Sunday, October 31, 2010

Insuring A Lazy Sunday

As the World Series rolls on, things are relatively quiet on the North Coast (and across most of the country) in the time prior to the FA period and now is the time that most teams get their off-season “lists” filled out, unable to act on their needs until the postseason comes to a finish. This “in-between” time is frustrating for most fans of all teams as they survey the MLB landscape and the frustration sometimes leads to the invention of wild scenarios by which trades are manufactured and why Free Agent X would be so inclined to join their beloved team. While most of the trades are pipe dreams and most Free Agent imaginations lack the perspective of the league in terms of player contracts, I often equate this time to ol’ George Costanza walking into The Big Stein’s office and touting that, “I think I figured out a way to get Griffey and Bonds, and we wouldn’t really have to give up all that much”.

Sure, scenarios can be imagined where contracts are swapped or the Dolans inexplicably become major players on the FA market (in what would be an ill-advised attempt), but the truth of the matter is that after the flurry of activity that’s happened on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario over the last two seasons as the decks were cleared in an effort to afford the young players acquired in said deck cleaning the opportunity to play and prove themselves in MLB, it’s going to be a relatively quiet Winter in Cleveland.

Though I’m not interested in creating stories in an effort to drum up interest or readers (rising above the path that some other outlets have taken in Cleveland sports, as Frownie points out), there are always subplots and subterfuge on The Reservation, and all Winter long, I’ll be right here to hit on the high (and low) points as the Indians move forward towards the 2011 season. With that all in mind, let’s get off on a Lazy Sunday that doesn’t involve Browns’ football…but will include some trick-or-treating with Buzz Lightyear and a 9-month-old pumpkin.

Starting off, multiple national sites were enamored with the Antonetti profile in the PD earlier this week, and while the narrative of how the new Indians’ GM arrived at his current job is a compelling human interest story at some level, the piece doesn’t really shed any light on what lessons have been learned since 2008 or how Antonetti figures to approach his job…that is, other than the talking points that we’ve heard for some time now. It remains fascinating to me why the question as to where the organizational deficiencies were that led us to this place (and how they’ve been “fixed”) and the question as to why the Indians’ organization remained silent during last year’s Game 1 of the World Series, with the obvious opportunity to point out the disparity in MLB, with CC starting against Lee both remain unasked.

Perhaps they’re “off-limits” or the Indians want to keep a tight lid on those answers (for some unknown reason), but if you’re looking for real insight and actual clues as to what can be expected from Antonetti, the GM (and not Antonetti, the NHS member), I’ll take the sit-down with Jay Levin of the LGT (accessible and detailed in my post a few weeks back here) as well as falling back the piece written in this space way back in February if you’re looking for more than a detailed look at how Antonetti could approach his job.

It remains to be seen what Antonetti’s first off-season will produce as the Indians have remained largely off the radar outside of the obvious “we need a defensive 3B” without tipping their hand as to where (or if) they think they can get one or even what other needs for the parent club that they feel they CAN (not want to) address. Certainly, we’ve seen the “RH bat” talk bandied about and I’m venturing to guess that the “RH bat” is going to come in the form of an OF, if only because the three assumed OF (and the DH) for 2011 are all LH.

To that end, MLBTR had an interesting piece in which they surveyed the landscape for RH OF and, while the impetus of the piece was to find a platoon partner for Phillies’ prospect Domonic Brown, the conclusions can certainly be applied to the need that the Indians have to acquire a RH bat and one that can preferably play the OF, and optimally all three OF positions.

The options presented by the piece fall in line with what we’ve seen (and I still like Matt Diaz, assuming he’s non-tendered by the Braves), but Xavier Nady may be worth a look as he’s still been recovering from TJ surgery and has compiled an .818 OPS in his career against LHP. Now, it should be noted that Nady posted a .649 OPS against LHP last year as a member of the Cubs (and a .660 OPS overall) as well as mentioning that he’ll be 32 next year, but Nady (who has played all three OF positions in his career) could be a player that fits the Indians’ needs.

While an acquisition of a player like Diaz or Nady isn’t going to cause much more than the usual gnashing of teeth and sports-talk radio mindlessness in terms of reaction, the most interesting thing to watch in the pursuit of that RH bat this off-season is that it may tip the Indians’ hand on what they expect (or, more accurately, don't expect) from one Grady Sizemore in 2011. As a quick aside, here’s a great piece from Andrew Humphries at LGT titled “What Never Was” about Grady that puts the proper perspective as to how far Grady has fallen in terms of expectations…and how fast.

Back to the notion of the search for a RH OF though, if the Indians go out and get an ancillary piece (and I’d put Diaz, Nady, Willie Bloomquist, Reed Johnson or even a Kearns in that category) as the 4th OF/RH bat, then they must feel that Sizemore will be ready to contribute when the team arrives in Goodyear in the Spring. However, if the Indians get more aggressive in their search for an OF and add a player who obviously looks like he could be a starter more than just a complementary piece (and truthfully, I don’t even know if that guy is out there on the FA market in the Indians’ “price range”), it means that either the Indians aren’t all that confident that Grady’s surgically repaired knee is going to allow him to contribute at a meaningful level from the beginning of the season or they are concerned enough that the long-term effects of the surgery are something for which they essentially need insurance.

In fact, “insurance” may be the keyword for the strategy of these potential off-season acquisitions…
“Insurance” that Sizemore’s injury and Brantley’s adjustments to MLB may require a legitimate option in the outfield (and one not named Trevor Crowe as I did use the word “legitimate”)…

“Insurance” that Hafner may be a platoon player who needs RH protection…

“Insurance” that the young RH relievers need some adjustment time that they aren’t ready to handle the 7th or 8th innings from the Season Opener…

“Insurance” that Nix is ill-equipped to be a full-time 3B…

“Insurance” that the young starting pitchers are not quite ready to make the transition to MLB and that some time in AAA wouldn’t improve their likelihood of success in the future…

The notion that they’re going to be leaning too heavily on anyone they acquire this off-season to provide much more than that “insurance” or time for their internal prospects to develop and/or adjust to MLB is short-sighted. Again, the thing to watch this coming season will be the development of the players already around and the Indians don’t figure to add that “one big piece” or even a couple of pieces as the wisdom of adding “one big piece” to a team that simply isn’t one or two external players away from obviously contending is questionable at best.

That notion of “insurance” essentially buys the team time to learn more about their prospects and while I’m certainly not endorsing a return to the Danny Graves, Oldberto Hernandez, Jose Jimenez pile, some well-placed bets on particular players can buy the Tribe that “insurance” without a huge outlay of cash and without a foolish commitment of years to players who shouldn’t be signed for longer than a one (or at the most, two) year deal.

The Indians do have logical internal options for all of their “holes” and the reality is that some of those internal options (Kipnis, The Chiz, the gaggle of bullpen arms in AAA and AA, Alex White, etc.) may not be ready to contribute by mid-2011, as the most optimistic have suggested, or in 2011 at all. That being the case, the Indians should be looking to add some pieces that allow those players to arrive to Cleveland as their clock dictates and not because a pressing need unnecessarily accelerates their arrival.

In terms of other “internal options”, “Baseball America” make the declaration a week or so ago that the best draft in 2010 was put forth by the Tribe, with their “Best of” category being passed along here by the ABJ’s Stephanie Storm. The most pertinent nugget in the piece that Storm passes along is that BA rated Drew Pomeranz as the 4th closest to MLB (and #1 on the list, Chris Sale, already appeared on the South Side) and while that may be exciting, the “fast track” that he figures to follow that’s currently being blazed by Alex White would put Pomeranz in the mix at some point in 2012 or 2013.

Realistically, that would be tremendous progress and shouldn’t be seen as any kind of negative, although if you’ve noticed the lack of LHP in the rotational pipeline for the Tribe, you’re not alone and Pomeranz and Matt Packer (who was profiled by Tony Lastoria here) represent the two best options for LHP down the line, excluding the largely-known quantities that are Dave Huff and the likely bullpen-bound Aaron Laffey.

So how fast would Pomeranz move?
That’s hard to say, but I couldn’t imagine the Indians being THAT aggressive with him unless he absolutely destroys the competition as soon as he arrives on the scene next Spring. Pomeranz (and White and Carrasco and…well, the list goes on and on) have loads of potential, but it remains just that – potential, until we see it arrive in Cleveland and (hopefully) thrive on the North Coast.

Speaking of that potential of the young pitching, many were surprised to see that John Farrell, who declined to even interview with the Indians about their managerial vacancy last Winter despite his ties to the organization, accepted the skipper’s wheel in Toronto. While I’m not one to attempt to get into anybody’s head, consider this write-up from Baseball Analysts as to why Farrell is a great fit for the Blue Jays:
I think Farrell’s the perfect choice for the Jays, a team whose future hinges on its young pitching staff’s continued improvement. Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow and Marc Rzepczynski will average 26 years old for the 2011 season. Kyle Drabek, Zach Stewart and Brad Mills aren't far behind. Farrell will be able to lean on all of his professional skills - his MLB player experience, player development expertise and pitching coach track record - to help strengthen Toronto’s biggest asset, its young pitching.

Certainly you can make the argument that the Indians’ “future hinges on its young pitching staff’s continued improvement” just as much as the Blue Jays’ future does, but if you don’t look at the situation in a vacuum (that is, take both “opportunities” into consideration), you can absolutely see why Farrell was reticent to take over a largely unproven pitching staff in Cleveland and much more open-minded about taking on the challenge in Toronto.

Those young pitchers in Toronto mentioned in the piece are all established in MLB to some degree and if you think about where they are in their development versus where the Indians were last Winter in terms of a pitching staff (Carmona was an absolute mess, Carrasco had just been shelled in his cup of coffee, Masterson looked overwhelmed), the question of why Farrell finds himself in Toronto and not Clevelan isn’t so mysterious at all. If you’d like to buy all of the “I wasn’t ready then...and I’m ready now” rationale, that’s fine, but when you think about the two situations as they exist in Toronto and as they existed last year in Cleveland, the decision as to which opportunity represented a team closer to contention (even considering the fact that the Blue Jays are in the AL East), the promise of what could be in Toronto this off-season is wildly more attractive than the job that Farrell didn’t interview for last Winter.

Speaking of former Tribe pitchers with ties to player development and coaching in the organization, the Diamondbacks announced that Chuck Nagy will be heading out to the desert to be their new pitching coach. Certainly, as Tribe fans, we all wish the Chuckwagon the best and even if the Clippers’ pitching staff had some disappointments this year in terms of development, if 2010 in AAA is looked back upon as the turning point in the career of Carlos Carrasco and when he finally put it all together (and did so under the tutelage of Nagy), we will all be eternally grateful.

Interestingly, with Nagy now in Arizona and Joel Skinner heading to Oakland to be their bench coach, the scattering of former Tribe coaches continues. While Sandy Alomar, Jr. didn’t end up getting the Toronto job that he was a finalist for, is anyone else fascinated how the Indians’ system continues to be a bit of a feeder system in MLB?

Perhaps the Nagy and Skinner examples aren’t the best segue to illustrate this, but lest you forget, Bud Black and Terry Francona were once members of the Indians front-office, meaning that (with Wedge and Farrell), four current MLB managers were prominent members of the Indians’ Front Office or Coaching Staff in the past decade. When given the proper perspective, four out of 30 teams (five if you count Acta) is actually a pretty stunning amount.

Finally, if we’re talking about former members of the Indians’ Front Office, it was announced in New York that former A’s GM Sandy Alderson has been handed the reins in Queens, beating out former D-Backs’ GM (and former Indians’ Front Office member) Josh Byrnes.

While Jon Heymann seems to think that Byrnes is destined for San Diego because of his relationship with Jeff Moorad, if the Indians are looking to add a “Free Agent” that could make an impact this on the organization, I’ll bang the drum once again to bring Byrnes back to the North Coast to present a fresh set of eyes and ideas to an organization that may be more interested in “insurance” rates than the going rates on Free Agents this off-season.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Built for October

With the World Series (finally) underway and with the magnifying glass being focused on comments made by CP Lee’s wife (and really, how the whole Lee-Yankees fans thing shakes out in terms of it affecting him going there is nailed by Craig Calcaterra at HBT, in which he says that the manner in which her words are dissected depends on how you view the situation going into it), there is baseball to be played and, seeing as how this Fall Classic between the team from the 5th largest TV market against the 6th largest TV market is somehow is being touted as a couple of the “little guys”, let’s take a quick look at how these two teams were built and how it relates to the “Rebuild/Reload/Whatever” currently underway on the North Coast.

Much of the build-up to the World Series has focused on the efforts of baseball’s new wunderkind, Texas GM Jon Daniels, and how the Rangers were built with good drafting and development. You’ll, of course, remember the Jerry Crasnick piece that trumpeted how the Rangers were built from within and while most ( took that as fact, how about this breakdown of the Rangers' roster, with the significant players with OPS+ or ERA+ over 100 listed...right next to how each was acquired:
Josh Hamilton – 175 OPS+ (via Trade)
Nelson Cruz – 150 OPS+ (via Trade)
Vlad Guerrero – 122 OPS+ (via FA)
David Murphy – 115 OPS+ (via Trade)
Ian Kinsler – 113 OPS+ (via Amateur Draft)
Mike Young – 105 OPS+ (via Trade)

Darren O’Day – 213 ERA+ (via Waiver Claim)
Darren Oliver – 175 ERA+ (via FA)
Neftali Feliz – 159 ERA+ (via Trade)
CJ Wilson – 129 ERA+ (via Amateur Draft)
Colby Lewis – 116 ERA+ (via FA)
Tommy Hunter – 116 ERA+ (via Amateur Draft)
Frank Francisco – 115 ERA+ (via Trade)
Cliff Lee – 109 ERA+ (via Trade)
Derek Holland – 106 ERA+ (via Amateur Draft)
Dustin Nippert – 101 ERA+ (via Trade)

If you’re counting at home, that would be four players out of seventeen that were the product of the Rangers’ drafting. Perhaps you want to include Colby Lewis, who was originally drafted by Texas, which played a role as to which team he would sign with after spending the last two years in Japan, but for the purposes of this, the Rangers that figured significantly into their 2010 season that were drafted by the club and have stayed with the club are Kinsler, Wilson (who converted from relieving), Hunter, and Holland.

Not exactly the backbone of the Rangers’ team there, though there are some nice players. However, this idea that they built the team from within isn’t really all that true. That’s not to say that the Rangers haven’t benefited from some strong scouting and decent drafting (and there is purported to be more in the pipeline…and stop me if you’ve heard that before) that allowed the Rangers to go out and pry a Cliff Lee out of Mariners.

That all being said, the assertions coming forth that are ready to canonize Daniels seem to simply give him credit for everything, sometimes going a little overboard:
They’ve used the draft as well as any team in the majors. They’ve built one of the strongest Latin American programs in the game. There are plenty of teams that have done good jobs in one or the other and a few that have done a good job at both.

If you were wondering about that “Latin American program”, you’ll notice that there are no players on the list above that were signed as Amateur Free Agents…so you won’t find the equivalent of a Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Fausto Carmona, or Rafael Perez, the way that you could on the 2007 Tribe.

So, are the Rangers (as they’re currently constructed) a team that should be emulated in terms of how much they have benefited from smart drafting and Latin American development?

Um...not really, particularly when you consider the rotation that they’ll be facing this post-season includes four pitchers all drafted and developed by San Francisco. Prepare to be impressed here:
Matt Cain (1st Round, 2002)
Jonathan Sanchez (27th Round, 2004)
Timmy Lincecum (1st Round, 2006)
Madison Bumgardner (1st Round, 2007)
Now, each of those four pitchers is under control for at least the next two seasons and if you were wondering how the Giants are in the World Series despite their moribund offense and after making some HORRIBLE recent moves in FA (Zito and Rowand) as well as some dreadful trades (AJ Pierzynski for Liriano/Nathan), you start to realize how truly amazing it is, in terms of what young, top-end starting pitching can hide in terms of other organizational warts.

Drafting and development is why the Giants find themselves in the Fall Classic as Brian Wilson (24th Round, 2003…and who is under club control through the 2013 season, just like Lincecum) and Buster Posey (1st Round, 2008) combine with that pitching staff to essentially constitute the six bullets in the Giants’ chamber.

Sure, they have their bit players that have played well…actually Aubrey Huff (FA), Pat Burrell (FA), and Andres Torres (FA) are the only offensive players outside of Posey to have an OPS+ over 100 and relievers Santiago Casilla (FA) and Sergio Romo (Draft) are the only pitchers outside of their playoff rotation and Brian Wilson to post an ERA+ over 100 this year, but the Giants’ success is keyed and maintained by those six drafted players.

And if you’re wondering after looking at those years of the draft – yes, they went Lincecum, Baumgardner, Posey in three consecutive years in the Amateur Draft.
Of course, every team would love to simply draft arms in the 1st Round year after year and assume that those pitchers will one day constitute a playoff rotation for them, but if you want a road map of how successful drafting can lead you to your destination, the Giants (even with their terrible lineup, full of has-beens and never-weres) actually provide a better example between the two, in terms of how teams can use the draft to a postseason berth and a successful October.

To bring it back to the North Coast, after following the REAL story of how Texas was built and how it falls closer in line with “acquire guys via trade and add them to in-house talent while getting lucky on some lottery tickets” blueprint that the Rangers are reading off of, perhaps the new incarnation of the Indians is a combination between the two. Which is to say, the Indians have made the trades in the past three years that they hope will yield the same success that the Rangers are enjoying; however, the blueprint of picking arms at the top of the draft in the hopes that they can one day become that great equalizer – strong starting pitching – the way that it has in San Francisco.

Certainly, it feels pie-eyed to dream today that some amalgamation of Santana, Carrasco, LaPorta, Masterson, and Brantley (all acquired via trade, among many others) combining with Kipnis, The Chiz, Weglarz, and most importantly (here’s where those high pitching draft picks come in) Alex White and Drew Pomeranz are going to mature and develop into some combination of acquired players and drafted players that allows them to achieve contention and sustained contention.

However, as we’ve seen, there are many ways in which a team can outplay the heavyweights of MLB any given year (and does anyone else find it odd that competitive balance is touted simply because the Yankees fall two games short of winning it all) and the Indians seem to be following some well-worn paths. Whether or not those players acquired and drafted can blend the same way that they have in Texas and San Francisco this year (or the way they did in Cleveland three years ago) is the ebb and flow that figures to be on tap for the next few years.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What To Do on A Lazy Sunday?

On a morning after which the World Series is set, with the inclusion of the Rangers and Giants sure to give the MLB offices one more year of “see, competitive balance in the league has never been better because small-market teams can succeed (despite the fact that San Francisco and Dallas are the 6th and 7th largest Metro areas in the US)”, it seems that the WS match-up discussion is ancillary to what the Yankees and the Phillies are going to do this off-season to return to the Fall Classic next year.

As the assumption that Cliff Lee (and perhaps Carl Crawford) will head to the Bronx has become a foregone conclusion (and might I remind you that I pointed out that he’d end up going there when he was dealt to Seattle last December) and as the Phillies attempt to figure out WHY they traded CP Lee in the first place, the events of the League Championship Series showed us, once again, that pitching rules the day in the MLB playoffs.

So while everyone (or at least the folks in Bristol) wonders what the Yankees and Phillies will do to enhance their chances of getting back to the WS next year, let’s take off on a Lazy Sunday with other types of off-season “plans”…but “plans” for a team that don’t occupy the same airspace as New York and Philly. With that all being said, let’s get loose on a Lazy One…

In case you don’t remember because Cleveland Beer Week hit you pretty hard, last week’s edition involved one man’s (probably flawed) perspective on how the Indians should be approaching their off-season, in terms of dealing with arbitration cases and attempting to fortify some of the obviously weak spots of the Indians. If you need the Cliffs’ Notes version, in terms of acquiring talent from outside the organization, I had the Indians targeting a defensive 3B, a RH 4th OF, a RH set-up man, and adding some arms to the mix in the rotation.

The whole “GM for a Day” idea was certainly not mine as Baseball Prospectus has utilized the concept for the last few years, titled…actually, “GM for a Day”. Earlier this week, the Indians’ piece was posted, written by Tommy Bennett, who surmised that uncertainty is the only certainty in terms of the Indians’ future at most positions. While this is certainly true, the entire piece was poorly-researched and lacked any kind of real proposed “actions” that you would think be highlighted in a piece, if the premise is to be “GM for a Day”. To wit, one of his “gambles” was to “fill out the outfield with Michael Brantley in center, and then I’d move him to left when and if Sizemore returns.”

Um…be careful on that limb out there as that sounds pretty risky, unless you’ve been paying attention at all to the Indians.

As much as I’ve enjoyed this series from B-Pro (as they do every team), it really is too bad that John Perrotto was not on the Indians, as in this particular piece 3B isn’t mentioned AT ALL, much less as the primary position that needs to be addressed, and the lack of perspective comes through as clearly as possible when the absurd claim that “the Indians should turn their eyes squarely to Jason Knapp, who came back from a shoulder injury to blow away his competition in the low minors” makes an appearance.

In terms of recommending specific player acquisition, the analysis gets as insightful as finding a “Joaquin Benoit c.2009” for the bullpen…because every team isn’t looking for a wildly effective reliever at a low cost. Past that, Bennett also suggests a reclamation project for the rotation (specifically mentioning Brandon Webb), but the disappointing piece ends with the idea that development should rule the day, saying that “the Indians are well set to field a competitive – and inexpensive – team.”

The angle of the focus being player development is not a new one (as we all know that the success or failure of the Tribe in the next three to five years is going to depend on players already in house) and it is at the crux of a piece from Jon Steiner at WFNY, who questions whether the Indians should be looking to spend on adding an arm, among other proposed additions from outside the organization:
Since it’s unlikely that 2011 will be a contending year, I believe we need to separate the wheat from the chaff in that list, and adding another arm to the pile on a short-term deal doesn’t make a lot of sense unless the goal is to flip him at the deadline for prospects. It would just muddy the waters.

While this line of thinking certainly is not without merit, I suppose my answer to that would be that I’m not overly convinced that the likes of Talbot, Tomlin, Gomez, and Huff are much more than “Cleveland to Columbus” fodder and past Carmona, Carrasco, and Masterson (who, frankly, still could end up in the bullpen), the next group of arms is a fair distance away from legitimately contributing. To that end, Alex White excites me and Corey Kluber, Zach McCallister, and Yohan Pino intrigue me at some level (and in that order), but I don’t think that those guys are going to be ready when the season starts to be in Cleveland, just like I don’t think that Tomlin or Gomez should join Huff in some sort of less-than-compelling “competition” for the 5th spot.

Steiner’s absolutely right in that the team needs to separate the wheat from the chaff, but I would allow some of that to continue to happen on the AAA level and see if the team could add an arm (or two) to that mix of the parent club to push guys like Tomlin, Gomez, Huff, and the group below them into a position where they’re forcing THEMSELVES into an opportunity instead of an opportunity being forced upon them, perhaps prematurely. Certainly, the Indians need to find what they have in their back-end-of-the-rotation grab-bag, but given that all of those guys have options (save Talbot), I’d utilize those options and add some legitimate depth in the rotation for next year. If Tomlin/Gomez/Huff or White/Kluber/McCallister/Pino force themselves into the conversation – terrific, but putting them squarely in the conversation when they may not necessarily belong there is what frightens me.

Going further with what frightens me, Steiner asks the question of whether the Indians should even be spending money on 3B, evoking my favorite Billy Beane quote…you know, that teams can win the same amount of games with a $40M payroll and a $75M payroll. Regardless, after surveying the scene of what would be available at 3B, Steiner asks about the most prudent path at 3B and, more importantly, about how the Indians should be approaching this off-season as a whole:
Are there any 3B out there in the $3 to $5 million range who are significantly better than what we have? Guys who can add wins to the team? And if not, does it really make sense to go after anyone? Should the team spend an extra $10 million just to say that it did?

It’s a valid question and I’m not sure that the team shouldn’t just squirrel away the money for next year’s draft (and yes, I know that budgets theoretically exist for each...but you can’t tell me that they’re unrelated) or the draft after that and continue to go overslot with draft picks to continue to add to what could and should be the lifeblood of the organization – young, internally developed talent. As a quick aside here, Tony Lastoria mentions that the Indians’ 2010 draft was ranked as the best by Baseball America recently…which I hope means something in about two to three years.

However, I’ll go back to the notion that the team is flawed (obviously) and that money should be spent to essentially avoid the avoidable for 2011. What I mean by that is that finding a 3B prevents the Indians from playing Jayson Nix out of position at 3B in 2011 and allows him to play a more valuable role as a super-utility player. Just as important, looking for a RH reliever allows the Indians to go into 2011 with a RH set-up guy not named Jensen Lewis and/or Justin Germano. Continuing to go down the line, is anyone interested in seeing Trevor Crowe as the 4th OF next year and wouldn’t it behoove the Indians to find a RH OF to replace him?

All those answers are fairly obvious, though the question becomes at what cost should the Indians find these “band-aids”, whether they’re meant to cover a minor scratch (4th OF) or a gaping hole (3B). Just to use the $10M number, spending $10M may buy some time at 3B while improving defense appreciably and it could add a RH bat to the OF while adding some stabilization to the back of the bullpen and putting another arm into the rotational mix, allowing the Tomlin/Gomez/Huff troika time to separate themselves out in Columbus, not in Cleveland.

Unfortunately for the Indians, if they hand out $2M here on a RH OF, $3M there on a 3B and $3 M over there on an arm, the price tag adds up pretty quickly to that $10M number. While some will equate these types of signings with Dellichaels of our past and the Branyan of our recent past (and there is a valid argument there), the holes on this team are obvious, or at least the ones that don’t have a natural internal answer as an option.

How much money they end up spending (and where they spend it) remains to be seen, but I do think that they add a 3B and a RH OF at the very least, then will probably pick through the reliever market for a player that can hopefully inspire more confidence than Lewis/Germano/Smith in the 7th and 8th innings while perhaps getting creative on adding a rotational arm or two.

With money “on the table”, it is interesting to take a look at the committed dollars to players for 2011 for the Indians in the context of the rest of MLB, courtesy MLBTR:
Padres - $1.1M
A’s - $11.48M
Pirates - $16.75M
Rays - $17.67M
Marlins - $19.75M
Diamondbacks - $19.99M
Indians - $27.46M
Orioles - $28.7M

Rangers - $32.11M
Giants - $76.93M

Phillies - $143.73M
Yankees - $144.61M
The link is worth a click for the whole list and those last two are included for some perspective (and remember that Jeter, Mo Rivera, Pettitte aren’t under contract next year for the Bombers…nor is CP Lee) as to how out-of-whack MLB truly is in terms of payroll. To that end, it should be noted that the totals for the bottom seven (that’s up to and including the Orioles) ADD UP to a number lower than committed salaries for the Phillies and Yankees for 2010.

However, the inclusion of the Rangers (and the Giants) is not coincidental as the build-up in Texas is the soup du jour these days in terms of how a team can be constructed from the ground up. To that end, there’s an interesting piece on the Rangers – and their GM, Jon Daniels, specifically – from ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick that reminds those who may not follow the Rangers that closely about their ascent to their current place.

In the piece, Daniels admits that the Rangers aren’t trying to do anything different than 25 or so other teams, that it just happened to work out for them with some strong drafting, strong player development and (after a couple of misfires) a trade that infused young talent:
“Our plan isn’t rocket science. We’re not the first team that said, ‘Hey, let’s build from within.’ We’ve had success to this point because our evaluators are good. Our scouts are good. Our development people are good. They care and they put the work in. I like to think we have a very clear idea of who we are and what our identity is.”
Flash back 3½ years, and Daniels wasn’t exactly baseball’s flavor of the month. In his first significant move as Texas GM, he sent Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to San Diego for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. In his second, he traded John Danks to the Chicago White Sox for Brandon McCarthy. He was like a hitter down 0-2 in the count and trying to foul off Mariano Rivera cutters amid the shadows.

But in 2007 Daniels sold Hicks on “the plan”-- a commitment to long-term building through the draft, Latin America and all other available sources -- and the Rangers have since enjoyed a stunning run of success:
The foundation for Texas’ turnaround was laid at the July 2007 trade deadline, when Daniels sent Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves in a seven-player deal that brought pitcher Neftali Feliz and shortstop Elvis Andrus to the Rangers.

Certainly you can say that the addition of Lee was instrumental in getting the Rangers to the WS (and that’s an understatement), but the fact is that the Rangers had to part with their top positional prospect in Justin Smoak (who was drafted by Texas) to pry Lee out of Seattle. However, the Rangers did seem to have everything come together all at once as they benefitted from internal development with guys like Ian Kinsler and Tommy Hunter, some rewarded patience with guys like Nelson Cruz (career OPS of .794 coming into this year as a 29-year-old OF), and a little luck with guys like Colby Lewis (career ERA+ of 73 entering 2010 as a 30-year-old fresh out of Japan) and converted reliever CJ Wilson (6 MLB starts prior to this year as a 29-year-old)…all of which seemed to work for them.

Going back to that piece though, look at those Gonzalez/Young deals and the Danks deal that absolutely tanked for the Rangers and how the Teixeira deal represented the watershed moment in terms of adding outside talent to what was already in the organization to give the Rangers that young, talented bedrock to build upon.

Compare that to the to 2007 Indians as, after Shapiro missed on the first couple of trades (Alomar, etc.) in his tenure, he hit paydirt on Colon and the players received combined with the in-house talent (Victor, CC, Peralta, etc.) as well as some other players acquired via trade (Westbrook, Hafner, etc.) to create that special opportunity for the Tribe.

Now, remember that the Teixeira deal occurred in July of 2007 and here we sit, 2 ½ years later with the Rangers heading to the WS. Interestingly, while Jarrod Saltalamacchia (who was the closest to the big leagues and posted an OPS+ of 80 in 721 PA for the Rangers) and LHP Matt Harrison (MLB ERA of 5.39 in 225 1/3 IP) haven’t contributed to the current success of the team, the timeframe is worth noting as CC was moved the summer after Teixeira and Lee and Vic were moved two years later. Again, the timeframe of those building blocks acquired via trade being mixed with the in-house talent is what should be watched here.

While it’s folly to think that the Indians will follow a similar path in 2011, the development of those players acquired via trade over the last two years combining with the players added to the organization via the draft (particularly in the last three drafts) will determine if …let’s say the 2012 Indians have a similar story – with pieces from the CC and Lee deals blending in with other players, drafted and/or traded for in leading a young and relatively inexpensive team into unchartered waters?

The blueprint was followed by the 2007 Tribe and is now being used by the 2010 Rangers, and whether or not the Indians decide to add players via FA this off-season or not, it bears repeating that the success or failure of this team in the next three to five years is going to come from the players that are already in house.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Flipping the Script

As the MLB playoffs continue with former Indians dotting the post-season rosters, the amazement that 2007 was merely three years ago never ceases for most Tribe fans. The excitement, the promise, the feeling that this was just the beginning, the cautious optimism that the Indians had created a burgeoning juggernaut, unfazed by the Yankee mystique and built on their own young talent…remember all of that, just three years ago?

Unfortunately, as we all sit and watch the aces for each ALCS squad square off against each other (again) in a meaningful playoff series (again), the Indians find themselves at the bottom of another “cycle” and, if it wasn’t obvious from the attendance figures, the descent has taken its toll on an already abused fanbase.

To that end, I thought I would share an e-mail that I received from my buddy Mike last week that I’ve been unable to extract from my head, as Mike admitted to me that the past three years have given him serious pause about the investment involved in being and Indians’ fan. Lest anyone question the fanhood at hand, this is the guy who earned extra money in high school by ushering at Jacobs Field, that drove from Chicago to Cleveland for every playoff game in the 2007, and who was known to launch Rally Pies on unsuspecting victims on those magical Fall nights a mere three years ago.

Despite that level of, well…love, Mike’s feelings about the current Indians echo what I think most die-hard Indians’ fans are wrestling with. He wrote me that after 2007, “to see what happened next just destroyed me. A lot of it was due to bad luck, but quite a bit was due to baseball economics. Hafner/Westbrook injuries coupled with drop offs from some just destroyed us. After being as invested as I was, seeing that happen, and then seeing how ruthless the current MLB financial setup is with a team like us. How can I rationalize that kind of investment again?”

Realizing that the MLB landscape was not going to be changing any time soon, I asked him what would bring that passion back – if it was simply a matter of winning again. His response was jarring:
A rebirth of sorts would help, but remember, we all stayed engaged in the early to mid 2000’s partially because we were still ignoring the MLB financial elephant in the room and partially because the new young players were so exciting. Ultimately, I don’t know what will bring me back. I hate to say it’s just winning, but that’s not the only thin as I have no connection to this current roster. At the end of the day, maybe what really bothers me deep down is they’ve never addressed the organizational shortcomings. Clearly someone was failing miserably at their job for the past 5 years.

You want the PR nightmare?
There it is, die-hard fans unsure if they want to emotionally invest themselves in the continuation of this new “cycle”, certain that the economic realities of baseball will deep-six any possibility that the Indians can use the same group of players to mature and contend together for a period longer than three to four years and, more importantly, the horrifying descent of the last three years showing that the Indians’ organization was ill-equipped to sustain the success that they had built from 2003 to 2007. Seeing the same faces in the Front Office and the same message being preached from said Front Office as we embark on what we all hope is another trip up the standings, it feels like 2002 or 2003 all over again and, as Mike says, “how can I rationalize that kind of investment again” if we already know how this story ends, with the sucker punch landing in our guts?

That’s why the Indians are at a crossroads in terms of how they’re perceived by their fans. Sure the optimists will always see that half-full glass and the naysayers will always have their teeth to gnash, but the core of the fanbase is wavering by the dual existence of MLB’s uneven playing field (and Craig Calcaterra points out the real “power” of the Yankees here) and the fact that they’ve heard this sermon before from the same preacher and they aren’t quite sure if they’re ready to buy into the message again.

Despite this, the Indians are out there with the script that we’ve heard for far too long, one that was relayed from Mark Shapiro to B-Pro’s John Perrotto again recently as he outlined the issues (outside of trading CC and CP Lee in consecutive seasons) facing the Indians:
“One of them is demographics,” Shapiro said. “It’s a smaller city. A second is the economic troubles we’ve had as the city tries to re-shape itself. This has been a devastating period for the city. But there are two other factors. We need to win. We need to put a winner on the field and we need to improve the level of entertainment we offer within the ballpark."
“The trouble is, people are looking at this in the context of the mid-‘90s Indians,” he said. “That was obviously a very different market. We had top five payrolls. And we did not spend beyond our revenues in the mid-‘90s. We spent what we made. There’s probably only one team in baseball that spends significantly beyond their revenues. All the rest spend about what they make. The biggest markets make a ton of money, and don’t even spend their revenues. So the model you might emotionally ask for, an owner to use the team as a philanthropic endeavor and to continually fund huge deficits beyond revenues—you’re asking for something that doesn’t exist. There is no place where that exists. So changing an owner is not going to change that."

Just to finish the thought, Shapiro says in the piece that, “’we’re at the hump or just over it,’ as far when the Indians will attempt to field a winning team” and attempts to dispel what Perrotto calls “the perception among fans is that ownership lacks the money to bankroll a strong roster”.

That reasoning is actually sound in that Cleveland is struggling and the Indians are in a different place, in terms of revenues, than most other MLB teams…and a couple in particular. However, Indians’ fans are already acutely aware of this and realize that CC was going to go to the highest bidder and that CP Lee is going to go to the highest bidder, as well as the fact that the Indians were never going to be that highest bidder.

However, this rationale doesn’t make it any easier for anyone to stomach the “emotional investment” and the sucker-punch that lurks around the corner. Terry Pluto hit on this a couple of weeks ago, in that the Indians should change their message, embracing the role of the underdog, but it goes further than that. The Indians shouldn’t just be embracing the role of the underdog, they should be trumpeting the fact that the two aces in the ALCS are players who made their MLB debuts for Cleveland and that it isn’t a coincidence (and read this on Lee from Joe Pos) that the Indians had built a rotation around CC and Lee in the mid-2000’s.

They should point out that they DID identify the generational talents and put the plans in place to sustain that level of contention. However, they shouldn’t shy away from the fact that those best-laid plans were undermined by slow starts, injuries, regressions, and a failure to augment the parent club with a steady stream of young talent – the lifeblood of any successful franchise.

On that last topic, they’ve started to admit the mistakes as Shapiro had this to say on the draft failures to Stephanie Storm of the ABJ, “We admit it’s definitely the worst-performing component of our overall operation...we can’t afford to not excel in every facet of our operation.”

But again, the message should be stronger than that and the season that fans just endured – with Crowe and Huff…um, underwhelming and Sowers spending the entire year in AAA because no other team wanted the former First Round Pick – should compel them to admit that it’s simply “the worst-performing component” of the organization. Let it be known that people are on notice on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario and that the mediocrity won’t be tolerated, much less rewarded, anymore.

If that doesn’t sound like the Indians’ public face…well, that’s part of the problem as the Indians shouldn’t be sending out letters to season-ticket holders (like this one that arrived in my mailbox this past weekend), gently selling the future of the team (which Corey Kluber is, apparently, a major part of) on the premise of hope.

Rather, they should be pointing out that they pulled this off once before and while the end result didn’t flesh out the way they thought it would, they’ll be damned if they’re not going to do it again. They should say that the economics of baseball aren’t going to dictate terms to them because they’ve learned from their mistakes and are creating that model franchise with a full pipeline of young players that was promised back in 2002.

Maybe it will come off as grand-standing and maybe it involves more chutzpah than we’ve seen from the corner of Carnegie and Ontario for a while, but the organization needs to get a little ballsy in terms of talking up what they’ve done, own where they’re at, and, most importantly, where they think they’re going.

By no means is this to suggest that the Indians need to become some polo-and-khaki version of the “The Kenny and Ozzie Show” that plays to packed houses (and some critical acclaim) on the South Side, nor does it mean that they have to go to the comic sans font or the extreme side of the ledger and guarantee a championship before the Yankees win another one…as some perspective is always necessary and appreciated.

Rather, the Indians need to find a new message to yell from the street corners.
Toady, we hear the same message that was preached in 2002 – that patience is a virtue and that brighter days are ahead – but here they sit, eight years later, right back to where they were before.

Yes, we all know that they’ve done this before and that they oversaw the rise from the ashes from 2003 to 2005 and were one game away from the 2007 World Series, but Indians’ fans are left with the reality that, even if the current players turn into the stars that some of them could be, they’re not Cleveland Indians for life and that the same Front Office that presided over the rapid descent, is still in place with no promise that the last chapter of this next book (2010-?) is going to be any different than the ultimately disappointing one (2003-2009) we just closed up.

Everyone remember when the Dolans said they would win “multiple championships” when they became owners or when Shapiro said that “this team will contend in 2005” back when they traded Colon in 2002?

Of course, both of those phrases were (or still are) fodder for anyone with a complaint about the Indians and their failures. Want to know something, though? As insane as those “multiple championships” sounded (or is it sound?) or as crazy as we all thought Shapiro was when he put a firm timeframe on the rebuild (and there’s no doubt he regretted providing a date as soon as he spoke it), that type of braggadocio is what is lacking from this organization in the past four years.

Maybe the time has come to pull a Don Draper and make a grand gesture (and by this I refer to his open letter in the New York Times, not his actions of the Season Finale), acknowledging that the perception on the street about you has become pervasive and accepted fact, looking at the brick wall in front of you, and changing the message to remind everyone who you are, what you have done, and (again, most importantly) who you know you will become.

As a quick aside here, if you don’t know who “Don Draper” is (and that’s a loaded question), stop what you’re doing, go add “Mad Men” to your Netflix queue (or however you handle your DVD viewing) and watch every available episode to catch up to that letter to the best show on TV right now.
No, seriously...I’ll wait.

Back to the matter at hand, this may be lunacy for Antonetti to preach a new message when he JUST became the GM, but injecting some urgency that doesn’t devolve into catch-phrases and cold, calculated seminars is imperative if the Indians are going to win back that cadre of fans that are having trouble wrapping their heads, hearts, and stomachs around the last three years…and the next three.

Use the bully pulpit from the corner of Carnegie and Ontario again to move away from the talk that “this is a rebuilding year again” and say that young in-house talent are unequivocally the players that are going to lead the Indians to their next appearance in the playoffs. If the Front Office TRULY believes it, come out and declare that the assembled young talent at all levels will prevent the team from going into this valley again.

If that sounds bold…be bolder.
Put a timeframe on it – say that the team will win 90 games within the next three years and take it further that if 90 wins isn’t enough to win a division title by 2013, that ownership will make the necessary commitments to earn that AL Central flag within the next five years. If that doesn’t happen and the team finds itself in this “valley” again in five years, be self-aware enough to acknowledge that you’re probably not going to be drawing a paycheck from the Indians five years from now because it means that the current “Rebuild/Reload/Whatever” didn’t gain traction.

The time has arrived for the organization to grow a pair, to believe in what they’ve done already and to sell what they plan to do. Watching the Indians act like Shelley Levene in the corner, begging for the benefit of the doubt, and not Ricky Roma screaming in the center of the room, has grown tired and the Indians need to find a way to regain the confidence that most have lost over the last three years and to convince people that they’re equipped to take the built-in disadvantages of the system out of the equation.

If the Indians want to re-capture those that have lost hope, they must project a confidence that is not off-putting, but one that acknowledges their mistakes while promising…no, guaranteeing that better days are ahead. Harken back to the idea that the Indians are out to create a model organization and that their mistakes have given them a better idea of what “The Indian Way” (remember that?) is really all about. Convince the fans that the period that many figured to emerge after the 2005 and 2007 seasons is not far off and that the last three years have given them back the laser focus that made them successful in the first place.

The time has come to convey to the fans that the organization moved away from what made them successful…and to remind them that what made them successful in the first place is on display on the mound in the ALCS. For the Indians, it is time to stop playing the role of “The Little Engine that Could” and assert themselves into the recurring role of “The Little Engine that Did…and Will Once Again”.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Lazy Sunday Planning Ahead

As the events in Madison last night ensure that 2010 will go down as one of the most disappointing news for sports on the North Coast, and not just in recent memory, we wait for Colt McCoy to be thrown into the fire in the Steel City and await what figures to be a Sunday on par with what we’ve been experiencing all year. Nevertheless, the weather is beautiful outside and the leaves are various stages of turning and falling, so let’s enjoy the best time of the year in Cleveland…regardless of the events in the sporting world that have affected us over the last year. Before we go out to enjoy said weather though, let’s get loose on a Lazy One…

With the news that The Atomic Wedgie will be heading out to the Emerald City (where I can’t imagine Milton Bradley sticks around), allow me to direct your eyes to a terrific piece from Andrew Humphries of LGT that effectively shines a light on Wedge’s shortcomings and oversights as the Indians’ manager (Garko in LF, among other topics, brilliantly skewered) under the guise of Wedge’s “convincing” nature in an interview.

Other than Wedge being a man-in-demand as teams interviewed for managerial openings, the only real happenings in the Wigwam this week came courtesy of the Choo “story” that he had given an interview to some Korean reporters in LAX, setting off the requisite firestorm of manufactured negativity and outrage locally, as the doom-and-gloom that Choo wanted to leave (and the intellectual leap that he was “right” to leave because the Indians were a minor-league team) became an accepted reaction to this “story”.

Of course as you can see in the linked story, the Indians refuted the story came out in Wednesday’s print edition, and with the PD waiting until Friday morning to pass along the rebuttal of fact as well as the original reporters “apology” online. However, it is interesting in this timeline that until the PD printed the “apology” piece in Saturday’s paper (page D4, no less), despite the fact that another Korean journalist attempted to clear the air in the message below that was picked up both by the link provided by Castro and Calcaterra hours after the PD ran the initial story:
Choo said, purely out of envy, he wanted to play on a winning team after watching other guys pop champagne for clinching playoff berths. But he didn’t say the word “transfer” (should have been translated into ‘trade’' It’s baseball, not soccer) as far as I know. But he also said he wants to stay with one club for a long time and Cleveland would be his first choice. Then he said his agent would take care of his contract situation and that he hadn’t heard anything special from the agent.

This is all pretty fuzzy stuff as it was clearly a he-said-he-said situation made cloudier by translation and the context of the answer (in terms of what question it was in response to) or even what Choo really said remains a mystery. Choo was probably asked if he’s been watching the playoffs and responded that it would be nice to be in a position to “pop champagne for clinching playoff berths”, which he obviously has not in Cleveland.

Really though, we don’t know what he said as we have the original story (passed on by the PD) and the rebuttal (passed along by Castro and Calcaterra...and two days later, by the PD) providing disparate messages. Ultimately, it was a non-story (though it did remain the lead Indians’ story on for a solid two days, garnering all sorts of outrage and inane baseball philosophizing from those who specialize in outrage and inanity) that was refuted quickly after it was published by multiple media outlets.

So, yeah…nothing to see here, please move along…
Regardless, since The BLC is the Tribe’s top priority (the way that getting Aerosmith tickets was once the “top priority of the summer” for some high-schoolers in the mid-70s), let’s use the Choo story as the segue into what the Indians should be looking to do this off-season since...well, there are no real “stories” to talk about, other than the miraculous possible return of (knocking firmly on wood) Atom Miller.

Since all of the “here’s what happened” pieces have been written and the 2010 season has been examined by the coroner and the funeral directory and now lies 6 feet deep, the attention has to turn to the future and what the off-season holds (or should hold) for YOUR Cleveland Indians. What they should do, besides obviously making some changes to their uniforms (and from the looks of the front of the 2011 schedule that was handed out at the last home game, it looks as if a switch to the white border around the “C” may be in the offing), can be broken down into moves that are going to happen, like re-signing arbitration-eligible players (though the manner in which they happen is up for debate), and the moves that could happen, like acquiring new players via Free Agency or via trades.

Thus, if I may be so bold, allow me to present to you the one man’s blueprint for the Indians’ off-season. It may not lead to a rush on the Tribe Box Office or jam up the 216-420-HITS line, but it presents a realistic approach to the off-season, acknowledging where this team is (not simply one or two players away from obvious contention) and what the organization should be using 2011 as in an effort to create a legitimate contender in the AL Central...just not necessarily in 2011.

Perhaps you feel that the team is closer to making a run at the AL Central in 2011, but this season showed (me, at least) that the Indians are going to be counting on injured players returning to form AND young players taking the a step out of the abyss AND continued the health and maturation of nearly all of their young talent. Maybe one of those things happens and we’re all pleasantly surprised as the 2011 begins, but I’m having trouble seeing it all come together for the team next year and figure that 2012 is what the team should realistically shoot for in terms of arrival, instead of deluding themselves that just a few pieces and parts need to be added this off-season.

Thus, without further ado or introduction, here are the moves that I’d like to see the Indians execute in this off-season, getting as specific as possible in most cases:
Money Now, Options Later
This has gotten more “ink” than probably any first-year arbitration-eligible case in recent memory (other than Ryan Howard’s) and revisiting this topic is taking the 9-iron to that dead horse on the ground over there as nobody knows what approach Scott Boras is going to bring to the table, nor does anyone know how Boras is going to manipulate the media into painting Choo as a “victim” in this process. Boras could come to the bargaining table with a portfolio that puts Choo on par with the game’s elite (and I could probably put that portfolio together for him) in the last three years and could ask for the moon.

It’s not likely that Boras gives away a year or two (or more) of FA without some serious dollars being involved and, seeing how Choo will be 31 when the 2013 season ends (the last year he’s under Tribe control right now), I’m not sure if committing huge dollars to a player that will be 32 or 33 or 34 in the later years of a guaranteed contract is the path the Indians should be taken given recent contracts to similarly-aged players, positional value or not.

Regardless of all of that, this arbitration process is still a process and the precedents are there for both Boras and the Indians to use as parameters. Jon Steiner at WFNY (the Choo-contract expert) lays out those parameters very well and ultimately sees one of three outcomes this off-season:
• They go to arbitration. ChooBoras lose their $5.5 million demand. Choo makes $3.9 million.
• They sign a one-year deal worth $4.5 million.
• They sign a three-year deal: 2011 – $4 million; 2012 – $6.5 million; 2013 – $10.5 million.

I think that the numbers there are about right (and Scenario #3 pays him $21M over 3 years), but if you’re asking me how I approach it, I still think that “front-loading” or “leveling the numbers” in the contract and giving Choo money in 2011 and 2012 that he certainly wouldn’t earn in the arbitration process is the only way that the Indians entice Choo to add an extra year, or an option, on the deal past 2013.

What that means would be something along the lines (as I said a while back) of doing something where the Indians give him, “a 3-year deal worth $24M to buy out his arbitration years...and work the numbers so he’s getting paid $8M annually and not on some sort of escalating scale” as these arbitration years usually progress.

If the Indians give Choo $3M to $4M more than he’d likely earn in arbitration for 2011 and a couple million dollars more than he’d likely earn in arbitration for 2012, is it enough of an enticement to have Boras agree to a $12M club option for 2014, with something like a $2M buyout?

Who knows, and the Indians have a history of locking up “key” arbitration-eligible players in the past, but we certainly haven't heard the end of this one...whether we want to or not.

Holding off on Extensions
Speaking of that history of locking up “key” arbitration-eligible players in the past, I realize that I’m probably in the minority on this, but I don’t offer either Chris Perez or Asdrubal Cabrera long-term deals, attempting to (as the Indians have done in the past) buy out arbitration years and maybe a year of FA, with a club option on top of that.

As I said, this may not be the popular move among many, but the reality is that Perez is coming off of his best season to date (with the question of whether it is sustainable in the volatile world of relief pitchers being EXTREMELY relevant) and Cabrera is coming off his worst (in terms of performance vs. expectations), so the question is whether the Indians should attempt to parlay more guaranteed money in 2011 and 2012 into gaining club control past 2013.

If I’m making that decision right now, as much as Chris F. Perez asserted himself down the stretch for the Indians in 2010 and looks to have finally stabilized the 9th inning for the Tribe, I still go year-to-year right now with Perez, simply given that volatility of relievers and with the idea that there are no guarantees (Ferd Cabrera v.2005, Jenny Lewis v.2008) for success from one year to waterfall into the next for relievers. Maybe Perez is that exception (and, truthfully, I hope that he is), but I’d exchange numbers with Perez’s people and sign him to a one-year deal.

The intent is not to screw Perez out of guaranteed money or to intimate that I don’t think that 2010 is him just scratching the surface, but in Cleveland we’ve become so USED to the idea that we HAVE to lock all of these guys up because that’s what has been done. In reality, with positions like relievers and with players who are still relatively unproven (sorry, as great as that post-All-Star break ERA is, it is still less than 30 innings of MLB), the idea to go year-to-year (or simply delay a decision on a long-term deal) is a luxury that the Indians have, and in the case of Perez, they should use it.

Similarly, with Cabrera coming off of his worst season (in terms of what we thought we would see from him), the arbitration process should be used by the Indians to not only determine whether Cabrera will fulfill the potential that seemed to high in 2007 and 2009 and even potentially motivate Cabrera to prove his worth to the team.

While it may not have been widely reported, the fact is that Cabrera has come into the last few years out of shape, certainly affecting his range in the field and perhaps affecting his performance at the plate. If he’s coming into Spring Training out of shape and has not shown the commitment to conditioning to maximize his talent (particularly defensively), is that the type of player that you’d like to “reward” with a long-term deal?

The sentiment may exist that the Indians should be “buying low” on Cabrera, with the opportunity to lock up his services at a discounted rate, but motivation may be a factor and, after seeing Fausto Carmona sprout a spare tire after signing his long-term deal, I’d be more inclined to use 2011 as a proving ground for Cabrera, for him to utilize it to show that he is worthy of receiving a long-term deal and that he should be thought of as a “core” player for the Tribe.

Memories of Jhonny Peralta’s decline from 2005 to 2009 are too fresh to not let it serve as a lesson as to how a promising player can get stuck in neutral (or worse) and the decreasing range and the expanding waistline of Cabrera in the past two years play too much into my fear that Peralta’s career arc is the one that Asdrubal is following. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d use 2011 to find out instead of simply rewarding Cabrera for past performance instead of future production.

All told with these two, just because it has always been the Tribe’s MO to lock up arbitration years and buy a couple of years of FA doesn’t mean that it’s unequivocally a great idea for every player as soon as they hit arbitration. Look at Rafael Perez, who righted the ship in 2010 (his first arbitration-eligible year) but certainly isn’t looked at as a candidate for a long-term deal because sometimes you just don’t know. Sometimes, going year-to-year with players isn’t a horrible strategy and with Perez (let’s see if he can sustain it) and Cabrera (let’s see if he can arise from his ashes), the Indians shouldn’t be too eager to sign either...even from a PR standpoint.

Jettison the Flotsam and Jetsam
In terms of keeping it with players currently on the 40-man roster, this one should be fairly easy and won’t get a lot of fanfare, but the Indians used 2009 and 2010 to “clear the decks” of their veteran players who didn’t obviously fit in past this year, and now it’s time to do the same with the young players that don’t obviously fit in past this year. My short list includes Crowe, Hodges, Marte, and Brown...and those are just the position players.

To all, I would wish the best of luck, but point out that if you were unable to seize the opportunity presented to you in 2010 (Crowe, who cannot field or hit) or were so far down the organizational pecking order given how much opportunity was out there in 2010 (Hodges, Marte, Brown), it would appear that your services are no longer required by the organization.

Perhaps you want to make the case for Crowe and Brown (most notably) to stick around, given their remaining options and the question marks that remain around 1B and LF, but I would counter that this team should be focusing on developing players that have the potential to be difference-makers (or at least better than replacement level) and these former prospects, now a little long in the tooth, have become redundancies in the organization and should be replaced by players, either internally (Ezequiel Carrera, for one, in the 4th OF mix) or from outside the organization (getting a RH bat to play 1B and/or LF usurps Brown’s usefulness) in an effort to truly upgrade the roster.

Certainly roster fodder like Drew Sutton and Luke Carlin fall into this category, so the Indians should thank them for their contributions while receiving thanks from the players for the opportunity and move on. If either wants to see how beautiful Columbus can be in the summertime next year, fine...but these players should have seen their last of the home locker room at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Lest you think I’m ready to simply throw everyone under the bus, Jensen Lewis does not get included here on the strength of the manner in which he closed out the season. Maybe that’s foolhardy (as Lewis has closed out seasons strong before) and maybe Lewis being out of options will prevent him from sticking around for too long. But maybe...just maybe, Lewis has finally figured out his role on this team – not as a 9th inning option, but rather as an organizational arm that bounces around the bullpen depending his effectiveness – and can at least settle into a 6th or 7th inning option while the arms in AAA sort themselves out. Additionally, for whatever reason and against my better judgment, I’m not including Chris Giminez on this list, mainly because of his status as the designated “pile-jumper” on the team and because his versatility (particularly as a C) holds some value, even if his bat does not.

At the end of the day, the time to move past some of the high draft picks (or, in the case of Marte, players traded for) who were supposed to represent the talent infusion that took place between 2008 and now. That “infusion” didn’t happen and the Indians should cut their losses with these guys and move on.

An Old Face for a Troubled Place
Moving onto the portion of the program that involves the acquisition of talent, the most obvious hole that will be filled (to some degree) this off-season is at the Hot Corner. As has been stated numerous times, given the Indians’ gaping hole at 3B and their lack of an obvious internal candidate at 3B (sorry, Nix is a miscast utility player who was forced into 3B and looked incapable of handling it defensively), the Indians will add to the MLB roster with a player that they hope can serve as a bridge to top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall, who figures to start the 2011 season in AAA.

Given what we saw from Indians’ 3B in 2010, it has been (correctly) asserted that the Indians should be looking after a 3B capable of settling their infield defense and the name on the FA market that continually comes up, not Adrian Brandon Inge. Truth be told, the pickings are very slim among FA 3B and maybe you’re in the “Brandon Inge would be a great fit”camp, but realize that Inge’s offense from last year was not that far above what Jayson Nix put forth in Cleveland:
Inge 2010
.247 BA / .321 OBP / .397 SLG / .718 OPS in 580 PA

Nix 2010 (with Cleveland)
.234 BA / .283 OBP / .422 SLG / .705 OPS in 306 PA
I know...I know, defense is the thing and I’ve been the one touting that, but Inge is probably going to sign with Tigers for too many years and for too much money, based on his age and his production and for the Indians to lure Inge away from Detroit (which probably isn’t a great idea anyways) is going to involve multiple years and too much money for a 3B in his 30's fresh off a .718 OPS season. Yes, his defense is fantastic, but not for the years and the money that would predicate that defense arriving on the North Coast.

Looking at the list of what could be available, if defense is the focus (and it should be), guys like Edwin Encarnacion (who will possibly be non-tendered) need not apply, which brings us to an intriguing name to watch as other teams decide who they non-tender. The name is a familiar one as it belongs to former Tribe 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, who could get non-tendered by Oakland, making him available on the FA market.

If K2 is, in fact, non-tendered, by the Athletics, the Indians should attempt to add him to the mix as he’s a solid, if unspectacular defensive 3B (who has never played a defensive position other than 3B...unlike one Jayson Nix), who would be a RH addition to a LH-heavy lineup. He earned $3.1M last year in Oakland and while his offensive numbers were far from good (.247 BA / .283 OBP / .396 SLG / .679 OPS), he wouldn’t be too expensive, nor would it take a multi-year deal to lock him up and to add his glove to the defensive infield. If the A’s tender Kouzmanoff, the Indians will have to go in another direction (which could involve attempting to acquire Kouzmanoff) and that idea that they could replicate the approach that they used in 2003 – sign a bunch of older guys who are still looking for their first MLB opportunity to battle with Nix to see if a Casey Blake can emerge – could be the path of least resistance, mainly because the other MLB options aren’t really all that compelling.

As AC says in his “Inbox”, Joe Crede could also be had, but that would be the same Crede that didn’t play in 2010, so none of these alternatives come without red flags or major issues. If you want to extend the interest out to the likes of Miggy Tejada and Mel Mora, that’s fine, but defensive liabilities like Edwin Encarnacion and Jorge Cantu shouldn’t be considered, nor should Felipe Lopez who the Cardinals were so eager to get out of their clubhouse. You could make a case for a failed prospect like Andy LaRoche benefiting from a change in scenery, but improving the infield defense should be the primary objective here.

Since I’m not too keen on delving into the black hole that I see in attempting to parse through defensive metrics (as they contradict each other and I’m not smart enough to tell you what metric is the definitive one to look at), the Indians should simply be looking for a place-holder that plays good defense. I know that the approach to simply find a place-holder is not going to sell more tickets, but unless you see that one special player on the FA market that I do not, I think that the glove-first 3B is the way to go until The Chiz is ready.

Of course, the Indians have internal options in Nix and Phelps, but I’m more inclined to let Nix evolve into the super-utility role in which he is most valuable and allow Phelps some time at 3B in AAA before handing the keys over to him. As I’ve said before, I’m not including Jared Goedert in this “internal options” list as his main liability (defense) is what the Indians are looking to improve.

If The Chiz is truly waiting in the wings, then the Indians should not over-commit to any one player and look for that place-holder and, among the many unappealing options, the Indians should go after a guy like Kouzmanoff (assuming availability), relegate Nix to the super-utility role and wait for The Chiz to arrive to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario (hopefully by mid-season) to theoretically settle what has been an unsettled position.

Pitching Tiers...or Tears
If adding a 3B to the mix is viewed as a necessity, inserting another arm into the rotation could perhaps be viewed as a luxury. That is said not because an arm is not needed, but rather because of what “another arm” that would be an upgrade over the current rotation is going to cost and whether spending that kind of money is what this team should be doing NOW, at this stage of the “cycle”.

To wit, Fangraphs (who actually provided an article worthy of mention here) conducted an exercise called “Crowdsourcing” for Carl Pavano, attempting to predict what Hot Carl would receive on the open market as a Free Agent. The result of the Pavano Crowdsourcing was a 2-to-3 year deal at about $9M to $10M per, so there’s that.

Anybody want to commit those years and that type of money to an arm like Hot Carl Pavano, given where the Indians currently stand as an organization?

As much as I want to believe that it isn’t the case, as I said earlier, this team isn’t one pitcher away from obviously contending...they’re a couple of position players rebounding from major injury and a few pitchers continuing their maturation away from legitimately looking like a contender for 2011. Maybe that happens in 2011 and the Indians look at add an arm as the season progresses, but throwing money and years at marginal-to-good starting pitchers shouldn’t interest the Indians this off-season.

For one, you have to remember how expensive even marginal starting pitching is on the FA market. On top of that, as much as 2010 gave us a glimpse at what COULD be with some of the starters, they are far from known quantities and adding a top-shelf veteran arm makes the rotation deeper and stronger, but to what end?

Yes, perhaps Jake Westbrook comes back to take care of “unfinished business” in Cleveland after “earning” $33M from the Tribe over the last 3 years and, if he does so for less money...well, then he’s my favorite Indian ever. The reality of the Westbrook situation is that Jake posted a 3.38 ERA with a 1.25 WHIP after going to St. Louis and some NL team (maybe St. Louis) is going to give Jake more than a couple of years on a deal for money that will probably be closer to $10M than it will be to $5M per year. Should the Indians be in on that?

As I said, maybe Jake defies the logic of all professional sports and returns to Cleveland for fewer years and less money because of what happened in the last three years, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Outside of Pavano and Westbrook, the FA pitcher that interests me is Hiroki Kuroda...but again, it comes back to how expensive starting pitching is on the FA market, particularly for players that thrived in 2010, as Pavano, Westbrook, and Kuroda (3.39 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in 2010 with the Dodgers) did.

So if the Indians aren’t going to be willing to offer multiple years to second-tier guys like Pavano, Westbrook, and Kuroda (and perhaps rightfully so), they move onto the third-tier of FA pitcher – the scratch and dent section. Included in this tier are the likes of Bruce Chen, Brandon Webb, Javier Vazquez, Chris Young, Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherer, Jeremy Bonderman, all of whom come with injury or performance concerns and all who are likely to be available on a shorter, incentive-laden deal...but with good reason.

The Indians can mine this group to see if they can find another diamond in the rough, like they did with Kevin Millwood – who is also available and may be able to impart on the current young staff the same “lessons” that he did on a young staff back in 2005 – and later with Carl Pavano. Who among that group of Webb, Sheets, Bonderman, etc. fits that profile is above my pay grade, and the Indians’ track record of picking the guy about to rebound has earned them the benefit of the doubt in this department.

However, it is important to allow past to be our prologue as it has been noted that the 2010 season and the 2003 season could be similar in terms of placement on the developmental cycle of the team being built up. That being said, let’s all remember that the additions made to a young starting rotation in the off-season between the 2003 and 2004 seasons were...wait for it...Jeff D’Amico and Jeriome Robertson

D’Amico was an instance of dumpster diving, but the ill-fated acquistion of Robertson is perhaps an interesting precedent. As bad as the Robertson deal looks in hindsight (the Indians gave up Luke Scott for Robertson, who would throw all of 14 1/3 innings for them in 2004 and never make it back to MLB), perhaps the 2010 fill their rotational need by exploring a trade for a starting pitcher.

The instant corollary to that would be who the Indians would have to offer in a trade in as much as we’d all like to say, “go out and get a young starter” on the Trade Market like Jair Juerrjens (who one AJC columnist thinks should be moved), the question becomes which players on the Indians are that compelling to make and whether trading our young players is, again, what the Indians should be doing now. If it takes trading guys like Kipnis or Chisenhall, I don’t think that they make that move, unless a team is high on a Tribe prospect whose place in the future lineup or staff isn’t obvious.

If we’re talking trade, the likely avenue would be to buy low on a guy like Zach Duke (if the infield defense is truly going to be improved) or someone of his ilk, with the Indians asking Neal Huntington which of the failed Indians’ prospects he would like in the Steel City and taking on Duke in exchange in the hopes that some semblance of an MLB pitcher still resides in his body or that a change of scenery would benefit him. Similarly, always-suggestive reader John Mast floated the name of Homer Bailey out there as a player who could also benefit from a change of scenery.

Regardless of how they add an arm, I have the feeling that an arm will be added…and maybe even two. Those arms, however, will come either with major recent injury and the risk that comes with it (Webb, Sheets, etc.), major recent performance issues (Duke, Brian Bannister, etc.) or with the obvious warts that accompany forays into the lower tiers of available starting pitching. To me, I think that you go out and buy a lottery ticket like Webb in the hopes that he can re-gain his stature with the Tribe (who have a history of being the springboard for players looking to increase value) and go out and get another arm from another organization, like Duke, to lengthen out the starting rotation and to allow Tomlin and Gomez start the season in AAA, if only until the newly acquired arms reveal themselves.

Mighty Righty
Going back to the position player side of things, an obvious need of the team (past 3B) is to add a RH bat that factors into the OF/DH/1B mix as Travis Hafner’s shoulder is likely to prevent him from playing every day in 2011 and his disparate splits from 2010 (.863 vs. RHP, .706 vs. LHP) necessitate the Indians bringing someone in to take some AB away from him, particularly when facing LHP. Additionally, given that the three presumed OF for 2010 are all LH, the ability of that RH bat to play OF would assist in filling a couple of holes all at once.

While that wish for a RH bat that plays the OF may be the ideal set up, I’ll bang the drum again for a player like Mike Napoli (although he doesn’t play the OF, obviously), as his name the one that keeps jumping out to me. Of course, he would need to be traded for and will earn some cash because of arbitration, but Napoli could probably be had from the Angels and he posted a .966 OPS vs. LHP in 2010. On a team that is largely LH, Napoli could prove his mettle by being a big RH bat against LHP and could ostensibly operate in a 3-way platoon at C, 1B, and DH with the various incarnations looking like this:
Against RHP
DH – Hafner
C – Santana
1B – LaPorta

Against LHP
DH – Santana/LaPorta
C – Napoli
1B – LaPorta/Santana

If they followed through with that, it gives Santana a bit of a break from behind the plate, although it does leave Lou Marson out of the equation. While leaving Marson out of the equation may be just fine for some, realize that Marson had a .759 OPS vs. LHP in 2010 and, while that pales in comparison to what Napoli puts up against LHP, maybe the Indians use a similar utilization against RHP and LHP, with internal options, looking something like this:
Against RHP
DH – Hafner
C – Santana
1B – LaPorta

Against LHP
DH – Santana/LaPorta
C – Marson
1B – LaPorta/Santana

If that becomes the arrangement (though it wouldn’t necessarily be hard and fast as Marson and Hafner probably wouldn’t be in a straight platoon), it would give Hafner some days off WHILE allowing Santana to come out from behind the plate every once in a while to limit the wear and tear on his body. If that is the case, the question becomes how the Indians still add that RH bat, with the focus moving almost completely to the OF. Perusing through the list of potential FA, playoff hero Cody Ross would be an option (.883 OPS vs. LHP in 2010), as would Matt Diaz (.830 OPS vs. LHP in 2010) and while neither of those players is going to set the world afire, each can play a competent OF and provide some security against Sizemore not being able to play every day or right out of the chute. Truthfully, we’re talking about upgrading Trevor Crowe’s spot here and...those are not the biggest shoes to fill.

Of course, they could stick with Shelley Duncan (.857 OPS vs. LHP) in the role that he played to some critical acclaim but, as I said, they really could be looking to replace Crowe with a RH bat that could provide some pop against LHP. If they’re simply replacing Crowe, they keep Duncan around and add a player like Ross or Diaz to be a legitimate RH OF (sorry, Duncan’s not a legit hard as he may try) and give the lineup multiple looks with Marson, Duncan, Ross/Diaz, and Nix all coming off of the bench as RH options.

Given Ross’ recent playoff heroics and the unnecessary cost that may accompany his newfound stature, the choice here would be Matt Diaz, who can play all 3 OF positions and is RH so he can sub for any and all of the LH OF and can spell Hafner, when needed, as the DH or allow one of the OF to slide over to DH when Hafner needs a break.

Stabilizing the Back-End
While 3B, the rotation, and a RH bat have been well-publicized “needs” of the team, the final one that I see to be just as glaring involves adding an experienced RHP to the back-end of the bullpen. Though the Indians are touting the performance of the bullpen in the second half, let’s realize that the RHP that figure into the 2011 bullpen past Chris F. Perez are Joe Smith, Jensen Lewis, Justin Germano and a bunch of promising AAA pitchers, like Vinnie Pestano and Zach Putnam.

Do you really feel comfortable that one of those guys can assume that 7th or 8th inning RH role for 2011?

Maybe this is from the experience of watching the bullpen deep-six the 2006 and 2008 seasons (among other reasons), but I don’t and I think that a priority this off-season would be to add a RH reliever to the late-inning mix to assist Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp in serving as the bridge from the 6th to the 9th innings, when necessary. However, dealing in the FA market for relievers is a dicey proposition because of the Elias Rankings of Type A and Type B players and the fact that signing a Type A player means that the Indians would have to give up their 2nd Round Pick in next year’s draft (our 1st Round Pick would be protected because it is top 15) to sign a reliever that would ostensibly be a set-up man. Maybe you think that a set-up man is that important, but seeing as how Jason Kipnis was the 2nd Round Pick in 2009, I’m staying away from the Type A Free Agent relievers.

For a quick look at Type A and Type B Free Agents, here’s the exhaustive list and just parsing through the relievers, you can quickly scratch off your Type A Free Agents, which would be Rafael Soriano, Mariano Rivera, Matt Thornton, Matt Guerrier, Scott Downs, Dan Wheeler, Jason Frasor, Grant Balfour, Frank Francisco, Arthur Rhodes, and Takishi Saito.

Sure, Matt Guerrier or Scott Downs would look great in that 8th inning role, but the crazy Elias rankings and the cost of a top draft pick would preclude much interest for me in those players as Type A FA. Much more interesting is the list of Type B Free Agents, whose signing would not result in the Indians giving up a draft pick for 2011. That Type B List is as follows, in terms of Relief Pitchers that are RH, with each player’s ERA+ for 2010 indicated after the name:
Joaquin Benoit – 295 ERA+
JJ Putz – 154 ERA+
Koji Uehara – 149 ERA+
Trevor Hoffman – 141 ERA+
Jesse Crain – 137 ERA+
Jon Rauch – 134 ERA+
Kerry Wood – 133 ERA+
Kevin Gregg – 119 ERA+
Chad Durbin – 106 ERA+
Octavio Dotel – 101 ERA+
Randy Choate – 94 ERA+
Aaron Heilman – 94 ERA+
Chad Qualls – 57 ERA+

A couple of those guys are going to be signed to closer money next year with the idea that they will be closing – I’d put Benoit, Putz, Rauch, Gregg, and probably Wood on that list – meaning that you’re talking about guys like Jesse Crain and Chad Durbin who might be on the Indians’ radar. If the Indians could pull off a guy like Benoit or even Kevin Gregg (who saved 37 games last year in Toronto) to further solidify the back-end of the bullpen, I’m all for it. But my guess is that some team (or teams) is going to look at Benoit, Putz, Rauch, Gregg, and (again) probably Wood as legitimate closing options and offer them more years and money than the Indians should be looking to commit for a set-up guy.

If you’re asking me to put one name out there, I’d say Jesse Crain in that he would strengthen the back end of that bullpen with a legitimate RH option to slot in front of Perez. Adding a Jesse Crain suddenly gives the 7th and 8th innings a more fleshed out feel with Crain, R. Perez, and Sipp serving as the set-up men, allowing the likes of Joe Smith, Jenny Lewis, Justin Germano and the gaggle of MiLB arms to sort themselves out and force themselves into that late-inning mix instead of simply being handed the keys to the 7th or 8th innings.

Pulling it All Together
In sum, what are we looking at here?
Other than the internal machinations of arbitration and 40-man housecleaning, I’d like to see the Indians add Kouzmanoff, an injury reclamation project like Brandon Webb, a performance reclamation project like Zach Duke, a RH OF like Matt Diaz, and a RH set-up man like Jesse Crain. While I’m not smart enough to know what the FA market or the trade market will dictate in terms of acquiring those players, it would seem that the Indians should be able to add those ancillary pieces and parts (without breaking the bank) so you go into the 2011 season looking something like this:
C – Santana
1B – LaPorta
2B – Donald
SS – Cabrera
3B – Kouzmanoff
RF – Choo
CF – Brantley
LF – Sizemore
DH – Hafner

Bench – Marson
Bench – Nix
Bench – Diaz
Bench – Duncan

SP – Carmona
SP – Masterson
SP – Carrasco
SP – Duke and, later, Webb
SP – Talbot

Closer – C. Perez
RP – Crain
RP – R. Perez
RP – Sipp
RP – Smith
RP – Lewis
RP – Germano/Laffey/name a MiLB reliever

You may look at that and say that the roster is not all that dissimilar from the 2010 roster and wonder what improvement would be expected by simply adding those auxiliary pieces like Kouzmanoff or Diaz or Crain, but let’s be honest about – this in that the major improvement that the Indians have to see is not from pieces they add from the FA market or through minor trades, but from the development of their own players.

The recoveries of Sizemore and Santana and the improvement from guys like LaPorta, Brantley, Masterson, and Carrasco are MUCH more important to the long-term health of the team than adding one or two players from outside the organization. Thus, you pick and choose where you add those players and how you add them in an effort to augment what will hopefully be the burgeoning “core” of players already in place.

At first glance, this off-season list doesn’t look like a blueprint necessarily for instant success, but the Indians shouldn’t necessarily be looking for instant success (as much as it pains me to acknowledge that) and should be looking to continue building the foundation for something more special than simply a .500 season and a shot at the AL Central. If recent history has shown us anything, the ability to compete with the elite of the AL is what the Indians should be looking towards and adding a piece or two to the current group of players doesn’t accomplish that.

That may not be the popular approach, given where the Indians currently sit in terms of attendance and PR, but the “popular” approach doesn’t always mean the same thing as the “prudent” approach and the “prudent” approach for the Indians should be the continued development of their internal talent and augmenting that talent in specific places while not deluding themselves to go further than they should in terms of adding talent from the outside.

Some day soon (hopefully), the Indians should be active in attempting to add that one piece to flesh out a roster that looks to be on the cusp of being special…that day just hasn’t arrived yet for these Indians.