Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tomahawk This & That with Even Stevens

The World Series is over and the off-season is officially upon us and what better way is there to celebrate the fact that the 2008 season can now be referred to in the past tense than by simply letting some Tomahawks fly:

From the “Much Ado about Nothing” folder, it looks like the whole Mark Teahen didn’t have much behind it. The KC Star is sticking to their story that they heard the rumor from “sources” on both sides, but what does that even really mean?

You know, it would be nice if it was a little easier to separate fact from fiction in this age of “instant disinformation”. Perhaps next time before I commit too much time thinking about (and writing some 1,650 words on) a subject, I’ll try to see if it actually has any merit behind it. To that end, Anthony Castrovince has a fascinating take on his blog on the difficulty that beat reporters have when they get caught in the propellers of the rumor mill, particularly in this day and age. Obviously, these guys want to “break” the big story, but “reports” that allegedly contain some kernel of truth should be taken with a grain of salt, particularly when you read the story that Castrovince relays about the two beat reporters seemingly inventing a rumor out of nowhere in the lobby of a hotel.

Essentially, AC (and can we just refer to him now as THE Indians beat reporter as he’s the only one that anyone that I know actually gleans information from) presents the Teahen ordeal as a bit of a cautionary tale as the Hot Stove starts to put off some heat and there will certainly be thousands of words written (undoubtedly here…but also elsewhere) on topics that ultimately have very little basis of fact.

This past Wednesday night, Indians’ minor-league reliever Jeff Stevens was gracious enough to join us on the weekly “Smoke Signals” show that I do with Tony Lastoria, the audio of which can be heard here.

During the interview, Stevens commented on his development as a pitcher over the last few years, particularly on the addition of a slider to his mid-90’s fastball to serve as a “2nd swing-and-miss pitch” that will hopefully help him in his transition to MLB. He also talked a little about the impact that AAA pitching coach Scott Radinsky has had on his mentality as a late-inning option for the future while admitting that it was difficult to watch the struggles of the Cleveland bullpen while he (and others) were pitching well in Buffalo and Akron.

Stevens was very frank in his admission that he was disappointed to not get the call to join the Indians in 2008, but seemed to take the right approach to his stay in Buffalo as he took it as the opportunity to “finish off” his mix of pitches to hopefully help him avoid being shuttled back and forth between AAA and MLB and simply make a smooth transition to the Bigs. He also said that it’s impossible for the guys in the Minors to NOT sit around (particularly in the bullpen, I presume) and try to predict the moves that the Indians are going to make next.

Stevens talked about his international experience (he closed the final game that clinched the 2007 World Cup for the USA and was part of the 2008 Bronze-medal winning team in China), including an explanation of both the Olympic game in Beijing that saw The Gatekeeper take one off the dome and his blown save against South Korea.

Finally, he DID answer the obligatory question about the player for whom he was traded, the ubiquitous “Franchise”, relaying some funny stories of his buddy’s texting him every time that the Reds’ 2B hit a HR and joking that he is “not just a bag of balls”.

All told, it’s interesting to hear the perspective of a player who figures to be right on the cusp of joining and legitimately helping the parent club in a substantial role and how he tries to simply go about his business and improve himself. He said he’s been given no indication of where he’ll be in 2009, only that the Indians told him to continue to improve and be ready to report to Goodyear to fight for an MLB roster spot.

Did anyone else catch this week’s episode of “How I Met Your Mother”?
Yes, I know it was a repeat from last season, but the main character (Ted Moseby) was chilling in some Tribe gear during the episode, a nod to the Cleveland roots of show co-creator Carter Bays. If you get Cleveland Magazine, there’s actually a very good article on the 33-year-old (yes, 33) Bays, who is a Shaker Heights native and is basically Ted Moseby in real life.

EDIT – Thanks to Andy Netzel at Cleveland Magazine, here is the link to the aforementioned Bays piece in this month’s issue. If you read the previous post that contained my thoughts on Cleveland Magazine not putting things online…I take it all back.
Mea culpa.

If you’re still not watching HIMYM, do yourself a favor and catch it at 8:30 on Mondays on CBS (because of it, I found that my TV does, in fact, receive a CBS signal for things other than Browns’ games…who knew) as the show has continued to be one of the most consistently funny shows on TV.

With the boys on “Entourage” getting less likable with each passing episode and my unrealistic expectations for “The Office” each week to pull off something like “The Dundies” (still the best episode) not being met, HIMYM is quickly moving up the ranks of best shows. We’ll see how the new season of “30 Rock” progresses, but Barney Stinson is making a serious run at Jack Donaghy as my favorite TV character.

Finally,’s Ben Reiter ranks the top 50 FA this off-season (who are now FA…it officially being the off-season) and projects landing spots for those 50. Showing an obvious bias towards 4 teams, Reiter has 14 of the top 25 (including 8 of the top 10) going to either the NY or LA teams in either league. Reiter’s “predictions” beg the question, “With the dominance that the Yankees, Mets, Angels, and Dodgers exert over their minor-league feeder teams…what’s the point of even playing the season.”

Seriously though, while NOTHING should be taken from his “Best Fit” column, who is the only player that Reiter sees coming to Cleveland as a FA?

As Barney Stinson would say, “Wait for it…Mr. Lacey Cake”.
Let the wailing and gnashing of teeth begin in style this off-season for Tribe fans.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Teahen Crumpets

With the InterWebs abuzz with news that the Indians have been in talks with their divisional rivals for Mark Teahen, let’s take a quick look at what getting Teahen would mean for the Indians and which of the (alleged) group of players the Royals have targeted would make this a worthwhile deal for the Tribe. Teahen, as most people have already looked up at some point over the last day or so, is a versatile LH hitter who has recently played 3B, 1B, and both corner OF with his natural position being 3B. So the Indians are looking at him as the “infield addition” of the off-season, right?

Let’s hope not, as Teahen posted a .715 OPS last year for the Royals, 3rd worst in the AL among qualified OF. He struck out 131 times to only 46 walks (to put that K number in perspective, Grady struck out 1 fewer time in 62 more AB) and has never hit more than 18 HR in any of his four seasons in KC. Perhaps he was playing out of position in the OF for the Royals (though reports of his defense at 3B are less than glowing), but translating his .715 OPS to 3B doesn’t make it look any better than it does in the OF as it would only have bested Chone Figgins (whose OBP was.367 OBP) and Oakland’s AAAA 3B Jack Hannahan this year in terms of pitting him against the rest of the 3B in the AL.

Teahen’s best quality is his versatility, making him a kind of “poor man’s Casey Blake” (and raise your hand if you ever thought those words would be typed in that order) in that he can adequately play a few positions, while not really excelling at any of them. Here’s the difference between Teahan and Blake though (and not that Teahen in LH and Lacey Cake is RH) – Blake has performed at or somewhat above league average for the last two years while Teahen has been below average the last two years and Teahen has trended in the wrong direction since his strong 2006.
Consider what the two of them did in 2007 and 2008
Teahen – 2007
.285 BA / .353 OBP / .410 SLG / .763 OPS with 7 HR and 60 RBI in 544 AB

Teahen – 2008
.255 BA / .313 OBP / .402 SLG / .715 OPS with 15 HR and 59 RBI in 572 RBI

Blake – 2007
.270 BA / .339 OBP / .437 SLG / .776 OPS with 18 HR and 78 RBI in 588 AB

Blake – 2008
.274 BA / .345 OBP / .463 SLG / .808 OPS with 21 HR and 81 RBI in 536 AB
If you ever thought that Casey Blake was a stop-gap until something better came along, Teahen is below that as he’s putting his numbers up at ages that should see him peaking while Blake has outperformed Teahen despite his being on the south side of 35.
Casey Blake without the power…who is arbitration-eligible?
No thanks…

Of course, it’s feasible that the Indians surveyed the players that would be available to play either 2B or 3B, see Teahen as a (relatively) cheap option that wouldn’t cost much in terms of players or committed dollars and they could go about improving the team in ways having nothing to do with the infield. That is, they would find a temporary “solution” to 2B/3B as soon as moves can be made and throw all attention at filling the hole in the rotation and perhaps augmenting the bullpen.

That logic doesn’t hold much water to me, though, as Teahen – even as a stop-gap – is less than desirable and certainly doesn’t immediately improve the offense or the defense of the team. I suppose it makes some sense if the Indians are looking to add Teahan to ONLY serve as a LH super-utility guy and giving up some of the flotsam and jetsam that is rolling around their OF depth to get him. The Royals, apparently, are interested in a troika of Tribe OF to play CF so they can move David DeJesus to LF. The Ben Francisco Treat (who can’t play CF, regardless of what anyone tells me), Frank the Tank (who can certainly play CF) and Trevor Crowe (who is a non-prospect to me at this point) are the three mentioned in the original Kansas City Star piece.

Breaking these down one by one and starting with the player most people want to (inexplicably) keep, Francisco’s probably a little more valuable than Teahen in that he’s less expensive and further away from FA, but they’re actually fairly similar players in that they’re both around the same age and don’t figure to have much higher of a ceiling than what they’ve already shown themselves to be – average MLB players. If you want to gloss over the fact that Francisco was nearly the definition of mediocrity over his last 100 games (.251 BA / .324 OBP / .412 SLG / .736 OPS) while playing subpar defense and think that HE’s more than a stop-gap or a 4th OF, that’s fine. But Francisco is what he is and doesn’t figure to suddenly “take the next step”, because it just doesn’t seem to be there. Whereas it seems that Teahen has one “skill” (his versatility) that is valuable, Francisco doesn’t have one aspect of his game that separates him from the average player. He does many decent things, but lacks that one compelling skill that boosts his value.

Speaking of that one “compelling skill” that sets a player apart, Frank the Tank’s defense is what makes him more valuable than a player like Teahen. If the Royals truly do want a CF to allow them to move DeJesus (and his career .782 OPS) to LF the only player on the Indians that fits that bill is really Gutierrez. But for me, Gutierrez’s defense takes him off the table as his value (a defensively superb CF who can sit at the bottom of the lineup and provide speed and occasional pop) to MANY teams would net more than a player like Mark Teahen. It’s true that Gutierrez regressed offensively in 2008, but trading him straight-up for a player that doesn’t upgrade the roster significantly would look like selling low on Gutierrez, if only because there’s plenty of teams who would find an everyday spot for him based on his defense alone. Ideally if they’re going to dangle Guts, I'd like to see them use him as the second piece in the trade to get some starting pitching as he’s not going to be a centerpiece in any deal, but could be put together with someone (say, Mr. Show Pack) to net a good-to-very-good player from another team.

As for moving Trevor Crowe for Mark Teahan (or nearly anybody, for that matter), if the player we’re getting back would join the parent club and help them in ANY capacity, my answer is, “yes…yes…yes”. Please save me the Trevor Crowe solid prospect argument as he has yet to excel as a minor-leaguer (or have that break-out year in MiLB that foretells future success) and he’s now a 25-year-old with 35 games played above AA. Couple the fact that he’s been unable to leapfrog the middling players ahead of him in the organization with the addition of Michael Brantley – meaning that that Indians have a similarly skilled player, who is 4 years younger, with more upside, who figures to play on the same team with him in 2009 – and you can see how Crowe fits here.
Just take a look at the Tribe OF depth chart:
That’s #8 on the depth chart for a team that has a DH locked into a long-term deal and two players who will definitely make up 2/3 of the Tribe OF in Grady and The BLC that are both less than a year older than Crowe. He is the definition of a “depth” player at this point in the organization whose ceiling is to be like Ben Francisco…and we already have one of those.

All told, we’re really talking about giving up one of our auxiliary pieces at a position of depth for an auxiliary piece (and PLEASE let’s hope that Teahen, if he is acquired, would not be thought of as more than that) at a position of need. All three of the Tribe players mentioned by the KC Star look like 4th OF with the one player who has a quantifiable skill that separates him (Gutierrez) being the one player I wouldn’t make this move for.

If KC is willing to give Francisco a chance in CF, I would make the move for Teahen if only to add a LH bat and greater flexibility to the roster. If the Royals pressed for Frank, I'd ask for another player who would be more than a throw-in as Gutz possesses that one exceptional skill that both Francisco and Teahen lack. As for Crowe, tell me where I sign up to get a MLB player that immediately joins the 25-man roster for nothing more than a 25-year-old player that sits right now as the 8th OF on the depth chart while sitting in AAA.

If the Indians are trading for Teahen, I hope that it’s simply to fill a spot on the bench and not to become a fixture in the everyday lineup and that the Royals either think that Francisco can play CF or are (for whatever reason) more enamored with Trevor Crowe than even his most ardent admirer in the Indians’ organization. If not, the idea of him being the “answer” at 3B, however, is no more compelling than simply saying that Jamey Carroll (.014 OPS points below Teahen last year with a better glove at 3B) will take most of the games at 3B in 2009.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Kellen Winslow-Free Lazy Sunday

Since all week long, the “experts” forecasted a rainy weekend and the sun is out for the second straight day, let’s get right to it as there are leaves to rake, a lawn to cut, and pumpkins to carve on a glorious Fall afternoon.
Regardless of my “to-do” list, we’re off:

Taking it from the top, Terry Pluto says that, after the year-end organizational meetings, the need for a #3 starter has become the team’s top priority. He goes further to say that a “Paul Byrd-type” would be the ideal for the Tribe, working on a short-term deal. Of course, as has been said many times here, the FA pitching market is underwhelming this year in terms of those “types” of starters and the level above them are all looking for 4 to 5 year deals in a market (as always) hungry for arms. Pluto mentions Dave Huff, who may project as a #3 starter (or better) down the road. But I’d be surprised if the Indians are content to leave Goodyear with Huff being counted on to stabilize the middle of the rotation.

The more this starting pitching thing gets examined, the more I think that Shapiro and the boys are going to get creative to fill the hole in the rotation and spend the money in FA on the other holes on the team, notably the bullpen (although Pluto asserts in the same piece that many on the coaching staff think Jenny Lew can do the job as the closer in 2009) and the infield.

Speaking of the bullpen and infield, Jon Heyman puts the Tribe among the three top teams looking at Rockies’ closer Brian Fuentes. Heyman lists Fuentes’ asking price around 3 years and $36M, which looks awfully palatable against K-Rod’s wishes of 5 years and $75M. The key to the Fuentes deal (or any other reliever or closer that the Indians look at) is the years, given the volatility of relievers in general and particularly considering that not too many FA relievers are on the south side of 30. Heyman also puts the approximate price tag of “a potential $10M” on Orlando Hudson when asserting that the Mets having to eat $6M in Luis Castillo’s salary may make Hudson less of a likelihood in Queens.

Let’s for a moment assume that Heyman is right about his Fuentes projection and that he’s close on his Hudson projection in terms of money. If we’re making that assumption, Fuentes would cost $36M over 3 years and Hudson would cost about the same in terms of both money and years.
Say that the same amount of money could get you one of them…which one’s donning the Chief in 2009?

Back to the potential trade front, Tony Massarotti in Boston doesn’t think that the Red Sox will be looking to make a big upgrade at catcher, instead focusing on bolstering the middle of the lineup given the uncertain status of Mike Lowell and the health concerns surrounding David Ortiz. How does this relate to the Indians? Many have speculated that with Jason Varitek likely to leave Boston, a natural fit in a trade would be Kelly Shoppach returning to the organization that drafted and developed him. Certainly the Red Sox would have the young pieces to put together in a deal, but the Rangers look like a more natural fit as they wouldn’t ask for as much for Gerald Laird as the Tribe would for Shoppach and the Red Sox may (as Massarotti believes) have catching far down on their priority list.

Also on the trade front, the Fish are reportedly looking to cut bait with one of their young starters, though the player that keeps coming up as being available is Scott Olsen, and not Ricky Nolasco or Josh Johnson. Olsen has had some…um, “discipline issues” and while he’s a young lefty, we’re kind of stocked up with them. So unless the team would see him as a major upgrade over the in-house options of Laffey or Huff, I don’t see Olsen being the answer to the middle of the rotation question. Ricky Nolasco (if the Indians could EVER pry him out of South Florida) is another story entirely as over his last 146 IP last year he struck out 146 and walked…wait for it…17. With a WHIP of 0.92 from the beginning of June to the end of the season, let me just be the first to tell Kelly and Frank that they’re going to love South Beach.

Having nothing to do with the trade front, in case you missed the LGT’s Jay Levin taking a crack at Paul Hoynes’ mailbag from last week, here’s your chance as Levin replies in the frank manner that most people would probably react more favorably to than the cursory (and often bitter) way that Hoynes usually responds that always seems holier-than-thou. It sure is a lot more entertaining and informative than the “Hey Hoynsie” that I refuse to link.

Despite the fact that this isn’t a “new” post by Joe Posnanski, it bears linking (if only because I forgot to last week) as he recounts his trips to the Cleveland-area library he grew up visiting. A terrific read from JoePos (as if that should be a surprise) with the bonus of Posnanski’s profile of Matt Christopher (yes, the guy who wrote all those sports books you read in grade school) from 20 years ago.

Finally, SuperSizemore makes an appearance in Men’s Vogue this month, apparently after “much pleading from his agent”. The photo that goes along with the article (linked here) is shown to the right with Grady, sporting a fresh haircut, in a $2,000 jacket and $1,225 pants. I love the fact that he’s at Steve’s Lunch, though I’ve never seen girls like the one on Grady’s side when I’m putting some down some mid-day dogs at Steve’s.
I’m not sure why it took so “much pleading from his agent”, it’s not like there are any of these photo shoots that people end up regretting.
It’s not like Cosmo was working the camera or anything…

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Making It to Second Base

One of the oft-stated needs by the Indians’ brass, most recently in their “State of the Tribe” address, has been a desire to upgrade an infield position – specifically a 2B or 3B. Gloss over this as you’ve read it a couple dozen times, but the idea is that Jhonny Peralta and Asdrubal Cabrera will fill 2 of the 3 positions between 2B, SS, and 3B with their 2009 positions determined by whether the team could add a better 2B or a better 3B to the mix. The thought process being that if a better 2B was readily available, Asdrubal shifts to SS and Peralta shifts to 3B and if a better 3B was easier to add, Asdrubal and Peralta stay at their 2008 positions.

That was the stance of the Indians as the 2008 season ended, made somewhat clearer by The Atomic Wedgie’s proclamation at the end of the season that, “At some point, I do feel Jhonny is going to end up at third base and Asdrubal will be at shortstop”. This was taken, by some, as a not-so-subtle way of relaying the idea that the Indians had come to the conclusion that a 2B would be easier to find in a landscape that they had almost certainly acquainted themselves with and perhaps that the team felt that it would be stronger with Asdrubal at SS. Regardless of the rationale, for an organization that makes such measured statements and generally refuses to comment specifically on particular players, it was nothing short of a smoking gun.

Sorry if that feels like we’re just reviewing what’s already known, but it’s meant to set up some developments in the available pool of 2B that have occurred in the last week as well as bringing up a little nugget that I found on these Interwebs that could have an impact as to who the Indians eventually decide to add to their infield.
Just to recap, here’s the list of 2B (with more than 200 AB in 2008) that WERE available via FA just last week:
Craig Counsell
Ray Durham
Damion Easley
David Eckstein
Mark Ellis
Mark Grudzielanek
Jerry Hairston Jr.
Orlando Hudson
Tadahito Iguchi
Jeff Kent
Felipe Lopez
Mark Loretta
Nick Punto

As has been said many times, very few names look good on that list as legitimate upgrades over simply playing some mix of Jamey Carroll or (gasp) Josh Barfield or (double gasp) at 2B in 2009 and perhaps beyond. Most of the players have age “issues”, like Counsell, Durham, Easley, Grudzielanek, and Kent or are no better than making Carroll the starting 2B for 2009. Before you say that players like Lopez or Grudzielanek could represent an upgrade, consider how their 2008 compares to that of Jamey Carroll:
Carroll – 2008
.277 BA / .355 OBP / .346 SLG / .701 OPS with 1 HR, 36 RBI in 347 AB

Lopez – 2008
.283 BA / .343 OBP / .387 SLG / .731 OPS with 6 HR, 46 RBI in 481 AB

Grudzielanek – 2008
.299 BA / .345 OBP / .399 SLG / .744 OPS with 3 HR, 24 RBI in 331 AB

Would either be an upgrade? Meh…and you’d be having to shell out years and guaranteed dollars to obtain that minimal upgrade. With that all now said, the couple of names that did stand out on the list, that didn’t fall under the category of “stop-gaps” or are no more attractive than the in-house options, Carroll and Barfield, were Mark Ellis and Orlando Hudson.

Well, scratch Ellis off that list as he’s agreed to a deal to return to the Athletics at a very reasonably priced contract. The contract calls for Ellis to be paid $10.5M over the next two years with the possibility of Ellis staying in Oakland for a third year if the club picks up his $6M option in 2011, or paying a $500,000 buyout if they don’t. Essentially, the A’s were able to re-up one of the two best 2B on the FA market with an extremely club-friendly contract, given the way that Free Agency has a tendency to spiral out of control, as they avoided the madness of too many years and too much guaranteed money getting involved in the process.

For the Indians, this could be taken in two ways in the overall effects to the 2B FA pool and the 2B FA market. The negative portion of the news is that Ellis is off the table and, while signing him wasn’t exactly going to flood 216-420-HITS with season ticket requests, he would have been a nice 2 to 3 year answer at 2B that would have provided good defense and a steady, if unspectacular, bat. On the flip side, the fact that Ellis signed a deal that tops out in guaranteed years at two and at an annual salary of $6M – and that’s only if the third year option is picked up – which could serve as the reference point for the rest of the FA signings for 2B this off-season. That is to say, if Orlando Hudson (just to…ahem, throw a name out there) is looking at suitors for his services, how much more than Mark Ellis can he reasonably expect?

Well, if you go back to April, according to Jack Magruder of the East Valley Tribune in a piece dissecting whether the Diamondbacks would be able to resign Hudson, here’s the number that was on Hudson’s mind this Spring:
Hudson, a three-time Gold Glove winner who will become a free agent after this season, is said to be seeking a yearly salary similar to the $15 million Philadelphia’s Chase Utley will receive in each of the final four years of his seven-year, $85 million dollar extension signed before 2007.

You read that correctly, “seeking a yearly salary similar to the $15 million Philadelphia’s Chase Utley will receive” as what his camp was thinking this Spring for what it would take for the Diamondbacks to keep him in Arizona. Compared to what Ellis received, that would mean that Hudson would be looking for a deal that would pay him THREE TIMES as much in annual salary next year as the one Ellis just signed. I realize that Hudson is an upgrade from Ellis, but for THREE TIMES the guaranteed money per year and for a period of time almost assuredly longer than two years? Certainly Hudson is a more desirable player than Ellis…but THAT much more desirable?
Compare the lines put up by the two (plus Chase Utley…since he brought his name in the mix) over the last few years:
Ellis – 2008
.233 BA / .321 OBP / .373 SLG / .694 OPS with 12 HR, 41 RBI in 117 games

Hudson – 2008
.305 BA / .367 OBP / .450 SLG / .817 OPS with 8 HR, 41 RBI in 107 games

Utley – 2008
.292 BA / .380 OBP / .535 SLG / .915 OPS with 33 HR, 104 RBI in 159 games

Ellis – 2005 to 2007
.255 BA / .326 OBP / .404 SLG / .730 OPS with 42 HR, 169 RBI in 1,466 games

Hudson – 2005 to 2007
.294 BA / .365 OBP / .448 SLG / .813 OPS with 33 HR, 171 RBI in 1,503 games

Utley – 2005 to 2007
.310 BA / .388 OBP / .542 SLG / .930 OPS with 87 HR, 309 RBI in 1,795

Isn’t Hudson a little closer to Ellis than he is to Utley in terms of production over the last few years, or at the very least just somewhere between the two? Regardless of what those numbers mean to rational people, here’s where we get into the portion of the program that affirms that Hudson WILL get paid an exorbitant amount of money at an exorbitant amount of years.

Exorbitant like the “Chase Utley $15M per season” he’s looking for?
Maybe not, but Ellis received his deal by giving a bit of a hometown discount to Oakland and eschewing the FA market, leaving Hudson as the “prettiest girl at the dance” in a hall full of suitors (Mets, Cardinals, Rockies, etc.) now desperate for a 2B and the second best option (Ellis) off the table.
Remember this little nugget from Rosenthal about a month ago?
Diamondbacks second baseman Orlando Hudson, who underwent season-ending surgery on his left wrist in August, is almost certain to be a hot free agent. Hudson would fit for the Mets if they traded Luis Castillo or the Yankees if they traded Robinson Cano. The Rangers could sign Hudson and move Ian Kinsler off second. The White Sox could sign him and move Alexei Ramirez to shortstop. The Indians would be another possibility; they could move Asdrubal Cabrera to short and Jhonny Peralta to third. The Rockies and Cardinals are two other clubs likely to seek upgrades at second. The A's Mark Ellis, coming off a disappointing offensive season, figures to be the only other quality second baseman on the free-agent market. The Orioles' Brian Roberts and Marlins' Dan Uggla are the leading trade candidates at the position.

Now, with Ellis off of the market, there’s no less than seven teams (at least, as far as Rosenthal acknowledged) that are looking to upgrade their 2B (though the Rangers moving Kinsler off of 2B still makes no sense to me) and Hudson can sit back and watch the fur fly until some team gets close to the number that was in his head back in the Spring.

Would the Indians come close to that number?
Not the $15M as if the team’s spending that kind of money on a Free Agent his last name should rhyme with “Pleats” or “Dough”, but with nothing in their organization below Rookie Ball compelling enough to prevent them from making a multiple year commitment to a 2B, there’s no reason that the Indians shouldn’t be willing to offer a contract that would dwarf the one that Ellis signed for a player like Hudson.

How much would the Indians be willing to dwarf the Ellis contract? It probably depends on what else is going to be available in FA at their other positions of need (though signing FA starting pitchers is a risky and expensive venture when it involves that top tier of pitching) and how they feel the $20M or so that they figure to have available in their 2009 budget would be best used. To me, a player like a Hudson is a nice place to put that money, in that it fills a need (an infielder that can sit at the top of the lineup) and he wouldn’t be “blocking” any player in the organization at the 2B position that reasonably fits into the team’s immediate plans (sorry, Josh). But there has to be a ceiling that the Indians won’t go through, whether it be $10M or $11M instead of $8M or $9M in annual salary or a refusal to add a guaranteed 4th or (I shouldn’t even say it) 5th year, to make the deal happen.

Unfortunately for the Indians, the pickings that were already slim at 2B just dropped another dress size and, as a result, the teams lining up to obtain a player that you would think would have to be firmly on their radar just got a lot longer.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lazy Sunday with Our Newest Hall of Famer

After spending a Saturday afternoon in Lake Chautauqua taking out the dock at my parents’ house up there and with a drive through the glorious foliage of Western NY, Western PA, and Ohio past me, let’s get going on a Lazy Sunday as we all try to will the Red Sox to lose tonight in Tampa. There’s not much in the fishwraps today on the Tribe due to…well, I suppose other things have taken center stage in places other than this; and not much nationally that doesn’t simply pertain to the three teams still vying for a World Championship.

Regardless, we’re off:
Starting off with the most shocking news of the week – the Arizona Fall League has a Hall of Fame! How do we know this…because our own Atomic Wedgie just got inducted into the AFL HOF. Despite my abhorrence for the proliferation of Hall of Fames for basically anything, I love this if only because I imagine people walking around this AFL HOF in the same hushed, almost reverential, manner that people have when they walk into the area with the plaques at the Baseball HOF in Cooperstown. “Oh my gracious, here’s the Eric Wedge plaque…honey, grab the camera.”

Actually, this Wedge to the AFL HOF thing fascinates me as it serves as a reminder as to how YOUNG the Atomic Wedgie really is as he was playing in the AFL a mere 15 years ago. In 1993, he was a 25-year-old catcher who had been taken by the Colorado Rockies in the expansion draft out of the Boston Red Sox organization. Just to put that in perspective, at the same time that Wedge was trying to get a permanent spot on the Rockies’ roster as a catcher, the Indians that were around the same age that were starting to perform for parent club were the likes of Albert Belle (1 ½ years older than Wedge), Jim Thome (1 ½ younger than Wedge), and Manny Ramirez (a little more than 3 years younger than Wedge).

It is easy to forget sometimes how young he is, until you realize that he played for the expansion Colorado Rockies (while sporting that fantastic mustache at the time seen above) while the Indians were entering the glory days of the 1990’s. Then we have something like this HUGE recognition to remind us all that Wedge is not that much younger than some of the principals of those 1990’s Thumping Indians that are still playing today. Whatever YOU may think of this, The DiaBride is searching later tonight as a reason to fly to Arizona just presented itself with this glorious news.

Elsewhere, the Brewers are apparently ready to make an offer to the Hefty Lefty while they are still the only team able to talk contract with him. Um…guys? Unless that contract has GUARANTEED money in it that arrives at CC’s door through the 2014 season (or maybe even the 2015 season), I’ll keep that seat next to Mark Shapiro warm for you.
No, not that one Mr. Melvin…the one over there on the sidelines.

As long as contracts that are going to be doled out this off-season that will have too many years and too many zeroes on them are the subject du jour, Jon Heyman reports that Manny’s looking for a 6-year, $150M deal. Not that he’ll get that…but it only takes one team. Heyman also reports that Brian Fuentes will be looking for $11M per, so if you were SERIOUSLY thinking that Fuentes was the answer, he’s not. I’m not sure if he would be at a third of that price…but at that price tag – I’ll pass.

Ken Rosenthal reports the annual “Mike Mussina wants to play closer to his Montoursville, PA home” talk that always has Indians’ fans hopeful that he would take a short-term deal (he is 40) and play somewhere that is a 5 hour drive away from his beloved Montoursville.
Rosenthal’s reasoning for the Indians not making it on Mussina’s list?
“Competitive issues”…which sounds like Rosie’s still bitter about the Tribe not making the World Series to face the Braves to make his preseason pick look good in hindsight.

In a piece that doesn’t just discuss the ludicrous contract demands of soon-to-be-FA, here’s a nice give-and-take on the Indians’ 2008 and looking ahead to the 2009 campaign between my fellow TCF writer Steve Buffum and the Cleveland Free Times’ Vince Grzegorek (who used to intern at “Uni Watch” for fans of that site, linked on the sidebar).

As a quick FYI, I did update some of the linkage in “Friends of the Feather”, adding a couple of new sites that I’ve become familiar with and would recommend, as well as updating some of the titles of existing sites.

Finally, I ran across this on as a breakdown of the surname LaPorta (and yes, I spend far too much time thinking about this stuff):
“Italian (La Porta), Catalan, and Aragonese: topographic name for someone who lived near the gates of a fortified town (and often was in charge of them; thus in part a metonymic occupational name), from porta ‘gateway’, ‘door’, ‘entrance’ (Latin porta, ‘door’, ‘entrance’), with the definite article la.”
As a result, I came up with this over on the boards of the LGT in a thread that took a turn towards the nicknaming Mr. LaPorta.

Wait for it…
…The Gatekeeper.

Before it is summarily dismissed as another lame attempt to nickname a player that none of us have seen outside of the Futures Game, just know that anytime you can incorporate the movie “Ghostbusters” into your everyday conversation (my buddy’s alias when we used to go to bars was Pete Venkman), it should be done. And who among us, doesn’t think of “Ghostbusters” when the word “Gatekeeper” or “Keymaster” is mentioned?
The Rick Moranis factor alone should be able to carry this one over the threshold.
Who’s coming with me?

Enjoy another beautiful Fall Sunday on the North Coast…while it lasts.
Go Rays…please?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Recovery Room – 2009 Part III

With my voice coming slowly back after attending Monday night’s splendor on the Lakefront, let’s try to finish off this earliest of early 2009 previews in an attempt to set up the off-season while the playoffs roll on. Of course, the topics already hit on involve issues pertaining to the infield, the bullpen, the rotation, and what may be the best course of action regarding Kelly Show Pack. Most of those topics involve going outside the organization to augment the team, whether it be via FA or trade – but questions exist internally that will play just as much of a factor in 2009 as anything that the organization adds to the current roster this off-season. The biggest questions regarding players on the 25-man roster and what can be reasonably expected from them revolve around the health and effectiveness of Fausto Carmona and Travis Hafner. The performance of both players, ideally linchpins for the rotation and the lineup, will have a dramatic effect on the 2009 Indians as the players attempt to recapture some of their past successes, whether it be their performance from 2004 to 2006 (Hafner) or 2007 (Carmona).

Before getting into the sobering part of the piece (you know, the one that involves the phrase – “performed by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham”), let’s get into The Faustastic One and what exactly went wrong in his 2008 season. The raw numbers say that Fausto’s numbers were divided up between those posted prior to his hip injury shelving him and those after he returned from the DL and some rehab starts:
4-2, 3.10 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 54 H, 38 BB, 23 K, .697 OPS against over 58 IP in 10 starts
4-5, 7.61 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 72 H, 32 BB, 35 K, .812 OPS against over 62 2/3 IP in 12 starts

A Tale of Two Faustos?
Not really, as the nice ERA and the decent record prior to the injury belie a propensity all season to allow base runners, both via hit and walk, even prior to his DL stint. Now, some of this is a byproduct of his sinker, as grounders are going to find holes and the prevailing sense that he could ALWAYS get out of a jam with a double play ball is never far away from anyone’s mind when Fausto toes the slab.

But this year, there almost seemed to be too much movement on pitches, as hitters would sit on them (particularly his sinker) to see if they would end up in the strike zone, as opposed to just hammering them into the ground like they did last year. Whether it was his mechanics or the league adjusting to him, the amount of walks that Carmona gave up in 2008 was a startling number, particularly compared to 2007. In fact, most of his numbers relating to K and BB trended in the wrong direction (sometimes dramatically so) from 2007 to 2008:
2007 K/9 – 5.73
2008 K/9 – 4.33

2007 BB/9 – 2.55
2008 BB/9 – 5.22

2007 K/BB – 2.25
2008 K/BB – 0.83

The long and short of it was that he simply walked too many batters, as the percentages of the types of balls struck remained remarkably similar between the two years:
2007 Line Drive % - 14.0%
2008 Line Drive % - 15.0%

2007 Ground Ball % - 64.3%
2008 Ground Ball % - 63.5%

2007 Fly Ball % - 21.7%
2008 Fly Ball % - 21.6%
So, when hitters were putting the ball in play, the results didn’t vary much from 2007 to 2008. The big difference, then, was the walks as his K numbers decreased slightly…but his BB numbers more than doubled!

What happened here?
Was Carmona nursing an injury prior to the hip injury?
Were his mechanics off to such a degree that his pitches were all over the place, allowing hitters to merely wait for the umpire to call strikes?

There is no obvious answer, other than the idea that hitters - knowing that they could do little with his sinking fastball - simply took the sinker, hoping that it was called a ball. The result (as many of them were balls) was that Carmona walked more than twice as many hitters as he did in 2007 while running high pitch counts in every outing. One can only hope that the “problem” is simply mechanical and is easily fixable. If it is, there’s no reason that a healthy and mechanically-sound Fausto can’t become the 2nd pitcher on the Indians in as many years to make a glorious run into the upper echelon of AL pitchers.

Can he be next year’s C.P. Lee, healthy and locked in from Day 1?
His 2007 suggests that the results are in there, but Carmona’s control needs to be rectified to get him back to pounding the strike zone with that unhittable sinker instead of watching that sinker tail away from the plate, as batters drop their bats and trot to 1st. With a Carmona close to his 2007 form and Lee somewhere close to his 2008 form (and, really, is anyone expecting Lee to suddenly turn into Sandy Koufax and replicate his Cy Young season?), the Indians boast two of the top starters in MLB – a duo that can carry them to the top of the AL Central. However, if Carmona falls into the same rut in 2009 that he occupied in 2008, the Indians are going to have bigger rotational issues than determining who their 5th starter is out of Goodyear.

If the importance of Fausto Carmona in 2009 is news to anyone (as, really a lot of people had him pegged to eventually replace CC as the de facto ace on the staff this time last year) and merely constitutes a hope that things return to 2007, what is there to say about Travis Hafner at this point?

We all know by now about the news that he HAS undergone shoulder surgery, after hearing for most of the season that surgery was not necessary and that rehabilitation would be the path back to Pronk. Actually, the only thing of note to come out of the surgery is that nothing was found:
“No structural or nerve damage was found or repaired during Travis Hafner's right shoulder surgery Tuesday. Hafner had what the Indians are calling successful arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder. The 45-minute procedure was performed by Dr. James Andrews at St. Vincent Hospital in Birmingham, Ala. Essentially, the procedure cleaned out Hafner's shoulder joint, removing chronic changes brought about by the grind of baseball.”

So, the Indians went on the conservative side against surgery, in the hopes that the strength could be built back up through exercise and rehabilitation after multiple doctors told them that surgery was not necessary. Now, since the shoulder did not respond to the exercise and rehabilitation, an exploratory surgery was deemed to be necessary, if only to see – up close – what was happening in his shoulder. Once the surgery was performed, nothing unusual was found and the only work done was a “clean out” of the shoulder.
Do I have that right…and does it really sound like they know anything more than they did in May?

How is the “news” that nothing was found to be structurally wrong with his shoulder not bad news?

That is to say, if “damage” was found, then it could have been conceivably “repaired” and that “damage” could be pointed to as the cause of the shoulder weakness. But “no structural or nerve damage was found or repaired”, so the explanation as to why Hafner’s shoulder bottomed out at 15% strength this year and prevented him from playing consecutive days after rehabilitation continues to elude us. Is the thought that removing these “chronic changes brought about by the grind of baseball” (I'd like a translation on that, by the way) the first step to recovery? Despite news that he’ll be “ready for Spring Training” that we’re supposed to take at face value, are we all now simply to assume that because the shoulder has been “cleaned out” that a miraculous return to Pronkitude is ahead of us?

Pardon me while I attempt to look past this grain of salt…
Look, we all know what a healthy Pronk means to the middle of this lineup and the APB went out for him as long ago as June of last year, with his continued absence contributing to the problems of 2008, but the results of this surgery, and the lack of any real cause or answer, underscores how badly this could all turn out. The Indians owe Hafner $49M over the next four seasons and being forced to either put him in the lineup, because of his contract and regardless of his effectiveness, or hang the albatross of a contract with no production to show for it has enormous ramifications on the future of this team.

Is it telling that a line of .800 OPS with 20 HR and 75 RBI from Hafner in 2009 would look AWFULLY good to me? How’s that for diminished expectations…and, truthfully, I’m not even expecting that given the way that this whole shoulder debacle is going. Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to see Pronk return in 2009 with the ferocity that we all grew to love from 2004 to 2006, but the cloak-and-dagger nature of every bit of information about his shoulder and the fact that little is still known about what is wrong with it (seeing as how the Indians have a bit of a financial stake in identifying it and fixing it), much less what the proper way to return his shoulder to a level of strength over 75% (without having to skip every other game) has me worried about the long-term future of Travis Hafner…much less if we’ll ever see the return of Pronk.

Given then, that Hafner is now suddenly a wild card in the 2009 mix as Dr. James Andrews’ name generally does not accompany happy news in terms of an athlete’s health, what do the Indians do to provide themselves some insurance in the chance that Hafner will not be ready to contribute in 2009?

The idea of keeping Shoppach has been thrown out there, with the idea that ShopVac would remain the C, Victor would become the 1B, and Ryan Garko would become the DH…and that very well could be case eventually, though Garko at DH is less appealing to me than Garko at 1B (which is unappealing to begin with). Suddenly, I think that the Hafner situation may affect the Shoppach discussion (and I think you move him ONLY if he’s netting a legit top-to-mid-rotation starter or an impact infielder, regardless of Hafner) as the middle of the Indians’ lineup just got murkier. That being said, I would have to think that the insurance for Hafner, in the long-term (and maybe even at some point this year) is going to be provided by Matt LaPorta.

Prior to this Hafner melodrama, I pictured LaPorta starting the 2009 season in Columbus, splitting time between LF and 1B (with Michael Brantley splitting time between LF and CF to accommodate LaPorta in the OF), if only to keep him prepared at both positions for when the Indians decided to call on his services. The thought process went that LaPorta would start the season in AAA, with Francisco and Garko ahead of him at the two positions that he would be manning in Columbus. If LaPorta shot out of the gate in AAA, the Indians would have him ready to step in at either LF or 1B (thought to be two of the more questionable positions of the team for the long-term), depending upon the performances of The Ben Francisco Treat and Gark. Now, with this Hafner conundrum in the mix, it becomes very possible that DH is now added to the list of LF and 1B as possible destinations for LaPorta at some point in early-to-mid-May.

Early-to-mid-May, you say…when he has yet to take an AB in AAA?
Yes, early-to-mid-May…and while perhaps I’m overly bullish on the timeframe of LaPorta’s arrival, I look to the performance of a few other players and their leap from thriving in AA to MLB with relative smoothness.

For the sake of comparison, I’ll use LaPorta’s numbers from Huntsville and Akron (where he admittedly did not hit very well for a variety of reasons, namely a trip to Beijing, his mother being diagnosed with MS, and the whirlwind of life changes that accompanies simply changing organizations) here to encompass the whole body of work and not just to post the absurdly good Huntsville numbers.
And with the middling Akron numbers thrown in there, his line is still pretty impressive:
Matt LaPorta – 2008 in AA (age 23)
.279 BA / .386 OBP / .539 SLG / .924 OPS with 22 HR, 24 2B, and 74 RBI in 101 games

Now compare those numbers to two players who have recently made the successful leap to the Majors with very little time spent in AAA:
Ryan Braun – 2006 in AA (age 22)
.303 BA / .367 OBP / .589 SLG / .956 OPS with 15 HR, 19 2B, and 40 RBI in 59 games

Evan Longoria – 2007 in AA (age 21)
.307 BA / .403 OBP / .528 SLG / .931 OPS with 21 HR, 21 2B, and 76 RBI in 105 games

Is this wishful thinking or discriminately cherry-picking names, based on how both of these players seamlessly mashed their way into the Bigs? Perhaps, but if LaPorta’s bat is as advanced as it was purported to be at the time of the trade and as his AA numbers compare favorably to these two, isn’t there some merit to the thought that LaPorta could follow the path blazed by them (starting the year in AAA, before an early-season call-up) in 2009?

Braun started his 2007 in AAA, playing in 34 games there (mashing to the tune of a 1.119 OPS) before beginning his Rookie of the Year campaign for the Brew Crew. Likewise, Longoria did spend 31 games in AAA in 2007 before getting 7 games under his belt in Durham this year prior to his call-up to the Rays, but his overall time in AAA was pretty limited. Yes, LaPorta was the oldest of the three players at AA, but he also began his minor league career as a 22-year-old in Rookie Ball mainly because of his age when drafted, whereas Ryan Braun played for the same Milwaukee Rookie League affiliate as a 21-year-old, and Longoria began his minor league career as a 20-year-old in A ball. The fast-track progression of the three is very similar as they hit their way out of every level they played in until the call was made for them to join the parent club…in the case of Braun and Longoria, at least.

Obviously, a good deal of this is going to depend on LaPorta’s performance out of the gate in AAA, but if LaPorta excels in Columbus while one of the three positions that he can fill (LF, 1B, or DH) reveals itself as a weakness on the parent club, I can’t imagine a justification for leaving LaPorta in AAA if Hafner isn’t healthy or Francisco/Garko struggle. Depending upon what, exactly, happens with the progression of Hafner’s shoulder, the Indians could use LaPorta’s “flexibility” (if you can really call it that) to cover one of those positions if one of the players falters or isn’t healthy. Of course, if Hafner is on the shelf to start the season AND Shoppach is moved for a starter, the Indians are going to be scrambling somewhat to find players to fill both 1B and DH out of the gate (Mike Aubrey anyone) or moving some of the extra OF into the DH role (Dellucci, Francisco, and Gutierrez) around to take some AB with the hope that LaPorta’s scheduled arrival happens earlier rather than later.

Much of this, though, falls on Hafner – even if he is able to merely post Garko-esque numbers from the DH spot – as it allows the Indians not to scramble around for 2009 for someone to take AB as the DH and to allow LaPorta to (hopefully) settle in at AAA before his car hits the ramp to I-71 North from Columbus to Cleveland. However, all of those plans are contingent on Hafner’s name being on the lineup card from Opening Day in 2009…which is less of a certainty today than it was even last May.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lazy Fall Sunday

With a gorgeous day in front of me and no Browns game on today, it’s time for a quick Lazy Lazy before we take The DiaperTribe out to the pumpkin patch to enjoy Fall in Cleveland. There’s no better time on the North Coast, so let’s get right to it:

In case you haven’t noticed the podcast (if anything that is 90 minutes long can really be a “podcast”) of the interview from Thursday’s “Smoke Signals” is up at the top of the right sidebar. We were joined by Michael Brantley for the first ½ hour, then were joined by his agent Josh Kusnick for the last hour. It was an informative and entertaining (I hope) chat, despite what I would call “technical difficulties” at the beginning – which is why I sound like I’m doing five different things at the open…because I was. Once it all got ironed out and Brantley and Kusnick called in though, things went swimmingly.

Highlights of the show (if you don’t have a spare 90 minutes) are that Brantley has been to Goodyear to work out with the Indians, is unsure where he’ll be playing Winter Ball, and will definitely start 2009 in Columbus. He’s a very well-spoken athlete who was insightful into why his power numbers were down this year (his injury was a high ankle sprain that made his weight transfer difficult and robbed him of his ability to drive the ball), who he has been most often compared to (Garrett Anderson, according to him), and how growing up around MLB (his dad is Mickey Brantley) has shaped who he is as an athlete. His agent, Josh Kusnick, then got into what it was like to be an agent, calling himself “The Dark Side” of sports and how he doesn’t really like agents…other than himself and his father. He’s a very colorful, passionate guy who laid himself out there and doesn’t mind being judged, for better or worse.
Regardless, I hope that you found it (or find it) insightful…I certainly did.

Serial Poster Terry Pluto (ha ha) has a piece on why the announcement of Hafner’s surgery may have an effect on where Ryan Garko fits on the team and intimates that the team may be hesitant to deal Shoppach if Hafner’s injury looks to linger as Garko would likely be moved to DH and Victor would be moved to 1B. To me, this is exactly where The Door (LaPorta) enters the equation as his natural position is 1B to provide that bat at 1B that Garko (RBI totals considered) is not. Now with Brantley in the fold (presumably as a LF), I would expect LaPorta to be that 1B/DH option in case Shoppach were dealt or if Hafner’s shoulder doesn’t recover. The thought of Garko being the full-time DH, by the way, is almost as scary as seeing that “Hafner” guy (and not Pronk) hold down the DH spot for the length of his contract.

Pluto also addresses his column from earlier in the week about the “volume” trade for Brian Roberts – the one which suggested trading some of the lesser lights in the system (and more than a couple of them) for the O’s 2B. I don’t doubt that the Orioles would be looking to upgrade their pitching staff and their organizational depth if they dealt Roberts (and maybe I’m giving the Baltimore Front Office too much credit), but I’d have to think that they’d want better players than Jeremy Sowers, Wes Hodges, and Josh Barfield. If Baltimore WOULD make that deal, it’s already done – and I’m all for dealing some of our ancillary players for 1 year of Roberts (and, yes, Hodges is an ancillary player to me), but I don’t see how they don’t ask for a deal-breaker like Dave Huff if they’re looking for quality and not just quantity.

The other bit of the Roberts piece that I found unusual was Pluto’s dismissal of Orlando Hudson as a possibility saying, “Yes, Orlando Hudson is a free agent, a three-time Gold Glove second baseman and sometimes .300 hitter. His season at Arizona ended early because of wrist surgery. At 31, he should have several good seasons left.
Problem? He's a free agent.
It seems the Indians never can sign a guy like Hudson.”

Coming off a surgery? Isn’t this exactly the kind of guy the Indians sign?
And if the Indians think that they can get a starter via trade, there is money there for them to go out and sign an infielder and a reliever from FA. As I’ve said before, the fact that the 2B position is such a black hole in the system leads me to believe that the organization would have less trouble justifying giving Hudson a multi-year deal than it would making a move for one year of Brian Roberts as it would provide stability at the position beyond 2009.

Elsewhere (and there’s not much out there not Pluto-related), Indians Top Prospects has a nice little rundown of the Tribe prospects that are participating in the Arizona Fall League with good performances thus far for Wes Hodges and Josh Tomlin and Chuck Lofgren’s descent into oblivion seemingly finding no end.

Finally, I got a nice little surprise this week when my buddy e-mailed me on Thursday to say that he was perusing the latest edition of “Scene” magazine, which was their “Best of Cleveland” edition and came across my name. Befuddled, I called The DiaBride (who was running errands) to see if she could pick one up on her way home…and, sure enough:

Nice, right?
Enjoy the Sunday, I’m going to pick apples and get a pumpkin.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Rotational Symmetry – 2009 Part II

The playoffs roll on with Paul Byrd and Lacey Cake seemingly on a collision course to meet in the World Series (what do you mean there’s a more interesting subplot if those two teams were to meet?) and we are forced to endure the Indians holding press conferences to talk about next year. Having already examined two of the needs that the Indians enter the off-season in the first part of the earliest 2009 preview that you’ll ever read (infielder and reliever), it’s time to turn to another question facing the Tribe as they ready themselves for Opening Day next Spring.

As a quick aside, I should point out as an addendum to the last piece that, in full disclosure, Dan Wheeler (one of the relievers I targeted as a possible addition) is NOT a FA at the end of he season, despite what Cot’s Contracts tells me as he signed a 3-year, $10.5M deal with the Rays this April. Oh, and Scott Downs signed a 3-year deal with the Blue Jays earlier this year too. So that list of available relievers that could be in the Tribe’s plans to augment the bullpen just got a little shorter and much less appealing.

Mea culpa and, “Yes, Mr. Weathers, he IS the newest Iron Chef and his restaurant is right there on East 4th Street…isn’t Cleveland great?”

Nevertheless, let’s move on to the main course:
One of forgotten disappointments in 2008 (what with Victor and Hafner getting hurt and CC getting traded and Carmona unable to replicate his 2007 success) was that Jake Westbrook, in the first year of his new 3-year, $33M deal went down with an arm injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery, followed by later news that a “minor” hip surgery was also performed on the sinkerballer. Why this is glossed over so often is beyond me as a player like Westbrook is precisely the reason that a team like the 2007 club is able to make an extended push into the postseason, as having three good-to-excellent starters at the top of the rotation generally translates to success in the regular season and into the postseason. Westbrook’s return in 2007 coincided with the team taking over the AL Central (they went 53-36 after he returned on June 24th last year) as it allowed Byrd and the youngsters to become the 4th and 5th starters.

Obviously, we all know that Westbrook is “slated” to return sometime around the All-Star Break of 2009, but with Tommy John surgery, a longer recovery time is actually the norm as opposed to being the exception. So, with that knowledge, the Indians sit with the top 2 spots in their rotation spoken for (C.P. and Fausto, not without questions surrounding both), but with the rest of their rotation filled by pitchers who project more into the back of the rotation or are simply too young to be counted on contributing much more than a surprising debut.

After Lee and Carmona, the Indians sit on a stable of pitchers who all look like back-end-of-the rotation fodder with the two most promising arms (that is, the ones that could possibly end up as middle-of-the-rotation arms) coming off of years when they were shut down at the end of the season. Both Anthony Reyes and Aaron Laffey (the two aforementioned potential MOR starters) ended the season resting their arms in what could either simply be preventative measures or will serve as the first red flag in a series of them that end with an extended stint on the DL or with a flight to Birmingham to meet with Dr. James Andrews..

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves as the names that figure after Lee and Carmona should be known and quantified to illustrate where the deficiency exists that should be filled externally. The pitchers that legitimately figure into the 2009 rotation mix:
Any of those names REALLY give you a lot of confidence pitching as the 3rd starter on a team that is designed to rely on strong starting pitching? If we know from 2007 that having three good-to-excellent starters at the top of the rotation could mean the difference between what we experienced in 2007 and what we did this year, something needs to be done.
Right, Mark? No, get a little closer to the mike…what was that again?
"When you get to the list of areas I'd like to improve, the area I feel least comfortable with is our upper-level starting pitching. It's the area, as we plan our big league club, that will be among our two or three biggest holes.
"We have a lot of [internal] alternatives, but I'd feel better if we had one more experienced top of the rotation guy."

Interesting, eh?
And let’s hope that the “experienced top of the rotation guy” he’s thinking of “adding” isn’t a guy named Jake that they’re thinking they’ll “add” around the middle of the season.

If, then, there is a need at the top of the Indians’ rotation, is FA the best way to fill it?
To wit, here’s the list of potential FA ranked by their ERA+ for 208 listed after their names – remember that an ERA+ of 100 is essentially league average:
C.C. Sabathia – 162
John Smoltz – 160 (in 28 IP)
Ryan Dempster – 152
Ben Sheets – 141
Derek Lowe – 136
Mike Mussina – 128
Jamie Moyer – 120
Bartolo Colon – 117 (in 39 IP in 2008 after 155 2/3 IP combined in 2006 and 2007)
A.J. Burnett – 106 (Burnett can opt out of contract after '08 season)
John Lackey – 116 ($9MM club option for '09 with a $0.5MM buyout)
Randy Johnson – 116
Jon Lieber – 111 (in 46 2/3 IP in 2008 out of the Cubs’ bullpen)
Tim Wakefield – 111 ($4MM club option)
Freddy Garcia – 105 (in 15 IP in 2008 after 58 IP in 2007)
Braden Looper – 102
Odalis Perez – 99
Oliver Perez – 98
Paul Byrd – 97
Andy Pettitte – 95
Greg Maddux – 95
Randy Wolf – 94
Jon Garland – 89
Glendon Rusch – 87
Mike Hampton – 85 (in 78 IP)
Shawn Estes – 82
Kenny Rogers – 77
Mark Hendrickson – 76
Tom Glavine – 74 (in 63 1/3 IP)
Kip Wells – 74 (in 37 2/3 IP out of the bullpen)
Pedro Martinez – 73
Brad Penny – 71 ($8.75MM club option for '09 with a $2MM buyout)
Livan Hernandez – 71
Josh Fogg – 59
Jason Jennings – 51
Remember, again, that 100 is LEAGUE AVERAGE and look at the list again.

For starters, just lop off the likes of CC (sorry dreamers), Sheets, Burnett, Dempster (all indications are he’s staying on the North Side), and even a guy like a Derek Lowe as all are going to be looking for 4 to 5 year deals…and it’s become apparent that the Indians aren’t willing to throw that many guaranteed years at a starting pitcher, regardless of pedigree.

By the way, I’ve omitted names like Kris Benson, Matt Clement, Roger Clemens, El Duque, Rodrigo Lopez, Mark Mulder, and Carl Pavano as injuries or prolonged use of PED’s have prevented them from pitching in recent years. Could the Indians try to pull a “Millwood” with one of these players like Benson, Clement, or Pavano? I guess, but that would be beyond disappointing if that was the added “top-of-the-rotation” guy.

Let’s assume that the options for Lackey and Penny get picked up and what are we left with?
Jon Garland?
Randy Johnson at age 44?
Jon Lieber after pitching out of the Cubs’ bullpen?
Braden Looper?
Jamie Moyer at age 45?
Mike Mussina at age 39?
Odalis Perez?
Oliver Perez?
Randy Wolf?
Maybe some of those guys slot as top-to-middle-of-the-rotation pitchers (though not obviously), but the problem with signing starting pitchers on the FA market is that nearly EVERY team needs starting pitching every off-season and FA ultimately turns out to be the most ineffective way to add arms to the rotation because of the guaranteed years and committed dollars that become involved for players that generally (please note the “generally” and not a “universally”) are not hitting their prime.

Thus, the pitchers that fall under that upper tier of CC and Sheets become sought-after by the teams that miss out on the top-flight FA starters. What does that mean for a guy like Garland or Looper or Oliver Perez – guys that probably would look most attractive after that upper tier finds new zip codes? Mainly that they’re going to get 3 or 4 year deals when their performance doesn’t really justify it, as teams scramble to fill out their rotations and overpay for a pitcher that falls into the “middle-to-back-of-the-rotation category…and aren’t we already flush with young, cheap pitchers like that?

Knowing then what a player like Oliver Perez is going to command on the FA market, is that the best way for the Indians to spend their available cash? Unless you get a guy like a Mussina on a one-year deal (and his 2008 almost guarantees that he’ll get a longer deal than that), signing a FA starter often proves to be both inefficient and expensive.

If that is the case, what do the Indians do to fill that stated need at the TOP of their rotation? The trade option probably becomes the best route to take on this, with the difficulty being that not many teams are looking to move top-to-middle-of-the-rotation starters (particularly those a couple of years removed from FA) without getting a SIGNIFICANT return.

Is Kelly Shoppach a significant return?
Would he have to be packaged with one of the young LHP to make it work…or maybe with a player like a Franklin Gutierrez to sweeten the deal?

That may be the answer to this starter question as playing the biggest chip in their off-season stack (Shoppach) should go to upgrading the Indians at a position of need with a player who would be as reasonably priced as Shoppach with similar contract status. Another way to say this would be that if other holes (infield and bullpen) can be filled via FA without the outlay of money that a FA starter demands, then the trade market becomes the logical avenue to take to add a starter. If a trade is the way to add that extra arm, using the player thought to be a “luxury” on the roster becomes the logical barter.

Let’s take it one step further, though, and identify some teams that may be in the market for an upgrade at C who may have (and could be willing to part with) a young, potential top-to-middle-of-the-rotation starter that would fit the Tribe’s needs:
New York Mets
The Indians, knowing that Shoppach is their biggest bullet to fire, should aim high and target players like Ricky Nolasco (FLA), Josh Johnson (FLA), Wandy Rodriguez (HOU), Mike Pelfrey (NYM), John Maine (NYM) and Shawn Marcum (TOR). Is that group of names look lofty? Absolutely, but if the Indians are TRULY talking about a pitcher that “would start in a playoff game”, the list of what would come in return can’t include guys who figure to be “potential” #3 starters and figure more easily as a #4 or a #5.

Beyond the list above of interested teams, would a team like Boston (Varitek is a FA after this year) be interested? Sure, but short of the Indians somehow prying Jon Lester loose (and that simply isn’t going to happen), I don’t see how the rest of the Red Sox rotation would fit the criteria of young, established, and a few years away from FA. Maybe a team like Cincinnati emerges to go after Shoppach or perhaps pitcher like Paul Maholm (PIT) or Zach Greinke (KC) enters the trade discussion. It’s even possible that San Diego would be interested with the potential return being a reliever like Heath Bell or Cla Meredith as part of a package (getting Jake Peavy would involve moving A TON of young TALENT)…but you get the general idea.

If the Indians are looking at a top-of-the-rotation starter to slot after Lee and Carmona and in front of the plethora of guys who either have injury concerns (Reyes, Laffey), project as little more than a #4 or #5 guy (Sowers, Lewis, Jackson) or may be a few years away from legitimately filling that role (Huff), the trade route may be the way to go with Shoppach (joined by others) as the bait dangling on the hook.

Of course, if that top-to-middle-of-the-rotation starter that Shapiro referenced is simply a path to say that Westbrook is THAT guy that they “add” when (or is it if) returns around the All-Star Break, the point is moot and the Indians are banking on some suspect arms to fill out their rotation beyond Lee and Carmona.

Still more to come on this whole shooting match, with an analysis on what effect the performance of two players coming off of injuries (Hafner and Carmona) will have on the team and where Matt LaPorta may fit into the 2009 plans.

On the topic of LaPorta and the CC deal, here’s the audio of the “Smoke Signals” show that Tony and Lastoria and I did on Thursday night with PTBN Michael Brantley and his agent Josh Kusnick. The linked podcast has lots of interesting tidbits from Brantley regarding his game and what’s in store for him in the coming years, as well as a fascinating look into the life of a sports agent.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Where Do We Go From Here – 2009 Part I

With 2008 firmly in the past, after having examined the highs and lows of the Blue Streak of a season that we all just experienced, it’s time to put those blinders on again and cast a forlorn gaze at what lies ahead. After the high hopes that accompanied the start of the 2008 season were dashed into mediocrity, what do the Indians need to do to position themselves to recapture the momentum that they had to close out the 2007 season and how do they improve themselves to figure squarely in the mix in the winnable AL Central (where no team looks to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the pack) in 2009?

Obviously, many questions face the Tribe brass as needs have been publicly identified as an infielder (either a 2B or 3B), bullpen fortification, perhaps a middle-of-the-rotation starter, and a possible upgrade at a corner position not known as 3B (LF and 1B would be the most logical spots). Lockstep with those needs, decisions need to be made on particular players like Kelly Shoppach and whether his value is greater as a trading chip, and whether players like Ryan Garko and Franklin Gutierrez were victims of the bad years or if 2008 simply showed them for who they are. Beyond that, injury questions linger about Travis Hafner and Fausto Carmona and which versions of them will show up in 2009 as both players will have an enormous impact on the 2009 club if they reappear at top form or, going in the other direction, if either continues to struggle.

This could go on and on in paragraph format, so let’s break this down into some sections that break it up and makes it easier to follow. Again, I’m breaking this up into a couple of parts as I got a little long-winded and don’t want to tax anyone’s time more than I already do:

Where are the weaknesses?
As previously listed, the stated needs of the organization are a 2B or a 3B to supplement Asdrubal and Peralta to fill out three of the infield positions, bullpen arms to settle a bullpen that vastly underperformed in 2008 and looks to be full of promising, if unproven, young arms, a starter to bridge the rotation from Lee and Carmona to the back-end-of-the-rotation fodder and provide insurance that Jake Westbrook doesn’t return as planned, and better production from 1B and LF.
That’s it?
No sweat…right?

Actually, the better question in coming up with an off-season game plan to address in filling many of these weaknesses is determining which have the opportunity to be filled internally and which ones would be most helped by adding a piece through Free Agency. The corollary to that, of course, is what the Indians’ payroll for 2009 figures to look like and prioritizing needs based on dollars that can be spent. That is to say, if signing a middle-of-the-rotation starter on the Free Agent market is going to eat up most of the available dollars (because that’s what starters get in Free Agency), is it wise to simply fill that hole and attempt to be creative with strengthening the other weaknesses? Or would it behoove the Indians to determine where the best value is going to be on the FA market (in comparison to their other needs) and identify that hole as the one to fill through FA and go after other players via trade?

Infield Addition
Forgive me if this all sounds familiar to you, but a while back I went into the possible options at the 2B and 3B on the FA market, a list that looks more underwhelming when you look at 2B and 3B in MLB listed by OBP (which is really what we’re looking for here – a table-setter) with at least 450 plate appearances this year. The more I look at that 2B, the more I feel my mouth saying “meh” – and if Jhonny’s REALLY going to 3B (and the quote from Wedge that, “At some point, I do feel Jhonny is going to end up at third base and Asdrubal will be at shortstop” sure makes it sound like he is) meaning that the Indians are already buttering us up for a new 2B having surveyed the two positions, who on the 2B list jumps out at you as a player that looks good?

Yes, Mr. Pluto, I see your hand…I know Brian Roberts – but the Indians biggest trading chip (Shoppach) happens to play the same postion as the Orioles’ top prospect Matt Wieters, who also happens to be one of the top prospects in baseball. So unless you’re talking about the Orioles having an interest in some combination of Ryan Garko, a LHP, Wes Hodges, and Francisco/Gutierrez – it looks like the O’s aren’t looking like a match. Maybe the Orioles want a number of middling players with the idea that they can develop them into quality MLB players, but I just don’t see a logical exchange where the Orioles would be looking for something that the Indians would be willing to give up.

Beyond Roberts, I see Orlando Hudson (a FA) and maybe a Dan Uggla (who doesn’t fit the profile of the high-OBP and looks to be one of those all-or-nothing guys that we already have a few of which lead us to those boom-or-bust stretches as an offense) as possibilities.
Are Luis Castillo, Rickie Weeks, Kelly Johnson, Mark Grudzielanek (a FA) or Mark Ellis (also a FA) that appealing?
Everyone can see that Robinson Cano isn’t worth anything close to the money he’s owed, right?

All told, it looks like slim pickings at 2B with the possibilities for finding an impact 3B looking much worse. The addendum to the 2B/3B issue, however, is that the Indians’ organization is devoid of upper-level talent that legitimately figures into the 2009 plans or even the 2010 plans (sorry, Wes Hodges…I don’t see it), leading me to believe that if the Indians are going to add to the team via FA with a multi-year deal, this is the spot they do it in.

By signing a FA to a multi-year deal (and, really, any FA worth anything is going to get more than a one-year deal), it’s not like the Indians are blocking any of their young talent, which looks to be firmly locked up at the corner OF spots (LaPorta, Weglarz) or 1B (LaPorta, Mills). Truly, the only 2B FA worthy of a multi-year deal is Hudson (injury history and concerns and all) as the rest of the players available via FA (notably Ellis and Grudzielanek) feel like stop-gaps…but waiting for who to emerge?
Josh Barfield?
Cord Phelps?
Because of the void in the system, this is the position that the Indians go outside of their “comfort zone” and add a defensive-minded 2B with OBP skills that can slot into the top of the lineup behind Grady.

Beyond Hudson (and omitting Roberts based on the lack of the Orioles needing anything the Indians could offer), very few options appeal to me much more than slotting Jamey Carroll at the 2B position and allowing players already on the 40-man at predetermined, low salaries like Josh Barfield or Andy Marte (gasp) to remain as auxiliary players. While it wouldn’t be the ideal set-up (by any stretch of the imagination), if no players available to the Indians on the FA market or the trade market represent THAT much of an upgrade over what they already have (in that they’d be bottom-of-the-order hitters, not unlike Carroll, Barfield, or Marte), one would have to think that the Indians might simply be content to look for other pieces that could help the team at other positions (LF or 1B, notably) more than just pulling a veteran onto to the team to fill a roster spot and unnecessarily and unwisely spending money or players to do so.

Bullpen Augmentation
If adding an infielder is a priority this off-season, how does one identify the needs in the bullpen? Does putting the word PRIORITY in bold typeface give any extra oomph to the fact that the Indians need to add pieces and parts to the existing bullpen to avoid a 2008esque meltdown?

Certainly, some internal options already exist with spots in the bullpen being claimed by Jensen Lewis’ performance as the closer since the beginning of August, the continued effectiveness of Rafael Perez, and the hope that Rafael Betancourt reverts to his 2007 form. Masa Kobayashi’s inning limit is enough of a concern that he may be an option to start the season, but may not be counted on for much more than pitching an inning here or there in low-pressure situations. After those four, the usual suspects of Tom Mastny, Edward Mujica, and Rich Rundles go hand-in-hand with the reclamation projects of Brendan Donnelly and Juan Rincon, assuming either is re-signed or given a non-roster invite to Spring Training.

Outside of those relievers that we have seen topside, those that may be able to help in some capacity in 2009 are seen as Zach Jackson (more of a long reliever/spot starter than a true “reliever”), Jeff Stevens (with a great article about him with the person that I think is the Bullpen Coach in waiting, Scott Radinsky, being quoted extensively here), Jon Meloan, Atom Miller, and Tony Sipp. Stevens and Meloan may figure into the mix immediately as both have live arms and recent success in the high minors as relievers. Miller and Sipp, however, would both be coming off of injury and may be closer to the mid-season addition to the bullpen as the inevitable injury or ineffectiveness befell a reliever throughout the course of the season.

All told, internal options (assuming no relievers are added) have a 2009 bullpen that could look something like this out of Goodyear:
While this is essentially the bullpen that coagulated in the last two months of the season to allow the Indians to string together some victories, a nice little bump in quality there at the top end wouldn’t look bad, would it? That way, all of those arms basically slot down in the progression and it allows the younger players to provide depth from Columbus while getting them regular work without having to fill out the bottom of the bullpen and be subjected to the irregular appearances that have plagued younger relievers in recent years.

Also, judging by all of the comments made by the Indians’ organization that Jensen Lewis’ performance as the closer at the end of this year was a nice surprise will not change their plans to add bullpen arms to the mix listed above.
What arms are out there?
Well, there was this exercise from back right around the time that Jenny Lew became the closer as to what is going to be available on the FA market and how each of the available relievers has performed this year.

Now, with the season complete, look again at the top of the RHRP list to see a pitcher who has suddenly developed as a closer for a team playing in the ALCS…Dan Wheeler. While some may guffaw at the notion that a player like Wheeler is the best option and prefer the theatrics and track record of a K-Rod or go after an “established” closer like Brian Fuentes, I'd prefer a reliever on the upswing of his career who is likely to perform at the same high level that he did in 2008. That way, you’re paying a reliever for FUTURE performance and not just basing it on the three previous years.

Obviously, if everyone knew what relievers were on the upswing, signings like Eric Gagne and Kyle Farnsworth wouldn’t regularly happen, but I think that the Indians should be targeting relievers who have experienced multiple years of success, even if it’s not exclusively as a closer. Some closing experience helps, but I'd prefer a player that slots into the back end of the bullpen without demanding the absurdity that K-Rod’s contract will be.
Who are guys like this?
I’m glad you asked as here are four with their 2008 numbers:
Dan Wheeler – RHP – 3.12 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 53 K, 22 BB in 66 1/3 IP with 13 saves
Scott Downs – LHP – 1.78 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 57 K, 27 BB in 70 2/3 IP with 5 saves
Joe Beimel – LHP – 2.02 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 32 K, 21 BB in 49 IP with 0 saves
David Weathers – RHP – 3.25 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 46 K, 30 BB in 69 1/3 IP with 0 saves

Are any of these guys your lock-it-down, cue-the-closer-music-and-turn-out-the-lights kind of reliever who will have the box office phones burning up and cause me to flush all of my TUMS down the toilet? Probably not, but the addition of a guy like Wheeler (who may be adding zeroes to his asking price with each postseason appearance) or Downs would add a quality arm to the back-end of the bullpen while adding some closing experience and lengthening the ladder of progression to allow Lewis, Perez, Betancourt and the youngsters to sort themselves out around him.

To a lesser degree than Wheeler or Downs, the Indians could throw some money at Beimel or Weathers to add another arm to the bullpen, though neither would classify as legitimate closer options for 2009. Sure, Weathers has 74 career saves (Beimel has 3), but the 39-year-old Weathers also has 50 career blown saves, so relying on him to be the main option may be a dicey proposition, particularly considering that he’d be pitching in the AL for the first time since 1997 when he…spent some time on the Tribe!

When it’s all said and done in the bullpen, the Indians are likely to look to add one FA reliever (trading a valuable position player like Shoppach for a volatile commodity like a reliever seems counterintuitive) to augment the young arms that currently reside in the pen. The FA arm will probably tend toward the lower portion of the better arms available, if only because the top portion is going to be absurdly overpaid in terms of guaranteed years. Beyond that, a wave of young hard-throwers (“Hallelujah”) look to make up the depth in the hopes that the inevitable regression by a reliever that was thought to be counted on (please don’t let it be Jenny Lew) can be replaced with an in-house arm.

Plenty more still to discuss, including the rotation, Mr. ShowPack, whether the Indians need to look for outside help to upgrade 1B or LF, and what can reasonably be expected from some of the principal players who spent much of 2008 on the shelf and/or ineffective.

Until then, remember that Michael Brantley and his agent will join Tony Lastoria and I for our Thursday night show, “Smoke Signals” which airs from 9:30 PM to 10:30 PM with the podcast available soon after the completion of the show, which I’ll be sure to post in the second installment.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Lazy Sunday with Brantley

With the Brewers hanging on by a thread (anyone else interested to see CC’s performance if a Game 5 rolls around against Cole Hamels?) and the Cubs being swept by the DODGERS, it looks like a Browns-free afternoon at the Wigwam filled with playoff baseball.

But first, we’re off on a Lazy Sunday:
The big news of late, of course, is that the Indians selected Michael Brantley as the PTBNL in the CC deal (audio of Shapiro’s comments at the top of the linked article) in a process made interesting only by Paul Hoynes’ constant (and correct, it turns out) claim that the selection of the pick would be determined by whether the Brewers made the playoffs or not. Apparently, when the Brew Crew did, the decision became the Indians (because of a “gentleman’s agreement”) and it looked like Brantley was the more-highly-thought of prospect by most - yes, the camp of Taylor Green filling a greater organizational need existed – as Brantley’s numbers as a 21-year-old in AA were hard to ignore.

The big thing on Brantley is his OBP (.398 this year), his strike zone command (27 K to 50 BB in 420 AB!), and his success at AA at a young age as he doesn’t turn 22 until mid-May of 2009. Those that don’t like the selection point to the lack of power from Brantley and the fact that he likely profiles as a LF with numbers that don’t necessarily translate into what is generally expected by a corner OF, power-wise. Before getting into how he fits in the organization, let’s examine why that thinking has flaws as Brantley is still 21 and, knowing that power is the last thing to develop, he still has time to grow into his body and provide some pop. Certainly his numbers don’t jump out like Grady Sizemore’s do in terms of extra-base hits (Brantley had only 17 2B, 2 3B, and 4 HR as a 21-year-old in AA while Grady had 26 2B, 11 3B, and 13 HR as a 20-year-old in AA) in the minors, but I don’t think we’re expecting Brantley to be another 30-30 guy…we already have one in CF.

Which segues nicely to the point that the Indians CAN accept lower power numbers from their LF, because they get them from Grady in CF. If the ideal situation is a speedy, high OBP CF and a power-hitting LF, why can’t those roles be reversed if the power-hitting OF happens to play Gold Glove caliber CF? Even if Brantley puts up 10-15 HR with some doubles power (and not the 15-20 HR that Shapiro touted, which looks pretty optimistic), isn’t that what a “prototypical” leadoff hitter does?

So, he does fit on this team in the way that Trevor Crowe was SUPPOSED to about 1 ½ ago…except that Brantley put up similar numbers to Crowe in AA when he was about 3 ½ years younger than Crowe! If you dreamed about slotting Trevor Crowe at the top of the lineup and playing LF to complement Grady back in the days that Pete Gammons was calling Crowe “Ty Cobb”, just know that Brantley is a younger, higher-ceiling prospect who has outperformied Crowe despite the difference in age.

Who does Brantley remind scouts of?
According to Tony Lastoria, “his floor looks like that of a Randy Wynn, a middle of Juan Pierre (little less speed, but much better plate approach), and a ceiling of Kenny Lofton (his career to this point is virtually a mirror image to Lofton’s, and at three years younger).”

He looks to be a surefire ML player and a 4th OF at the very worst, with one scout even telling Lastoria that “he likes both LaPorta and Brantley a lot. When considering their ceiling potential, they mentioned that the Indians quite possibly may have very well got their 2000's version of Belle/Lofton in the trade.”

That may be getting ahead of ourselves a little bit (and let me wipe this drool off this keyboard from the Belle/Lofton comp), so let’s get back to Brantley’s greatest skill, his ability to put the bat on the ball and get on base. How good was he at that? In terms of comparing him to the whole Indians’ organization, here’s who had the same or a higher OBP than him this year, with their age and level listed:
Carlos Santana - C - .431 (age 22 at A & AA)
Chris Gimenez - C - .421 (age 25 at AA & AAA)
John Allman - OF - .427 (age 23 in Rookie League)
Richard Martinez - 1B - .408 (age 21 in A)
Dustin Realini - 1B - .407 (age 24 in A)
Todd Linden - OF - .398 (age 28 at AAA)
That’s it…those are the only players who posted better OBP than Brantley did this year in the Indians’ organization; and the only notable one (Santana) did so with most of the numbers coming when he was still on the Dodgers.

Are you starting to see why getting a high-OBP player is important to this organization? And further than that, if you’re looking at a lineup that figures to include Sizemore, Martinez, Peralta, Hafner (whichever one shows up), and Choo, another middle-of-the order hitter may not be as important as finding the table setters, and the Indians may have found one who figures to start the year in Columbus with Matt LaPorta - another potential middle-of-the-order hitter to add to the list above.

Finally on Brantley, knowing what the Buffalo OF looked like this year, it’s awfully nice to see the infusion of upper level hitting talent as LaPorta and Brantley will be in AAA (playing positions that are considered weakness on the parent club) and Carlos Santana figures to play for Akron along with the two best “homegrown” hitting prospects in Nick Weglarz and Beau Mills. Sure trading your reigning Cy Young Award winner and player with the best team beard is not the way that you think of when the season starts with such high expectations – but…lemonade out of lemons, I guess.

Back to the idea of the Indians’ adding a table setter and a high OBP player in Brantley, here’s the 2B and 3B in MLB listed by OBP with at least 450 plate appearances this year. The more I look at that 2B, the more underwhelmed I feel – and if Jhonny’s REALLY going to 3B (and the quote from Wedge that, “At some point, I do feel Jhonny is going to end up at third base and Asdrubal will be at shortstop” sure makes it sound like he is), who on the 2B list jumps out at you as a player that looks good?

Yes, I know Brian Roberts…but the Indians biggest trading chip (Shoppach) happens to play the same postion as the Orioles’ top prospect Matt Wieters, who also happens to be one of the top prospects in baseball. So unless you’re talking about the Orioles having an interest in some combination of Ryan Garko, a LHP, Wes Hodges, and Francisco/Gutierrez – it looks like the O’s aren’t looking like a match. Maybe the Orioles want a number of middling players with the idea that they can develop them into quality MLB players, but I just don’t see a logical exchange where the Orioles would be looking for something that the Indians would be willing to give up.

Beyond Roberts, I see Orlando Hudson (a FA) and maybe a Dan Uggla (who doesn’t fit the profile of the high-OBP and looks to be one of those all-or-nothing guys that we already have a few of which lead us to those boom-or-bust stretches as an offense) as possibilities.
Would the Braves be willing to part with Kelly Johnson? Not for Shoppach, says Brian McCann.
Is Rickie Weeks or Mark Ellis (also a FA) that appealing?
Is Robinson Cano salvageable after a HORRIBLE year?
All told, it looks like slim pickings at 2B with the possibilities for finding an impact 3B not looking much better.

Back to that exit interview with Wedge linked above in the Peralta to 3B comment (here’s another link), there was nothing really new came that out of it unless you count Wedge’s candidness about the likes of Dellucci, Garko, and Barfield or his omission of Sowers as a pitcher who factors into the rotation for next year. Again, the comments didn’t offer anything ground-breaking for people that follow that team – it was just more of a confirmation that what WE see as apparent is not limited to our eyes. The one thing that stood out as rose-colored was his optimism on Hafner being “better” than his 2007 form, as it looks pretty optimistic to me at this point.

Onto things related to the cursory “Season In Review” pieces that come flying at us from all directions this time of year (and, yes, I fell victim to the siren song of a “Recap” as well), I’m really not all that interested in reading things that I already know or have seen beaten to death. Nevertheless, Paul Hoynes has an interesting piece on what an opposing team’s scout thinks of some of the young Indians with question marks around them. All told, the scout sees the best move that the Indians can make is to keep Shoppach behind the plate, move Victor to 1B in regards to that conundrum, was unimpressed by Asdrubal’s defense and the feasibility of Choo and Francisco being everyday OF, sees Jensen Lewis as more of a set-up reliever, sees Laffey, Scott Lewis, Sowers, and Jackson as back-end of the rotation fodder, and sees Reyes’ health being the key to his perhaps contributing in the middle of the rotation.

Very good insight as it’s always interesting to know the perception that is out there regarding some of these youngsters that isn’t swayed by the “glass half-full” or “glass half-empty” crowds that watch them everyday.

Pat McManamon sheds some light on this drastically overblown Luis Isaac firing, saying that, “Isaac, though, said General Manager Mark Shapiro offered him another job. Isaac said no; he wanted to search for a coaching job. ‘I've been in this game so long,’ Isaac said. ‘I think I know baseball and I can make people be good because of my knowledge. It's not that Luis Isaac is better than everybody. It's just my experience.’ If he can't find a coaching job, he might rethink the Indians’ offer.”

I know that this Isaac thing is a hot-button issue (thanks for waking up long enough to type some nonsense, Livy!), and many see it as a power trip for Wedge and a classless way for the Indians to dismiss Isaac. The way the story was originally presented, one can certainly see how that presumption came about. But if the Indians did offer Isaac another job after they made the decision that they needed a new voice in the bullpen (and AAA pitching coach Scott Radinsky, who has been credited with righting the ship for players like Jensen Lewis and developing some of these young arms – like Jeff Stevens – that have caused some excitement, would look to be the leader in the clubhouse), I don’t get the outrage.

Elsewhere on this Lazy of Lazys, Anthony Castrovince has the story of the life-altering things that have happened to Matt LaPorta since joining the organization. The Futures Game, the death of his grandfather, The Olympics, and now his mother being diagnosed with MS…yeah, his plate has been pretty full. Now he gets to go to Venezuela to play baseball – unbelievable.

Finally, it seems that Tony Lastoria was able to secure an interview with Michael Brantley’s agent, Josh Kushick, who will call into “Smoke Signals” – the weekly Internet radio show that Tony and I do – this Thursday. The show runs from 9:30 to 10:30 and here’s the link, but if you’d like any specific questions asked, don’t hesitate to e-mail me or post them in the comments section.

For now, it’s time to go out and stock the fridge with High Life and get some Johnsonville brats because there’s baseball to be played in Milwaukee and (given my marital association with the Cream City) it’s time to cheer on those Brewers!