Sunday, December 27, 2009

Looking for Hope on a Lazy Sunday

With my hands cramping from two days of putting together PlayMobil police cars and pirate ships (which apparently requires an advanced degree in engineering) let’s roll right into a Lazy Sunday as Baby Watch 2009 continues and as my pleas to induce before the end of the calendar year (for the tax deduction obviously) continue to fall on deaf ears.
And with that…we’re off:

With so very little happening on the North Coast recently (well, actually all off-season…but you feel me), I thought I would pass along an interesting piece that never mentions the Indians but is relevant in terms of evaluating the off-season moves (or really the lack of an off-season moves) on the North Coast. It comes from Jeff Pearlman of and it focuses on the bad signings that bad franchises make on the FA market, ostensibly to give the impression that the organization is attempting to improve, when the net result of the moves is actually that it sets said organization back by perpetuating mediocrity:

Throughout the majors, lowly franchises everywhere are doing their thing -- which means lavishing funds upon men who should be either playing for the Newark Bears, coaching the Newark Bears or watching the Newark Bears from the stands. Two weeks ago, the Kansas City Royals signed Jason Kendall, a 35-year-old catcher and perhaps the game's worst player, to a two-year, $6 million deal.
This is what bad franchises do when they're officially, unambiguously, unanimously pegged as bad franchises: They act stupidly. Some of it stems from sheer desperation, and some from poor decision-making skills. Mostly, however, it's a flimsy effort to fool the fan base; to hope that the illusion of an effort to compete cons enough bored city residents into coming out to the 'ol park and buying a hot dog and a collectable seat cushion. The Royals, whose Kendall signing is a near-replica of the past acquisitions of Doug Mientkiewicz and Reggie Sanders, excel at the trick.

In comparison to what’s happening elsewhere on the FA market, a relatively quiet off-season (despite the puzzling addition of Mitch-A-Palooza Talbot to the 25-man roster to take innings away from starting pitchers that are much more likely to factor into the teams’ plans past…say, June of 2010), I’ll take the Indians’ roster as it’s currently constructed and use 2010 as the time to answer questions regarding internal options, not the time to see innings or plate appearances taken away from the young players that do figure into the team’s future past this year.

While not trying to simply pile on the Royals’ organization that Pearlman used to prove his point, let’s go off from that thought tangentially to introduce a post put up by Joe Posnanski (who also has his own Cleveland-centric “Christmas Story” that you must read if you haven’t) on the Royals and, in particular, their off-season that continues to puzzle. Posnanski posted a story titled “Depressing Royals Story of the Day” in response to the Royals signing former White Sox CF Brian Anderson to a one-year deal (presumably to be their CF) and examines it in the context of the other moves that the Royals have made in the past six months:

This Brian Anderson can be called Brian N. Anderson — the N is for “Nikola” — and he has a career 69 OPS+ in 883 plate appearances. Much of that 69, to be fair, comes from his dreadful 2004 season when he hit .225/.290/.359. Since then, his OPS+ has been a more robust 75. And while he has no power, and has been caught stealing more times than he has been successful, and has a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 65-208, he does have a reputation as a good outfielder even though those rascally defensive numbers don’t show it.
Here’s the thing: Last year, there were seven players in baseball who qualified for the batting title with OPS+ of 80 or less. You got that number in mind? Seven.
– Two of those players — Yuniesky Betancourt and Jason Kendall — have been locked up by the Royals.
– Jose Guillen had an OPS+ of 80, but did not get enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title — he and his $13 million contract will be in the everyday lineup as either a DH or (gasp) a right fielder.
– Chris Getz, who had an OPS+ of 74 in 415 plate appearances (not enough to qualify) was acquired by the Royals and figures to be in the everyday lineup at second base.
– And now, Brian N. Anderson, with his career 69 OPS+ is the leading candidate to be the Opening Day centerfielder.
So — there were seven every day players in all of baseball last year with OPS+ of 80 or less. The Royals project to have FIVE IN THEIR OPENING DAY LINEUP. And that is assuming that Josh Fields, with his 68 OPS+ in 268 plate appearances last year, does not win a place in the lineup. And he could. The Royals like his bat.

While those 300 words certainly make me feel a little better about the Indians’ off-season, in that they have stood pat instead of foolishly spinning their wheels and prolonging the “rebuild/reload/whatever” from actually producing a contender, it got me to thinking about what the rest of the Central offenses figure to look like as the winter has been relatively quiet in the division.

With that in mind and jumping off from the JoePos piece, what does each AL Central teams’ Opening Day lineup (using’s accumulated “Depth Chart” to project lineups) look like in terms of OPS+ for last year, if the season were to start tomorrow?

Realizing that past performance does not guarantee future results (and please note that the names in bold are those that compiled 350 or more MLB plate appearances last year for any team), it’s a pretty fascinating look…and remember an OPS+ 100 simply means that a player’s performance was exactly league average, meaning that any sub-100 number represents production below the league average.

Billy Butler – 124
David DeJesus - 106

Alex Gordon – 86
Jose Guillen – 80
Chris Getz – 74
Josh Fields – 68
Brian Anderson – 67
Yuniesky Betancourt – 65
Jason Kendall – 66

Joe Mauer – 170
Justin Morneau – 129
Jason Kubel – 136
Michael Cuddyer – 124
Denard Span – 114
Delmon Young – 91
Brendan Harris – 77
JJ Hardy – 76

Alexei Casilla – 44

Miguel Cabrera – 142
Ryan Rayburn – 128
Magglio Ordonez – 109
Carlos Guillen – 96
Brandon Inge – 86
Gerald Laird – 64
Adam Everett – 59

Scott Sizemore – 0 MLB PA in 2009
Austin Jackson – 0 MLB PA in 2009

SS Choo – 137
Travis Hafner – 121
Asdrubal Cabrera – 115
Grady Sizemore – 111

Matt LaPorta – 100
Blue Lou Marson – 98
Mike Brantley – 93
Luis Valbuena – 90
Jhonny Peralta – 86

White Sox
Paul Konerko – 115
Gordon Beckham – 107
Juan Pierre – 105
Carlos Quentin – 99
Mark Teahan – 94
AJ Pierzynski – 94
Alexei Ramirez – 87

Mark Kotsay – 85
Alex Rios – 81

Not exactly a collections of Murderers’ Rows, eh?
How many players who figure into everyday lineups in 2010 for each team had more than 350 plate appearances AND posted and OPS+ above 100 last year?
Twins – 5 (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Cuddyer, Span)
Indians – 4 (Choo, Hafner, Sizemore, Cabrera)
White Sox – 3 (Konerko, Beckham, Pierre)
Tigers – 2 (Cabrera, Ordonez)
Royals – 2 (Butler, DeJesus)

To put that into perspective for someone who follows mainly the Indians, as awful as 2009 was for Jhonny Peralta, there figure to be 17 everyday players between the other 4 teams in the division who had a year that was just as bad or worse than Peralta’s nightmarish 2009…including 7 of the 9 likely Royals’ starters!

To put those numbers into actual run production, the Indians scored the 8th most runs in the AL last year and the 2nd most in the Central as the Twins finished 4th in the AL in runs, the Tigers 10th, the White Sox 12th, and the Royals 13th among the 14 AL teams. Looking at the names for each team then, outside of the Twins who are obviously the cream of the Central offensively (and any team with Joe Mauer better be), doesn’t the Indians’ 2010 lineup look pretty solid, particularly in the context of the teams that they will play 72 times this year? Considering that the players who came in at-or-below league average for the Tribe are either talented youngsters still adjusting to MLB (LaPorta, Brantley, Valbuena, and Marson) who should have a long leash to learn and with more options available to the team in the coming year (Donald and Santana, most notably) or are on the final year of their current deal (Peralta) with a youngster (The Chiz) a step away from waiting in the wings, the Indians offense shouldn’t be an issue in 2010, assuming health.

Further than that, maybe I’m missing something but since the middle of 2009, the Central has seen Victor Martinez, Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Jermaine Dye, and Jim Thome leave, with an “influx” of known quantities like JJ Hardy, Andruw Jones, Alex Rios, Juan Pierre, Jason Kendall, Yuniesky Betancourt, Brian Anderson, Mark Kotsay, and Omar Vizquel (as well as many young players) taking their places in the lineups. Add that all up and the offenses in the Central are going to be downright offensive.

I know…I know, it all comes down to pitching (not to mention defense and “Waves of Arms” has an interesting analysis of the defenses in the AL Central) and Grienke and Verlander and Porcello and Buehrle and Peavy and Danks and Floyd and Baker and Blackburn (not to mention Nathan and Soria) all reside in the Central. Throw in the that “Unleash the Fury Mitch” Talbot could go from a likely turn on the waiver wire next Spring (when he would not have broken camp with the Rays) to the Indians’ starting rotation and the combination of the whole equation doesn’t exactly bode well for the idea that the Indians are going to contend for the AL Central in 2010.

But with the Indians facing the AL Central lineups a WHOPPING 72 amount of times in a 162 game season (that’s 45% of their 2010 games against AL Central opponents), perhaps the Indians can ride a steady offense and an settled bullpen (yes, I just went there but only because I’m such a HUGE Saul Rivera fan…I’m kidding) to win some games and create those building blocks for 2011 with the idea that holes will reveal themselves more fully in 2010 so 2011 can be a legitimate year for contention. That is, of course, assuming that the Indians don’t follow the blueprint currently being employed in KC and Washington and that the Talbot “acquisition” (and I use that term loosely) isn’t an indication that the Indians are going to continue to add MLB fodder at the 25-man roster to the benefit of…well, no one.

Is that logic reaching for a silver lining among the gray clouds on a day when the snow is falling on the North Coast?

No question, but isn’t that what this Holiday Season is all about, when uplifting stories like the news that Luke Holko (the little boy that was hit in the head by a foul ball at a Mahoning Valley Scrappers game this past summer) spoke his first words since the accident warm the heart and have us all looking for the silver linings in life, however inconsequential they may be?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Unleash the Fury Mitch

While attempting to go on hiatus leading up to Christmas, I thought that the announcement of Mitch-A-Palooza Talbot as the PTBNL for the Shoppach deal merited a quick comment. The announcement comes as a disappointment not because Joseph Cruz (the other name on the list) is that fantastic of a prospect or even because the Indians let the Rays pick the PTBNL for Shoppach, showing just how far Shoppach’s value had apparently fallen, particularly in light of the 2-year deals being given out on the FA market to back-up Catchers.

Past those two reasons, the announcement comes as a disappointment because Mitch Talbot is out of options, meaning that he’s likely going to get a long leash to adjust to MLB in the Indians’ rotation. As a 26-year-old with 9 2/3 IP in MLB, my guess is that the “adjustment” may take a while and since they can’t shuffle him back and forth to Columbus, he essentially takes up a spot on the pitching staff in a year where the Indians should be judiciously dividing up innings for their best options PAST 2010. Rather, between Talbot, Sowers, and Ambriz (if he sticks), the Indians have 3 guys who HAVE to break camp with the parent club (plus Wood, Westbrook, and Carmona who aren’t going anywhere) and have to stay on the Indians all season, laying waste to the idea that the Indians could use their roster flexibility to expose as many arms as possible to MLB hitting in 2010 so 2011 isn’t still a year of adjustment.

Alas, it looks like 2011 may still be a time when questions will remain unanswered and I fear that the addition of Talbot and Ambriz (and to a lesser degree, Grilli and Rivera) show that the Indians have not learned the Roberto Hernandez/Danny Graves lesson, in that the Indians seem to have found more arms (just not even as accomplished as the likes of Hernandez and Graves) to see if they can find lightning in a bottle again to start the season while the young arms that seemed to be set up so neatly (and actually bulging in AAA) get pushed back. Thus, it feels like the hope that 2010 will offer a new strategy than the “throw it all up against the wall to see what sticks” philosophy that has proven to be ineffective for too many years may be in vain.

Maybe Mitch Talbot comes out and shows that “the best change-up” in the Rays’ organization a couple of years ago means something, but the rationale that “he’s logged close to 400 Triple-A innings” with the idea of “adding him to our mix to come in and compete for a spot” (which is what Chris Antonetti said) sounds like we’re adding a 4-A journeyman who they’re looking to eat some innings. If they are, and they really intend to give Talbot that long leash to see if he can prove that he can adjust to become a mediocre MLB pitcher (something the out-of-options Jeremy Sowers is still trying to do after 400 MAJOR LEAGUE innings), then perhaps it’s more of an indictment as to how ready they really think their close-to-being-ready-for-MLB starting pitching really is. That is, if they’re willing to give Talbot a shot over younger internal options, most with more upside, with the idea that innings in 2010 should set the team up to know what they have going into 2011 (particularly in the rotation), then they’re not as high on the readiness of Huff, Rondon, Carrasco, and even Laffey and Masterson as we might think.

With Talbot, it’s not even really that he’s that bad of an option…if he were simply challenging to take a couple of starts here and there in the system to see if the Indians could find a use for him. Rather, the idea that he’s out of options (plus the fact that Sowers is as well and Ambriz needs to be carried on the 25-man because of the Rule 5 guidelines) just muddies the 25-man waters and unnecessarily takes up a roster spot at the expense of a pitcher who may figure into plans past 2010 and who retains options. It’s entirely possible that the Indians are content to give Talbot a shot in Spring Training and are more than happy to expose him to waivers if he doesn’t impress in Goodyear (which would further the idea that the team was just going to non-tender Shoppach and are taking a shot in the dark with Talbot), but very little exists on Talbot’s resume that suggests that he’s much more than a 5th starter/long man entering an organization that may already be flush with them.

If Mitch Talbot (he of the nearly 400 AAA innings and 9 2/3 MLB innings who is out of options) is that “innings-eater” that the Indians supposedly wanted (but couldn’t afford) when the off-season started and now represents one of the best five options to start games for the Indians coming out of Spring Training, 2010 may be an even longer season than previously thought. To me, I’d rather see the Indians use the 162 starts in 2010 to answer questions that exist for the likes of Laffey, Masterson, Huff, Rondon, and Carrasco than to see if Talbot’s worth a roster spot (and waiting until ¼ of the season is gone to make that determination) in 2010, much less beyond.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Trading Arms on a Lazy Sunday

With only four shopping days left before the arrival of one Baby and with things that need to be done before the arrival of another baby, let’s roll right into a Lazy Sunday where The Reservation remains quiet, but that certainly doesn’t mean that we’re hurting for topics to dissect.
And…we’re off…

The only notable articles from the week related specifically to the Tribe dealt with the health of Jake Westbrook and Travis Hafner and how Westbrook finished the winter “pain-free” and how Manny Acta describes Hafner’s likely usage pattern as one “that he’s going to get days off here and there, but nothing as he was in the past, where he couldn’t play a certain amount of games in a row.”

I’m not from Missouri (though I have been there and it is lovely…if otherworldly humid in the summer), but you’ll excuse me when I say that I’m going to wait to actually see proof that Westbrook is finally healthy and Hafner is able to play more than three consecutive games before optimism creeps in. Perhaps I’ve been tainted by hearing these “reports” before (“Hafner looks great…he’s REALLY making progress”, “When Jake gets back in June, this team could really make up some ground in the Central”), but “show me” that this isn’t just all hopeful thinking and something to talk about in a quiet off-season before you expect any excitement or optimism concerning those two. Maybe these updates on the health of players who will “earn” a little less than half of the Indians’ 2010 salary are valid (and maybe this news that Matt LaPorta will “be ready for Spring Training” is just as accurate), but after the cloak-and-dagger approach to reporting (or is it misreporting or under-reporting) injuries and rehabilitations to key players, I’ll reserve my excitement for the day when Westbrook has started his 10th straight game for the Tribe sometime in May with Hafner playing every day, taking up a spot in the middle of the lineup. Until then…color me skeptical.

As for the other semi-Tribe-related news, the Cliff Lee-Roy Halladay deal has continued to hash itself out, as most analysis centers either on why the why the Lee trade to Seattle was even necessary when weighed against the idea that Philly could have boasted Halladay AND Lee at the top of their 2010 rotation in an effort to return to the World Series as well as some analysis as to why the Phillies weren’t able to extract more on the trade market for one year of CP Lee at $9M.

The reason being broadcast as to why the Phils couldn’t just have kept Lee is allegedly “payroll limitations” (despite the team committing about $8.675M for 2010 on Placido Polanco, Ross Gload, and Brian Schneider in FA signings this off-season while Lee would have cost them $9M), but maybe the strip-mining of their Farm System to acquire Lee and Halladay had more to do with their decision to move Lee than they’re letting on, which actually leads into the next topic, which is what the Phillies received from the M’s for Lee.

As for why the Mariners gave up what seems to be so little for Lee, Dave Cameron at Fangraphs (the one who said that Shapiro got “taken to the cleaners”, or something to that effect, when Lee headed to Philly) tackles the subject:
In the last four months, I’ve written two posts with a similar point – a team traded Cliff Lee and got a mediocre return at best in terms of prospects. First, Cleveland’s Mark Shapiro made the decision to trade Lee to Philadelphia at the deadline for an uninspiring package of players, a decision that looked even more questionable given how well Lee pitched for the Phillies. But now, Ruben Amaro has followed in his footsteps, trading Lee away for a trio of okay-but-not-great prospects.
So, I have to wonder what is going on here? It’s impossible to believe that both Shapiro and Amaro failed to do their homework, trading Lee away without surveying the market and weighing available offers. They obviously are both interested in making the best deals they can, and with a player of Lee’s stature, I have to believe they did significant due diligence before pulling the trigger.
So, our options here are believe that two General Managers are lazy/incompetent and failed to extract the best return possible for their team when trading him, or that the market for Cliff Lee is just not very good. Let’s just agree to reject option A out of hand, as neither Shapiro or Amaro are lazy or stupid. That leaves the second option – that this really was the best both teams could do.
What, then, is wrong with Cliff Lee in the eyes of major league GMs?

Cameron concludes that GM’s are still unsold on Lee because of his rapid rise to greatness (and please remember that Lee allegedly wanted to talk contract extension with the Tribe BEFORE his 2009 season) and while that’s eminently possible, I think the fact that Lee’s made no bones about the fact that he’s chasing every last dollar (limiting his appeal to some teams, looking for more than just a rental) after 2010 excludes a number of teams from entering the conversation. Don’t take that to mean that the exclusion of a number of teams not looking for a one-year-rental at the top of their rotation sheds any more light on the situation, as it would seem that the Phillies (after the Halladay deal) were primed to use Lee as just that, to make another push for October with Halladay, Lee, and Hamels fronting their rotation; but Cameron does not mention that the Phillies strip-mined their farm system to net Lee, then Halladay, in the past two years and could be casting an eye towards their future beyond 2010.

So did the Phillies make this deal to replenish their farm system that has been stripped pretty clean in the past two years, considering that they traded their #2, #3, #4, and #10 prospects going into 2009 (according to Baseball America) for Lee as well as their #5, #6, and #7 prospects going into the 2009 season (again, as per BA) for Halladay? Perhaps, but don’t take that as a cue for the violins for Philadelphia, who have a World Series appearance and four years of Roy Halladay to show for all of their sacrifices (which amounts to 7 of their top 10 prospects going into 2009 as well as giving up their #2 and #4 prospects going into 2008 for Joe Blanton), but their good fortune as to where they sit today has as much to do with Roy Halladay putting his money where his mouth is in terms of contract negotiations (something Lee did not in Philly) as anything else.

It comes back to the question as to whether the Phillies really needed to make the Lee-to-Seattle deal to replenish their farm system as Joe Sheehan states in a fantastic piece (pay content, with the monthly price for access to B-Pro coming below what it costs for four Sunday issues of the PD on your doorstep) that, “the Mariners traded long-term upside, players who would not be in the majors until 2012 at the earliest”, which raises the biggest question in the whole Lee trade.

If the prospects the Phillies received from the M’s aren’t going to be in the Majors until 2012 at the earliest, what’s the rationale in using those high-upside players a LONG way away from MLB as the way to re-stock the farm system, particularly in the context that Philadelphia could have let Lee walk away at the end of 2010 with two draft picks in return, which could really net them the same type of young, high-upside (if untested) players they extracted from Seattle for Lee? The Phillies could have used those 1st Round Picks they would have received had Lee left to acquire players that wouldn’t be much different than Aumont and the others, players with high-ceilings who have the potential to look fantastic in High-A ball.

Regardless, it’s impossible not to bring this back to the Indians’ deal with the Phillies over the summer and to compare some of the players dealt in the three deals (Lee to Philly, Lee to Seattle, and Halladay to Philly), and it remains fascinating to me how most of the analysis regarding the trades focuses on the “promise” and “potential” of players (particularly arms) and are content to rely on names being thrown out there and “ceilings” instead of looking at track records and, even more importantly, ages that go along with those track records.

For instance, the two big arms in the recent Halladay and Lee deals were Kyle Drabek and Phillipe Aumont, two former first round picks, aged 21 (Aumont in January) and 23 (Drabek) a few weeks ago and while everyone drools over the potential of those two, let’s realize that Aumont has thrown a total of 106 2/3 innings in the minors and Drabek has thrown a total of 267 2/3 innings as a professional. What basis is used to label these guys potential impact arms…promise that may just be a result of the lack of exposure to better hitters?

I’m not questioning that Aumont and Drabek look to be talented pitchers, with Adam Miller and Chuck Lofgren in the news this past month (the Indians’ #1 and #2 prospects heading into 2007), let’s remember how much can go wrong between AA or High-A and MLB, particularly with pitchers. What puzzles me is that there seems to be an overemphasis on potential and “what could be” instead of what is actually there and projecting particular players effectively while acknowledging them for what they are.

For instance, to keep this in the Cliff Lee discussion, let’s take a look at the progression of how Carlos Carrasco (who seems to be the most MLB-ready pitcher that the Indians have acquired since…well, Lee) has been perceived as a prospect as he’s racked up 738 2/3 innings in the Minors.

After his first couple of seasons in Rookie ball and on short-season teams, Carrasco spent his first year in the Sally League (the same league as Lake County), posting this line for the Lakewood Blue Claws:
Carlos Carrasco 2006 – Age 19 – Low-A
2.26 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 159 K, 65 BB in 159 1/3 IP

Pretty impressive stuff for a 19-year-old pitching against players much older than him and entering 2007, he was rated as the #41 ranked prospect in all of MLB and put forth this line as a 20-year-old:
Carlos Carrasco 2007 – Age 20 – High-A/AA
3.86 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 102 K, 68 BB in 140 IP

A slight regression for him in terms of a higher WHIP and a lower K-rate from his time in the Sally League; but after posting that line in 2007, he was still ranked as the 54th ranked prospect in all of MLB going into 2008, when he put forth this effort:
Carlos Carrasco 2008 – Age 21 – AA/AAA
3.69 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 155 K, 58 BB in 151 1/3 IP

The K-rate went back up and the ERA and WHIP stayed consistent with Carrasco pitching as a 21-year-old in AA and AAA. As a result, after thriving in 2008 with that cumulative line, he was ranked as the 52nd best prospect in MLB and posted this line last year:
Carlos Carrasco 2009 – Age 22 – AAA
4.64 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 148 K, 45 BB in 157 IP

Carrasco thrived at each level that he’s been placed at and, while his ERA may have seen a bump in 2009 in AAA, his WHIP was actually the lowest it’s been since he was a 19-year-old in the Sally League…the season after which he was rated the 41st best prospect in MLB. Carrasco posted his best K/BB rate in 2009 (3.29) as a minor-leaguer besting the numbers in 2006 (2.45) after which he was the 41st best prospect, in 2007 (1.50) after which he was the 54th best prospect, and 2008 (2.67) after which he was the 52nd best prospect.

So…where did the luster come off and when did Kyle Drabek (he of the 96 1/3 innings pitched above A-ball…and only 5 ½ months younger than Carrasco) become the “ace-in-waiting” and the “untouchable” in the Phillies’ organization, while Carrasco became the disappointment? In Carrasco’s overall body of work, what justifies the opinion that he wasn’t the close-to-MLB-ready starting pitcher that was desired in any Cliff Lee deal? Are we really going to label Carrasco as a “project” and a “potential bust” because of 22 1/3 disastrous innings he threw in MLB as a 22-year-old?

Wouldn’t a little bit of patience be a better avenue to travel?
It may be a difficult road to hoe in this world of instant analysis with every off-season and every trade having “winners” and “losers” immediately, but who’s to say that Carrasco isn’t the exact same top prospect that he’s been since the end of 2006, climbing the minor-league ladder appropriately and putting up the same numbers that he did as a 19-year-old for the Lakewood Blue Claws?

Trust me when I say that by no means is that meant to suggest that Carrasco is the next aCCe (see what I did there) of this team or that Drabek isn’t going to front the Blue Jays’ rotation for the next 6 years while Carrasco attempts to find some level of consistency in the back of the Indians’ rotation. The exercise is meant more to cast a suspicious eye on reading too much into reports or on how one particular publication ranks prospects, when the consensus among MLB Front Offices could run completely counter to those opinions. More than that though, it’s meant to preach some level of patience to the idea that a trade can be properly evaluated so soon after being consummated.

To that end, realize that after the 2004 season, a solid 2 ½ years after Bartolo Colon deal, here is the cumulative production at the MLB level from the prospects (Lee Stevens need not apply), with their ages at the end of 2004 shown, obtained from Montreal:
Cliff Lee – Age 25
17-12, 4.88 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 211 K, 109 BB in 241 2/3 IP over 44 MLB starts

Brandon Phillips – Age 23
.210 BA / .251 OBP / .317 SLG / .567 OPS with 6 HR in 423 AB over 129 MLB games

Grady Sizemore – Age 21
.246 BA / .333 OBP / .406 SLG / .739 OPS with 4 HR in 138 AB over 43 MLB games

Thirty months after the deal, the Indians had a talented LHP who was still adjusting to MLB, a young middle infielder who was not making much of a transition to MLB, and a very young OF who had just made his appearance with the parent club. To put that in terms of evaluation, thirty months after the Lee deal will be AFTER the 2011 season. If that seems like a long way away, it is…and that period of time should reveal what type of pitcher Carrasco is, whether a 23-YEAR-OLD Lou Marson is just a suitable back-up catcher or more (or even trade bait), whether Jason Donald is a legitimate starting 2B or just a Utility IF, and whether Jason Knapp’s arm troubles cause him to go the way of Adam Miller.

But the majority of those questions figure to be answered by the time that 2012 starts and, if you remember what Joe Sheehan wrote about the prospects that the Phillies received from the Mariners, that they “would not be in the majors until 2012 at the earliest”, it becomes a question of timing.

Is the better strategy to receive players whose warts may be a little more on display but are closer to legitimately contributing at some level in MLB, or load up on high-ceiling prospects who have yet to be exposed or challenged in AA, with the keywords of “promise” and “potential” carrying the day?

Time will ultimately tell if the better strategy in trading Lee was to take the apparent bird in the hand of close-to-MLB ready players (not that Carrasco, Marson, or Donald are any locks to become everyday MLB players) or two in the bush with younger, high-ceiling players (as, most notably, Aumont does seem to have the talent to help the Philadelphia bullpen) was the more judicious path to take. Regardless, both paths were taken and the names are now out there so they can always be compared in terms of return for Cliff Lee.

Finally, in a programming note, I will appear on Monday’s episode of “More Sports and Les Levine” with Scott Sargent and Rick Grayshock of Waiting for Next Year as we discuss the past year in Cleveland sports with Les, as well as what 2010 may hold. So, if you want to see what a frazzled, soon-to-be-father-of-2 (badly in need of a haircut) looks like in the holiday season, espousing thoughts on the Indians (while faking it on the Browns and Cavs questions), the show airs at 6 PM on NEON (that’s 23 on Time Warner Cable…at least my Time Warner Cable) and re-airs at 11:00 PM.
Set those DVR’s…now.

With the week ahead likely precluding any posts until next Sunday, let me take the opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays to you and all of your families.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tommy Lee

While North Coast is busy trying to make sense of Mike Holmgren and why a Miami Dolphins jet was seen at Burke Lakefront Airport on Tuesday morning, a little trade went down in MLB with a particular Arkansan that you may remember…middle name of Phifer. With the BIG trade (step aside, Granderson) finally consummated, let’s shoot off some quick tomahawks on what it took to get Lee to the Pacific Northwest, among other topics:

Obviously, most of the focus nationally on the Halladay-Lee trade is on…well, Halladay and Lee, but the most fascinating aspect of the deal for me is what Seattle gave up for one season of Lee…or rather what they didn’t give up. The M’s parted with Phillipe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and JC Ramirez to net Lee from the Phillies and going over to Dave Cameron from USS Mariner, here’s how he first reacted to the news of including those three players from the Seattle organization:
Aumont is a good relief prospect. He could be in the majors this year, and he’s got all-star closer upside. Gillies is a potential high OBP center fielder with speed. Ramirez has the best arm in the system. They’re all prospects. And the whole lot of them aren’t worth three months of Cliff Lee, much less an entire season.
The Mariners are getting a Cy Young caliber pitcher for some decent-but-not-great prospects. They aren’t giving up Morrow. They aren’t giving up Saunders. They aren’t even giving up Triunfel. And yet, they walk away with one of the five or six best pitchers in baseball.

Before exploring that further, let’s just say that the logic for all three teams in the deal makes a lot of sense as this all played out because the Phillies approached CP Lee about an extension and, seeing that he had no interest in doing one, moved back onto Halladay with the idea that they could reach a contract extension with Halladay, which they now have. However, since the aspect of this whole deal of interest to Tribe fans is that Lee has now been dealt a second time in the last five months, let’s examine that portion of the trade in terms of what it took to get him to the Emerald City. In essence, the Mariners got Lee and, using the idea that they’re that “lucky team” that Rosenthal referenced in his piece on Sunday (when he absolutely nailed this exact scenario, if not the particulars/prospects), what did they give up?

Using Dave Cameron’s words here, that would be “a good relief prospect with all-star closer upside” in Aumont, a “potential high OBP center fielder with speed” in Gillies and a RHP who entered the season as the M’s #5 prospect who is a 21-year-old who just completed a season in High-A ball and was added to the 40-man roster this off-season in Ramirez. To provide some perspective as to how far off these prospects are from legitimately contributing, that would be a 20-year-old “potential closer” who has yet to throw a pitch above A-ball, a 21-year-old toolsy outfielder who has yet to see a pitch above A-ball, and a 21-year-old with a MiLB career K/9 rate of 7.9 (Dave Huff’s MiLB career K rate is 8.1) who has yet to throw a pitch above A-ball for one season of CP Lee at the top of their rotation.

Maybe Aumont gets fast-tracked to help out a Philadelphia bullpen in need of it (despite the fact that he’s never even been exposed to AA hitters), but that’s 3 players who have never played above A-ball (or the Kinston equivalent in the Indians’ farm system) for one year of Lee. You could say that the prospects that all traded hands included the likes of Kyle Drabek and Mike Taylor, but those three players are what the M’s gave up to get one year of Cliff Lee.

Remember how Shapiro was panned for not getting enough for 1 ½ seasons of Lee at an affordable salary and even questioned for not approaching Lee about an extension past the 2010 season? It would seem that the worm has turned (to some extent) as the Phillies couldn’t convince Lee to talk extension (those tightwads!) and now have those three youngsters to show for Lee in terms of prospects.

Compare that Seattle threesome to just the pitchers that the Indians netted for Lee – a 21-year-old Carlos Carrasco (Carrasco doesn’t turn 22 until next March) who has already thrown 193 1/3 innings at AAA (with a cumulative 1.26 WHIP and a 8.0 K/9 rate at AAA) and a 19-year-old Jayson Knapp who figures in at the A-level this year with a K/9 rate of 11.3 (albeit in a limited amount of innings). Carrasco figures into the 2011 season at the very latest and the other two players (Donald and Marson) acquired in the deal from the Phillies are guys who figure onto the Indians’ 25-man roster (and probably their starting lineup this year). Suddenly, the Lee deal to Philly doesn’t feel as deflating as it previously did, particularly when you consider how young and advanced Carrasco is compared to those two arms departing Seattle.

Will the Lee deal eventually be looked upon as a success or a failure from a Cleveland standpoint?
Regardless of how quickly everyone wants to make a snap judgment on it, the deal is still only 5 months old (and 2 of those months did not involve baseball being played) and still needs some time for these players to reveal themselves more fully for a sufficient analysis to be done. That being said, the comparable package of what a team had to give up for one season of Lee is now out there and it’s entirely possible that the comparable package of what a team would have to give up for ½ of a season with Lee could be coming in July if things go completely off the rails for the Mariners to start out 2010.

As for the other factor in the whole equation, Lee presumably now goes to Seattle to chase another Cy Young (in a giant ballpark) and waits for his chance to join his big buddy in the Bronx after the year, when Andy Pettitte’s contract comes off of the books (again) to get his 4 to 5 year deal worth $18M to $20M annually and sit behind CC and Burnett in the Yankees’ rotation.

The other news to come out this week happens to center on CP Lee’s old battery-mate as Anthony Castrovince has reported that the PTBNL in the Kelly Shoppach deal has been narrowed down to two options, Mitch Talbot and Joseph Cruz. The Indians, who have until December 20th to choose between the two, should have no trouble deciding between the two and the fact that they’re waiting to make the selection is about the only confusing aspect of the deal.

The reason that the decision should be easy becomes clear once you realize that Mitch Talbot is 26 year-old RH changeup artist who has struggled to make the transition to MLB after spending TWO FULL years in AAA in 2007 and 2008 with a career AAA resume that includes a 4.23 ERA, a 1.36 WHIP, and a 2.82 K/BB over 67 starts in AAA. Sound like anything already in the Tribe organization that needs to get filtered through this year?
Not to be overly dismissive here, but to use a line from “The Bizarro Jerry” episode, “we already have a ‘George’”.

Adding Talbot to the mix of arms, with only Jeremy Sowers older than him (by a whopping 5 months), after he’s now spent a good amount of time at AAA without doing anything special simply doesn’t make sense. Throw in the fact that Talbot is out of options, meaning we’d have to carry him out of Spring Training and for the whole season in a season where the arms figure to be moving back and forth from Cleveland to Columbus pretty frequently, and his inclusion on this list mystifies even further.

What would make sense would be to add the other name purported to be on the list, which is Joseph Cruz, a 21 year old prospect who averages more than a K an inning and sports a career K/BB rate of 4.05. If you’ve been following the Indians’ acquisitions over the last 6 months, you realize that the Indians are stacking up these high-ceiling, high K-rate arms with the idea that the sheer quantity of talent will offset the attrition rate that proved to be the undoing of the first idea that arms would simply emerge from the Minors to fill holes on the parent club seamlessly and effectively.

Would Cruz project as a starter or as a reliever?
At this point, it wouldn’t really matter as he’d simply join this growing army of hard-throwing pitchers with the idea that if about ¼ of them ever make a resounding impact that the net result is better than the mediocrity that seems to be the alternative.

For what it’s worth, lists Cruz as the Rays’ 24th best prospect and Talbot as the Rays’ 25th best prospect, which is certainly not all that compelling despite the knowledge that the Rays’ farm system is obviously stacked. While that ranking system may or may not be relevant, the fact that the Indians seem to be looking at a lower-tier prospect is disappointing only because activity on the open market has dictated that there were a number of teams looking for a catcher. On the FA market alone we’ve seen dreadful signings like Jason Kendall to KC and Pudge to Washington, as well as fair-to-middling signings of Gregg Zaun to Milwaukee, Brian Schneider to Philadelphia and John Buck and Miguel Castro to Toronto. That’s 4 teams that looked to be in the market for a catcher (with other teams like the Mets still looking) and, while Kelly Shoppach’s value may never truly be known, the fact that the likes of KC, WAS, and PHI were willing to commit 2-year deals for what would seem to be lesser talents certainly lends credence to the idea that the Indians should have been able to extract more than Talbot or Cruz from Tampa…and it should be Cruz.

Finally, just as a little parting shot for the argument that the Indians should the Indians be spending money to fill holes and to make themselves more competitive for the 2010 season in which they figure to be rebuilding/reloading/whatever, here’s a brilliant sentence from Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus:
The key mistake that continues to be made—and we’ve seen it with Kendall and the Royals, Ivan Rodriguez and the Nationals, Brandon Lyon and the Astros—is money wasted in dribs and drabs on players who are fungible by teams that have no reason to chase wins.

The Indians made their mistakes spending “dribs and drabs on players who are fungible” (Dellichaels, anyone?) and the fact that they’re NOT making the same mistake represents some sort of lesson learned and some sort of shift in organizational thinking, doesn’t it?

It may not be much, but in a system in which 6 to 7 teams make the majority of the off-season moves and the rest of the teams sit on the sidelines and use “hope” as a strategy, I’d prefer the idea that the Indians are positioning themselves for making a run when they’re ready to make a run and not just “chasing wins”.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Lazy Sunday After Indy

In light of hosting a 3-year-old’s birthday party yesterday here at the house with the in-laws staying AT said house, we’ll keep this (relatively) short and sweet because, while today may be a Lazy Sunday for some, I have to figure out how to get to a tree farm in Valley View, cut down a tree on a rainy morning and get it decorated…all before getting the assembled Milwaukeeans to a bar to watch the Packers play the Bears at 1 PM.

And with that (and me shuddering after merely typing that itinerary)…we’re off:
The Rule 5 Draft (not to be confused with the lesser-known and actually non-existent “Rule V” Draft) was conducted this past Thursday with the Indians losing LHP Chuck Lofgren to the Brewers (as Milwaukee hopes to develop him as a LOOGY, based mainly on his stellar numbers against LHP this year in Columbus and Akron) while they picked up RHP Hector Ambriz from the Diamondbacks organization to compete for a big league spot in the 2010 bullpen. As this is not generally my area of expertise, I’ll defer to the write-ups from Tony Lastoria and Andrew Humphries of the LGT to break these transactions (particularly the Ambriz addition) down with the proper depth.

What did the Indians get in Ambriz?
To my untrained eyes, his MiLB cumulative numbers (4.41 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 2.84 K/BB) don’t show too much, other than that he’s not a strikeout pitcher and that he’s not flown through the Diamondbacks’ system without his hiccups (he wouldn’t have been available in the Rule 5 if he had), as he is now 25 and just got his first taste of AAA this year. It will be interesting to see how the assembled coaching staff in Goodyear (Scott Radinsky and Ruben Niebla in particular) approaches Ambriz as the Indians did transition a good number of pitchers that were previously starters only into bullpen options by asking those arms to focus on a two-to-three pitch mix instead of attempting to master a four-to-five pitch repertoire. Since Ambriz has started 79 of his 83 games over the last three years, how his stuff translates to shorter stints will essentially determine whether he sticks or not (and B-Pro’s Kevin Goldstein puts the likelihood of that at about 5% that he sticks) is the $50,000 question.

If nothing else, Ambriz represents a middle relief option and probably nothing more. Don’t take that to mean that having a young, cost-controlled RHP that could supply some middle relief is not valuable, as we’ve been subjected to the likes of Danny Graves, Oldberto Hernandez, and Guillermo Mota out of the gate in the past few years with the idea that they’d pitch middle relief…with horrifying results. Ambriz now enters the bullpen mix and could be given a long leash to see if he can succeed in the early going of 2010 as so many of the other arms that figure into that middle of the bullpen mix (Jensen Lewis and Jess Todd in particular and Tony Sipp and Joe Smith to a lesser degree) still retain options. If Ambriz is able to translate his groundball ability (44% in the minors) to the Majors and remains a strike-thrower, he could turn into a useful piece that doesn’t cost the Indians much more than a roster spot.

Whether he does well enough in Spring Training or gets a long look once the 2010 season starts in the Tribe bullpen could mean that some of those aforementioned arms with options remaining (Jenny Lew and Jesse Ray Todd, I’m looking squarely at you) will start the season in AAA Columbus with…cue the trumpets…Charles Nagy as their pitching coach!

That’s right, all you friends of the feather who pine for the “Era of Champions” (while ignoring the fact that the Indians were never World Series Champions during that “Era” of the 1990’s), another former Tribesman has re-entered the fold as a coach for the young Indians as Charles Nagy joins Sandy Alomar, Jr. to mold the minds of these youngsters. While this news made some people’s days, I feel no different about it than I do the Alomar hiring, in that the nostalgia factor makes me warm and fuzzy for about 5 minutes, giving way to the thought that I hope that Charles Nagy knows what he’s doing as a pitching coach.

He was the Angels’ AAA pitching coach in 2006 and 2007 when he tutored the likes of Joe Saunders (both years), Jered Weaver (in 2006) …both of whom have made a nice transition to their big league club and represent two young talented arms that have translated MiLB success to MLB. Thus, the body of work is there to justify the return of Nagy to the organization in this post with the hopes that he can put the finishing touches on Rondon, Carrasco, and Jeanmar Gomez (most notably) as he did with the Angel hurlers. Not to suggest that talents akin to a Saunders and (more obviously) a Weaver are just sitting in the Indians’ organization, but if Nagy can turn some of these young arms into top-to-middle-of-the-rotation candidates instead of being back-end fodder, he’s doing his job splendidly. If he’s able to assist in that transition, I don’t care if his name is Gnarls Nagy…so long as some of these arms emerge from AAA ready to contribute and become mainstays in the big league pitching staff going forward.

One arm who will seemingly never emerge from the Minors to become a mainstay on the Tribe’s pitching staff is Adam Miller, who suffered yet another setback. While everyone is aware of the cautionary tale that Miller has come to represent and now know what TINSTAAPP means, it does essentially bring to a conclusion the chance that Miller will ever see the mound in Cleveland as his body simply would not allow his prodigious talent to mature into what everyone thought he would become when 2007 dawned.

In terms of the other major news of the last week that affects the Indians (albeit indirectly), Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson have left Motown, the innocent by-standers who turned into victims of other bad decisions made by the Tigers’ organization as Jon-Paul Morosi keenly points out:
Some may suggest that the Tigers agreed to trade Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson on Tuesday because the Michigan economy is not doing well.
That is false.
This deal happened for 92.1 million reasons — the number of dollars owed to Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Brandon Inge, Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman in 2010.
It's sad, really. The Tigers were doomed by their own generosity. They won a pennant in 2006, traded for Cabrera and Willis in 2007, and made a habit of rewarding players based on past accomplishments or the expectation of same.
Baseball teams do not win championships because of benevolence. They must make cold, calculating decisions about when to hold onto veteran players and when to let them go.
Time after time, the Tigers made the wrong choice. And now they have determined that the best way to atone for those errors is to trade away a pair of All-Stars before they make big money.

The topic du jour after the trade was Granderson’s issues with LHP, as his .484 OPS vs. LHP was 2nd last (and not even really all that close to 3rd last) among all MLB players with 125 or more plate appearances against LHP. For some perspective on that, Louie the Fifth had a .661 OPS vs. LHP in 2009…you know, the guy the Indians want to find a RH complement for at 2B because of his struggles against LHP. While Joe Pos makes a strong argument that he doesn’t think that Curtis’ struggles against LHP will be as much of an issue in the Bronx because the rest of the Yankees absolutely crush LHP, it’s hard to ignore that Granderson’s numbers against LHP were subterranean.

Granderson is no longer the Indians’ AL Central problem (as well as Jackson exiting the division, which shouldn’t be overlooked), as the Tigers’ big get in the deal is young K machine Max Scherzer from the desert. While most analysis of the deal centers on how Scherzer may represent an upgrade over Edwin Jackson right now in the Detroit rotation (not to mention being under club control for 3 more years than Jackson) the interesting contrarian point of view focuses on the long-term injury concerns for Scherzer from Arizona GM Josh Byrnes, coming via a Rob Neyer Sweet Spot post:
Diamondbacks had concerns about Scherzer's ability to remain healthy and develop into a perennial 200-inning workhorse, questions that stem from a violent, jerky pitching motion that many believe could lead to injury.

Scherzer’s development will be the interesting aspect of the Detroit team going forward as, if Scherzer is what some baseball people say he is, the top of the Tigers’ rotation just got pretty wicked with Verlander (though Morosi states in the piece linked earlier that Verlander is under contract for only two more years and will be in line for a big payday…one that might not come from Mike Ilitch, depending upon how the next two years go), Porcello, and Scherzer. Whether Scherzer finds immediate success (or even eventual success) in the rotation will determine whether this deal is a success for the Tigers and affects the long-term future of their team unlike the performance of any other Detroit player.

While the Granderson deal certainly represents the biggest news of the off-season to date, Ken Rosenthal floats a balloon out there for what he sees would be a possible solution to the Halladay situation in Toronto, one that would certainly be a bigger deal than Granderson going to the Bronx:
We know the Phillies preferred Halladay to Lee last July. We know they are one of his top choices, an East Coast team that trains close to his home in Dunedin, Fla. And we know from published reports that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. met last week with Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, about a possible contract extension.
I'm guessing that discussion did not go well.

Both Lee, 31, and Halladay, 32, are free agents after next season. Halladay likely will require a contract extension to waive his no-trade clause. Perfect! By exchanging Lee for Halladay, the Phillies would ensure that they gain long-term control of an ace — Halladay, the one they wanted all along.
So, here's the deal: Lee goes somewhere for prospects. The Phillies include the prospects in their package for Halladay, maybe keep one or two for themselves. Halladay gets his extension, the Jays get a bounty of young players and some lucky team gets Lee for one year at his bargain salary of $9 million.

The bolded portion was admittedly bolded by me (as it brings us back to the idea that the INDIANS should have extended Lee), but if that scenario were to take place (as unlikely as it may sound the first time you hear it), could you imagine the Monday Morning Quarterbacking that would take place to see what that “lucky team who gets Lee for one year at his bargain salary of $9 million” in terms of comparing it to the Carrasco/Knapp/Marson/Donald haul?

The other “news” (and that term is used loosely and not offering contracts to Reyes, Miller, and Veras does not even constitute a loose use of the term “news”) is that the Indians may have an interest in Marcus Thames to be the RH bat to play LF and 1B, which makes sense as long as Thames plays about once every week or so and doesn’t take at-bats away from LaPorta or Brantley. As a RH bat, he offers something that Crowe and Brown cannot (well…actually a lot of things), but Thames has hit LHP at a .867 OPS clip over the last three years, so he would have some value on a LH-heavy roster and could simply complement Hafner (who may or may not be able to play consecutive games and could face LHP). That all being said, it would ostensibly end the Andy Marte Era in Cleveland (as difficult as it will be for some people to let that Era go) as Marte looks to the RH option off of the bench right now that can play 1B, a move that may be a little short-sighted when the Indians lack an obvious answer at 3B for 2011 when Peralta’s option won’t be picked up and The Chiz figures to start the 2011 season in Columbus. So long as any deal with Thames wouldn’t be a guaranteed MLB deal and wouldn’t automatically exclude Marte from future plans, I could find some merit to it; but giving Thames anything more than a minor-league deal isn’t entirely necessary.

Moving away from the Indians, it has been announced Sweet Pete Gammons is leaving ESPN for the MLB Network and (as well as becoming a studio analyst and reporter for NESN, the Red Sox flagship station in an obvious and brilliant counter move against, essentially removing any reason for me to watch ESPN or keep the WWL in my life in the least bit…outside of Bill Simmons, who’s just waiting for his escape hatch. Since I don’t think I’m alone in feeling nauseous at the sight of former players and columnist blowhards yelling at each other and contributing nothing substantial to “analysis”, I would also have to think that I’m not alone in thinking that this news is the death knell for that 4-letter word (which used to mean so much more) for many sports fans, who are now able to get their news from the sources they want instead of simply where it was most readily available, which WAS what was transmitting from Bristol. One of those sought-out sources has consistently been Gammons and we’ll continue to get him, presumably for free, and without the histrionics associated with the increasingly difficult to watch ESPN.

As for what the move means to the MLB Network, it means even better insight from people in the know and a nice complement to their growing stable of articulate former players who provide more than belly laughs or empty opinions for the sake of hearing themselves talk. MLB Network has come a long way in a short amount of time and this news cements the removal of ESPN from my cable “Favorites” button as I’ll now go straight to the MLB Network, with their slick production, intelligent banter, and all-encompassing baseball coverage. With Gammons in the fold at the MLB Network, the intelligent baseball fan (looking for more substance than style) wins out as better avenues to satiate their baseball appetite continue to be upgraded.

Winding it down here, while watching the most recent episode of “How I Met Your Mother” (one of the only 3 consistently funny comedies on Network TV…along with the 9:00 to 10:00 PM block on Thursday night on the Peacock), there was a flashback to a 15-year-old Marshall making a list of everything that he wanted to accomplish by the time he was 30. As the rat-tail sporting, overall-wearing Marshall laid his list down back in 1993, he referred to himself as…wait for it…Vanilla Thunder with the idea that his basketball exploits will have earned him that moniker. While this nickname is somewhat funny in a vacuum (and funnier if you’re aware of the urban definition for the term), it struck me that the co-creator and writer of HIMYM, Carter Bays, is a Cleveland native who regularly references the Indians in HIMYM episodes.

Why is this all relevant on a Sunday in which I have more pressing things to do than to recount a HIMYM episode? Because Vanilla Thunder is the nickname being championed by yours truly (and LGT’s Jay Levin) for one Matt LaPorta and, while I’ll stop short of saying that the HIMYM reference came from the Indians’ blogosphere, it would seem that the nickname could have gained some traction for Mr. Gator4God.

Finally, Vince Grzegorek over at ’64 and Counting has a fun piece (as usual) jumping off from Joe Posnanski’s obsession with Duane Kuiper by asking a couple of folks who their “Kuiper” is, with some sawed-off hack going on and on (again) about this mildy-upsetting Pat Tabler obsession.

That’s it for me, you can find me at some as-yet-undetermined location with a group of people watching the Packers-Bears game…I’ll be the one on with his head on the table taking a nap.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Tomahawks Breaking Away

In honor of the Winter Meetings being in Indiana and the fact that “Breaking Away” just got added to my DVR this week as it was on HBO on Monday, let’s give a nod to the second best sports movie based in Indiana (and if you have to ask why it’s only #2, I’m going to have to see your Fan ID) while we release some tomahawks during a week in which we’re all feeling like “Cutters” while all the rich kids (and Italian cyclists) enjoy their fun toys:

Sadly, the only Indians news pertaining to a player (other than the Indians wanting to get out from under the Wood deal, which isn’t happening) is that Jamey Carroll hasn’t ruled out coming back to Cleveland. The presentation of this “news” gives me a chance to pass along a helpful guide from Dave Cameron at about the doublespeak and outright fabrications that have already occurred this week at the Winter Meetings and are sure to continue:
A Person Familiar With The Negotiations – Someone who has refreshed constantly.
Major League Source – Charlie Sheen.
A Source With Knowledge Of The Player’s Thoughts – The player’s agent.
A Baseball Official – An engineer at Rawlings.
Guy Who Gave Jon Heyman His Information – Scott Boras.

To wit, Anthony Castrovince provides us the actual text of the e-mail that Jamey Carroll’s agent sent out to the Cleveland media:
Jamey Carroll has greatly enjoyed his time in Cleveland. While we are entertaining offers from other teams, we have not ruled out Cleveland because of this simple fact: Management is good, the city is good, and this team CAN compete in their division. The market for free agent infielders is quite good and the numbers of teams that have contacted us is indicative of Jamey's value to any team wishing to win ballgames. No matter what the outcome, Jamey's time in Cleveland has been a great experience.

Of course, this is just an agent doing his job, putting Carroll’s “interest” (and I use that term loosely) in coming back to Cleveland out there just in case the Rockies or Yankees or whatever other team has actual interest in Carroll are paying attention. That being the only “news” thus far though has resulted in the beat corps putting out pieces that with titles like “Jamey Carroll says ‘door hasn’t been closed’ on return to Cleveland Indians” which, while technically accurate, are not really all that indicative of the ruse at play.

Nothing’s happening in Indianapolis that pertains to the Indians (Rule 5 Draft notwithstanding) and nothing is going to happen. Sorry if that’s depressing, but that’s the truth.

If you want a pretty good indication of why nothing’s going to happen for the Indians in Indy, consider that their biggest “need” for 2010 is a veteran inning eater who can sit in the middle of the rotation. Now consider that Brad Penny just signed a deal worth $7.5M with another $1.5M available in incentives and as Jon Heyman points out, “Carl Pavano, one of three free agents to accept arbitration, along with Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Soriano, had to like Penny's deal. He had a better year than Penny and should now have a chance to top $7.5 million in arbitration.”

That would be the same Brad Penny was released in late August of last year by the Red Sox (who were trying to make a playoff push…something starting pitching is usually instrumental in) after posting a line of 5.61 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP in 131 2/3 IP in the AL for Boston in 24 starts. I’m not going to question St. Louis and Dave Duncan’s track record at resurrecting guys that are EXACTLY like Brad Penny and turning them into cogs in the rotation, but the Penny signing just set the bar for starting pitching in the FA market. If that signing means that Carl Pavano may be getting MORE than $7.5M in arbitration from the Twins as Heyman asserts, the FA market for starting pitchers just spun out of control and WAY out of the Indians’ orbit.

Just as a reminder if you still think that the need for a starter is there, remember that CP Lee and his $9M club option were traded in July and I’m going to go out on a limb and predict a better 2010 for Clifton Phifer than for Penny or Pavano. As for why Lee finds himself in Philly, I’ll direct you to a terrific article from Russell A. Carleton at Baseball Prospectus (subscriber content) examining the similar situation that the Blue Jays face with Roy Halladay. It details the no-win situation that Toronto finds itself in with Halladay and whether or not to keep him, regardless of whether the return is sufficient (in terms of prospects) and the whole thing puts the Lee situation in July of this past year into a pretty interesting context.

You may not agree with the fact that Lee was dealt last year or for whom he was dealt, but if you were waiting to subscribe to Baseball Prospectus (for far less than what a month of delivered newspapers costs you these days), now is the time to do it if only to read this article.

As for the only other pertinent player-related news, Paul Hoynes of the PD reports that the PTBNL for Kelly Shoppach looks to be shaping up like “a return similar to what they received from the Giants for Ryan Garko”, which was the 22-year-old LHP Scott Barnes, who pitched in A and AA last season, to enough critical acclaim (combined 3.41 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.7 K/9 in 142 1/3 IP in 27 starts) that it earned him a spot as the 10th best Tribe prospect in the recent rankings by Fangraphs.

Remember that whole “layer of arms” thing that the trades of Lee, Martinez, and DeRosa and (to a lesser extent) Garko and Betancourt brought into focus? The Shoppach PTBNL looks to be a continuation of that idea as it would certainly seem that the Rays would have some compelling candidates who would be a little more exciting than just a “low-level arm”, but it remains to be seen what the return truly ends up being.

Seeing as how the Nationals inexplicably just gave Pudge Rodriguez a 2-year deal for $6M to be their backup catcher, showing just how many teams were willing to pay a catcher $3M annually, let’s hope that this “low-level arm” has some upside. Judging by recent history, I would guess that the PTBNL is a young, high K rate arm and there are plenty of them that fit that bill in the Tampa organization like Nick Barnese or Matt Moore or (to a lesser extent because of health issues) Jake McGee to dream on and to add to one of the layers.

While those names mean very little in the middle of December when the Indians’ brass is content to make their appearances in Indianapolis and not do much else, the likelihood of another young power arm entering the organization brings the bigger picture back into play. As for the name of that “bigger picture”, I’m thinking “Layer Cake”.

Finally, in the non-player-related news from the North Coast, Jon Nunnally has officially been named the hitting coach and while I’m not going to pretend to know who Jon Nunnally is or what he’s accomplished as a coach, the line that “he was instrumental in the improvements Andy Marte showed in '09, and he received vocal support from Travis Hafner, who worked with Nunnally while on a rehab assignment last year” is enough to earn the benefit of the doubt for me.

While his last name is certain to be misspelled on a regular basis (as I keep repeating 2 N’s, 2 L’s), it should be noted that Nunnally not only had exposure to the likes of LaPorta, Brantley, Marte, Valbuena, and Marson (among others) while in Columbus in 2009, but has also worked with Carlos Santana, Nick Weglarz, Beau Mills, Carlos Rivero, and Wes Hodges (among others) as the hitting coach in Kinston in 2007 and 2008. Essentially, outside of Grady, Peralta, Cabrera, and Choo, all of the re-inforcements that figure to arrive topside to the Tribe in the next few years (offensively, at least) will have some level of familiarity with Nunnally.

Whether that’s a good or a bad thing remains to be seen as I’m more interested as to whether this announcement leads to the standing joke of “Get Thee To A Nunnally” gaining some traction in the clubhouse for a player in a slump and in need of some hitting advice even though it’s likely that Jeremy Sowers is the only one who’s going to get the joke…besides Peralta, obviously.

With that all in the rearview and with the Winter Meetings likely to continue without much participation from the Erie Warriors, if you’ll excuse me I have to go catch Moocher’s turn on the bike in the Little 500 bike race.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Calm, Quiet, Lazy Sunday

After a false alarm with a 8 ½ month pregnant DiaBride that made Saturday a little more frantic than usual, how about a nice, quiet Sunday that some would say would even border on…oh, what’s that word I’m looking for…Lazy?

That’s the one, and with that we’re off:
Speaking of quiet, I think it’s pretty safe to say that this week’s Winter Meetings figure to be pretty uneventful for the Indians and while the terms “bargain shopping” and “discount bin” figure to be peppered throughout the local coverage of the event in Indianapolis in terms of the Tribe’s involvement, haven’t we all been expecting all things to be quiet on the North Coast Front this off-season since last July?

The trades of Lee and Victor (both with club options for 2010) cemented the fact that the Indians weren’t going to be adding payroll in 2010 and since the Winter Meetings usually come down to which team digs deepest into their pocket for players, figuring the Indians to be much more than sideline spectators for the week’s events is simply not plausible. While fans can complain that the Indians should be adding to this team that does have holes, 2010 looks to be the transitional year from the 2005-2009 squads to the team that the organization hopes will contend in 2011 and beyond. Since it represents the beginning of that transition, what the Indians still have on their books for 2010 are the contracts of players that they thought would carry them, or at least contribute mightily, from 2005 to 2009 (or in one or more years in there), with Anthony Castrovince summing that situation up quite nicely:
The Indians opened 2009 with an $81 million payroll. In 2010, that figure figures to be somewhere between $50 million and $60 million. The team already has about $48.5 million tied up into six players -- Travis Hafner ($11.5 million), Jake Westbrook ($11 million), Kerry Wood ($10.5 million), Grady Sizemore ($5.8 million), Fausto Carmona ($5.1 million) and Jhonny Peralta ($4.6 million) -- so there's not much wiggle room here.

Let’s look at this math in another way - that’s 6 players on the 25-man roster that will eat up $48.5M. Now, let’s assume that the other 19 players on the 25-man roster will make the MLB minimum (which is around $400K) or somewhere thereabouts, meaning that the $7.6M (19 x $400K) would be added to the $48.5M number to give the Indians a total payroll to fill out the 25-man of $56.1M…or right between that $50M-$60M figure.

Obviously that’s not firm math, but it gives you a pretty good idea of why as AC puts it, “there’s not much wiggle room here”, particularly if you think that the Indians are more than just one player (and his salary) away from contending. If you’re wondering why the Indians can’t go out and raise the payroll to come in above that $50M to $60M range, I’ll ask this – why SHOULD the Indians spend money in a “rebuilding/reloading/whatever” year, other than in an attempt to spend money for PR purposes?

The Indians made their bed last July and August and basically had an idea of what their 2010 team was going to look like after those trades, so isn’t it time to sleep in that bed for a while to see how it feels? Sure there’s a wish list this off-season for 2010, but do any of the “needs” look like that one obvious addition that’s going to suddenly vault the Indians into contention in 2010?

The Indians would like a RH bat to complement LaPorta at 1B and (though they’re not saying it) Hafner at DH…so there’s Andy Marte (a RH bat that has played 1B and costs the Indians $400K) still sitting there waiting to resurrect his status as anything other than a prospect bust.

The Indians would like a Utility IF, preferably to be RH, to complement Valbuena at 2B and to serve as some insurance that Donald’s injuries signing Brian Buscher and Luis Rodriguez to Minor League deals is a nice start. No, I’m serious…this belief that the Indians have to find more than a guy like Buscher or Rodriguez (OK, maybe a little bit better than those guys) baffles me. The Indians aren’t figuring to contend in 2010, so why shouldn’t they wait until everyone else gets signed, bring a bunch of guys in that are Utility IF willing to do Minor-League deals, look at their MLB track record (specifically against LHP if they’re supposed to complement Valbuena…and Luis Rodriguez does have a career .745 OPS vs. LHP in 51 MLB at-bats), and let them fight it out for a roster spot with the idea that they’re keeping it warm for Donald, assuming he gets healthy?

The Indians would like to add a veteran arm, but as it’s already been discussed, does that “right guy” (at a price that’s not going to be close to what the team would have owed Lee in 2010) really out there that makes spending money necessary, when it looks like the sheer number of arms available should be able to log the appropriate amount of innings as starters?

Looking at it realistically, is Kevin Millar or Todd Wellemeyer going to make a difference for the 2010 Indians? Rather than making some sort of signing that’s not much more than an attempt to mollify a fan base that just HAS to see the Indians spending money (even if it’s imprudently), wouldn’t it make more sense for the Indians to put any money that they consider spending this off-season in some sort of CD that they can have access to next year when more questions will be answered about club-controlled players and the holes that need to be filled figure to be even more obvious?

If you think about the payroll for 2011, here’s what’s guaranteed among players currently on the 25-man roster:
Hafner - $13M
Sizemore - $7.667M
Carmona - $6.1M
Yes, there’s a $7M option for Peralta in 2011 and that $11M option for Wood that vests if he finishes 55 games this year for the Indians, but neither of those are going to be picked up or vested…so that’s it. A couple of guys might be hitting arbitration for the 2011 season (notably Asdrubal and The BLC), so that’s a little under $27M that is concretely on the books for 2011 (and spare me the “Trade Hafner” logic unless you have an interested party that would take that contract and could let him be a part-time DH), which means that the time to add dollars to the payroll is not this year, where contention is a hope and a dream, but rather next year, where “wiggle room” does exist and where the available FA (particularly the starters) represent a much deeper pool to dip into.

It seems pretty apparent what the Indians need, but the irresponsibility of paying a player too much in a season during which the Indians aren’t thought to contend doesn’t make financial sense, particularly considering that there are multiple options on the 40-man (albeit somewhat unappealing in some cases) to fill those “holes” of a RH 1B, a Utility IF, and filling out a rotation going 8 deep into Columbus. Sure, it would be great to add pieces and parts where they’re needed, but filling any of those “holes” from outside the organization represent luxuries, not necessities, for the current club.

And that brings it back to the Shoppach deal, in terms of paying too much in a season that the Indians aren’t likely to contend for a player that doesn’t figure into the team’s long-term plans past 2010. In Cleveland, the trade was covered as a bit of a salary dump (which wasn’t completely inaccurate) while the move was viewed nationally in an interesting manner, even if you just look at Dave Cameron’s thoughts on the deal at, as he thinks that Shoppach is a legitimate everyday C whose ideal place in 2010 simply wasn’t going to be Cleveland:
“As an arbitration-eligible 30-year-old coming off a mediocre season, and with hot catching prospect Carlos Santana nearly major league ready, the Indians weren’t overly attached to Shoppach, so the price in talent was right for the Rays…Catchers who can hit at a league average rate are pretty valuable... The Rays picked up a nice player at something of a discount, as they have been known to do.”

There must have been other suitors for Shoppach, even if you’re just looking at the fact that the 38-year-old Gregg Zaun signed a 1-year deal with the Brewers for $2.25M with a club option for 2011. While we won’t know what salary number will be attached to Shoppach’s 2010 season for a little bit of time, realize that the Rays had Zaun on their roster at the end of 2009. Rather than bringing Zaun back for 2010, they forfeited a player to acquire Shoppach (8 years younger and possibly just in need of everyday AB again) as they attempt to contend in the brutal AL East. If that’s the sequence of events in Tampa, doesn’t it make sense to think that there must have been other interested parties in Shoppach, perhaps even the Brewers who signed Zaun to that deal, among others who were listed as possible landing spots for the now-deposed Dionner Navarro, assuming he’s non-tendered?

What does a likely active trade market for Shoppach mean for the PTBNL? It probably means a minor-league arm, but likely someone who represents more than just organizational fodder or a reclamation project. Of course, the logical question after asserting that there was a likely trade market for Shoppach this off-season is to ask if that trade market was diminished for Shoppach after his 2009 season and does the trade come a year too late?

Unquestionably, though kind of a moot point, as this was written before the Winter Meetings last year as one of my items on a Christmas Wish List for the 2009 team:
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, Zack 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.

Never mind that I grouped Grienke, Johnson, and Rodriguez with Andy Sonnanstine and Paul Maholm (not to mention an injured Shawn Marcum), the idea that the Indians waited too long to deal Shoppach is certainly valid. Just as valid is the opinion that the team mismanaged the consistency of his playing time entering 2009 when he could have played everyday at C (with Victor at 1B) and DH (when Hafner needed a day off with Victor playing C and Garko playing 1B); but the notion that the Indians “held onto Shoppach” one year too long and traded him AFTER the point of his peak value gets to a difficult situation that the Indians have faced for the past few years.

That situation is holding onto a player past his point of peak value because the Indians have had to strike a delicate balance in the past few years as they attempted to contend (or leap through that window of opportunity) while attempting to manage their assets prudently and trade players at the peak of their value, like Shoppach after his 2008 season or Rocky Betancourt after his 2007 season. After those seasons (just using those two as examples), the Indians should have likely moved both as each season represented what looked to be career years for each and duplication of that success seemed unlikely.

In 2008 and in 2009 however, the Indians thought they were contending for the AL Central, and a reliever like Betancourt and a RH power bat (particularly at C) were luxuries that the Indians felt they could afford in an attempt to contend with the best players they had. When those best-laid plans went awry (both times), the Indians were left holding players with diminished value and with salaries that did not equate to their contributions. Certainly the argument can be made that opportunities were missed to flip a piece that was seen as valuable before that value was diminished, but to ignore the situation in terms of the team attempting to contend is akin to putting blinders on in the analysis of the situation.

That all being said, while the “attempting to contend” idea forced the Indians to perhaps miss opportunities or overpay for the services of players that did not contribute to the success of the 2008 team (in the case of Betancourt) and the 2009 team (in the case of Shoppach), no such pretense should exist this off-season. The Indians are rebuilding (or reloading…I don’t really care what you call it) with an eye towards contention in 2011 and beyond. Attempting to fast-track that timeframe is not something that the Indians’ Front Office excels in (see Lawton, Matt) and the idea of contending and rebuilding is not something that should be entertained this week in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis is a lovely city with a great downtown and there’s no reason that the Indians’ brass shouldn’t enjoy their time there this week, just as long as they keep their Holiday shopping to the gift stores around Monument Circle and not in their hotel suite for the Winter Meetings.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Shopped Out

As the first player-related news of the off-season has finally arrived, Kelly Shoppach has been traded to the Tampa Rays for a PTBNL that must be decided upon by the Indians by December 20th. The trade was neither unexpected nor unwelcome as the Indians had made it clear that Shoppach would not be a part of their future, immediate or long-term, with the inclusion of Lou Marson in the CP Lee deal. As soon as Marson, he of the high OBP, low SLG, and (perhaps most importantly) low salary, entered the fray, the Indians had their transitional catcher to take them from Victor Martinez to Carlos Santana.

As much as Kelly Shoppach looked like a potential long-term answer behind the dish in the second half of 2008, when he posted a line of .273 BA / .366 OBP / .564 SLG / .930 OPS with 19 HR and 23 2B as he started 74 of the last 82 games of the 2008 season, that optimism quickly waned in 2009. His playing time lacked consistency, as Shoppach started 5 consecutive games once throughout the whole season, as did his approach at the plate and behind it. During his sporadic use this past year, ShopVac struggled to repeat the success that he had enjoyed down the stretch in 2008 and the answer to the question of whether the league had adjusted to Shoppach, causing his struggles, or whether the inconsistency of his playing time played a larger role won’t come with Shoppach in an Indians’ uniform.

His 2009 performance however, is not the main reason that Shoppach finds himself calling Tampa his new team. The main culprits for that turn of events are the facts that Shoppach is entering his second year of arbitration, with an increase in salary that will likely border on $3M for the 2010 season, as well as the fact that the Indians’ top prospect, Carlos Santana, is likely to be promoted at some point in the middle of the 2010 season to assume catching duties…duties that the Indians hope he can hold down for the next six or seven years. Thus, Shoppach finds himself in Tampa, where the Rays will now deal with Shoppach’s arbitration issue and where he finds himself re-united with Derek Shelton (though I wonder if you can really call it a “reunion” if Shelton will simply remain Shoppach’s MLB hitting coach), who was hired by the Rays and will continue to attempt to refine Shoppach’s all-or-nothing approach.

To me, Shoppach does present some value in his ability to drive the ball from the catching position and, while he became somewhat of a poster child for the strikeout-prone Indians (not that it wasn’t earned with his prodigious K totals), Mr. Show Pack remains a viable everyday MLB catcher…just not in the situation in Cleveland as 2010 dawns. That was made clear in late July as the inclusion of Lou Marson signaled the end, for all intents and purposes of Shoppach’s time on the North Coast. Given that it was a foregone conclusion that he would be outside of the organization at some point this winter and, while I thought the non-tender rumors didn’t make too much sense as he retained some trade value if only by virtue of his 2008 second half (and I thought he’d be a better fit in the NL), it would seem that the Indians moved him for the ubiquitous PTBNL for no other reason than that his projected production did not justify his price tag, particularly in light of the impending arrival of Carlos Santana.

What’s coming in return is likely an arm from Tampa and, in all likelihood a lower-level arm, that the Indians can add to their layer cake of arms. Whomever that PTBNL ends up being (and who knows, maybe it is a 40-man replacement for Shoppach to bring the 40-man whole again), the return is secondary to the idea that the Indians won’t be on the hook to pay Shoppach’s salary and can utilize their roster more efficiently with Marson and, later in the summer, Santana donning the tools of ignorance on the North Coast.

Truthfully, I don't care if the PTBNL is a low-A arm that may never project to MLB, as Shoppach's usefulness to the organization diminished the day they got Marson (and it was already tenuous with Santana in the wings) just as his usefulness drops proportionally to the raising of the number on his contract. Since he was due another pay raise and since less expensive options (a combo of Marson/Torregas to start the season, followed by a combo of Santana/Marson to finish it) were readily available and nearly MLB-ready, the sands in Shoppach’s Indians’ hourglass were falling quickly and have finally run out.