Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Lazy Sunday Getting Closer

After being subjected to the Opening Ceremonies on Friday night and enjoying the Butler-CSU game on Saturday afternoon (which included my first experience with seeing a fan thrown out of a NCAA game by the refs…and him sitting next to me doing nothing incendiary enough to merit such an ejection), let’s roll right into a Lazy Sunday while I figure out what Valentine’s Day meal I’m going to make to warm The DiaBride this evening.

And with that…we’re off:
While this represents “old news” to some degree, I thought it would be worthwhile to delve into the whole offer that the Indians extended to 2B Orlando Hudson, who eventually signed with the Twins in that it represents the Indians’ first known foray (past Mike Redmond) into guaranteeing a roster spot, much less any money to a Free Agent. Before getting going on this, I should bring up that I thought that the Indians should have signed him after the 2008 season – albeit with my suggested purchase price for Hudson in November of 2008 as a (gulp) “4-year, $40M deal ($9M per with a $4M buyout of the 5th year, $10M option) – to allow the shift towards 3B for Jhonny and Asdrubal, a move that obviously was trumped by the Mark DeRosa deal.

Concerning the Hudson offer, Anthony Castrovince addresses it in his most recent “Indians’ Inbox”, particularly attempting to shed some light on the thought process of the Indians and what the offer means to how they view Louie V:
…I was told the Indians viewed Hudson as the one middle infielder on the open market worth pursuing in such a manner. In fact, he was probably the only player on the market they were willing to work out a creative, two-year contract with.

The Indians still have concerns about their infield defense and, specifically, about Valbuena’s range, as well as his ability to hit lefties. If they had their choice, they’d have Valbuena in more of a utility role where he could bounce around between second base, shortstop and third this season. But as things stand, Valbuena still projects as the regular at second, getting spelled against left-handed starters.

Concerns about their infield defense and, specifically about Valbuena’s range, are interesting when you take a look at the piece about Hudson signing with the Twins from Ken Rosenthal:
Defensively, Hudson remains outstanding on popups and above average to his glove side. He is weaker to his backhand, but again his wrist might not be the only explanation. A second executive says that even before Hudson suffered his injury, his defense was in decline.

“He used to be a difference-maker,” the exec says. “Now he’s a tick above average.”

The pursuit of Hudson is interesting in that it does seem to come a season too late and throws a cloud of uncertainty as to whether they view Valbuena as a long-term answer at 2B. If they don’t and see him “in more of a utility role where he could bounce around between second base, shortstop, and third base this season” , even if it’s just for this year, and with Hudson going to Minnesota, does that mean that the Indians going to keep looking for a 2B?

Not if you believe the notion (as AC was told above) that “the Indians viewed Hudson as the one middle infielder on the open market worth pursuing in such a manner. In fact, he was probably the only player on the market they were willing to work out a creative, two-year contract with.”

While that does explain the pursuit of Hudson, the cloud of uncertainty around the future role of Valbuena persists. While Louie V showed some glimpses of being an everyday player last year, poking laser beam line drives to all fields, if the Indians feel that his best role this season is that of a Utility IF, what does that mean for the future of 2B?

Well, not to introduce a largely-forgotten name here because of his injury-marred 2009 season, but what about Jason Donald?

If you’ll remember, the now-25-year-old IF was rated as the #4 Phillies’ prospect going in 2009 as per Baseball America and John Sickels (who had him rated as a borderline B/B- prospect), not to mention him coming in at #4 as per Phuture Phillies, #5 by Phillies’ Nation, and with Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus (who had Donald as #6 in the Phils’ system before 2009) writing this about Donald prior to the 2009 season:
The Good: Scouts are universal in their praise for the way that Donald plays the game. He has a big-league approach, a fundamentally sound swing, and he drives balls into the gaps with ease. He’s an excellent baserunner and a solid defender.
The Bad: Donald has average tools that play up due to his effort and instincts. He plays three infield positions, but does not profile well as an everyday player on the left side; he lacks range at shortstop and the arm or power profile for the hot corner.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a solid everyday second baseman.
Glass Half Empty: He becomes a valuable utility player and an occasional starter at multiple positions.

While all of those rankings put Donald in the upper levels of the Phillies’ prospects entering last season, consider that the most glowing praise of Donald came from’s Keith Law, who had Donald as the best prospect in the Phillies’ organization going into 2009, as the 6th best 2B prospect in all of MLB going into 2009 (and take a look at how many Indians populate that list from last year), not to mention #48 among all prospects in MLB, justifying the high ranking last year thusly:
He’s a line-drive hitter who uses the whole field well and has good patience, although he can open up a little early and get on top of the ball or swing over it entirely. He has a little loft in his swing but will probably max out around 15-20 homers barring a major increase in strength. His arm is average for short, he gets good reads on ground balls, and is very good on the double play both as a shortstop and on the pivot as a second baseman.

As a quick aside here prompted by Donald’s inclusion in that 2009 prospect ranking, take a look at the players that were in Law’s Top 100 going into last year who now find themselves in the Indians’ organization:
11. Carlos Santana
27. Matt LaPorta
48. Jason Donald
60. Carlos Carrasco
61. Nick Weglarz
66. David Huff
80. Chris Perez
81. Nick Hagadone
That would be 8 of the Top 100 from last year’s list with some of those guys not on this year’s list because of injury-marred 2009 seasons or because they lost their prospect eligibility. Add The Chiz (#26 on Law’s list this year), Rondon (#51 in Law’s 2010 list), and Brantley (#71 on Law’s list for 2010) and that would be 4 potential starters (Carrasco, Huff, Rondon, and Hagadone), 1 potential closer (Perez), a C (Santana), a 1B (LaPorta), a 2B (Donald), a 3B (The Chiz), and a LF (Brantley) who have been considered among the Top 100 prospects in MLB in the past two years by Keith Law. I know the starting pitching still feels like a stretch, but just from a lineup standpoint, did you notice what positions are missing in terms of having a top prospect close to being MLB-ready?

Would it be SS, CF, and RF – where the Indians have their most ensconced position players already on hand and under club control for at least the next three years?

But I digress…just to get back to Donald and attempt to put his prospect standing into the proper perspective by bringing in a comparison to Valbuena, prior to the 2009 season (when Donald was so highly regarded on all of these lists), Louie V did not make the cut among the Mariners’ Top 10 prospects according to Baseball America (though he was tabbed for having the best strike zone discipline) and he ranked #15 on John Sickels’ list of the Indians prospects (which was compiled after the trade from Seattle) going into 2009 with a prospect grade of C+, right between Matt McBride and Bones Meloan. Valbuena does not appear on any of Keith Law’s lists going into 2009, and appeared in the “Just Missed” section of Kevin Goldstein’s list going into 2009 at Baseball Prospectus.

What can be taken from all of this, in that Donald was nearly universally perceived to be a better prospect than Valbuena heading into the 2009 season, one that was essentially a lost season for Donald as he battled injuries both in the Philadelphia organization as well as with the Indians while Valbuena was given the longest leash to a young player by Eric Wedge in recent memory?

I suppose it’s a reality check on expectations for each player as so many have been quick to assume that Valbuena is the long-term answer at 2B while Donald is just some “Utility IF” type. Maybe the opposite is true though, in that maybe Jason Donald is the long-term answer at 2B who just needs to get his sea legs back under him for ½ of a season in Columbus and maybe Valbuena (who, like Donald, can play 2B, SS, and 3B) is the future “Utility IF” for this team. Of course, this isn’t to suggest that Donald should be the starting 2B out of Goodyear however, as he still needs to add to his total of 270 plate appearances above AA and show that the injury issues that derailed his 2009 season are behind him.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say this again – 2010 is the season to find out what the Indians have with their internal options and 2B is no different as a good portion of the playing time should be devoted to find out if Valbuena can hit LHP while giving him the opportunity to show that he can improve his range around 2B. If he struggles for the first half of the season (getting steady AB, even against LHP) to improve either, you have your answer that Valbuena projects as more of a utility player; but if he’s not given the chance to improve or get consistent AB, we’re back to where we’ve been for the past few years with guys who are given a limited amount of time to prove themselves in MLB.

Maybe you take ½ of a season to see what Valbuena can do, sending him back down to rectify his service time (particularly if he struggles) to be replaced by the RH Donald (with whomever staying on as the Utility IF until Valbuena’s service time issue is fixed) in mid-summer so the oil would be on the canvas to see how both Valbuena and Donald do as the everyday 2B in Cleveland and to plan for 2011 accordingly.

Maybe one of them figures in as the 2B in the near and long-term and (just as possibly) neither of them is the answer…but the idea of the once-highly-thought-of Donald could be seen as more of a long-term option (with the fact that he would be a RH bat in a LH-laden lineup) is something to watch as the 2010 season develops.

On the same topic of that RH bat in a LH-laden lineup, the recent rumors of the Indians looking into the services of Russell Branyan and Hank Blalock make very little sense to me as each is LH and the idea of platooning with LaPorta at 1B or adding another LH bat to the bench makes me cringe. The one name however, that does make some sense in terms of adding a 1B/DH type to the mix would be Jermaine Dye.

The initial reason why can actually be seen in a Fangraphs piece from Dave Cameron examining why Dye is so undesirable on the FA market in that, at this point in his career, Dye projects as a RH 1B/DH. That may not be an attractive combination for most teams as Cameron’s rationale for Dye having difficulty finding work goes like this:
Second baseman, third baseman, and shortstop all have to throw right-handed. It’s just the nature of tossing the ball to first base – left-handed throwers are restricted to first base or the outfield. Because one of the requirements of playing the three non-1B infield spots is throwing right-handed, it follows naturally that most of those infielders also hit right-handed.
What does any of this have to do with Jermaine Dye? Well, if you’re a team that is already stocked with right-handers around the infield, you’re running out of spots to get a really good left-handed hitter to balance out your line-up. Unless you have an MVP caliber center fielder, he’s probably not that guy. You might be able to get a left-handed thumping bat in a corner outfield spot, but those guys are expensive, and a lot of teams are realizing that it’s more cost efficient to put a good defender out there anyway.

Let’s follow Cameron’s thought process in this…
The idea that Dye doesn’t work to “a team that is already stacked with right-handers around the infield” isn’t applicable in Cleveland because of Asdrubal’s ability to switch-hit and Valbuena (assuming he’s the 2B) being LH.

The idea that “unless you have an MVP caliber center fielder” would seem to have an answer as would the idea that “you might be able to get a left-handed thumping bat in a corner outfield spot” as all 3 of the Indians’ OF spots seem to be occupied by strictly LH hitters…even if Brantley is never likely to be confused with a “thumper”.

All told, it would look like the Indians are looking at 5 of their 9 everyday players batting from the left side of the plate and if LaPorta is not quite 100% to start the season, the RH options become Andy Marte and Shelly Duncan to balance out the lineup at 1B. Thus, in a LH-laden lineup, a RH bat like Dye makes some sense not only as insurance that LaPorta isn’t going to be healthy to start the season, but more importantly as insurance that Hafner is still not 100% and the trend of his ineffectiveness against LHP is going to continue.

Lest you forget, Hafner only faced LHP in 90 of his 383 plate appearances last year and posted a line of .210 BA / .289 OBP / .407 SLG / .696 OPS in those 90 plate appearances against LHP in 2009. If Hafner is going to take the occasional day off against LHP or still work at being an “everyday” DH in terms of playing multiple consecutive games, what’s wrong with the idea of bringing Dye and his OPS of .894 in 2009 against LHP (he posted a .757 OPS against RHP) into the fold?

I know…I know, I’m the one that’s been hammering away at the idea that the Indians need to figure out as much as they can about their internal options before doling out any money or guaranteed roster spots this off-season, but the RH options right now that would start the season at 1B if LaPorta is slow to recover or would provide RH protection at DH are essentially Marte and Duncan. Since Duncan was inked to a Minor League deal and Marte is on the 40-man, let’s just take a look at that most obvious internal RH option – Andy Marte. Over his career, Marte has posted only a .702 OPS vs. LHP in MLB (.597 OPS vs. RHP) and the difference in Marte’s career splits in MiLB is nominal (.867 OPS vs. LHP, .832 OPS vs. RHP), so it’s not as if Marte is some LHP masher waiting to break out.

Not that Dye is…it just becomes a question of whether Dye is really a better option than just giving Andy Marte one last chance to put some polish on his apple. Yes, maybe Marte needs more time and maybe the player that he was in AAA last year (under the tutelage of Jon Nunnally, now the Tribe hitting coach) shows that the unrequited potential still resides somewhere deep inside Marte.
But if Dye is sitting around, waiting for an opportunity (and this intimation from Frank Thomas in a recent Chicago interview that Dye’s considering retirement reeks of an attempt to drum up interest this late in the game), the question becomes – at what cost?

Dye reportedly turned down a $3.3M, one year deal from the Cubs, an offer that is no longer on the table due to that Cubs’ money making its way into Xavier Nady’s bank account and I'd be loathe to see that kind of money go to a player that ultimately counts as simply an insurance policy against LaPorta’s recovery and the possibility that Pronk is long gone. While Ken Rosenthal can sit and wonder “Why is Jermaine Dye Not Signed”, pointing out that Dye has the 2nd most RBI among MLB outfielders and the 3rd most HR for any AL player over the past 5 years, let’s remember what a contract should be paying for – future expectations, not past results.

So if the Indians can let market conditions allow them to ink Dye to an incentive-laden one-year deal where he’s only going to be asked to play 1B to give LaPorta a day off or sub for Hafner every so often…yeah, I'd sign up for that. It wouldn’t come without some caveats though, as the signing would make sense as long as his role is just that (sometime 1B and DH without taking legitimate AB away from LaPorta) and as long as there’s some sort of language in the deal that prevents him from ever stepping onto the outfield grass at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario with the intent to “play the field” as images of “Ryan Garko – LF” are just too fresh to subject anyone to Dye’s defense in the outfield.

Lest anyone forget, the last veteran 1B/DH that we signed to hit LHP (that would be Eduardo Perez) was famously flipped for a 20-year-old AAA shortstop named Asdrubal. Sure, that deal may be the exception (and does anyone else still marvel that the Indians received two All-Star caliber players for Benuardo back in 2006), but if the worst case scenario for a guy like Dye is that the team flips him in July to a team in need of a RH bat, I’m in for it…assuming the price is right and it just might be.

Moving on, with Spring Training so close you can almost taste it, Tribe Daily has started up their comprehensive look at the players that figure to be populating the fields of Goodyear this Spring Training, starting with the NRI.

Finally, it looks like Paul Hoynes finally caught up on this “when will Grady be traded” nonsense as he finally presents the proper contract terms in today’s mailbag…well, kind of.

Why is this noteworthy?
Well, because Hoynes didn’t want to let Jim Ingraham sit alone in the dark on this one for a while, here a gem from the comments section of Hoynes’ piece on Brantley where Hoynes parrots the Ingraham version (debunked here last week) of when the Indians would consider trading Grady Sizemore:
Posted by Paul Hoynes, The Plain Dealer
February 09, 2010, 6:50AM
I don't think the Indians will trade Grady this year. If you at the recent past, Lee and Martinez weren't traded until they were in their final year with the Indians holding a club option for 2010. Sizemore is signed through 2011 with a club option for 2012.

So unless ownership has a change of heart, or the Indians start playing better, Sizemore could be traded sometime in 2011.
paul hoynes

Again, not to take another swing at that dead horse lying on the ground over there (as Hoynes did get it semi-right today, albeit in his usual confusing language that “I do know they’ll trade him sometime in 2011 or in his club option year of 2012” then laying out why it wouldn’t make sense to trade him in 2011), but if you’re still relying on any of The Three Amigos (that would be Hoynes, Ingraham, or Ocker) as your go-to Tribe beat writer, you’re just wasting your time.

And I don’t just say that because of a cameo appearance in AC’s aforementioned “Indians’ Inbox” this week on the Grady contract topic:
I saw [elsewhere] a report that attempts to start the clock for Grady Sizemore leaving Cleveland. And while I don't pretend that Grady's going to be an Indian for life, this was something I have not seen. The report said the Indians have an option on Sizemore for 2012 for $10.5 million, which Sizemore can decline and thereby declare his free agency. Is this right?
-- Paul C., Cleveland, Ohio

In a word, no.
I've tried to use this space to prepare fans for the probability that Sizemore will not be with the Indians in 2013. It's a very real scenario because of the economic realities of the sport and the doubts, at this juncture, that the Indians could come up with the financial means it would take to be the top bidder for the services of a superstar-caliber player such as Sizemore when he reaches free agency.
Of course, last I checked, it's 2010, so any talk of trading Sizemore -- even when we're talking about a team that traded Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez a year and a half before they were eligible for free agency -- is premature. The Indians do hold an option on Sizemore for 2012, and it remains a club option as long as he's a member of this club. It only becomes a player option if Grady is traded. Otherwise, why would they even bother to call it a "club option"?
The Lee and Martinez examples taught us that the Indians are open to exploring the trade value of their star players well in advance of their free-agent eligibility. But the option clause in Sizemore's contract makes his situation quite a bit different than those Lee and Martinez examples. If the Indians traded Sizemore in 2011, the team acquiring him would (most likely) only be getting him through that season, as one would figure Sizemore would then decline his 2012 option because of its low value relative to his free-agent value.
Sizemore, therefore, probably won't have the trade value in 2011 that Lee and Martinez had in 2009. So the Indians, it would appear, would not have a compelling reason to trade Sizemore until 2012, which is the final year he is guaranteed to wear the Tribe uniform.

OK, so everyone clear on this?
Mr. Hoynes, get that hand all the way up like you finally do get this and somebody wake Ingraham up for goodness sake…Spring Training’s about to start!


Elia said...

I like reading Hoynes for the laughs. That wasn't even his best response today. I like this line better:

"In that regard, I think firing Wedge was the right call. I don't think he was dealt the best of hands over the last two seasons with his best players getting traded every other day."

I forgot that this team was in first place before they traded two Cy Youngs and an All Star!

Spills said...

You think the Polo Crew ever takes ever takes Obama's recent approach to Fox News, sometimes questionable reporting?

Would be amusing to see press releases in response to some of these ridiculous pieces.

Joel Shapira said...

Still no love for Felipe Lopez. I don't see anything in their stats that would make me choose O-dog over him, given their ages and contracts. Castrovince wrote last week the Tribe doesn't like him b/c of his defense but I think he musta really pissed off Acta in DC. Yes, Felipe committed 17 errors last year at 2b but his UZR acc. to Fangraphs was fifth best behind only Polanco, Utley, Pedroia and Kinsler. Plus he's a switch-hitter and puts up stats as good as Peralta. Wouldn't you be willing to spend $2 to $2.5 mil (or less now) this year on that to split time with Valbuena? Hell, he can probably play 1b and the OF better or at least as well as Dye. Perfect super-utility guy for the Indians and the only rumor about him involves firing his agent. Felipe must be one unhappy dude right now.

Paul Cousineau said...

The sense that I get more and more on Lopez is tied into those feelings that you mention that Acta had in managing him in DC.

Everything you say is true in terms of his production and his price seems to be dropping (though we'll see how a new agent approaches him with Boras out of the equation), but I can't shake the idea that Lopez has worn out his welcome at every stop he's been at...and quickly. He's played on 6 teams in 9 years with some of those teams (notably StL and WAS) still legitimately looking for infield help.

With Lopez, I don't think many people question that the talent is there, I just wonder if the ancillary factors associated with signing him add up to him still being available with Spring Training about to start.

GeronimoSon said...

When you look at Felipe Lopez's tenure under the guidance of Manny Acta in Washington, his performance was strikingly different since his departure. With Acta as his manager.. Felipe Lopez barely got to a .250 BA while floundering defensively on the infield.. Since departing from Manny's leadership.. Felipe's numbers soared with notable improvements in Runs Produced, Batting Average (over .330) and power production (mainly doubles) clearly up. A serious concern for Lopez is the number of teams he's been with in such a short time period. Something besides "talent" must be there for clubs to "give up on him" so frequently...

When you compare Jhonny P's numbers for approximately the same time period, his BA is well below Felipe's, but that's the only thing. Jhonny P's power numbers, runs produced etc.. are all vastly better than Felipe's. Jhonny may be signed to a $ 4.6 MM contract with a $ 7 MM club option for the 2011 season, but he's well worth what he's getting paid. In fact, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see Manny put Jhonny P into the clean up spot, from time to time, during the coming season.

The change in position, from SS to 3B, was also part of the equation for Jhonny P. during this timeframe. Jhonny will be retained in order to give the CHIZ time to develop and play at least one more full season in the minors.. Chiz should be starting in AA Akron and may be promoted to AAA Columbus during the coming year.. Both Columbus & Akron are going to have talented teams and should compete for the IL and EL championships..