Friday, July 31, 2009

Our Victor

While the rational side of me wants to come to grips as quickly as possible with the idea that Victor Martinez is no longer a member of the Cleveland Indians, the emotional strings are a little longer than that. With that in mind (and having a good number of these things on the hard drive from pieces throughout the years), I thought I would put together a proper farewell to Vic.

Obviously, much more to come on this and everything else that has happened in the past week; but before we get into that, perhaps it may be best to simply sit back and appreciate Victor for what he meant to this team, this organization, and to us as fans.

He donned the tools of ignorance to go into battle for the Indians...

The good times were often and plenty...

His personality and his passion endeared him to us as we watched him grow into an All-Star we could all be proud of...

His tenacity and leadership endured through injury to give us joy...

In the magic of 2007, he put us on his back for the highest of highs...

As well as living through and sharing our pain through the lowest of lows...

Through his emotion, you felt like you were cheering for much more than laundry...

He is, after all, Victor...
Farewell, Mi will be missed.

Farewell to El Capitan

As the expected purge initiated by the Lee deal continues, it looks as if Victor Martinez is on his way to Boston for Red Sox RHP Justin Masterson, LHP Nick Hagadone, and RHP Bryan Price (the latter two pitching in A ball) as the movement to jam as many arms as possible into the organization in the shortest amount of time continues with El Capitan making his way (quite unfortunately) to a team that cannot be cheered for.

Nobody should feign surprise at the news that Victor finds himself on another team today as the move was obviously coming once the writing on the wall from the Cliff Lee had dried in that the Indians felt that their window of opportunity to contend past this year was slim enough for them to simply make a clean break from their current (or at least as of last week, current) “core” group of players and cast an eye toward the future, stockpiling as many players as they possibly could for the next decade.

Of course, this knowledge that it was coming isn’t going to make it any easier to think about Victor donning a Red Sox uniform, but the emotional chasm that we already have found this week almost doesn’t allow any further sadness or despair…though it certainly doesn’t feel that way knowing El Capitan is going to the Dark Side.

As for the return for Vic the Stick, it would seem that the Indians netted the MLB-ready arm, ready to join their rotation or (less likely) their bullpen from Day 1 in Masterson and two more high risk/high reward…wait for it…power arms into the system.

Justin Masterson is obviously the most advanced of the three and comes to the Indians with an interesting skill set as a sinkerballer who was a dominant starter for the Red Sox in the Minors (career MiLB stats – 3.79 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 3.27 K/BB) until he made the transition last year to the bullpen and moved very quickly into the back-end of the Boston bullpen, where he thrived to the tune of a 3.16 ERA, a 146 ERA +, and a 1.22 WHIP while solidifying the Red Sox relief corps.

As for this year, Masterson is a now-24-year-old RHP who has pitched 72 innings to date for Boston, starting in 6 of the 31 games he’s pitched in, but also finishing 4 of the 31 games he’s pitched in, showcasing the versatility that he has as either a starter or as a reliever. To date on the year, he has posted a 4.50 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP with 67 K and 25 BB over those 72 IP. Interestingly, his numbers this year look mildly similar in terms of what he’s done as a starter and as a reliever:
Starter 2009 – 6 games
4.58 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, .778 OPS against in 35 1/3 IP

Reliever 2009 – 25 games
4.42 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .715 OPS against in 36 2/3 IP

How the Indians plan on using him remains to be seen, though it would certainly seem that there would be some opportunity in the rotation with Lee gone and Pavano likely to not make it through August…if even today. Masterson’s arm intrigues and he’s definitely experienced success at the MLB level as a reliever with the track record in the Minors that he may be simply an extended chance away from thriving in a MLB rotation, though his MLB splits (.601 OPS against vs. RH batters, .820 OPS against vs. LH batters in his 160 1/3 MLB innings) are a little concerning for a pitcher that you would hope to be a middle-of-the-rotation option.

Past Masterson, the Indians netted the #8 prospect (Hagadone) and #10 prospect (Price) in a loaded Red Sox system prior to the season, as ranked by Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein with the idea that the Indians continue to just add power arm after power arm into an organization that was previously bereft of them is the solution to the ails of the 2009 pitching staff, rotation and bullpen included.

Hagadone is a big (6-5/230) LHP who throws a 96-98 MPH fastball, complemented by a hit-and-miss slider and a still-developing changeup and whose 2008 season was derailed by Tommy John surgery, which he is now only starting to work his way back from. Despite being a college reliever, he has started all 23 (yes…just 23) games he’s appeared in while in the Red Sox organization and his numbers to date look solid as he’s posted a 2.52 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP with 32 K to 14 BB in the 25 1/3 innings he’s pitched this year in A-ball as a 23-year-old. While his age and short time in the minors certainly raise some red flags, Hagadone is a power pitcher that can either likely slot into the rotation or the bullpen as time goes on, bringing his power arsenal with him…continued health, of course, assumed.

The other big, flamethrowing arm (have we received any other kind of arm this trading season) is Price, a 6-4/210 RHP who, like Hagadone, was a reliever in college at Rice and boasts a 92-95 MPH fastball and a power slider, though his command of those pitches have resulted in some high BB rates (2.9 BB/9 this year) to go along with his ability to induce swings and misses (as his 9.1 K/9 this year shows). He’s started 28 of the 31 games he’s pitched in for the Red Sox organization and, again like Hagadone, could slot eventually as a power reliever if the Indians make the decision to move him out of the rotation.

When it’s all said and done, the edict to concentrate on pitching when making these trades (once the decision was made to make these trades) has certainly bore some fruit as it’s difficult to even keep track of all of the names that the Indians have added to their organization for future years.

Obviously, this move does not come as a surprise and does not come without some emotion attached to it as Victor has become unquestionably one of the most popular players of the post-90’s Indians teams. But the trade of Lee signaled that the overhaul was on and keeping Martinez past today (which could certainly be looked at his point of highest value going forward) was tantamount to not going all the way in terms of making the complete shift to the future.

It hurts right now…it really does.
But it kind of feels like we’re tearing off a band-aid and we might as well get in all the pain that we can at once to let that next stage begin as soon as possible.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Looking Over the Cliff

As the smoke clears and the emotions tone down from the maelstrom of vitriol that accompanied the news that CP Lee was now a Phillie, let’s try to take a step back and look at this deal from a rational viewpoint, if only to see if the deal looks any better with emotion removed and to see if it tells us anything about the future of this team, in terms of 2010 and 2011.

Starting out, the gnawing sense of frustration that colors much of the feelings on the Lee deal is that the Indians were not necessarily compelled to trade Lee this week as his contract ran through next season at an affordable number and could wait for the perfect deal to come around. If that perfect deal didn’t materialize, the thought that the Tribe could simply hold onto Lee to take their chances with him in the rotation in 2010 always remained an option, even if the return this time next year would be expectedly lower. The idea being that contention in 2010 was easier to envision with Lee in the fold than without him, unless that deal came around that replaced him ostensibly in the rotation immediately and effectively…if that deal didn’t come around, you wait it out.

That “perfect deal” however, did not materialize nor did the Indians find themselves content to “wait it out” with Shapiro pulling the trigger on what he deemed to be the best offer on the table at this time. As Anthony Castrovince writes, the move was an admission that “the Indians decided that even with Lee on board, they had little chance of contending next season…because ownership told the front office that it will not commit any significant dollars to club construction in the offseason.” and went the route of rebuild now with the idea that Lee’s value (1 ½ affordable seasons of club control) would never been higher and with the idea that freeing up Lee’s dollars would allow them the flexibility to improve the team in other ways for years past 2010.

Is that a salary dump, to clear payroll while maximizing return whether the return is satisfactory or not?

It sure comes off that way and in return, they received three players who likely factor into 2010 at the very latest (assuming no other deal is coming involving one of them) in Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, and Lou Marson with the high-upside player coming in the form of Jason Knapp. With that haul, the blue-chip prospect seems to be lacking for the Indians to hang their hat on in the deal, opting instead to go for a number of players that can contribute, to varying degrees, relatively soon and a youngster with a high risk/reward factor.

In a piece detailing the players on their way into the Cleveland organization by Jayson Stark, it sounds as if that philosophy comes by design:

The Indians have done extensive studies of deals like this and found that teams which concentrate on "big league-ready" prospects as the centerpieces of these trades often make out the worst. Cleveland aims for upside -- and it ranked 18-year-old smokeballer Jason Knapp as having the highest ceiling of any arm in the Phillies' system, including Drabek's.

One scout we surveyed Wednesday compared Knapp to a young Jonathan Papelbon. Another said: "If his medicals check out, they may have gotten a young Roy Halladay."

Meanwhile, Baseball America ranked the other three players in the deal -- right-hander Carlos Carrasco, catcher Lou Marson and shortstop Jason Donald -- as the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 best prospects in the Phillies' system entering the season.

"Carrasco is a power arm with three plus pitches, and he's 22 years old," said one scout who covers the Phillies system. "I think Donald will be a very good player. I know some people think he'll have to change positions. But I still wouldn't rule out shortstop. My comparison for him has always been Rich Aurilia, a guy you look at from afar and say, 'He's not a shortstop.' Then you watch him play and say, 'Yeah, he is.' I see him as a guy who can hit 20 homers, hit .275 or .280, and play real good shortstop.

"And I really like Marson. I think he'll be a good player and a regular catcher in the big leagues. And what is he -- 23 years old? So I think both sides did well. Just because the Phillies have a good big league club and didn't fast-track these guys to the big leagues doesn't mean they're not good players. I think they are."
The return, on the surface, starts to make some sense if that’s the best offer on the table and the Indians were going to make a move on the “best offer”, if you buy into the idea that Carrasco is on par with the top pitching prospects in the game at the age of 22 in AAA with good peripherals. Certainly Knapp sounds like a prospect and an arm to dream upon, but the inclusion of what look to be a middle infielder and a catcher on a team with young players who already play those positions in Cleveland (Cabrera and Valbuena) or represent the best of their farm system (Santana) is where the package gets puzzling.

If we’re looking for MLB-ready arms by 2010 and high-upside power arms for Lee, Carrasco (who Rob Neyer thinks could be the Indians’ best starter as soon as next summer) and Knapp make a lot of sense, but Donald and Marson make less sense, purely from the sense that the Indians had their pick of any of these ancillary players and specifically chose these two, even having to throw in Ben Francisco to “sweeten the pot” for the Phillies on the deal to net the foursome. Donald and Marson both look to be about MLB-ready and, while neither profiles to be an instant (or even eventual) star, they do have some value, but Donald and Marson simply play positions that are not positions of need at the MLB level for the Indians…and both are reported to be close to that point in their development.

That being said, if you assume that Donald is a 2B/SS close to being ready for MLB and Marson is a close to being C ready for MLB, wouldn’t it stand to reason that more trades are coming, either involving those specific players in a package or the players that would be ahead of them in the organizational pecking order to clear a path for them?

Is Donald simply a replacement for Carroll or is he a player that can be flipped as part of a larger package? I know, Winston Abreu was supposed to serve the same purpose, right?

Well, when you’re talking about a young player with some defensive versatility like Donald has and is young, affordable, and purported to be MLB-ready, his value may be greater to a team looking for a young 2B/SS or one that doesn’t have a Cabrera/Valbuena (both younger than Donald) combination starting to gel. I suppose he could be insurance against a sever Valbuena regression, but his presence in the trade portends that more may be afoot.

If Donald’s inclusion in the deal looks to be the precursor to another deal, what can be gathered from the Indians picking a 23-year-old AAA catcher from the Phillies when the organization is already brimming with upper level talent at C in Martinez, Shoppach, Gimenez, and Torregas with the idea that the position will belong to Carlos Santana by 2011 (or maybe even at some point in 2010) – wouldn’t this serve notice that someone else is moving?

The obvious answer is that Victor is next in line as the Lee trade decreased his likelihood of remaining an Indian into August as the Indians simply look to be re-shaping their roster with players that will factor in when 2011 starts, and Victor is not on that list. Marson could be paired with Shoppach next year behind the dish, or Shoppach could be moved in a deal, or Marson could also be moved in a deal…all before the 2010 season, depending upon the return that might be available for each.

Suddenly, nothing looks off-limits and the idea that the Indians would only move if they were “blown away” seems to be off the table as (regardless of what Shapiro’s track record has been on veterans-for-prospect moves has been…and it’s been good to great) the return for Lee doesn’t look to have that “overwhelming” feel to it and feels more like the first domino of many as the Indians are likely to look quite a bit different on Friday evening than they did even a week ago.

For today, we’re left asking whether Clifton Phifer was worth more or if we had been deluded by grand packages being mentioned for Roy Hallday and wondering what it all means in the grand scheme of things.

In terms of whether the Indians could have netted more for Lee - we’ll never know, just as we’ll never know if contention in 2010 was possible with Lee fronting the rotation (at least to start the season) – but the overhaul seems to be on in full force and while the blue-chipper doesn’t seem to have emerged yet, the Indians certainly look to be just starting the Extreme Makeover of their roster with an eye towards sustained contention…starting in 2011.

Clifton Phifer Philly

Still two days away from the Trading Deadline, it appears that he Indians have traded Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco to the Philadelphia Phillies for AAA RHP Carlos Carrasco, SS Jason Knapp, C Lou Marsen, and RHP Jason Knapp in a move that signals that wholesale changes could be coming in the very near future and that contention in the 2010 just became less likely.

Before getting into the players coming to Cleveland in exchange for Lee and Frisco, let’s take a look at the rumor that dominated most of the Trading Deadline season as the Phillies courted Jays’ RHP Roy Halladay, eventually backing away from the table when the Jays demanded a king’s ransom of Kyle Drabek, JA Happ, and Dominic Brown and/or Michael Taylor for 1 ½ years of Doc Halladay fronting the Philadelphia rotation. The demands by the Jays did not seem out of line, given the analysis by Dave Cameron as to the value that Halladay would provide.

After extending that exercise to Lee, the thought was that while Halladay had a larger body of work in terms of performance, the lower amount of money owed to Lee compared to Halladay made the value of the two pitchers relatively similar, if not identical. Now, news that none of the players that the Jays demanded for Halladay (and rightfully so) have been included in the Lee deal for the Phillies starts to throw up the red flags.

Instead of demanding Drabek (the top pitching prospect for the Phillies right now) or Happ (already thriving in MLB), the Indians seem to have centered their deal for Lee around one very high-ceiling young arm in Jason Knapp and a AAA perennial prospect in Carlos Carrasco with two upper-level position players in Lou Marson and Jason Donald coming as organizational filler that could see the Indians’ roster as early as this year. While prior to the season Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus had Carrasco (#1), Marson (#5), Donald (#6), Knapp (#10), the return (when looked at as a whole) is not…um, not quite what we were expecting:
Carlos Carrasco RHP – Age 22
2009 (AAA) – 6-9, 5.18 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, 8.8 K/9, 2.95 BB/K in 114 2/3 IP
Carrasco’s youth and power pitching arsenal portend good things for the young RHP, though those attributes have not yet translated to the AAA level this season. He throws a low-90’s fastball, complementing it with a changeup and a curve, none of which has developed as a true strike-out pitch. Most scouts see his upside as that of a second or third starter, with only the most optimistic predicting front-line stuff from him, age considered. Just as likely though, is that he is a frustrating rotational filler who allows innings to get away from him as he matures as a pitcher. Carrasco is a possibility for the rotation in 2010, but to expect tremendous things out of him that early is foolhardy.

Jason Knapp RHP – Age 18

2009 (A) – 2-7, 4.01 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, 11.7 K/9, 2.85 K/BB in 85 1/3 IP
If Carrasco is the “finished product” in the deal, Knapp is the wild card as he has hit 97 MPH on the gun as an 18-year-old and is a big, strong power pitcher who works his secondary stuff off of his fastball. He could mature into a top-of-the-rotation starter (although not any time soon) or he could flame out through injury or ineffectiveness a long way from Cleveland with the possibility even existing that the bullpen is his eventual home. Certainly one red flag that goes up is the fact that Knapp was shut down on July 11th with “shoulder fatigue” and has yet to pitch since…but that’s the risk of a player like Knapp, who certainly represents the high risk/high reward portion of the deal.

Jason Donald SS – Age 24
2009 (AAA) - .236 BA / .297 OBP / .332 SLG / .629 OPS with 1 HR, 15 2B in 23 PA
A player that projects, initially at least, as a utility IF in the Majors, Donald does a number of things very well, but not one thing well enough to justify his consistent inclusion in an MLB lineup, at least not right now. There’s a chance that he can develop into a moderately effective 2B, but it’s much more likely that Donald projects to a utility IF who can play a number of positions effectively.

Lou Marson C – Age 23
2009 (AAA) - .294 BA / .382 OBP / .370 SLG / .751 OPS with 1 HR, 13 2B in 241 PA
Marson is a high-OBP, low-SLG catcher whose ball-to-bat ability is his greatest strength as well as providing solid, if unspectacular, defense. His lack of power is disconcerting and probably prevents him from every truly projecting as an everyday MLB catcher. If he did, he would fall into the Jason Kendall mode of a high-contact placeholder who probably fits better as a back-up catcher.

For a guttural response to this, this trade makes no sense for the Indians on any level. According to numerous reports, Carrasco was one of the players discussed in the CC deal last year in a deal that the Indians turned down. The difference, of course, being that CC was under contract for ½ of a season when he was dealt as Lee is still under contract for 1 ½ seasons – meaning that a ½ of a year for CC is worth less than 1 ½ years for Lee, particularly when you consider Carrasco’s struggles this year. If Carrasco is the major chip (and I’m having a little trouble considering an 18-year-old in A-ball as the “major” piece), then he certainly doesn’t fill the bill of an MLB-ready starter or even an exceptional prospect a little further away.

It’s probably true that you can slot Carrasco into the rotation in 2010, but how much of a difference is putting him in there than putting a player like Hector Rondon in the 2010 rotation?

And that, to me, is the disappointment of the whole trade at first glance – it unquestionably takes 2010 off the table for the Indians and gives them no real blue-chip prospect who can be relied on to contribute mightily in 2010 or even 2011. Sure, maybe Donald and Marson are close…but Donald looks like the replacement for Jamey Carroll more than anything else for next year and Marson is a AAA catcher in an organization now boasting Victor, Shoppach, Gimenez, Torregas, and Carlos Santana as 2010 options at catcher.

Certainly it looks like a sign that more moves are coming, as holding on to Victor (particularly looking at the 2010 rotation WITH Carrasco) makes less sense today and there’s a likelihood that the move is strictly a salary dump of Lee’s contract for 2010 (which is about the only level it makes sense at), with the edict coming to extract the most value for Lee in the next two days and the return being thus.

The return however, is underwhelming on many levels particularly for the Indians’ most marketable player going for what looks to be a group of mid-level (if close to MLB-ready) prospects.

Much more to come on this sad day - but for now, we’ll have to sit and wait to see if the other shoe drops with Victor as the head-scratching, the violent reactions, and the questions come faster than they can find an answer.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bait Shop – Part III: Fish or Cut Bait

In the throes of Trading Deadline week, after hitting on all those expendable pieces and parts (some of whom have already been assigned new laundry to wear), it’s finally time to talk about the two prettiest lures in the Indians’ tackle box of bait – it’s time to…gulp, talk a little CP Lee and Vic.

Whereas in the case of Mark DeRosa, Senor Slo-Mo, and Garko…Polo, questions as to where they fit (or didn’t fit) into the Indians’ plans after this year (either by virtue of their contract running out, an absurdly high number on a club option for a 34-year-old middle reliever, or a player about to hit arbitration with younger players behind him) do not apply to Clifton Phifer and El Capitan. Both are elite players in MLB, working under the last year deal of their current contracts, with the Indians holding affordable options on each player for 2010.

If they’re ostensibly under club control through the end of next season, why in the world would the Indians trade these players then, right?

For these two, the question as to why they’re being shopped have less to do with them as players and more to do with the Indians and their outlook for the 2010 season and beyond. For each player, there are questions as to the wisdom of extending them past 2010 (as there are with Vic in terms of similarly skilled players in the pipeline and the dollars committed to Hafner to DH) or simply the fact that they will not be Indians when presented with Free Agency after the 2010 season as is the case with Lee, who is sure to command a multi-year deal after the 2010 season for an annual salary with eight digits associated with it, something the Indians are rightfully reticent to shy away from given that Lee will be 32 when his next contract starts in the 2011 season.

Nobody’s questioning either player’s importance to the team as Martinez’s recent slump is the only thing that prevents him from being the most valuable position player this year (as determined by Fangraphs…hello, Mr. BLC), a category in which Lee’s value to the team is equal to that of the 5 next most valuable pitchers (as determined again by Fangraphs) on the Indians’ 2009 pitching staff…one of whom is Jeremy Sowers.
No, seriously.

As two of the probably three best players on the team, both are vitally important to any success that the Indians hope to achieve this year without question. But the question really becomes, rather quickly, what are the Indians’ expectations for 2010 and what role to Clifton Phifer and Vic the Stick play in those expectations

An even better question to ask would be is whether contention with Victor and Clifton is possible in 2010, seeing as how each of the two players in question is performing exceptionally this year and the team still finds itself with the third worst record in the AL. If the team has posted the third worst record in the AL with the two of them (and with their recent start to a second-half surge the only thing pulling them ahead of the Royals in the woebegone Central), what point is there to keeping them around for 2010 on a bad team?

And now both seemingly rhetorical questions are out there – “if they’re ostensibly under club control through the end of next season, why in the world would the Indians trade these players” versus “on the team that has posted the third worst record in the AL with the two of them, what is the point of keeping them around for 2010 on a bad team” – and suddenly, we get into the crux of the argument…more of a “State of the Organization” question than anything else.

Forgive me if this is revisiting “news” that isn’t new to anyone, but the real issue facing the organization in regard to possibly moving Lee and Martinez is whether right now (with 1 ½ affordable years remaining on each of their deals) represents the point of greatest value in terms of netting a return for either or both to augment the talent already in the organization to strengthen the quality and depth of the organization for a sustained run…just not necessarily a run that would include next year.

Is 2010 a legitimate year for contention, made more likely by keeping Lee and Vic, or is 2010 a “year to build upon” because the team is not close to contending (even with CP and El Capitan) with the eye on a longer timeframe in terms of sustained contention?

From the two schools of thought – one in which the Indians can contend in 2010 with Lee and Martinez versus the one that sees a more realistic timeframe of contention starting in 2011 when LaPorta, Huff, Rondon, Santana, Brantley, and Weglarz are all ready to contribute – the Indians’ Front Office has about 3 days to decide which one they find themselves more firmly in as the value for Lee or Martinez will likely never be higher (1 ½ years under contract for each and two pennant races for an acquiring team) and contention next year without one or both seems rather unlikely, taking into account the adjustment period for the young players thought to be in line for Martinez’s AB (if he is to be moved) and depending upon the MLB-readiness of the arms acquired for either (again, if either are moved) in terms of immediate impact.

Looking then, at these two schools of thought, if the idea is that the Indians CAN contend with Victor and Lee in 2010, how important is each to that idea of contention?

Starting with Victor, while the idea is out there that there are prospects that figure in eventually at C and 1B (Santana and LaPorta and maybe Weglarz) and DH is filled for the foreseeable future by Hafner meaning that Victor past 2010 isn’t as crucial to the Indians’ long-term success, moving Martinez PRIOR to 2010 assumes quite a bit in terms of the development of the young players in the Indians’ system. Without Martinez on the Indians in 2010, the offensive burden would have to be carried by some combination of ShopVac (assuming he’s around), LaPorta, and maybe even Andy Marte until the likes of Santana and Weglarz are able to contribute, perhaps later in 2010. That group of players assuming that offensive burden would have to combine to come close to Victor’s production and provide some semblance of stability past Grady, Asdrubal, and Choo at the top of the lineup. Perhaps the offense is strong enough to make up for the loss of Martinez’s bat next year, but it would take a number of players adjusting quickly to MLB as well as another batch of players not falling prey to regressions or lingering injuries for that to happen.

If Martinez’s presence in the 2010 lineup certainly allows the case for contention more compelling on the offensive side, Lee’s presence in 2010 virtually dictates whether the Indians have a chance of contending or not, pitching-wise.

Consider this while pondering Lee’s importance to the team for next year:
Starters 2009 – Cliff Lee Division
22 starts, 152 IP, 3.14 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.34 K/9, 1.95 BB/9, 3.25 K/BB

Starters 2009 – Non-Cliff Lee Division
78 starts, 422 1/3 IP, 6.07 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 5.32 K/9, 3.62 K/BB, 1.46 K/BB

Take Cliff Lee out of the equation for this year and the results for the 2009 rotation go from “not so pretty” to “girls in the hallway of ‘The Shining’ terrifying” rather quickly. Sure, Jake Westbrook is still coming back this season and Fausto Carmona is still in search of his 2007 self, but look at the two rotations possible for 2010 (not taking into account the player coming back IF Lee were to be traded) with and without Lee:


Is it even really necessary to look at the rotation without Lee to know what a year without him at the top would mean?
Not a real rosy picture, right?

However, the camp that asserts that 2010 will amount to nothing more than this year even with the rotation looking like it does in the top version. And that may be true, but the variable in the whole “contention in 2010” hinges on the effectiveness of Carmona and, to a lesser extent, the health of Westbrook. The notion of Carmona (in some version close to his 2007 self) and Westbrook (eating innings in the middle of the rotation) pitching behind Lee and in front of Laffey and Huff with Rondon as the 6th starter holds water for me as a viable rotation for contention in 2010. But with the version of Carmona that we’ve been “treated” to now for 2 years and with Westbrook still not pitching an inning in MLB, how much of a leap of faith is that assumption?

The “no chance of contention in 2010” crowd will crow that the idea of contention in 2010 takes some healthy assumptions that Carmona will return to form, that Westbrook and Sizemore will be fully healthy, that Hafner can play more than 3 games in a row, that the bullpen can somehow…somehow…evolve into an effective unit from Day 1, and that Lee and Martinez will be on the team when the club breaks camp next April.

Could all of those things happen?
Certainly, and the Indians as they are constructed right now surely won’t be the way that the team leaves Goodyear in 2010 (not even taking Lee and Martinez into account), so contention in 2010 in the AL Central simply can’t be written off as a pipe dream. If the idea that the Indians could contend in 2009 was out there with the thought that they would work in some of their young players along the way existed at the beginning of the season, with the augmentation of those young players to what would essentially be the same group of “core” players (assuming again, that Lee and Martinez stay put), has this season put that much of a sour taste in everyone’s mouth to assert that the organization is entering the desert of non-contention, only to be saved by flipping Lee and Martinez for young talent?

On the flip side, so many assumptions are necessary and as 2009 has shown some cracks in what was thought to be the Indians’ foundation going forward, how much validity is there to chalking up 2010, jettisoning both Lee and Martinez and building this thing with the same focus on a multitude of arms that it was supposed to be?

If 2010 is, in fact, a pipe dream or built on assumptions, wouldn’t now be the time to strike when the proverbial iron is hot and capitalize on dangling 1 ½ years of Lee and Martinez for a maximum return?

Perhaps it is, but only for that deal that gives the Indians the arms that are past that adjustment period in terms of acclimating themselves to MLB. And therein lies the rub for the Indians as few, if any, teams are willing to part with the type of arms that legitimately make sense in terms of giving up 1 ½ years of Martinez and, more obviously, Lee as the arms added would have to ostensibly replace Lee in the rotation in short order before chalking up 2010 turned into chalking up 2011 and so on.

Why are teams reticent to make moves to give up those arms?
Consider the since-shot-down rumor of both Lee and Martinez going to Chavez Ravine because Joe Torre wants to “win now”, with the return for the duo allegedly being Chad Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw, James Loney, and one or two high-end Dodger prospects. Take Loney out of the equation as his acquisition would make little sense for a team that just traded a fair-to-middling 1B about to hit arbitration in Garko only to add another in Loney.

Rather, look at what would be the centerpiece of the deal coming back to the Indians – Billingsley or Kershaw – those young, MLB-ready arms that no team wants to part with
Cliff Lee 2009 – Age 30
3.14 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 1.30 WHIP, 6.34 K/9, 1.95 BB/9, 3.24 K/BB
Free Agent after 2010 season

Clayton Kershaw 2009 – Age 21
2.96 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 1.26 WHIP, 8.79 K/9, 5.03 BB/9, 1.75 K/BB
Arbitration-eligible after 2011 season
Free Agent after 2014 season

Chad Billingsley 2009 – Age 24
3.72 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 1.29 WHIP, 8.53 K/9, 3.79 BB/9, 2.25 K/BB
Arbitration-eligible after 2009 season
Free Agent after 2012 season

Why in the world would a team like the Dodgers make that deal, giving up multiple years of club control (at a lower price) of a younger pitcher performing at a level close to the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner?

If they would, certainly that’s the perfect deal; but can the Indians sit and wait out that perfect deal?
At this point, that’s the move as they sit in the proverbial catbird’s seat where they’re not compelled to absolutely move CP or Vic because of oncoming Free Agency and because both will be playing under club-friendly deals in 2010. If, in 2010, the Indians find themselves similarly out of contention in late-July, an opportunity will have been missed as the value for ½ of a season (and one pennant race) pales in comparison and perceived value for 1 ½ of a season (and two pennant races) for any team that would net Lee or Victor.

To me, contention with Lee and Martinez in 2010 isn’t a pipe dream and while it may be banking on a multitude of assumptions, it also assumes that the Indians will figure to have a better team than the one that broke camp in 2009…the same one that was thought to be in contention for the AL Central with this season dawned. If, however, that deal is out there that doesn’t completely take 2010 out of the equation and doesn’t set the Indians contention clock back to “hopefully 2011” if everyone matures as expected, the Indians would be foolish not to entertain those deals if only to maximize that return on Lee and/or Martinez.

For all intents and purposes the balance of the Indians’ season and perhaps all of next year, in terms of expectations, figure to go one way or the other in the next three days. The bait is in the water and the Indians are feeling the nibbles. Whether the original bait or the catch of the day is at the other end of that line come Friday remains to be seen.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Gonnie Garko

The week of the Trading Deadline has arrived in full force on the North Coast as Ryan Garko follows Rafael Betancourt off the Indians’ roster, traded to the San Francisco Giants for 21-year-old LHP Scott Barnes. In a move that was not unexpected given the Indians’ depth at 1B/DH and Garko’s arbitration eligibility at the end of the season, the Indians make a move again to clear the path for players that figure into their 2010 season and beyond.

While Garko is on one of his patented hot streaks that brings his overall season numbers to the median (his line over the last 6 games - .429 BA / .500 OBP / .810 SLG / 1.310 OPS – raised his OPS 41 points in 24 plate appearances having already compiled 249 previous to the 6-game stretch), the Indians decided “sell high” on him to a team in need of offense and an organization overflowing with arms, netting a 21-year-old LHP in Barnes, who was the 8th round pick of the Giants in 2008 that has posted a line of 12-3, 2.85 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 99 K, 29 BB in 98 IP over 18 starts this season. Obviously, a player like Barnes is a long way from contributing at the ML level, but with the selection of Jess Todd as the PTBNL in the DeRosa deal (which comes as a nice relief, if you’ll remember here and here, that they decided not to wait to get him into the organization), the Indians continue to stockpile young, power arms using non-essential players on the roster (and those not thought to be part of the 2010 season) to net them.

In terms of Garko’s tenure coming to an end with the team, the move shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise as the news that Matt LaPorta was fine-tuning his 1B skills in AAA and Victor Martinez’s continued presence at 1B (plus Andy Marte’s recent re-emergence as a prospect) put the writing on the wall for where Garko stood in the organizational pecking order. In addition, the fact that Garko is scheduled to hit arbitration at the end of the season, with the likely price tag coming in the $3M range for 2010.

In the end, Garko is what he is – a high-OBP, a mid-range SLG 1B who struggles defensively through no lack of effort on his part – and his inclusion on the roster was simply that of a placeholder until the Indians’ young 1B worked their way through the system. As an Indian, he was neither flashy nor overly disappointing, just a complementary MLB player on a team in need of more than that from the 1B position. Moving him to San Francisco returns the Stanford grad to Northern California to thrive in the weak NL West while remaining under club control through 2012, albeit at salary arbitration numbers.

And that’s where the whole Garko thing makes the most sense, when you remove the RBI nonsense and the fact that The Atomic Wedgie inexplicably put him in the OF as he attempted to learn a brand-new position at the age of 27 in MLB – very simply, the relation between his productivity and his affordability went out of the Indians’ favor after this season. If the Indians can conceivably receive comparable production from younger player right now in place of Garko (be it LaPorta or Marte when Victor is not manning the tools of ignorance), with the idea that the player providing that “comparable production right now” could develop into something more substantial than Garko, the rationale behind getting something (notably an arm) for Garko stands up.

News that Andy Marte will be recalled to take Garko’s spot on the roster means that Marte will essentially be given time at 1B to re-assert himself in MLB, as he has done at AAA, and likely moves LaPorta into some sort of LF/1B amalgamation when (or is it now officially “if”) he finally gets the call topside. Until that happens, Show Pack may find himself in the lineup more frequently as the Indians need to find out how much of a role the regular playing time that he was given last year contributed to his second-half success last year.

The moves toward 2010 are on in full force with the Indians having netted two MLB-ready bullpen arms in Perez and Todd (with the idea that each can be in the Tribe bullpen this year) for DeRosa, and two high-A power arms in Connor Graham and Scott Barnes for Rafael Betancourt and Ryan Garko.

And it’s only Monday…

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lazy Sunday with the Rumor Mill Spinning

With the Indians finally stringing together some wins in a lost season (what was that “dread” that was felt about a second-half surge justifying The Atomic Wedgie’s return in 2010), the most compelling story (or non-story) comes not from the field but from the world of rumor and innuendo because…the Trading Deadline is fast approaching.

As the rumor mill spins as fast as it always does this time of year (with Clifton Phifer Lee and El Capitan the subject of seemingly every other piece that hits these interwebs), let’s take a quick moment before we get into the teeth of it all to look at what Castrovince has to say on the topic, beginning with this beautiful intro to the week that we’re in store for:
Depending on what you read or believe, the Indians are either telling teams they are unlikely to move Cliff Lee before next week's Trade Deadline or are engaged in increasingly serious discussions with the likes of the Phillies, Rays, Dodgers and Brewers about the reigning Cy Young winner.

When it comes to the latter reports, those are, by and large, generated from outside the organization, as the Indians are notoriously tight-lipped on such matters. It can certainly be frustrating for those of us on the beat when national reports surface quoting a "source" or a person "familiar with the Indians' thinking" (which could be the guy cleaning the bathroom stalls at Progressive Field), but that's just part of the job in this 24/7 news environment.

If you’ve not been following every inch of this, consider yourself lucky as you take a look at the stories filed by what seem to be dueling MLB “insiders” on consecutive days as everyone seems to have a new rumor every time you turn around regarding either CP Lee or Vic.

After a bit of a lull (like a few hours) early in the week, the whole thing was re-energized with this nugget from’s Jon Heymann on Tuesday morning regarding the “availability” of one Clifton Phifer:
The Indians appear to be more seriously considering the possibility of trading star pitcher Cliff Lee in recent days, according to an Indians-connected person. Indians people have been very reluctant to deal Lee all along since they have a reasonable $9 million option on him for next year and no obvious, certain top-of-the-rotation replacement.

Something apparently happened in recent days to change their thinking and make them slightly more receptive to a trade, though it's unclear exactly what.

Suddenly, everything is atwitter (pun intended) as we began asking, “what changed…is this really happening?”

Then, the report on Wednesday from’s Jon Paul Morosi that the Rays are a new team in the mix:
The Rays and Indians have discussed a trade that would send Cleveland ace Cliff Lee to Tampa Bay, major league sources said, but the sides didn't appear close to a deal as of late Wednesday evening.
Indians general manager Mark Shapiro is asking for multiple high-end prospects in return for the left-hander. He is believed to prefer right-hander Wade Davis as the primary chip in the deal. So far, the Rays have balked at including him.

But there might be another way to get this deal done.

The Rays are trying to involve a third team in an attempt to satisfy Cleveland's prospect demands, major league sources told senior baseball writer Ken Rosenthal. The third club would provide a second pitcher of the Indians' liking.

And the question of the day became - Wade Davis…who’s Wade Davis?
He’s not enough. Oh, good a third team…but what third team?

Next, we have Ken Rosenthal throwing water on that fire with this from Thursday afternoon:
The Indians continue to gauge the trade markets for both left-hander Cliff Lee and catcher Victor Martinez, but doubt they will receive the value they desire for either player, major-league sources say.

Lee is a "longshot" to be traded and Martinez "more of a longshot," one source says.

Not wanting to miss out on the whole party, ESPN’s Jayson Stark summarized what HE’S been hearing on CP in Thursday in his Rumblings and Grumblings piece:
• Cliff dwellers: Is Cliff Lee available or not? Well, you wouldn't find teams like the Dodgers, Angels, Rangers, Phillies, Rays and Brewers still scouting him if he were untouchable. But it would take a four-for-one, Halladay-esque package. And we're hearing there are two major differences between the Indians' approach on Lee and Toronto's stance on Halladay:
1. The Indians aren't anywhere near as motivated to trade their ace, but they'll do it if they're blown away. The Blue Jays, on the other hand, appear to be looking for ways to make the Halladay trade happen, because they know they can't re-sign him and this is as marketable as he'll ever be.
2. The Indians are looking for a slightly different type of package. Both teams are asking for future-ace-type young arms, but Cleveland isn't as dug in on the idea of getting big league-ready players back. The Indians are willing to do an all-prospect-based trade if the prospects have enough upside. Toronto appears to be looking mostly for players who can be in the big leagues within the next year.
If Lee does get traded, it doesn't figure to happen until just before the deadline, after the Halladay free-for-all has sorted itself out.

Now, back to Heymann on Friday morning in a piece hitting on all of the possible big names that could be moved with an all-encompassing quote from Shapiro on the market:
Shapiro, speaking generally about all teams' recent valuations of prospects, said, “There is an understanding of the value of young prospects in roster construction. But it's almost to the point where there's an over-evaluation of these guys. There's almost an over-correction.”

Not to simply rest or let sleeping dogs lie where they may, Heymann was back for more on Friday morning with some news from that team in the Bronx:
The Yankees called the Indians about pitching star Cliff Lee, but the chances for a deal turned south when the Indians told them one of two fine young Yankees starters -- Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes -- would have to start the package. The Yankees are not inclined to do that for Lee.

Feeling caught up?
If you’re like me, your head is spinning and you’re not quite sure how to separate reality from fantasy or at least trying to wade through what Craig Calcaterra calls “guys like Heyman Tweeting whatever they overhear in the men's room just add to the glory of it all”.

Throw the whole Halladay factor in (with the latest nugget from Saturday being that the Angels could include Jered Weaver or Ervin Santana in on a deal) that teams that miss out on Halladay may up their ante for CP Lee meaning that this thing is going to roll on into Friday and, if you’re head wasn’t already spinning…just wait.

Regardless of the teams (which looks universally to be the Dodgers, Phillies, Angels, Rays, Brewers, and Rangers on Lee and the Red Sox and the Rays, at least, on Victor) or the players that are getting linked here, isn’t the overwhelming sense of this is that it sounds about right in terms of asking these teams for their young, already-pitching-in-MLB talent as a “start” to the discussion (although the Stark piece that they’re willing to receive “prospects with upside” is a new jarring wrinkle), demanding more than just one high-end arm for Lee or Victor?

Aren’t they just gauging interest to see what’s out there to see if there’s a fit out there and if a team is willing to pony up the right mix of MLB-ready arms?

As Paul Hoynes puts forth on the whole process:
If another general manager calls and says he's interested in Lee, Shapiro listens. When he gets an idea of how that team values Lee, he and his assistants call other teams to find how they value Lee.

In Shapiro's mind, he's not shopping Lee, he's trying to find the best fit for the Indians. The information is then put in front of ownership with Shapiro giving his opinion on each option.

At this point, it feels like speculation of he-said-he-said of a game of telephone where it really looks like anyone’s guess. Did anybody hear that the Rockies were in on Rocky Betancourt before that deal was consummated?

Really, the only concrete report that a deal was on the table that the Indians were rebuffed in their request is the Pete Gammons piece from earlier in the week on Vic-for-Buchholz after the Red Sox netted Adam LaRoche:
On the Adam LaRoche deal: The Red Sox have been searching for ways to upgrade their sliding offense for weeks. This deal has been on the table for three weeks, and after losing their fourth straight game on Tuesday and declining to trade Clay Buchholz for Victor Martinez, Theo Epstein took LaRoche.

That’s the only rumor that’s been out there that didn’t involve the Indians turning down a deal and Gammons certainly intimates that the Tribe wanted Buchholz in a deal for Victor. Now, since the nugget is dropped so casually by Sweet Pete, it’s certainly possible that the Indians said, “the price STARTS with Buchholz…and includes more”, with the Red Sox declining, which makes Gammons’ report technically true.

Again, we’ll never know if this spinning world of rumor and innuendo.
But it gets back to something that’s been bothering me in terms of Clay Buchholz being the name that keeps getting thrown out there as the “ideal” and the “type of pitcher the Indians are looking for”, according to most reports.

Maybe I’ve been colored by the whole Jeremy Sowers 2006 to where we stand today fiasco, but is anyone really that excited about a pitcher that’s turning 25 in less than a month 20 starts in MLB, compiling an ERA of 5.40 and a WHIP of 1.59 in 108 1/3 MLB IP?

Does Buccholz have promise?
No question as his 2.42 MiLB ERA and 1.00 WHIP attest, but are we really looking at a top-of-the-rotation guy ready to step into the “ace” role immediately, or are we looking at a talented starter who may make that jump but is just as likely to remain middle-to-back-end-of-the-rotation fodder?

Buchholz has put up his gaudy numbers in the minors for 5 years now and if he really was ready to ascend to the starting rotation, why are the Red Sox signing the likes of Brad Penny and John Smoltz?
They didn’t put the brakes on Jon Lester, why are they doing it with Buchholz?

I understand the MiLB track record, but Jeremy Sowers has a 2.53 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP over 5 MiLB seasons to showcase too…and we’ve all seen how that has ended up. I’m not saying that Buchholz=Sowers, but here’s an eye-opening comparison:
Dave Huff MiLB career prior to his first start in 2009 (253 IP)
2.95 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 7.6 H/9, 2.4 BB/9, 8.1 K/9, 3.4 K/BB

Clay Buchholz MiLB career prior to his first start in 2008 (285 2/3 IP)
2.45 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 6.6 H/9, 2.4 BB/9, 11.21 K/9, 4.6 K/BB

Now about those starts in their first extended look at MLB:
Huff’s first 13 MLB starts - 2009
6.39 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 11.6 H/9, 2.6 BB/9, 5.1 K/9, 1.95 K/BB

Buchholz’s first 15 MLB starts – 2008
6.75 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 11.0 H/9, 4.9 BB/9, 8.5 K/9, 1.76 K/BB

Yes, there was an age difference there (Buchholz was 23 in 2008 and Huff is 24 now) and Buchholz’s K rates are consistently better on the farm; but even factoring in the 4-game stretch that Buchholz put forth in 2007 (which included the no-hitter), his first 20 games in MLB put up this line:
5.56 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 9.8 H/9, 4.7 BB/9, 8.6 K/9, 1.86 K/BB
Other than that earned line, he’s pitched all of 9 2/3 innings in MLB since the end of 2008.

Now factor in that Dave Huff is actually younger than Buchholz…yes, by 8 days…and the luster either starts to come off of Buchholz or starts to shine on Huff. Maybe Huff doesn’t have the publicity of a Buchholz, but both have proven themselves to be bona fide prospects with their MiLB track record and, now at the same age, will have a chance to show if they’re MLB-ready.

Are either top-of-the-rotation options or are both middle-of-the-rotation innings eaters?
Do you want to move Victor for the answer with both players wearing Tribe uniforms?

To that end, speaking of the maturation of young arms, here’s a little perspective on the Indians’ young starter assumed to be a part of 2010 and beyond - there are 30 pitchers in MLB that are 24 or younger that have logged 45 or more innings to date this year with 50% of the games they’ve appeared in coming as a starter, two of them are Dave Huff and Aaron Laffey.

17 of those 30 have performed at a level of league average (as determined by ERA+) or better. Aaron Laffey has…Dave Huff has not.

Unquestionably, more ballyhooed arms that are younger than both Huff and Laffey are out there and may project as top-of-the-rotation starters, which Huff and Laffey never may. But, going off an idea initiated in Steve Buffum’s latest B-List, if Huff and Laffey are #4 and #5 starters right now at the age of 24, doesn’t that give them some room to mature as pitchers maybe into the middle of a good rotation?

Many people want Dave Huff to enter MLB as a #3 starter today, not to simply mature to that point against MLB hitters over the course of the next year or two. Same with Laffey, whose MiLB track record and groundball tendencies bear a close resemblance to Westbrook eating innings in the middle of the rotation, a key to the Indians’ 2nd half and playoff run in 2007, inducing groundballs and performing at or around league average.

The maturation of these young arms is something that people rarely have patience for, forgetting that Cliff Lee’s first full season in MLB at the age of 25 resulted in a 5.43 ERA, a 1.50 WHIP, and a 80 ERA+ or that Jake Westbrook wasn’t a full-time starter until he was 26 after bouncing up and down in the organization and back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation.

Rarest is the player that steps into an MLB rotation and immediately finds preternatural success, like CC famously did in the early 2000’s and that, to me, is the yin to the yang of this idea of stocking up young arms for Lee or Martinez that are a step or two away from MLB.

Yes, the arms are certainly needed in the organization as the only prospect who could be MLB ready for next year is 21-year-old Hector Rondon who may eventually have top-of-the-rotation stuff, but who realistically slots him into the top of the rotation from Day 1?

If these arms do, in fact, come into the fray for either Lee or Vic, how confident is anyone that they’ll be ready to contribute (and not experience the growing pains that most pitchers do transitioning to MLB, if they’re making that transition) significantly for 2010 or even 2011?

There are lots of questions, lots of rumors to muddle through, and unfortunately still lots of time to hear about them and talk about them as it’s only Sunday and the Trading Deadline is still a long work week away.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bait Shop – Part II…with an Emptier Hook

With the next shot fired in the Indians’ move beyond 2009, Rafael Betancourt finds himself a mile above sea level as a member of the Colorado Rockies, dealt for a high-A pitcher in Connor Graham. While the move certainly wasn’t unexpected given the $5.4M club option held on Betancourt for 2010, it certainly shows that the Indians are ready to make some moves with an eye past 2009 (thank goodness) and the idea of moving arms to get arms is one that they’re not going to shy away from.

Betancourt offered up an interesting dilemma for the Tribe as he stood out as the most consistently effective reliever in the marshland of ineffectiveness that is the Indians’ 2009 bullpen; but the $5.4M club option (and remember this is a club option as the Indians had NO financial responsibility for Betancourt past this year and characterizing this move as related to anything related to the 2010 payroll is to be misinformed) that the team held on him for 2010 was one that would have made him the 7th highest paid Indian at the age of 35. Certainly, Betancourt’s track record spoke for itself as he posted an ERA+ of 111 or higher in 6 of his 7 years as an Indian, with the lone downtick coming in 2008, a year after he posted a career high number in innings in his phenomenal 2007 season.

However, as is true with all positions (but even more so with relievers), the idea of paying for future performance versus rewarding past achievements is where the Indians ultimately made their decision on Senor Slo-Mo. The issue at hand really was whether the Indians wanted to pick up that option on Betancourt with the idea that he could avoid the DL (which he hasn’t done in the last 2 years) and still continue to provide some consistency in a bullpen badly in need of it at the age of 35 in 2010.

At the end of the day, the Indians decided that $5.4M is too large of a dollar amount to commit to a 35-year-old reliever who has spent time on the DL in 2008 and 2009 with no guarantee that he won’t fall off a cliff as a reliever in 2010. With the Indians likely having no intention of picking up his option, Betancourt was moved for…wait for it…a young, hard-throwing arm that likely will be transitioned to the bullpen.

That young, hard-throwing arm, Connor Graham, is a big (6-6, 235 lbs.) RHP who was the Rockies’ 5th round pick in 2007 was ranked the #8 prospect in the Colorado system prior to the season with Kevin Goldstein putting forth the following prior to the season:
The Good: Graham is a massive and intimidating presence on the mound, with a pure power arsenal that begins with a fastball that sits at 92-95 mph and touches 97. He supplements that with a plus slider and a modified changeup which he also throws hard, one that has more of a splitter-type action.
The Bad: Graham is a big guy with long levers, and he has problems staying within his delivery, leading to highly inconsistent release points and considerable command and control problems. He has a tendency to overthrow any and all of his offerings leading to less movement.

With that “power arsenal” and “considerable command and control problems”, Graham has suffered some (here it comes) issues with BB to the point that his career BB/9 is a whopping 4.7. Countering that however, is the fact that Graham does miss bats as his 8.9 K/9 total in MiLB shows. Certainly that two-pitch mix of a mid-to-upper-90’s fastball and slider seem to point that Graham’s future would be in the bullpen, particularly as his control as a starter has continued into this season.

Graham is an intriguing arm as he’s started all but 2 of the 48 games he’s pitched in as a Rockie farmhand and the Indians could either continue to pitch him as a starter (likely in Akron as he’s earned a promotion to AA from his performance in high-A this year) and make the transition for him next year into the bullpen or move him immediately into the bullpen, not delaying the inevitable. He provides yet another option in terms of adding potential power arms in the bullpen arms at the MLB level and just below via trade for an organization that was sorely lacking them, particularly at the upper levels of the minors when the season began.

With sell-off season officially now under way (yes, I know about DeRosa…but this is Trading Dedline stuff), beyond Betancourt the pickings in terms of arms that can be moved for other arms get pretty slim and realistically consist of one player:
Carl Pavano
Starting with the starter that quite obviously does not have a future with the Indians past 2009 (unless you want to tempt fate for one more year), the most desirable chip the Indians may have among pitchers is Hot Carl Pavano. Despite what Yankees’ lackeys say regarding acquiring Pavano - “we’ve already seen that movie…” - the idea that Pavano would represent a rotational upgrade for any number of contenders (without costing as much as a front-line starter) is apparent when you simply look at what Pavano has accomplished this season and how it compares to AL Starters.

Looking past ERA and WHIP (which no doubt have their uses) and instead using the criteria of FIP (a calculation of ERA that attempts to remove defense from the equation and concentrates only on what a pitcher can control), K/9, BB/9, and K/BB ratio to rank Carl in the categories that he personally controls from the mound, here’s how Pavano stacks up in the AL…even after Wednesday’s clunker:
4.01 FIP – 15th among AL Starters
6.53 K/9 – 21st among AL Starters
1.77 BB/9 – 3rd among AL Starters
3.68 K/BB – 5th among AL Starters

But…wait, you say, he’s wildly inconsistent in terms of either having great starts or having downright awful starts, anybody can see that, right?

Maybe, but if we’re looking at the whole body of work in the season, look to see how another arm pitching in new laundry this year compares in the same categories:
CC Sabathia – 2009
3.70 FIP – 10th among AL Starters
6.58 K/9 – 20th among AL Starters
2.73 BB/9 – 17th among AL Starters
2.41 K/BB – 16th among AL Starters

This is not to suggest that Pavano is a better pitcher than Sabathia, only to point out that Pavano’s season, viewed in a vacuum of just this season, has been one of the revelations throughout MLB in 2009 to the point that it could be argued that he’s capable of being a #3 starter on a playoff contender if you’re looking at what he’s done in an Indians’ uniform this season.

For teams (not in the Bronx or managed by Joe Torre) looking for pitching down the stretch, Pavano’s performance this year could entice them to bite, particularly when you look at the construction of what remains on Pavano’s contract for the rest of the year, outlined by Fangraph’s R.J. Anderson:
A base salary of 1.5 million can see 5.3 million tacked onto it based on starts and innings pitched. To date he’s made 18 starts and pitched 107 innings. Cots outlines his performance bonuses as:

• starts: $0.1M each for 18, 20, 22; $0.2M each for 24, 26, 28; $0.25M for 30; $0.3M for 32; $0.35M each for 33, 34; $0.4M for 35
• innings: $0.1M each for 130, 140, 150; $0.15M each for 160, 170; $0.2M for 180; $0.25M each for 190, 200, 210; $0.3M for 215; $0.4M for 225; $0.5M for 235

Let’s call the 210+ innings clauses unlikely. That takes 1.2 million off the potential books. 35 starts won’t occur, so there’s another 0.4 million. 33-34? Probably not, so goes another 0.8 million. Just like that, 2.4 million rolls off, leaving his new team with – at most – 2.9 million in performance bonuses and whatever is left from his base salary.

Using Anderson’s math of 32 starts and 200 innings is attainable for Pavano, a team would be paying less than $4M (let’s say there’s $750K remaining on his salary and he hits those performance bonuses that trigger the $2.9M that Anderson mentions), but that would be for 13 starts and about 90 innings with the built-in insurance that if Pavano gets injured or becomes ineffective, the bonuses simply aren’t met or owed.

That then is the beauty of Pavano to a team, in that at this point they’re really only going to have to pay him if he’s healthy enough to consistently start and contribute a good amount of innings in those starts. If he gets hurt or he pitches his way out of the rotation, the financial commitments end and the team is only on the hook for what remains on his salary and whatever performance bonuses he hits.

If, however, he does go for 13 more starts and averages the nearly 7 innings he would have to in those 13 starts to reach 200 IP, the team will pay him those bonuses which would surely be worth it considering the performance assumed to be associated with it.

Granted, the acquisition of a Carl Pavano is not on par with netting one of the higher-profile arms this trading season, but if the price is deemed to be too high to pry away an “ace” for a playoff push, an augmentation of a contender’s rotation of Carl Pavano (with the built-in financial insurances against him falling flat on his face) certainly will appeal to a team looking for a middle-of-the-rotation arm, which Pavano has proven to be in his brief time with the Indians.

How long will he remain that middle-of-the-rotation arm remains to be seen, but let’s hope that question gets answered while he’s wearing another uniform with the idea that netting some arms for the organization (at any level) and clearing Pavano’s spot in the rotation for Westbrook and Carmona (two guys who, fingers crossed, figure into the 2010 plans) happens sometime in the next 8 days.

With Betancourt taking the plane to join the Rockies in Denver instead of accompanying the rest of the Indians to Seattle and with Pavano hopefully not too far behind in terms of pitchers who can be moved for…well, pitchers, it would seem that the Indians are halfway through their viable trade candidates among pitchers. I suppose a case could be made that the Indians could attempt to move Kerry Wood, but remember that Wood is guaranteed about $5M for the rest of this season and $10.5M for 2010. Given that his numbers thus far aren’t that different than what “earned” Jensen Lewis a trip to Columbus, I can’t see a team looking to foot that bill given his performance this year, regardless of the talent he may possess.

At this point with Wood, let’s make sure that 2009 is not the year that triggers that option in 2011 (worth $11M) to be guaranteed, which takes place if he finishes 55 games for the Indians in either 2009 or 2010. Right now, he’s on pace to finish 53 games and for the Indians to allow that option to be guaranteed in a lost year is nothing short of irresponsibility.

In the end, one of the worms has been taken off the hook in terms of pitchers that were assumed to be bait with more (whether it be Pavano or a few of the position players) almost certain to find their way off the hook at some point in the next week or so.

As for those two big worms still sitting there…well, that’s a whole other fish tale.
It all depends who you believe.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bait Shop – Part I

With the Trading Deadline a mere 10 days away and the status quo remaining inexplicably in vogue at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario despite a season that cannot find a bottom, I thought it would be a good time to break out a little series on players that could be moved prior to July 31st, in terms of position players, pitchers, and…oh, those two guys…what are their names again?

Obviously, roster moves are overdue for the Indians as an organization as the current incarnation continues to mire away below the Royals (in the midst of an improbably bad 19-43 stretch) in the standings, but what fungible pieces on the parent club could be moved to deal from areas of strength (or at least “relative strength”) to shore up weaknesses in the organization?

Some of this is rehashing old news (or just blatantly re-posting previous thoughts with some addendums), but in terms of position players that have an undefined role for the team past 2009, here are some names that could be embroidered on the back of some new laundry at the end of the next 10 days:
Jhonny Peralta
From the land of “What Have You Done for Me Lately”, we find Jhonny Peralta in the crosshairs of those looking for a target as to what’s gone wrong in the 2009 season. While bemoaning his struggles this year is certainly valid and beyond frustrating to see for a now-27-year-old player in his 5th MLB season, let’s all take a moment to remember what Peralta did in the 2nd half of 2008 after he was moved to the clean-up spot in mid-June:
.306 BA / .356 OBP / .512 SLG / .877 OPS with 28 2B, 12 HR, and 59 RBI in 86 games

After that display to close out 2008, the thought was that Peralta was ready to take the next step as a player, to provide the consistency that had eluded him in his MLB career. This “consistency” obviously has not occurred, but let’s take a look what has happened with the handling of Peralta since the close of the 2008 season:
The Indians plant the seeds for the idea that Peralta may play 3B in 2009 by targeting both 2B and 3B in the off-season…

Peralta goes to Winter Ball to play 3B…

The Indians trade for Mark DeRosa and immediately declare him as their 3B in 2009, removing much thought that Peralta would play 3B on any more than an occasional basis as the plan going into Spring Training has an IF alignment of DeRosa at 3B, Peralta at SS, and Cabrera at 2B…

Proving that Spring Training stats do not serve as a harbinger for regular season stats, Peralta thrives under the desert sun, posting a .391 BA with 8 extra-base hits in 64 AB in 20 games, leading the club in total bases in Spring Training…

Peralta struggles out of the gate, posting a 30-game line of .246 BA / .303 OBP / .320 SLG / .623 OPS with only 6 extra base hits in 132 plate appearances. While his dreadful first six weeks do not represent a sharp departure for the notoriously slow starting Peralta (career April OPS - .678), when combined with other developments on the team, a change is in the offing…

On May 14th, in the 31st game of the season, Peralta is moved to 3B and will start only 9 more games at SS over the next 54 games despite now-de-facto-SS Asdrubal Cabrera missing 23 games in the month of June…

Now, I’m not ready to simply chalk up Peralta’s struggles at the plate this year to his position change, but let’s look back on the comments of another player who made the transition from SS to 3B at the big-league level, one Travis Fryman in an interview with Baseball Prospectus’ David Laurila last August:
David Laurila: What was your transition like for you going from shortstop to third base?

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

Let’s forget for a moment what a great idea it would have been for the Indians to make this decision of “Peralta-to-3B” this winter and put Fryman in Jhonny’s back pocket in Goodyear and see that Fryman is actually an interesting comparison here as most Indians’ fans remember him for his phenomenal 2000 season in Cleveland, but don’t remember that Fryman was a SS who made the full-time transition to a 3B as a 25-year-old in 1994.
What was Fryman’s OPS his first 4 years as a full-time 3B?
1994 – Age 25 - .801 OPS
1995 – Age 26 - .756 OPS
1996 – Age 27 - .766 OPS
1997 – Age 28 - .766 OPS

Peralta’s OPS at the same ages?
2007 – Age 25 - .771 OPS
2008 – Age 26 - .804 OPS
2009 – Age 27 - .700 OPS to date

This is not meant to suggest that Peralta is Travis Fryman as his glove will likely never approach Fryman’s; rather, it’s meant to point out that a player like Peralta is not without worth to the Indians, current season considered.

Is he still considered one of the core players that he was after his break-out 2005 season as a 23-year-old?
No chance…and watching his demeanor on the field is certainly frustrating. But playing a new position by mid-May after being told throughout Spring Training that SS would remain his position has to play some sort of role in his season at the plate, does it not?

While some may be more than willing to cut bait on Peralta, consider that he’s still 27 years old (17 months older than Marte and 28 months older than Wes Hodges) with a track record of performing at or above the league average for 3 out of his 4 completed big-league seasons. In those 4 completed big-league seasons, he has averaged a .273 BA / .339 OBP / .450 SLG / .789 OPS line (106 OPS+) with an average of 20 HR and 33 2B as a SS. He’s also scheduled to make $3.4M next year and $4.6M in 2010, all while likely still transitioning into the position of 3B. To put that number in perspective, Jamey Carroll (career 82 OPS+) made $2.15M this year, so it’s not as if Peralta’s salary is breaking the bank while providing a track record of moderate success.

But back to the idea that he could be moved, the question really becomes whether the Indians feel confident enough about Andy Marte to assume 3B in Jhonny’s place than anything else as the idea that Wes Hodges and his career MiLB OPS of .816 now at the age of 24 in AAA is much of a viable option is quickly losing steam.

Is Marte ready for another shot at MLB?
Given his performance in AAA this year, it would certainly seem to be the case. But the issue with moving Peralta to “make room” for Marte is that below Marte, the Indians realistically have Lonnie Chisenhall in the pipeline at 3B…and he’s in Kinston. Thus, if Peralta (who is a “known” quantity in some respects at the MLB level) is moved and Marte flames out in Cleveland, where does that leave this team for 2010 at 3B?

Maybe some think the answer is to apply a convoluted “platoon” at 3B with Marte and Peralta, but given how there’s only about 275 plate appearances remaining at the 3B position for the rest of the year, what will 140 plate appearances tell us about either going forward, particularly because it would mean that neither would be playing on a consistent basis?
Don’t those small sample sizes already exist for Marte with inconsistent playing time?

If the Indians are ready to cast their lot with Marte and truly commit to seeing what they have in him for the remainder of the 2009 season (at the very least), moving Peralta is certainly an option as (even despite his sub-par 2009 season) the trade market would have some demand for a 27-year-old with an extended MLB track record playing under a relatively club-friendly deal.

Ultimately, there’s little question that Peralta hasn’t developed the way the Indians thought he would, but what role has his position change or perceived disagreements with his lame-duck manager played in his struggles? We’ll never know and, if he is moved, we’ll never know what Peralta would put forth at the plate playing 3B full-time with the knowledge that he’s playing 3B every day sometime before mid-May.

Perhaps the Indians feel that Peralta has regressed (and there is certainly evidence to back that up) or reached his plateau as a player, but to move a player to a new position mid-season after a season in which he anchored the middle of the lineup seems to be a rush to judgment and a condemnation of Peralta’s inability to make his immediate move to 3B a seamless one in that it would have no effect on the rest of his game.

Ryan Garko
Forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating as the likelihood of a deal involving Ryan Garko looks more and more possible with each passing day. At this point in Garko’s career, we know Garko is what he is (a high-OBP, medium-SLG, mediocre place-holding 1B) and with that combination of “skills”, it's possible that Garko could be seen as an offensive upgrade for a playoff contender whose price (in terms of what the playoff contender would have to give up) may not be as high as other offensive players purported to be on the market.

At the very least, Garko would have some value as a RH bat who has hit LHP well this year, with his numbers against RHP looking about average for a ML player:

Garko vs. LHP - 2009
.291 BA / .361 OBP / .491 SLG / .852 OPS

Garko vs. RHP - 2009
.264 BA / .344 OBP / .411 SLG / .755 OPS

That being said (and acknowledging that his numbers against LHP have been dropping in the past few weeks), Garko would have some value on the trade market given his ability to hit LHP and to provide some increased production for contenders without costing too much in terms of what the Indians would be looking for in return (that would be an arm...any arm) and in terms of salary. Also working in the Indians favor would be the fact that a number of contending teams find themselves in need of an offensive upgrade at 1B or thereabouts.

Contenders like San Francisco, Texas, Atlanta, Boston, Florida, and the Mets could have an interest in Garko, whose usefulness to the Indians may be coming to an end with LaPorta likely coming up in the very near future (wish I had a nickel for how often I've written that) to presumably play LF and 1B when Victor is not so...the odd man out there would be Garko, right?

Factor in that Garko is arbitration-eligible after this season (meaning his production vs. affordability relation is about to go out of the Indians’ favor) and the writing appears to be on the wall.
Take a quick look at what comparable players to Garko at arbitration received this past off-season:
Jason Kubel – MIN - 2-year deal for $7.2M in January of 2009
($2.75M for 2009, $4.1M for 2010, with a $5.25M club option for 2011)

Mike Jacobs – KC – 1-year deal for $3.25M in February of 2009

Anyone interested in committing those kind of numbers (or even thereabouts) to Garko past this year?
Not me, and if Garko has some trade value and can be packaged as part of a deal, now would be the time to do it instead of giving him AB for the remainder of the season over a player like LaPorta who significantly figures into the future of this organization...or at least he should.

Kelly Shoppach
I always try to “sell high” on a guy and moving Kelly now would be the antithesis of that strategy. But I fear that the “sell high” period has passed for Show Pack and there are contenders in the NL that could use an upgrade at C – (MIL, NYM, CIN) – meaning that including Shoppach in a deal could net more arms when more arms are so obviously needed.

If I may put on my salesman hat here, how about telling an NL team that Shoppach could sit an the #8 hole ahead of a pitcher in the NL and just feast on fastballs to provide some power from behind the dish?

But, he's a windmill, right?
No question, but I go back to a comment that Terry Pluto made some time back before the season when he joined Tony Lastoria and I on "Smoke Signals" when he was asked if the Indians had missed their chance to get maximum value for ShopVac. Pluto responded that in MLB, if a player had ever experienced prolonged success (and Shoppach certainly did in the 2nd half of last year), another team would point to that success and say that "they could fix him" to get the player back to that success. I'm not sure if that would hold in terms of a team seeing Shoppach as a reclamation project, but as a catcher with power in a league full of catchers providing little or no offense, he would have to retain some value despite his prodigious K totals.

As an interesting aside here, as Shoppach’s 2009 certainly has been a disappointment, particularly after the promise of his 2008 season when he assumed the reins of being the starting catcher to close out 2008, how many times do you think that Shoppach has started more than 3 games in a row this season?

Once…only one time this season has Shoppach started for a stretch of games longer than 3 in a row, and it was a 4-game starting stretch in late-May and early-June.

This after the 82 game stretch to end 2008, in which Shoppach started 74 times and posted a .273 BA / .366 OBP / .564 SLG / .930 OPS with 19 HR and 23 2B. After that, he’s started a little over ½ the games at C (47 of 93) and has yet to start 5 consecutive games with 93 games now played.

If Shoppach thrived in full-time duty last year, the Indians certainly have not extended that full-time duty into 2009 with the disappointing results either coming as a product of that sporadic use or as the cause of the sporadic use.
Chicken, egg, whatever…

Nevertheless, it does seem that Shoppach’s time on the roster is running out as another factor in the decision of whether to move Shoppach would be (not unlike Garko) that Shoppach will find himself affected by his salary number, now that he’ll be entering in his second year of arbitration after this year and figures to make more than the $1.95M he signed for after last year, if only by the designs of the arbitration process. Depending upon where the Indians see Victor ultimately playing will play a role in Shoppach’s future, but as that salary number increases, so does the likelihood that Shoppach will not be drawing that paycheck from the Indians

Could the Indians wait on this until the off-season?
Sure, but at this point, the catchers are backing up behind Shoppach and, depending upon Victor’s ultimate position, moving Shoppach now for a young arm may serve everyone involved the best in the long run.

Jamey Carroll
If the players above have cloudy futures past 2009, there’s no question that Carroll does not figure into plans for the team into 2010 as a Futility IF making over $2M a year simply does not enter any conversation past this year in terms of roster options. Carroll has been what he was supposed to be when he was acquired from the Rockies, a versatile player who could contribute at multiple positions without invoking the memory of Mike Rouse. After the line of Utility IF the Indians have paraded through the field in the past few years, that’s enough of a respite to actually value a player like Carroll.

How much other teams would value Carroll remains to be seen as it would seem that there are a number of similar players who can be had for nothing or very little, which is basically the probable return for a player like Carroll. It’s feasible that the Indians can move him for “cash” as they did with Paul Byrd last year or it’s possible that the Jack Hannahan trade from Oakland to Seattle serves notice that an arm can be had for a Futility IF…even if it’s not a very exciting one that doesn’t figure to be much more than organizational filler.

Whether Carroll gets moved or not is ultimately of little consequence as his playing time is minimal and the fact that he won’t be an Indian next year means that if the Indians can get something for him – great…if not, maybe they can get some salary relief in the equation. A trade involving Jamey Carroll won’t make or break this year or next and it shouldn’t be seen as anything more than that, if it comes to pass.

Beyond those four position players, a guy like a Ben Francisco could be moved but the appeal of the players above (that is, an extended period of MLB success) does not necessarily apply to Frisco, nor does the arbitration/salary issues that apply to Garko and Shoppach. Francisco could probably be moved to be a 4th OF for some other team who would part with a low-A arm, but at this point in his career, filling the role of 4th OF is exactly what he should be doing in Cleveland.

With The Ben Francisco Treat, his inclusion on the roster is not what frustrates as he can play all 3 OF positions and provide a PH option off the bench with some speed; rather his everyday usage is what frustrates and the frustration of his usage shouldn’t diminish Frisco’s value to the team (an affordable 4th OF) or force the team to simply move him because he’s not an everyday OF.

When it’s all said and done, without devolving into the George Costanza philosophy that “I figured out a way to get Bonds and Griffey…and we wouldn’t have to give up that much” or that a bunch of mediocre players equals one impact player, the Indians do have some pieces and parts among position players that could be moved to infuse the organization with much-needed arms. While they probably won’t net an impact arm on their own, the time is now for the Indians to recognize which players are a part of their future and which are not and deal accordingly.

The time for the status quo has come and gone and come and gone again, at this point it’s time to start turning the page on some of these players with the idea of building a stronger organization for 2010 and beyond.