line for a decent payday as well as he falls behind K-Rod in terms of available closers and the teams that miss on K-Rod could have Fuentes as their fallback option, meaning he could get too expensive for the type of pitcher he is. A player like Lyon would fit more into what I see the Tribe targeting, a pitcher with closing experience, but one that has also filled multiple roles in the bullpen, in the off chance that an internal answer at closer emerges.

As for Rosenthal’s thoughts that The Zach Attack or Rey-Rey is going to simply hold a spot for Westbrook, I would have to say that Reyes (more so than Jackson) figures into the rotation independent of Westbrook and that an external arm is still necessary to augment the rotation and the arms looking to slide into that 2009 rotation.

To that end, another topic that Rosenthal touches on in the same piece is Ryan Dempster, who some thought could be a target for the Indians this offseason as a starter. Rosenthal pegs re-signing Dempster as the Cubs’ top offseason priority, a thought echoed by my future brother-in-law (whose bachelor party was the reason that the trip to Vegas was “in the cards” a couple of weekends ago) when I asked him for his opinion on the topic.

For those who don’t remember (and really, why would you), my future brother-in-law is a mildly obsessed Cubs fan who correctly predicted that the North Siders didn’t have the ammo to net CC some time ago. Anywho, here are my future brother-in-law’s thoughts on Dempster:
“With Dempster, he is definitely going to want to stay as a starter. At one point last year, Lou mentioned putting him in the rotation very soon. He got really excited in front of the media and wanted to do it ASAP. Lou decided that they wouldn't do it mid-season. Smart idea by Lou.

They told him in the offseason that they wouldn't guarantee him a rotation spot but that he could compete for one. He was ready to go from day one this spring. Lost some weight and stretched his arm out. I am sure that being a free agent season didn't hurt.

I don't know how much money he will demand but I think it will be substantial. I could see 4 years, $70 mil but that is a complete guess. Big teams are going to have money to spend this year and they will want to spend it on pitching. The tough thing is that this is his first year back as a starter. The Cubs will want to sign him but might have ownership issues and might want to put the Shark (Jeff Samardzija) in the rotation. The other factor is how far they will go this year. He has been their best starting pitcher by the numbers this year including Z. He will be high on the free agent list.

His public comments are that he wants to come back to Chicago. He has a sense of loyalty to them because they signed him while he was out with Tommy John surgery, put him in the closer role and then gave him the shot at the rotation.”

So…um, scratch Dempster off the wish list.

Back to Kenny Rosenthal (who is really coming correct and in full effect this week), who floats this balloon out there in a separate piece discussing the moves that the Dodgers made, and specifically Kinston C Carlos Santana:
“Some with the Indians, however, view Santana as an even better prospect than Class AA outfielder Matt LaPorta, the marquee player that Cleveland received in the CC Sabathia trade. Quality catchers are scarce. If the Dodgers had kept Santana, they could have used him in a bigger deal later or eventually moved Martin to third base.”
How could that be, you say…LaPorta has a nickname contest already happening for him, with WangBanger leading in the clubhouse?

How about the fact that Santana’s actually IMPROVED on those video game numbers that Santana put up in the Dodgers’ organization while in Kinston? Single A-ball is a long way from MLB, but 109 RBI in 121 games is mighty impressive…even if you don’t think much of RBI as a quantitative stat.

If that doesn’t scratch your itch, how about the fact that he’s posted a cumulative 1.001 OPS this year, good enough to put him in some pretty rarified air among players his age at his level as Matt Wieters, who appears a few notches above Santana on the list and has since moved up to AA, will likely be a Top 5 prospect…in all of baseball.

Elsewhere, ESPN’s Amy Nelson (who you might remember was the media member texting the Hefty Lefty after his trade) has an interesting and insightful piece on C.P. Lee. It focuses on last year compared to this year and how Lee’s attitude has remained unchanged, if the results have changed wildly.

Isn’t it amazing how success can turn a guy from a perceived hothead (fighting with Victor, doffing his cap in his final outing last year) and someone that most everyone was ready to write off (including me) into a fiery competitor and someone who just wants to win. Lee’s demeanor hasn’t changed, but his pitching sure has…along with the fickle winds of public perception.

Finally, some great news for one of my favorite sports writers, Joe Posnanski, who is having his brilliant blog picked up by which (you will learn when you read the great piece) brings him full circle in his burgeoning career.

Look out Detroit, Tribe’s on a warpath…and that brass (or would that be bronze?) ring of 3rd place is in our reach!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Infield Maintenance

In a recent radio interview, Indians’ GM Mark Shapiro was asked about what pieces fit where for the Tribe in 2009. While most of these interviews with Shapiro become exercises in trying to figure out is being said or attempting to read between the lines (known as the translation of “Shapiro-Speak”, which should not be confused with its derivative form “Antonetti-Speak”), his candor about certain topics in this particular interview (sorry, WTAM does not provide a link to the audio) was both jarring and telling.

The most interesting portion of the Q & A came when the Tribe GM was asked about some of the specific positions and players that figure to be in play for next year. When asked, in a roundabout way, if more help was needed in the outfield, Shapiro stated that he felt that the three OF positions would be filled by some mix of seven (that’s right, kids…SEVEN) players.
Count them out with me:
The WangBanger (click on name for explanation)

How much of that is true and how much movement could we see with one (or more) of those players perhaps being moved this offseason? Whether it be a player moving to another team (Frank the Tank to an NL team in need of a defensive CF who is not counted on for offensive production or The Looch to any team that will take him) or to another position (the whole LaPorta to 1B thing could gain steam if Victor is deemed healthy enough to go back behind the plate without affecting his offense and Shoppach’s value on the trade market outweighs his value as a backup C), the whole outfield mix still feels very much in flux. However, compared to his comments on the infield, the outfield at least looks like the answer will come from within, as opposed to the team ultimately getting help from the outside.

To that end, when asked about the infield (I believe the specific question was where Jhonny fits for 2009), Shapiro said that he felt very comfortable with Jhonny and Asdrubal taking up 2 spots between 2B, SS, and 3B and implied that the answer for the position between those three not occupied by Peralta and Cabrera may not be an internal option.

As an aside here, before you say…”well, what about _______...?” – know that Shapiro was asked to name which SPECIFIC players he figured to be in the mix for 2009 and notably absent are the two names that would fill in that blank. The words “Josh”, “Barfield”, “Andy”, and “Marte” were notably left unspoken by a man who generally is not known for oversight or being careless with his words, as he is instead generally being more inclusive and vague than this notable omission.

So pack your bags, Andy…and start apartment hunting in Columbus, Josh!
Because, according to the Indians’ GM, you don’t figure into the club’s plans in 2009. Now, whether this should be taken as gospel truth or not as this interview does come flying at us in the month of August is debatable. But it’s hard not to see the rationale behind this as Marte has struggled in his time as the everyday 3B (though his sample size is still relatively small) and Barfield JUST started playing in Buffalo again. Thinking that either of them doesn’t play a prominent role in the 2009 plans isn’t exactly a leap of faith, but Shapiro’s comments (or lack of names in his comments) are surprising nonetheless.

While not getting into whether Marte deserves more of a look at 3B or why Barfield fell completely off of the MLB map after making his move from San Diego, let’s go with this notion that neither player is being counted on to complement Peralta and Cabrera in the infield (1B is a whole other story) and see where this exercise leads us.

First, raise your hand if you think that the Indians will be content to give Jamey Carroll starts at either 2B or 3B before the likes of Wes Hodges or Josh Rodriguez may be ready to move up from Buffalo, where they both figure to start next year.
Or how about that they’ll go with a player like Hodges out of the Spring with no AAA time?
Yeah…me neither.

So that would mean that another player would need to be added to the mix either via trade or FA and, not even attempting to project what the trade market might look like this offseason (it is still August) or who may be available using that route, here are the 2B and 3B scheduled to become FA after this season.

Their current age is in parentheses and they are ranked by OPS this year with the * indicating that an option exists on the player for 2009:
Second Basemen
Orlando Hudson (30) - .305 BA / .367 OBP / .450 SLG / .817 OPS in 407 AB
Ray Durham (36) - .285 BA / .375 OBP / .415 SLG / .790 OPS in 316 AB
Jeff Kent (40) - .285 BA / .333 OBP / .430 SLG / .763 OPS in 400 AB
Mark Grudzielanek (38) - .299 BA / .345 OBP / .399 SLG / .744 OPS in 331 AB
Nick Punto (30) - .280 BA / .339 OBP / .403 SLG / .742 OPS in 211 AB
Mark Loretta (36) - .271 BA / .344 OBP / .385 SLG / .729 OPS in 218 AB
Mark Ellis (31) - .236 BA / .323 OBP / .378 SLG / .701 OPS in 437 AB
Felipe Lopez (28) - .244 BA / .315 OBP / .326 SLG / .641 OPS in 365 AB
Pablo Ozuna (33) - .263 BA / .289 OBP / .325 SLG /.614 OPS in 80 AB

Third Basemen
Chipper Jones* (36) - .362 BA / .462 OBP / .573 SLG / 1.035 OPS in 356 AB
Casey Blake (34) - .285 BA / .351 OBP / .472 SLG / .823 OPS in 417 AB
Joe Crede (30) - .255 BA / .323 OBP / .474 SLG / .797 OPS in 310 AB
Hank Blalock* (27) - .273 BA / .331 OBP / .438 SLG / .769 OPS in 121 AB

That’s it…and your RBI leader (though I don’t list RBI production, just trust me) among prospective 2B and 3B Free Agents is none other than Lacey Cake.
Now, it should be noted that injury concerns surround Larry Jones (age), Joe Crede (back), Hank Blalock (rib) in very serious ways and that Orlando Hudson is out for the season with a left wrist injury…a year after a left thumb injury in 2007 sidelined him for the D-Backs’ playoff run last year.
So, even the names that look most attractive on this list come with caveats.

Outside of those caveats, there is the matter of the other 29 MLB teams possibly also having needs at 2B or 3B and looking over this very same list that the Indians have probably memorized. What interest from multiple teams means is more dollars over more years…which is where a mistake or an injury becomes the albatross that the Indians HAVE to avoid this offseason, given Westbrook’s TJ and Hafner’s mysterious shoulder ailment.

Who looks good there?
Hudson (who is the guy in the picture above, by the by) for sure - though only if the years are limited to two or maybe three - and perhaps a guy like a Grudzielanek or Loretta if you’re simply looking for a stop-gap on a one to two year deal…but outside of that, there’s not much.

The other option that the Indians would have, of course, would be to keep around a veteran like Morgan Ensberg (currently in Buffalo) around to allow Wes Hodges to get his feet wet in AAA before making the presumptive trip to Cleveland at some point next year. That, however, would mean that a possibility that Ensberg (or someone like him) could potentially become the 3B for a longer amount of time than originally thought if Hodges struggled in AAA or suffered some sort of injury.

But isn’t that again getting into the old Trot Nixon/Roberto Hernandez placeholder argument, of which merit and logic can be found, but ultimately just raises the ire of the fanbase and ends up in a decent amount of dollars being wasted needlessly? To a degree, but outside of trades, not much may exist by way of options for filling these holes that doesn’t involve some wild creativity that comes off like the old George Costanza comment that “I figured out a way to get Bonds and Griffey…and we really wouldn’t have to give up that much” in terms of likelihood or feasibility, or lack thereof.

There’s doesn’t seem to be any question that the Indians are not sold on the internal options for 2B and 3B for next year and where the two players assumed to take two of the three spots to the left of 1B (Jhon and Asdrubal) end up may depend more on what is available (and at what cost) than it does the players themselves. No answer is clear right now, but some ingenuity, or some hard dollars at some FA, may go a long way to settling two positions that are weaknesses in the Indians’ organization far below Cleveland.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Huff 'n' Stuff

As we take another quick look at Anthony Reyes’ flat brim tonight, who follows Jeremy Sowers and precedes The Zach Attack in the rotation as it is presently assembled, I thought that this may be a good opportunity to identify and enlighten you on a pitcher that may factor into the 2009 plans even more than those players currently starting games in Cleveland. Obviously, the likes of Reyes, Sowers, Jackson (somewhat), and Aaron Laffey figure to be squarely in the mix for the middle-to-back-of-the-rotation for next year, but the notable name in this pot of stew that figures to yield two starters for 2009 is the Indians’ 2006 1st Round Draft Pick LHP David Huff, who is currently plying his craft in Buffalo.

Coming into this year, Huff presented a bit of a mystery because he had pitched less than 70 innings in the system in two years, but remained an intriguing player to watch due to his draft position and performance in his limited time on the mound. He had experienced success when healthy, but he was shut down in late May of last year due to a strained ligament in his left elbow after starting only 11 games in Kinston in 2007.

Huff, given his advanced age (he’ll be 24 on Friday) and his success in his brief time in Kinston (where he posted a 2.71 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP with 46 K to 15 BB in 59 2/3 IP) began his 2008 season in the Aeros’ rotation, where his star caught some rocket fuel:
2008 Akron (Age 23)
5-1, 1.92 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 62 K, 14 BB in 65 2/3 IP over 10 starts

While it could certainly be said by the skeptics that Huff, as a 23-year-old, SHOULD have dominated AA hitters and it was only a confirmation that Huff was more advanced than the other players in AA to start the year, those numbers are hard to ignore as he struck out almost a batter an inning while whiffing nearly 4 ½ times the hitters he walked.

With everyone’s attention to how Huff’s Stuff (ba-dum-bum), the numbers that Huff has posted since his promotion to AAA became even harder to ignore:
2008 Buffalo (Age 23)
5-4, 2.83 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 73 K, 13 BB in 70 IP over 14 starts

If AA was beneath his level of development, how would AAA be classified as he INCREASED his K rate to over 1 per inning and improved his K/BB ratio to the point that he’s struck out over 5 ½ times the number of hitters that he’s walked?

All told, his combined 2008 numbers, at the upper levels of the minors are eye-popping:
2008 (Age 23)
10-5, 2.39 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 135 K, 27 BB in 135 2/3 IP over 24 starts

But wait, you say, you’ve seen this song and dance before – a LH 1st round pick propels quickly through the minor leagues dominating his way all the way to Cleveland. Of course, after some success there, he’ll hit the eventual wall at the big-league level, sending him on a sideways or downward trajectory that causes months or years to pull out of.
Jeremy Sowers v.2.0, right?
The guy that’s still trying to re-establish himself in the Indians’ rotation a full two years removed from his break-out debut?
Great…quite a precedent.

As most remember, Jeremy Sowers famously flew through the Indians system on a similar path in 2006 that culminated in his stellar performance with the parent club on a team going nowhere:
2006 Buffalo (Age 23)
9-1, 1.39 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 54 K, 29 BB in 97 IP over 15 starts

2006 Cleveland (Age 23)
7-4, 3.57 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 35 K, 20 BB in 88 1/3 IP over 14 starts

Looking back at Huff’s numbers from this year, what’s the difference?
Both had phenomenally low ERA and WHIP in AAA as a 23-year old LHP…and Sowers actually posted lower numbers for both ERA and WHIP in Buffalo two years ago, right?

Put on your miner’s hat and turn on the headlamp, because we’re going deeper than that.
Not to get too elementary or oversimplify anything, but numbers that are much more relevant than ERA or WHIP for pitchers’ performance are gauged as K/9, which measures how many hitters a pitcher strikes out every nine innings, H/9 and BB/9 as well as HR/9, which do the same thing as K/9 just with hits, walks and home runs, and finally K/BB ratio, which…well, compares the number of strikeouts to walks. These numbers are important as they measure accurately the number of baserunners a pitcher puts on base, how those baserunners get on base (hit vs. walk), and how effective a pitcher can be to get out of his own jam with a strikeout instead of depending on things that can sometimes be more luck than anything (a grounder turns into a DP as opposed to finding a hole in the infield) strictly in the pitcher’s control.

Consider now how the two compare as 23-year-old LHP in AAA in those categories over a comparable number of starts (Huff’s 14 to Sowers’ 15):
Sowers 2006 – 4.99
Huff 2008 – 9.38

Sowers 2006 – 7.21
Huff 2008 – 7.20

Sowers 2006 – 2.68
Huff 2008 – 1.67

Sowers 2006 – 0.09
Huff 2008 – 0.77

Sowers 2006 – 1.86
Huff 2008 – 5.61

Huff has struck out batters at a rate nearly twice that of Sowers in 2006 while walking 1 fewer batter over 9 innings and has a K/BB rate three times as high as Sowers did two years ago. Knowing what we know now about Sowers – how dependent he is on hits falling into players’ mitts as opposed to finding holes (his 2008 H/9 is 11.26 in Cleveland) as opposed to relying on a K every now and then for outs (Sowers’ K/9 in 2008 is 5.41) and how his predilection to be too fine with his pitches results in a high number of BB (his 2008 BB/9 is 3.55 in Cleveland, while his K/BB rate in 2008 is 1.85 for the Tribe), are you seeing the difference here?

Huff, unlike Sowers, strikes batters out - as his 8.96 K/9 rate (combined over Akron and Buffalo) rank second highest in the whole organization for starters, behind only LHP Kelvin De La Cruz (a 20-year-old you should be very excited about, who just got promoted to Akron) and just ahead of RHP Hector Rondon (which is another name to file away). Additionally, Huff tends to limit the damage done as his .563 OPS against is best in the organization…better even than another certain LHP with a similarly short surname having a tremendous season for the parent club.

As easy as it would be to peg Huff as another LHP who was a 1st round pick and lump him in with Sowers, the fact is that Huff and Sowers, while similar on the surface in terms of their handedness and arsenal are completely different pitchers as Huff has an ability to strike batters out that Sowers has not shown above Kinston while posting a K/BB rate that’s in line with what C.P. Lee has been putting forth this year in MLB.

Now, don’t take this as a rip job on Jeremy Sowers as his run of excellence for the Tribe in 2006, at the very least, shows that he can find success in MLB, perhaps in the middle-to-back of the rotation. Over Sowers’ last 6 starts, he’s posted a respectable 4.31 ERA with a WHIP of 1.13, so there is certainly something that Sowers is building that can hopefully provide a foundation for him to figure into the 2009 rotation race.

Rather than this being designed to take away from Sowers, it’s meant to put what David Huff is putting forth in 2008 in the proper perspective. He’s finding all of the success that Sowers found in 2006, but he’s doing it in ways that portend a better translation to the Bigs.

Could he find himself struggling in Cleveland, as many young pitchers often do?
Absolutely…and he probably will at some point, but the numbers that Huff is posting right now would translate into him likely being on this team already if the Indians were in contention for the playoffs as his ceiling looks to be higher than some of the other LHP that he will find himself competing against next Spring. Given the performance of all of the potential candidates for that #3/#4/#5 area in the rotation (depending, of course, upon what is done in the offseason), it’s hard not to see how Huff is seen as one of the leaders in the clubhouse as his success in Akron and Buffalo this year, and in particular HOW he’s achieving that success, figures to give him a leg up on the competition when the team leaves Goodyear next Spring.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Lazy Sunday with Moving Pictures

After witnessing the abomination that was the Saturday afternoon game that has even the BLC sitting in the dugout asking questions (and how odd does he look without a hat or helmet on?), I need some relaxation. So sitting, sipping a hot cup of goodness from our new K-Cup machine (The DiaBride HAD to use her 30% off coupon that she got from Kohl’s on something more than just clothes…and this thing was a good start), let’s get going on a Lazy Sunday before Michael Phelps starts swimming again.
What’s that? He’s finally done?
Nevertheless…we’re off:

Jim Ingraham has some interesting statistical anomalies to report in regards to the 2008 season. And, no, I’m not the “Paul” in the comments section…though there must be something about people named “Paul” that make them able to identify the most telling statistic when many are laid out in front of them.
If you’re not clicking the link, the most compelling stat of which I speak in Ingraham’s piece is that:
“They have lost 20 games that they were leading after six innings.”
Nearly 1/3 of the season’s losses have come in games when the team was LEADING after six innings!

Anthony Castrovince has the most honest admission of Hafner’s shoulder that I’ve seen by a “traditional media member”, even if it shows up on his blog. Once you get past the ubiquitous Mike Phelps and a grammatical lesson, the man who worships at the Altar of The Boss states that:
“As for all the requests for info on Hafner's shoulder, there's not much I can tell you that hasn't been reported already. I've learned, unfortunately, not to take what a player or a team says about an injury at face value.
All I know is Pronk's condition proved to be worse than originally expected and took longer to correct than expected. I have no way of knowing how much the shoulder will affect him from this point forward, because, well, no one really does. All the Indians hope is that he'll return to action with enough season left to prove he can still do damage at the plate.”

That about sums it up.

Jon Heyman lists his top 7 Free Agents after the season, throwing some projected numbers on contracts for the seven:
CC - $150M over 6
Manny - $75M over 3
Dunn - $70M over 5
K-Rod - $60M over 4
Sheets - $51M over 3
Burrell - $48M over 4.
At those obscenely big numbers, anyone still want that “big splash”?
Oh, and that would be $25M per for 6 years for the Hefty Lefty if you're still shaking out cobwebs from Saturday night and don't have a calculator handy.

For those thinking that maybe that Manny money doesn’t look too big, here are Jayson Stark’s thoughts on what Manny did in Boston and how abhorrent most baseball executives find it. That should by no means be taken that Manny won’t get his money, but it certainly doesn’t make me long for a return to the North Coast for the Baby Bull.

In case you missed it (or were just severely under informed by the PD or ABJ), the Indians signed some of their draft picks to more money than where they were drafted would indicate what they “should have” been paid in the MLB recommended slotting system. In essence, the Tribe took players who were deemed harder to sign later in the draft than they would have been if they were thought to have been easily attainable. It’s an odd system that allows teams to take fliers on certain players later in the draft (as the Indians did a few years ago with Tim Lincecum, but were unable to sign), then pay them basically not to go to college or go back to college.

In this case, the Indians signed some high school pitchers, with Tony Lastoria providing a nice snapshot scouting report on each in his latest “Minor Happenings”, among other nuggets of gold. It’s awfully nice to see these arms added to the mix of the Latin American power arms (Hector Rondon, Kelvin De La Cruz) that figure to be that next “wave of arms” hitting the parent club two to three years down the road or figure that these youngsters are another whitecap off the coast a few hundred yards.

While we’re linking fellow writers at TCF, please read Steve Buffum’s B-List regarding the bullpen (actually originally written two years ago) for a tale of hopes and reality.
If you’re not reading the B-List on an everyday basis, by the way, shame on you.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, Brian LeShier over at Ontario Street (the blog, not the physical street) has a nice piece on Zach Jackson, which evolves into a quick synopsis of who’s out there in the middle-to-back-of-the-rotation mix for 2009. LaShier makes mention of Aaron Laffey perhaps staying in Buffalo for the rest of the season “since the team already knows what he’s capable of in the Majors.”

But as Jay Levin at LGT has pointed out in the recent weeks, there may be another reason for Jackson getting the nod over Laffey. Jay, who penned the wildly informative “Service Time Update” some time back has calculated that if the Indians wait until after September 5th to call up Aaron Laffey, they will delay the year he becomes a Free Agent by one year.

To simplify this, if Aaron Laffey is called up tomorrow and stays with the team for the remainder of the season, his accumulated service time at the end of 2013 will allow him to become a FA.
If he is not called up until September 5th or so, the service time he will have accumulated by the end of 2013 will be just shy of allowing him to be a FA and his Free Agency will be pushed back until after the 2014 season.

It’s complicated, but don’t think that this isn’t a factor in Laffey being in Buffalo, for another 3 weeks or so, as much as wanting to see what the rest of these guys (Reyes, Jackson, etc.) can do. Basically, the Indians keep Laffey under contract for another full year if he stays in AAA for three more weeks in a lost yeah, it's a no-brainer.

If you didn’t see Show Pack go Bo Jackson on his bat, Josh Whitman at LFL provides the visual with some of his “reporting” to keep things light, as usual.

As long as we’re in the video portion of the LS, here’s a YouTube video of LaPorta hitting a bomb in one of the exhibition games against Canada prior to the Olympics:

I’m not sure if this was filmed and posted by one of his buddies, but the part where the camera turns to the guy in the Tribe shirt and the cameraman yells, “LaPorta…baby, yeah baby!” is my favorite part…well, that and that compact RH stroke.

Since we’ve been struggling to find a nickname that sticks for the University of Florida product, how about the title of the video...Chief Big Fly?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tomahawks Flying into the Future

As we admire the glory that is the last couple of days of Olympic Baseball that have included Matt LaPorta hitting a 3-run HR in a USA win against the Netherlands and Nick Weglarz (shown to the right) going 5 for 7 in his first two games for Canada with 2 HR in his 4 for 4 effort in the opener against Cuba, let’s get some Tomahawks flying:

While I did an update already pertaining to the principal horses that figure to be “Jockeying for Position” as the season marches on, I thought that this update would provide more pertinent timeframes and splits as opposed to just examining numbers from strictly July or August.

What I mean by that is picking the specific day when these players started playing every day (or other relevant information) is much more relevant than just picking a random date like July 1 or the All-Star Break that is simply easier to find statistics for.

With that in mind, here are the numbers for the players attempting to work themselves into the 2009 mix with the date that the statistics start indicated:
Kelly Shoppach – Since June 7th (50 games)
.282 BA / .356 OBP / .576 SLG / .932 OPS with 11 HR and 32 RBI in 170 AB
The early June date is used as it marks the beginning of ShopVac behind the dish on an everyday basis and made the dynamite go boom.

Ryan Garko – Since June 1st (56 games)
.258 BA / .307 OBP / .344 SLG / .651 OPS with 4 HR and 36 RBI in 209 AB
OK, so here I’m picking kind of a random day as Garko has really played all season. June 1st was the beginning of Garko filling the #4 spot in the order, a stretch that lasted for about 20 games until he was dropped in the lineup. While random, it does put into perspective how Garko has fared against his “competition” for the C/1B “battle” for 2009 in a relatively comparable timeframe.

Asdrubal Cabrera – Since July 18th (23 games)
.289 BA / .386 OBP / .474 SLG / .860 OPS with 3 HR and 7 RBI in 76 AB
Obviously, the date indicates when he returned from Buffalo and was re-inserted into the lineup. Small sample size to be sure, but so is his first stint this year with the Tribe when he put up a .184 BA / .282 OBP / .247 SLG / .529 OPS line over 52 games.

Andy Marte – Since July 5th (28 games)
.221 BA / .270 OBP / .365 SLG / .635 OPS with 3 HR and 10 RBI in 104 AB
This 28 game stretch that has finally seen Marte get regular playing time has allowed his OPS raise from .373 on July 5th to where it currently sits…at .522. Certainly not enough AB and too small of a timeframe to properly evaluate Marte, but his attempts to kick down the door finally put ahead of him aren’t making much of an impact.

The BLC Splits
.271 BA / .372 OBP / .458 SLG / .830 OPS with 3 HR and 24 RBI in 144 AB
.220 BA / .289 OBP / .341 SLG / .630 OPS with 1 HR and 5 RBI in 41 AB
Since Choo has played pretty regularly since returning from TJ surgery, the more relevant numbers to examine would be his numbers against LHP and RHP as Choo has long posted significantly better numbers versus RHP than he has against LHP, lending credence to the idea that he is a platoon OF or a 4th OF, capable of hitting RHP well. Despite seeing most of his action against said RHP, his 2008 numbers haven’t done much to dispel the thinking in place when the season started.

Franklin Delano Gutierrez Splits
.226 BA / .262 OBP / .323 SLG / .585 OPS with 1 HR and 9 RBI in 195 AB
.217 BA / .273 OBP / .424 SLG / .697 OPS with 4 HR and 15 RBI in 92 AB
Like The BLC, Frank the Tank has often been cast as a player who finds success against one side of the mound…just the opposite of the LH Choo. In his minor league career, he struggled against RHP and hit LHP well, allowing some to cast him (again, like Choo) as little more than a complementary 4th OF despite his tremendous defensive skills. While the hope was that his 2007 was his break-out, the 2008 numbers indicate that his platoon splits may have been minimized…just not in a good way as his numbers are down across the board.

The Ben Francisco Treat – A Tale of Two Bens
From Call-Up to June 4th
.346 BA / .385 OBP / .551 SLG / .936 OPS with 3 HR and 17 RBI in 107 AB
From June 5th to present
.247 BA / .320 OBP / .423 SLG / .743 OPS with 9 HR and 28 RBI in 215 AB
Since The Frisco Kid has essentially played every day since being recalled from Buffalo, it’s better to look at his numbers from the time he joined the parent club in a blaze of glory to what he’s done since. June 4th/5th is a rather arbitrary time to pick, in that the only point of reference is that June 4th represented his high-water mark for OPS on the season (.927). That being said, after his quick emergence, Francisco has settled into average to below average numbers in the 58 games since he crested in early June.

We’re talking about a lot of small sample sizes with most of these players, but most of the numbers speak for themselves when it comes to who figures to play more prominent roles in 2009 and who may find themselves receiving their mail at an address outside of Cleveland, be it in Columbus (next year’s AAA affiliate) or another MLB city.

Not a lot of people remember this, but former Tribe 3B and current Mahoning Valley Scrappers coach Travis Fryman broke into the big leagues as a SS in Detroit. Baseball Prospectus’ David Laurila asked him about that transition in a recent Q & A he conducted with the manager of the Tribe’s Rookie League affiliate.
It’s not a premium article, so here’s the link and Fryman’s thoughts on the transition he made from SS to 3B as a member of the Tigers:

David Laurila: What was your transition like for you going from shortstop to third base?

Travis Fryman: Well, mine took place in the big leagues. I never played a day at any position other than shortstop until my second day in the big leagues. That’s when they asked me to play third, so I learned on the job. Again, I think you learn patience from your coaching staff, and looking back now, I made a lot of mistakes as a young player. But I was allowed to make them, and I was expected to learn from them. I don’t ever remember a time when a coach expressed negative feelings toward me because of my mistakes; I just think they were very patient with me. But third base is a pretty difficult position to learn, and it’s a position that’s unique. There are things that everyone needs to do, and do well, to play third, but I don’t think there’s just one way to play third in order to do it successfully. You need to give people time to get a feel for the position.

David Laurila: A lot of people probably don’t realize that you played more games at shortstop than at third base your first four seasons in Detroit. Do you feel that you could have remained at the shortstop position?

Travis Fryman: You know, I could have. In my mind, when I think about the game, and positioning, and where you go, it’s always from the perspective of a shortstop. When Sparky moved me the last time it was because I had intentionally put on a little bit of weight to get a little stronger and try to hit for more power. That affected my defense a little bit, and I had made more errors than you’d like to see a shortstop make in the first half of that particular year, which was 1993. He moved me after the All-Star break, but I could have leaned out a bit more and picked up the foot speed that I would have needed to be more than adequate at short.

Fantastic insight from Fryman…and that’s only answering a few simple questions from a writer.
Wait a minute – a coach in the Indians’ organization with experience moving from SS to 3B at the big-league level, with little to no experience at the hot corner…having to learn on the fly?
Where does Fryman live in the offseason?
What about Jhonny?

Back to the Land of Small Sample Sizes, Anthony Reyes has put up a nice line in his first two quality starts for the Indians:
2.19 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 4 K, 3 BB in 12 1/3 IP

Two starts certainly doesn’t guarantee anything more than a slap on the back and by no means should be taken as any sort of indication that Reyes definitely will be a part of the 2009 rotation…but it’s a nice start.

Rey-Rey, at first glance, looks like a decent back-of-the-rotation option for next year if he’s able to continue his current rate (though missing more bats would be nice) of success as a Tribesman. It would appear that in addition to sorting out the arms in the bullpen, the race for the middle-to-back of the rotation, where Reyes figures to be in the mix with a whole slew of LHP, should have no shortage of contenders with hopefully enough emerging for the Indians to go 7 or 8 starters deep next year.

Since now the virus that has infected the bullpen seems to have extended to The Scarecrow (3 H, 4 R, 3 ER in 0 IP) on Thursday, let’s go back to a place in world where the sun is shining for Tribesman – the Beijing Olympics.
To end on a happy note, here’s LaPorta rounding 3B after his bomb in China:

Somebody get me to 2009 already...

Finally, I did a radio show with Tribe minor league guru Tony Lastoria on Thursday night, a podcast of which can be found here. We hit the high points and Tony had some nice insights on some youngsters, including his relaying that Weglarz's HR in China hit the top of some light pole and was estimated to travel some 470 feet.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Trying to Make Sense with Dollars

Apparently, I should get out of town more often as the Tribe rattled off 4 straight while I hit Sin City and helped pay for my trip with some winnings (thank you Anthony Reyes and Paul Byrd for some extra spending money) in the real “City that Never Sleeps”.

Back in the saddle and back in front of a keyboard, I thought it would be a good idea to take an overview of how vital the performances of certain players are as the season continues what feels like a long backstretch…to Indians’ fans at least. The way that certain young players position themselves for 2009 is important as the Indians are dealing with a predetermined budget going into next year and the needs of the team will be addressed in that greater budget. Thus, identifying said needs to prioritize and address them properly is paramount to 2009 not just turning into a “year to build on”.

How large is that budget and how much money figures to be available on top of what has already been committed in guaranteed dollars?
The salary for the Indians 25-man roster entering 2008 was $78,970,066 (15th out of the 30 MLB teams) and most indications from the Dolans and Mark Shapiro have sounded like the number for 2009 will remain right there or awfully close, so let’s use $80M as a likely (and even) number of where the Indians payroll will fall next year.

I’m not going to get into the wailing and teeth-gnashing of how or why the Indians come up with that number, if they should be spending more, if the Dolans are cheap, blah, blah, blah…let’s just use that $80M number for the purposes of the exercise.

Obviously, we all know about the salaries that are coming off of the books (or are already off of the books in the case of the Hefty Lefty) in terms of 2009:
Player – 2008 Salary
Casey Blake - $6.1M
Joe Borowski - $4M
Paul Byrd - $8M
Aaron Fultz - $1.5M
Jason Michaels - $2.2M
CC Sabathia - $11.25M (Brewers also assumed $5M of CC’s 2008 salary in trade)

Since it’s not fair to assume that the money that the Brewers picked up for CC’s 2008 salary is automatically going into the coffers for next year or what impact the Byrd deal to Boston will have (although it looks like the remaining $2M on his contract will be assumed by the Sux), what money is committed to what players in guaranteed dollars for 2009?

Player – 2009 Salary
Travis Hafner - $11.5M
Jake Westbrook - $10M
Cliff Lee - $6M
Victor Martinez - $5.9M
Grady Sizemore - $4.77M
Jhonny Peralta - $3.65M
David Dellucci - $3.5M
Rafael Betancourt - $3.35M
Masa Kobayashi - $3M
Fausto Carmona - $2.75M
Jamey Carroll - $2.5M (club option for 2009)

Assuming we can’t move Dellucci and have another team pick up his salary in the process, he’s going to remain on the books for $3.5M. Even if The Looch gets cut by the team (which is certainly a possibility), he’ll stay on the payroll just as Borowski, Fultz, and Michaels continue to receive Tribe paychecks this year in similar situations. All told, assuming that Jamey Carroll’s option gets picked up, the Indians have about $57M committed to 11 players which could really be 10 roster spots if Dellucci is jettisoned.

Beyond that list, the players that figure to be legitimate candidates for the team working under minimum salaries would be:
Josh Barfield
Asdrubal Cabrera
Shin-Soo Choo
Ben Francisco
Ryan Garko
Franklin Gutierrez
David Huff
Aaron Laffey
Matt LaPorta
Jensen Lewis
Tom Mastny
Jon Meloan
Atom Miller
Edward Mujica
Rafael Perez
Anthony Reyes
Tony Sipp
Jeff Stevens
Jeremy Sowers
By the way, a quick hat-tip to Jay at the LGT, who informs me that Barfield is NOT arbitration-eligible after this season as his service time will remain below Super Two status.

As for the players who DO hit arbitration after this year and don’t fall under “minimum wage” category, it’s a relatively short list who wouldn’t command too much of a pay raise based on what they’ve accomplished thus far in MLB:
Andy Marte
Kelly Shoppach

Who among those young players above will be on the team?
The better question to ask is what positions are filled by players already under guaranteed contracts at numbers that are not the minimum salary:
#1 Starter (Lee)
#2 Starter (Carmona)
CF (Sizemore)
DH (Hafner)
C or 1B (Victor)
SS or 3B (Peralta)
Bullpen (Kobayashi)
Bullpen (Betancourt)
Utility (Carroll)

I'd put Asdrubal (whether it be at 2B or SS), Shoppach (assuming his trade value isn’t determined to be at its peak), and Perez as the only definites from that list of minimum salaried or arbitration-eligible players, but I think that many other positions will be filled by one of a few players. For instance, I could see the Indians filling two rotation spots from a competition between Huff, Laffey, Reyes, and Sowers (or even Miller) just as one of the OF spots (at least) figures to be filled by Choo, Francisco, LaPorta, or Gutierrez or some combination of those players in a platoon.

The same logic can be applied to the bullpen as it would seem that 3 of the spots are nailed down and one is going to be filled from outside the organization, leaving the likes of Lewis, Mastny, Meloan, Miller, Mujica, Sipp, and Stevens (with Donnelly and Rincon as options as well, assuming they’re re-upped) to fight for those final three available spots down the stretch this year and next Spring in Goodyear.

All that being said, and back to the number portion of the show, I would figure that 2 spots in the rotation will be filled by minimum salaried players, as will 3 spots in the bullpen and 6 to 7 of the position players’ spots. That brings us to a total of 11 to 12 players who figure to be on the Indians’ 25-man roster in 2009 playing for the minimum salary. Figuring that the minimum salary for next year will be around $400K, that would add $4M to $5M to the $57M number committed to the 10 players determined previously (remember, I don’t think Dellucci’s playing for us, just getting paid by us) that are working under guaranteed contracts.

Add the $5M for the 12 players that will be paid about $400K next year, to the $57M committed to the 10 players that are guaranteed their money, and the Indians project to have 22 players on their roster for a price of about $62M. If, then, we’re assuming that the Indians are sticking with a payroll close to that of the 2008 squad, they’ll have about $18M to spend on acquiring help from the outside.

That’s quite a bit of scratch…until you realize that they’ll be looking to add some bullpen help if not a legitimate closer, a middle-of-the-rotation starter, and perhaps a starting position player (whether that be a 2B or a 3B or a corner OF) to the mix – all for that $18M, or $25M if you’re throwing the money that the Brewers picked up on CC’s contract into the mix or the recouped cash from Byrd.

Unfortunately, to paraphrase a trite saying - “$20M doesn’t buy what it used to”.
And as absurd as that notion is, consider that the Yankees will have a comparable amount coming off the books after this year…in Jason Giambi’s expiring contract ALONE. Giambi’s $22M option for 2009 is likely to be declined (at the cost of a $5M buyout), which gives the Yankees that Monopoly money to combine with the expiring contracts of Bobby Abreu ($16M in 2008), Andy Pettitte ($16M in 2008), Mike Mussina ($11M in 2008), Carl Pavano ($11M in 2008), and Kyle Farnsworth ($5.5M in 2008). Those numbers add up to…well, about the Indians total payroll for 2008, so it’s not as if the Indians will be able to spend their available money on Free Agents in a vacuum.
And that’s just the cash coming loose in the Bronx!

Which is what makes the balance of 2008 that much more important.
The Indians need to determine where their biggest need lies by watching the players already in the organization as the season winds down to see where the biggest hole exists and address it properly. Certainly some of the pictures of where these players fit is becoming a little clearer (Show Pack has an OPS of .973 since becoming the everyday C, Asdrubal has an OPS of .847 since being recalled from Buffalo), but questions abound when determining what plan of action the Indians should take this offseason.

Are there enough talented young arms to cobble together 3 starters (and depth) behind Cliff and Fausto until Westbrook gets healthy, or is a starter needed in the mix?
At what cost?

Do the youngsters who figure to be in the mix for the corner OF or 2B/3B merit a longer look to start 2009 or are any potential Free Agents at those positions compelling enough to justify the long-term deal that would otherwise block players whose projected ETA may be 2010 or earlier?

Will internal help emerge to save the bullpen?
Will it happen in my lifetime?

Depending on how these questions are answered, the Indians need to figure out how to best spend their money. Because, barring a trade, we’re watching the players that figure to make up the majority of the 2009 Cleveland Indians. Whatever massaging needs to be done to the roster will come at a price and the Indians, dealing with the dollars that they have already committed to spending and the finite options for them in how to spend their available money, need to make some decisions this offseason that look good next August.

Byrdie to Boston

From the official press release from the Indians, it looks like we have seen the last of the Byrdman in Cleveland:
August 12, 2008


RHP PAUL BYRD Sent to Boston for Player to be Named or Cash

CLEVELAND, OH—The Cleveland Indians today announced the club has completed a trade with the Boston Red Sox, sending RHP PAUL BYRD to Boston in exchange for a player to be named or cash. The player to be named must be agreed upon on or before January 15, 2009.

Byrd made 22 starts with the Indians this year going 7-10 with a 4.53 ERA (131.0IP, 146H, 70R/66ER, 24BB, 56K, 23HR).

The Indians will not make a move today to replace Byrd on their active 25-man roster. The club’s 40-man roster now stands at 39. The Indians are now undecided for the start on Thursday, August 14 vs. Baltimore.

Not sure if this means that the Red Sox are picking up Byrd's remaining salary or perhaps there are some contingencies tied to Byrd's performance in Boston for the possible PTBNL. The PTBNL doesn't have to be decided until early next year, but I'm not holding out too much hope for anything to come back our way from this outside of some lower level prospects or simply having Boston pick the tab up on the rest of Byrd's salary.

Not too much to make of this as it certainly wasn't unexpected and nobody REALLY thought he'd net much more than this, even given his recent success. Seeing as how the NL HR leader was just traded for one A-ball pitcher and two PTBNL, this is just how trades in August work in MLB.

So for now, let's thank Byrd for his contributions to the Tribe, have fond memories of his Game 4 in the ALDS last year in the Bronx, and wonder how he's going to react to facing those same Boston reporters who famously outed his HGH story in the ALCS last year.

More soon on something having nothing to do with this, but I thought I'd pass it along.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sweet, Sweep Lazy Sunday

Alright troops, bear with me here, as with our fearless leader dominating Sin City, T-Bone is here to throw together your Lazy Sunday.

Having just swept the Blue Jays at the former Skydome, it’s surprising that a trip north of the border is apparently just what the doctor ordered for our Wahoos after what happened in Tampa Wednesday. Surprising in that over the last month, only the Angels have a better record than the Blue Jays. That being said, let’s recap the series, as it was an interesting weekend for the Erie Warriors…

Friday night was a night of firsts. Anthony Reyes made not only his first start as an Indian but also first start in the AL, tossing 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball in picking the win. Outside of a shaky fourth inning which allowed that one run (thanks Johnny Mac for flying out with the bases loaded), Reyes either retired the side in order or allowed just four hitters every other inning pitched. He also featured a flat brimmed hat and knee-high socks. Raffy Left bridged the way to Jensen Lewis, who seemed to take PC’s last entry to heart, throwing a hitless ninth en route to his first major-league save.

If Friday was a night of firsts, then Saturday was a night of redemption. Gark-o-my-goodness-why-didn’t-you-leave-the-box was back in the lineup after being benched for his Wednesday effort, went 2-4 and brought in the first two runs to help rattle the usually-dominant Doc Halladay. While Halladay labored through 6 2/3, throwing 130 pitches, Paul Byrd continued his 2nd half redemption, throwing his first complete game of the year on 94* pitches. Byrd retired the 12 of the last 13 batters, and 20 of the last 22. *It should be noted that PC’s boy Sheldon O decided Byrd threw just 93 pitches, a number I have not seen repeated anywhere else on this planet including the Tribe’s own stats.

Today, the Tribe clubbed 13 hits and we had another case of Cliffy being Cliffy. Mr. Lee threw eight innings of shutout ball and Raffy Left came in to strike out the side in the 9th, sealing both a 4-0 victory and a three-game sweep of the Jays. As Paul Hoynes posts, Cliff is the first AL pitcher to 16 wins (Brandon Webb also has 16 going into his start today). Hoynes also notes with at least 10 starts left, Lee has a great chance to become the Indians’ first 20-game winner since Gaylord Perry’s 21-win campaign in 1974. Also, although it was tough seeing Show Pack going 1-12 this weekend (8 K’s), it was pretty awesome seeing him break his bat over his knee after striking out to end the top of the fourth.

OK, enough rambling about the sweep, let’s have a look around the Worldwide Wahoo Web…

- Byrd is pitching so well, he may actually be pitching himself out of an Indians uniform writes Jim Ingraham. Oddly enough, Byrd credits a shortened windup, new glove, and most importantly a talk with Bert Blyleven which lead to a re-introduction of his curveball as the keys to his turnaround.

- Unfortunately, no words of wisdom from T.Pluto since last Sunday.

- Obligatory Pronk shoulder strength update.

- Anthony Castrovince reports Anthony Reyes is the first Anthony in Tribe history???

- Also brought up on Friday with Reyes was Brandon Donnelly. The Tribe hopes to catch lightning in a bottle with the rehabbed Donnelly (see Bob Howry), although he’s in a unique situation after the season. MLB players are under team control for their first six years in the majors. Donnelly will not yet be at six years of service time (5.097 years leading up to the callup). However, the Tribe signed him to a contract that automatically makes him a free agent after this season. Donnelly requested this “because it gives both sides a chance to see if this is going to be the right fit. Right now, I don't see anything saying it's not going to be a good fit." Donnelly warmed up in the pen late in Friday’s game, but has yet to see action with the Tribe.

- Hoynes’s fluff piece on Peralta from Friday. I’m not linking to his Sunday mailbag because he fields another question about which Indians wear diamond earrings.

- Like Lee today, Laffey tossed eight scoreless in Buffalo last night.

- Tony Lastoria is reporting you wont be seeing Atom Miller in Cleveland this year.

- Jason Dangerously made his first start for the Pirates today and seemed to make a good go of it, unearned runs aside.

- Shout out to Josh Whitman, author of Left Field Lampoon, who was able to convert the entire PC television appearance into one clip, “The DiaTube,” featured about 2/3 down on the right column. Josh compares the 2008 Tribe season to the National Lampoon’s vacation franchise in his latest entry.

- Oh yeah, and just in case you haven’t been following the Hefty Lefty.

Alright, we'll cut it there. Business as usual upon PC's return from Vegas baby, Vegas.