Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Lazy Sunday After Giving Thanks

With Thanksgiving past us (and the enjoyment of the 2nd and 3rd turkey meals finally putting the leftovers to bed) there’s a long drive ahead of me to make it from Wisconsin to Cleveland today so let’s get right into a quick Lazy Sunday with really not a lot happening.

To say that not a lot is happening would perhaps be the understatement of the day (other than that a St. Ignatius win, a University of Dayton win against Marquette, and a Cavs win in Milwaukee make me feel good about SOME local teams), but we’ll soldier through an LS:

Seemingly the only thing that was written in the past week about the Indians by the “traditional” beat writers (that is, the newspaper guys, not Castrovince at the Official Site), is this piece by Hoynesie which attempts to give an update as to how the Indians’ off-season plans are progressing. I often forget why I exclude the “traditional” beat writers from a link on a Lazy Sunday, but this brings it all back into focus.

Given the opportunity to interview Paul Dolan, the piece does nothing to shed any new light onto what was known about the Cleveland economy, the 2009 payroll, or the needs of the team that wasn’t known in August. The biggest bits of info come from the fact that Jhonny is, in fact, playing 3B in the Dominican Republic – which would make one think that the Indians are leaning towards adding a 2B to move Jhonny to 3B, right?

Not Hoynes, who dismisses the idea of adding Furcal OR Hudson because physical “questions” (in today’s article) about each would make multiyear contracts too risky for either, then stating that Furcal is close to inking a 4-year deal with the A’s (without citing Rosenthal as the source for the rumor), which would put Hudson CLOSER to what you would think the Indians would be willing to commit to him, not further away. Maybe there are legitimate concerns about Hudson’s risk that would preclude the Indians from offering him a multiyear deal, but if you’re looking for an area to assume some risk, 2B is your spot…but that’s been covered here.

Back to the news that Peralta is playing 3B, as Hoynes takes the information as an opportunity to discuss Blake coming back as an option at…3B! While Hoynes could be going only off of what is told to him by the Indians, or Blake’s agent, or whomever, I still find it hard to believe that Casey Blake (who could have still been an Indian had they added a club option on the 1-year deal he signed less than a year ago) is suddenly worth committing multiple years to over Hudson (injury risk considered), or even the likes of Orlando Cabrera or even (gasp) Edgar Renteria. What makes it more unbearable is that Hoynes dismisses Garrett Atkins as an option, partly because of his defense (which is valid), then says that Atkins’ defense is “one of the reasons the Indians have continued to pursue Blake”. Wait…the same Casey Blake who combined with Peralta on the left side of the infield to cover about 10 of the 90 feet between them with their limited range last season before Blake was moved? Casey Blake’s DEFENSE is what’s keeping them in pursuit of him?

Pardon me while I look past this giant grain of salt in accepting much of what Paul Hoynes predicts about the Indians’ off-season moves (the Coco deal being reported from Boston and the CC deal being reported from Milwaukee have embedded this grain of salt in my line of vision), but accepting “news” or “updates” from the PD in terms of what the off-season has in store for the Indians lost some luster more than a few years ago.

But I digress from the matter at hand as I have no problem with the Indians having an interest in Casey Blake, as long as he’s used in the way that he should have been used (but wasn’t through no fault of his own) for the past few years. Blake’s greatest value is not his defense, not his bat, and not his beard – it’s his versatility to play 3B, 1B, and RF adequately if not spectacularly. He’s a nice auxiliary piece that teams laden with talent need to fill the cracks and go where he’s needed. Is that worth a multi-year deal, given his age? Probably not…which is why the Indians didn’t offer him one when they had EVERY opportunity to do so last year when they agreed upon a 1-year deal with NO options and shouldn’t do so today.

His defense is what is keeping them interested?
Please…let’s move on to some links that are written with some intelligence about the Indians and baseball.

Terry, oh Terry, my oasis of research and logic in the desert of laziness and mind-numbing analysis at the “traditional” media outlets comes through in full force with another batch of thoughts about the Tribe. Pluto throws Freddy Sanchez’s name out there as a player that the Indians could target to man 2B and has similar dreams to me regarding how Michael Brantley could fit into the Indians’ 2009 planes – which would be at LF and eventually sit at the top of the lineup, meaning that LaPorta would slide his way back over to 1B assuming that The BLC in RF isn’t a mirage.

On the closer front, unless the Mets are REALLY trying to freak out K-Rod and his agent, forcing them to accept fewer years and fewer dollars with some smoke screens, here’s the weekly piece from the NY papers (this “time” it’s the “Times”…ba dum dum) on how the Mets will look for cheap closers before looking at K-Rod and Fuentes.
Remarkably, with each passing week, it looks like this closer market is falling right into the Indians’ laps, particularly when ESPN’s “Bottom Line” tells me during a football game on Saturday night that the Mets won’t offer more than 3 years to K-Rod because…well, because nobody else will either.

Speaking of weekly links, here’s one that says that the White Sox are basically offering anything on their roster that isn’t nailed down. Regardless of what you think of Chicago GM Kenny Williams, the man is not afraid to stir the pot…a lot. I love how all of these White Sox stories involve the headlines “shake up”, when the White Sox could be looking at a 2009 without Cabrera, Crede, Swisher, Dye, Griffey, Vazquez, and Jenks. That’s 4 to 5 of their primary position players, a middle-of-the-rotation starter, and their closer.
You know…just a little shake-up.

Tony Lastoria has a health update on Rob Bryson, one of the players acquired in the CC trade, among other topics he hits on, including another link to the Jordan Brown interview that we did last week in case you missed it.

Finally, now that Thanksgiving is behind us, is it finally time to let everyone know what my Christmas Wish List is?
Here goes:
1) Sign Orlando Hudson to a 4-year, $40M deal ($9M per with a $4M buyout of the 5th year, $10M option)

2) Sign Trevor Hoffman to a 1-year, $8M deal ($6M in 2008 with a $2M buyout of the 2nd year, $6M option)

3) Trade Kelly Shoppach, one other 40-man player (perhaps an OF or an LHP), and two prospects (one from AAA or AA, one from A) for a young, somewhat-established starting pitcher either just entering arbitration or already in arbitration years (Ricky Nolasco, Shawn Marcum, Paul Maholm, Zach Greinke, Josh Johnson, Andy Sonnanstine, and Wandy Rodriguez are the types of pitchers I’m talking about here) and a middle infielder who projects as a Futility Infielder with the idea that he could spend 2009 manning SS in Columbus and move up to Cleveland in 2010 so the Indians aren’t forced to spend $3M on the FA for a Utility IF

Do the things on the list involve some level of risk, forcing the Indians to “go outside their comfort zone”? Absolutely, but the holes the Indians have to fill will have to be taken care of while assuming some of that risk so the Indians don’t find themselves looking back at unmade moves once the season is in full swing.

Nothing on my list happened on Black Friday…maybe they’re waiting until Cyber Monday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Being #41

In the course of roster decisions for a MLB team, certain players ultimately find themselves on the outside looking in through no fault of their own, simply caught up in the “numbers game” or in an organization full of players who play their position. Such an occurrence took place last Thursday as Indians’ minor-league 1B Jordan Brown was left off the Indians’ 40-man roster, leaving him exposed for the Rule 5 Draft that takes place at the end of next month’s Winter Meetings.

While many thought that Brown would ultimately find his way onto the 40-man, he was passed over as the Indians made the decision to roster 5 players to bring the 40-man to 39 players, leaving one spot open in case of an addition to the team that would immediately have to be rostered. The exclusion of Brown from the 40-man came as a surprise to some as he had won MVP awards in consecutive seasons in Kinston and Akron in 2006 and 2007 and spent all of 2008 in Buffalo, seemingly on the cusp of being able to help the parent club at 1B.

Brown joined Tony Lastoria and I on Tuesday night to discuss his career in the Indians’ farm system, the knock on him regarding a lack of power and his 2008 season in Buffalo, what transpired over the course of him not being added to the 40-man, how the decision was explained to him, and how he plans on going forward with this decision made by the Indians. The full podcast can be found here (Brown calls in right at the halfway mark), but the conversation was both animated and telling as Brown was candid in his thoughts on being passed over for the 40-man and what factors may have determined his exclusion.

From the beginning of the conversation, Brown made no secret of the fact that he had thoughts on the decision made by the Indians and took the opportunity to seemingly get a number of things off his chest, from the perception that he lacked the power necessary to play a corner position in MLB to how he “understood” the Indians’ decision while “not personally agreeing with it”. Certainly, that’s nothing surprising as no player wants to find himself in the no-man’s land that is being in an organization but not on the 40-man, but Brown’s comments enlightened as to how the process works, how a decision is made known to a player, and the limbo that a player lives in after such a decision is made.

According to Brown, he was informed by his agent (who had been informed by the Indians, because Brown was personally unreachable on a plane at the time the decision was made) that he would not be added to the roster, a decision explained to him later by the litany of Tribe Front Office personnel. The decision was made, according to Brown, by the Indians because of the depth that the organization had at 1B, with Garko, LaPorta, Martinez, and Aubrey being options already on the 40-man and with Hafner ensconced at DH. He was further told that 1B are not often taken in the Rule 5 Draft, meaning that the Indians felt more comfortable exposing him (opposed to a more versatile player like Gimenez) with the idea that the likelihood of him getting drafted strictly as a 1B was slim, given the rules pertaining to Rule 5 draftees having to stay on the selecting club’s 25-man roster for a certain amount of games.

While the rationale is certainly there for the Indians to leave Brown exposed, one has to wonder if the tendonitis in his knee that Brown discussed playing a role in the dip that his numbers took in 2008 in Buffalo, meaning that Brown’s 2008 was simply a result of injury issues and that it will ultimately represent simply a blip on the radar of his career arc. Conversely, it’s possible that the Indians thought that any concerns about lingering issues with the knee would prevent teams from taking him in the Rule 5.

It’s hard to say whether Brown will find himself in a new organization after the Winter Meetings, though there’s little doubt that Brown will use the experience as motivation for the perceived slight by the organization, given his animated comments in the interview. While he certainly could find a taker in the Rule 5, neither he nor his agent are allowed to contact other teams by rule and will find out information only as it is made public as to whether he’ll find himself in a place like Pittsburgh or Oakland next year or in Columbus, back in the Indians’ pecking order at 1B.

All told, the interview is an interesting glimpse into the effect that a decision that is reported as a simple transaction by most media outlets that “these 5 players were added to the Indians’ 40-man roster” has far-reaching ramifications not just for the players added, but for the players not added. It will be an interesting storyline to follow as Brown will certainly garner interest from other teams in the Rule 5 and the motivation for him to show that he belongs in MLB and not in AAA in Columbus exists.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lazy Sunday Around the Horn

With a pretty marvelous sports day yesterday (OSU win, St. Ignatius win) while bopping around the East, then West side of town to catch up with some old friends, it’s time to launch right into a Lazy Sunday as the DiaBride has the Aurora Outlets on her mind, which means the DiaperTribe and I have some serious football and baseball (thanks, DVR!) to watch this afternoon.

And with that, we’re off:
Terry Pluto hits some high points, going into the Coco Crsip deal to the Royals and why the Indians shouldn’t have had any interest in returning Coco to Cleveland – beyond the fact that he’s owed $5.75M in 2009 with a club option in 2010 for $8M a year after having only broken the .750 OPS threshold once in his time in Boston…with a whopping .751 in part-time duty in 2008.

Pluto also reports that Tom Hamilton tells him that Travis Hafner’s shoulder is pain-free and gaining strength, which could actually turn into the biggest impact story for 2009 that you’re going to hear. The impact that a healthy Hafner has on the Indians’ lineup (and the assumption that he would be healthy perhaps giving the Indians confidence to deal the pieces that serve right now as insurance in case Pronk never returns) is immeasurable in terms of anything else the Indians would do this off-season.

Speaking of things the Indians would do this off-season, Pluto brings up that the Indians “are planning on making a ‘serious offer’ to Orlando Hudson”, then laying out why Hudson would fit. It was an item first reported by Jon Heyman of SI, who confirmed that the Indians are interested in Orlando Hudson, before Heyman gets into his obligatory mention of the Yankees and Mets, etc. Heyman reports that Hudson is looking for 5-years and $50M, so it will be interesting to see if the Indians (who do have about $18M-$20M available in their budget) will look to add Hudson at that price or if they’ll look to limit the years for perhaps a higher annual salary.

Ken Rosenthal, by the way, dismisses the Mets as a player for Hudson, saying that the presence of Luis Castillo’s contract on their books will preclude them from adding another big salary at the same position that Castillo plays. From NY, Mets’ GM Omar Minaya is on the record (as if that means anything) regarding Castillo that, “We expect him to come in healthy and to be the productive player he's been for a long time.”

It’s been said here before, but here it is again – Orlando Hudson could be that one player that the Indians give multiple years to at a large annual salary this off-season as he fills an organizational hole at 2B while providing a top-of-the-order bat and excellent infield defense behind the Indians’ groundball pitchers. While the Indians are designed to fill holes from within (something the Red Sox have gotten very good at accomplishing), there is no internal option for 2B (or for 3B) that represents much more than a marginal everyday player on the immediate horizon. With no internal option available and the FA market full of players that would represent marginal upgrades at price tags that are too high, the Indians could very easily justify going outside of the organization to fill holes in their infield and their lineup by making the SIGNIFICANT upgrade, and pay the premium rate to do so by inking a player like Hudson.

Would they go for his alleged $50M over 5 demand?
Not likely, though there is money in the budget to spend that would allow them to do it.
More likely, they could either sweeten the annual salary for fewer years or offer Hudson the 5 years he desires at a lower rate with a club option attached to let him pick up some money, whether the Indians pick up an option or decline it. He is not yet 31 (he’ll turn 31 on December 12th of this year), so giving him a long-term deal doesn’t fall into the category of overpaying for a player on the wrong side of 35.

All told, Hudson looks like exactly the player that would fit into the Indians’ needs at a position that would merit some FA money being thrown it’s way and as much as the Indians’ brass abhors building through FA, there may be no other choice for them this off-season to significantly upgrade their infield without parting with more than just auxiliary players in a trade.

Also on the FA front, Jayson Stark has an interesting piece on how the closer market may actually be saturated with options for teams looking to add a 9th inning reliever and that the lack of a competitive demand for them may result in closers like K-Rod, Fuentes, and others getting much less than they thought they would when they envisioned lots of zeroes in FA.

Stark mentions a lot of names that intrigue, notably Hoffman on the FA market as a closer, with Juan Cruz in the “potential closer” column, and numerous potential trade targets like Matt Capps (“hey, Neal…how about this PNC-Nat City thing?”) and Jose Valverde (though he’ll probably get about $9M in arbitration and is a FA at the end of 2009) standing out. This bullpen addition (which, to me, shouldn’t just be adding an arm similar to what we already have for the sake of adding an arm) could be a situation where the Indians allow the market to come to them as the number of options seems to be growing with the number of destinations for those options getting smaller.

Elsewhere, the ubiquitous Joe Posnanski gets his obligatory weekly link with a FANTASTIC piece on how the importance of different baseball statistics evolved through the years, from the days of looking for RBI on the back of a baseball card to the present of knowing the importance of getting on base. For those who still make the argument for or against a certain player based on RBI or batting average, it’s an excellently written article that makes sense to even those who can’t stand the new “alphabet soup” of new-age statistics.

In case you missed it, Baseball America published their annual Top 10 Prospect List for the Indians:
1. Carlos Santana, c
2. Matt LaPorta, of
3. Nick Weglarz, of
4. Adam Miller, rhp
5. Beau Mills, 1b
6. Lonnie Chisenhall, ss
7. Kelvin de la Cruz, lhp
8. David Huff, lhp
9. Michael Brantley, of/1b
10. Carlos Rivero, ss
These lists always come off as a little arbitrary to me, as what exactly puts a guy like Lonnie Chisenhall, who was JUST drafted and has yet to even hit Kinston, ahead of a player like Dave Huff, who likely will be in the Cleveland rotation at some point in 2009? And is BA with me in the minority on Wes Hodges not factoring into the Indians’ upper echelon of prospects?

Who even knows, because the criteria remain a mystery:
Does it favor players with the higher “ceilings”?
Is it which players have achieved the highest level of success at a young age?
Is it weighted towards players that were 1st round picks?

I’m sure there’s some rationale for ranking the players the way that they do, but it just comes off as a little too “listy” (if that’s a word), in this world where everything needs to be qualified and quantified in a nice, tidy package. I suppose that if BA just published their Top 10 without differentiation as to who fits where, people would be up in arms, not to mention that they wouldn’t have the devout following they do…but it really doesn’t matter that much to me as to which player gets ranked where.

Truthfully, I prefer the prospect rankings that EXPLAIN why certain players rank higher than others, like Jay Levin’s Prospects that Matter, or those that get truly in-depth on each prospect, like Tony Lastoria’s List does, or even placing them into particular categories that make sense, like APV of LGT recently did and like Baseball Prospectus generally does. To me, those are much more helpful than these lists that serve merely as a reference point (and, yes, I know that BA has a much more comprehensive look at prospects) to use at certain times throughout the year.

More interesting to me is the fact that the players that make up 30% of this list were not in the Indians’ organization at the beginning of the 2008 season. Obviously, trading your aCCe and a valuable part in Lacey Cake in mid-season deals when the team is thought to contend for a World Series trophy is not the way that a farm system is designed to be augmented, but those moves have been dissected too deeply already.

What the infusion of talent means, though, is that the Indians have depth at the upper levels of the minors BOTH in terms of pitchers and hitters with some potential impact players on that list and not the likes of marginal prospects that has populated this list in years past. The mere fact that the Indians’ new #1 Prospect (according to BA, at least) came in exchange for 3 months of a utility IF with a fantastic beard is one of the greater coups in recent memory. Throw in the fact that one of the young relievers that I’m highest on to make an impact in 2009 (“Mayday” Meloan…that’s a “Cheers” reference, kids) was the other piece acquired and the Blake deal has the potential to be a windfall for the Tribe as early as this year.

Speaking of Blake, the Indians have apparently asked to be “kept in the loop” with Casey and his search for a multi-year deal. Before anyone gets all worked up that the Indians are going to give Casey Blake the 3-year deal that he’s likely going to command on the FA market, this “article” reeks of a writer placing a call to Blake’s agent and running with a quote that the Indians likely told Blake’s agent to keep in touch regarding what happens just to see where the market falls for Blake.

If Blake finds himself looking only at 1 to 2 year offers (unlikely), it would make the Indians think about floating a comparable offer to a player they are familiar with that would fill a hole at 3B for another year. If he’s looking at a couple of multi-year offers, the Indians wish him the best and all parties move on. Remember, the Indians had their chance to offer Blake an option for the 2009 season, or even a 2-year deal last off-season and chose not to, nor did they ever attempt to sit down with him at any point during the season, so I find it unlikely that Blake’s performance in Los Angeles is going to convince the Indians that Blake is the one piece to add back into the infield for 2009 and beyond.

Pertaining to players still in the organization, the Indians made their decisions on adding 5 players to their 40-man roster to bring the 40-man to 39 players, leaving one spot open in the chance they wanted to add a player that would immediately need to be added to the 40-man. When it’s all said and done, the Indians went with protecting a few potential impact players (Stevens and Santana, with Rondon down the line a bit) and players that figure to hopefully just fill a role on a MLB team (Crowe and Gimenez, both 25 years old).

At first glance, the protection of Chris Gimenez over Jordan Brown (who is now exposed) brings up two immediate thoughts. First, with Gimenez and Santana being added to the 40-man, it brings the total of catchers on the 40-man roster to 5 (Vic, ShopVac, Wyatt Torregas, Santana, and Gimenez) and even if Gimenez is seen as more of a utility player whose primary position is catcher, that seems like an AWFUL lot of catchers to protect. Think about it, that means that the Tribe has the starter and backups in Cleveland (obviously) and Columbus and the starter in Akron ALL on the 40-man roster – which looks like too many catchers if you figure that the 40-man roster generally is well balanced among all positions….unless, of course a catcher is going to get traded.

The other thought that comes to mind is the decision to expose Jordan Brown to the Rule 5 draft strikes me as curious as Brown won two consecutive MVP awards in Kinston and Akron and was hampered by injuries in 2008 in Buffalo. His exclusion from the 40-man seems to convey that either the Indians think that his injuries will ultimately prevent other teams from choosing him or that (if he is chosen) his injuries would result in him being returned to the Tribe at some point in 2009. Additionally, the Indians’ decision to exclude Brown from the 40-man was likely impacted by Michael Aubrey receiving an extra option year, meaning that the Indians can keep Aubrey in the organization for another year without being forced to keep him on the parent club. Adding Brown to a 40-man that already included Aubrey would have resulted in a redundancy on the 40-man and the decision likely came down to the idea that Aubrey was a little further along in his development than Brown and could have more of an impact than Brown in the short-term.

Regardless of the rationale, Tony Lastoria and I will welcome Jordan Brown on next week’s “Smoke Signals”, which will be next Tuesday (because of the holiday) from 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM, so we’ll be able to ask him if he has any insight pertaining to the decision to exclude him from the 40-man.
As usual, I’ll post the podcast link when it is available.

Speaking of podcast links, here’s the interview that Tony and I did with Chuck Lofgren last Thursday, literally minutes after he received the “official” news that he had not been placed on the 40-man. Lofgren addressed his mother’s battle with cancer and how he hopes to revive his once-promising career as an LHP. The interview puts a human side into the wildness of player development and provides insight as to how a once-ballyhooed prospect deals with failure and attempts to keep his head about him in the midst of a downward slide.

Throughout the interview, Lofgren was candid and forthright and I can only wish him the best both professionally and personally as he is a name that you may be hearing as someone who may generate interest in the upcoming Rule 5 draft as he is a power LHP who may find his footing in another organization or in the bullpen.

Finally, apropos of nothing, since I know many of the readers that share my passion for the Indians also have a passion for Cleveland, regardless of where life has taken them, I thought I would share a tremendous read buried in today’s PD. It’s a piece written by a Clevelander who is a third-year law student at Harvard named Christopher Thomas and it articulates many of the feelings that I (and others my age) have towards Cleveland, its past and its future. Amidst all of the depressing news that seems to come at Clevelanders like never-ending body blows, Thomas portrays a bright future for Cleveland, resurrected by those that love it the most – its own.
Well, I’m off to fire up the DVR to watch some Cliff Lee with a soon-to-be 2 year old until the Browns game starts, to see if the Brownies can pull off the football trifecta for me of a Stignatius win, a Buckeye win, and a CB win all in one weekend.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

All Quiet on the North Coast Front

The natives are getting restless with each day that passes without news of a move from the corner of Carnegie and Ontario as Indians’ fans are hungry for the team to make an addition to the team (or at least a rumor that contains the Tribe) as the off-season has started slowly. While the FA period started last Friday, though, the Indians are not alone in their inaction as very little has happened in MLB, outside of a lot of conjecture as to how much the Bronx Bombers are going to finally offer CC (and whether the MLB Players’ Union has any bearing on the negotiations), a couple of minor deals, and a few players coming off the board in a matter that suggests that their eyes were always focused on the team for which they will be playing in 2009.

The only announcement to come out of the Indians’ Front Office has been the naming of a new bullpen coach in Chuck Hernandez, who most recently was the pitching coach for the Tigers. The move is a bit of a surprise only in that many (myself included) thought that the Indians terminated Luis Isaac to make a logical promotion from within. That is, the thought was that they would stay in-house on this decision, simply promoting Scott Radinsky from his post as AAA pitching coach to handle a bullpen that figures to be populated in 2009 and beyond with some of his former pupils. While in AAA, Radinsky has been credited with getting Jensen Lewis back on track in 2008, with working Cliff Lee back into form at the end of 2007, and with developing a number of the young arms (Jeff Stevens, most notably) that figure to play a role in 2009.

Despite what would look to be a natural promotion for Radinsky to allow him to work with relievers that he’s experienced success with, the Indians added Hernandez, whose track record as a pitching coach is not exactly the type of resume that one would hope to see added to the organization.
To wit, the staffs that he has had control of as a pitching coach have put up the following ERA’s:
DET 2008 – 4.90
DET 2007 – 4.57
DET 2006 – 3.84
TB 2005 – 5.39
TB 2004 – 4.81
LAA 1996 – 5.31
LAA 1995 – 4.52
LAA 1994 – 5.42
LAA 1993 – 4.34
LAA 1992 – 3.84
Not the type of numbers you would like to see out of a coach that will add a “new dynamic” to the pitching staff (particularly the way that the ERA’s tend to rise the longer he stays in one place), but he’s only the bullpen coach and will basically serve as another pair of eyes for pitching coach Carl Willis. Watching the Tigers’ pitching staff the last two years, however, one hopes that this is ALL he’ll be providing as Detroit’s pitching staff certainly regressed over the last two years of Hernandez’s tenure.

As I said, he’s ONLY the bullpen coach so it’s not a move to get too worked up about. However, given Scott Radinsky’s track record in the minors with some of their top prospects (and the glowing terms that Stevens and Dave Huff have used for Radinsky’s work in AAA in recent interviews), I certainly hope that Radinsky is not going to use this perceived snub to join another organization.

See what I mean now…how NOTHING is happening, that so many words and thoughts can be devoted to the naming of a new bullpen coach, as inconsequential as that announcement is?

Regardless, outside of a few trades that the Indians should have zero interest in (the Swisher deal being the exception given how little the Yankees gave up to get him), the Free Agent tracker tells me that there are quite a few players that haven’t ordered new return address labels yet. And, truthfully, the re-signing of Ryan Dempster by the Cubs was a foregone conclusion back in July and the Giants’ signing of Jeremy Affeldt has a look to it that Affeldt WANTED to pitch in SF (for reasons only he would understand, unless he felt the NL was a better long-term fit for him and SF is the closest NL city to his home in Washington) in that he likely left money and years that would have been coming his way from other reliever-starved teams.

On Affeldt, don’t you think that SOME team (forget the Indians for a moment…think the Mets or the Cardinals) would have offered more than the 2-year, $8M deal that he got, considering that Damaso Marte just set the price for LHP by getting 3 years and $12M from the Yankees? Considering that the contract that Marte got is identical to the deals that LHP Jamie Walker signed with the Orioles and JC Romero signed with the Phillies in the past, wouldn’t you figure that Affeldt would sit on the sidelines for a while and let the reliever market shake out? Certainly the Marte, Walker, and Romero deal would simply serve as the baseline for what he could command, especially after some of the top relievers went off the board and the teams that would have missed on those top relievers were left standing alone, bags of money in hand.

Despite what conventional wisdom might say, that teams desperate to add a bullpen piece later in the game may be more inclined to guarantee more years and dollars, Affeldt went to the team that he wanted as soon as possible, the rest of MLB seemingly be damned.

And as good as Dempster would have looked in the middle of the rotation (at a price that wasn’t as outrageous as what the Yankees are allegedly offering AJ Burnett) or as good as Jeremy Affeldt would have looked in the Tribe bullpen at that salary, it’s not time to sit here and DEMAND that something be done. Yes, other moves have been made and players have been traded in some minor deals, but the Indians have a few holes to fill and plenty of time to fill them. The FA market figures to heat up after the 40-man roster decisions are made for tomorrow and before everyone goes home for some turkey next week, so let’s not say that the Indians’ off-season is looking like last year’s as…you know…it just started.

In this age of instant information and disinformation, it’s easy to think that the Indians are on the outside looking in on all of these negotiations, but the truth is that the Indians’ moves of the past have been sudden and without any warning. Whether it’s an indication of the airtight seal that they keep on rumors or whether really nothing is happening, the lack of the Indians being mentioned in many of the transactions that are taking place isn’t too troublesome at this point.

Now, if some of these names that have been linked to them that look like fits (Hoffman, Wood, Hudson, etc) start to come off the board, signing deals that look like the Indians should have been front and center on, worry will start to creep in. Until that happens (if it does, in fact), I’m content to let this off-season play out to see where the chips start to fall.

For now…we wait, which is the hardest part.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Lazy Sunday Looking For Relief

The snow is falling outside my house on this lovely November morning as Free Agency is underway in MLB and…absolutely nothing has happened.

Isn’t it odd how in the NBA players sign at the absolute first minute that they can (and yes, I get the whole “max deal” thing and how they’re salaries are structured), but MLB’s FA signing period really doesn’t start until that first shoe drops and everyone else scrambles to fall in line after that first or second signing.

While we wait with bated breath (and I ready myself to attempt to put together a futon with a little Allen wrench and elbow grease this afternoon), let’s get going on a Lazy Sunday:

Since AC is apparently out of the country (good timing to avoid the dog-eat-dog times in reporting on the eternally gray area that is the Hot Stove), we’ll rely on somebody named Jason Beck for an update on the Trevor Hoffman situation at the “official site”. One of the interesting developments to watch on Hoffman (and the other closer options) will be to see where Detroit falls into the mix of adding an arm to the back end of their bullpen. I wouldn’t say that the two teams “competing” for the same players is going to fall under the category of Yawkey Way vs. The Bronx, but certainly each team would have to be as interested in improving their team as much as they do keeping a noteworthy addition away from a divisional rival.

Terry Pluto, back from a week away of “Terry’s Talkin’”, addresses the bullpen options in their entirety, making a case for Hoffman over 2-years and about $10M for the Tribe. Pluto comes to many of the same conclusions that I did earlier in the week, but has some interesting dissections of The Hoff’s HR total in 2008 and how Hoffman allowed only 47 runners in the 45 1/3 innings he pitched…so we’re not talking a redux of Wicky or JoeBo here in that Hoffman avoids the tightrope walk en route to a save.

Pluto has thoughts also on Atom Miller perhaps playing a role in the Tribe bullpen in 2009, saying that, “if he stays healthy, the Indians may have their own Kerry Wood in for the bullpen” as well as touching on the idea of adding one of the lesser lights in the FA reliever market – mentioning Juan Cruz and Jeremy Affeldt as options.

Pluto’s mention of adding the likes of Cruz and Affeldt to the mix may have come from Ken Rosenthal, who reports that the Indians may eschew the available “closers” and simply look to add depth to the bullpen:
The free-agent market includes four top closers — Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Fuentes, Trevor Hoffman and Kerry Wood — but few quality setup men. Which is why three highly regarded relievers — righty Juan Cruz and lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Joe Beimel — could be among the first free agents to sign new contracts. The Indians are mulling whether to enter the closer market or perhaps try to lock up both Cruz and Affeldt.

There is undoubtedly logic to that strategy – that is throwing a number of arms up against the wall to see what sticks to maximize the chance that the Indians can find one or more of these players to emerge in the progression of relievers that they rode so successfully in 2007. The issue that I have with that strategy for this team is that the Indians DO have talented young arms in their organization who perhaps need to be given a chance in 2009 to establish themselves as legitimate options at the back end of the bullpen (The Atomic One hitting 97 MPH in the Dominican comes to mind, as does “Mayday” Meloan) rather than become mired become unmovable and ineffective relievers.

To wit, here’ what the Indians bullpen looks like if the Indians add two relievers (say Cruz and Affeldt):
By adding that SECOND reliever, the likes of Meloan, Miller, and Stevens have no shot of breaking camp with the club and signing multiple younger players like Cruz and Affeldt (while they may improve the bullpen) would tie up the Indians’ payroll and roster space going forward in an area (the bullpen) that generally doesn’t merit long-term commitments.

That is, if one of the young guns is ready to move up, where does he go then…do the Indians cut ties with Uncle Leo Kobayashi (sorry, I saw another picture of Masa, which reminded me again of the “Seinfeld” episode when Elaine drew Uncle Leo’s eyebrows on) or do the likes of Mujica and Mastny simply fall by the wayside? I know that you can never have too many relievers, but at what point can you let these youngsters emerge as both Meloan and Stevens have seen success as high as AAA and Miller is the wild card in the deck.

Of course, if the Indians think that a guy like Cruz OR Affeldt is the answer to solidify the bullpen, but with the power arms that look to be in the pipeline, it would strike me as a poor allocation of resources, given the Indians’ multiple needs this off-season.

Staying in the closer discussion, news out of Queens (from more than one source surveying the closer market) makes it looks like the Mets are content to sit and wait to see how the closer market develops with the sudden glut of closers on the market. Perhaps these purported high price tags and demands for multiple years that we’ve been hearing about (5 years, $75M for K-Rod) are going to fall on deaf ears, making the number of players who might be available for the Indians grow.

Out of the Big Apple and back to Pluto’s piece from this morning’s coupon bundle with some articles thrown in (sorry, that’s what newspapers are becoming more and more), he touches on the whole Casey Blake return and Garrett Atkins talk, correctly surmising that neither IMPROVES the Indians’ infield defense and neither represents a significant enough upgrade to either merit a multi-year deal to Blake or give up the prospects that Colorado will demand for Atkins.

In the infield, I still stand firm on the belief that the dearth of upper-level options in the Indians’ organization (Wes Hodges’ 2008 in Akron fully considered) forces the Indians to go outside of the organization for a LONG-TERM solution, not just a placeholder for a player in the pipeline – because the pipeline doesn’t look to be flowing to 2B or 3B to Cleveland with much more than marginal prospects.

Moving on, The Boston Globe has an interesting look at what they call the second-tier Free Agents, or what could be identified as players that would fall into the category of what the Indians would/could add. It’s an interesting list of the type of players that the Indians are likely considering. In addition to me pointing out (again) that some guy named Orlando Hudson is on the list, some names to consider (but only at the right price and surely for fewer years than what they’ll end up with) would be Kerry Wood, Brad Penny, Jon Garland, and Ryan Dempster.
Lots of good stuff from The Globe here, including a look at 10 MLB teams whose situations this off-season should make you happy to be an Indians’ fan.

Staying with The Globe, here’s an interesting piece by Tony Massarotti from earlier in the week that lays out the pitfalls of adding pitchers through Free Agency and a terrific breakdown of how difficult it is to build a bullpen in particular. Obviously, the piece comes with heavy Red Sox analysis, but the lessons that Massarotti lays out hold true for any team, regardless of market size or payroll.

Obviously most Indians’ fans have turned their attention to what pieces and parts the Indians may add this off-season or (for the people who are obsessed with the Minors) what may happen, if anything, with Tribe youngsters for the Rule 5 draft. But, with all of that in mind, at this time when players are just names on a page or screen with their statistics and scouting reports ruling the day, Tony Lastoria has an excellent piece on the human side of these players as he had a chance to sit down with Indians’ minor-league LHP Chuck Lofgren. Lofgren is a name that you may remember sitting atop many of the “Top Prospect” lists after a superb 2006 season as a 20-year-old in Kinston. After that season (if you’re just looking at pitching results), Lofgren seemed to have “lost” whatever momentum he had – a development explained in Lastoria’s article as Lofgren’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, turning his whole world upside-down.

It’s a terrific piece that reminds us that these players, who sometimes seem like commodities in some meat market, go through the same real-life issues and emotions that everyone does. As the husband of a cancer survivor myself, my thoughts and prayers will remain with Chuck and his family as I know that any situation that ever involves that dreaded “C” word is never far from your mind, regardless of the passage of time or positive prognoses.

Thanks again to Tony for making this story known and for allowing Chuck to tell it on his own terms. Chuck will join Tony and I on “Smoke Signals” this Thursday at 9:30 PM, during which I’m sure we’ll hit on the recent developments in Lofgren’s life. As usual, I’ll throw up the link to the podcast as soon as it is available.

With Herb Score laid to rest yesterday, I’m going to link the Joe Posnsanski piece about him again in case you missed it. The piece so perfectly articulates what Herb Score meant to the Indians and to scores of their fans stretching over generations. I’ve already read it 5 times, so it’s worth another read…or a first, if you haven’t read it.

Finally, for a little frivolity after those heavy topics to help pass a miserable day on the North Coast here’s a test that t-bone found to grade your knowledge of Starting Lineup figures (I went 8 of 10).
Yes…those little guys that used to sit on your bookshelf.

In fact, maybe today’s a good time for me to dust some of those off and bring them down from the attic for The DiaperTribe who is now asking to watch “Baseball” on the DVR instead of “Elmo”. Thank goodness for STO replay and DVR.
I think there’s a Joe Carter up there in a box somewhere…

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tomahawks with Cy Phifer Lee

The Free Agent period is looming large and snow is supposed to start falling this weekend around these parts, so let’s take a few quick-hitters and let the Tomahawks fly:

Cliff Lee deservedly won the Cy Young going away, besting Roy Halladay to become the second straight Indian to win the award. Not much more can be said about Lee that hasn’t been said (this piece after his 20th victory puts some of his accomplishments in perspective), but his 2008 is nothing short of astounding. To go from fighting for the 5th starter and perhaps winning it only because the other players involved still retained options to winning the Cy Young is a Hollywood movie that anyone would scoff at.

With all of the accolades continuing to flow in for Clifton Phifer, I find it amazing that most Indians’ fans are taking Lee’s 2008 season ALREADY as the aberration that he’ll never duplicate. Most of the conversations include some sort of, “well…we’ll never see this kind of success from Lee again” or that his 2009 surely won’t line up with his 2008. Truthfully, I’ve been kind of leading that “Cliff Lee v.2008 is a mirage” talk, only in that it was such a departure from his career trajectory that it’s impossible not to think that way.

But what if something DID truly click for Lee?
What if 2008 is just a taste of what we’re in line for over the next season or two?
Who’s to say that Lee hasn’t just vaulted himself into the upper echelon of consistently great pitchers…isn’t that what Cy Young winners are?

With Lee, all of us had a kind of disbelief that he was pulling off what he was in 2008, just waiting for the fall back to being…well, the Cliff Lee we’d all come to know. But the fall never came, and he just kept plugging along all the way to the Cy Young.

Who knows what we get out of Lee for 2009 – will it be close to his 2008 Cy Young campaign? Probably not (there I go again), but for today – who cares, let’s acknowledge Clifton Phifer Lee for an accomplishment that nobody saw coming and for a superb season to build upon.

Two Cy Young winners in a row after none since Gaylord was putting Bardol and Vaseline (who knows, maybe even snot) on the ball. Time to add Cy Phifer Lee to Cy Cy Sabathia and relish in the excellence of Lee’s 2008 season.

The voice of the Indians for my childhood, Herb Score, passed away earlier this week after a lengthy illness. While some still remember him as the hottest of hot shot young pitchers, my exposure to him was limited to hearing him on the radio as he broadcast the games that got me stuck on baseball. Between Jack Corrigan on TV and Score on the radio, Indians’ games were never far from my ears or my consciousness.

He may not have been the most accurate or lively announcer, but he was an Indian – a lifelong member of the organization and someone who knew the game, whether he was able to articulate in the way that the “polished” broadcasters today are or not.

He was a Cleveland institution and as much of a part of Indians’ baseball as the game, the players, the stadium, or anything else for generations of fans. But rather than me prattle on about Score, I’ll let a better writer than I tackle the impact of Herb Score on the lives of Clevelanders everywhere.

Take it away, Joe

The Hot Stove League has started to heat up with a few notable names changing addresses as Florida closer Kevin Gregg will be headed to Wrigleyville, with Kerry Wood now joining Trevor Hoffman on the “available” list as the assumption that he would re-up with the Cubs is gone.

If I’m the Indians, I certainly take a look at Wood with the words “Caveat Emptor” in big, bold letters on whatever paper is in front of me during any negotiations as Wood is unquestionably a talent, but is also unquestionably a health risk and giving multiple guaranteed years to Wood, whose arm could be held together with chicken wire and bubble gum could be tantamount to just burning money for a solid couple of years.

If it comes to Hoffman and Wood (and, hey, wasn’t the closer market supposed to stink?), I’m still going with Hoffman because he’s not going to demand as many years and he is the All-Time Saves Leader. Is he over 40? Sure, but he’s also a still-effective closer who is the All-Time Saves Leader…who just happens to be over 40 and has never relied on his fastball to get players out.

In the other significant move, Nick Swisher is heading to the Bronx for a couple of bags of balls and some Cracker Jack boxes in a trade that makes no sense for the White Sox. Sure, Swisher had a bad 2008, but his track record (and affordability if he can come close to recapturing past success) would almost FORCE you to give him another season to show you that 2008 was the aberration. For him, the White Sox got a depth starter, a utility player, and a lightly-regarded minor-league pitcher. Quite a diminishing return for Swisher, who the White Sox gave up three of their top prospects for less than a year ago.

For those keeping track, that’s Swisher, Joe Crede, Ken Griffey, Jr. (not that he mattered) and Orlando Cabrera all on their way out of Chicago with reports that Kenny Williams is actively shopping Bobby Jenks, Jermaine Dye, and Javier Vazquez. Looks like another overhaul on the South Side, where “boring off-season” is not in their vocabulary.

I would have LOVED to see Swisher make his way to the North Coast for what the Yankees gave up (or rather, didn’t give up), though I think that the relationship between the Front Offices of the Indians and White Sox are…um…strained, based on a conversation I had at a wedding this summer with someone who is a higher-up in the Chicago organization. While I was looking at her 2005 WS ring, I mentioned that the only thing that was awful about it was that it had that terrible “SOX” logo on it. When she asked me what it should be, I told her that a nice fat Chef Wahoo, all in diamonds, would suffice.

Upon learning that I was a Tribe fan (understatement alert), she didn’t really hold back as to how the White Sox Front Office felt about their counterparts on the shore of another Great Lake. Let’s just say that they’re not big fans of or great friends with the Tribe brass.

Again, to keep up with the latest and greatest rumors that float out at this time of year, I’ve found that the Yahoo Rumors page and the FanNation Rumors page do the best job of accumulating rumors while attributing the source and having the link available for you to read yourself to discern the difference between fact and fiction.

Finally, here is the link to Thursday’s “Smoke Signals” where Tony and I welcomed minor-league fireballer (and Arizona Fall League blogger) Neil Wagner into the fold after talking some about possible FA targets and off-season decisions for the Indians. Chuck Lofgren, Jordan Brown, and Chris Gimenez are locked and loaded for the next three shows, so the fun continues on the show.

Now get out there and rake those leaves before the earth is white and cold for the next 6 months on the North Coast.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Will Hell’s Bells Ring in Cleveland?

With the Free Agent period beginning in mere days, a development in sunny San Diego (which is attempting to “Stay Classy” despite a severe payroll deduction) could have repercussions in decidedly less-sunny Cleveland, where the feeling of living inside a dirty milk carton has descended upon us.

But before getting to new business, let’s first bring back the pertinent “old business” to set this up. If you remember, the Indians were looking to add a closer to replace Sticky Wickman after the 2005 season, only to come up short on Trevor Hoffman and BJ Ryan, turning finally to Wickman (who was, apparently, sitting in Wisconsin sipping his High Life next to the phone just waiting for the Tribe to call him) to resume his closing duties for the 2006 Tribe. Despite what the brilliant folks at The Onion would have you believe, Hoffman and the Indians departed on “friendly” terms after negotiations, with only the lure of staying in San Diego for his family and hopefully retiring a Padre preventing The Hoff’s arrival on the North Coast:
“I'm just really happy that I'm not having to traipse my family across the country, although it was a tremendous opportunity with the Cleveland Indians," Hoffman said. "In particular, the class that they showed throughout the process and the respect that they showed went above and beyond and I truly appreciate it. But it came down to me making a decision for my family and not disrupting what we have going on.”

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, right?
Now, news that the Padres and Hoffman have broken off negotiations has hit, meaning that Hoffman won’t have the option of keeping his family in San Diego, won’t retire as a Padre and, most importantly to the Indians, Hoffman will hit the open market with his assumed bridge back to San Diego engulfed in flames.

With the relationship forged in 2005, Hoffman looks ripe for the picking for the Indians, who have a stated need of “back-end experience” in a reliever to augment their current bullpen, with the “premier” closers like K-Rod and Fuentes adding zeroes and guaranteed years to their asking price daily. Hoffman certainly has closing experience and would not cost the Indians the type of dollars (and, more importantly, the committed years) that the other closers on the market are commanding.

There’s no question that the Indians would be well-suited to approach Hoffman about a deal, in the sense that he’s exactly what they’d be looking for in terms of experience and (relative) affordability. The question, really, is whether Hoffman’s age and recent performance merit the Indians committing ANY guaranteed years or dollars to him as the practice of rewarding past performance instead of paying for future performance is a quick way to be stuck with an underperforming, overpaid player.
With the idea that Hoffman’s performance over the past two years is probably a pretty good indication of how he would perform in 2009, here’s what he put up in 2007 and 2008:
2007 – 2.89 WXRL (36th in MLB)
2.98 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 44 K, 15 BB with 42 saves in 49 opportunities over 57 1/3 IP

2008 – 1.82 WXRL (58th in MLB)
3.77 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 46 K, 9 BB with 30 saves in 34 opportunities over 45 1/3 IP

Not exactly the dominant stuff that would accompany Hoffman to the mound back in the day with “Hell’s Bells” blaring, but “dominant stuff” is going to cost you about 5 years and $75M (if some team is willing to meet K-Rod’s demands) on this FA market, so adding a pitcher like Hoffman could fit more into the category of adding a ready-made closer. Unlike additions of the past (Wick and JoeBo) though, Hoffman’s WHIP and K ratios are still the type of numbers that a team would look for in a back-end of the bullpen reliever, with the fact that Hoffman is…you know…the all-time saves leader with a level of success in the past few years thrown in there to boot.

Another factor that could come into play in whether he would fit the Indians’ needs is the fact that Hoffman has succeeded in his career because of the effectiveness of his change-up and has remained effective pitching primarily in the NL (of his 988 career innings, 64 1/3 have come against AL teams in the regular season) throughout his career.
So how would his changeup translate to the AL?
That is, would going to (what is generally assumed to be) the better-hitting AL have an adverse effect on his performance or would the fact that he’d be facing AL hitters for the first time (for the most part) allow his changeup to “sneak up” on hitters as it has been doing in the NL for years now, even if it is not the weapon that it used to be or has the MPH on his fastball and changeup come closer to each other?

Sure, Hoffman’s older now and surely on the other side of the mountain that is his tremendous career, but adding him to the bullpen suddenly makes Lewis and Perez lock down the 7th and 8th (with the idea that Lewis can take some save opportunities if the team chooses to limit Hoffman’s workload), allowing Betancourt to slot in lower in the ladder to work the kinks of 2008 out of his system, and letting the rest of the young arms battle it out for a spot or begin the season in Columbus to hone their craft and be ready for the inevitable call-up when (not if) reinforcements are needed for the pen.

Additionally, the impact that a player like Hoffman could have on some of the young arms that the Indians possess who MAY factor in as closer options (Lewis and Perez with Miller, Meloan, and Stevens farther down the line) may be the immeasurable factor that could lead the Indians to going beyond their oft-stated “comfort zone” as the wisdom that Hoffman could impart, both by words and action, would go a long way to the Indians seeing their closer emerge from current in-house options soon, instead of constantly remaining on the watch for another 9th inning pitcher.

How much out of that “comfort zone” could the Indians go to add Hoffman?
Probably guaranteeing a second year or going as far as adding a club option for a third year (even if they have no interest in exercising it) or making the deal as rich as $6M annually would be more risk than they would generally assume on a 40-year-old reliever, but it may be necessary to get Hoffman to Cleveland, if only so I can wear a shirt that says “Don’t Hassle The Hoff”.

Remember, the Indians do have approximately $18M to spend in the 2008 budget (assuming the 25-man budget is around $80M or so, as it was last year), so giving a player like Hoffman a 1 or 2-year deal at around $5M to $6M per season isn’t going to eat up all of the assumed dollars that the Indians figure to have available to add pieces and parts this off-season. That is, a contract like the one outlined above wouldn’t have too great of an effect on their ability to add an infielder via FA.

All told, the relationship should still be there from 2005, so the groundwork already may be laid for a sales pitch to Hoffman. The interest should certainly be there from both sides as the Indians are looking to add a reliever and Hoffman is likely looking to be the de facto “closer” on a team. All signs would point to this being a feasible marriage between the two…with the Indians finding themselves this time on the Free Agent altar and not wearing another dreadful bridesmaid’s dress.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Reading Between the Lines on a Lazy Sunday

After attending a wedding last night that STOCKED Christmas Ale at the bar (the bride proudly boasted having 6 cases, which reminded me of the days in college when we would “splurge” for an Icehouse Keg and watch the debauchery ensue), I am somehow vertical and ready to fly with a Lazy Sunday.

But before getting into a LS, let’s make a quick attempt to read between the lines in the now-famous “Shapiro-Speak” with its offshoot “Wedge-Speak” (you know, those languages that contain a lot of words, but little meaning) with one of the more telling comments that has been published pertaining to the Indians’ off-season needs and the plan to address said needs recently.

Shapiro – “We clearly need an infielder…we can't go to spring training with the infielders we've got. We could go to spring training with the starters we have. We could go to spring training with Jensen Lewis at closer. It doesn't mean I rank getting a starting pitcher any less important.”

Now let’s go back to the quote from Wedge when the season ended:
Wedge – “At some point, I do feel Jhonny is going to end up at third base and Asdrubal will be at shortstop”.

As I’ve said before, for an organization that makes such measured statements and generally refuses to comment specifically on particular players, these comments intimate that the Indians have gone over their roster with a fine-tooth comb, while surveying the scene of available FA this off-season and have come up with the conclusion that an infielder is their GREATEST need and that a 2B is going to be more readily available, prompting Wedge’s quote to lay the groundwork for the subsequent likelihood of Peralta slotting to 3B.

Are you getting this yet?
While it may not be ideal, internal options may suffice for the rotation and bullpen – but no such internal options exist for an infielder and the idea of going into 2009 with either Jamey Carroll, Andy Marte, or Josh Barfield simply doesn’t look to be an option.

Now, take it a step further and realize that many of the available 2B and 3B available via FA aren’t enough of an upgrade over Jamey Carroll (and would take dollars away from filling other holes without being a permanent fix), and it would seem that the first problem that figures to be addressed will be the infield. If the infield is augmented, the Indians can then creatively attempt to supplement the rotation or fortify the bullpen by moving some pieces and parts around.

Essentially, as it stands now, the Indians COULD go into the 2009 season with their rotation populated by Lee, Carmona, Reyes, Laffey, and Huff and be somewhat comfortable in holding down the fort until Jake returned. Certainly a 3rd starter after Carmona would be ideal to let Huff and Laffey fight it out for the 5th spot (with the “loser” being the 1st option in Columbus), but having the aforementioned pitchers as the rotation isn’t going to sabotage the season. Additionally, Jake Westbrook is SUPPOSED to be ready to go after the All-Star Break, making the Indians deeper in the rotation once July hits.

Likewise, the Indians COULD go into 2009 with Stomp Lewis as the closer, The Fist of Iron and The Fist of Steel (since it’s been a while since that one was used, that’s Betancourt and Perez because “if the right one doesn’t get you, then the left one will”) setting him up and the young arms like Bones Meloan, Atom Miller (who’s hitting 97 MPH in the Dominican and WILL be a reliever in 2009), Nasty Boy Tom Mastny, Eddie Moo, The Zach Attack, Rich Rundles, Jeff Stevens, Masa, and even Tony Sipp slotting around to fill out the bullpen. Yes, an “established” closer would help settle it, or even just another experienced reliever with closing experience would allay fears that the 2008 Hellpen could rear its ugly head again.
But, unlike last year, the Indians have better overall arms (and some who could develop into homegrown closers…finally) and better depth in the bullpen that the team could rely on its internal options.
Again, not ideal…but feasible.

With the infield, though, it’s a completely different story (and Shapiro’s comment verifies that the organization feels the same way), in that there are no internal options that can serve as “Plan B” if a piece isn’t added. Andy Marte and Josh Barfield don’t look like they’re part of this team’s plans going forward and Jamey Carroll is best used as a utility player.

But herein lies the problem, as the infield options are SO limited (unless you want to give up Asdrubal and Fausto for 1 year of Brian Roberts, as Hoynes reported the asking price of the Orioles to be) both in terms of FA and trade that the Indians may be handcuffed in what they can add that would truly represent an upgrade.
I mean, is Mark Grudzielanek worth committing 2 or 3 years to?

As for the other alleged options, they’re all fraught with questions:
What if Joe Crede is signed and his balky back gives out?
What would it cost to add Garrett Atkins or Kelly Johnson…and do we really want those players?
How many years are too many to add Orlando Hudson?
Regardless of the answers to those questions, my best guess is that the Indians address the infield issue first, probably via FA, even if it means they give too much money and too many years to Orlando Hudson, who’s suddenly the prettiest belle at the ball.

After that addition is made (whether or not it is Hudson), the Indians can then shop for the best deal for Kelly Shoppach, with the idea that they’re not hamstrung by HAVING to deal him for an infielder and can optimize his trade value by (hopefully) flipping him for a young, top-to-middle-of-the-rotation starter or a young, legitimate closing option and another piece.

Obviously, this fluid situation will be examined ad nauseum for the next few months, so let’s finally roll out the Lazy Lazy:
There’s nothing (yes, nothing) in the local fishwraps on the Indians today, so we’ll have to throw the net a little wider to find our Tribe news.
Nothing new there but…where are you today, Terry?

From the “Catcher Derby”, Jarrod Salty (sorry, I’m not typing that whole name) has said that he’d like to be the one that ends up in Boston. Not that this means anything, but it is certainly unusual for him to comment on. Imagine for a moment that this was Shoppach instead of Salty, saying that he’d love to end up in Boston…see how this is weird now?

As a follow-up to the suggestion here a while back that Aaron Heilmann may be an option to augment the bullpen by buying low on a player who may just need a change of scenery, here’s a piece that confirms that he will, in fact, be available and figures to have suitors.
Not saying he’d be a great fit, just thinking outside the box here.

Also from the Big Apple, it looks as if Mike Mussina (who had been discussed as a possible option for the rotation on a short deal given the proximity between Cleveland and Mussina’s home in Montoursville, PA) will be retiring, if what he allegedly told Joe Girardi stands.

If you’re tired of cursory, lazy looks at the Indians’ off-season from the local media outlets, here’s one from the most nationally-recognized media outlet, as Johah Keri absolutely butchers the Tribe’s “Winter Forecast”. Let’s see…Paul Byrd fetched a PTBNL (false), no mention of the Blake deal when addressing the talent infusion, no mention of Dave Huff in the rotation talk for 2009, dismissing Carmona as “Jekyll-and-Hyde” with nary a mention of injuries, and an unnecessary Mark Teahen-talk comment.

Yep, Mr. Keri hit ALL the high points and doesn’t come off at all as a journalist who quickly perused the roster and recent moves and gave little more thought to the Indians than the rest of ESPN does. Yes, that’s Bryan Bullington in the provided link penciled in as the Indians’ 5th starter on the ESPN depth chart despite the fact that Bullington is now a Blue Jay.

Nothing like the WWL covering all their bases as the Hot Stove League starts.
Although I guess it begs the question – “who really goes to for their baseball news anyway…and isn’t it a shame that Gammons, Olney, and Kurkjian are wasted there?”

Actually, if you want to know what the WWL now excels in, its pieces like this from “The Mag” on Iron Chef Michael Symon. An interesting read about a Cleveland boy made good – who makes damn good food. The DiaBride took me down to his Lola (on the fabulously revitalized East 4th) for my birthday, where I was fortunate enough to meet Symon and complement him on one of the best meals I had ever experienced.

Speaking of “Cleveland boys made good”, the incomparable Joe Posnanski (a fellow South Euclid native) has a superb piece on Rapid Robert, who turned 90 recently. The article is a not-so-subtle reminder that excellent sports writing is still out there, you just have to look past the likes of Bill Livingston (whose piece on Feller the next day is not worth your time…trust me) to find it.

Staying on the topic of Mr. Posnanski, here’s more wildly informative stuff from him on the effectiveness of relievers and other tidbits from his perusal of the new Bill James Handbook.

Finally, the last thing I EVER want to do is rely on sentences that start with “Whispers from…” or whatever that guy who used to write on Page 2 of the PD started his “columns” with, but let’s just say that if you’re thinking that a certain Hefty Lefty is even considering staying in Cleveland, there are a few initials that should clear up any of that lingering thought.
No, those initials are not CC…try PODS, as in the mobile moving unit that sits in the driveway of his Westlake home. The PODS container is right next to the silver Ferrari he’s tooling around town in.
If it was not yet official, it is now - see ya, CC.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


As the Dawn of the Brady Quinn Era bears a striking resemblance to the Dusk of the Derek Anderson Era, let us think of Spring days and baseball, if just to take our minds off of football.

Oh yeah, and let’s release some Tomahawks:

Since the local media reports from the GM meetings has amounted to recapping things that were known in September or earlier (maybe Casey Blake will come back to fill the infield hole…the Indians will try to find a closer in a limited FA market for them…CC will be out of their price range) with little new insight, let’s go to some other sources to perhaps glean some information that may pertain to a situation facing the Indians this off-season.

This one comes by way of the Dallas Morning News, regarding how the Rangers are looking to move some of their catching depth for high-quality pitching.
That sounds just like another team I happen to know.
Not even getting into how we have to go deep into the heart of Texas for information that may give a glimpse into both how the Indians are going to find the market for Kelly Shoppach and what teams may be a match for young pitching, here’s the text from the story:
“At the GM meetings, the Rangers focused mostly on trying to get a better understanding of the pitching that could be available in a deal for their catching depth. It appears Boston, Florida and Detroit constitute the heart of the market.

On Wednesday, the Rangers were scheduled to meet with Florida officials. The Marlins, in perpetual payroll cutback mode, would like to move starter Scott Olsen. The Rangers are more focused on cheaper pitchers with higher ceilings, such as Ricky Nolasco or Anibal Sanchez.

The Florida conversation came a day after Daniels had a brief talk with Boston counterpart Theo Epstein about potential deals. Boston likes Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Rangers, in turn, have interest in pitchers Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden and Justin Masterson. Detroit, thin on young pitching, remains something of a fallback option.”

“Boston, Florida, and Detroit”, eh?
Let’s rule out Detroit as a trade between divisional rivals is unlikely (though not unheard of), but more because the Tigers emptied out their young, quality pitchers in their acquisitions of Edgar Renteria and Miguel Cabrera last year.

It’s interesting that the Red Sox (who do have some young, quality pitching in the names noted above) and the Marlins (who have the same, with Nolasco and Sanchez being MUCH more attractive than Olsen) are the two teams that keep coming up and that both have somewhat of a surplus of young, From the perspective of teams looking for a catchers, the Texas surplus and Shoppach look to be the available players who represent a legitimate upgrade (and by that I mean, more than just a Gregg Zaun of Sal Fasano signing), with Shoppach as the most established player in terms of MLB production.

However, Shoppach is now arbitration eligible and will not be under club control as long as Teagarden and Salty would, so the teams will have to determine whether Shoppach (at a higher price and for fewer years) is more attractive than the less-proven commodities that the Rangers possess.

Our guest this week on “Smoke Signals” was the Indians’ top pitching prospect LHP Dave (and, yes, it is Dave) Huff, who was gracious enough to join us on Wednesday night.

The interview is both informative and insightful (I think)…that is, of course, once the usual “technical issues” (accompanied by some “More Than a Feeling”) that accompanied the start were ironed out.

It’s a bit of a rough patch at the start, if you’ll allow me to set the scene:
The problems started as neither my co-host Tony Lastoria nor I were able to log on to host the show at 9:30 PM for a solid 25 minutes as we sat and waited for word that the phone lines had been prepared for us to start by the company that hosts the show for us. Once I was able to log in, Tony was not – which led to the muffled start as I waited for Tony to call in. Once the first call came in around 10 PM, I simply asked the caller if it was Tony, to see if he had finally succeeded in getting on to co-host the show.

My assumption that Tony had joined in was met by the caller identifying himself as “Dave” (as in Dave Huff…oh, snap), who was right on time with his call into the show to be our guest a little after 10 PM. What ensued thereafter, were a wild couple of minutes in which my attempts to multi-task (work the switchboard, read texts from the still-trying-to-call-in Tony on my cell phone, AND begin the interview) make for some high comedy if only for the bewilderment being obvious in my voice.

Once things settled down (and papers stopped flying around my head when the interview started), I thought that Huff was both candid and insightful in getting into his phenomenal 2008 season and how he approaches what he takes very seriously as a job, with the support staff of his family (and notably his brother, a former college player) backing him up. Obviously, if you listen, it’s nice that Huff joined us right away in the (now) 30-minute show and talked through the whole show about his development as a pitcher, his repertoire, his injury from 2007 related to his mechanics, his approach (even getting into some pitch sequence strategy), and what 2009 may hold for him.

If you do take the time to listen, make sure not to bail out too early (or just fast-forward to the end if you’re pressed for time) as the technical difficulties continued right until the final moments as I couldn’t log off, leading to me not knowing that I was still on the air and summating my thoughts on the night with at “what a debacle.”

Not the Huff Stuff (ba-dum-bum)…just the absurdity of flying blind while trying to talk to one of the Indians who could figure very prominently into the Cleveland rotation in 2009.

Finally, here are a few more links to add to your daily visits in terms of Hot Stove Rumors, from and their stable of writers.
As an addendum to that, for Indians-only rumors, here’s the link provided from CastroTurf.

For something that does deserve it - Thursday night at Cleveland Browns Stadium…“what a debacle”.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

How Do You Want It?

In the unending quest to stay on top of the Hot Stove (though not literally) and to attempt to wade through the conjecture, fiction, and outright fabrications that have littered the Rumor Mill, I ran across this report on from Jon Heyman (it’s with the 1:59 header) that the Yankees have shown interest in Orlando Hudson...just not as a 2B.

The story goes that the Yankees are looking at Hudson to perhaps move to CF or to add Hudson with the idea that they can move Robinson Cano via trade. Reading it, I could feel myself growing increasingly frustrated with each passing sentence. And I don’t think that it’s because I think that Hudson would be a nice fit in the Indians’ infield and this report sounded like the Evil Empire swooping down and opening their wallet to make a move that sounds like nothing more than a Fantasy Baseball idea - “wait…can I put Hudson at CF?”.
No, that isn’t what sticks in my craw on this.

Nor is it the whole idea that Hudson probably isn’t going to the Mets because of the $18M owed to Luis Castillo over the next three years…but the Yankees (who owe Cano $25M over the next three years with a $14M option in 2012 and a $15M in 2013, with $2M buyouts for either option year) can somehow simply add a player and play him out of position or can find a taker for Cano and his contract.

You know why it doesn’t really bother me?
Because I don’t think that the Yankees are interested in Hudson and I don’t think that this “report” has much more behind it than some Yankees’ employee throwing this out for an reporter. But that’s what disturbs me about this – in that this “report” likely is nothing more than pure conjecture, but becomes front page news on

What bothers me about is that the Hot Stove has seemingly evolved into reporting everything about the Yankees and Red Sox and maybe a few other big market teams, assuming that one of those teams will get all of the players in FA, and imagining reporters perusing the rosters of the teams they think of as the feeder systems for the Axis of Evil and create news on them. It takes no insight and less legwork to guess that the top FA are going to end up in NY or LA or to simply throw a “report” like this out there.
CC? Probably a Yankee, right?
Teixeira? Can the Red Sox get him?
Isn’t that all we’ve been reading about, despite the fact that EVERY team sent their Front Office to the GM meetings?

Certainly a reason for this obsession with reporting everything that happens with these select “glamour” teams certainly comes from the amount of interest that each presumably has nationally – but is there more?

Do you remember the days leading up to the Coco Crisp deal to the Red Sox?
Remember how EVERY report came out of Boston and the Indians’ Front Office was reportedly upset about the amount of information that was being leaked to the press concerning the discussions?

There’s something to be said about having “sources” as a reporter, but the amount of information that is leaked about the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers borders on the absurd where it feels like even the average fan knows what discussions are taking place in the Front Offices of those respective teams. Compare that to how the Indians leak NOTHING to the local press and seem to live by one simple word – “deny”. When was the last time the Plain Dealer or the Beacon-Journal “broke” a story or forced the Indians’ collective hand on rumors or hearsay? Since they got the story on the CC deal from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel blog, that one doesn’t count.

Perhaps that’s where I’m going on all of this – as an Indians’ fan, how do you prefer this Hot Stove Season to unfold in terms of the dissipation of information? With fond memories of my days in High School, before my musical tastes of 2Pac and EPMD were replaced by STP and PJ, I ask, “How Do You Want It”?

Is it better to hear EVERY little rumor and piece of conjecture, regardless of whether there is a kernel of truth behind it, and beat that conjecture to death or is it better to simply sit back and throw things up against the wall ourselves and wait for that “unexpected” press conference or news from another town that something really has broke?

Truthfully, it’s probably somewhere between hearing everything that is discussed in a Front Office to the situation with the Indians. But that doesn’t mean that the fan base can’t take one of these stories and run with it. Certainly the Mark Teahen situation laid out how much one little report can send the InterWebs weaving and how much everyone can learn about a player they should know very little about in a hurry. But did anyone really enjoy that? Is it better to know about a deal before it takes place to dissect it or to actually wait for a deal to go down before the hand-wringing and wailing begins?

Obviously, the lack of insight from the local media (or perhaps what is made available to them) makes that decision for us as the sidebars that appear in the papers usually don’t include much more than things that anyone who knows how to browse the Yahoo MLB Rumors page or MLB Truth and Rumors page already know.

In lieu of that insight or any kind of inside source, we’ll have to be content with perusing those pages to find some sequence of reports that leads us to that revelation that a trade is forthcoming. Until that happens, though, we’ll have to go back to the “Refresh” button…whether we want it that way or not.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A Lazy Sunday "Fall" Back

Since The DiaperTribe didn’t get the memo that everyone is supposed to get an extra hour of sleep with Daylight Savings, it’s time to get an early start on the first official off-season edition of Lazy Sunday, with “all of the news that’s fit to link”.

Terry Pluto (remaining that last beacon of light in the darkness of local baseball coverage in the newspapers) touches on a myriad of topics as the Indians get ready to address their off-season wish list. He reports that the Indians HAVE, in fact, asked Baltimore about Brian Roberts, only to learn that Asdrubal is the player that would make it happen…which kind of defeats the whole purpose of adding a 2B. Additionally, acquiring Roberts for one year, with no guarantee that he’d be here after 2009, means that the Indians would likely find themselves in the same position to try to find the long-term answer at 2B after the 2009 season. Pluto also gets a bit into “Bones” Meloan as a 2009 option in the bullpen and some of the FA possibilities for the Tribe this off-season, correctly laying out the fault in the “Casey Blake return” argument and making his Bob Howry push again.

Since it is the off-season, if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to sort through the available FA this off-season, here’s the ESPN FA tracker that you can sort by position and can keep tabs on who goes where and who remains available as the Hot Stove heats up. I’ll probably throw a link up on the sidebar…in the hopes that anyone besides me peruses that.

Staying on the FA front, Ken Rosenthal thinks that the Brewers are getting set to offer CC a 4-year, $100M deal…which he’ll likely turn down as “he surely would command a more lucrative deal on the open market. The Yankees, Angels and Dodgers are among Sabathia's leading possibilities, and each could give him more than four years and $25 million per season.”

So, for those of you who said that the Indians should have thrown a big annual salary number at CC over a limited amount of years to keep him in Cleveland, let’s see if he’s pitching for the Brew Crew next year as that’s exactly what Milwaukee is going to do with The Hefty Lefty while they retain exclusive negotiating rights with him until November 14th.

Rosenthal also asserts (in the same linked piece) that he thinks that the Indians are going to eschew the idea of getting a closer on the open market this off-season and will turn their attention to getting 7th and 8th inning guys to set up Jensen Lewis, who Rosenthal thinks will be the Tribe closer going into 2009.

On that front, not that he’s any great shakes, but it looks like RHP Aaron Heilman could be had, as it seems that he’s worn out his welcome with more than just the Mets’ fan base (it’s not a good sign when the “Google Search” suggestion for a name fills in “sucks” as the third word for your inquiry because it’s a popular search). He’s 2 years away from FA, and had posted pretty good numbers as a member of the Mets’ bullpen prior to 2008. He would probably come rather cheap and could be an instance of a player in need of a “change of scenery” that the Indians could buy low on.

Before you dismiss Heilman because of his nightmarish 2008, take a look at the numbers he put up in the two previous years and think about another reliever who thrived in the back-end of the bullpen for a few years, but experienced a down year:
Heilman 2006
120 ERA+, 3.62 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 73 K, 28 BB in 87 IP

Betancourt 2006
119 ERA+, 3.81 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 48 K, 11 BB in 56 2/3 IP

Heilman 2007
140 ERA+, 3.03 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 63 K, 20 BB in 86 IP

Betancourt 2007
312 ERA+, 1.47 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 80 K, 9 BB in 79 1/3 IP

Heilman 2008
81 ERA+, 5.21 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 80 K, 46 BB in 76 IP

Betancourt 2008
88 ERA+, 5.07 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 64 K, 25 BB in 71 IP
If it’s reasonable to expect a bounce-back season for Senor Slo-Mo (and, good gracious, look again at his 2007!), why not see if the same can be true for Heilman as long as the Mets are willing to part with him without asking for too much in return as a TOTAL bullpen overhaul looks to be in the works this off-season for Omar Minaya?

As a quick aside here, my guess is that the Mets and Minaya will be the ones who offer some sort of guaranteed deal to new FA Chad Cordero, as opposed to the wiser, incentive-laden deal that he should be looking at. Minaya drafted Cordero in Montreal and is trying to rebuild the Mets’ bullpen after he (likely) drops a bomb on it, so it’s not inconceivable for Minaya to give Cordero a guaranteed deal with an club option attached, which is more than anyone else would be willing to offer a pitcher coming off of a very scary shoulder surgery.

But I digress.
If the Indians are, in fact, looking for relievers to complement Betancourt and Perez in the 7th and 8th innings to lead up to Jenny Lew (and that’s where both Pluto and Rosenthal see this thing going), a guy like Heilman could be a nice under-the-radar acquisition that could provide comparable results to those that could be expected by the second-tier of available relievers in FA (like Juan Cruz, Brandon Lyon, or Joe Beimel) without the financial commitment of years or dollars.

On the trade market for starting pitchers, Rosenthal reports that the Jake Peavy Sweepstakes is ALREADY down to two teams – the Cubs and the Dodgers. He says the Braves are still in the mix, but a move to any team other than those three seems unlikely for Peavy.

For those who didn’t believe me when I said (in the Teahen talk) that Frank the Tank’s defense was the separator for him and merely average MLB players as it represents an exceptional and rare skill, here’s the link to Gutz winning the Fielding Bible award for RF. Despite playing only 97 games in RF, his defensive skills are so vastly superior to other RF that he gets the nod…and RF isn’t really his best position – CF is.
You can check out the final results and tallied votes of which can be found in the top bar of the linked site.
Other Indians finishing in the Top 10 at their respective positions league-wide:
Asdrubal – 7th at 2B
Grady – 3rd at CF

With defense in mind, it will be interesting to see how this whole 2B/3B conundrum finds a resolution (FYI – the Arizona Republic guesses that Orlando Hudson will be looking for a multi-year deal worth about $10M per year) as the Indians could have 2 extreme groundball pitchers in their rotation (Carmona and Laffey) with another scheduled to join the team after the All-Star Break in Westbrook. Throw in the fact that a couple of the FA starters available (Lowe most notably and Mussina, Dempster, Garland, and Looper to a lesser degree) are groundball pitchers, and the Indians could be looking to shore up their infield defense as much as they are to add any kind of offense given the amount of groundballs that figure to come off the bats of Tribe opponents in 2009.

On the starter front, the Indians have ALLEGEDLY inquired about Scott Olsen of the Marlins. With the “Mark Teahen Rule” fully in effect, let’s just say that Shapiro’s interest in Olsen should stop when he realizes that he has a lot of pitchers like Olsen already in the organization (young LHP who translate as back-end-of-the-rotation arms) that he doesn’t have to give up anything to slot into the Tribe rotation at some point.

Regarding “team-building practices” not related to FA, want some perspective on how attractive Kelly Shoppach’s going to be on the Trade Market?
The Blue Jays just picked up a $2.5M option for Rod Barajas – a 33-year-old who put up an OPS of .704 last year with 11 HR in 349 AB. Mr. Show Pack figures to be paid less (or about that amount) while being under club control for 3 more seasons and posted a .865 OPS with 21 HR in 352 AB.
If the Blue Jays know that catchers are a rare enough commodity that they picked up Barajas’ option because they had it, what to the teams that are desperate for a backstop do?

In case you missed my EDIT to link the Carter Bays piece from Cleveland Magazine for Thursday’s post, here’s the link to the article – provided by Andy Netzel of CleveMag. Now that Carter Bays’ “How I Met Your Mother” is only a day away (Mondays at 8:30 on CBS), you have no excuse to miss this week’s episode as this is another reminder to catch what is one of the most consistently funny shows on TV right now, with roots to Northeast Ohio.

As a matter of updates, Dave Huff will be joining Smoke Signals this Wednesday around 10 PM, so I’ll be sure to post the link as soon as it becomes available.

Finally, with Spring Training seeming too far away, the guys over at Baseball Pilgrimages have a little piece on the Indians new facility in Goodyear with the obligatory pictures that will get you excited for the day when those magic words pass through your lips - “Pitchers and Catchers Report…”
That day is February 12, 2009, by the way.
Maybe a countdown clock is forthcoming…because those words are only 102 days away.