Sunday, November 29, 2009

Jake Westbrook and Rafael Perez bring hope to Indians pitching staff

Manny Acta and the Cleveland Indians are desperate for starting pitching. So desperate, in fact, that Manny Acta has suggested already that Westbrook is going to be the Indians #1 starter.
"I can't give you five pitchers exactly," said Acta. We're counting a lot on Jake Westbrook to complete his rehab and be our No.1 guy."
Keep in mind that Westbrook hasn't started a game since May 28, 2008. He made three rehab starts last season, but elbow soreness force him to shut down for the season.

As mentioned here at the B3 yesterday, Westbrook made his first start for Ponce of the Puerto Rican Winter League. According to the numbers, the start was shaky at best, but the numbers really don't tell the tale. As I noted yesterday, Westbrook force four groundball outs out of five before leaving after 1 2/3. Add to that the three ground ball hits that Westbrook gave up, and you have a clear picture of Westbrook doing what he does best, force ground balls.

The only concern I had going in to this start was why Westbrook was pulled prior to finishing the second inning, especially with visions of sore elbows dancing in my head. According to Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer, "Westbrook was on a 35-pitch limit and threw 22 in the first inning." Westbrook's manager at Ponce, former Tribe first baseman Eduardo Perez, said,
"Jake's numbers might not look pretty, but his cutter was good, he had good velocity, good sink and good movement. He walked the leadoff hitter, Luis Durango from the Padres, on a couple of pitches I thought were strikes."
Even more important, Westbrook was pain free and continuing his workouts today, a big step forward from last season.

I'm still concerned that Westbrook is a #3 starter at best, and coming off an injury, even that's not a guarantee. For years, Tribe fans have been starving for starting pitching, and it's really hard to swallow losing back-to-back Cy Young award winners. Had we had those pitchers in the mid-90's, we'd be carrying at least one trophy. Now, we are hoping for Jake Westbrook to not have a sore elbow. This could be an extremely painful season.

Rafael Perez made a second start today for Gigantes del Cibao. According to Tony Lastoria, who runs the best minor league blog site on these here internets, Perez isn't set to be in the Indians starting rotation. Instead, the Indians are allowing him to repeat his delivery. This likely will create a more consistent slider and fastball, both of which have tremendous movement, and both of which have caused Perez the most difficulty over the past two seasons. Well, the strategy seems to be working, perhaps too well.

Perez followed his four shutout innings five days ago, with four more shutout innings this afternoon. Perez gave up two hits and three walks, while striking out three in his four innings of work. In nine innings, Perez currently has a rather low ERA of zero, zip, zilch.

So, repetition creates a more consistent delivery, right? Well, if Perez continues to look this good starting, perhaps the Indians should consider Perez as a starter. So theoretically, starting can created this pitching rhythm. Of course it does, or the Indians wouldn't have Perez starting in the first place. The Indians certainly have a high need at both ends of the bullpen, but if Perez can command his pitches as a starter, perhaps their experiment in 2006 to move him to the bullpen should be discarded now. Right now, Manny Acta and his staff need to look in every nook and cranny for starters, and if Perez can harness his tremendous talent in that role, perhaps we can catch lightning in a bottle. It just takes one starter to break through to change the Indians' fortunes. Think back to Fausto Carmona. Granted, he had CC Sabathia, but you get my point.

Alas, two winter starts do not make a starter, but it sure does give Tribe fans something to watch during the otherwise boring hot stove season.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Indians Jake Westbrook shaky in winter league return

Jake Westbrook was slated to go two innings tonight for Leones de Ponce, but was pulled out of his first winter league game after only 1 2/3 innings. Westbrook gave up three hits, a walk and an earned run, without striking out a batter. Westbrook did induce four ground balls outs of his five batters, which certainly sounds like the Westbrook we are all familiar with.

I'm fairly certain that Westbrook was pulled from the game because of pitch count and not elbow soreness. He faced nine total batters, and his pitch count likely reached it's limit. I'll be looking forward to the reports tomorrow from those that either saw the game, or talked to Westbrook or Eduardo Perez, the Ponce manager.

If Westbrook managed to get through his inning and two-thirds without elbow soreness, the Indians may have taken their first step towards settling their rotation. Granted, with Westbrook, the rotation will struggle. Without him, well, it makes MY elbow sore just thinking about it.

Watching Westbrook

Cleveland Indians fans will have all eyes on Jake Westbrook tonight as he makes his first start for Leones de Ponce of the Puerto Rican Winter League. This is Westbrook's first start since elbow soreness shut him down after only three rehab assignments last year on August 4th.

Westbrook last started a game for the Indians on May 28, 2008, before being shut down and having Tommy John surgery. With the Indians starting rotation in disarray, Manny Acta has all but named Westbrook as the Indians opening day starter.

Westbrook was scheduled to pitch two innings today and will likely make up to five starts in Puerto Rico to start working out the rust. The Indians will also be making sure their isn't soreness in the elbow, as their was in his three rehab starts last season.

With a boring hot stove season ahead, a two inning rehab start may be the only excitement Indians fans have to look forward to. Of course, if Westbrook can't rebound, it may open up the Indians to spend some money for a Westbrook-level starter.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Four Cleveland Indians to Give Thanks For

It's Thanksgiving here at the Reservation, and when you are a fan of any Cleveland team, it can be quite the chore to find something or someone not named LeBron to be thankful for. I've always looked at my 38-year tenure as a Cleveland fan as a road less traveled, as Robert Frost used to say. It's never really been about the destination, but over the years, this passion for the Indians and Ohio sports has been more about the moment.

A good example of this happened just yesterday. I was driving home from a torturous trip to the store to purchase the last parts of today's grand feast. I turned on the radio, and Tesla's 1990 re-make of 'Signs' came on. The song kicks off with the now infamous line,
"Well the sign said long-haired freaky people need not apply, so I put all my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why."
No, I've never had particularly long hair, and I'm not a Tesla groupie, but that song brought back one of my finest moments as an Indians fan: Game 6 of the 1995 ALCS that saw the Indians beat the supernatural Randy Johnson to send the Tribe to the World Series for the first time since I was born.

The Indians scored three runs in the eighth off Johnson to put the game away, and as the crowd at the Kingdome was silenced, the camera panned up to the crowd, and in the middle of several Mariners fans was a sign for the hippy-ish Randy Johnson. It said simply, "Long-Haired Freaky People Need Not Apply." Classic.

Will the journey ever end with a title? Sadly, it doesn't seem likely. So enjoy the moments Tribe fans, and you never know when it will pay off with a title at the end of the journey.

Until then, here's four Indians' items to give thanks for:

First and foremost, I'd like to give thanks to Sandy Alomar Jr. The day the Indians dealt Joe Carter to San Diego for the much talked about future-star, he became one of my favorite players. He never really developed into the player he could have been because of all the injuries, but his blend of offensive and defensive potential, combined with his pure joy to play the game, made him a symbol of those 90's teams. A lot of people are shrugging off the fact that he's from those 90's teams, but I'm not one of them. The fact that Alomar Jr. is a great coach is secondary here. Alomar brings back that feeling.

I'm actually surprised I'm going to say this, but I'd like to next thank Manny Acta. I'm not afraid to admit that I didn't want the Indians to hire Acta. I, like most, didn't know a lot about him, and hiring a guy from the worst team in baseball doesn't make a whole lot of sense when your the fourth worst team in baseball. Still, for the past month, Acta has sounded like the manager Tribe fans have been looking for since Chah-lie Manuel left seven years ago. He's smart, personable and saying all the right things. Shapiro even looks smart getting him out into the media spotlight. They obviously hired a guy that could win 'the room.' Still, that's not why I want to say thanks for Acta. It comes down to this for me: Manny Acta wants to put out the same lineup every day. There wasn't a bigger criticism from me over the years for one Eric Wedge. His constant shuffling destroyed this team. The only time he employed a relatively cemented lineup was the second half of 2007, when the Indians nearly went to the World Series. This could be the single biggest move that Acta makes, and can control.

My third thanks goes to Asdrubal Cabrera, the Cleveland Indians sublime shortstop. Cabrera's role in solidifying the Indians in 2007 is often overlooked, but I couldn't help thinking that Cabrera's hot streak that year was just that, a streak. My hopes for Cabrera were simple, be the fantastic defender that you're supposed to be, and everything else is frosting. Well, now it's safe to say that Asdrubal is a whole lot more than that defensive whiz. It will be real interesting to watch this kid develop, especially with speed batting in front of him, and protection behind him. Perhaps Cabrera will be more Jeter than Vizquel.

Finally, I'd like to give thanks for the Indians top prospect,Carlos Santana. There is nothing about Santana that isn't exciting, starting with the Indians trading Casey Blake for the future-star. The Indians have had fantastic prospects before, but there is something about Santana that seems bigger. If he pans out, and we still don't know if he will, he could be the face of this franchise for years to come. Bottom line with Santana is that he provides this team with hope, and if you've seen the Indians play the past two years, that's not a commodity many of us are familiar with.

Have a fantastic Thanksgiving Tribe Fans! Enjoy your time with your family and friends. Have fun watching the Raiders and Lions today, wondering how it happened that the two laughingstock franchises in the NFL are better than the Browns.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Torey Lovullo finally gets Pawtucket

Torey Lovullo finally got his promotion out of Columbus, although it wasn't likely what he had in mind when the hot stove season began.

According to Paul Hoynes at the Plain Dealer, Lovullo will become the new manager of the Pawtucket Red Sox, taking over for Ron Johnson, who ironically was promoted to the Sox as their first base coach. Lovullo had 'promotion within the organization' written all over him in the early part of October, but the Indians stoved the triple A skipper not once, but twice.

First, in the correct move, Lovullo was passed over for the manager's job when the Indians hustled to hire former Nationals manager, Manny Acta. It was believed that Lovullo impressed the Tribe staff, and that he would get a position on Acta's staff, either the third or first base coaching jobs. When Steve Smith and Sandy Alomar were hired to fill those roles, Lovullo was left the odd man out.

I do feel bad for Lovullo, who paid his dues in the Indians organization. In 2002, Lovullo took the Columbus(Georgia) RedStixx to the second half championship in his first year of managing. He moved to the Kinston in 2003, and won the Carolina League title with the Indians in 2004, as well as the CL manager of the year. He was promoted to Akron the following season, and promptly won the Eastern League title and manager of the year.

He treaded water in four years at the Triple A level, going 271 and 297, with two third place finished, a fourth place finish and a fifth place finish. You could hardly blame him though with Mark Shapiro and Eric Wedge launching players back and forth from the big club to Buffalo and Columbus seemingly daily. Lovullo is considered a good baseball mind, but I'm sure there were questions in the Indians organization about whether or not he could win.

Not so with the Red Sox, who snatched Lovullo up quickly to fill their triple A slot. Obviously, this isn't likely to be considered a lateral move for Lovullo, who couldn't get a big league job coaching for the Indians. Perhaps a more high-profile gig like the head slot for the Sox top-level minor league post will be the final step in his ascension. If I were Lovullo, I'd have done the same thing.

According to Hoynes, Joel Skinner is rumored to be the early front-runner for the job. Talk about a step back for Skinner. He previously managed the Indians triple A squad in 2000, winning the league title, the IL manager of the year crown, as well as several national minor league manager of the year awards.

Skinner has been the Indians' third base coach for most of the time since then, except for a brief period that saw Skinner take over as interim manager after the Indians fired Charlie Manuel in 2002. He also briefly took over as bench coach in 2006. Skinner's another one of those homegrown products that has been stepped over year after year after year.

I would have to imagine that Mike Sarbaugh, the AA manager for the Akron Aeros. Sarbaugh has won two titles in single A, and one in double A. Give Skinner a title, and move Sarbough up.

You really do have to wonder where all of these guys would be if Wedge hadn't been named manager in 2003. Guys like Lovullo and Sarbaugh have to live with the "Eric Wedge clone" title for as long as they remained with the Tribe.

Not a stretch to figure out why Lovullo left, is it.

Say What? Cleveland's Rafael Perez a starter?

World Baseball Classic - Puerto Rico Day 2
Are the Cleveland Indians planning on moving Rafael Perez to the starting rotation?

On Tuesday Night, not only did Rafael Perez start the game for his Dominican Winter League team, Gigantes del Cibao, but his numbers were off the charts. Perez went four innings, giving up only one hit, walking three, while striking out five batters. Regardless of what the Indians plan on doing with Perez in the future, the numbers certainly are a positive sign.

It's likely that the Indians are just hoping to get Perez innings, as they do with relievers in spring training to ensure they get work. It would be an interesting move, however, should the Indians decide to make Perez a starter. It wouldn't be new teritory for the 27-year-old lefty.

Of Perez' 115 minor league games, 76 of those were starts
. He was effective as a starter, but the Indians saw a need at the back end of their bullpen and felt that Perez could be a candidate for the set-up role short term, and perhaps the closer role long-term. Everything seemed to be going according to plan in 2007 until the playoffs, then it was all uphill for Perez, whose had his struggles since then.

At this point, if the Indians are throwing Perez as a starter up against a wall to see if it sticks, I'm pretty okay with that. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty okay with whatever the Indians and Manny Acta try to do to kickstart the team. I'm not sure messing with the bullpen is necessarily the way to go, but it's not like it could be worse than it was last year. Perez was rubberbanded back and forth so much in the midst of it all, he probably thought he was playing winterball some time around August.

It should be interesting to see what Perez will do for the rest of the winter league season. His first and only other appearance was on November 20th in his normal role as set-up man. It was equally crisp, as he went the entire eighth inning, giving up a walk, and striking out two.

Will he start next? Will he relieve next? Who knows. Let's just hope Acta and the Indians management make up their mind. Perez has seen enough roller coaster rides in the past.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Adios Amigo: Omar Vizquel and the Chicago White Sox conspiracy

In the land of "bring back all the players from the 90's," isn't it apropos that Omar Vizquel would spurn the Indians for the Chicago White Sox? After all, it was the Chicago White Sox that posed the biggest threat to the Indians in that strange world that saw the Indians win title after title in the 90's. It was the Chicago White Sox that lured Albert Belle away from the Indians in 1996. Don't think that we didn't see the great Herb Perry show up on the White Sox roster in 2000. Even Sandy Alomar, the blast from the 90's past that the Cleveland Indians just hired to be their first base coach/coaching instructor ended up in Chicago in 2001.

The perpetration continued today when the Chicago White Sox signed the 42-year-old former Tribe shortstop Omar Vizquel to a one year deal to the tune of $1,375,000 for one year. It will likely be Vizquel's last season.

Let's be honest here, the Indians weren't really going to sign the future hall-of-famer, were they? The move really didn't make much sense to any involved, especially when you consider the White Sox conspiracy. Vizquel and the White Sox threw off the Indians five years ago after they allowed the host of Omar y Amigos to bolt. Vizquel nearly signed with the faux-Indians before signing a deal with the San Francisco Giants. Little did we know it was Vizquel trying to throw the Indians off the trail.

Here we are, five years later.

Would Vizquel have helped the Indians? Forget all the business about how he doesn't fit the mold of the a right-handed hitter to spell Valbuena. We get that, but you wouldn't be bringing Omar in to bat against right-handers. The Tribe brass would hopefully bring in Omar because of the effect he would have on the young infielders in Valbuena and his apprentice, Asdrubal Cabrera. I can't tell you how many times I watched Vizquel from my club seats while he was in the dugout playing wall ball every day during pregame. He lived the game, loved the game and played the game with some sort of passion that you just don't see much anymore. The city of Cleveland loved him, and he would do nothing but make a team better. You can number it all you want, but at the end of the day, Vizquel makes the team better.

Leave it to the Vizquel and their 90's Tribe conspiracy to ruin it all. They've even brainwashed Vizquel into believing that the Indians aren't "high profile" enough to help Vizquel get into the hall-of-fame. Vizquel allegedly told his agent Andy Katz that the White Sox were the higher priority. Is it for the hall-of-fame? Did they use washboards on Vizquel until he said yes? Was this a plan in the making for the past five years?

Good luck Omar, and we're looking forward to seeing your final visits to Progressive Field in 2010, conspiracy or not.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Coming full-circle with the Indians Kerry Wood

On a team like the Cleveland Indians, closer Kerry Wood is an extravagance. The Tribe is in the midst of a rebuild and carrying any player on your roster that makes $10.5 million doesn't make any sense, let alone one that pitches an inning every few days.

The rumors of Kerry Wood's demise (or being set free, if you prefer) have been rampant since the Indians season ended. With most rumors, there's really no substance behind it other than the fact that Cleveland is trying to cut payroll. Wood has an option year in 2011 worth a potential $11 million tacked on to the $10.5 million he's set to earn in 2010. The option year becomes vested if Wood can find a way to finish 55 games in 2010.

To put the 55 games into perspective, Wood pitched in 56 games last year and finished 50 of them. Granted, the Cleveland Indians didn't exactly give Wood an opportunity to pitch in an optimum amount of games. In 2008 with the Cubs, who made the playoffs that year, Wood pitched in 65 games, and finished 56 of those games. He also missed nearly a month because of an injury. Will the Indians give him an opportunity to finish 55 games next year? That's certainly debatable, but it's distinctly possible. Like Carl Pavano this past season, the Indians may try and deal Wood prior to meeting the vested option, but that's for later in our little discussion.

The real question here is whether or not the Indians should keep the 32-year-old fireballer. Wood finished with a 4.25 ERA and 20 saves. He was particularly effective in August and September with more regular work. The lefty only saved six games during this time period, and blew only one save. He gave up five earned runs, and saw his ERA drop a run. Unfortunately for Wood and the Indians, the club was busy losing most of those games, so Wood didn't get a chance to save many of them, coming in after the Indians were already done for. With work, Kerry Wood is a very good closer. Funny thing is, he's exactly what the Indians had been looking for prior to last year.

Of course, the Indians and the bullpen in front of Wood imploded, and his numbers likely suffered because of it. Now, this wheedled-down ball-club has no visible chance to do a lot of winning next year, and the pitching staff is in disarray. There's nothing above a #3 starter, and the #3's are inconsistent, as are all the Tribe pitchers. The bullpen was terrible last year, and even though there is a bunch of young hurlers that should be good, it will take some work. Then there's the anchor, Kerry Wood.

Losing Wood at this juncture could completely destabilize a bullpen struggling to find its identity. Placing Wood at the back-end for 2010 should give the Tribe the ability to allow the young arms to continue to find an identity, in particular with Tim Belcher and Scott Radinsky entering the fray as pitching and bullpen coach respectively. The Indians do have a group of potentially dominating relievers with the closer skill-set, but could be put in that set-up role. Tony Sipp, Chris Perez, Jess Todd, Jensen Lewis and Rafael Perez have all shown promise at one time or another. Perez is the aged member of this staff at 27, with Lewis, Sipp and Joe Smith coming in at 26. Perez and Todd, the newcomers in deals last year are both going to be 24. This could be a very good pen.

The irony of this line of thinking is that stabilizing the bullpen should improve Wood's numbers, which in turn, should make him a much more valuable commodity at the deadline. I still say that the Indians should really think long and hard before dealing the 6'5" hurler. Shapiro's goal was to win in 2011, and a vital piece of that puzzle will be a closer. Just what the Indians need, to get to 2011 and have to throw someone new into the fray at closer. Don't get me wrong, there are options both in the organization and out of it...but if Wood is doing the job, why mess around. Cleveland's done enough of that over the past 61 years, since the Indians and Lou Boudreau won the last World Series in Cleveland.

Of course, Wood would have to have a stellar season in 2010 for any of this to come to fruittion. The Indians would have to follow suit, and at least give a glimpse of having the potential to win in 2011. The Bullpen would have to line up nicely, and to do that, the Tribe would have to find some sort of semblance of a starting rotation. Even if all that happens, Cleveland will still likely try and find a suitor for Kerry Wood and his millions.

It's ironic, when you think about it. For years, the Indians needed starting pitching and a closer. Now that they are rebuilding, they are likely to deal two Cy Young award winners and a closer that throws 95+.

Back to square one...I suppose...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The curious case of shortstop Carlos Rivero

Yesterday, the Cleveland Indians purchased the contracts of seven players to protect with their remaining slots of their 40-man roster. There were several surprises on the list, but none more-so than shortstop Carlos Rivero.

Rivero was, and is considered one of the top prospects in the Indians organization. Rivero came out of the gate at double A Akron struggling, and only put up moderately solid numbers because of a very strong second half. Rivero only batted .242, with seven homers and 58 RBI. He had 50 walks, struck out 73 times and had on OBP of .309. He was batting under .200 as late as June 25th, which gives you an indication of how strong his second half was.

Rivero had a solid season in the Arizona Fall League, which ended this past week. He batted .318, with two homers and 13 RBI. His OBP was .381, and his OPS was 850. Rivero certainly was showing some upside.

The question really isn't Rivero's talent at all. Rivero is either a top ten prospect in the Indians' organization, or he's skirting just on the outside of it. The 6'3", 210 pounder projects to be a decent fielder with some pop. The 21-year old was expected to return to Akron for another year of seasoning, and at best, would see the majors in 2012.

So why would the Indians protect a player that likely wouldn't stand a chance to get drafted? If anything, other than a couple of lukewarm second halves and the AFL, Rivero has been a disappointment to some degree. He's a young player at 21, and has played five years in the Tribe organization. Rostering Rivero can only mean that either the Indians see themselves desperate for future middle infielders (possible), or that Cleveland is afraid that a team may take a flier on Rivero as a cheap utility player (not as possible). Teams may salivate at his potential, but certainly not if he has to stay at the big league level all season.

Unless the Indians have some insider information about a team possibly taking Rivero, I'd have to believe that this slot could have been used to hold onto a player like C/1B Matt McBride, Reliever Steven Wright, or starters Yohan Pino, Chuck Lofgren and Josh Tomlin.

Rivero may turn into a ballplayer, but it's too early to worry about a team selecting him in the Rule V draft.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tribe purchases contracts of seven players

The Cleveland Indians purchased the contracts of seven players today prior to the roster deadline. INF/OF Jordan Brown, INF Wes Hodges, OF Nick Weglarz, LHP Kelvin De La Cruz, INF Jason Donald, RHP Jeanmar Gomez and INF Carlos Rivero were all rostered today to protect them from the Rule V draft on December 10.

Check out the active and 40-man roster pages for updates.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Does Manny Acta's 'win breeds winning' philosophy work against him?

For those of you that haven't seen Manny Acta on "More Sports and Les Levine," here is the interview.

The interview is a good one, as Acta continued to carry an interview very well since his hire. He obviously knows his stuff, and does his homework, but we've been saying that from the very start. What's most intriguing to me about Acta is that he seems to know this club as good as Eric Wedge ever did, and he hasn't coached a game. Of course, talk is cheap in this town, but we all know that no talk can be even worse. Wedge proved that. I'm not going to be sold on Acta until I see this team play. He's got some years to go before we see any sort of fruition, but you really do never know in this division.

What I found most interesting about this interview by Acta were his statements about winning right out of the gate. I'll come back to that in a second. My biggest concern for Acta was that he knows nothing but losing as a major league manager. I've gone through the same argument here at B3 that Acta discussed when he was hired with regards to Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Terry Francona. All three managers struggled with losses early in their career before given a chance to win later on after they were more seasoned, and with different clubs.

The three aforementioned managers were given opportunities in bigger market clubs who had the ability to give them better teams to win. In essence, their market allowed Cox, Torre and Francona an opportunity to overcome their losing. Sure, they are talented managers, that's not really a question. They also were lucky enough to have some money to play with and build a team. Acta will have no such favors. In fact, the Cleveland Indians under the Dolans may not be any better than the Nationals at this point.

Which brings me back to my early discussion about Acta wanting to win out of the gate.
"I heard enough of that...the poor starts in spring training, and I think you need to win, regardless. It's important to stress that you do need to win in spring training. You don't want to leave spring training with that losing taste in your mouth. There's not a switch that you can just turn on after losing the last nine games in spring training and then make you think that in Chicago we are going to turn the switch on and now we're going to win. I'm going to emphasize that..."
This was my exact worry when the Indians hired Acta. He's bringing a history of losing to a team that's most recent history is losing. Yes, there's talent. Yes, there's ability. That said, it can be awfully hard, even after changing ballclubs for a manager and a team to get out of the rut.

Manny Acta sounds really good, and I have to admit that I'm ready to jump on the bandwagone. With that said Manny, there's not always a switch that you can just turn on after losing during your first three years as a manager.

The Tribe pessimism certainly remains for this blogger, but Acta has been doing a good job of bringing an optimistic approach to town. Will it help the two negatives of losing into a positive? Maybe not in 2010, but with Acta, you just never, ever know.

Now we just need to get him some pitchers.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Return of Sandy Alomar Jr.

Is it sad that the biggest cheer on opening day of the 2010 Cleveland Indians' season is going to be reserved for the Tribe's new first base coach?

Yesterday, manager Manny Acta announced in a surprise move that former Indians backstop Sandy Alomar Jr. would be taking over the duties as first base coach and catching instructor for the Tribe. It's a move that more than likely will be the most exciting addition to the Indians roster or staff all offseason.

Omar Minaya had stated last week at the GM meetings that Alomar would not only be staying in New York, but that he would be joining the big league staff in some capacity. Alomar had previously been the catching instructor for the Mets organization, and was likely going to coach first or third base for the Mets in the meantime, although no decisions had been made as of yet.

Something changed between then and now, and the likely culprit was Alomar Jr. himself.

Regardless, Alomar Jr. should prove to be a good hire outside of his past ties to the team, although that is an added bonus. Alomar's first order of business will be to work with the Tribe's several catching prospects, including top prospect Carlos Santana. Recently acquired Lou Marson and Wyatt Toregas should also benefit from Alomar's instruction.

The Mets were high on Alomar Jr. as a coach and many within the ranks of major league baseball see the former Tribe all-star as a future manager. Alomar Jr. has made no bones about his future. He wants to be a manager in the future, and the fact that the former catcher has made it this far in the bigs without working in the minors says a lot about his aptitude.

Personally, I'm glad to see Alomar Jr. back in any capacity. There is no doubt that they need him to be good at what he does at first base and with the players behind the plate. There is where his value is greatest. Don't take away the value of Alomar Jr. outside the lines. No, he may not put fannies in the seats, but he is just the type of goodwill that the front office needs to bank.

Welcome back Sandy, it's good to have you home.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Indians new coaching staff emerges

Finally, the Cleveland Indians braintrust has sent out some white smoke from the reservation. As noted here at B3 on Sunday, Mark Shapiro and the the Indians front office were being fairly methodical in choosing their coaching staff. After weeks of searching, the Indians have finally begun to fill in Manny Acta's support staff. Tim Tolman was hired as the new bench coach, Steve Smith as the new third base/infield coach and Scott Radinsky as the new bullpen coach.

There's no surprise with regards to the promotion of Columbus Clippers coach Scott Radinsky. Radinsky has been with the organization since 2004, and has progressed steadily through the system as a pitching coach. Radinsky has been the pitching coach in Columbus since 2007, and has done yeoman's work finetuning several Tribe hurlers over the years. Radinsky was a leading candidate for the pitching coach job that went to Tim Belcher earlier this offseason.

Radinsky is a good hire. He had a solid career in the bullpen as a player, seemed to understand how to fix players in the minors who were broke in the majors, and developed several young hurlers that brought a lot of promise to the big league club. I believe Radinsky to be the type of coach that can work kinks out quickly, and this should translate well to his role in the bullpen. Radinsky should have been the pitching coach, but he's up, so I can get behind that. Perhaps Belcher and Radinsky can create a staff that can fix issues at the big league level, and stop the revolving door over the years between triple A and the Tribe.

Tim Tolman was hired as the Indians bench coach, and I actually love this hire. As I mentioned earlier, my belief was that the Indians would hire a guy with some experience in this role. Internally, the thought was that this was a front office hire that would give the Indians some security in case Acta bombed. Enter a guy like Mike Hargrove or Clint Hurdle. Instead, the Indians hired Tim Tolman, who was recently the Seattle Mariners Minor League Coordinator of Instruction. Prior to that job, Tolman served as Acta's third base coach in Washington. He's really the only substantial connection to the Tribe related to Acta's past. Tolman was the Minor League Field Coordinator from 2003-06 for the Indians.

Why do I like this hire? Simple. I think Acta was able to make this hire on his own. Sure, the Indians and Shapiro likely had some input, but Acta likely chose Tolman on his own based on past work. Shapiro likely saw his past experience as a plus, which made this hire a no-brainer. The most important part of a bench coach is to be a sounding board for the boss (unless you are there to take your bosses job), and Tolman is that guy. Combine that with a general knowledge of the system from his tenure in Cleveland, and you have a perfect storm for the job. In the grand scheme of things, it's likely a bit part of the puzzle, but you still need the part.

The most interesting hire may be Steve Smith, most recently the third base coach for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was out of the league last season after former Tribe boss Charlie Manuel fired him last year after winning the World Series. Prior to the Phillies job, he had held the same position with the Mariners from 1996-1999 and the Texas Rangers from 2000-2006.

Smith was a lightning rod in Philadelphia, making several controversial calls in his two years that had the media in a frenzy. He had also been suspended a few times for arguing and bumping into umpires. It's also interesting to note that after the Phillies parade, the crowd booed once, for Steve Smith. So why does that make me happy? He's exactly what the Indians haven't had in years. He's a guy who will go after an umpire if there's a bad call. Sure, I'm concerned about the controversial calls, but in Philadelphia, isn't everything controversial?

He's a good coach who helped developed Michael Young as an infielder at several positions in Texas, and can bring some heat when Acta needs it. Look for Smith to add some panache to the Tribe's dugout in 2010, even if the team isn't that good.

I did think that Smith's job was going to go to Torey Lovullo, but there's still the first base job, as well as the hitting coach to go. Perhaps Lovullo will get the nod there. I'm not sure if he's the right fit, but he is a step or two away of becoming a manager. Still, you'd think that third base job was his.

Hopefully, more hires to mention in the near-future.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Indians slow hot-stove season has luke-warm possibilities

Cleveland Indians vs. Anaheim Angels
Can the Indians make a splash during the '09 Hot Stove season? The easy answer is no, since the Indians quite obviously can't pony up enough money for anyone of consequence. There is still some room for the Indians to make a couple of moves that could bring the Tribe a player or two of consequence.

Of course, everyone is talking about the Indians listening to offers for Kerry Wood. Personally, I would keep him. The Indians struggle every year to put together a bullpen. I know Wood is an extravagance at this point, but at the same time, I think that Cleveland would be smart to keep Wood in the anchor and allow the young arms of Chris and Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, Jensen Lewis and Jess Todd to settle into their roles. Then, perhaps in 2011, if the Indians can actually use the option to keep Wood at the back-end, or let him go on his merry way.

Jhonny Peralta is also a candidate to move, although you would have to think that the Manny Acta hire will perhaps keep the Indians from making a quick decision on the struggling third baseman. Peralta has nearly a full season under his belt, has a new manager that might actually like him, and could rebound. If the Tribe does get an offer for him, they should listen, even if it is a prospect. Let Andy Marte take his slot and move Peralta. With Lonnie Chisenhall coming along in the program about to enter double A, and with Wes Hodges sneaking around at triple A Columbus, there are other options for the Indians at the position. As Tony Lastoria pointed out early in October, Wes Hodges may have more to offer than people are giving him credit for. I wouldn't expect much in a deal straight up for Peralta, but there could be something there should a team ask. Of course, with Peralta, the Tribe would be selling low.

The most intriguing deal that could happen involves Travis Hafner. Yes, Hafner has been injury-prone, and yes, Hafner makes a whole bunch of money not well spent. That said, Hafner showed improvement as the year progressed last year. Should a team have a high need for power at the DH position because of injury or if they are a piece away, the Tribe could get offers for their slugging DH. A deal for Hafner likely wouldn't come until the All-Star break, and only if he's playing well. That said, the potential is there, and under the current situation, the Indians will assuredly listen. Of course, to take on that albatross of a contract would be insane for any club with the potential for injury.

Then there is Kelly Shoppach, who will likely be non-tendered in the offseason. If I were Cleveland, I'd move Shoppach prior to the rule-V draft and pick up some low-level talent that you don't have to protect. I'm sure the Indians are talking with teams about Shoppach, but using a spot on the 40-man roster is a mistake. Move him now, and take whatever you can get for him.

Will the Indians make a trade? It's not likely, but there are deals to be made should teams get desperate. There's no doubt that the Indians aren't desperate, and no, that's not a good thing.

Off to play some catch with the son while the temperature is still over 70 degrees. You have to love these Indians Summers...;)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mark Shapiro's coaching conclave gives Indians faithful black smoke

Another weekend goes by in the early part of the hot stove season, and the Cleveland Indians still only have a manager and a pitching coach to lead them. In a normal baseball town, with a normal front office, this would seem strange. The Indians fired Wedge before the end of the season, had a manager in place prior to the World Series, and hired Tim Belcher relatively quickly. It was believed the the Indians would start rolling out their staff, even given the statement that the staff wouldn't be finished until the early part of December. Of course, on the North Shore, Mark Shapiro runs his front office much like the Cardinals conclave in choosing a new pope. Thus far, Shapiro's secret meetings have only given off the black smoke of no choices made yet.

Let's put some perspective on the process, shall we?

The Indians hired their coach, Manny Acta, on May 25th. He was the first coach officially hired for next season, and it was no doubt a pre-emptive strike to keep the Astros from hiring him. The Astros, who had two solid candidates at the top of their list, hired Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills two days later, on May 27th, to take over their top slot.

The Astros then went on the offensive. Al Pedrique was hired three days later to take over the bench coaching duties for Mills. They had interviewed Pedrique for their manager's slot, and Mills thought highly of him. That same day, the Astros extended an invitation to Sean Berry to remain their hitting coach and Dave Clark to remain as their third base coach. Clark had replaced Cecil Cooper as interim coach, and was the third candidate behind Acta and Mills to stay on as manager. All three had been in contact with Mills since the hiring. Even later that same day, the Astros hired Bobby Meacham as their first base coach. Meacham is a friend of Mills, and had coached with him several times in the minors. Following the Meacham hire, the Astros announced that they had hired Brad Arnsberg as their pitching coach. Arnsberg had pitched for Mills in triple A several years prior, and they had remained good friends since. Arnsberg had been the Blue Jays pitching coach the previous five seasons. The final piece of the puzzle was hired the following week, when they announced Jamie Quirk as their bullpen coach.

A complete staff to move the team ahead during the offseason.

The Indians have hired Tim Belcher.

I'm not saying you need to hire a staff quickly. I'm not even saying that the Astros necessarily hired the right people. What I AM saying is that there seems to be decision makers in Houston, while Mark Shapiro is pouring out the black smoke from his conclave meeting. I wouldn't say Shapiro is indecisive, but you can certainly question his decision-making process. Let's not forget that the Acta hire came after Houston had not only offered him the job, but had spent the night trying to sign him.

As for who the Indians are looking at for their coaching jobs, your guess is as good as mine. There was a boatload of speculation that the Tribe was looking at Clippers hitting coach Joe Nunnally for the same position in Cleveland, that Torey Lovullo would be brought up as the third base coach, and that Clippers pitching coach Scott Radinsky is also being looked at as a possibility as the Tribe bullpen coach. With Belcher, that would give the main Acta Lieutenants a distinct Shapiro flavor. The Indians would then likely hire outside the club for a bench coach. I can't imagine this would be possible with the Shapiro, Dolan and the Indians front office making statements about looking outside the organization for their staff. Of course, as we wait for the white smoke of movement from the Shapiro conclave, this could be Shapiro's way of hiring "outside" the organization. Grab a coach that has your philosophy, then hire the rest of the staff from the minors. This could be Shapiro's dream team of coaches.

Of course, where did Belcher come from? So, the coaching staff could be up in the air until December. B3 will be waiting outside the Sistine Chapel watching the smoke signals until then.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Omar Vizquel Pipedream

According to several sources, Omar Vizquel won't be returning to the Texas Rangers during the upcoming 2010 season. Since the announcement on Wednesday, the Indians rumor wagons have begun circling around the idea that Vizquel might be returning to the reservation. scribe, Anthony Castrovince, even mentioned it today on
Signing the 42-year old, 21-year major league veteran would make a lot of sense for the Indians in many aspects. Not only could Vizquel fill the role of utility infielder that Jamey Carroll is vacating, but he could also help boost a fan base that is ready to lynch the Dolans and Mark Shapiro for decimating a team that was one game away from the World Series in 2007. There's only one real problem:

The Cleveland Indians will not sign Omar Vizquel for what is likely his last season in the bigs.

First and foremost, reports out of Vizquel's camp have expressed an interest for the future hall-of-famer to end his career playing for a "premier team." The thinking is that Omar would like one more run into the playoffs before he retires and begins his countdown to the hall. While I would like to think that the Indians could surprise some and sneak in next season while nobody's's not going to happen. I couldn't imagine Omar, regardless of his love for the city of Cleveland, choosing Cleveland over a potential playoff team.

You also have to take into account that this move makes almost too much sense! There is no doubt that signing the beloved shortstop would immediately lessen the anger and hatred that most of Cleveland is feeling towards the Indians' front office. Vizquel is another one of those players from the Indians' resurrection years of the 1990's and early 2000's. In many ways, Vizquel was the backbone during the glory years, and bringing him back would give Progressive Field a "gentle" bump in attendance. He also is more than capable of playing more than just shortstop. Last year, he played 200 innings at short for the Rangers, but also logged more than 100 innings each at third and second base. How many errors did he have at any position? You guessed it...none.

Unfortunately, Mark Shapiro rarely makes the obvious move, and often can't pull the trigger on the right move. I'm certainly not conceited enough to believe that the internet buzz should generate Mark Shapiro's moves. In this day and age of fantasy baseball, many fans fall into that category. The rumor banter can get quite interesting, to say the least. With that said, there are a few moves that are talked about each year that goes beyond numbers, and goes beyond money. This would be one of them. It does make sense to a part of the game in Cleveland that has disappeared with the dismemberment of the 90's team, followed by the the 2007 team...the heart. No, I'm not throwing down the sentimental garbage that rolled out of the cornfield in Field of Dreams. I'm talking about looking past the numbers at a player that would fill a need in a rebuild year, and mend some fences at the same time. I think this type of thinking is beyond Shapiro.

No, you don't build teams based on "heart." You can, however, bring in a veteran that not only will be a positive role-model to the youngsters in the Tribe clubhouse, but will give you error-less play at 2nd, 3rd, and of course, short. It certainly doesn't hurt that we'd catch glimpses of his 11 years of spectacular play.

Like I said, it's all beyond Shapiro and his predominant-numbers way of thinking.

There are downsides to this. I'm not blind. There would be some worry with regards to Vizquel's age. He'll be 43 this year, and that's certainly not any spring chicken with regards to playing in the bigs. Even in a diminished utility role, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that Vizquel isn't built to last an entire year. He only found himself playing in 62 games last year, logging in his most consistent time in September at 3B after Michael Young strained his hamstring.

Jamey Carroll played in 113 games his first year with the Tribe, and 93 his second year. He also found himself platooning a bit with Luis Valbuena. I'm not sure Omar is that guy.

In other words, you can't count on Omar for a significant amount of playing time.

To make a long story short, don't count on Omar returning to the place he called home for 11-years. He no doubt will be looking at potential playoff teams to sign with. Rumors are already beginning to circulate that Boston might be interested in Vizquel in a limited role as well.

Let's face facts here tribefan, do we really want to stick Vizquel on the product that Cleveland is going to field in 2010? Do we really want to scar him for life? Thanks for the 11-years Omar, but it's time for you to get your last chance with a team that won't be fighting for the cellar.

You deserve better.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Adam Miller is gone, but not forgotten

There has never been anything simple about Indians right-hander Adam Miller. The former first-round sandwich pick tantalized the Tribe masses with 100 MPH fastballs and dreams of an ace that is untouchable. Miller was arguably the Tribe's top prospect in 2007 and 2008, and seemed on the fast track to the big league club in 2009 or 2010 at the latest.

Then came the injuries.

Miller's injury issues culminated last season when Miller couldn't bend the tip of his right index finger during spring training. On the eve of Miller perhaps reaching his dream of playing in the majors, he was faced with the possibility of never playing again. The tendon surgery needed to repair his injured finger quite often leaves scar tissue. That scar tissue could cause repeat surgeries that would likely end his career.

Enter Adam Miller today. On August 4th, Miller had his second and last scheduled surgery on his injured finger, and has been rehabbing ever since. Miller is scheduled to begin throwing later this month, with the Indians being understandably cautious in his recovery.

Now, Adam Miller is 100% unknown. Will he have the same velocity that he had prior to the surgery? Will scar tissue hamper or put a stop to his return? Will Miller ever play a season, let alone a season without injuries? Is Adam Miller even still considered a prospect at this stage of his career? The Indians need to find out soon, because he's currently listed on the Indians 40-Man roster. Will the Indians protect him heading into next month's rule 5 draft?

Miller still remains a tantalizing talent, and at this stage of the game, I'm not talking about his above average heat. Miller, who will celebrate his 25th birthday later this month, has already felt both sides of the extreme. He's been the top prospect, and now, completely out of the equation. To top it off, he's never even had a cup of coffee in the bigs.

Still, Miller perserveres. He has the head of an ace, and when healthy, an arm that goes with it. It's optimistic to think he'll even return to the minors, let alone make an impact at the major league level. Yet if his rehab is any indication of the type of player he could be...

I wouldn't bet against him. Anything the Indians get from Miller at this stage of the game would be icing on the cake. You can't help but wonder that if everything falls into place, he could be just what the doctor ordered for a staff that is lacking the punch and pop of CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee.

Here's hoping Miller is on his way back...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Indians not so obvious question mark

MLB: JUN 18 Phillies v Indians
You know that it's going to be a long season when the benchmarks of your 2010 ballclub are likely to be question marks. That's what the Cleveland Indians are facing in 2010 when they roll out a club that will mirror more of a quad-A minor league affiliate than a major league franchise.

The Indians Gibraltar in 2010 will likely be Grady Sizemore. The Tribe centerfielder battled injury all year, playing only 106 games before getting shut down for the season. Sizemore had elbow and hernia surgery and is rumored to be near 100%. Sizemore had his worst season in many statistical areas, but most distressing was his drop in OPS to .788. Sizemore plays the game with an unbridled fury in the field and on the basepaths.

Can Sizemore remain healthy at this stage of the game with his style of play? There's no reason to suspect that he can't. He's about to enter the prime of his career, and at 27-years-old, Sizemore is still one of the youngest stars in the majors. Still, his body broke down last season after years of plowing into walls, making hit-stealing catches and turning singles into doubles.

Will he rebound in 2010? He should, and he most definitely needs to. The Indians have enough question marks heading into the 2010 season. With all do respect to Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera, but they don't need their best player on that list as well.

Will the Indians be competitive in 2010? Their slim chances will rest on the shoulders of Grady Sizemore.